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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pagoda At Nikko

The image above is a photograph of an ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock print) I own. I purchased it in 1993 from Takamoto's antique and fine art shoppe on the main drag of Nikko-shi (City of Nikko), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture).

The print was made in 1934 (I think), and is the only ukiyo-e print I own that was printed in the 20th century. I believe the artist is Ito Yuhan (surname first) and is published by Nishinomiya Yosaku. It is entitled the "Pagoda At Nikko".

The image itself is a beautiful evening piece of art depicting Gojunoto, a five-storied pagoda in Nikko located at Toshougu Shrine. I bought the ukiyo-e print because this was one of the few art pieces in Japan that I actually knew and saw many times a year during my frequent visits to Nikko (mostly for art and antique shopping). If I was to judge myself against my friends of the same 28-year-old vintage, I would be considered an odd-duck for buying antiques and art - especially since I wasn't a rich person. Just eccentric.

This pagoda was originally built in 1650 and was donated by a daimyo (governor)—Sakai Tadakatsu (surname first) who ran the faraway Obama-shi (Obama City) in Fukui-ken (Fukui Prefecture). Unfortunately, the pagoda was destroyed by a fire in 1815, but was rebuilt and completed in 1818.

Construction of this 36 meter (118.11-feet) high Gojunoto is an early example of Japan doing some earthquake-proofing. To make it more resistant to earthquakes and high winds, a 60-centimter diameter central pillar known as a shinbashira was installed—suspended by chains from the fourth floor and hung all the way down to 10 centimeters above the ground.

The idea behind the central pillar not resting upon a foundation stone was so that it had freedom of movement during an earthquake, meaning the levels above could move, but still maintain stability. Basically, the central pillar was used in the pagoda as a dynamic counterweight to help the pagoda keep its center of gravity.

Another great factor of this construct's central pillar is that, because there is leeway, with the expansion and contraction of the wooden tower from the heat and cold, it will maintain its stability and levelness.

Another interesting factor was that the roof sits parallel to the first four stories, but the fifth floor is perpendicular. It helps hold the shinbashira pillar stable during strong winds and earthquakes.

While there no actual floors within the pagoda, the number of stories on the pagoda was no simple happenstance—it was created for a reason. Each story represents an element from the ground on up: earth, water, fire, wind and heaven.

The first story - earth - also contains sculptures of the twelve zodiac signs.

As for the ukiyo-e, I found this out about the artist Ito-san and have reworked it a bit with some additional data I found:

Ito Yuhan (1882-1951) was a landscape artist who designed several woodblock prints during the 1930's. His work was published by Nishinomiya Yosaku (surname first). According to one source, Ito worked as a movie producer in later life, but this is unconfirmed. He is best known for designing several views of Miyajima printed in blue tones. His prints are characterized by vivid colors and subtle gradations. They look similar to watercolors, as they lack an outlining key line meaning Ito's soft style transcends his rather typical subject matter, evoking the romantic beauty of Japan's unspoiled past. The absence of human figures adds to the sense of quiet timelessness.

His signature is below:

And should you wonder what this is worth - to me, it's priceless. It's a beautiful piece of art. This is one of 18 original Japanese ukiyo-e I own (not including two 125 year-old ukiyo-e dominated comic books and a diagram of various bridge types by THE master artist Hokusai - which I will show you all soon enough), and it is the most beautiful, as far as I am concerned. While I don't believe the photo I took of the artwork does it justice (too big for my scanner!), this piece is 9-5/8 inches wide x 14-5/8inches high and in its condition is worth about $500 Cdn/US.

Andrew Joseph

1 comment:

  1. That's a great print you own. I used to buy Ukiyoe too. Kept them at my mom and dad's house... Then, when my mom died, they vanished... You lucky guy. That top print is excellent!!!