Slay a Demon, Save the World

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Sunday morning I met a Canadian friend for a trek into Nagoya. Helping Harumi netted me generous gifts from her mother and we set about making use of the Ukiyo-e exhibit tickets.

During the Meiji restoration, Japanese people were generally led to believe that things Western were superior. As a result, many Japanese cultural arts were neglected and devalued. Ukiyo-e paintings were no exception. Many Europeans and Americans were brought to Japan to educate them about superior Western ways. Ironically, many of the foreigners were captivated by the beauty of these paintings and gathered them up at bargain prices.

Today, throughout the world, the value of this art form is recognized. Most people have seen “The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa” (神奈川沖波裏) or “South Wind, Clear Dawn” (凱風快晴) from Katsushika Hokusai’s (葛飾北斎) series of paintings called “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku)” (冨嶽三十六景), which were painted around 1831.

My fellow traveler and I both enjoyed the humor of a piece by Sakai Hoitsu (酒井抱一) titled simply “Mosquitoes” (蚊) which was a poem and several realistic mosquitoes painted on an uchiwa (団扇). Uchiwa are stiff Japanese fans used to fan barbecues and to keep oneself cool during the summer heat. I could picture someone using this fan to keep the mosquitoes out of their face and I suppose, had a mosquito been killed with the fan, it would have looked like part of the painting. Another uchiwa had an image of uchiwa salesmen toting hundreds of fans around; what delightfully subtle humor.

Forced to pick a favorite, I will latch onto two identically titled works: “Shohki, The Demon Queller” (鬼をつかむ鍾馗). One piece from around 1850 is by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳), and the other from around 1865, by Kawanabe Kyohsai (河鍋暁斎). In modern times it is difficult to discuss the concept of evil with Japanese people; demons, wraiths, and ghosts are thought of almost as playthings for children. Hearkening back to a time when heroes would grab a demon by the neck in preparation to lop off its head was very refreshing. I hope lopping off heads and very refreshing juxtaposed in the same thought don’t drive too many readers away, but I think demons should be despised and repulsed.

It was great to study the works and I could run-on for pages about the various subjects covered. I bought a book so anyone can look at it when they are visiting me.

We were a little shocked that Victoria and Albert Museum had stamped their marks in the corners of most of the works. Archival procedures 130 years ago clearly weren’t as strict as they are now. Our thinking was that source materials should be kept in original condition whenever possible.

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2 Responses to “Slay a Demon, Save the World”

  1. Dorothy W. Says:

    It WOULD be shocking to see changes made to source materials, even minor ones — but I suppose not every time period thought about art and artifacts in the way we do today.

  2. びっくり Says:

    Tommy, thanks for dropping by. I try to post daily, but have been under the weather. Almost better now, and have a long weekend. More posts are coming.

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