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The History of Kakejiku Hanging Scrolls
The History of Hanging Scrolls: Hanging Scrolls in China – From the Ancient Times to the Song Dynasty
Japanese hanging scrolls are originated from ancient China. Paintings in Tibet, called thangkas, have a similar format to hanging scrolls. Yet, thangkas are mounted by being sewn on a textile backing. Therefore, Japanese hanging scrolls are widely believed to have been introduced from the ancient China.
According to a written document in China, the current format of hanging scrolls might have been derived from a vertical long strip of silk hanging on the wall in a room. It has been proved that the silk banner and the prototype of hanging scroll would have already existed in the Western Han (or Former Han) period (206 B.C. – 8 A.D.), backing up by the findings excavated from the Mawangdui Han tombs built in the 2nd century B.C. Later, the hanging scrolls were systematized into a current hanging scroll format in the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), which made further development in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279).
In the earliest years, hanging scrolls would have been used to ‘hang and pray’ for worship. They were developed to be a medium to disseminate Buddhism in China since they could be stored compactly in paulownia wooden boxes and could relatively been easily produced more.
The History of Hanging Scrolls: Asuka Period to Heian Period – Hanging Scrolls for Worship
In Japan, it has been thought that hanging scrolls would have been introduced to Japan along with Buddhism. Buddhist paintings in the hanging scroll format would have already been brought to Japan in the Asuka period (592-710), yet none of them, as far as I am aware, has survived in the present day.
In the Heian period (794-1185), Buddhist monk Kūkai, who travelled to the Tang China as a Japanese envoy, brought mandalas back to Japan, which led to the production of mandalas in Japan. From there, it is thought to have been the start of the rapid development of Buddhist painting and techniques for mounting hanging scrolls. Since surviving examples of hanging scrolls made during the Heian period are mostly Buddhist paintings, they are thought to have continued to be used as a format for Buddhist painting even in this period.
In contemporary China, ink painting had already been established as a technique for landscape paintings and figure paintings were created with the spread of Chan Buddhism (J: Zen Buddhism).
The History of Hanging Scrolls: Kamakura Period – Introduction of Ink Painting
In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the exchanges between Japanese and Chinese Zen Buddhist monks became active, through which Zen Buddhism along with ink painting were brought to Japan, and they flourished. Although paintings that came to Japan, such as ‘Bodhidharma (Daruma)’ and ‘Catching a Catfish with a Gourd’, were intended to reflect the Zen thoughts, they gradually changed, and landscape paintings were also created. These ink paintings were mainly produced by temple painters and monks prior to the Muromachi period.
Zen Buddhism emphasised the importance of the Dharma of enlightenment from master to disciple. Therefore, there was a certain demand for paintings, such as commemorative portraits of Zen masters and portraits of Zen founder in China, Bodhidharma, which were given to prove that they had inherited the Dharma of their master. There was no direct relationship between ink painting and Zen teaching and ink painting would have been received as a part of Chinese culture. It is supported by the fact that ink painting was employed to decorate many Buddhist temples of different sects.
With the popularity of ink painting that were brought from China in the Kamakura period, hanging scrolls, which were used for Buddhist worship, began to function as a complementary item that enhanced the appeal of independent works of art, some of which depicted the theme of ‘flower, bird, wind and moon’. This culture that were introduced from China is called the Song-Yuan Culture.
The History of Hanging Scrolls: Muromachi Period – The Establishment of Japanese Culture and Tea Ceremony
The influence of the Song-Yuan Culture continued into the Muromachi period (1338-1573), through which Zen monks established themselves as cultural figures who embodied the culture of Chinese. In particular, special artistic advisors to Ashikaga shogunate, called dōhōshū, dominated in the society and those such as Nōami, Geiami and Sōami contributed the further distribution of the culture, along which hanging scrolls became widespread. During the period, poem-picture scrolls, known as shigajiku, on which a picture was depicted along with the inscription of the poem related to the depiction in the upper part of the scroll, also began to be created in Japan. Representative works of shigajiku include ‘Viewing a Waterfall’ by the above-mentioned Geiami and ‘Catching a Catfish with a Gourd’ by Josetsu.
The eighth shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa was particularly fond of the cultural atmosphere and established Higashiyama Culture by combining the cultures of samurai warriors and court nobles and the rich Song-Yuan culture. Most of structures and cultures that we now call ‘Japanese style’ were shaped in this period.
Japan’s unique aesthetic sense of ‘wabi’, ‘sabi’ and ‘yūgen’, also matured in this period. The form of tokonoma alcoves (strictly speaking simply ‘toko’) that is an inseparable with hanging scrolls was also formalised in the same period. The most important item in the alcove is the hanging scroll that is displayed in it, and the alcove is considered to be a space that connects daily life and art’. Landscape painting, bird-and-flower painting and portraits were popular theme. It was also during this period that the popularity of tea brought from China increased and the culture of the tea ceremony (chanoyu) was born.
Although the first half of the Muromachi period saw the diversity in arts, the warfare, Ōnin War, caused by a dispute over the Ashikaga shogun’s succession problem, cast a heavy shadow over the Ashikaga shogunate. The civil war, which took place in the city of Kyoto, lasted for more than ten years, destroyed the city and even the Imperial Palace, which resulted in the loss of many paintings from ancient times. This warfare led to major changes in traditional customs and practices along with social order, and it also marked a turning point in the history of art. The collapse of the shōen landholding system and the downfall of the Ashikaga shogun’s authority weakened the established systems such as a painting bureau (edokoro azukari) and dōhōshū. On the other hand, many cultural figures and intellectuals fled from Kyoto to seek shelter under the patronage of provincial shugo feudal lords, which accelerated the spread of culture to the provinces. A typical example among them was Sesshū who was active in Yamaguchi where the feudal family of Ōuchi resided.
The market for art expanded and diversified as a result of the active participations of emerging feudal lords and townspeople in the cultural scene. Artists and art schools were forced to adopt the rapid changing situation. Yet, those who coped the situation, maintained their status as a painting bureau to shogunate and established a professional atelier. The Kanō school was its typical example, which founded by Kanō Masanobu who succeeded Tenshō Shūbun and Oguri Sōtan as an official painter to the Muromachi shogunate. The Kanō school institutionalised a studio system and systemised the processes of labour division. As a result, they were able to respond to extensive requests from a wide range of clients from the upper class to the lower class and dominated the art market.
The turmoil affected the world of the tea ceremony. Murata Jukō, a tea master of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, forbid gambling and alcohol consumption at tea parties that were conventional before the Ōnin War, and instead advocated the importance of spiritual exchanges between the host and his guests. This is the origin of wabicha, the tea ceremony in pursuit of the subdued and austere aesthetic. Wabicha was later perfected in the Azuchi-Momoyama period by a Sakai merchant Takeno Jōō, followed by his pupil Sen no Rikyū. As Sen no Rikyū expressed the importance of hanging scrolls for tea gatherings, the hanging scrolls became much in demand amongst tea lovers. The customs of changing the hanging scrolls was customised according to occasions such as visitors, seasons and even day and night, and a degree of formality expressed by the hanging scrolls when the guests arrived became regarded as important.
In addition, the Kamakura period saw the birth of various sects of Buddhism sects. Among them, Jōdo Shinshū (Pure Land Buddhism), also known as Shin Buddhism, venerated six written letters of ‘namuamidabutsu’, called myougou, as its principle image. Rennyo (1415-1499), often referred to as the restorer of the sect, said ‘a painted image rather than a wooden image, myougou rather than a painted image’. He frequently distributed religious texts to private as well as village congregations where local artisan-class followers gathered. With his great efforts, hanging scrolls took roots in the areas where many followers of Jōdo Shinshū lived.
The History of Hanging Scrolls: Azuchi Momoyama Period – Flamboyant Culture that Powerful Figures Made
In the Momoyama Period (1573-1603), the style of tokonoma alcoves developed rapidly along with the further progresses of painting skills and mount techniques, partly because Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the two most powerful men of the time, were very fond of the tea ceremony. This period stands out in the history of art though it lasted only less than 50 years. It is because transitions were made much faster than in the earlier periods, and many of magnificent works of art created during this time have survived today, all of which became the hallmark of Momoyama art in the later period. The richness of adornments, a major characteristic of Japanese art, reached its zenith. In particular, Kanō Eitoku was no doubt a representative artist who was a painter in official service, called goyō-eshi, during the period. He was favoured by Nobunaga and Hideyoshi and created splendid paintings for castles and residents that were newly built at that time. The country saw turbulence once again towards the end of the period, yet the Kanō is believed to have purposely been divided into branches to meet the demand of each contemporary powerful figure in order to survive the time of such turmoil. With his younger brothers, Naonobu and Yasunobu, Kanō Tanyū solidified his status as goyō-eshi to the Tokugawa shogunate and laid the foundation for the school’s subsequent prosperity. On the other hand, a branch of Kanō Sanraku, who had a close relationship with the Toyotomi family, remained in Kyoto and worked there. It was called ‘Kyō Kanō’.
In the Momoyama period, along with the Kanō school, a number of influential artists, including Hasegawa Tōhaku, Kaihō Yūshō, Unkoku Tōgan, Soga Chokuan, emerged, each of whom formed their own school of painting. Besides, Hon-ami Kōetsu and Tawaraya Sōtatsu, the founders of Rinpa school, were also active in the Momoyama and the early Edo periods.
The History of Hanging Scrolls: Edo Period – A Period of Cultural Maturity with the Kanō School at the Centre
The long-lasting war period finally met its end. The Tokugawa shogunate ruled the country at the beginning of the 17th century, and the art world saw the emergence of a more mature artistic style of expression. Kanō Tanyū, a grandson of Eitoku, established a close relationship with the Tokugawa family from a young age and solidified the indisputable position of the Kanō school within the new shogunate system. Having themselves put at the highest ranking of the official painters, called Oku-eshi, who worked for lords throughout the nation, the Kanō school even had painters, called machi Kanō, who taught townspeople. It seems that young people who wished to become a painter would have studied under the Kanō school during the Edo period (1603-1868). One of reasons why so many artists were active in this period is, perhaps, that the Kanō school played a fundamental role in the education of painting, increased the level of artistic achievements and tried to expand it in the nationwide. On the contrary, as its supreme goal was to preserve the school, the Kanō school tended to exclude outstanding artists who had strong personalities, such as Kusumi Morikage and Hanabusa Itchō.
In addition, with the introduction of the Ming style mounts and the favour of literati mounts for literati painting, the mount techniques were remarkably improved. The elaborated woven textiles such as yamato nishiki (embroidered texture in coloured threads) and enishiki karaori (embroidered texture in coloured threads, making a design standout) gained popularity. Such elaborated woven textiles were produced in various textile producing regions such as Nishijin.
In the 18th century, while the Kanō school active mainly in the city of Edo, painting circles in Kyoto flourished, which was supported by people who enjoyed nihonga (Japanese style painting). Following the trends, the artistic value of hanging scrolls prospered to be used for ukiyo-e paintings (nikuhitsuga), which are paintings done with a brush and ink on silk or paper, mostly produced by ukiyo-e artists.
The History of Hanging Scrolls: Meiji Period – From Impact of Western Style Painting to World-Class Japanese Style Painting
After the revolutionary Meiji Restoration, art in the early time of the Meiji period (1868-1912) fell into an undifferentiated and chaotic state. The Kanō school was disbanded due to the loss of the patrons of the Tokugawa shogunate. Some artists who became impoverished, turned to new professions. Furthermore, the influx of Western style painting led to the simultaneous search for a new kind of Japanese style painting that would be accepted around the world, while defining the paintings of their own country that had not been clearly recognised by Western style painting at the same time. Western art and objects attracted a great deal of attention in the early years of the Meiji period, and Japanese works of art had a relatively low reputation in comparison. Additionally, the broad interpretation of the government’s decree for the separation of Shinto and Buddhism and the eradication of Buddhism led to the destruction of many Buddhist artworks, including hanging scrolls.
Later, however, the American art historian Ernest Fenollosa praised the excellence of Japanese art and the painting skills of artists such as Kanō Hōgai, and Japanese painters who had lost their power in the Meiji period, were given hope. Okakura Tenshin, who worked with Fenollosa, was instrumental in opening the Tokyo Fine Arts School (current Tokyo University of the Arts) where many of the artists, including Yokoyama Taikan, Hishida Shunsō and Shimomura Kanzan, who would later set up the Nihon Bijutsuin (The Japan Art Institute) were admitted to the school. There was a friendly rivalry between the innovators represented by those artists and the conservatives who emphasise the framework of the old tradition of painting. There was also another friendly rivalry between Japanese style painting and Western style painting in a wider framework. The government desire to raise its own culture to the world’s standard and to become a more developed country. The Japanese style painting of this period regained its vitality through a complex combination of such factors.
Since the Meiji period, the number of people who became painters increased as people were able to freely choose their professions. Japanese style painting prospered and the popularity of hanging scrolls also increased dramatically.
With the popularity of hanging scrolls, many pieces of textiles for hanging scrolls were also produced in this period.
In the past, most materials used for hanging scrolls had been used to unsew kimonos and the like so the patterns on them tended to be large. Since the Meiji period, many small patterned textiles suitable for enhancing the appeal of hanging scroll have been produced.
In 1894 and 1904, Japan fought and won both the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War that occurred respectively.
In consequences, these two victories made Japan come to believe that the Meiji government’s goal of becoming wealthy, powerful and developed nation had been fulfilled.
The government decided to hold a large-scale state-sponsored exhibition to demonstrate the culture as a developed country. In 1907, the Bunten (the Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition, later called the Nitten (the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition)) was organised. The artists were given authority and honour and it became a national art form, and the art of the Meiji period came to an end.
The History of Hanging Scrolls: The Taishō Period – Art that Respects the Ego and Individuality
The Taishō Period (1912-1926), when the tendency to respect the ego and individuality was on the rise, saw the emergence of artists who began to rebel against the state-sponsored Bunten exhibition under the ideology that ‘art is created by the free will of the individual’. The Japan Art Institute (Nihon bijutsuin) was its representative example. The organisation, founded by Okakura Tenshin in the Meiji period, had been stagnant for various reasons, but after his death, it was revived by his pupils Yokoyama Taikan. An exhibition organised by the Reorganized Japan Art Institute was called ‘Reorganized Inten (Saikō inten)’ which featured outstanding young artists such as Imamura Shikō, Yasuda Yukihiko, Hayami Gyoshū, Ogawa Usen, Kobayashi Kokei and Maeda Seison. In addition to the Bunten exhibition and the Reorganized Inten exhibition, many organisations and artists emerged, and the development of Japanese art continued through friendly rivalry under their respective ideologies during the Meiji and Taishō periods.
The History of Hanging Scrolls: Early Shōwa Period – Influence by War
Since after the Manchurian Incident in 1931, the influence of militarism gradually increased in the art world. While some artists demonstrated their resistance to the state’s move towards war through their free production, the majority had no choice but to cooperate with the war effort. In 1941, the Pacific War broke out. While the military suppressed artists who opposed the war, they commissioned artists to create war documentary paintings depicting the heroic battles of the Japanese army. Hence, artists went to the war zone as official war painters (jūgun gaka) and created war paintings. A series of war art exhibitions were held with the aim of raising the will of fight. The number of art journals published before was reduced to eight, then two, and finally only one left due to the crackdown. In 1944, publicly sponsored exhibitions were also banned.
The History of Hanging Scrolls: Postwar to High Economics Growth Period – Japanese Art Revived
Postwar art made a fresh start with artists who had been active in the pre-war. It started with the major question of how to capture the war experience. Later, various artistic styles that were born in the United States, the centre of the world’s art scene, were brought to Japan. The boundaries of art became blurred and artistic styles became more diverse. The Japan World Exposition (Bankoku hakurankai), held in Osaka in 1970, was a major event in which many artists, architects as well as designers participated. The experimental art that emerged after the war occupied a major position and Japanese art once again came to life.
Regarding Japanese style painting, the Association of Japanese Painting, called Sōga-kai, was formed by the Japanese style painting section being independent from the Shin Seisaku Kyōkai (New Creation Association), whose predecessor was the Sōzō Bijutsu (Creative Art). Thus, the world of Japanese style painting was divided into three major groups: Nitten where Higashiyama Kaii, Sugiyama Yasushi and Takayama Tatsuo belonged, Inten where Okumura Togyū, Ogura Yuki, and Hirayama Ikuo belonged, and the Sōga-kai where Uemura Shōkō, Yamamoto Kyūjin, and Kayama Matazō belonged.
Japan that was recovered from the war experienced an unprecedented boom in home ownership as the economy grew. As a result, the number of households with Japanese-style rooms with alcoves increased rapidly and the demand for hanging scrolls rose dramatically. A wide range of painting themes came to be considered to meet the demand, and the techniques and artistic styles of hanging scrolls reached its zenith.
The History of Hanging Scrolls: From the Collapse of the Bubble Economy to Present – Protracted Decline Period
In the 1990s, the economic boom came to an end (the collapse of the bubble economy) and the excitement of the art market gradually waned. It was also around this time that Japanese value began to change markedly, and that the number of houses without Japanese-style rooms with alcoves began to increase. In the midst of the simplification of traditional events, the demand for hanging scrolls is on the decline. The number of businesses dealing with hanging scrolls, which were set up during the high economic growth period, has also continued to decrease. The shortage of successors who manufacture hanging scrolls is a serious issue, which has led many businesses to close down.