Japan art and Kano Sanraku: Pre-Edo and early Edo Period

Japan art and Kano Sanraku: China and Pre-Edo and early Edo Period

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The artist Kano Sanraku (1559-1635) bridges the pre-Edo and early Edo periods. His world witnessed enormous military convulsions that ultimately led to the unification of Japan. However, the Tokugawa Period (Edo) was probably very different from what Sanraku envisaged when he was younger.

Under the warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), the Christian faith had made inroads into various parts of Japan. Nobunaga’s Japan and the power concentration policies he ushered in must have impacted the artistic outlook of Sanraku during his informative art years. Indeed, Sanraku depicts the interaction of East and West in the international geographic sense.

The centralization processes started by Nobunaga were finalized by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). However, unlike Nobunaga, who welcomed Christian missionaries despite never converting himself: Hideyoshi would start the anti-Christian edicts that would be regulated to a higher level during the early Edo Period.

Sanraku understood the need to know the shifting political and religious sands during his lifetime. Indeed, Hideyoshi, for a set period of time, employed Sanraku to produce art. Also, even during the early Edo Period (which began in 1603), Sanraku mixed with the upper echelons of society because Tokugawa Hidetada (second shogun) was another important patron. Therefore, in an artistic sense, he was a powerful artist who bridged the pre-Edo and Edo periods of Japanese history.

The MET Museum says, “A student and adopted son of Momoyama-period master Kano Eitoku (1543–1590), Sanraku produced paintings for interiors of castles and temples, including other works depicting West Lake.” 

During the lifetime of Sanraku, he mixed with individuals who shaped the power concentration world of Japan both pre-Edo and during the early Edo Period. His art alone leaves a lasting legacy – but the historical angle creates an added dimension.


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