Gallery Connections: Temples in Eastern Kyoto, Part Two
Japan’s samurai culture is on our minds these days, so we decided to take a closer look at some intriguing details in this beautiful painting of the ancient capital of Kyoto from around the turn of the 17th century. At center, fourth panel from the left, there’s a major architectural complex with some pretty amazing historical significance.
Known as Hokoku Jinja, this shrine was constructed in 1599. That’s right before this screen was produced. Coincidence? Perhaps not when you consider the building was commissioned by the family of the legendary warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536/37–1598) as a mausoleum for their recently deceased patriarch. Artists may have capitalized on the relative novelty of the building and the reputation of the man it commemorates.
Indeed, Hideyoshi was not your average warlord. He was the most powerful figure of the Momoyama period, whose relatively brief reign set policies that would define Japanese society for hundreds of years. All that from a man who was born a peasant and gradually worked his way up the military and political ranks.
The details of Hideyoshi’s legacy are far too numerous and complex to address in this short post, but here are a few highlights:
- He forged alliances with individual daimyo (elite landowners) or defeated them in battle to consolidate his authority over most of the country.
- Class reforms instituted during this period remained in place for the next 300 years. By his decree, only samurai could bear arms, but they were required to live in castle towns. Peasants were forcibly stripped of their swords and were allowed only to work lands owned by the daimyo.
- Hideyoshi was an avid collector and supporter of the arts. His enthusiastic patronage of the tea ceremony and Noh Theater ensured their importance to Japanese culture, up to this very day.
Check back on a later Friday for our third post about this screen, and click here to read the first one.