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Japanese art and Yumeji Takehisa: Radiant artist crushed by humanity

Japanese art and Yumeji Takehisa: Radiant artist crushed by humanity

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

In all nation states you have elites which control and often abuse power based on “special interests” and “secrecy.” Many individuals feel like “fodder” because so many dreams never materialize for the majority of people. This is the reality of life because justice is but a word and democracy without economic freedom is shallow. Likewise, the daily grind of paying taxes to governments which abuse the system based on various agendas is not only frustrating, it also destroys the spirit of many.

However, for individuals blessed with so much talent then these internal convulsions can unbalance and destroy artists because of the countless “false dawns.” Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin are prime examples. They both were blessed with so much talent but the system crushed them and made life extremely uncomfortable. Therefore, in time capitalists got rich on the labor of two individuals blighted by poverty and extreme dark moments.

While Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin faced their internal demons the same reality would also crush the world of Yumeji Takehisa. From radiance to despair, from hope and desire to abandonment and being disillusioned. In the end the final years of Yumeji Takehisa were filled with sorrow and internal alienation based on expectations which his art deserved. Yet the pathway of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin awaited Yumeji Takehisa.

Paul Gauguin stated “without art there is no salvation” but even in death the “salvation” is mixed for this individual. Likewise, for Yumeji Takehisa even in death you still don’t have any real “salvation” when it applies to international recognition. However, death provided “salvation” for Vincent Van Gogh in its entirety when it applies to international esteem. For Paul Gauguin who was extremely sophisticated, this would have been enough but he remains blighted by aspects of his life which seems to linger when it is often forgotten when related to others.

Yumeji Takehisa died at the age of 49 in 1934 and clearly “the beautiful flower within” was gradually crushed during the final decade of his life on this earth. Likewise, his visit to America and Europe in 1931 didn’t deliver the results that he had hoped for. Indeed, if anything, it confirmed to him that he was “running against the grain” because his artist skills went unrewarded. Therefore, the international recognition that he craved for went unrewarded internationally despite being recognized by lay people in Japan.

On his return to Japan in 1933 he would soon enter a sanatorium because of ill health. The following year he would die in a sanatorium at the age of 49 and one can only imagine the helplessness and frustration that he felt. After all, even when Yumeji Takehisa gave everything to “open the eyes of the art world” he was still rejected. This was the same rejection within academia in Japan despite being popular with art lovers in this country. Not only was his determination in vain but to make matters worse his health deteriorated. This all happened while Yumeji Takehisa was trying to enlighten people within the international community.

Yumeji Takehisa had rebuilt so much after the 1923 Kanto earthquake which destroyed so much of his artwork. However, he bore this with great fortitude because he knew that vast numbers of people had lost so much more because so many people were killed by this tragic event. Indeed, Yumeji Takehisa was a prolific artist because he produced more than 3,000 pieces of art. Also, the poetic nature of Yumeji Takehisa meant that he was blessed with great innovation.

Sabine Schenk (Cultural News) states about his lack of recognition (Cultural News) that “The reason for this is that he didn’t fit the academic definition of fine arts during his active period from the 1900s to the 1930s, and that his work is not restricted to visual arts only, but ranges from painting, through all kinds of commercial arts, to poetry.”

Sabine Schenk further comments that “It is not easy to categorize him and outside of Japan he has not been recognized as part of the history of fine arts and, therefore, has not been the subject of detailed research, yet.”

Therefore, despite knowing artists of esteem in Japan during his lifetime and being popular outside of academia in the land of the rising sun, it is clear that his desire failed within the academic world and internationally. Even today you can’t find a great deal of research about Yumeji Takehisa and his name doesn’t ring a bell for the vast majority of art lovers internationally. Therefore, even in death “there is no salvation” for Yumeji Takehisa despite producing many stunning pieces of art. In time, it appears that apart from art lovers within Japan that his art will “not even become a shadow.”

http://www.culturalnews.com/?p=539 

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com 

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art and history: Kano Eitoku and cultural impact of Oda Nobunaga

Japanese art and history: Kano Eitoku and cultural impact of Oda Nobunaga

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

In modern Japan the importance of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and his legacy remains extremely strong even today. After all, he laid the foundation stone for the future centralized Japan despite certain limitations during the Tokugawa period. However, often the more dynamic side of Oda Nobunaga is neglected and instead the focus is on his military prowess and cruelty. Therefore, the linkage of Kano Eitoku with Nobunaga is most illuminating.

Eitoku was one of the most prominent and highly respected artists of the sixteenth century in Japan. He was born in 1543 and died eight years after Nobunaga in 1590. Yet the linkage between the artistic mastery of Eitoku with Nobunaga provides a different angle and one which may have been hidden for political and religious reasons.

Nobunaga was an innovator but sadly his inquisitiveness and openness to international influence would be crushed by following leaders. In time the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) would condemn all converts to Christianity to death and isolate Japan from the world despite some “windows” staying open. The power of Buddhism would be utilized by the state and Confucian order would lead to greater stratification.

This was a far cry from Nobunaga who lifted major economic restrictions on the peasantry, had favorable relations with Christian preachers, modernized the military, and introduced other favorable reforms in the realm of economics. The political intrigues of Buddhist elites who desired to preserve their power concentration were alarmed by Nobunaga. This notably applies to his favorable policies towards the peasants and Christian missionaries. Indeed, Nobunaga is reported to have had little time for stratification and practices which held back progress. He remained to be an atheist but his brother converted to Christianity. Not surprisingly, this alarmed Buddhist elites which feared that their wealth may be challenged by peasant reforms and a competing religion.

If you click on http://www.buddhanet.net/nippon/nippon_partI.html this website the most notable feature is the anti-Christian and anti-Nobunaga bias. It is stated by Buddhanet and Japan Buddhist Foundation that“When Oda Nobunaga overthrew the military government of Ashikaga in 1573, he actively suppressed Buddhist institutions because he feared the increased power of the leading temples and monasteries which sided with his enemies. He favored the newly introduced foreign cult of Christianity for purely political reasons.”

Note that the usage of “foreign cult” could also be stated about Buddhism because this faith wasn’t born in Japan. Also, for the non-religious then all religions could be deemed to be “cults.” However, the most important point is that for hundreds of years you have had massive negative opinions about Nobunaga in certain quarters. Therefore, much of his openness and innovation was hidden by elites who feared the policies of Nobunaga. After all, his fresh thinking alarmed many traditional elites whose only desire was to maintain their power concentration.

In the field of the arts the role of Nobunaga was very important and it is in this area where the connection with Eitoku materializes. This applies to Eitoku being a patron of Nobunaga and other powerful leaders. Even before Nobunaga amassed power and wealth he was always interested in the arts.

Therefore, during the period of Nobunaga a cultural renaissance was also beginning to take shape. This applies to major gardens of stunning beauty being built along with castles which were blessed with rich architectural designs. Indeed, the Azuchi Castle which is located on the shores of the famous Lake Biwa is deemed to be one of the most beautiful castles ever built. Inside, this castle it was adorned with stunning ceiling paintings by Eitoku and other major areas of art related to high quality statues.

Nobunaga also used his innovation in relationship with the Japanese tea ceremony.  Also, the usage of the Japanese tea ceremony during talks about business, trade, and politics were firmly established under Nobunaga and reached a new dimension within the body politic of Japan. Therefore, Sen no Rikyu who was a famous tea master under his rule had an important cultural part to play in developing greater refinement. At the same time Nobunaga was also intrigued by aspects of European culture therefore he collected Western art and studied other areas.

The first Christian church to be built in Kyoto in 1576 was because of Nobunaga’s patronage. While the first steps of modern kabuki began to materialize under his leadership and during the Tokugawa period this important cultural symbol would flourish. Alongside all these innovations Nobunaga had hoped to install a rational political system which moved away from superstition and stratification. This can be seen by his openness to outside ideas and economic policies which enabled trade to flourish, for peasants to have greater freedom and the same applies to artisans. However, his period in power could not fully implement all the reforms that he had desired. Therefore, in time you had a counter-revolution in the realm of ideas which persecuted Christianity, isolated Japan, infringed on the rights of peasants, and whereby traditional power mechanisms once more stifled many areas of life.

In an earlier article about Eitoku and Nobunaga by Modern Tokyo Times it was stated that “Eitoku was born in Kyoto and clearly he belonged to a prestigious family because he was the grandson of Kano Motonobu (1476-1559). Therefore, with the guidance of his grandfather and with being blessed with such talent, which had been recognized when Eitoku was a very young child, he soon came to prominence and patrons like Nobunaga loved the richness of his style.”

“The influence of Chinese painting styles was clear and this was only natural for the day and clearly Motonobu was very proud of his grandson. Eitoku maintained the pre-eminence of the Kano school which was founded by Kano Masanobu (1434-1530?).

Eitoku is a reminder that despite all the carnage during the period of Nobunaga, the cultural realm remained strong and art was highly valued. Therefore, despite the passages of time Eitoku stills remains potent in modern day Japan because he produced many stunning art pieces.”

Eitoku like Nobunaga left a lasting legacy despite the reasons being very different. However, without the patronage of Nobunaga then the amazing skills of Eitoku would have been hindered on a national scale. The relationship between both individuals highlights the sophistication of Nobunaga and the mastery of Eitoku and his stunning pieces of art.

Nobunaga was much more than just a warlord because he helped many aspects of Japanese society to flourish. In the field of culture and art his legacy is extremely rich. Therefore, the artwork of Eitoku provides a glimpse into the world of Nobunaga and his unbelievable free spirit.

 

http://www.kyohaku.go.jp/eng/tokubetsu/071016/tokubetsu.html  Kyoto National Museum

http://www.all-art.org/asia/japanese_prints/japan_art2.html 

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com 

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japan tourism and culture: Hakone Jinja, historical treasure museum and Mount Fuji

Japan tourism and culture: Hakone Jinja, historical treasure museum and Mount Fuji

James Jomo and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Hakone is a very popular tourist destination because you have so many places to visit and the views of Mount Fuji in certain locations are extremely stunning. Throughout Hakone you have many museums and cultural wise the area is very rich in history. This certainly applies to Hakone Jinja (Hakone Shrine) whereby the Shinto faith blends naturally with nature. Also, the historical treasure museum based on the rich history of Hakone Jinja is certainly worth visiting because you have several amazing gems to view.

Hakone Jinja (Hakone Gongen) highlights all the natural beauty of Shinto and how nature and the gods work in unison in this religion. The backdrop of Lake Ashi, the mountain landscape and Mount Fuji breaking out from certain vantage points is absolutely stunning. Therefore, you can feel the strong connection between nature and the mystical charms of the Shinto faith.

The exact date when the foundation of Hakone Shrine was created remains debatable but clearly it dates back to the eighth century. This means that this amazing religious place was built during the Nara Period (710-794) which is fitting for such an important shrine. After all, while Kyoto may hog the limelight for being significant in Japanese culture the truth of the matter is that the Nara Period is where high culture began. This isn’t undermining the exquisite beauty and richness of Kyoto but clearly the majesty of Kyoto built on the firm foundations of the Nara Period.

Mystical holy men in the eighth century called yamabushi believed that gods dwelled in mountains that were extremely steep. Therefore, by dwelling in the same places it was hoped that ascetic practices fused with the dwelling gods would lead to magical powers and greater knowledge. Not surprisingly, Hakone Jinja with its ideal location and mysterious majesty was a place where the dwelling gods may be found according to the traditions of the yamabushi.

During the ninth century new forces were entering the Japanese psyche because Esoteric Buddhism from China was making an impact. This notably applies to Kukai (774-835) and Saicho (767-822) and once more the importance of the mountain landscape is abundantly obvious. Therefore, a fusion began to take place between the Shinto faith and its animistic nature alongside esoteric Buddhism in parts of Japan.

Mountain asceticism under Kukai in Wakayama was also powerful. Meanwhile,  in eastern Japan, and this notably applies to Hakone and Nikko, the same asceticism could be found despite the thought patterns being different. According to history Priest Mangan travelled extensively to spread the Buddhist faith and in 757 he reached Hakone and during his stay very powerful events occurred in his life. This applies to having many encounters with the yamabushi during his three years in Hakone and learning new ascetic ways. However, the real lasting legacy applies to a revelation that Priest Mangan had.

In this revelation which occurred during a dream the fusion of many ideas manifested itself and the outcome was very important. The revelation in his dream stated that “Your heart is pure and clean. Let’s deliver mankind with the grace of Shinto and Buddhist deities.” This revelation impacted greatly on him and he notified the emperor who in turn valued the meaning fully. Therefore, the emperor notified Priest Mangan to build a shrine at once in order to fulfill the revelation and hence this is the origin of this holy Shinto shrine.

Issues related to when the foundations first began or if Priest Mangan incorporated older Shinto shrines remains open. However, major changes did occur during the stay of Priest Mangan and from this date onwards many powerful individuals in Japanese history understood the power of this place.

If you visit the small treasure museum associated with the Hakone Jinja then important individuals in Japanese history like Emperor Hanayama (968-1008); Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199); Toyotomi Hideyoshi who died in 1598; Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616); and many others, will be highlighted. The treasure museum may only be small but you have many gems inside and the images are extremely beautiful.

Indeed, maybe the mysticism of Shintoism is at play because irrespective of language constraints and the size of the treasure museum; providing you stand back and take in what you visualize then the visit will stay with you. This notably applies to the five items which have been ranked with having national Important Cultural Property.

Hakone is an extremely beautiful part of Japan and takes only 90 minutes by a special express train from Shinjuku. Your options and the special Hakone transport pass from the Odakyu train company means that your stay is convenient. Also, you can utilize the many forms of transport which are available when you buy this special transport pass.

Hakone is situated in the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park and the entire region is a tourist paradise whereby stunning nature is in all directions and you have so many cultural treasures to view. This notably applies to the Narukawa Art Museum for modern Japanese paintings; the Hakone Open Air Museum; the Pola Museum of Art; Venetian Glass Museum; Suzuhiro Corp. Kamaboko Museum; volcanically active Owakudani geysers; Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands; Odawara Castle Donjon; Local History Museum; Museum of Saint Exupery and the Little Pince in HakoneHakone Old Takaido Road Museum; Hakone Mononofu-no-Sato Art Museum; Hakone Art Museum; Honma Yosegi Museum; Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Natural History; and you have a wealth of parks and special walks to go on.

In Hakone you have countless options and of course if you stay several days to a week then you won’t be disappointed because the countless amazing views will refresh you throughout your stay. The religious angle of the Shinto faith and cultural importance of the entire area fuses naturally with the stunning landscape.

http://www.odakyu.jp/english/qtours/hakone_course2.html

http://www.odakyu.jp/english/freepass/hakone_01.html

http://www.hakone.or.jp/english/index.html

http://www.odakyu.jp/english/rc/index.html

http://www.hokusai-kan.com/treasure01.htm

ALL IMAGES BELONG TO MODERN TOKYO TIMES

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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art and Buddhism: Sesshu Toyo and Sengai Gibon in opposite directions

Japanese art and Buddhism: Sesshu Toyo and Sengai Gibon in opposite directions

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Sesshu Toyo (1420-1506) and Sengai Gibon (1750-1837) are two famous individuals in Japanese history. However, despite belonging to the same Rinzai school of Buddhism both individuals had hugely different views of art and the faith they shared. Therefore, for Sengai Gibon he turned to art late in life after neglecting the hidden talents he clearly had because he wanted to focus on spirituality. Alternatively, Sesshu Toyo felt crushed at times by the rigid nature of Rinzai Buddhism during his lifetime.

Sengai Gibon also focused his art by turning away from depicting high culture and traditional forms. Instead his art highlighted humor but with a deeper message providing the individual shares the same mind concepts but of course the interpretation is left open for the individual to decide. Also, Sengai Gibon wanted to connect Rinzai Buddhism with all the people of Japan irrespective of status and light natured aspects of his art could reach a wider audience.

However, Sesshu Toyo focused on sublime art which based itself on the rich traditions of the time but fused with individualism and new thinking. Yet Sesshu Toyo, unlike Sengai Gibon, struggled with his love of art and the religious vocation which he had. Therefore, at times he felt trapped between the religious world and his inner-artistic nature which flowed throughout his veins.

Ironically, we will never know the real artistic skills of Sesshu Toyo and Sengai Gibon but for different reasons. After all, Sesshu Toyo had suffered beatings by Rinzai Buddhist priests because of his love of art over religion when he was young. Alternatively, Sengai Gibon had the ability to express more sophisticated art if he had desired but clearly his main emphasis in life was on spreading the Rinzai Buddhist message and connecting the richness of Buddhism with ordinary lay people.

At no point does Sesshu Toyo reject Buddhism but the beatings of his earlier life and later constraints meant that he felt artistically unfulfilled. This can be seen by a very intriguing piece of art called “Huike Offering His Arm to Bodhidharma” because many aspects of this painting raises serious issues.

In an earlier article related to the “Huike Offering His Arm to Bodhidharma” I comment that “Sesshu Toyo shows Huike who had cut his arm off after Bodhidharma had rejected Huike many times. However, if this was to show the deep admiration of Huike to Bodhidharma then at no time is this expressed in“Huike Offering His Arm to Bodhidharma.

“On the contrary, while the art piece provides a mysterious aura to Bodhidharma and shows his power by being ranked higher to Huike, it does not show any piety from Huike. Therefore, why did Huike cut his arm off if no love, passion, piety or admiration?”

“It doesn’t matter if the image was a metaphor or not because the real power is the interaction and lack of respect. Maybe the image is showing that Huike is the real master and that power belongs to him but this would imply a deep devotion to Huike and a profound religious statement.”

“However, Sesshu Toyo wasn’t a religious fundamentalist and it wasn’t about a power shift. After all, in early Christianity some people were Pauline in thinking and revered St. Paul but St. Paul warns about this during his lifetime.”

The significance of Sesshu Toyo highlighting such an intriguing image in the late period of his life should not be lost. Therefore, I believe that Sesshu Toyo is highlighting his inner-anger towards the hierarchy of Rinzai Buddhist leaders. This means that the image of Bodhidharma is depicting Rinzai Zen Buddhism and Huike is the real Sesshu Toyo.

In this sense, Huike is Sesshu Toyo in this piece of art and he is showing his disrespect towards the institutions of Rinzai Buddhist leaders who desire to limit his artistic nature. Also, this stunning piece of art shows no feeling towards both individuals and clearly you have little reverence and respect in this art work between Bodhidharma and Huike. This also implies that the artistic passion of Sesshu Toyo was crushed and that Bodhidharma (Rinzai Zen Buddhism) only cared about power and keeping a watchful eye on individuals who desired to express themselves.

Of course, this is based on my own interpretation and the truth is that nobody will ever know because Sesshu Toyo took his true thinking to the grave. However, something is amiss in Huike Offering His Arm to Bodhidharma.”

Likewise, but for very different reasons, the real art ability of Sengai Gibon will never be known but unlike Sesshu Toyo he limited his artistic nature in order to focus on Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Therefore, Sengai Gibon only focuses more on art when he reaches the later stages of his life. Not only this, but Sengai Gibon wants to enlighten all and sundry towards the Buddhist faith he holds dearly.

It must be stated that at no time does Sesshu Toyo reject Buddhism because his qualms are related to institutionalism and clamping down on his artistic nature. Also, the approach of both individuals to art is very different and the sense of humor that Sengai Gibon was blessed with shines through deeply within his artwork.

Michael Dunn in an article published by The Japan Times comments that “As an artist, Sengai was not only an outsider to the established art schools and academies, but a free spirit, whose manifesto expounded that painting was not a subject that could be limited by rules. This philosophy is apparent at first sight in any of his paintings, which look sketchy, improvised and perhaps — to the Western eye — unfinished. No careful studies of light or color impressions here; expression is all! And yet they each convey some profound Zen principle or aphorism in an easily understandable form, much like the pithy insight seen in parables, proverbs or political cartoons.”

“Despite the hastily sketched roughness of his paintings, Sengai was perfectly in command of brush and ink, an artistic discipline — unlike oil painting — where the result of ink contacting paper is final, leaving no chance for mistakes to be rectified. This mastery is apparent in his painting of bamboo that matches in skill the best efforts of the Nanga (Japanese literati) painters of his time, or his evening view of Hakozaki Beach, where a single broad brush stroke shades from black through gray to capture the volume of a sea embankment.”

Art for Sesshu Toyo took pride of place in his heart but for Sengai Gibon art was a tool to express humility, humor, Buddhism, and thought provoking questions. The reason I state “humility” is because Sengai Gibon had huge potential but in time “all potential turns to dust” and only “a shell” remains of people who are remembered in history. Therefore, reality is clouded based on different perspectives and how individuals view the world.

Meanwhile, for the 99.99% per cent of other individuals then in time nothing is remembered and all names are forgotten. In a way, the art of Sengai Gibon was aimed at the 99.99% of individuals and only elites through reinterpretation have put them on a higher plain based on “images of Zen.” However, “the real Zen,” just like the “real Christianity,” the “real self,” and so forth, is nothing more than an illusion based on multiple factors.

For Sesshu Toyo art was deeply impassioned within his heart and religious dogma and tradition ate away at his soul. Yet for Sengai Gibon art was rejected in his earlier life in order to focus on Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Therefore, the art produced by both is not only a million miles away but their real spiritual and artistic vocations meant completely different things to both Sesshu Toyo and Sengai Gibon.

Neither rejected Rinzai Zen Buddhism or art but clearly their paths and passions went in different directions. However, in a world based “on interpretation” then what is “real” and what is “false” is up to the individual to decide.

http://www.japanese-arts.net/painting/zen_sesshu.htm

http://www.dharmanet.org/Zenart.htm

http://moderntokyotimes.com

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art and Kawanabe Kyosai: the power of folklore and culture

Japanese art and Kawanabe Kyosai: the power of folklore and culture

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyosai is extremely fascinating because of his individualistic spirit and this is witnessed in his art. Kyosai, just like the mysterious Tengu, belonged to two worlds and this applies to the old Edo period and the modernization of Japan which began in 1868. The Meiji Restoration of 1868 was truly dynamic and revolutionary. Also, the center and periphery relations altered the status quo of the Edo period which relied heavily on stratification.

The Tengu also belongs to two very different traditions and highlights the power of Shintoism and the mysteriousness of this religion. Not only this, the Shinto impact on Buddhist thought patterns and traditions emanating in China were completely turned on its head. Therefore, the Tengu becomes part of the richness of nature within the Shinto faith rather than the dark demons of Buddhism and other faiths which highlight the power of evil. This fact also shows the power of Japanese culture and the indigenous faith of Shinto which could absorb different thinking and traditions.

Kyosai was born in 1831 and died in 1889 and the rapid changes in society clearly impacted on him. He was an individual who was independent in mind and thought and Kyosai expresses this through his art.

Kusumi Kawanabe, Director of the Kawanabe Kyosai Memorial Museum, comments that “This great artist has grown in stature as we have been able the better to get the Meiji period into perspective. He studied at an early age under Kuniyoshi and later under Kano masters, but eventually he went his own independent way. Essentially a nationalistic painter, he was nonetheless fully aware of Western art – indeed, he dealt with it quite broadmindedly in his book “Kyosai Gadan” published in 1887 – but he was robust enough not to succumb, as so many of his contemporaries did, to the blandishments of foreign styles, and was one of the last great painters in the truly Japanese tradition.”

The main focus in this article is to highlight aspects of Kyosai and link this with the Tengu and the underworld of Japan where mysterious creatures, spirits, and ghosts played a powerful role within the culture of this fascinating country. Also, it is clear that the outside influence of China and Korea impacted greatly on Japan. However, despite this the indigenous faith of Shintoism and other powerful aspects of culture would transform many of these new thought patterns and create a truly Japanese identity.

The yokai represent aspects of the mystery of folklore in Japan and the transformation of Tengu is also fascinating within the changing thought patterns of Japan. The yokai are creatures with supernatural powers and the Tengu are one of the most widely known monster-spirits in the land of the rising sun.

The Tengu have constantly gone through transformations in Japanese folklore and while early artists depicted the Tengu with beaks this changed in time and now the most distinctive feature is their long nose.

Within Buddhist thought patterns the Tengu were demons and it was believed that they were harbingers of bad times and this applies to war and other calamities.  However, within Shintoism the Tengu were sometimes worshipped as revered spirits (Shinto kami) which had magical powers.  Therefore, the Tengu also witnessed the fusion of aspects of Buddhism and Shintoism because in time their image changed into a more protective force.

However, despite this transformation the Tengu still had dark and dangerous powers and people in the mountains and forests had to tread carefully because of the several natures of the Tengu. This meant that local people couldn’t take the Tengu for granted and great respect was needed during visits to special shrines which highlight this mysterious folklore creature.

Kyosai certainly depicts the power of the Tengu and the mysterious features and nature of various types ofyokai.  Therefore, Kyosai is showing images of the old world despite the new reality of the Meiji period.

In Japanese history the Tengu went from demonic creatures into positive aspects providing care was taken and nature was at peace with the underworld.  For example if we apply this to children then in early Japanese history the Tengu were believed to abduct children. However, in later history this all changed because the Tengu became enlisted in searching for children who were scared and needed help quickly.

Another positive side of the Tengu is that their shape-shifting power applies to animal and human form and this meant that their attributes were powerful. Therefore, the Tengu used this in order to play tricks on arrogant Buddhist priests or people who abused their power.

In this sense, while the Tengu belong to Japanese folklore it could be said that Kyosai shared some characteristics and this applies to attacking political elites.  After all, Kyosai was known for being a political caricaturist and he often got in trouble with the law and the dominant political power of his day.

Kyosai was a free thinker who highlighted the richness of the spirit world in his art and Japanese folklore.

http://kyosai-museum.jp/ENG/about.htm

http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/tengu.shtml

http://www.obakemono.com/obake/tengu/

http://www.robynbuntin.com/MoreByArtist.asp?ArtistID=388

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art and Ogata Korin (1658-1716)

Japanese art and Ogata Korin (1658-1716)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The art of Ogata Korin remains potent because of clarity and his own unique ways. However, at one point it appeared that the winds of time would threaten his legacy and if this had happened, then Japanese art would have been the loser. Thankfully, Sakai Hoitsu would change this because this individual understood the powerful art of Korin and he restored his reputation and opened up his art to new artists.

Korin had been born into a wealthy household because his father was a thriving merchant. More important, his father had a keen eye for art therefore he nurtured his son and gave him a firm foundation. This proved to be a rich blessing because Korin was blessed with amazing skills and he also had something new to offer the art world.

It is certainly true that Korin admired Hon’ami Koetsu and Tawaraya Sotatsu because both individuals influenced him. Therefore, aspects of this influence can be felt within the “heart” of Korin but this gifted artist also had his own distinctive style.

For example Korin focused on bold designs and he utilized contrasting colors and the power of this can be felt deeply within his artwork. Also, Korin would manipulate space and sometimes he would disregard the conventions of his day. This applies to rejecting pure realism within his art and manipulating nature in order to expose the beauty he saw within his world. Therefore, while Korin respected Koetsu and Sotatsu to the full, he also had his own unique style and clearly this attracted Hoitsu.

In a past article I commented that “in the history of art the “shadow of time” nearly bypassed him after his death because Korin was becoming a forgotten artist or at least on the periphery. Sakai Hoitsu would change this because he brought Korin back “from the cold” and “into the light” once more.”

“Therefore, with Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828) reviving the interest of Korin he once more became remembered and interest grew because of this factor.  Hoitsu also reproduced some of the best work of Korin and this was a timely reminder to all lovers of art in Japan that Korin played his role when it came to creativity and expressing serenity.”

If you look at the White and Red Plum Blossoms by Korin it is clear that the angle of the viewer and that of the artist is fascinating. At first, it isn’t noticeable to lay people because everything appears normal but the more you look then clearly the angle is intriguing from a Western art point of view.

On the following website (http://www.all-art.org) it is commentated that “Ogata Korin used none of these Western perspective conventions. He showed the two plum trees as seen from a position on the ground, while viewers look down on the stream between them from above. Less concerned with locating the trees and stream in space than with composing shapes on a surface, the painter played the water’s gently swelling curves against the jagged contours of the branches and trunks. Neither the French nor the Japanese painting can be said to project “correctly” what viewers “in fact” see. One painting is not a “better” picture of the world than the other. The European and Asian artists simply approached the problem of picture-making differently.”

It is factual that Korin is not internationally famous unlike a few Japanese artists who are widely known. However, fame and stunning art doesn’t always go hand in hand and of course the art world is extremely broad and some styles have hit the imagination more and received greater international attention.

Despite this, the legacy of Korin is powerful in modern Japan and he is rightly known for being distinctive and enhancing the richness of Japanese art. Also, the more you focus on his art then the more clear it becomes that his unique style appeals today just like it appealed greatly to Hoitsu. Therefore, Korin left a lasting legacy and when you view the more refined artwork of Korin you can visualize high society in the golden periods of Kyoto and Nara.

http://www.japanese-arts.net/painting/schools_rinpa_ogatakorin.htm

http://www.asianartnewspaper.com/article/rinpa%3A-the-art-of-japan%E2%80%99s-renaissance

http://moderntokyotimes.com

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

 
  
 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Japan

 

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Isoda Koryusai: man of mystery in the ukiyo-e art world

Isoda Koryusai: man of mystery in the ukiyo-e art world

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Isoda Koryusai is a man of mystery even today because much remains up in the air about important aspects of his life. Koryusai was born in 1735 and died in 1790 and he was active during the 1760s and until a few years before his death. However, major aspects remain debatable but despite this he was a fine artist who graced ukiyo-e and Japanese art.

Unlike the vast majority of ukiyo-e artists Koryusai was born into an elite samurai family and he was one of only a few who entered the ukiyo-e art world from such a lofty background. This meant that he saw aspects of Japanese society and culture from a different way to the majority of ukiyo-e artists.

Koryusai understood the importance of stratification and Confucian thinking because his early life was based on conformity and not upsetting the applecart. However, either he turned to the art “within him” or he was forced to enter the world of ukiyo-e because of financial factors. Sadly, this area is disputed by many scholars of ukiyo-e and much is open to interpretation.

Therefore, some scholars claim that he became a ronin and because of this he took to art in order to survive financially. Others, however, claim that he voluntary entered the art world and gave up being a samurai because art was embedded in his soul. This area is very important because in order to feel the passion and soul of Koryusai a great deal relies on this.

Of course, nothing can take anything away from the art of Koryusai irrespective of the real reasons behind changing his lifestyle. However, the vagueness of knowledge means that it is difficult to get close to the “real” Koryusai.

On the website Artelino (http://www.artelino.comit gives a lot of information about Koryusai and Dan McKee comments about the background and influence of this overlooked artist. This applies to the background and influence behind Koryusai and if he was a pupil of Harunobu Suzuki.

Dan McKee comments that “There is no certain evidence to prove this fact, but it is often assumed that Koryusai began his printmaking work as a pupil of Harunobu Suzuki, whose style can indeed be seen in Koryusai’s early work, though also in the work of some other print artists (Shunsho, Shiba Kokan) whose connection to Harunobu seems even less direct. The same can be said for Koryusai’s early signature, Haruhiro, under which he designed his first prints at around the time of Harunobu’s demise (1769-1770), for use of the “haru” prefix may imply only an effort to appear in the Harunobu line, rather than an actual master-disciple relationship (ala Harushige).”

“Similarly, the inscription on one 1770 print, claiming it to be a design by Harunobu, for which Koryusai was asked to add color, could as easily represent an attempt to place Koryusai as the direct descendant of Harunobu for commercial reasons, to fill the void left by the death of the first nishiki-e master. It is notable that Koryusai states in this inscription that he “does not know Harunobu’s way but have finished the print with his [Koryusai's] own brushwork.”

Robyn Buntin (http://www.robynbuntin.com) on the other hand comments that “Though possibly a pupil of Shigenaga, Koryusai was influenced most by his friend Harunobu whose style can be seen in Koryusai’s early work. His most original work, in which he excelled, was in pillar prints, bird-and-flower prints, and shunga.”  

Jack Hillier concludes that “There is always, especially among collectors, a tendency to make comparison between artist and artist, and with Koryusai it is perhaps a case of we look before and after and pine for what is not.”

Koryusai remains a man of mystery but he produced stunning art and gave much to the ukiyo-e art world. Therefore, it is best to let the man of mystery remain to be this, rather than creating or trying to formulate conclusions which are incorrect.

Another mystery about Koryusai is why his art appears to be overlooked and the same applies to the individuality of his work. After all, he did produce art which carried his own individual style and the spectrum he focused on was very intriguing.

The final years of his life appear to be based on focusing on his roots because many designs had Chinese connotations and based on typical pillars of samurai elites. Therefore, the foundation laid down in Koryusai’s early life remained deeply within his soul.

http://www.artelino.com/articles/isoda-koryusai.asp

http://www.robynbuntin.com/ukiyo-e/MorebyArtist.asp?ArtistID=353

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Japan

 

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