Monday, March 31, 2014


If you have been to Japan and traveled the "old Tokaido" highway from Kyoto to Tokyo, you will end up passing through Otsu, a small village just a few miles west of Kyoto. A charming village, I am sure known for a number of things, Otsu is best known for its synonymous omiyage (souvenirs) known as Otsu-e or Otsu pictures. This traditional mingei folkcraft has its origins in the late 17th century as omiyage sold along the old Tokaido (east sea road) highway route. The original designs were of Buddhist images for use in the home and over the years many of the designs became "comics or caricatures" for folk tales; Oni (no) Nembustsu, Yakko-machi, Benkei, Raiko, Fuji-Musume, gourd & catfish, cat & mouse, etc.. The designs of the Otsu-e became very popular gifts to bring when traveling east or west and are now best known for their humor and satire of beliefs of popular culture. Like Aesop's Fables, Otsu-e are based on lessons that are rooted in the origins of Buddhism as it made its way in to Japan around the Nara-jidai.
Having traveled this route a number of times on my way from Kyoto to Shigaraki, I had opportunity and motive to stop in Otsu and acquire some examples of Otsu-e from the current head of the best known Otsu-e families; Takahashi  (Bumpei) Shozan IV (b.1936). In many respects, the work of Shozan IV is now synonymous with Otsu-e and his portrayals of the numerous subjects, stories and fables are the modern classics and continuation of this satirical and allegorical folk art. Illustrated on the left is a small shikishi size painting of the Oni(no)Nembutsu design by Takahashi Shozan IV and one the right is a nice little teacup that I recently acquired with the same design on Kiyomizu wear in bright enamels signed by Shozan IV. The moral to the story, simply put is that if a "wicked" demon can repent, then anyone is capable of repentance and redemption a common core principle of Buddhism.

No comments:

Post a Comment