Shinran was a Japanese Buddhist monk of the early Kamakura period (1192-1333) and the founder of the Jodo Shinshu of japanese Buddhism. Born in Hino (now a part of Fushimi, Kyoto) in 1173, Shinran had been a monk of the Tendai school of Buddhism at Mt. Hiei, where he studied for 20 years since he was at the age of nine. In 1201, Shinran met Honen and became his disciple. He arrived at the conviction that “Tariki Nenbutsu (reciting Buddhist invocation to takes refuge in the other power of Amida Buddha)” is the only way to lead us to the Pure Land.
Shinran together with the desciples of Honen spread this new doctorine in the streets of Kyoto, but their movement was banned by the Imperial court. Eight monks including Honen and Shinran were exiled. Shinran was sent to Echigo province (present-day Niigata Prefecture) and was stripped of his religious name.
After Shinran was pardoned, he left for Hitachi province (present-day Ibaraki Prefecture), where he spent 20 years being engaged in missionary works. He took a stand that he was neither a monk nor a layman.
In 1224, he authored his most significant text, “Kyogyoshinsho,” which is a series of selections and commentaries on Buddhist sutras pertinent to Pure Land Buddhism. The sayings of Shinran, “the Tannisho (the Lamentations of Divergences)” is still read by many people today.
In 1234, Shinran returned to Kyoto, where he died in 1263 at the age of 90. The Japanese imperial court awarded Shinran the honorific designations “Kenshin Daishi (Great Teacher Kenshin)” in 1876.
Yasutaka Komiya was born in 1925. In 1978, he was designated a Living National Treasure for his work in 'Edo-komon' dyeing.
His family was in the dyeing business and had a factory. When he graduated from elementary school, he was apprenticed to his father, Kosuke (also a Living National Treasure), from whom he gained a strong grasp of dyeing techniques.
Through his training, he realized that he should study more about paper patterns and dye in order develop his skills. His efforts paid off and he became accomplished in colored komon dyeing, in which patterns are dotted as finely as fog.
It is said that Komiya is the best Edo-komon artist and everyone who likes tea knows his name. But he is modest, saying, 'it is impossible to make good komon-dyeing by my power alone'. He says that by working together with other fine craftsmen, such as paper-pattern-makers, that he is able to achieve the excellent quality he does.
Isao Onishi was born on June 30, 1944. In 2002, his original skill, Kyu-shitsu or lacquer craft technique, was designated as an important intangible cultural heritage.
After learning the basics of carving, from 1974, Onishi was apprenticed to Akaji Yusai and learned the rudimentary skills of lacquer coloring as well as 'magewatsukuri'. Magewatsukuri, or the bentwood technique, involves the bending of the wood into rings which become part of the body of each piece.
Onishi does all parts of the process by hand: from coating to construction. His much-praised works have won several prizes, such as the 40th Ministry of Education Prize at the Japanese Traditional Craft Exhibition, and 15th Director General of the Agency for Cultural Affairs Prize for Japanese lacquer tradition.
In addition, Onishi is focusing on the preservation of the tradition and, for many years, has been working at Ishikawa Prefecture's Wajima Lacquer Technical Training Institute as a lecturer.
Fumio Mae was born in Wajima district, Ishikawa Prefecture, in 1940. In 1999, he was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property Holder (a Living National Treasure) for his 'chinkin' decoration of lacquerwork.
Chinkin is a form of decoration in which complicated patterns are incised into a plain field of lacquer and filled with gold powder.
After graduating from the Painting Department of Kanazawa College of Arts in 1963, Fumio Mae was apprenticed to his father, Tokuji, who became famous for his mastery of the 'tenbori' (gold-inlay) chinkin decorative technique. In addition to absorbing his father's skills, Fumio Mae added a sense of poetry to tenbori. Within the silence of his craft, a great sense of emotion and profoundness could be felt. The power of theis craft is reflected in the sophistication of the pieces.
Today, Fumio Mae lectures and seeks apprentices to his craft at the Wajima Lacquer Technical Training Institute in Ishikawa Prefecture.
Tetsuyu pottery has been made since the Momoyama period in the Mino area of Gifu Prefecture. The feature of this pottery is the markings on the iron glaze. This is done when the pieces are fired red and just removed from the kiln. Water is applied to rapidly cool them.
When the amount of iron is about 1%, the glaze is a thin yellow; when the amount is about 10%, it has the colour of coffee; and when it is about 5%, it is yellowish-brown.
In 1994, Osamu Suzuki (born 1934) was designated as a Living National Treasure for his work with tetsuyu pottery and his development of his 'shino' technique.
Suzuki graduated from the pottery department of Tajimi Industrial High School. He practised his skill under the gaze of his philatelist father. In 1968 he became independent and has worked continuously since then.
Sen no Rikyuu was a master of the tea ceremony in Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603). He was born in 1522, the son of a merchant in Sakai, Oosaka. His given name was Yoshirou. He studied the tea ceremony in his youth and age seventeen was apprenticed to Takeno Jouou, who developed and refined Wabi-cha. When Oda Nobunaga, who was the ruler in Japan at the time, took Sakai city under his direct rule, Sen no Rikyuu was hired as the head of the tea ceremony, and later, served Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Nobunaga’s successor. When Sen no Rikyuu was invited to host a tea ceremony at the Imperial Palace in 1585, in order to be allowed to enter the Palace, he had to be given a Buddhism rank of Koji, which is an honorary title given to a lay person who has lived as a pious Buddhist, and he was named Rikyuu. The biggest accomplishment of Rikyuu, who was also referred as a “tea saint”, was the perfection of Wabi-cha.
Tea practice, originally imported from China, was until this time mainly a leisure activity among wealthy society in Japan. Sen no Rikyuu elevated the ceremony to a higher level of artistic subtlety, expressing exquisitely the Japanese aesthetic
His simple and minimal use of space and atmosphere that eliminated anything superfluous, the sense of esthetic that embodied the beauty of nature, and his view on life that was expressed in his famous saying; “treasure every meeting, for it will never recur” allowed weary warriors facing life and death everyday to get back in touch with their trembling souls again. In 1591, at the height of his reputation as the greatest tea master, he infuriated Hideyoshi and was ordered to commit ritual suicide or hara-kiri. He was 70 at the time.
Matsuo Bashou was a haiku poet in the early Edo period. His given name was Munefusa, although at various stages of his life he used different pseudonyms such as Tousei, Hakusendou, Chougetsuan and Fuuraibou. He finally settled on Bashou though he often signed his name as Hasewo, which is another way to pronounce Bashou in Kanji. He was born 1944 in Iga, Mie pref. During his early life, he started composing Haikai, a verse poetry developed out of a tradition of renga or linked verse, (which later became known as Haiku) and at the age of 31, he went to Edo (now Tokyo) and became a professional Haikai poet. He created a retreat hut there and planted bashou plantain trees, calling the place Bashou-an, hence his pseudonym. He developed Haikai, which until that time had been a comic, less serious style of writing, into higher level of art form and established Shoufuu or Bashou style. He also traveled extensively across Japan, composing poetry along the way and mastered this new trend of Japanese short verse literature. At the time of Bashou, it was common for Haiakai poets to live a nomadic life and travel throughout the land, sharing information and culture around the country. In his most famous book, Okunohosomichi, he described his journey through Tohoku to Hokuriku area covering 2400km which he completed in six months. With this unusual speed of traveling and his birth place, a curious rumor says he was a ninja (Iga is famous as a birth place of ninja). In 1694 while traveling, Matsuo Bashou died at an inn in Oosaka. He was 50.