Japan art and Tanaka Hōji: Taoism, Hōitsu, and Jurōjin
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
The Japanese artist Tanaka Hōji (1812-1885) was born in the Edo period (1603-1868) and died in the Meiji era. The Meiji Restoration of 1868 is known for the modernization of Japan. However, for Hōji, he belongs to the traditional art world of rinpa (rimpa).
Hōji was blessed to study under Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1829) during the last few years of his life. Thus Hōitsu left a lasting impression on the young teenager.
Hōitsu became a Buddhist holy man in 1797 and focused on art, culture, literature, and his Buddhist faith. Hence, Hōji was just starting on his artistic path – while his teacher was entering his final years. Therefore, the respect shown will have been immense and tinged with awe for the impressional young teenager.
Fittingly, in one art piece by Hōji, he depicts Jurōjin on his loyal male deer. Jurōjin emanates from Taoist traditions in China but certain fusions happen in Japan. However, with Hōitsu dying when Hōji was still a teenager, it is nice to build a connection.
This relates to Jurōjin being one of the mysterious Seven Gods of Fortune. Indeed, Jurōjin is the God of Longevity.
Jurōjin is depicted with a scroll of which the lifespan is known for all living things on this earth. In Japan, this scroll can also entail a Buddhist holy sutra. Therefore, with his teacher Hōitsu being a Buddhist monk, it is comforting to imagine a link being portrayed by Hōji.
Taoism is based on compassion, frugality, and humility. Hence, the Buddhist rituals of Hōitsu and the tranquility of the early life of Hōji ties in perfectly with Jurōjin.
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