Ryokan was a Soto Zen Buddhist monk in the late Edo period (1603-1868). He is also known as a calligrapher and poet, who wrote both Japanese waka poems and Chinese classic poems.
He was born in in the village of Izumozaki in Echigo Province (now Niigata Prefecture) in 1758. He was much influenced by his father, who was a Nanushi (village officer) and poet. Ryokan studied under Omori Shiyo, a scholar of Chinese classics and became his father’s assistant.
Later he visited and stayed at Entsuji Temple (in present-day Okayama Prefecture), where he was ordained priest by the Zen master Kokusen. It was around this time that Ryokan also took interested in writing poems and deepened exchanges with many poets of the time.
Ryokan attained enlightment and was presented with an Inka (a formal acknowledgement of a student’s completion of Zen training) by Kokusen at the age of 33. He left Entsuji Temple to set for a long pilgrimage and necer returned to the monastery life. He lived the rest of his life as a hermit and taught Buddhism to common people in easy words instead of difficult sermons.
He disclosed his own humble life, for which people felt sympathy, and placed their confidence in him. A lot of artists and scholars also visited his small hut, Gogo-an, where he talked with them over a drink of Hannya-yu (enlightening hot water, namely Japanese hot sake). He died in 1831. His only disciple, Teishin-ni published a collection of Ryokan’s poems titled “Hasu no Tsuyu (Dewdrops on a lotus leaf).”
Miyamoto Musashi was a famous Japanese samurai of the early Edo period (1603-1868). In recent times, he is also recognized as a great thinker, who left the writings on art of living well and cherished mottos.
Musashi was born in 1584. At the age of 13, he fought a duel for the first time and won. Then he left his village and spent his time traveling and honing his skills in swordsmanship. During this time, he engagrd in as many as 60 duels, in which he never lost. His most famous duel is the duel with Sasaki Kojiro.
His swordsmanship was characterized by practical strategics. He was always seeking for the meaning of life through swordsmanship. Musashi created and perfected a two-sword kenjutsu technique called Niten-Iichi (meaning “two heavens as one”).
Musashi’s cleverness in the use of hands and his acute sensitivity brought him to the field of at, sculpture, calligraphy, and handicraft. Records also show that he had skills in town planning and landscape architecture.
Just before his death, he completed “Go Rin no Sho (the Book of Five Rings),” a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy, which is still studied today.
The brush making in Sendai began in the early Edo period (1603-1868), when Date Masamune, the founder of the Sendai domain, invited a craftsman specialized in brush making from Osaka to promote learning and industry. Accordingly, the domain had its own brush-making craftsmen, and the low-ranked warriors also began to make brushes as their side jobs.
Because of their careful work and efforts to improve skills, Sendai Brushes gradually earned reputation, and eventually, it was dedicated to the Shogun of the time. Since then, Sendai Brushes have been deferentially called “Ofude,” which means “an honorable brush.”
Among Sendai Brushes, the ones made of hagi (Japanese bush clover) naturally grown in Miyagino, which was Masamune’s hunting field, is called Miyagino Hagi-fude. The wild touch of the brush-holder and the sensitive hair at the tip are favored by poets and fanciers all over the country as the hallmark of Sendai Ofude.
Souun Takeda, a calligrapher, was born in 1975 in Kumamoto. He started calligraphy when he was three years old, studying with his mother, Souyou Takeda, also a calligrapher.
After graduating from Tokyo University of Science majoring in Science and Technology, he worked at NTT for three years before he became a calligrapher. Since then, he has established himself through a series of unique and original pieces, often collaborating with other artists in various fields including Noh and Kyougen actors, sculptors and musicians, and unconventional one-man exhibitions. He also runs a calligraphy school where many of his students study. “Calligraphy is the same as a conversation. I just use calligraphy to communicate with people”, says the gentle but passionate Mr. Takeda, who is hailed as the new generation of calligraphy.
In 2003, Mr. Takeda received the Longhuacui Art Award from Shanghai Art Museum in China and the Constanza de Medici Award in Firenze, Italy. His work includes title letterings for many movies such as Spring Snow and Year One in the North. He also published three books; Tanoshika, Shoyudou and Sho o kaku tanoshimi.
Kukai (774-835) was a Japanese monk, the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan. Kūkai is also famous as a calligrapher, and together with the Emperor Saga and the courtier Tachibana no Hayanari, he is admired as the “Three Great Brushes” (or sanpitsu).
Kūkai was born in 774 in the province of Sanuki on Shikoku island in the present day town of Zentsūji. He studied Confucianism at the government university in Nara, where he became disillusioned with his studies because he thought that Confucianism could not resolve social contradictions. He developed a strong interest in Buddhist studies and named himself Kukai.
In 804, he set sail for China as a menmer of the government sponsored mission, in which Saichō, the founder of the Tendai school of Buddhism, was also included.
After studying Buddhism techings and Chinese cultures, he finally met Master Huiguo (Jap. Keika), the man who would initiate him into the esoteric Buddhism tradition at Changan's Qinglong Monastery in 805. In a few short months he received the final initiation, and become a master of the esoteric lineage.
Kūkai arrived back in Japan in 806 and reside in the Takaosanji (later Jingoji) Temple in the suburbs of Kyoto. There he established his own sect of Buddhism, the Shingon sect. At the same time, he used his knowledge in civil engineering that he had learned in China and directed civil works in many places. He also exercised his talents in various fields such as caligraphy, painting and sculpture.
When the emperor granted Mt. Koya to Kūkai, he planned to build the monastic retreat centre. However, before seeing the completion of his ideal religious institution, he died in Mt. Koya on March 21st, 835.
In 857, Kūkai was awarded the posthumous title of “Daishojo (the Great Priest) by Emperor Buntoku in 857, and “Kobo Daishi” by Emperor Daigo in 921. Kūkai was the great saint, who contributed greatly to the development of Japanese Buddhism after the Heian period (794-1192), and a lot of folklore and legends pertaining to Kūkai still exist in every part of the country.
Chinda Waterfall, located in Oita Prefecture, is made up of a male waterfall which diverges from the main streams of the Ono River, and a female waterfall which branches off the Hirai River tributary.
The male waterfall measures 17m in height and 93m in width, and the female waterfall measures 18m in height and 4m in width. Due to the steepness of the drop and its great width, Chinda Waterfall is called 'the Niagara Falls of Bungo'.
During the Muromachi period, Sesshu, one of the most prominent masters of suiboku (ink painting), stayed in Bungo, Oita, on his return from Ming China. He painted a picture called 'Chinda-bakuzu', which took Chinda Waterfall as motif and inspiration. 'Chinda-bakuzu' is one of the most famous and renowned landscape paintings of Japan, with its strong, yet magnificently beautiful brushstrokes.
Chindai Waterfall Fellowship Park, located alongside Chindai Waterfall, was created by local citizens themselves: the cutting and planting took about 3 years to complete. The view of the waterfall from the observatory tower is simply astounding.
Ecchu district, which is rich in high-quality water from the foot of the Northern Japanese Alps, has long been a production area of washi paper.
Ecchu washi is tough and flexible, and is used for many products from sliding paper doors and writing paper to paper lanterns, works of calligraphy and paintings, as well as prints and more than 100 kinds of dyed papers.
There is reference to Echhu washi in the Shosoin records, dating to the Nara period. Moreover, the Engishiki records from the Heian period mention that people paid their taxes using washi. Therefore, we can conclude that Ecchu washi has a long history.
Today, around Japan, there are many young people carrying on the traditions of Japanese paper, not only making dyed paper and classical washi using mulberry fiber, but developing new forms of paper handicraft, paper processed goods and souvenirs.
Suzuka sumi ink is a refined ink made from pine wood from the mountains of Suzuka. This ink is said to have originated in the early Heian period, when ink began to be made by mixing lamp black extracted from burnt pine wood with glue made from animal and fish skin.
Production of sumi ink increased during the Edo period due to increased demand. The prevalence of the use of seals by feudal lords and the dissemination of temple schools meant that many more people required ink. Some ink-producing stores even came to be economically protected by local feudal lords in exchange for a guarantee of a stable supply.
The Suzuka sumi ink mills have excellent conditions for ink-making, such as location and climate. Therefore, from the beginning of extraction, the ink is of a very good color, while the production process gives it further important characteristics, such as the balance of bleeding on contact with paper. Even now, many varieties of ink such as lamp-black ink, blue ink, and pine ink are made using traditional skills and methods like 'kata-ire-seikei'.
Suzuka sumi ink supplies some 30% of all sumi ink used in the country. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry designated Suzuka sumi ink as a Traditional Handicraft in 1980.