Maybe the most outstanding feature of the famous Taishakuten are the wood carvings covering the sides and the back of the main temple buildings. There are hundreds of meters of carvings in total, all from huge corbels of dragon heads to tiny patterns in tiny brackets. Most famous of all the carvings though are the ten giant keyaki-wood boards featuring scenes from the Lotus Sutra. The first of these boards were carved in 1922 by a master wood carver, and the idea was to send out nine more boards to other master wood carvers around Tokyo. In 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake struck Japan and the nice boards sent out were all destroyed. Board of this size of this kind of wood are extremely valuable and very hard to find, so it was not until 1926 enough boards had been found to have the work restarted and the last board was delivered in 1934.
To see these carvings you need to enter a special glassed in gallery section, divided into two floors and the entrance fee is 400 yen, which also gives you entrance to the attached temple gardens. It is really a must see, the skill of these old wood carvers is simply unbelievable!
Naturally photographing wood carvings attractively is not an easy task, and I was in a hurry to see them all before closing. Next time I visit I will try to do a better job of it!
One of the most interesting details when it comes to traditional Japanese architecture (or indeed worldwide traditional architecture) are the highly decorated and carved wooden beam ends and corbels at temples and shrines. At the Taishakuten Temple in Katsushika Ward, which is famous specifically for its wooden carvings (more on that in a post later this week) I found these excellent lion (shish) and dragon’s head carvings. Usually these are painted in bright colors or even gold laminated, but in this temple they are bare wood, and it is easy to see the craft that is necessary to form these carvings!
All Japanese structures were traditionally made of wooden beams, and it is the end of the wooden beams sticking out of the wall that makes these beam ends, a perfect place to add some extra decoration. Corbels are solid pieces of material that are designed to rest on the base wall, supporting weights and structures jutting out of or from the wall (such as roof overhang, second floors, statuary etc.). Sometimes corbels are made to look like beam ends for the purpose of symmetry. In most modern western architecture beam ends are hidden inside the walls or undecorated altogether even if left visible. As Japanese temple architecture often has very heavy roofs (to protect against typhoons and rain) it was necessary to create several layers of wooden beams, and you can see beam end carvings on top of beam end carvings (or corbels) in some places. At corners the crossing beams will create a perfect opportunity to have two carvings at right angles sticking out from the wall!
A couple of months ago I visited the National Art Center in Roppongi for the annual combined art university graduation exhibit. Here are a few of the paintings that I liked, and that are fairly representative of the show. The show throws together five of the biggest art universities in and around Tokyo for a grand show with all the their graduating students of that year. From the first to the last, the artists behind these paintings are Yuka Machida, Hana Furusho, Yu Yasuhara, Chie Nakagami, Misa Hashiguchi and Ayako Miki. Well, technically one of these is graphic art rather than painting, but I add it anyway. Call me a stuffy old fashioned guy, but I think I liked the last one, Susuki no hara, best. The styles exhibited covers almost all of art history, from almost iconic religion themed paintings to the strangest post-modernism.
Just like every major new building in Tokyo has its own character it seems like they also have their giant sculpture. Like the spider Maman outside Roppongi Hills or the Gundam robot outside Diver City in Odaiba, so Toranomon Hills now have a statue called Roots by Jaume Plensa, which you can read more about here. It is really a huge piece of art and visible from a bit of a distance. Keep an eye out for it the next time you are in the neighborhood!