Nichiren Buddhism and the Japanese Art Form of Rinpa: Old Kyoto and Modern Art

Nichiren Buddhism and the Japanese Art Form of Rinpa: Old Kyoto and Modern Art

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


Japanese historical art is blessed with many forms inspired internally and from the richness of ancient China and Korea. At the same time, religious and philosophical influence naturally flowed within the historical legacy of Japanese art. Therefore, it is fitting to know that the followers of Nichiren Buddhism supported rinpa (rimpa) art in the seventeenth century.


Hon’ami Koetsu and Tawaraya Sotatsu ignited rinpa art based on internal talents in various artistic and cultural fields. This reality appealed greatly to wealthy Nichiren Buddhist merchants in Kyoto. Therefore, once Hon’ami Koetsu (1558-1637) laid the foundations for a rich artistic community then money flowed in. After all, wealthy elites and merchants from the Nichiren Buddhist faith in Kyoto adored classical Japanese traditions – in relation to calligraphy, ceramics and exquisite lacquerware.


Terminologies vary from the early foundation until changing after the brothers Ogata Korin and Ogata Kenzan cemented this style of art. Indeed, Ogata Korin (1658-1716) took this art form to a new height.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) states “Rinpa is a modern term that refers to a distinctive style of Japanese pictorial and applied arts that arose in the early seventeenth century and has continued through modern times. Literally meaning “school of Korin,” Rinpa derives its name from Ogata Korin (1658–1716), a celebrated painter from Kyoto. It embraces art marked by a bold, graphic abbreviation of natural motifs, frequent reference to traditional court literature and poetry, the lavish use of expensive mineral and metallic pigments, incorporation of calligraphy into painting compositions, and innovative experimentation with new brush techniques.”


Interestingly, wealthy merchants following the Nichiren Buddhist faith enabled this new artistic concept to flourish by backing the founding fathers. After all, the independent spirit of Nichiren (1222-1282) meant that he would challenge other Buddhist sects to the full. This led to a serious threat towards his life and exile to Sado Island before being allowed to return to mainland Japan. However, true to the nature of Nichiren he would remain true to his independent and spiritual ways. Likewise, followers of Nichiren Buddhism in Kyoto in the seventeenth century adored the artistic free spirit of Hon’ami Koetsu.


Rinpa is associated today with high culture and traditional Japanese art. Despite this, the potent rinpa art form still inspires modern artists from Japan. Therefore, recently the artist Sawako Utsumi did a delightful art piece titled “Modern Reflection of Sakai Hoitsu.”


In this art piece Sawako Utsumi (image below – image four is also Sawako Utsumi) acknowledges the splendor and rich legacy of Sakai Hoitsu. Indeed, it was Sakai Hoitsu who preserved the richness of Ogata Korin in the later part of the Edo Period.


In another article by Modern Tokyo Times it was stated “…the refined artist Sakai Hoitsu became a Buddhist priest therefore much of the latter part of his life was based on splendid seclusion. This reality also enabled him to focus greatly on Ogata Korin. At the same time, Sakai Hoitsu also adored haiku therefore high culture ran throughout his inner soul.”


Rinpa art remains potent in modern Japan within high culture and other important areas of Japanese culture. Thankfully, modern Japanese artists like Sawako Utsumi also cherish this adorable art form. – Sawako Utsumi and where you can buy her art, post cards, bags, and other products. Also, individuals can contact her for individual requests.


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Some articles by Modern Tokyo Times are republished based on the need to inform our growing international readership about the unique reality of Japan.

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