Rinpa art and Japanese high culture

Rinpa art and Japanese high culture

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The art schools of Kano and Tosa are associated with Japanese high culture. Rinpa (Rimpa) is also associated with the high culture and the rich legacy of Kyoto. Hence, all three art forms remain potent in modern Japan.

Nichiren Buddhist merchants in the Kyoto environs – and further afield – desired a fusion of art, high culture, faith, nature, and other essential angles. Thus, wealthy aristocratic families and Nichiren Buddhist merchants joined forces and strongly supported the Rinpa art movement during its infancy period.

The Met Museum says, “Rinpa is a bit of a misnomer in that the term identifies artists who worked in a particular style, occasionally together, but did not form an organized or hereditary school. Although Rinpa traces its origins to Kōetsu and Sōtatsu, it derives its name (pa, or school, of [Ko-]rin) from Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716). Kōrin and his brother Kenzan (1663–1743) were members of a Kyoto family of textile merchants that serviced samurai, a few nobility, and city dwellers. Distantly related to Kōetsu, the Ogata family owned a number of objects made by Sōtatsu and Kōetsu, which Kōrin studied carefully.” 

In this sense, Rinpa is very different from the art schools of Kano and Tosa. After all, no hereditary school was established. Hence, in general, artists were distant from one another – apart from occasionally working on projects together.

The Kyoto National Museum says, “Rinpa (alternatively spelled Rimpa) is a revivalist aesthetic style based on classical artistic and literary traditions. Rinpa works are often characterized by subject matter taken from nature or classical Japanese literature; they frequently have a decorative sensibility and sometimes abstracted design elements and distinctive techniques.”

One can easily imagine Hon’ami Kōetsu and Tawaraya Sōtatsu – the founding fathers of rinpa – enjoying the cultural and religious traits of Lake Biwa, Koyasan, Kyoto, Nara, Negoro-ji, and other areas that are within easy distance of each other.

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