Posts tagged ‘japanese art and ukiyo-e’

November 6, 2012

Japanese art, culture and the Yamabushi: Benkei and the loyal warrior monk

Japanese art, culture and the Yamabushi: Benkei and the loyal warrior monk

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

In Japanese culture, history and art, it is clear that Saito no Musashibo Benkei left a lasting impression and this continues today in modern culture. This legendary warrior monk belonged to the intriguing period of the 12th century. He was born in 1155 and died in 1189 after serving the famous Minamoto no Yoshitsune.  The images in this article come from the esteemed toshidama (Toshidama Gallery), whereby you can feel the power of Benkei and visually understand how he was portrayed in Japanese art.

Benkei is famous within the folklore of Japan because of his enormous strength which was matched by great loyalty. In the realm of Japanese art and the majestic ukiyo-e movement, then Benkei provides a wealth of images by many famous artists.

It is noted that he was extremely tall because by the age of seventeen Benkei had reached two meters in height. This is still very tall by the standard of today. On top of this was many other great attributes which belong to his fighting skills and the knowledge he obtained during his travels to many Buddhist monasteries.

Of course, within Japanese folklore and the mysteries of history and Shintoism, then many intriguing stories evolve around Benkei. He firmly belongs to the power and prestige of Buddhism and the warrior class that emerged during this period of Japanese history. However, just like Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all been influenced by the Pagan culture where they developed; this similarly happened to Benkei because the power of Shintoism was fused within many elements of Japanese Buddhism and folklore. Therefore, these intriguing stories about Benkei clearly have survived the test of time because he remains a potent figure today in modern Japan.

Much depends on the Benkei which appeals to the storyteller but within Japanese art and the tradition of ukiyo-e; it is clear that the term Oniwaka is merged within the nature of this famous warrior monk. Oniwaka means the “demon or ogre child.” Of course, many other fascinating stories evolve around Benkei including his deeds on the battlefield. For example, it is stated that he defeated at least 200 military men during major battles throughout his life. This of course may be exaggerated or it may not; yet the point is that his fame within the warrior class appealed greatly when judged with his great physical strength and the loyalty that bestowed him throughout his lifetime.

It is also reported that Benkei in time became a yamabushi (mountain warrior monk) and for this reason he is often depicted in a cap. This fits in well with the yamabushi who had many fine qualities. After all, the yamabushi were not only mighty warriors who were blessed with respective supernatural powers. Equally important, was the ascetic nature of the yamabushi and the exemplary knowledge they held related to the Shugendo doctrine.

The Shugendo doctrine evolved around the fusions and integration of many powerful thought patterns. This applies to the school of Shingon Buddhism and the esoteric nature of this faith, the rich heritage of Shinto, the Tendai Buddhist faith and the great philosophy of Taoism. Therefore, the yamabushi were not just mysterious holy men who had mighty powers in the area of military strength; but equally powerful was the knowledge that each individual had obtained in this world and how they utilized this with the mystery of nature.

His loyalty remains famous today and the Toshidama Gallery sums up Benkei extremely well when it comes to the loyalty of this esteemed individual. Toshidama states that “…he was raised by monks who were both religious and military. As a young man he positioned himself at one end of Gojo Bridge and disarmed travelers of their swords. On reaching his 999th sword he fought with a young nobleman, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who won the battle of the bridge and thereafter Benkei served as his principal retainer. They fought in the Gempei Wars between the Taira clan and their own Minamoto clan.”

If you are intrigued about Benkei then this article is providing just a snippet of the importance of Benkei within many aspects of Japanese culture, history and folklore.

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_473/Toshihide-Portraits-of-Sansho–Ichikawa-Danjuro-IX-as-Benkei-1893.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_391/Kunisada-Benkei-and-Yoshitsune-fighting-on-Gojo-Bridge.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_237/Kunisada-Portrait-of-Benkei.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_246/Yoshitaki-Benkei-and-Yoshitsune-at-Gojo-Bridge.htm

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

September 6, 2012

Japanese Art and Ukiyo-e: Ghost of Koheiji by Konishi Hirosada and Evil Akuba

Japanese Art and Ukiyo-e: Ghost of Koheiji by Konishi Hirosada and Evil Akuba

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The power of the Shinto faith runs deep throughout the fabric of Japanese religion, folklore, culture and other important aspects of society. Buddhism which emanated from outside of Japan would also greatly impact itself within the fabric of society. Modern Japan in major cities may look a million miles away from the richness of Japanese folklore but remnants remain. In the countryside the old world survives much more easily but throughout the veins of Japanese tradition major festivals keep aspects of old Japan alive within major cities even if diluted.

Of course, you will have many living religious places of worship throughout major cities in Japan but the mystery can be felt stronger in the “still night” of the countryside whereby local shrines have so much power. Not surprisingly, with the two dominant faiths having so much richness then ghosts, demons and the underworld played a powerful role in Japanese folklore.

This in turn expressed itself through Japanese art, plays and literature. In the world of ukiyo-e many amazing artists depicted ghosts, demons and the underworld. Also, the power of Japanese culture and the indigenous Shinto faith impacted greatly on Buddhism. This means that many fusions have crossed over between the faiths of Shinto and Buddhism. Indeed, the mystery of the Shinto faith is its openness, diversity, blending naturally within nature and the richness of local traditions which vary from place to place.

Konishi Hirosada (Gosotei Hirosada) produces a stunning image of the ghost of Koheiji (top image in the article) which seeks revenge towards his wife Otowa and her devious lover. Koheiji is brutally tortured and murdered by Otowa with the hands of her lover to blame within many realms. This applies to psychology and a very twisted crime of passion induced by strong emotions between both scheming individuals. The pain of the torture and betrayal was brutally shocking and clearly Koheiji couldn’t enter the next world because his spirit was restless for revenge.

The Toshidama Gallery comments about the print by Konishi Hirosada that “This is a very fine and rare print by the Osaka artists Konishi Hirosada. It depicts the ghost of Kohata Koheiji who, having been tortured and drowned by his unfaithful wife Otowa and her scheming lover, takes revenge upon them from beyond the grave. Koheiji is played by the kabuki actor Arashi Rikaku II. Revenge plays of this sort were hugely popular and often depicted evil women called akuba. This play, A Mysterious Tale of Revenge at Asaka Marsh, was so popular with audiences that a sequel was commissioned.”

Toshidama Gallery further comments that “A strange twist, given the subject of this role, is that the actor portrayed here, Arashi Rikaku II, was the adoptive father of Arashi Rikaku III, himself imprisoned for his part in the poisoning (of) his lover’s mistress. His lover, Yoarashi Okinu, was what audiences would refer to as an akuba. She administered the poison after becoming pregnant by Rikaku. She was eventually arrested in May 1871 and decapitated in 1872.”

Clearly Koheiji was unlucky to have married an akuba lady because these ladies would do anything for the people they love. Extortion and murder, and other acts of betrayal, were part and parcel of being an akubalady. However, the spirit of Koheiji was too strong because he desired vengeance from the underworld and refused to enter either heaven or hell until he fulfilled this.

The power of ghost stories in the Edo and Meiji periods of Japanese history were cherished because of the strong connection of faith and the power of the stories that were portrayed. At the same time amazing ukiyo-e artists could depict the vastness of this world.

 

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_352/Hirosada-Arashi-Rikaku-II-as-the-ghost-of-Koheiji.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_261/Hirosada-The-Ghost-of-Togoros-Wife.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_177/Hirosada-Kasa-Ippon-ashi-One-Legged-Umbrella-Demon.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/

http://toshidama.wordpress.com/

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

February 9, 2012

Japanese art and Torii Kiyonaga: Ukiyo-e and bijinga

Japanese art and Torii Kiyonaga: Ukiyo-e and bijinga

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) was an extremely stylish ukiyo-e artist who belonged to the Torii school. His rise to the top of this school highlights many aspects of Japanese culture within the art world because he wasn’t related to the Torii family but despite this he rose to the top after the death of Torii Kiyomitsu who was his teacher and adoptive father. Therefore, biological factors which remain powerful in modern Japan appears not to have been a hindrance in old Japan within the art world because the Torii family focused on reputation and not bloodline.

The rich tradition of the Torii family was maintained by Kiyonaga and he would supervise Torii Kiyomine who was the grandson of Kiyomitsu. In time Kiyomine would succeed Kiyonaga and clearly his teaching would prepare him fully.

Kiyonaga is famous for nishiki-e (“”brocade picture” – multi-colored woodblock printing), bijinga (beautiful women), paintings of Kabuki actors, depicting courtesans and he also produced shunga (erotic art). However, Kansei Reforms in the 1790s which were based on other edicts did try to clampdown on shunga. Yet in time shunga would naturally fall by the wayside with the emergence of erotic photography in the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Turning back to nishiki-e then this technique innovation is credited to Kinroku and this form became an important development within the ukiyo-e art world in the 1760s. Suzuki Harunobu popularized nishiki-e in the middle of the 1760s and clearly Kiyonaga understood the importance of this new technique.

Bijinga was an area where Kiyonaga would excel and clearly the utilization of nishiki-e and elegant portrayals enabled him to produce many stunning pieces of art. Other notable bijinga artists apply to Utamaro, Suzuki Harunobu, Toyohara Chikanobu, and the last greatest producer of this art form being Ito Shinsui. Ogata Gekko also produced many stunning works of beautiful women and bijinga is extremely pleasing on the eye.

The Art Institute of Chicago comments on their website that “The artist Torii Kiyonaga has been described as the preeminent leader in…the golden age of ukiyo-e prints.” This comment is followed by a quote from Chie Hirano who stated that “He understood the human body much more thoroughly than other ukiyo-e artists, and by beautifying it he created a healthy and noble type of his own.”

On the Van Gogh Gallery it is stated that His work is less stilted and formal than that found in prints from earlier periods, and he presents female figures and their male admirers and suitors in outdoor and indoor scenes. These scenes offer distant landscapes, views of houses and roofs in diagonal patterns, and river and boating scenes. Kiyonaga was a great master of color, and he liked to paint diptychs and triptychs, which were printed on separate sheets of paper. Whether he used deep, sensuous tones or more delicate pastels and shades of gray and black, he applied the color freshly and with great taste. His delicate line delineated graceful and appealing women.”

“Kiyonaga’s work makes use of genre objects and architectural detail, and depicts what must have been for the people of Tokyo, a series of familiar places and activities. Unlike other Ukiyo-e artists, he also offered the general public a series of prints, depicting court ladies of the tenth and eleventh centuries, dressed in their stiff brocaded kimonos, with elaborate coiffures.”

Kiyonaga left behind a rich legacy in several areas of ukiyo-e because he clearly responded to changing techniques by utilizing nishiki-e. Also, the elegance of many art pieces by Kiyonaga means that aspects of high culture and changing styles can easily be imagined.

http://www.art.com/gallery/id–a8195/torii-kiyonaga-posters.htm

http://www.vangoghgallery.com/artistbios/Torii_Kiyonaga.html

http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/exhibition/toriikiyonaga

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

 

http://moderntokyotimes.com

October 12, 2011

Utagawa Kuniyoshi: stunning images of tranquility or myth?

Utagawa Kuniyoshi: stunning images of tranquility or myth?

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Utagawa Kuniyoshi like many ukiyo-e artists tackled the usual themes of the “floating world” but more than most, he really came alive with powerful images when it applied to mystical tales and Japanese folklore.  However, this article is based on glimpses of tranquility and the other Kuniyoshi which is often an afterthought when compared with his rich art depicting monsters and other highly suggestive images.

Ando Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai spring to mind internationally in the world of ukiyo-e but Utagawa Kunisada outshone all ukiyo-e artists in Japan during his lifetime and he was commercially the most successful. However, ukiyo-e artists are very varied and individuals will have their own particular favorite and certainly many people revere the rich imagination of Kuniyoshi. 

Also, while great focus is put on pre-Meiji artists this hides the real beauty of ukiyo-e because Meiji artists brought a new dimension because of the changing world which influenced them.  They also had to compete in this changing world and styles changed because of this.

The window of a new Japan was emerging despite Kuniyoshi dying before the revolutionary period of Meiji. However, amidst the changing world and Kuniyoshi’s focus on strong images based on Japanese folklore, mystical tales and samurai warriors; you also have a tranquil world based on landscape.

Therefore, if individuals don’t know much about Kuniyoshi his tranquil art is a nice introduction and images of landscape are very soothing on the eye.  Indeed, in many ways it could be argued that while Kuniyoshi’s rich imagination focused on a world of mystical tales, Japanese folklore and powerful images of monsters – this may appear to be based on myth – however, it could be argued that the tranquil nature of his landscape was more of a myth because life was very hard in Japan for many people.

This is the beauty of art because one reflection to one individual may show a world that they want to see and envisage. However, to another individual it will be partly mythical or deemed beyond the realm of reality.  However, this is the mystery of art in all its manifestations.

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 highlight a rich aspect of this unique artist who had such a rich imagination.

Kuniyoshi was a truly amazing artist and he also responded to the political changes surrounding him in the 1840s.  However, in a world of chaos and rapid change then his tranquil art appeals to individuals who seek nostalgia and a world based on blissful tranquility.

The Islamic revolution in Iran was originally based on a mythical past and in time many revolutionaries would regret. Similarly, the Russian Revolution was based on a new society and communist art depicted many images of unity and modernity based on equality.

It could well be that Kuniyoshi’s landscape images were more mythical than his images of monsters. However, that depends on the history that the individual wants to believe. 

Irrespective of the real reality of Japan during the lifetime of Kuniyoshi it is clear that his tranquil art is very soothing and this angle shows the richness of his art.

http://www.kuniyoshiproject.com/   – Fantastic website and just click onto the section you are interested in.

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com