an afternoon at the nezu museum: irises & the rinpa collection   10 comments

Sunday, May 7:  Though I intend to go straight home after Kameido Tenjin’s Wisteria Festival, I see while I’m on the Hanzomon Line that if I hop off the train at Omote-sando Station, it’s only a 7-minute walk to the Nezu Museum.  I also see that a special exhibition, Irises and Mountain Stream in Summer and Autumn, is due to end next Sunday.  My Japanese Instagram friend Yukie several days ago visited and posted beautiful pictures of the rabbit-ear irises that bloom earlier than other irises.  With all these enticements, I couldn’t resist disembarking at Omote-sando.  Though I am tired, I don’t regret stopping at this fabulous museum.

The Nezu Museum has one of the most delightful gardens I’ve encountered in Tokyo. Strolling through it, I find a teahouse as well as a variety of stone lanterns and other objects.

According to the museum’s website, Nezu Kaichirō I purchased this land, which he liked for its hills and dales, in 1906. The original garden, designed in the shinzan-yūkoku, “deep mountains and mysterious valleys style,” included rustic buildings and a teahouse. It burned during the bombing of Tokyo in World War II. Since then, it has been restored, little by little, to reach its present state. The goal of the museum is to create garden scenes of nature.

stone face at Nezu Museum Garden

elephant lantern at Nezu Museum Garden

an artist at work

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

reflections

reflections in the pond

a lady in kimono at Nezu Museum Garden

stone figure

stone lantern

stone lantern

stone lantern

a peek through the maples

another stone lantern

ponds at Nezu

moss-covered lantern

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

irises at Nezu Museum Garden

tea house at Nezu Museum Garden

pretty pond

boat at Nezu Museum Garden

Buddha

Kitano Tenjin enshrined at Hibaishi

maple leaves

lantern

The special exhibit inside the museum is the Rinpa Collection.  The Rinpa school of painting refers to a range of artists who spanned the 17th to 19th centuries. According to the exhibition catalog, the period begins with Hon’ami Kōetsu and Tawaraya Sōtatsu, two artists active in Kyoto’s merchant class culture during the first half of the 17th century, then follows with Ogata Kōrin and his younger brother, the potter Kenzan, who were born of high-ranking clothing merchants in Kyoto.  They were succeeded in 19th century Edo by Sakai Hōitsu, who created his own elegant painterly world from his longing for Kōrin’s aesthetic, and then Hōitsu’s principle student, Suzuki Kiitsu.

The Rinpa Collection

I’m told by Yukie that photography is not usually allowed in Japanese museums.  That of course is a bummer for me, but at least I can buy the postcards or the exhibition catalog.  This time, I buy both.  And, since necessity is the mother of invention, I take photos of the postcards to share!

postcards from the Rinpa Collection

Rinpa artists worked in various formats, notably screens, fans and hanging scrolls, woodblock printed books, lacquerware, ceramics, and kimono textiles. Many Rinpa paintings were used on the sliding doors and walls of noble homes.  The stereotypical standard painting in the Rinpa style involves simple natural subjects such as birds, plants and flowers, with the background filled in with gold leaf. (Wikipedia: Rinpa school)

One of my favorites in this exhibition is Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu. A stream flowing between boulders set in a Japanese cypress grove links two six-panel screens, ranging from a summer scene of mountain lilies to an autumn scene of a few lingering red leaves on cherry trees.

Mountain Stream in Summer and Autumn (detail) by Suzuki Kiitsu

Of course the postcards and the photos from the exhibition catalog don’t do justice to these magnificent and huge screen paintings; seeing them in person actually brings tears to my eyes as they are so vivid and stunning.

Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu

Mountain Streams in Summer and Autumn by Suzuki Kiitsu

National Treasure Irises by Ogata Kōrin is another amazing painting.  Clumps of irises, painted solely in shade of blue and green against an overall gold ground, conjure the Yatsuhashi (eight-plank bridge) of Mikawa, a famous site for irises described in The Tales of Ise.

National Treasure Irises (detail) by Ogata Kōrin

National Treasure Irises by Ogata Korin

Summer Flowers by Ogata Kōrin features close to 30 varieties of flowers and grasses of late spring to summer.

Summer Flowers (detail) by Ogata Kōrin

Summer Flowers by Ogata Kōrin

Flowers in Four Seasons by I’nen Seal features about 70 varieties of plants and grasses arranged in bouquet-like groupings with their upper sections fanned out in a wide array.  The flower groups work from right to left across the two screens in a spring, summer, autumn, winter progression.

Flowers in Four Seasons by I’nen Seal

Poet Bo Juyi (Hakurakuten) by Ogata Korin was inspired by the Noh play Hakurakuten, based on the legend of the Chinese Tang dynasty poet Bo Juyi (Japanese: Hakurakuten) who encountered an old fisherman manifestation of the Shinto deity Sumiyoshi-Myojin upon his arrival in Japan.  Sumiyoshi informed Bo Juyi that Japanese waka poetry was superior to that of the Chinese and summoned divine winds to blow the poet’s boat back to China.

Poet Bo Juyi (Hakurakuten) by Ogata Kōrin

Wisteria by Maruyama Okyo

The Tale of the Heike Painting Album Kogo

Cherry blossoms at Yoshino and Maple Leaves at Tatsuta (detail) Japan 17th century

All information about the Rinpa collection is from the exhibition catalog, unless otherwise stated.

This is one of the most fabulous museums I’ve visited in all my travels.  Between the breathtaking exhibition of Rinpa paintings and the museum’s garden with its blooming irises, ponds, hilly terrain and stone features, it ranks near the top of my most moving and satisfying travel experiences.  I highly recommend visiting this museum when traveling in Tokyo. 🙂

Total steps today: 11,669 steps (4.95 miles).

10 responses to “an afternoon at the nezu museum: irises & the rinpa collection

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  1. The Japanese certainly appear to love their gardens and flowers and those iris paintings are gorgeous. I’m glad you found the energy to stop off here.

  2. Stunning! Both garden and art.

  3. The gardens are absolutely beautiful – I can imagine wanting to spend hours there.

  4. What a stunning garden. I recently had the opportunity to visit Japan but didn’t get to visit this museum. I just keep on finding more and more reasons to go back! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you so much, Kate, and thanks for dropping by. I think there is so much to see in Japan, we must make several trips. I’ve been here two months and my list keeps growing longer! Of course, I have to work Mon-Fri, so I’m limited, but there is certainly never a shortage of things to see and do. 🙂

  5. What a beautiful garden.

  6. Fabulous! The Chelsea Flower Show is on this week and I will be glued to the TV coverage. There is one exquisite Japanese garden there too. 🙂 🙂

  7. Pingback: an early morning walk at lake kawaguchi, a kimono museum & an outdoor onsen | catbird in japan

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