Tomioka Tessai and Japanese art: flow of Edo, Meiji and Taisho

Tomioka Tessai and Japanese art: flow of Edo, Meiji and Taisho

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Time

Tomioka Tessai (1837-1924) was born in a largely isolated period in Japan. This concerns the Edo period which would succumb to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Of course, Chinese culture and ideas remained strong in Japan throughout the Edo period. However, before the end of Edo, the gradual encroachment of America and other western nations was happening.

Spirituality, philosophy and the world of high culture were all embedded in the soul of Tessai. Yet the Meiji Restoration would alter the dynamics of Chinese culture and civilization that had benefited Japan immensely. Therefore, Japanese nationalism responded to Western colonialism and modernization by copying similar ideas. As a result, the power dynamics in Northeast Asia were changing dramatically.

Tessai was a bridge in the world of Japanese art. For example, he went through the period of late eminent bunjinga artists (literary art that was inspired by Chinese art and ideas). Likewise, he was among the first artists to focus on nihonga art (Japanese-style art – which emerged during the Meiji period).

Also, in the field of religion, philosophy and nationalism: Tessai is a bridge to the internal dynamics of the Meiji period. So, during his informative years: he studied Buddhist scriptures, Confucianism and Taoism. However, with anti-Buddhist edicts and the destruction of large numbers of Buddhist temples and compounds, Tessai now began to support the restoration of Shinto shrines in step with changing Meiji power dynamics.

Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art says, “Tomioka Tessai was born in the city of Kyoto, as the second son of a Buddhist clothing merchant. He studied Chinese-style painting in the combined style of the Northern and Southern schools, while being under the mentorship and the scholarly support of the Buddhist poet Otagaki Rengetsu. After the Meiji Restoration, Tomioka served as a Shinto priest in the present-day cities of Nara, Osaka, and Kyoto. Tomioka was an imperial household artist. In his later years, he pursued the ideal of a free and unrestricted man of letters.

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