Japan art and Josetsu: Buddhism and the impossible

Japan art and Josetsu: Buddhism and the impossible

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Zen Buddhism impacted Japan greatly. This concerns the realm of faith, guidance, and philosophy. Similarly, the fusions of ideas that emanated from the Middle Kingdom (China) related to Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and other important angles impacted Japan enormously: in Japan, the indigenous Shinto faith also impacted Buddhist ideas within various boundaries related to different sects, regionalism, and at various times in history.

Josetsu’s fifteenth-century masterpiece “Catching a Catfish with a Gourd” remains extremely potent in modern Japan – and throughout the world, concerning the lovers of Buddhist art. Of course, secular lovers of art – or people from other faiths are equally transfixed by this masterpiece.

Josetsu is deemed “the father of Japanese ink painting.” This shows how far this Chinese immigrant impacted the art scene of Japan in this period of history. Therefore, the naturalized Buddhist artist handed down his knowledge before parting from this world.

The world of Kyoto – and the importance of the cradle of high culture in Japan, the adorable Nara – equally impacted Josetsu. Thus his firm base in Kyoto enabled his continuing spiritual awakening along with his artistic – and philosophical awakening.

The Kyoto National Museum says: “Is it really possible to catch a catfish with a gourd? Of course not! There is no way that one could catch a slick and slippery catfish with a smooth gourd!”

The masterly work of Josetsu can have multiple meanings – of utmost Buddhist spirituality. Or, in the other direction, given the legendary relationship between the catfish and earthquakes – it could imply that all human wisdom and power can’t prevent earthquakes and nature.


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