Japanese Artist and Nichiren Buddhism: Exile in the Snow on Sado Island

Japanese Artist and Nichiren Buddhism: Exile in the Snow on Sado Island

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


The Buddhist holy man called Nichiren (1222-1282) was exiled to Sado Island in his native Japan. This reality was extremely harsh for Nichiren and his followers feared for him. However, Nichiren had faced even worse situations because he faced death based on political intrigues against him. Therefore, true to the nature of Nichiren, his exile to Sado Island created even more noble ways and deepened his spirituality to an even higher level.

Sawako Utsumi, a contemporary artist who hails from northern Japan, not surprisingly is intrigued by the historical legacy of Nichiren – and the reality of exile to Sado Island. Similarly, the landscape of Sado Island and the bleakness of winter appeals to this modern Japanese artist who adores landscape art. Intriguingly, the artist is more in tune to Shintoism, while ancestors will be a mixture of both faiths. After all, the fusions of Buddhism and the Shinto faith dot the landscape and the mindset of this nation despite the impact of secularism and modernization.


Nichiren, himself, was very independent because he believed firmly that the true path lay within his teachings based on his knowledge of the written word. This holy Buddhist cleric made many enemies based on rebuking other Buddhist schools of thought. Yet, passion, the search for truth, questioning concepts deemed false, challenging authority, equally adhered people to Nichiren.


Nichiren said, When a tree has been transplanted, though fierce winds may blow, it will not topple if it has a firm stake to hold it up.  But even a tree that has grown up in place may fall over if its roots are weak.  Even a feeble person will not stumble if those supporting him are strong, but a person of considerable strength, when alone, may fall down on an uneven path.”


Utsumi, in her art pieces titled Exiled Buddhist Cleric Nichiren in the Snow and Buddhist Cleric Nichiren in Exile and Homage to Yoshitoshi, shows two completely different situations. The similar themes apply to isolation, the bleakness of nature, wintry conditions, and powerful landscapes that depict the exile of Nichiren. However, one art piece focuses on Nichiren in contemplation and feeling secure despite the wintry conditions he faces. Alternatively, the other art piece shows the brutal reality of the harshness of his exile during the severity of winter.

Therefore, the meaning of both, according to Utsumi, is the many different realities that we face in this lifetime despite much appearing the same. Once more, Utsumi is highlighting the mirage of past artists – while, at the same time, creating new intricacies based on her own stunning art.


Nichiren said, “If one lights a fire for others, one will brighten one’s own way.”

Alluding to both art pieces by Utsumi highlighted in this article, then the fire of art was lit by others. However, Utsumi brightens up the originals by playing on artistic and philosophical themes that are not easy to comprehend from the naked eye!



Book Review: Sawako Utsumi and her Kindred Spirit

European and Japanese Art: Buddhism, Christianity, Landscapes, Rinpa, Shintoism, Ukiyo-e, and Dutch Masters

http://www.lulu.com/shop/lee-jay-walker/sawako-utsumi-and-her-kindred-spirit/paperback/product-22830732.html – Please click on to order the book.

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/exiled-buddhist-cleric-nichiren-in-the-snow-sawako-utsumi.html – Exiled Buddhist Cleric Nichiren in the Snow

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/buddhist-cleric-nichiren-in-exile-and-homage-to-yoshitoshi-sawako-utsumi.html Buddhist Cleric Nichiren in Exile and Homage to Yoshitoshi



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