The Rinpa School is popular for its unique history and high quality design. Here are some locations that have strong relations to the Rinpa school and places where you can observe this art in Kyoto, the birthplace of Rinpa.
1. What is Rinpa?
Rinpa describes a school of artistry and craftsmanship, created using the same techniques of expression as the artists from the late Momoyama era (end of the 16th century). Most Japanese art techniques are passed down through family or strictly selected pupils. In comparison, Rinpa’s styles and skills were inherited by unrelated artists who were influenced by its art form. The Rinpa School was founded by Kouetsu Honami and Soutatsu Tawaraya, then developed by the Ogata brothers Kourin and Kenzan, and finally Houitsu Sakai established the Rinpa School in Edo (today’s Tokyo). Rinpa-style art has bold and original expression and structure, while keeping the elegance and beauty of traditional Yamato-e style. This luxurious and gorgeous art gained extreme popularity in Japan, and it also had an enormous influence on foreign artists.
Takagamine is considered to be the origin of Rinpa. The history of Rinpa goes back 400 years, to when Kouetsu received the land of Takagamine from Ieyasu Tokugawa. Kouetsu gathered a number of craftsmen and artists to create Koetsu Village.
Kouetsu Temple developed in the same place Kouetsu built his hermitage, and it became a temple of the Nichiren Buddhist sect after his death. The Kouetsu Fence is well-known and is easily recognizable by its unique, soft curve. The fence is made by layering split bamboo that has been put together in a rhomboid shape. The temple precinct has seven elegant tea houses including Taikyo-an, Sanba-tei, and Honami-an. Also, Takagamine area has other famous locations like Genko-an, which is famous for the two artistic windows Satori no Mado and Mayoi no Mado, and Joushouji, a temple built on land contributed by Kouetsu. You can have a great time here relaxing and strolling around while enjoying the scenery of the three Takagamine mountains (Takagamine, Washigamine, and Tengamine) that Kouetsu once adored.
Yougen-in was built by Yododono, one of the concubines of "the most successful man of the Sengoku era," Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The focal points of this place are two paintings by Soutatsu Tawaraya. One is Kinji-Chakushoku-Matsuzu, a painting of pine trees on a golden fusuma (Japanese traditional sliding door). The other painting is Sugido-e, which has images of a white elephant, a lion and a giraffe painted on a door made of cedar. The image of undulating branches of pine trees sprouting from the ground in Kinji-Chakushoku-Matsuzu is so dynamic that it looks like it’s about to start moving. The deformed and simplified images of animals in Sumido-e, painted in the unique style of Soutatsu, have a lively expression and powerful structure. This excellent painting, incomparable, is said to be the masterpiece of Soutasu. Additionally, Soutatsu is the artist of the Fujin-Raijin-Zu-Byobu (at Kennin-ji temple), a distinctive Rinpa work. The composition of his art was inherited by representative artists of Rinpa like Kourin Ogata and Houitsu Sakai. Please observe the works of Soutatsu, which can be called the conceptual source of the Rinpa School. You will be able to understand the influence he gave to Rinpa artists of later generations thanks to his fresh designs and bold composition.
Kourin Ogata was an artist active in mid Edo era (late 17th - early 18th century), and is known as the representative artist of the second generation of the Rinpa School. The name "Rinpa" is derived from Kourin’s name. He was born into the wealthy family of a kimono merchant who owned a famous store called Kariganeya. Kourin was 40 years old when he began to pursue painting. As he was strongly inspired by works of Soutatsu Tawaraya, he inherited the style while establishing his own, which is a dazzling ornamental style rich in elegance.
Myoukenji Temple is a place related to Kourin. There are three different gardens in the temple. The garden in front of the study, called Kourin Kyokusui no Niwa, is based on Kouhaku-Baizu-Byobu, a painting of Kourin on a folding screen. Kourin’s paintings, like Juro-Shouchikubai-Sanpukutsui, are stored in the sanctuary of this temple. There are tombs in Senmyoin, one of the nine sub-temples, for Kourin and Kenzan, his younger brother who was a famous ceramic artist. These tombs can be seen from outside of the gate.
5. Hosomi Art Museum
From the end of the 18th century to the start of the 19th century, the new Rinpa School was emerging in Edo. An artist responsible for this development was Hoitsu Sakai, the second son of the lord of Himeji Castle. Hoitsu was devoted to the works of Kourin Ogata, and studied art through copying Kourin’s paintings. While keeping the characteristics of Rinpa, he added elements that were reserved in earlier works like the atmosphere of the seasons and realistic expressions. As he succeeded in establishing the new style, he became the forefather of Edo Rinpa.
Hosomi Museum, located in Okazaki, is known for having collections of Rinpa artwork by Hoitsu Sakai and his pupils Kiitsu Suzuki and Hochu Nakamura. The museum holds exhibitions a few times a year instead of having a permanent exhibition. Items like totebags and furoshiki (square cloth that be used in many different ways) with Rinpa motifs, sold at the museum shop, are recommended as souvenirs.
5. Hosomi Art Museum
A garden Mitsudomoe no Niwa, built in 1436, is the only garden made by Kouetsu Honami. Because three man made hills imitate a comma-shaped crest, it is called the "garden of three ways". The spiral shape of the comma represents the eternal spiral of the past, present, and the future of the Lotus Sutra. There is also a dry waterfall on the south east corner, which has blue striped stones imitating flowing water. There is one circular stone combined with two semicircular stones and a decagonal lotus pond in front of the veranda of the study, which signifies the sun and the lotus flower. There are many other art works stored in Honpo-ji of which Kouetsu was involved in the creation. These art works can be observed at the treasure hall of the temple. The stylish Goshuin notebook is based on the motif of Hanakarakusa-Denkyobako by Kouetsu, which is designated an Important Cultural Property. This would be a great souvenir commemorating your visit to this temple.
Rinpa has been inspiring people with its dynamic composition and elegant design for centuries, and it still continues to influence crafts and items such as handheld fans and traditional sweets in Japan. It might be interesting to look for the traits of Rinpa when walking around in Kyoto.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.