Who was the artist?
Kano Tanyu was a prolific and important member of the great Kano school of painters. Established by Kano Masanobu (1434–1530), the Kano artists traditionally served elite patrons from the imperial family and the shogunate. They were perhaps Japan’s most influential school of painting, since most artists who underwent traditional training began their studies with a Kano master. They are associated with kanga or “Chinese painting” style, although Tanyu was known for his mastery of various styles. Tanyu was recognized as a great painter in his day. At the young age of 16, he was already a painter in the Shogun’s court in Edo. He founded a new branch of the Kano school in Edo. Eventually, the remaining Kyoto branch moved to Edo as well.
What is this painting about?
These screens, or byobu, as they are called in Japanese, depict two famous places in Japan: Mount Fuji, which even today is a symbol of Japan, and the Shores of Miho, a much more obscure location to non-Japanese. These were both sites famous for their scenic beauty. Of historical interest is the inclusion of the temple, Kiyomidera, at the upper left, and the ancient post town of Kiyomigaseki below that.
Fuji has endured to the present day as one of Japan’s most popular pilgrimage sites. During the Edo period, the mountain was revered as a home of nature spirits or kami by an ever growing mountain worship cult that incorporated elements of Buddhist and Shinto ritual. This cult was developed by yamabushi (those who prostrate themselves to the mountain), who, beginning in the 800s, “converted” mountain kami to become avatars of the Buddha. Pilgrims believed that by climbing the mountain, they paid their respects to the mountain spirit and gained merit that might help them in this life as well as in the next.
How was this painting used?
Screens have been used for centuries in Japan not merely as room decoration but as integral parts of interior architecture. Traditional Japanese palaces and castles, where one would find screens, consisted of large, simple rooms. Free-standing screens like these might have been used to section off the room to give privacy or cover a draft. They also showed the affluence and good taste of the owner.
Further Discussion Questions:
What is a pilgrimage?
- What are common pilgrimages for Californians (Yosemite? Disneyland?), and what activities are associated with these sites? (Camping, swimming, hiking, amusement rides, special foods, skiing, etc.)
- Is there a difference between pilgrimages to Fuji in Edo Japan and pilgrimages to Fuji or Yosemite today? (Religious purpose has declined, although it ￼may still exist in a sense. For example, visitors to Yosemite certainly feel a sense of awe for the power and beauty of nature, and the regenerative results of a camping trip to Yosemite are not much different from what Edo travelers might have sought when visiting Fuji). Use this discussion as an introduction to Make a Temple Book or Japanese Screen.
How was this painting used? Consider its size and format. (Size: each screen is about 5 1/2 feet tall by 12 feet wide.)
- What kind of room would this fit into? Imagine the space it would take up in the classroom. Remember, the screens stand on their own by arranging the panels like an accordion, so they do not extend to their full 12-feet width.