Japanese Gothic Art?

Now in Tokyo National Museum, Ueno, there holds the exhibition, “Admired from Afar: Masterworks of Japanese Painting from the Cleveland Museum of Art”.

Here are the highlights of this exhibition.

As you see, many old Ukiyoe works came back home in this great opportunity and you will be astonished with the colours and minute touches remained very beautifully.

Among many magnificent works, “Courtesan of Hell (地獄大夫- Jigoku-Tayu)” was one of the most impressive one to me.

As I cannot put up here the very work that you will see in this exhibition, please refer to the highlights of this exhibition from the link above and go and visit the Tokyo National Museum to see the real one.

To give you ideas how Courtesan of Hell is like, I put some photo of Ukiyoe, which I would not have copyright problems with;



This is the work titled “The Enlightenment” by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1890) from the series of “Thirty-six Ghosts”.



“The Courtesan of Hell, Dreaming of Skeletons which are Playing”


“Monk Ikkyu and the Courteasn of Hell”


The last two works and the one you will see at the museum are the works of Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831-1889). He is said to be an individualist and an independent, perhaps the last “virtuoso” in traditional Japanese painting, but I would say he is a Japanese “Gothic” painter and his works are very Gothic.  In fact he was arrested several times either in Edo period and after the Meiji Restoration. But he was the painter who was highly evaluated by non Japanese, such as Ernest Fenollosa and Émile Étienne Guimet.


Those who got interested in this Japanese Gothic artist, why don’t you go and visit Kawanabe Kyōsai Memorial Museum in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture?


INFORMATION of Kawanabe Kyōsai Memorial Museum:
ADDRESS: 4-36-4 Minami-Cho, Warabii-Shi, Saitama-Ken
WEBSITE: http://kyosai-museum.jp/ENG/index.htm
E-MAIL: kkkb@kyosai-museum.jp
TEL: (048) 441-9780
FAX: (048)-445-3755
How to arrive: the closest train station is Nishikawaguchi Station of JR Keihin-Tohoku Line. From the West Exit of the Station, take Kokusai Kogyou Bus (No.64) bound for Warabieki Nishiguchi and get off at Minamicho Pompujo. (about 5 minutes)
OPENING HOURS: 10:00 – 16:00
Closed: on Thursdays
ADMISSION: 300 yen



But who is the Courtesan of Hell??

A woman of Muromachi period (1337-1573), who was said to be kidnapped by bandits and was sold to a house of prostitution. She was famous for her beauty and intelligence. She was able to create poems quickly in reply to the poems she received which required much ability and good knowledge of literature. Her terrible experience in the past made her very cynical on her life and she called herself as ‘Hell’ and used to wear kimonos with the designs of hell. We can imagine how she was by reading the farewell poem that she composed before her death.

“After my death don’t burn or bury my body. Leave it for starving dogs.”

Very Gothic!


Of course there is no proofs that a woman like this really existed. We may not know if the Courtesan of Hell’s tragic story was real. Her story could have been something that was made up in order to attract men’s interests. It would be very interesting imagining that all of these works over this Courtesan of Hell were made as a metaphor that we, human beings, like gossip so much that we cannot hold back ourselves from getting sympathized in someone’s tragedies rather than happy and lucky stories.
にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ


A goth lady in a dark forest




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