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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 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.  Kyoto National Museum 

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Posted by on June 24, 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.

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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Japan


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Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Japanese art: Images of tranquility and landscapes

Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Japanese art: Images of tranquility and landscapes

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Utagawa Kuniyoshi depicted many images and covered various different subject matters. Therefore, the art of this stylish ukiyo-e artist in this article provides only a glimpse into the real Kuniyoshi.

Kuniyoshi was born in 1797 and died in 1861 and throughout this period many developments erupted in Japan. This applies to traditional rule in the earlier part of his life to rapid changes from the middle of the 1850s and onwards until the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

Ando Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai are the most famous ukiyo-e artists internationally but Kuniyoshi was also a crème de la crème artist along with many others. Also, the broad spectrum of many ukiyo-e artists is truly amazing and this also applies to the art of Kuniyoshi. Therefore, the art work of this wonderful artist is complex and depends on various different circumstances.

This article focuses only on the tranquil nature of his art and elegant landscapes which appealed to many Japanese people. However, it would be wrong to believe that these lovely landscapes and scenes of serenity provide the real Kuniyoshi because this would be false.

Despite this, for people who know the art work of Kuniyoshi the opposite could be said because all too often this angle of his artwork is neglected. Yet clearly Kuniyoshi’s landscape images match that of any ukiyo-e artist irrespective of people’s own preferred artist.

The Edo Period was succumbing to outside forces during the lifetime of Kuniyoshi and this must have infringed heavily on this stylish artist. However, when one door closes another opens up and this certainly applied to the later stages of his life. Therefore, new techniques, different thinking, growing outside influences, evolution within the Japanese art world, and others factors, impacted greatly on Kuniyoshi.

Images in this article by Kuniyoshi are a reminder of a world which was mainly un-spoilt before the economic, social, and political revolution which took hold in Japan and culminated with the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

In an earlier article I commented that “Kuniyoshi and other famous ukiyo-e artists also take you back to a different Japan in all its confusion.  Therefore, Kuniyoshi designed prints which covered a vast spectrum and this applies to landscapes, women, kabuki, humor, nature, satire, shunga, cats, surimono and other areas.”  

“It is apparent that Hokusai (1760-1849) had much more political and sexual freedom and this notably applies to Hokusai’s shunga which is very powerful and erotic.  However, the Tenpo reforms of the early 1840s introduced measures which banned prints of erotic women and actors who belonged to the kabuki scene.  This meant that Kuniyoshi had to focus more on warriors and legends but his historical depictions were under close scrutiny. Therefore the popular satire of shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi and other prints led to an official reprimand and many prints were confiscated and destroyed.”

Kuniyoshi also opened up the past and this applies to the depiction of historical figures in Japanese history, brave samurai warriors, events in Japanese history, famous legends and other related areas which nurtured each new generation.  

Famous art pieces produced by Kuniyoshi include The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden All Told, At The Shore of the Sumida River, Mt. Fuji from Sumida and Pilgrims in the Waterfall. Of course you have many other famous collections and art pieces by Kuniyoshi and preferences will vary with each individual.

Pilgrims in the Waterfall is extremely beautiful because it shows and highlights important aspects of Japanese culture when it applies to religion and nature coming together.  This notably applies to Shintoism which is “the real heart of Japan” despite the influence of Buddhism within the Japanese psyche. Also, in this stunning art piece it is abundantly clear that space is very important and this applies to religion, Japanese gardens, meditation and other aspects of Japanese culture.

The serenity which can be felt by the Pilgrims in the Waterfall connects humanity, nature and religion together.  Therefore, Kuniyoshi is highlighting a powerful reality which belonged to his world.  

Kuniyoshi’s ukiyo-e is very varied and images in this article are limited to landscapes and internal tranquility in Japan.  – Fantastic website and just click onto the section you are interested in.

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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Japan


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Tokyo tourism: Mount Takao-san is a stunning place to visit

Tokyo tourism: Mount Takao-san is a stunning place to visit

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Mount Takao-san is a lovely place to visit and for visitors this part of Tokyo makes a welcome change from the high rise buildings of Tokyo. The stunning scenery of Mount Takao-san contrasts massively with the buzzing fashion districts of Tokyo. This dimension is often overlooked by many individuals when they think about this amazing city.

The religious dimension of Mount Takao-san is also fascinating because you will see many religious places of worship on this mountain peak and the architecture is also visually attractive. Therefore, the cultural dimension of this part of Tokyo is very rich and this increases the pulling power and adds to the mystery of Mount Takao-san.

When you visit this place you will see romantic couples enjoying quality time together, individuals escaping the stress of normal life, tourists, people interested in culture, religious people who want to pray and connect with their faith, hikers, families enjoying precious time, group tours, friends relaxing together, photographers, nature lovers and you will have other factors behind the reason for people visiting Mount Takao-san. 

However, the one common binding factor is that all will enjoy the stunning scenery and the richness of culture.  The changing seasons also adds another dimension and for locals and people who reside in Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures, it means that each season adds to a new experience and for this reason many local people visit several times a year.

During my visits to Mount Takao-san I have witnessed the different seasons and cherished each time.  Also, the history and mystery surrounding the places of worship is very appealing and you can visualize the old world and aspects of the mythology of Japan.

The reason Mount Takao-san is important in history and culture is because Emperor Shomu ordered the building of the Yakou-in Temple in 744. This rich legacy is very important because since the eighth century you have had countless number of pilgrims and non-religious people who have visited Mount Takao-san because of the cultural and religious dimensions of this part of Tokyo.

In another article about Mount Takao-san I commented that “During your visit you will see a statue of “Tengu” and Tengu is believed to be a deified man who mastered ancient mountain worship. Tengu is noticeable by having a long nose but the undercurrents of ancestor worship, Shintoism, and believing in the spirit world of the mountain is striking……mythology and a wisdom now lost is symbolized by the image of Tengu.”

From an outsiders point of view Tengu reminds me of a mixture of human form and nature whereby the individual was at one with the mountain that he loved and therefore was deified.”

Mount Takao-san is a very special place to visit and it is protected by the Meiji no Mori Takao Quasi-National Park. This stunning part of Tokyo is a reminder that the old world is still alive and ticking. Therefore, despite the modern reality of Tokyo you still have a magnificent mountain range on the edges of this fabulous city.

Mount Takao-san is a must place to visit!  – Mount Takao-san  – Mount Takao-sanm/e/e3029.html  – Mount Takao-san

Takaosan-guchi Station via the  Keio Takao Line  (please visit)


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Posted by on August 13, 2011 in Japan


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Oda Nobunaga: a visionary who was open to Christianity in the 16th century


Oda Nobunaga: a visionary who was open to Christianity in the 16th century

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


In all societies remarkable leaders emerge despite the constraints of culture, customs, religion and other factors.  In Japan this certainly applies to Oda Nobunaga who was born in 1534 and died in 1582. 

Oda Nobunaga had a real spark of energy and while people tend to focus on the violent aspect of this great leader of Japan, it is clear that this is a huge mistake.  After all, Oda Nobunaga utilized modernity in many ways and he introduced new thinking which gave greater freedom to the peasantry in the economic sphere.

The legacy of Oda Nobunaga is very strong and under him the Christian faith began to spread in Japan.  He clearly did not follow the “fortress Buddhism” of the Edo period which would ultimately kill every single Christian in this brutal period for Christians in Japan.

On the contrary, he understood how Buddhist elites abused power and preserved the status quo.  Sadly, Oda Nobunaga’s thinking would not be shared by the majority of the leaders who would follow him and all individuals would have to register at Buddhist temples in the Edo period.

Therefore, Oda Nobunaga does create problems for Japanese individuals who revere the Edo period or who may have nationalistic tendencies.  After all, Oda Nobunaga would learn from the outside world and he would listen to what Christian missionaries had to say.

In many ways, the spirit of Oda Nobunaga is often underestimated or undervalued because he challenged many conventions and he neither supported rigid stratification and nor did he bow down to the feudal mentality of Buddhism at this time.

Therefore, Oda Nobunaga might be stuck in Japanese history but he truly belongs to world history because of his ambition, thinking, and modern concepts of adopting change in order to transform society.

Also, the violent aspect of Oda Nobunaga is over-played because it was clear that the power structures were based on self-interests and maintaining the firm stratification of society in order to further increase their respective power bases. This meant that peasants had little room in the field of trade and they were tied to poverty because of the rigid system.

At the same time the Buddhist hierarchy was powerful in Japan in this period or what could be deemed Japan in this period.  After all, the competing power structures meant that this country was disjointed and lacked any real centralization which could enforce and maintain a strong unitary state.   

Therefore, Oda Nobunaga would be the key in the centralization of Japan but the visionary aspect of Oda Nobunaga would not be shared and this applies to opening up Japan.  However, the legacy of Oda Nobunaga enabled the Edo period to begin because of his policies and unifying tendencies which were followed by the next two leaders of Japan.

In this period of history it is difficult to find the concept of Italy, Japan, Germany, and virtually all future nation states because structures were lose and the center was weak.  Also, the sense of national identity did not exist throughout the unitary nation state and these concepts only became a reality in the future.

The unitary nation state of Japan in the period of Oda Nobunaga and throughout the Edo Period was very different and modern Japan would not fully materialize until the Meiji Restoration of 1868 which would centralize and expand the power of the center.

Therefore, Oda Nobunaga’s centralization was based on the main power bases in Japan that existed in the 16th century. However, the Ainu, the people of Ryukyu (Okinawa), the nature of the fudai system, ronin, and the power of certain daimyo groups, meant that all these factors prevented a truly unified Japan.

Modern day Hokkaido did not belong to Japan until the Meiji Restoration of 1868 changed everything because Meiji leaders would centralize fully and expand the entity of Japan. 

Despite this, Oda Nobunaga was a vital link in the chain which led to this event because it was he who enabled the Edo period to take place by his thinking and the Meiji Restoration was the ultimate objective of Oda Nobunaga.  It is also ironic that the first modernizer who favored religious freedom but was usurped by the thinking of Edo leaders and the Buddhist hierarchy; was ultimately successful when the Meiji Restoration took place because religious freedom would be restored and Meiji leaders would utilize modernity in order to protect Japan from outside powers.

During the period of Oda Nobunaga in Japan it was clear that Buddhist monks who were warlike had desired to control power, or to be at the center of power, had to be crushed in Mt. Hiei because of historical factors. From the Heike war and until the rise of Oda Nobunaga the Buddhist monastery of Mt. Hiei was instrumental in Japanese history.

This Buddhist monastery was instrumental in all major power processes and this especially applied to the military and political objectives of all major leaders. Therefore, Oda Nobunaga had to destroy this power concentration in order to fulfill his ambition and he truly did this because the conflict was bloody and brutal.

The warlike Tendai Buddhists of Mt. Hiei were neither meek nor mild and they had to be challenged by Oda Nobunaga in order for him to set the stage for centralization. The conflict was bloody on both sides and mercy and compassion would not be shown by both forces who fully understood the situation and what was at stake.

This conflict culminated with every single Hiei monk being slaughtered and the Buddhist monastery was destroyed.  Again, Oda Nobunaga was revolutionary because just like Islamic power structures in modern day Afghanistan which are preventing modernization and desire to preserve their power base; Oda Nobunaga would crush an established power base which was hindering Japan and which had no intent on making life easier for the peasantry in this period.

Oda Nobunaga would show no compassion but simply move on to his next objective because he knew that this victory would free him to concentrate on greater goals.  This applies to centralization, modernity, economic policies, strengthening the military base, and utilizing firearms in order to create a future dynamic state based on commerce and self-preservation in a hostile world.

Once more the commercial and economic aspect of Oda Nobunaga’s thinking would be hindered by Edo leaders but this factor can’t be pinned on Oda Nobunaga.  Therefore, the Meiji Restoration would also resemble the modernization of his thinking but of course because of the huge gap in time then on a grander scale.

It is factual that Oda Nobunaga was a leader who would use violence in order to challenge the old order but he clearly had no option.  Either his policies of centralization would challenge the status quo and enable a new power base to emerge or the countless divisions would hinder the country.

Sadly, despite Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu being a link with Oda Nobunaga this only applied to their shared interest of a centralized power base.  Therefore, the following leaders after him did not share either his visionary ideas or his openness to the Christian faith and the same applies to economic policies.

The Tokugawa period (Edo period) in time would resemble modern day Somalia where every Christian convert is searched for and then killed.  The only difference is that this was a Buddhist inquisition of Christianity and in time the followers of Shinto would resent the Buddhist ruling clique because of economic factors.

Simon August Thalmann comments that “Buddhism wasn’t devalued as much for a perceived foreignness, however, as much as for its association to the former feudal government of the Tokugawa period. Furthermore, the leaders of the Buddhist temples of the Tokugawa period had used their position to amass wealth for themselves at a time when many people were suffering (thereby) not helping their appeal to reformers in the Meiji era.”

“During the Tokugawa period, Shinto had suffered under Buddhist domination and influence, to the point where high-ranking Buddhist priest many times came to control Shinto shrines. During the Meiji period, reformers sought to “purify” Shinto from Buddhist influence by replacing Buddhism altogether. Opposition made this impossible, however, and finally the necessary arrangements were made for the coexistence of the two traditions.”

Therefore, while people mention the natural trinity which began with Oda Nobunaga and was followed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and then Tokugawa Ieyasu.  It is part true because both Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu continued the thinking of Oda Nobunaga when it came to centralization but this is where it ends.

In other vital areas the visionary Oda Nobunaga was very different and ironically it would be the Meiji leaders which ended the Edo period who would be the real link with aspects of his thinking.

In another article that I wrote called Oda Nobunaga: free thinker and modernizer in 16th century Japan I comment that the modernizer Oda Nobunaga “…was very open minded and he supported modernity and this applies to allowing Christian missions, adopting modern firearms, greater fortifications of major castles, freeing people from the constraints on trade, opening up trade for peasants, rewarding people on merit and not just family lines, and other policies which were political and based on developing the economy.”

“Oda Nobunaga would do all this in such a short period of time and during all this radical change he would wage war against his enemies, attack a major center of Buddhism, form complex alliances, and set in motions the unitary state of Japan.”

“This unitary state of Japan, like mentioned before, was based on the power bases in Japan at this time and it must be remembered that modern day Hokkaido did not belong to Japan even during the start of the Meiji Restoration in 1868.”

“While many feudal leaders in the Western world, Hindu world, and Islamic world during this period supported stratification; Oda Nobunaga did not and instead he introduced major economic policies and rewarded people on merit within his system of thinking.”

“Oda Nobunaga, like the Hindu world, and unlike the Christian world or Islamic world in this period; supported religious freedom and he was open to new ideas in the realms of theology and thinking.” 

“He was revolutionary but sadly the Edo period would mainly isolate Japan, not fully because important daimyo’s like the Satsuma daimyo, would trade with Ryukyu (Okinawa), China, Korea, and other countries which would carry trade.” 

“However, stratification would once more be adopted during the Edo period, modernization would be curtailed, and the Christian faith would be eradicated because of major anti-Christian pogroms and massacres.”

“However, the spark that Oda Nobunaga unleashed was truly remarkable given this period of history and this applies to his views on modern warfare, economics, religious pluralism, tackling stratification, rewarding individuals on merit, freeing the peasants from untold misery, and other important areas.”

Oda Nobunaga was a free thinker but a man of his time when it came to military fighting.  Also, he was a very complex character and while he is sometimes viewed through the prism of violence this is misleading. After all, his enemies were equally violent but unlike his enemies, Oda Nobunaga had a long-term objective and he implemented policies in order to modernize.

Therefore, some Japanese and international historians may underestimate Oda Nobunaga because of his power concentration but he had hoped to revolutionize Japan. His legacy which was maintained by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu was a distortion because it only applied to centralization but Oda Nobunaga challenged the status quo and implemented social and economic reforms alongside religious openness.

Oda Nobunaga clearly desired a more pluralistic society based on new economic theories, political modernization, and military concepts which would safeguard the centralized state and people of Japan who came under this political system.

If anything, Oda Nobunaga was before his time and the Meiji Restoration would resemble aspects of his thinking much more than the static nature of the Edo period.

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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Japan


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Heirinji Zen Temple in Saitama: quiet contemplation amidst nature

Heirinji Zen Temple in Saitama: quiet contemplation amidst nature

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Modern Tokyo Times image

Heirinji Zen Temple is located in Niiza and while this part of Saitama prefecture may not appear to be out of the ordinary, the same can’t be said about this temple which is blessed with large grounds. Therefore, given the closeness to Tokyo this temple is accessible to tourists who visit this huge metropolis and a visit to such a beautiful place is rewarding.

The original temple was based in Iwatsuki in the same prefecture but the original area was destroyed by the centralizing forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590.  This in itself also reminds us of the violent aspect of Buddhism in Japan because this faith, which was not indigenous to Japan, was certainly a major power base. Therefore, Oda Nobunaga who began the centralization of Japan also attacked fanatical Buddhist sects who were violent and intent on preserving their power base.   

Modern Tokyo Times image

Josh Baran states “Japanese Zen, especially the Rinzai lineage, had long been linked to the samurai culture and bushido, the way of the sword. For hundreds of years, Zen Masters trained samurai warriors in meditation, teaching them enhanced concentration and will power. Zen helped them face adversity and death with no hesitation, to be totally loyal and act without thinking. To put it bluntly, bushido was a spiritual way of killing infused with Zen philosophy. The sword had always been a Buddhist symbol for cutting through delusion, but under bushido it was taken literally, evolving from metaphor into concrete reality. The sword became an object of veneration and obsession, idealized and worshipped.”

Modern Tokyo Times image

Therefore, when I visit the beautiful Heirinji Zen Temple and the surrounding grounds I am under no illusions because the tranquil nature of this beautiful place does not distort my reality.  However, time does not wait for nobody and while “Buddhism is in a shell” in most parts of Japan it can still be felt in places like Heirinji Zen Temple.

The ethics of simplicity, open space, serene backdrops, the noise of birds singing and the other world does play on the senses when you visit Heirinji.  After all, the architecture, serene grounds and singing birds amidst “the daily stress of life” and the passing of time, does strike a chord within the inner-soul. 

Heirinji is certainly worth a visit and for myself, I have been many times and I will continue to re-visit.  Not because I am Buddhist, this is not important, but the contemplation aspect of Heirinji is vital because it is all too easy to forget about what really matters in this life. 

Often, people only see “the bigger picture” when something dramatic happens in their life but when you visit Heirinji you understand “the bigger picture” of life irrespective of your current situation.  This is the beauty of Heirinji and Buddhist monks on a whole are in the backdrop and hidden and you have no commercial aspects of this stunning and well preserved area apart from a basic fee to enter.

Modern Tokyo Times image

Today the temple still trains Buddhist monks but unless you knew this fact then just like the history of Buddhism in Japan; it may pass you by and this is why Heirinji is so special.  It is not about gimmicks or showing anything because Heirinji is spiritual by being itself and not bending to the modern world of commercialism.

If you are lucky enough to either reside in Tokyo or Saitama then Heirinji is accessible because from Ikebukuro in Tokyo it only takes around 30 minutes in total train and bus time to arrive.  Therefore, Heirinji is well worth a visit and this applies to visiting several times because the changing nature of the seasons is very striking in Japan.

Modern Tokyo Times image

Heirinji is surrounded by the usual aspects of a build-up area but once you are close to this stunning place then you can feel the pace of life changing.  The none-missionary feel of Heirinji is also welcomed because zealous religious people from all faiths try to convert people through language and only seeing one world view.

However, the monks of Heirinji don’t need words because the architecture, lovely grounds, quaintness of the graveyard and other aspects of the grounds do all the talking. 

All religions and ideologies distort reality within literature and architecture. Therefore, just like nationalism the dream of shortsightedness is just that, it is a dream and an illusion. 

Irrespective of the past of Buddhism in Japan and the same applies to other faiths which have abandoned inner-truths in order to gain from privilege.  The simple fact is that other religions could learn from Heirinji because “the talking is done by saying nothing.”

Modern Tokyo Times image

This applies to allowing individuals to enjoy their own quality time within the tranquil grounds of this beautiful Buddhist area. Therefore, if you want to experience the finer qualities of Japanese culture and witness the passive nature of Buddhism in modern Japan then Heirinji provides this.

I myself revere this majestic place and time, history, stresses of life, economic reality, and so forth; is simply forgotten.  Heirinji is a place of tranquility and who needs to read books about philosophy and religion when you have a place of sublime beauty amidst simplicity and the reality of your own reality.

If you are a visitor to Tokyo or you reside in either Tokyo or Saitama, then a visit to the stunning grounds of Heirinji should be on your list because the simplicity of this place is a real treasure.


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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Japan


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Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Tranquil art and natural beauty! Part One

Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Tranquil art and natural beauty!  Part One

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


Utagawa Kuniyoshi is amongst the crème de la crème of ukiyo-e because his art work was truly amazing and so powerful.  Kuniyoshi, just like other famous Japanese artists like Ando Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai, was very diverse and the window of the new Japan was on its way.

This article is based on three tranquil art pieces by Kuniyoshi. However, just like life these three glimpses into Kuniyoshi and his style are misleading. Nevertheless, given the amount of art that Kuniyoshi produced then a more tranquil based article suits the introduction for lay people who only know snippets about this talented artist.

Also, human nature is complex and the outside persona and internal reality is often very different.  Therefore, by providing a glimpse into the natural aspect of Kuniyoshi’s art I hope to relate this with the calm before the storm.

After all, Kuniyoshi was born in 1798 and died in 1861 and he belonged to a world of continuity during the Edo Period but when his life was nearing the end, the Edo Period was also succumbing to outside forces and internal power issues.

By showing only three art pieces of Kuniyoshi I hope to transform these three images into a different meaning.  This applies to the safety of the past irrespective if our recollections of our early years are often clouded by nostalgia and a yearning of the dead souls which have become mere memories.

Kuniyoshi and other famous ukiyo-e artists also take you back to a different Japan in all its confusion.  Therefore, Kuniyoshi designed prints which covered a vast spectrum and this applies to landscapes, women, kabuki, humor, nature, satire, shunga, cats, surimono and other areas.  

His legacy and style especially applies to depicting historical figures, warriors, events in history and legends which helped to inspire and open-up the viewer to the past.

It is apparent that Hokusai (1760-1849) had much more political and sexual freedom and this notably applies to Hokusai’s shunga which is very powerful and erotic.  However, the Tenpo reforms of the early 1840s introduced measures which banned prints of erotic women and actors who belonged to the kabuki scene.  This meant that Kuniyoshi had to focus more on warriors and legends but his historical depictions were under close scrutiny. Therefore the popular satire of shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi and other prints led to an official reprimand and many prints were confiscated and destroyed.

Kuniyoshi was influenced to some extent by Katsukawa Shuntei (1770-1820) and this applies to warrior prints that he produced and not to other areas of his artwork. However, the early period for Kuniyoshi was not easy and it wasn’t until 1827 that he made a major breakthrough.  This applies to The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden All Told.

The three art pieces in this article depict a natural and cultural aspect of Japan.  At The Shore of the Sumida River shows the power of nature and the reality of everyday life.  The only individual face that you can see is in a natural state and he looks worn out and battling against the elements and fatigue. 

However, the Mt. Fuji from Sumida shows a breathtaking landscape and two people are in awe of the stunning beauty and another individual is walking blissfully alone.  The image also shows you a child who is enjoying life with his mother and playing. Also, unlike the older individuals the child is in a dream world because of natural joy and the energy of childhood can be seen.

The serenity of the image and exquisite color scheme alongside the backdrop of Mount Fuji is a beautiful illustration of Kuniyoshi’s art. 

Pilgrims in the Waterfall depicts the unity of faith and nature and while Buddhism was powerful in this period in Japan the indigenous faith of Shinto is “the real faith of Japan.” This applies to the power of ancestors, the spirit world, nature and humanity being in co-existence and other aspects that run through the veins of Japan’s history.

It would not really matter if the image was a pilgrimage to Buddhism or Shintoism because the natural image of nature and the power of the waterfall could only connect you with Shintoism.  Therefore, despite the power of Buddhism in this period in Japan the old world survived and this applies to the world of Shintoism and the mystery of gods within nature.

These three images depict a natural Japan and show a world which was far from the political intrigues of the day.  The serenity which can be felt by the Pilgrims in the Waterfall is a stunning image which connects humanity with nature but in a natural and simplistic way.  Therefore, no religious building is needed and instead the pilgrimage at its heart is interwoven with the power of nature. 

Similarly, Mt. Fuji from Sumida shows the stunning beauty of Japan and the scene highlights natural beauty and everyday life and thought patterns.  Older individuals are in awe while the child is blissfully happy irrespective of the stunning background.

Therefore, the three images of Kuniyoshi in this article are focused on only one side of his art work but Kuniyoshi was very diverse and during the reforms of the early 1840s he did not remain placid.  – Fantastic website and just click onto the section you are interested in.  please visit

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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Japan


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