Japan art and Otake Kokkan (1880-1945): Rebellious spirit

Japan art and Otake Kokkan (1880-1945): Rebellious spirit

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist Otake Kokkan (Kokukan) was born during the Meiji Period. He witnessed enormous economic, military, political, and social convulsions throughout his life. Therefore, similar to other Japanese artists in this period of history, Kokkan felt the enormous artistic changes that followed.

Kokkan (1880-1945) was born in Niigata. He and his brothers – Otake Chikuha (1878-1936) and Otake Etsudo (1876-1930) – were extremely gifted. Chikuha and Etsudo focused on Nihonga and other art forms, including Yamato-e – with Chikuha being especially independent and unafraid to go against the artistic grain.

Scholten says, “Kokkan studied yamato-e, Japanese-style painting, under Kobori Tomone (1864-1931), focusing on courtly and military subjects such as historical events and battles. His career spanned the late Meiji period to the early Showa period (early 1900s to 1920s), he initially enjoyed considerable success at government-sponsored exhibitions, frequently winning prizes, his first in 1907. Like his brothers, Kokkan also occasionally produced kuchi-e woodblock print designs.”

However, 1913 was a pivotal year for all three brothers. This concerns the government-connected 7th Annual Bunten Exhibition – where all three brothers had their entire respective work rejected.

The brothers took rejection with a sense of artistic indignation. Indeed, it spurred them on to create a counter-exhibition that highlights the rebellious spirit of all three individuals. This exhibition – by the rejected brothers – was called Rakusenten (Rejected Works Exhibition). In time, it led the “rebel artists” of the Hakkakai to show that they couldn’t be cowed by the internal artistic politics of government-sponsored exhibitions.

Overall, Kokkan – similar to his brothers – was blessed with an independent and rebellious spirit. He was also adaptable to the artistic events of the day.


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