I have always loved Japanese art, since I was first exposed to it in high school, especially the woodcut prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige, masters of the style known as Ukiyo-e, which means “the floating world” in Japanese. The use of strong lines to delineate the subject, the areas of flat colors with gradations in tone or transparency, and the compositional device of contrasting a landscape with a figure in the foreground have all influenced my own work. It seems I was in good company, because when Japan opened trade with the West in 1853, Japanese prints influenced many 19th century European and American artists.
The value of these prints was not recognized at first. They were brought to Europe by Dutch traders, who used them to pad the ceramics that they imported. The prints were then recycled as wrapping for cheese, and in this way they were introduced to French artiest, who liked cheese. Artists soon began collecting these prints and their innovative way of depicting the world seduced many artists. Included in this list are many famous names such as Manet, Whistler, Degas, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt, Klimt, Mucha, Beardsley, and the famous Tarot designer Pamela Colman Smith, who was exposed to Japanese prints by her teacher, Arthur Wesley Dow, when she studied art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in the 1890s.
One of our ceramic masks
Another ceramic mask
Like Colman Smith, I began collecting Japanese prints when I was in collage and have added to my collection over the years. My wife, Rose Ann, and I now have a collection of Japanese prints, cards, ceramics, masks, sculptures (mostly of the Bodhisattva Kannon), one hand-painted scroll, and a kitchen shrine with carvings of the gods Daikoku and Ibisu. We enjoy Japanese food; at times, I have worn a hipari and Rose Ann has worn a kimono. I studied both Zen philosophy and Karate. But until 2018, the closest we have gotten to Japan was Japan Town in San Francisco and in São Paulo, Brazil. Last autum after I was teaching my workshop in Beijing, Rose Ann and I finally got to Japan. Giselle, who organizes the workshop, also planed a trip to Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. So Rose Ann and I joined her and a few of my students on a bus tour.
The Kitchen Gods Daikoku and Ibisu
A 19th century Ukiyo-e print from our collection
The first place that we visited in Kyoto was the Shinto shrine of the god of prosperity, Inari. Inari’s mesenger and protector is the fox, Kitsune, and there are statues of Kitsune in front of the temples and spread throughout the gardens. The sculpted foxes have various items in their mouths, most often a letter roled like a scroll, a key, or a small whip. Now the fox and all three of these items are some of the symbols included in the traditioal Lenormand oracle card deck. Looking back, I think it was here that I began to fantasize about making a Japanese themed Lenormand deck. But it was later when I was looking at a statue of the god Ibisu, who is the god of fish and also money, that I began thinking how it was odd that the Lenormand card, called the Fish, symbolizes money (something that many people find puzzling about the Lenormand meanings) and here in Japan I was finding the same link in symbolism. I began to work on a Japanese Lenormand in my imagination. By the time I was home, I was committed to completing the project.
Rose Ann on the Way to the Inari Shrine, Kyoto
Kido and Giselle on their way to the Inari Shrine, Kyoto
Rose Ann approached the shrine
Kitsune with a whip
Kitsune with a scroll
Kitsune with a key
Ibisu, the god of fish and money
Beside allowing me to explore the similarities and differences between Japanese and European symbolism, I realized that the deck would allow me to create my own version of Japanese art and my reinterpretation of the prints in my collection or other pieces. I decided to create the designs without borders on a background the color of rice paper. They have strong black lines, like a woodcut print and a limited pallet of colors. At the top left of each card there is an image of the European playing card that each card is correlated with. I decided to call the deck An Ukiyo-e Lenormand.
I was able to find Japanese images that related to all thirty-six of the Lenormand cards, but the Heart, the Ring, and the Cross, were the most challenging. Until modern times, the Japanese did not wear rings or have images in a heart shape. Also even today, there are very few Christians in Japan. These items all typify European culture but not Japanese. As you will see, I had to be creative with my interpretation for these cards.
This will be a deluxe edition with gold edged cards in a cloth covered box. The cards will be four inches by three inches. For the box, I decided to make one based on an antique deck in my collection. It is a design that I have not seen being used lately. It is in two parts, an open toped box that holds the cards and the little book, and a slip case that goes over the box, making it double thick. The box will be covered with cloth and a label goes on the front and the back. The book will not only contain the divinatory meanings for each card but discuss the significance of each symbol in Japanese culture. There will be references to Shinto gods (called kami), to Bodhisattvas, and other aspects of Japanese culture.
The box will be based on the one for this antique Italian deck, but covered in cloth
The label for the front of the box
The Label for the back
Here are the thirty-six cards with a description of each image.
Horses were first brought to Japan in the 6thcentury and were valued by the samurai class for their role in warfare.
Japanese clover is a flowering plant in the pea family that grows in East Asia. Detailed drawings of plants such as this are common in Japanese books containing artist sketches, known as manga. In the Tale of Genji,the clover is used as a metaphor for the season of autumn and the fading of life and love.
Being surrounded by water, boats and ships are essential to Japanese culture. Traditional Japanese boats are built by craftspeople, who follow designs that have been passed down for many generations. They are built of planks nailed together with hand-made square copper nails. The holes for the nails, therefore, cannot be drilled. They are cut into the plank with a chisel.
When Westerners were first allowed into Japan after 1853, they were amazed to see that Japanese houses have massive title or thatch roofs but thin walls made of paper stretched over wooden frames. There are no windows, but the paper walls are translucent and allow light to enter the house. The roofs are actually supported by a structure of heavy wooden beams that are expertly joined without the use of nails.
The Japanese red maple is native to East Asia. It is popular in Japanese gardens and art because of its graceful shape and its vivid red leaves in autumn. Red is a sacred protective color associated with the kami Inari, and with Amaterasu and her sun.
In Japanese art, influenced by Shintoism, clouds, represent the spirits of the dead. In Buddhism, in contrast with the traditional Lenormand meaning, they signify the Western Paradise where Buddhists hope to reside after death.
This image is based on a woodblock print by Hokusai (the most famous ukiyo-e artist) representing a snake with two melons. The snake is one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac.
Emma-O is the god of underworld. He holds the souls of the dead until it is time for them to be reborn.
Ikebana(flower arrangement) is one the traditional arts of Japan. It was first introduced in in the 15thcentury by a Buddhist priest as an expression of the beauty of nature.
Daikoku is a combination Buddhist and Shinto deity. He is one of the Seven Lucky Gods. He is the god of the rice harvest, depicted standing on bags of rice, and he is, therefore, considered a god of prosperity and of the kitchen. He holds a wish granting wooden mallet and, as a god of the harvest, the scythe would also be one of his tools.
Small whips like this one are depicted in the mouths of the Kitsune (fox) sculptures that guard the god Inari’s shrines. They signify that Kitsune is a protector.
Because of their love of nature, birds are a common theme in Japanese art. Originally ukiyo-e art mainly focused on depicting kabuki actors or beautiful women. It was Hokusai who popularized nature subjects, known as birds and flower pictures.
Known as the Golden Boy in English, Kintaro is a legendary hero, who was born with immense strength. He was an orphan, who was raised in the forest by Yama-Uba (mountain witch). His only friends were animals, and although he was a child, he used his ax for felling trees like an adult.
Kitsune is the messenger of the god Inari, the Shinto god (or kami) of rice and wealth. Kitsune is believed to ward off evil, which is in contrast with some of the traditional Lenormand meanings and with some of her roles in folklore. The fox spirit in Japanese folklore is a prolific shapeshifter, who often takes the form of beautiful young women, and attempts to seduce men for mere mischief or to consume their bodies or spirits.
Having learned the language of the animals, Kintaro befriended a bear, who became his servant.
In ancient Japan, the star Polaris was believed to be Amaatsu-Mikaboshi. He was an evil god, who represented the void of primordial darkness from which the universe emerged. He was constantly trying to recapture the world and bring it back into darkness. Being void, he had no other pictorial form. When Buddhism came to Japan he merged with the more benevolent Buddhist deity Ama-no-mi-naka-nushi (Divine Lord of the middle heavens), the god who rules over stars.
The Oriental stork is a native of East Asia. It resembles the European stork. In Japan, birds, in general, are believed to be able to interact with the kami.
This samurai hero with his faithful dog is based on a series of prints depicting the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac.
A pagoda is a tower (the traditional name for this card) with several tiers. It is found in China, Japan, and other parts of East Asia. It evolved from the Indian stupa, a funeral mound with a tower projecting from the top that became one of the central symbols of Buddhism. Buddhist stupas held relics and the structure itself became taller and leaner. It served as a symbol of the axis mundi, channeling Buddha Energy down to earth.
Shinto is considered a nature religion, in which the kami personify various aspects of the landscape. Therefore gardens are a natural component of Shinto shrines. Japanese gardens are also heavily influenced by Chinese Buddhist ideas, especially Zen aesthetic principles, such as simplicity, harmony with the natural landscape, and a preference for aged materials. Gardening is considered a high art, like painting or calligraphy. One common feature is the Japanese iris.
Mount Fuji was made famous by Hokusai’s series of woodcuts, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (which includesThe Great Wave, the most famous work of Japanese art),and of Hiroshige’s series, One Hundred Views of Edo. These artists popularized the landscape as a subject in Ukiyo-e prints. They depicted the mountain in the background of their landscapes, using it as a symbol of the spiritual and eternal in contrast to the mundane world depicted in the foreground. We may, therefore, add this symbolism to the traditional meanings for this card.
Small statues of Jizo, like this one, can be found along paths and at crossroads throughout Japan. Jizo is a bodhisattva depicted as a monk with a shaved head. He holds a monk’s sounding staff (that rattles and warns away small creatures, who could be accidentally stepped on) and a wish granting jewel. He is the protector of children (particularly the ghosts of dead children) and of travelers.
Mice are the natural predators of silk worms, which helps to explain the Japanese fondness for cats.
Kokoro, written at the top of this card in Japanese calligraphy, means heart, but also mind, emotions, and feelings, much the same as heart does in the West. The Western heart symbol did not exist in Japan until it was introduced in modern times. We can find this shape, however, in the bleeding heart flower, which is native to Japan.
Before the Meiji Restoration of Imperial power in 1868 rings were not common in Japan, but once the emperor decreed the adoption of Western dress, Japanese metalworkers began to apply their skills to designing Western jewelry.
With the help of his bear, Kintaro taught himself to read.
During the Edo period (the 18thand early 19thcenturies), 50% of males and 20% of women from all classes were literate. Today Japan is included among the most literate countries in the world. Japanese letters were rolled like a small scroll. They are often depicted in ukiyo-e prints and we find them depicted in the mouths of Kitsune at Inari shrines.
Like the gentleman depicted on the traditional Lenormand card, Japanese samurai were nobles who were expected to carry a sword.
A woman dances in a traditional Japanese kimono. Her fan, like the man’s sword, signifies her elevated social standing.
The lotus is an aquatic follower that is similar to the water lily (Lily is the traditional name for this card). In Buddhism, the lotus represents purity of body, mind, and spirit. Buddha and other deities are depicted sitting on a lotus. On the Jizo – The Path card, we can see that Jizo is standing on a lotus.
Amaterasu is the goddess of the sun and the principle Shinto kami. It was believed that the emperor was her descendent. Her necklace is made ofhand-carved stone beads called magatama, a traditional design that stems from the earliest Jomon period (1,000 BCE).
Kannon is the bodhisattva known as Quan Yin in Chinese and the Goddess of Mercy in English. She is the most beloved of the Buddhist deities, and has miraculous powers to assist all those who appeal to her. She is also associated with the Moon and childbirth.
This is an antique Japanese key. It is often depicted in the mouth of Kitsune statues guarding Inari shrines. There is one in the mouth of the Kitsune on the Kitsune – The Fox card.
Ebisu is one of the Seven Lucky Gods. He is the god of fishermen and luck. Overtime he also became the god of merchants and money. Just as in the traditional Lenormand card, fish and money are linked.
Traditional Japanese anchors are similar to their Western counterparts.
Family crests, called kamon, originated in the 11thcentury among the samurai class. They allowed the members of a clan to be identified during warfare. Today they are included on formal garments. When cloth is dyed for clothing, a resist is applied in the form of the crest so that the crest remains undyed. This kamon is called Nakagawake Kurusu (the cross of the Nakagawa clan).
This deck is being printed right now. I plan on having the decks here in May.
They are $30 each plus $7 shipping in the US, $25 for Canada, and $35 for all other countries.
If you are interested in preordering this deck email me at:
US customers may use this link to order: