Art of Japan and Soga Shōhaku (1730-1781): Deep admiration of the Muromachi Period (1336-1573)

Art of Japan and Soga Shōhaku (1730-1781): Deep admiration of the Muromachi Period (1336-1573)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Soga Shōhaku (1730-1781) is a very intriguing artist because he wasn’t conventional. Equally important, Shōhaku did not follow the artistic trends of the Tokugawa Period. Instead, he was adamant that his artistic soul should dictate the style he followed, despite appearing out of step with other Japanese artists of the eighteenth century.

The early life of Shōhaku is beset by tragedy because all immediate family members had passed away. It is difficult to know the degree that this impacted on Shōhaku but it is clear that this tragic reality emboldened his determination and made him grow up quickly. Therefore, despite coming from a wealthy family, it is abundantly clear that the shadow of death became all too familiar for Shōhaku during his early life.


Intriguingly, Shōhaku preferred the delicate brush style of an early period that had come to an end approximately 150 years earlier. This applies to his fascination with several sublime Japanese artists during the Muromachi Period (1336 to 1573 but officially came into existence in 1338). Hence, Shōhaku was not afraid to look at the art of old Japan for inspiring his art.

In time, the early influence of the Kano School of Art would become a distant memory. Instead, the brushstroke of the Muromachi Period and his love of monochrome (Shōhaku also used color) meant that he was extremely distinctive compared with other contemporaries’ of the eighteenth century.

Hence, despite the unfashionable approach he took to art – in relation to the Tokugawa Period – he remained determined and focused on old Japan. This fact meant that the art of Soga Jasoku appealed greatly to Shōhaku. Therefore, his approach to art endeared himself to many lovers of art during his lifetime.

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