Edo Japan: Folk Lore Found In Art

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Japan has always been a country rich in art and culture. During the Edo Period, art was used as a means to tell stories on the country's extensive mythological lore. The most common mediums used by the Japanese were wood block prints and screen paintings where one could find stories played out by many different beings from gods to ghosts. 

Folding Screen with Design of Chinese Phoenix, Kano School, From the collection of: Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
The beautiful birds depicted in this gold leaf screen painting are Chinese Phoenixes known as Feng Huang. They were later adopted by Japanese Shinto lore and called the Ho-o (Ho meaning fire) and were usually used to represent the royal family. The Phoenix was considered a sign of prosperity and peace. Though painted by the Kano School, this screen may have been meant as a gift.
The Tale of Uso-Hime (Princess Bullfinch) from Japanese Fairy Tale “Owl”, Artist Unknown, From the collection of: Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
A sad ending this tale has, one of murder and love lost. The artist and writer of "Owl" are unknown, however the painting carries on their legacy. The scene in this part of the painting is in the beginning of the story where Owl-san asks his friends for advice on his burdening love for Uso-hime, "Princess Bullfinch." *The story can be read here: http://edb.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/exhibit-e/otogi/fuku/fuku.html
Turtle Sage, Soga Shohaku, From the collection of: Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
Not much is known about the Turtle Sage or "Kame- Sennin," however the turtle itself has heavy spiritual significance. Turtles were believed to be extremely lucky and posses powerful magic. Since they were also considered a symbol of support, that could be the reason behind why the sage is riding on it's back. This is a beautiful depiction of two powerful beings brought to life through ink wash.
Toad Sage, Attributed to Soga Shohaku, From the collection of: Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
Also known as "Gama-Sennin" this ink wash picture depicts a story from 10th Century China about a magical man who learned the secret to immortality. This story due to it's popularity was handed down all the way to the Edo Period and even to now. You can find modern depictions of the Toad-Sage in Television shows, books, and movies.
Wind God and Thunder God, Suzuki Kiitsu, 1796/1858, From the collection of: Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
Fujin and Raijin. Fujin, known as the god of the wind is depicted on the right where he is holding a large bag over his head containing all the winds of the world. Raijin, known as the god of thunder is depicted on the left with beaters in his hands and drums surrounding his body with which to create "thunder" with.
Tengu Of Kurama And Ushiwakamaru, Artist: Tsukioka Kogyo, 1898, From the collection of: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
This wood block painting depicts two of some of the most famous figures in Japan, however one is fictional and the other was a real person. A Tengu, (depicted on the left) was a mythological creature usually depicted as crow but sometimes humanized in some stories. They were dangerous mountain and forest spirits that sometimes brought destruction and other times brought protection. They usually held dominion over a certain mountain, the one in the painting ruled over Mt. Kurama and his name was Sojobo. The man (depicted on the right) is Ushiwakamaru, who is better known as Minamoto no Yoshitsune a famous hero in Japan as he took down tyrant Oda Nobunaga during the Kamakura Period. The tale of this painting however is one of a master and student, since it was rumored that Yoshitsune learned his swordmanship skills from Sojobo the Tengu.
Shôki, the Demon Slayer, Kawanabe Kyôsai, past 1871, From the collection of: Linden-Museum Stuttgart
This is a scroll painting depicting Shoki the Demon Slayer or Demon Queller. He is known in Japan and China as a protector deity. Although he does not look as if he is attacking a demon in this painting, Japanese monsters took all shapes and sizes. This fish may be what is called a Namazu, a giant catfish that caused earthquakes when it moved.
Daikoku, Artist: Kawanabe Kyosai, Publisher: Fukuda Kumajiro, late 19th century, From the collection of: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Daikoku, or better known now as Daikokuten, is the Deity depicted in this painting. He is the god of darkness and also one of the seven lucky gods. He is also known as the god of wealth and is sometimes shown sitting on top of a pile of rice or gold, however in this picture he is shown wrapped in a white scarf known as a tenugui with a mallet known as Ushide no Kozuchi over his head.
Throwing beans, Artist: Kawanabe Kyosai, Publisher: Fukuda Kumajiro, 1890, From the collection of: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
This painting is a depiction of an old Japanese holiday known as Setsubun or Bean Throwing Day. Setsubun is celebrated during the changing of the seasons from winter to spring. People will toss beans out of their house in order to cleanse away the evil of the previous year and to keep out any evil spirits that will try to come in during the current year.
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This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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