Japan Art and Tanaka Kyokichi (1892-1915): Death and Zen Buddhism

Japan Art and Tanaka Kyokichi (1892-1915): Death and Zen Buddhism

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Tanaka Kyokichi (1892-1915) was born in Wakayma. Despite his short life, he inspired the printmaker Henmi Takashi (1895-1944), who was also born in Wakayama. Therefore, long after his death, Henmi Takashi continued to highlight the poetry of his friend Tanaka Kyokichi.

At a young age, he knew that life would soon ebb away after being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1913. However, his strength of character entailed that he continued to produce poems and art even when the shadows of life were closing in.

The Zen Buddhist monk Kozan Ichikyo (Ikkyo) wrote a lovely death poem before parting from this world in 1360. He wrote:

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going —
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

The second and third prints are titled “Person Being Born and Dying” and “The Diseased Bird.” Accordingly, both prints were produced by Tanaka Kyokichi after his diagnosis of tuberculosis – thus, the titles allude to his own life that was nearing its end.

The Zen Buddhist monk Dogan Zenji (1200-1253) said, “A flower falls, even though we love it; and a weed grows, even though we do not love it.”

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