Naturwissenschaft, Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte

Ningen - Human Images

An exhibition in the Kyôto National Museum 23rd October to 25th November 2001

Commentaries by Wolfgang Klose

( Deutsches Manuskript)

I do not know of any museum in the world which has challenged its visitors in an exhibition as it was done in Kyôto autumn 2001. The exhibition there not only has displayed a number of highly important art objects. Its main endeavor has been to contribute to the general discussion of human values, especially from a Japanese standpoint. The exhibition has been a great success, especially among young people. When I had the chance of a visit, I became aware, that, by coincidence with the events of the 11th September, this exhibition expressed somehow a Japanese view to human necessities in a world dominated by business and science.

However, the attention in the western world was limited. One reason for this may lay in the English title Human Images, which would allude to portrait-paintings and sculptures only. In reality, 123 exhibits, from which 15 were National treasures, 36 Important Cultural Properties, and 8 Important Art Objects, were carefully chosen from a variety of fields, as e.g. famous manuscripts, calligraphy, folding screens with landscape paintings, or bronze halberds, to illustrate the fundamental question, how humans show to be humans? Another reason certainly is the catalogue with its parsimonious and sometimes poor notes in English. The Kyôto National Museum in the meantime has replaced all short introductory notes for the different sections of the exhibition by more reliable translations in the World Wide Web.

This exhibition certainly has been one of the great events in the international world of museums. The objects shown were of highest quality, some of them are only seldom displayed in the public, some other were only recently brought to light. The ideas behind the exhibition challenged the visitor and stimulated further studies and analysis.


Human Images was the third in a series of exhibitions, which started 1982 with Art of Birds and Flowers and continued 1983 with Art of Landscapes. Owing to conceptual difficulties it took nearly 20 years until this very endeavoring show could be opened in October 2001. The Japanese titles of the two former exhibitions were written each with two kanji only: kachô (Flower/Bird; in English Art of Birds and Flowers) and sansui (Mountain/Water, in English Art of Landscapes). The Japanese title of the recent exhibition read ningen and was translated with Human Images. May be, that this English title had lingered on since the original planning in 1984. It does not reflect the point of the exhibition. A translation like Humans as Beings would have been clearer.

For Japanese visitors it was obvious, what they would find, since the main title ningen was amended by some smaller script which read: We [Japanese] people, how do we express ourselves, who are we?

Ten themes, grouped in three categories, had been selected to represent man, having and expressing a soul. The first category was devoted to The First Part of Human Life, the Shining Part, [zenpan ni jinsei no hikari no bubun ni] which consisted of the themes The Bonds of Lineage, Love and Passion, Daily Life, Amusement and Festivities. The second category was devoted to The Later Half of Human Life, the Shadowy Part [kôhan ni jinsei no kage no bubun ni], which contained the themes Travel and Reclusion, Dreams, Behind a Peculiar Facade, and Fighting Spirit. The last category was represented by the theme Finding Peace.

A very important source of information for the concept of the exhibition is not available in English. That is the introductory note by the chairman of the museum's Department of Fine Arts, Kano Hiroyuki: "Iwasa Matabei's Spiritual development and the Basic Conceptions of this Exhibition". This text could give a better insight and serve as a guide to the well founded choice of themes and objects in the exhibition. Before giving a short appreciation of Kano Hiroyuki's essay, I like to introduce the biography of Iwasa Matabei, a Japanese painter.

Iwasa Matabei was born 1578 in Settsu (now Ôsaka) and died 1650 in Edo (Tôkyô). His father Araki Murashige (1536–1586), Lord of Itami Castle in Settsu, led a mutiny against Oda Nobunaga in 1578. This rebellion ended one year later in a bloody failure, when almost the entire Araki clan was executed cruelly. After dishonor and humiliation of the next of kin, these 36 persons were beheaded publicly, 120 ladies of the vassals were crucified and murdered, and 380 women and 134 men were burned alive. Lord Araki succeeded in escaping to Aki. His son was rescued by a nurse and grew up in Kyôto using his mother's surname Iwasa.

The painting master of Iwasa Matabei probably was Kano Naizen (1570-1616), but Matabei also may have worked with Tosa Mitsunori (1583-1638), for he signed his Thirty-six Poets (1640; Kawagoe Tôshôgu Shrine) "Iwasa Matabei Katsumochi, descendant of Tosa Mitsunobu"). Matabei borrowed freely from both the Kano School and Tosa School traditions to render the classical figural themes of China and Japan in eloquent stylizations that present the subjects with uncanny psychological acuity.

The 12 paintings once pasted on a pair of six-panel folding screens known as the Kanaya byobu ("Kanaya screens" after a former owner), display Matabei's range of traditional subjects and styles, from dragon-and-tiger ink paintings to polychrome scenes from Japanese literature. In his portraits of the Heian period court poets, Kakimoto no Hitomaro, and Ki no Tsurayuki (MOA) he blended the two traditions, rendering his subjects unconventionally in a loose monochrome-ink style.

In around 1616 Matabei went to Echizen Province (now Fukui Prefect.) to serve Matsudaira Tadanao (1595-1650), who 1623 was exiled after committing a murder. It has been conjectured that the realism of the murder scenes in the Yamanaka Tokiwa emaki (handscroll in the MOA Museum of Arts, Atami) may have been Matabei's response to his patron's brutal nature, but could also have been a sign of his PTSD, as discussed by Kano Hiroyuki (see below).

The Kyôto exhibition displayed for the first time for the public the recently found handscroll of the Horie-monogatari (Illustrated Horie-story), which recalls the bloody revenge of a man for the murder of his parents (katauchi).

Matabei remained in Fukui until 1637, when he was summoned to Edo to serve for the Tokugawa shogunate. He is sometimes called "The Father of Ukiyo-e" (Japanese Color Prints).

Iwasa Matabei’s Spiritual development and the Basic Conceptions of this Exhibition(Report about the Introductory Note by Kano Hiroyuki)

The basic concept of this exhibition was to depict human beings through their relations to other humans or to mankind in total. This posed the formidable task of a limited but nevertheless integral choice of topics to be illustrated. It turned out to be a very good concept, not to invent the topics for the exhibition, but to make tacitly reference to the life of an exemplary human, who had had to experience much of the difficulties and pleasures of life and who had himself produced reliable evidence for that.

Iwasa Matabei turned out to be the proper choice. He is a well known painter, he initiated the merger of the two main classical National Schools in his work and founded a new school, he developed in a long and fruitful life a variety of works evidencing a variety of human relations. With reference to modern psychology and psychiatry he can be seen a victim of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, to be found in people, who have witnessed something beyond normal human experience) after becoming aware of the fate of his family and his own survival. The driving force in Matabei's life was the traumatic relation to his father, who was guilty of the horrible fate of the family and their vassals and who had fled his responsibility to save his own life.

The Bonds of Lineage is the starting point, a man becomes aware of his descent and has to face it.

Love makes reference to his mother, who has during crucifixion produced a waka in which she expresses her hope, that the son could live on, and to his nurse, who had rescued and alimented him.

Vocation refers to Matabei's decision, not to inherit the social rank of his father and live as a bushi, but to follow his vocation to become a painter.

Travel and Seclusion images the period in Matabei's life, when after much travel he decides to settle outside the capital. Kano Hiroyuki thinks, that the inner conflict with his father is still decisive.

What is behind an unusual form? is thought to refer to some of Matabei's famous scrolls, which allowed him to identify himself with the figure of the avenger, thus showing his traumatic heart but overcoming the trauma.

Harmony proves, that Matabei has made peace with his father. He now uses as a seal Dôun (his father's tea-name was Dôkun) and names his eldest son Katsushige after his father Murashige. Referring to section one, Matabei has now accepted his bonds of lineage.

The exhibits

Most of the 123 objects in the exhibition may be easily related to the topics of the respective sections. However, for some of the objects a visitor from the West may have had difficulties to understand, why they were shown. In the following, I have deliberately chosen some exhibits for a more or less detailed description.

Please note, that the pictures, which illustrate some of the exhibits, are all on the server of the Kyôto National Museum. Come back from there to this manuscript via the return key of your browser

Section 1

The Bonds of Lineage

hito no kizuna 人のきず

Human beings are mortal. We are destined to someday meet our end. In this way we are no different from other creatures or plants on this earth, and perhaps no different from the stars and the galaxy. But we humans may be unique in our anticipation and fear of death. We fear the instant at which our entire consciousness, including the fear of death itself, will dissipate into nothingness. At the same time, it is this very fear that motivates much of human thought. In this sense, death may be the driving force behind human creativity. One visible way people strive to preserve their legacies is by raising successors-forging bonds of lineage. This section contains objects that reveal various ways in which people have sought to link themselves with those before and after them. How much can those of us in the modern age identify with this essential, even wretched human incentive?

(Texts in italics are taken from the Museum catalogue or from the Internet-publication of the National Museum Kyôto)

There are two Kanji for kizuna: 絆 = tie, bond, fetters, yoke; kizuna: 紲 = fetters, yoke, encumbrance. Since the catalogue makes no indication, which one is referred to, I think that both are equally possible.

Section 2

Love and Passion

koi to ai 恋と愛

What distinguishes the Japanese people?

This problem has been approached in a various of ways by specialists in such fields as archaeology, anthropology, and biology. A lighter response to this question might be, "The Japanese are a people with The Tale of Genji." The Tale of Genji, perhaps the world's oldest epic romance novel, is, in every sense of the word, a miraculous work of literature. It depicts with great subtlety not only a variety of relationships between men and women, but also the inconsistencies in love between parent and child. According to this novel's message, the Japanese people are the legitimate heirs of the Planet of Love. Section 2 features works depicting and celebrating sexual passion, but it also includes objects that represent love as a source of hatred among people. Even within the limited realm of human love and passion, it is clear that the complexity of the human spirit cannot be explained entirely by DNA.

The exhibits in this part of the exhibition need special explanations for the western visitor. Most of them tell a full story, which one ought to know either from history, art, or custom of human feelings and behavior. In this respect here the typical Japanese manner of quoting, invoking, alluding, creating special feelings and/or atmosphere, is at its best.

# 15, Kangiten, for all western eyes a modest, small bronze statue of a Deity with 6 arms from the 13th century. However, for Japanese visitors it tells exciting stories, since the meaning of Kangiten 歓喜天 is great ecstasy

Usually Kangiten is shown as a figure of a couple with heads of elephants, embracing each other. Because of their sexual gesture such figures normally are kept secretly in the temples as hibutsu 秘仏 (secret Buddha), e.g. in the Hôkai-ji in Kamakura since 1333 in a locked tabernacle.

The origin of Kangiten is Ganahati (Ganesha) embracing a figure who is called Binayaka. As for the meaning of Ganahati, Gana means a corpse and Hati means possession. Binayaka is Kisin, which is responsible for faults. Kisin is Japanese and if one translates it into English, then it is the God of Devils. There a fable about Binayaka which follows.

Long, long ago the king of Marakeraletu ate radishes and cows. Because he had eaten all the cows in the country, he ate a stiff to take the place of the cows. However, it ate a living human being with the stiff, too, ate and rendered service. All of the people rebelled against this thing. They tried to kill the king. However, the king was transformed into the God of Devils Binayaka and ran away. Sickness spread throughout the country by Binayaka. The people asked Juuichimen-kannon for the help. The meaning of Juuichimen is eleven faces. Juuichimen transformed into the figure of a woman devil. Binayaka the King saw her and fell in the love. He wanted sex but she refuses. She says that she will have sex with him if Binayaka promises to follow the teachings of Buddhism. Binayaka agreed. Binayaka received great ecstasy. There are many Shingon temples in which this deity is thought of as one of the obstacles on the right way into Nirvana.

# 16 Genji monogatari. This novel dwells on all kinds of love between men, so that every visitor may find its proper reminiscences of pleasure.

# 17 Hidakagawa , the illustrated Legend of the Hidaka River, reminds the Japanese visitor on the problems connected with the bonds of love.
Kengaku, a monk in Miidera learns in a dream that he has a karmic bond with the daughter of a man in Hashimoto. He goes there and attempts unsuccessfully to kill the daughter, then only five years old, so as to prevent her from interfering with his monastic goals. Some years later the two meet again in Kiyomizu-dera and fall in love. When Kengaku leaves on a pilgrimage to Kumano to escape further entanglement, she follows him. When he reaches the Hidaka River, she still in pursuit, is transformed into a giant snake. Terrified, Kengaku flees to a nearby temple where he hides under a bell. The snake coils herself around the bell, breaks it, and captures Kengaku with whom she returns to the river.

# 18 Zen Monk Ikkyû and his mistress

Ikkyû (1394-1481), one of the outstanding patriarchs of Zen, fell in love with a blind minstrel, Lady Mori. He was 77 years old, Mori was 50 years younger. This "May - December-Romance" is one of the most celebrated in Japanese history. He wrote many outspoken love-poems for her. Also the scroll in the exhibition was autographed by him:

Within this Zen circle, my entire body is revealed.
This is really a painting of Kidô's incarnation.
My blind minstrel sings of love and makesThis old rascal smile
One tune with her beneath the flowers is like
Ten thousand springs.

In the gap between
Deep dreams and light sleep
I float and sink - There is no way to staunch
My flow of bittersweet tears.

# 19 Emperor Genso and Yokihi

Tang emperor Xuanzong (jap. Genso) and his famous beautiful concubine Yang Guifei (jap. Yokihi).

# 20 Love romance of warrior Honda Heihachiro with Sen Hime (1597-1666) is one of the most famous women in Japanese history. The beautiful, high-born lady lived a dramatic life.

Sen Hime is a granddaughter of Shôgun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate government. At the age of 7, she was wedded to Hideyori of the Tokugawa family's archrival Toyotomi family. In a prolonged war between the Tokugawa and Toyotomi families, Hideyori committed suicide, but Sen Hime was rescued out of danger. Sen Hime was later remarried to Honda Heihachiro Tadatoki, the owner of the Himeji Castle, at the strong request of the Honda family, which was loyal to the Tokugawa family. Fortunately, Tadatoki was so gentle and reliable that she was able to live a happy life, even after her husband's death.

Himeji Castle was the stage of Sen Hime's love story. It houses the Sen Hime Kesho-no-Ma (Dressing Room) that is walled in with thick, black wooden boards. Still never cease to be seen many young women remembering Sen Hime's love story in front of the room.

# 21 Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Lady Joruri

The most important aspect of Edo period music is the development of Joruri. The word "Joruri" is heavily redolent of Buddhism and there are many explanations of the name. In the Muromachi period, a story about a woman named Joruri seems to be the first story told in the narrative style that came to be called Joruri. In the sixteenth century, puppeteers were called to Kyoto to perform for the imperial family and military leaders. It was around this time that puppetry was combined with the art of joruri (narrative style). A precursor of joruri can be found in the blind itinerant performers, called biwa hoshi, who chanted The Tale of the Heike, a military epic depicting the Taira-Minamoto War, while accompanying themselves on the biwa, a kind of lute. In the sixteenth century, the shamisen replaced the biwa as the instrument of choice, and the joruri style developed. The name joruri came from one of the earliest and most popular works chanted in this style, the legend of a romance between warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune and the beautiful Lady Joruri.

The rough story is this: in the village of Yahagi in the province of Mikawa, Choja, the greatest courtesan of the eastern highway gave birth to a beautiful woman named Joruri Gozen after praying to the twelve gods of Yakushi. Just at this point, the young son of the late head of the Genji clan, a boy later to be known as Yoshitsune, but then under his boyhood name of Ushiwakamaru was travelling with a powerful man from Michinoku (the name for the Tohoku region). They spent the night at Choja-s house and Joruri Gozen fell in love with Yoshitsune at first sight. Princess Joruri and Yoshitsune exchanged poetry, which made them intimate and they slept together. However, in the morning, Yoshitsune continued on his journey to distant Michinoku. The tale begins with the birth of Joruri Gozen after Choja prayed to the Buddha and continues with several episodes of Buddhist miracles. But the names "Choja" and"Gozen" are closely associated with outcasts and show that this tale was quite medieval in mood.

Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-89): By bringing about victory in the civil war, Yoshitsune had greatly helped Minamoto no Yoritomo , his elder brother , who in 1192 was to establish the first Shogunate at Kamakura. But Yoshitsune had to spend the rest of his life escaping Yoritomo ,until four years later he killed himself . His tragic life and death was so appealing to Japanese sentiment that he has taken on heroic proportion in Kabuki ,Noh and Joruri plays ,based on what is called Yoshitsune Literature

# 23 'Nirvana' of Lady-killer Narihira (picture scroll)

According to tradition, the episodes of the Ise monogatari report about the life of Ariwara no Narihira (825-880). He is characterized in the Sandai jitsuroku (Authentic Report from the Imperial Court) with the following words: Pretty of face and figure, negligent, reckless, inattentive, no complete schooling, gifted poet for Japanese poetry. His beauty remained proverbial until our present times. A beautiful man is called a Narihira.

The Ise monogatari was a fashionable reading for woman of the higher classes. Many episodes deal with lovers and their sentiments. The hero experiences a series of adventures, pleasant as unpleasant ones. He is not afraid of breaking social rules. He meets ladies and gentlemen and experiences all kinds of relations.

In the 1000 years after it was written the Ise monogatari remained a central piece of literary education in Japan, many additional memory has been attached to it by works by famous artists.

The picture here quotes ironically the famous painting: Buddha entering Nirvana, where men and animals are mourning the death of Buddha. In the present scroll all mourners are female. Quite interesting, that lions were unknown in Japan, so it was thought, that tigers were female lions, as to be seen in the lower right corner.

# 26 Kagetsu Jô

"Album of Flowers and the Moon" published 1836 by Mori Tetsuzan (1775-1841) et al. An extremely rare and unusual Shijô shunga book (Shijô: 18th century school of painting). C. H. Mitchell (Mitchell, C. H.: Illustrated books of the Nanga, Maruyama, Shijo and other related schools of Japan. A bibliography. With the assistance of Osamu Ueda. Los Angeles, CA 1972. 623 p).page 323 where he lists one example in Japan (ex Hayashi), which is the example used by Jack Hillier in "The Art of the Japanese Book", p.912.

#27 Scroll of female deity Kishimojin (Skt. Hârîtî)

She is named Kariteimo, too. Originally, she was a Cannibalism demon. However, she became a goddess by which children were protected because she had been admonished by Shakyamuni.

Kishimojin originally only doted on her own 100 children, but abducted and killed the children of others. The children that she had killed became food for the 100 children of Kishimojin. In response, the mothers of those children whom Kishimojin had killed pleaded to Shakyamuni to save them. Shakyamuni granted their wish and thereupon stole one of Kishomojin's sons. Kishimojin noticed that her loveliest son was gone and desperately searched for the child. However, she could not find her son. At that time, Shakyamuni said to Kishimojin: " You are very distraught because only one of your 100 children is gone. Think of how much sadder is the mother who lost her only single child. Kishomojin realized her erroneous ways. And she promised to the Buddha to pay penance eternally for her crimes. "I will defend children all over the world through all eternity." After this oath, Kishimojin became the goddess of easy delivery and for the protection and parenting of children.

Section 3

Daily Life

Nariwai なりわい生業

  • Why do we work? Some may work reluctantly in order to earn a living or to support their families, but majority of people may acquire a sense of living by working. "Homeless" is an unpleasant expression because this term ignores the fact that those people do not have occupations in the first place. The act of working and human dignity may be firmly linked with each other. Labor, which is nothing but daily activity, was often chosen as a motif for painting on gorgeous folding screens to be used on special occasions. It indicates our ancestors' sincere attitude toward labor.

Nariwai also means livelyhood and 'vocation'.

Section 4


Asobi 遊び (play, pasttime, merrymaking)

  • Human beings are sometimes defined as "pleasure-seeking creatures." Recent ethnological studies have proved that it is not a general definition of human beings, but no other animals enjoy playing more feverishly than human beings. As it has often been referred to, we were indeed "born for amusements." Time goes by and the paradigm of the world is changing, but those changes never affect the amusement-seeking characteristics of human beings. In this century of information technology, people spend a lot of time enjoying computer games and chatting on the internet and cell phones. It would be interesting to see how our ancestors enjoyed themselves as pleasure-seeking creatures.

#43 Eighteen Scholars

For a Westerner it might be strange, that scholars in their eremite life are presented under the amusement label. As Kendall H. Brown has pointed out, however, (The Politics of Reclusion, Painting and Power in Momoyama Japan, Hawai Press 1997), this really was and is the pertinent feeling in Japan. Already in the Nara period the Chinese ideal of wise old scholars living in reclusion was imported into Japan and came to a climax in the Muromachi time. Many pictures are preserved always showing these men in a happy (gay?) group of similar, living remotely from the world in midst of a beautiful nature, enjoying pastimes. As Brown points out, this ideal of life meets two demands: one is to define the most important goal in life (being wise), the other is to demonstrate, that as a ruler one possesses of those virtues.

Section 5


shukusai no toki 祝祭の時

  • Every festival has an origin of its own, which is an official reason to hold festivals, just like every Kabuki or Kyogen performance has its own story. We might call such formal reasons to perform festivals the "centripetal force" of festivals. On the other hand, in each participant's mind there is a real motive to hold festivals, just like every stage performance is held with some specific intention besides conveying stories. Such motives might be termed the "centrifugal force" behind festivals. Two major directions of the centrifugal force of festivals are pursuit of ultimate beauty and integration into a feverish wave. These forces may be found in the folding screens introduced in this section. It was in the documentary film, "Tokyo Olympic Games," that the narrator said, "Man dreams every four years." It is indeed a big world festival.

Section 6

Travel and Reclusion

tabi·in ’ itsu 旅 隠逸 (in ’ itsu retirement, seclusion)

  • Travel and reclusion sound different but they may be similar in a sense. Something deep in our heart keeps calling us; it sometimes invites us to a distant travel and sometimes to a reclusion in the depth of our heart. Of course there are different points of view of looking at travel and reclusion. In terms of traveling, isn't there something instinctive in it? For example, don't we have some latent memory from our wandering ancestors, pleasant sensation to move from one place to another, and a kind of excitement to find ourselves in an unknown landscape? These are our inborn senses being a kind of animal, as we share these senses with migratory birds, bison, and other traveling animals.
  • In contrast, reclusion and seclusion are based on human will power. Whether one finds his or her hermitage in wilderness or within a city, reclusion itself may be referred to a philosophical phenomenon.

Section 7


yume 夢

  • Men dream. Human beings have the capability to dream. During the last years of the Edo period, foreign countries urged Japan to give up its seclusion policy and open up the country. There was a strong idea of exclusionism in the ruling class in Japan, but common citizens did not have any opportunity to express their opinions about this issue. One of their responses was to make a painting of foreign ships attacked by many flying goblins. It may represent their power of dreams. The power of dreams also enables us to deny the fact that death turns everything into nothing. In other words, with the power of dreams man can manage to live, regardless of fear of death.

# 73 Illustrated Legend of Deity Urashima

Urashima Taro is a folktale, connected with a venerable place facing the ocean near Yura. A man named Urashima Taro rescues a turtle that is being ill-treated by children. The turtle changes into a young woman, who invites Taro to the sea-god's palace (ryugu), where he spends three happy years with her. Finally returning to his village, he finds himself a stranger. At a loss, he opens a box that she has given him but has forbidden him to open. Instantly he becomes a hoary old man; it has been 300 years since he left.

# 82 Goblin's attack on foreign Black Ship

As one of the curators in the Museum told me, this picture represents the feelings of the Japanese in the end of the Edo period being powerless against Commodore Perry and his Black Ships after he had forced Japan to open itself for the western world. There was help only in a dream, namely that goblins might overwhelm the enemies. (Goblin's Attack on Foreign Black Ship)

Section 8

Behind a peculiar Façade

ishô ni kometa mono 異貌に込めたもの

  • Has man made progress to become more intelligent? In other words, is man a scientific creature or an occult creature? Thanks to the scientific and technological development, it will not take long before human beings make the first step on Mars. But on the other hand, it is also true that some people are very excited about the rock formation in the red dessert of Mars, simply because the pattern of its surface looks like a human face. While Yamagata Banto, a scholar-merchant of the Edo period in Osaka was contemplating the heliocentric theory, the artist Soga Shohaku seriously concentrated on describing ultimate bizarreness in the portraits of Zen monks, Hanshan and Shide. There are always multiple paths in front of us, and the end of the paths can never be seen. Always in history man could not but step forward toward some direction.

The original Japanese title of this section has a slightly different meaning. A more correct translation would be: 'Unusual form', i.e. different from normal men.

Furthermore, the Kanji used in ishô, is a form not used in present day Japanese. It refers to a Chinese story from the Han Dynasty, were a boy with name Zhou Xie (written with the same Kanji as used here for ishô) was born in Anch'eng as a very ugly child. His father, however, always honored him, suspecting that in the inner of the child something valuable might be hidden. Later Zhou Xie became a famous eremite under the name Yanzu, famous for his moral character and great knowledge. He died 70 years old.

# 90 The statue of Priest Hoshi makes reference to his extraordinary human nature. As can be seen through the split face, his true inner body is that of the eleven- headed Kannon, god of mercy.

# 92 Kakinomoto Hitomaro (ca.662 - 710) was a poet of the Nara period, the most prominent of the Manyôshû poets and court poet to three sovereigns. Hitomaro produced an extraordinary range of verse, from public elegies and celebrations of prosperity to more lyrical expressions of personal love and mortality, in the tanka and now archaic chôka poetic forms. His poetry is known for its sense of humanity and empathy with nature. His poems included In the sea of ivy clothed Iwami, The Bay of Tsunu, I loved her like the leaves.

# 93 Han-shan and Shih-te, two Zen eccentrics, who hide under their strange behaviour deep human values.

Han-shan (jap. 寒山 Kanzan) are and Shih-te (jap. 拾得 Jittoku) were the first and by far the most famous Zen eccentrics Chinese monks. The origins of the legends of these inseparable companion can be traced to a collection of about three hundred T'ang poems, known as the Collected Poems of Han-shan. According to the preface, Han-shan was a recluse and poet who lived on Mount T'ien-t'ai (Chekiang, a place renowned for its hermits, both Taoist and Buddhist). He was a friend of the monks Feng-kan and Shih-te of the Kuo-ch'ing-ssu, a monastery near his hermitage. Shih-te, who had been found as a child by Feng-kan (Japanese: Bukan), and who had been brought up in the monastery, worked in the dining hall and kitchen. He supplied his hermit friends with leftovers. Sometimes, the legend says, Han-shan would stroll for hours in the corridors of the monastery, occasionally letting out a cheerful cry, or laughing or talking to himself. When taken to task or driven away by the monks, he would stand still afterwards, laugh, clap his hands, and then disappear. Judging from his poems, which abound with references to the Tao-te-ching and Chuang-tzu, the Taoist classics, Han-shan was actually more of a Taoist recluse than a Ch'an monk.

Section 9

The Fighting Spirit

araburo kokoro あらぶる心

  • The act to solve problems by fighting shows the primitiveness of human beings. It supports the idea that man is not God's handiwork but descendants of apes. Modern science has proved that 98.4% of human DNA is identical with that of a chimpanzee.
  • Furthermore, it has been proved that half of human genes are similar to those of lower yeast fungus. Human beings have had conflicts consistently with each other, and some conflicts have ended up with wars in history. It is hard to interpret why human beings have decorated warriors beautifully and found warfare a solemn activity, as if they were destined or spelled to fight.

Here again the official translation does not meet with the original Japanese meaning. araburo kokoro means 'Wild and violent intentions'. In Western literature the phrase 'fighting spirit' is mostly quoted in a positive sense. Since the theme of this section, however, is devoted to the destructive features of the mind of man, I would prefer the direct translation.

Section 10

Finding Peace

chôwa he 調和へ

  • What sort of world has the fighting spirit been looking for? Each of the exhibits in this section may show you some answers to that question. They may not be answers but our ancestors' dreams or hopes. In this section, well known artworks registered as national treasures and important cultural properties, as well as recently discovered art objects are displayed. Each of them represents human creativity and inspires us artistically. However, don't we see some fragile aesthetics in them? As they are very beautiful and pure, we find them even ephemeral; we are afraid these beautiful things will vanish unless we hold on to them tightly. Why do we feel like that? It may be because human beings, who are a kind of ape that realize the ephemeral life of creatures, are intrinsically lonely existences in the world.

# 108 Illustrated Bronze Bell from Kagawa (1st century BC)

At a first sight it looks strange, that an archaeological bronze bell should start the series of exhibits in this section. One of the pictures on this bell has further been chosen to serve as an icon advertising the exhibition as well as ornating the cover of the catalogue. According to Kagawa historians, during the Yayoi Period people united as villagers and worshipped the kami, summoning their grace with bronze bells (dôtaku 銅鐸). Considering that rice cultivation was new, they may have been particularly praying for the success of the rice crop. About 13 ritual bells have been found in Kagawa, and the one found in Kotohira is a designated National Treasure in the Tokyo Museum. This bell symbolizes the beginning of authenticable Japanese (Shintô) culture. The pictures on the bell are bucolic. One of them depicts an archer aiming at a deer. The Japanese bow has two distinguishing characteristics: it is long with a length of over two meters, and it is shot by being gripped at a point below the center of the bow stave. In particular, the below-center grip is a unique feature of the Japanese bow. On this bell one has the earliest evidence for the use of this type of grip, the archer is gripping the bow below the center of the stave. Thus the bell symbolizes the very period in the history of Japan, where the ancestors found peace in the life in agricultural settlements.

# 109 Amida descending from heaven is the only known sculptured triad sitting on clouds.

# 121 Horie monogatari scroll by Iwasa Matabei

The Horie monogatari explains how a son revenges the murder on his parents and finds by this act finally his peace in life. Remembering Iwasa Matabei’s lineage, this work may be taken as the pictorial proof for the painters own feelings. He has finally found his peace. So it makes sense, to put this scroll at the end of the row of exhibits, giving way only to two more pictures of 'enjoying the evening cool under gourd trellis'.

Final Remark

I would like again to draw the attention to the fact, that the normal visitor who did neither read the catalogue in advance nor did have any introduction into the intention of the museum, could enjoy the exhibition as a wonderful ensemble of important works of Japanese art. However, it has been a great adventure, to acknowledge the different aspects in, under and behind this inspiring exhibition.


I am grateful to Mr. Asanuma Takeshi, curator for Buddhist sculpture in the Kyôto National Museum for guiding me on my visit to the exhibition and Alexander Hofmann, M.A., University of Heidelberg for his help in translating the introductory note by Kanô Hiroyuki.

The English text in was finished in April 2002.