Japanese art and Tomioka Tessai (1837-1924): Anti-China and modern nationalism
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Time
Japanese artist Tomioka Tessai (1837-1924) witnessed unimaginable changes throughout his life. He was born during the Edo period, which began in 1603. However, this period of Japanese history was overshadowed by the modernization processes of the Meiji era (1868-1912) – which radically changed society.
It also witnessed the reforms of the Taisho period (1912-1926). Therefore, one can only imagine the real thought that entwined his soul. After all, the flows of nationalism, including the war with China (First Sino-Japanese War 1894-1895)changed the regional dynamics of Northeast Asia.
Tessai was a very spiritual person and a deep admirer of philosophy. When it was born, China was the cradle of civilization which had a huge impact on Japan in terms of high culture, religion, philosophy and other important fields. Therefore, he was extremely knowledgeable about Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and the native faith of Shintoism.
During his informative years, he studied Buddhist scriptures and Confucianism. Naturally, the impact of Taoism has also influenced Tessai – this can be seen in some of his artwork. During the Meiji period, Tessai supported the restoration of Shinto shrines. From birth – when China had a huge impact on all of Northeast Asia – he suddenly witnessed a world where Japanese nationalism and modernization would alter regional power dynamics. This period will also see negative forces against Buddhism in Japan.
Tessai was influenced by the nun Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875). Rengetsu is considered one of the greatest poets of 19th century Japan. Her rich heritage relates to art, calligraphy, poetry and being a graceful potter. However, her Buddhist faith sustained her life and creativity. From then on, the sadness of Rengetsu – who died while the anti-Buddhist convulsions were still felt – pained her before dying in 1875.
Yet for Tessai, the new Japan would mean regional wars against China, Korea and Russia. Ironically, in modern times, Japan now adopts anti-China and anti-Russian policies in line with America’s whims – while maintaining negative relations with North Korea and South Korea. Therefore, Tessai would fully understand modern latent Japanese nationalism and how it feeds on ideas emanating from America.
However, unlike his mentor Rengetsu who influenced many aspects of his life, Tessai belonged to the new anti-Chinese world of Japan. So while Rengetsu was saddened by the early anti-Buddhist period of the Meiji period, Tessai had no choice but to adapt to Japan’s changing nationalist period.
Reuters reports (2021) that Japanese lawmakers visit a Shinto shrine where war criminals are prayed. Modern-Day Japanese Nationalists Hide Behind True Meaning (The Japanese Emperor will not visit under the prevailing conditions) claiming that they also pray to ordinary Japanese soldiers who died protecting Japan. Thus, reports Reuters, Nearly 100 Japanese lawmakers from multiple political parties visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine for the war dead in Tokyo on Tuesday, prompting the South Korean government to express “deep concern and regret.”
Tessai focused on art throughout the period when Japan began to resemble the colonial and military policies of the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and others throughout history that despised the other ethnic groups and religions. However, his art also highlights the flow of China and when regional cultures respected each other. Therefore, if you close your eyes – and remove American hegemony from the equation that reinforces Japanese nationalism – then one can only dream of the past when Chinese and Japanese saints and artists influenced both nations for ages. countless centuries.
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