Sotatsu Tawaraya

The Painter of A Fujin-Raijin Byobu Rests in A Temple in Kanazawa?

Fujin-Raijin-Zu is a masterpiece of ‘kin-byobu’ (folding golden screen) that those two Japanese characters: Fujin and Raijin are dipicted by one of Japan’s greates painters, Sotatsu Tawaraya (16th-71th century). Needless to say, the master Sotatsu was active in old Kyoto, however, it’s said his grave was found in Kanazawa. Meanwhile there still is an opinion he rests in Kyoto though.

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11_raijin_gr.jpgFujin literally means “the god of the wind,” which is a sort of an evil god who brings you illness or serious damage to crops by wind. On the other hand, concerning Raijin “the god of thunder,” it’s not so hard to guess that this god scares people by throwing lightning from the sky. In old tales, Raijin is well known for having horns and wearing underwear made of tiger fur. So these gods represent what people are afraid of. Containing striking demon appearances, both characters have often been illustrated as a pair of gods since ancient times. The painting on the folding golden screen, in the possession of the zen temple Kenninji, must be the most famous in all Japan. A rich merchant in Kyoto ordered the master Sotatsu to paint for Myokoji Temple. Later, the chief priest took the screen with him when he was transferred to Kenninji. Now, it’s deposited in the Kyoto National Museum. The layout is extraordinary. The dynamic duo of Fujin and Raijin are painted in an impressive manner. As a side note, a replica of this folding screen was displayed at the 2008’s G8 summit held at Toyako Lake of Hokkaido.
Concerning Sotatsu the artist, unfortunately not so much information has been found. 11_fujin_gr.jpgThis makes him all the more mysterious. Sotatsu Tawaraya, commonly called Sotatsu Nonomura, had led the painting workshop Tawaraya. The folding fans sold at this shop had become popular because of their finely painted brushwork. But Sotatsu was not just a fan painter. He was also engaged in a national project to restore some older masterpieces, or had gotten orders from the Imperial Family to do so. Consequently, he received the title Hokkyo that only high priests can obtain, even though Sotatsu was a merchant-class painter. Such an honor for a commoner was highly unusual. Does that mean his works are sacred?
In 1913, Sotatsu’s grave was found at Hoenji temple, which was built as the family temple of the ruler of the Kaga domain, but why was he in Kanazawa? The heir of the Tawaraya workshop, Sosetsu, became a private painter to the Kaga-han clan in 1643. This might be the key to clear up the mystery.