The Modern Tokyo Times

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Japanese art and Kano Eitoku: Oda Nobunaga, political power and art

Japanese art and Kano Eitoku: Oda Nobunaga, political power and art

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Kano Eitoku was born in 1543 and died in 1590 but in his short life he left a rich legacy because he was one of the most prominent artists of the sixteenth century. Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) who laid the foundation stone for the centralization of Japan admired Eitoku deeply. Therefore, during his lifetime Eitoku reached the upper echelons of the political dynamics of Japan because his patrons included Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who followed the leadership of Nobunaga after his death.

Therefore, the art of Eitoku also provides a glimpse into the political dynamics of Japan during his day. More importantly, it also shows Nobunaga, a famous warlord, in a good light because this individual was truly individualistic and cared little about unwanted traditions.

Nobunaga was favorable to the Christian faith which sadly would face a Buddhist inquisition during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) and in time all followers would be killed, forced to recant or become crypto-Christians by outwardly pretending to be Buddhists. Nobunaga also opened up trade for peasants, used modern warfare and a host of other initiatives.

However, Nobunaga would not tolerate competing power processes and this led to many military clashes and a deep seated hatred towards the Tendai Buddhist warrior monks whom he would crush. Yet, the other side of Nobunaga was “openness” and in the field of art he admired the richness of Eitoku.

The period of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi was revolutionary because momentous changes were happening in Japan but sadly the end result of the Tokugawa period was not the dream envisaged by Nobunaga. Eitoku, therefore, was faced with the cold reality of the day because many of his patrons were people of power and influence.

Eitoku was born in Kyoto and clearly he belonged to a prestigious family because he was the grandson of Kano Motonobu (1476-1559). Therefore, with the guidance of his grandfather and with being blessed with such talent, which had been recognized when Eitoku was a very young child, he soon came to prominence and patrons like Nobunaga loved the richness of his style.

The influence of Chinese painting styles was clear and this was only natural for the day and clearly Motonobu was very proud of his grandson. Eitoku maintained the pre-eminence of the Kano school which was founded by Kano Masanobu (1434-1530?).

Eitoku is a reminder that despite all the carnage during the period of Nobunaga, the cultural realm remained strong and art was highly valued. Therefore, despite the passages of time Eitoku stills remains potent in modern day Japan because he produced many stunning art pieces.

The period of history which witnessed Nobunaga and Eitoku is extremely fascinating and if individuals are interested in history and art, then the sixteenth century is very rich in Japan. Nobunaga left a lasting legacy in the realm of politics and the unification of Japan even if the direction was very different during the Tokugawa period.

Eitoku also left a lasting legacy in the field of Japanese art. Therefore, despite the different thinking of Nobunaga and Eitoku, and their completely different lifestyle, both individuals show that this period was one of innovation and changing ways.

Eitoku is rightly remembered in modern day Japan because of the stunning art pieces he produced. Kyoto National Museum

Image of Oda Nobunaga not by Kano Eitoku

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