Japan art and Yanagisawa Kien: Edo artist influenced by Buddhism, China, and Confucianism

Japan art and Yanagisawa Kien: Edo artist influenced by Buddhism, China, and Confucianism

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist Yanagisawa Kien (1703-1758) had a firm spiritual and philosophical soul. Thus the words of Confucius and the faith of Ōbaku-shū Zen Buddhism molded Kien greatly.

Kien was a noted Nanga School (bunjinga) artist. Indeed, Kien enhanced this art form greatly. Therefore, Ike no Taiga (1723-1776) took up bunjinga from an early age after being encouraged by Kien. 

Also, despite Japan being isolated during the long years of the Edo Period, bunjinga (literati painters) artists admired the richness of China culture. Hence, the flows of Ōbaku-shū Zen Buddhism and Confucianism flowed naturally to Kien. 

Traditional Chinese culture (the Middle Kingdom) inspired vast areas of Japanese culture. Therefore, the legacy of many centuries of Chinese culture continued to inspire throughout the Edo Period despite Japanese isolation. 

Kien took up art from the age of nine. Eventually, despite being taught in different Japanese art forms, he followed the bunjinga path. Indeed, his bunjinga teacher, Gion Nankai (1676-1751), was also a notable Confucianist. 

When Kien was young, he admired the Confucianist scholar Ogyū Sorai (1666-1728). Therefore, the flow of Buddhism and Confucianism – along with his love of acupuncture, calligraphy, poetry, and the tea ceremony – equates to a person who lived in the literati world until his death. 


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