Japanese Art – Kyoto, The Greatest Art Center

The introduction and imitation of things Chinese reached its climax in the eighth century, at the end of which people were satiated with them and keenly needed a change in life and art. At that time, in 794, the Emperor Kwammu, who understood the tendency of the age, removed the seat of government to Yamashiro, calling it Heian or ” Peace and Ease ” which is the present old capital of Kyoto.

But during the first century in the new capital, the inter-course with China still continued. Japan, however, was only interested in the things newly developed in China. Among them new Buddhist sects, the Shingon and Tendai, greatly appealed to Japan. Both were quite different from the sects introduced in the preceding centuries.

Shingon Buddhism was introduced by a priest called Kukai (Kobo-Daishi) and Tendai Buddhism by Saicho (Dengyo-Daishi). To the east of the new capital Kükai founded the To-ji, a great monastery to guard it, and the other priest, Saicho, founded his monastery on Mt. Hiei, north-east of the city. Both were founded under Imperial sanction. Kukai and Saicho were succeeded by many distinguished priests who exerted a good influence upon the people and government.

These two sects made notable contributions to Buddhist art because both sects needed a large number of new representations of Buddhist deities.

The To-ji monastery, founded by Kukai, still standing today, contains a number of important Buddhist images and paintings of that time, but the sacred buildings were rebuilt much later.

The Enryaku-ji monastery, founded by Saicho, still stands on Mount Hiei, north-east of Kyoto. The mountain range overlooks the city on the west and over the extensive mirror of Lake Biwa on the east. This was the first great monastery in Japan built on a mountain, and so was called ” Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei. From this began the custom of calling Buddhist temples by the prefix of some mountain even when they stood on the plains. For example, there is the Senso-ji (Asakusa-Kwannon in Tokyo) called by the name of an imaginary mountain, Kinryu-zan.

The buildings erected on Mount Hiei during the days of the founder are gone today ; almost all of them were rebuilt in the 17th century, after the ancient style, the altars being lower than the sanctuary. This is the particular style of the Tendai sect. They shelter Buddhist figures which are much older than the buildings themselves.

At the close of the 9th century, intercourse with China was entirely interrupted and there ensued about three centuries of isolation from Chinese culture, during which time Japan assimilated what had been indroduced in preceding centuries and expressed pure Japanese taste in architecture, painting and sculpture.

During one hundred and fifty years that followed from the 13th and the first half of the 14th century, Kamakura became the political center of Japanese feudalism and simultaneously of a new art, while Kyoto remained the center of the older one.

In the middle of the 14th century, however, Kyoto became once more a political center during the Ashikaga Shogunate, and in the field of art left an important legacy to future generations.

Finally, in the latter part of the 16th century, Kyoto came to be the center of the renaissance of art, under the dictator-ship of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

In short, during the first period of Kyoto’s history, which lasted four centuries, the arts of the Court had flourished. The next important period was that of Muromachi (1334-1573), when Chinese influence made itself felt. There remain some of important works of arts from that epoch. Finally there developed in Kyoto the splendid art of the Momoyama Period (1574-1614).

The Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and other buildings in Kyoto where can be seen fine examples of the art of the different periods will be briefly described.

One should visit first of all the Onshi Kyoto Museum of Art, originally founded in 1897 by the Imperial Household for exhibiting paintings, sculpture and minor arts, borrowed mostly from Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Kyoto and neighboring districts, and a number of national treasures are also included. They are divided into three departments —history, fine arts, and industrial arts. Painting and sculpture occupy the most important place.

The oldest paintings in the museum are those illustrating the Buddhist scriptures on the ” Cause and Effect of the Past and the Present,” (Kwako-genzai-ingwa-kyo) mounted as a makimono, and the portraits of the Seven Patriarchs of the Shingon sect, loaned by the To-ji monastery. Five of these portraits were brought from China, and the other two are said to have been painted by Kobo-Daishi. They afforded examples to Japanese painters of the art of portraiture during the T’ang Dynasty.

A colored painting on silk of Shaka-muni Buddha rising from a golden coffin (Shaka-Kinkwan shutsugenzu) is also exhibited ; it was borrowed from the Choho-ji monastery. It is a unique masterpiece of Buddhist painting during the Heian Period (794-1185).

Buddhist sutras dedicated to Itsukushima shrine in the 12th century by the Heike family are lavishly decorated in rich colores and cut leaves of silver and gold. The decorative art shown in these sutras has never been surpassed by any of the mediaeval breviaries of Europe.

A pictorial biography by En-i of the priest Ippen-Shonin, mounted on twelve scrolls, from the Kwankiko-ji, and another of the priest Honen-Shonin, mounted on forty-eight scrolls, from the Chion-in monastery, are representative picture scrolls in the yamato-e style and reflect the Buddhist faith developed in the Kamakura period (1186-1333). Many other paintings of different epochs are placed on view, in seven different rooms.

The sculpture consisting mostly of Buddhist statues is exhibited in two large rooms. Among them is a unique head of Buddha from the Toshodai-ji monastery, an example of eighth century sculpture in wood overlaid with lacquer and gold leaf. Another interesting example is a seated lay figure of Kiyomori, the head of the Taira family.

Behind the museum stands the Chijaku-in monastery containing gorgeous paintings of the Momoyama Period (1574-1614). South of the museum is the Sanjusangen-do chapel in which are enshrined a great number of gilded figures of Kwannon, offering a magnificent spectacle.

On the slopes of Mt. Higashiyama, which marks the eastern boundary of the city, are famous temples and gardens of interest to students of Japanese art. Famous among these are the Buddhist monasteries of Kiyomizu-dera, Chionin, Nanzen-ji and Ginkaku-ji, and the Shinto shrine called Inari.

Kiyomizu-dera monastery stands among beautiful surroundings on Mt. Higashiyama. One will be attracted by the rhythmic beauty of the roof of the main temple, built in the early 17th century ; its front stage constructed over a precipice is an interesting example of Japanese Buddhist architecture.

Chion-in monastery, near the Miyako Hotel, has an impressive Main Hall or Miei-do and fine altar of the Jodo sect.

One of the buildings of Nanzen-ji monastery is an important historical monument of the latter 16th century. All the sliding-screens that separate the rooms are decorated with pictures in rich colors by painters of the Kano school. Among these, that which represents tigers roaming through bamboo groves is the most famous.

The famous ” Silver Pavilion ” (Ginkaku-ji) with its garden, erected in the latter part of the 15th century by the eighth Shogun, Yoshimasa, is one of the finest sights in Kyoto.

In the suburbs north-west of the city stand several great monasteries, the Daitoku-ji, Kinkaku-ji, Myoshin-ji and Ninna-ji, and the Kitano Shinto shrine..

The Daitoku-ji is the head monastery of the Rinzai sect. In its inhabited part stands a historical building the Hojo erected in the early 17th century. The landscapes in black and white of the four seasons on the sliding-screens were painted by Kano Tannyu ; and the rooms open out on a garden which is said to have been laid out by Kobori Enshu, a famous tea-master. At the entrance to the garden is a Karamon gate, brought from some other temple. It is lavishly decorated with carvings of the Momoyama, Period (1574–1614).

Southwest of the Daitoku-ji monastery is the famous Kinkaku-ji or ” Golden Pavilion ” erected about the end of the 14th century by the third Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It stands on the edge of a large pond, and commands beautiful surroundings.

At southeast of the “Golden Pavilion” stands the famous Shinto shrine called Kitano-jinsha, dedicated to Sugawara Michizane. In the precincts is a treasury in which precious objects of art may be seen.

In the north-western suburbs of Kyoto stand the famous monasteries of Ninna-ji, Myoshin-ji, Daikaku-ji and Jingo-ji.

Nijo Castle, built by Ieyasu, the First Shogun of the Tokugawa government in the early 17th century, -occupies the center of Kyoto. Within its enclosure are five important palace buildings, with interiors handsomely decorated with carvings and paintings.

Near Kyoto Station is the Nishi-Hongwan-ji, the great monastery of the Shinshu sect of Buddhism, which has in its precincts several palatial buildings built in the late 16th century. Most of the sliding-screens, as well as the gamma panels and ceilings, are painted in rich colors. The splendor of this interior decoration after the style of the Momoyama Period (1574–1614) may be seen in all the rooms of the palace buildings.

In the southern suburbs of Kyoto are three famous Buddhist monasteries of great interest to students of Japanese art. They are the Ho-o-do, or Phoenix Hall, Daigo-ji and Mampuku-ji.

The Ho-o-do, erected by the Fujiwara nobility in the middle of the 11th century, is the finest temple to be seen today. Its style of architecture, which harmonizes with the surrounding landscape, is beautiful beyond description. Its interior is the best example of architictural decoration of the Heian Period (794-4185).

The wooden image on the altar represents the Amida Buddha ; it is the representative work of Jocho. The Buddhist paintings on the walls and the door panels of the hall are also unique examples of their kind of the same period.

Daigo-ji monastery, founded in the 9th century, consists of a magnificent five-storied stupa. of the 10th century, the Golden Hall of the 13th century, and living quarters for the priests known as the Sambo-in, the last being fine examples of dwelling houses of the late 16th century. The garden around them is the most famous one laid out in the Momoyama Period.

In Mampuku-ji monastery, one of the rare examples of Chinese style of Buddhist architecture of the Ming Dynasty, almost no Japanese taste or principle is expressed.