Japanese art and the allure of the past on the artistic soul of Kanzan Shimomura

Japanese art and the allure of the past on the artistic soul of Kanzan Shimomura

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Kanzan Shimomura (1873 to 1930) is a famous artistic son of Wakayama. Thus, the spiritual and cultural dimension of his art is blessed by the natural traits of Wakayama. Equally important, he was born into a family known for Noh actors. Hence, his place of birth, the bloodline of Noh actors in his family, and being taught by exemplary artists in his early life all shaped him greatly.

In the most pristine art of Kanzan, you can’t feel the revolutionary factors of the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Instead, a link with the past, while adopting new ideas and learning Western realism during his stay in England, leads to a sense of continuity. This notably applies to Kanzan’s most famous art. Therefore, the revolutionary fervor of the Meiji period seems like a distant reality.

Despite Kanzan moving to Tokyo at the age of 8, the rich cultural and religious legacy of Wakayama impacted on him. After all, the prefecture of Wakayama is blessed with famous holy Buddhist and Shinto places of worship. On top of this, the natural landscape is extremely stunning. Hence, the Buddhist angle to Koyasan and Negoro-Ji – and the amazing walking route of Kumano Kodo remains mysterious even today.

Kanzan studied under Kano Hogai (1828-1888) and after he passed away he continued his artistic learning under Hashimoto Gaho (1835-1908). Hogai, despite firmly belonging to the artistic world of the school of Kano, equally experimented with new Western artistic concepts. Therefore, you can feel the strong connection in the early period of Kanzan’s art with Hogai and Gaho in relation to thought patterns.

Gaho, just like Hogai, belongs to the world of Kano. Also, Gaho fused this rich artistic world with aspects of Western art. The legacy of Gaho equally applies to other artists. For example, he taught Kawai Gyokudo and Yokoyama Taikan.

In the early twentieth century, Kanzan stayed in England. Hence, Western art styles would further impress upon him. Despite this, the art of Kanzan is a fusion of various Japanese forms of art. This notably applies to Buddhist art, Kano, Rinpa, and the school of Tosa. Therefore, the world of emaki – and other areas just mentioned – continued to pull at his artistic soul.


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