Contemporary Japanese Art and Shintoism: The spirit of Sawako Utsumi and the Kano School

Contemporary Japanese Art and Shintoism: The spirit of Sawako Utsumi and the Kano School

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Sawako Utsumi is a contemporary Japanese artist who hails from the land of the rising sun. In this art article, the emphasis is on the individualism of Utsumi who is paying utmost respect to two artists belonging to the Kano School of Art. Despite the respect being shown to Kano Motonobu (1476-1559) and Kano Chikanobu (1660-1728), it is abundantly clear that the independent spirit – and unique angle of Utsumi – creates a new approach.

The art pieces by Utsumi are titled In the Shadow of the Past: Utsumi and the Kano School and The Fading Spirit of Kano Chikanobu Awakened by Shintoism. Indeed, the Shinto angle by Utsumi is extremely significant because Buddhism during this period of Japanese history was dominant in major centers of power. Of course, Buddhism and Shintoism – and the powerful impact of Confucianism – flowed naturally either individually, based on fusions, interacted in various spheres of society, and so forth. Similarly, other ideas entered Japan from the Middle Kingdom (China), for example, Daoism.

Yet, for Utsumi, she is turning back to a different time period, whereby the Shinto faith solely guided the people of Japan before external faiths and philosophies impacted. At the same time, the color scheme and religious dominance of the Shinto shrine in both art pieces by Utusmi alter the role of the village depicted by Chikanobu – while moving further away from Motonobu.

I comment in a past article, in respect to homage being shown to Chikanobu, that The title is a reminder that in time all artists and famous people fade into dwindling influence culturally and scientifically, irrespective of the name. Yes, famous artists, philosophers, scientists, and so forth, remain well known but scratch under the surface and most are known superficially apart from specialists. However, holy religious people including Abraham, the Buddha, Jesus, Lord Ram, St. Paul, Mohammed, and many others from faiths already mentioned or from other faiths including Sikhism, remain potent just like they were born yesterday. Hence, Shintoism awakens the fading spirit of Chikanobu because the Shinto faith will continue to be culturally and religiously significant to Japan until the end of time, even if shadows encroach.”

Interestingly, Motonobu belongs to the pre-Edo period of Japan, while Chikanobu was born during the Edo period. Hence, the continuity of the Kano School of Art was maintained based on interaction and opening up to new artistic concepts, irrespective of how minor or major.

Overall, Utsumi is turning the clock back in order to return to a time when the Shinto faith guided in a very limited sense. In the eyes of Utsumi, Folk Shintoism responds to the natural environment in a special way. This is further enhanced by regional Shinto influences that differ throughout this land.


Book Review: Sawako Utsumi and her Kindred Spirit

European and Japanese Art: Buddhism, Christianity, Landscapes, Rinpa, Shintoism, Ukiyo-e, and Dutch Masters – Please click on to order the book.

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