Tokyobling's Blog

Taishakuten Lotus Sutra Wood Carvings

Posted in Places by tokyobling on September 7, 2015

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!

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Taishakuten Temple Beam Ends and Corbels

Posted in Places by tokyobling on September 2, 2015

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!

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Straw Figures – Taka Ishikawa

Posted in Places, Stuff by tokyobling on February 13, 2012

Last weekend I saw an exhibition of folk artist Taka Ishikawa at the Japan Tableware Festvial in Suidobashi, central Tokyo. We call her folk artist but I am sure she is much more humble than that. She started doing these animal figures out of straw over 40 years ago but after becoming a widow a few years ago she has picked up the pace and now at 85 years of age she keeps on creating more and more. I can’t even remember when I last felt so annoyed at being so poor I couldn’t afford to buy things. They are smaller than they look in these pictures, and incredibly delicately bound, straw for straw to make these fantastic and vivid crafted animals. My favorite, naturally is the rabbit. If I have one tenth of her skill and energy at her age I will be a happy and creative old man indeed! Here’s a photo of Ms. Ishikawa herself, and a small glimpse of here studio, and here’s another article with a nice photo. An article in the Japanese magazine Brutus has more photos and contact details for her studio in Yamagata prefecture. With old women like this there is no way I will ever fear for the future of Japan!










Harumi Oshima – Doll Maker

Posted in People, Stuff by tokyobling on December 3, 2011

A few months ago I visited a crafts fair in Odaiba and found these dolls by extremely talented sometime house wife, sometime doll maker Harumi Oshima (大島はるみ). The self introduction is her own, in reality she is successful and quite widely known artist with several medals in doll making to her name. Here’s a video in Japanese where she talks about herself and her art. I was attracted to her dolls because they sort of look like the kind of photos I like to take at festival, snapshots of people in doll form, not at all like regular dolls which are more open and unfocused. I also like that the artist herself is so wonderfully modest about her talent. She has made a book with photos of these dolls from the series called Matsuri (Festival), available at Amazon here. I have met quite a few doll makers in Japan and I am always amazed at their talent. I wish it would rub off on me! I’m sorry about the poor pictures, her exhibition area was really dark so I had to do with what little light I had.






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