||(Head Priest, Reikizan Hontokuji)
We are most fortunate to receive as a donation from Mrs. Yoshiko
Ishikawa, new ceiling paintings for the "
jodan no ma
" in the main reception hall of Hontokuji, painted by Mrs. Ishikawa herself.
Mrs. Ishikawa is of course well known in the contemporary art world as
a painter, but the donation of her work to Hontokuji came about as a
result of historical ties to this temple.
Mrs. Ishikawa's father, Mr. Morinosuke Kajima, was born into the
Nagatomi family in Ibogawacho, Ibo-gun, Hyogo Prefecture. The
Nagatomis are an old renowned family, who served as community leaders
in the region in the Edo period. The family residence has been
designated by the Government as an important cultural asset and
preserved. Since the Edo period, the family has had close ties with
this temple, as a supporter. Hontokuji, was founded by Rennyo Shonin,
the eighth head abbot of Honganji Temple. At that time, Hontokuji
served as the local headquarters of the head temple Honganji, and was
the center for temples and believers of the Shinsyu sect in the Bansyu
region (now Hyogo prefecture) and a focal point for religious
faith. Because of this history, Hontokuji generally did not have
direct followers, but for generations the Nagatomi family supported
the temple as one of the very few direct adherents (jikimonto) of the
temple. Because of these ties, Mr. Kajima himself once served as the
chief representative of the followers of Hontokuji and dedicated
himself to protecting the temple.
In 1991, when Mrs. Ishikawa took part in services at this temple on
the occasion of the 17th anniversary of her father's death, I
discussed with her various matters, such as the difficulties of
restoring and maintaining the temple, given the vicissitudes of the
world and institutional reforms that have been introduced since the
Meiji Reformation. One specific problem I brought up was the heavy
damage suffered by the paintings on the latticed ceiling of the "
jodan no ma
" in the main reception hall. Knowing her close ties to the
temple, I asked her if she would be so kind as to personally take up
the paint brush on our behalf.
Since then five years have elapsed, during which time Mrs. Ishikawa's
devotion and untiring efforts have been truly impressive. A latticed
ceiling is a special and rather difficult location for a painting, and
much thought went into choosing the theme, as well as the materials
such as the paint. The result is a magnificent work beyond all
expectations. The painter abundantly utilized the new ideas,
techniques and materials of the modern Heisei era, combined them with
her artistic flair and sincere personality and created a work of
art. The new ceiling paintings for the main reception hall will
enhance the beauty and solemnity of an ancient structure that is
already a cultural treasure, to the benefit of future generations.
Moreover, she has had the original paintings, which were no longer
restorable, removed and carefully stored in the temple, so as to
prevent further damage.
This year, in which we receive her work, also happens to be the
centennial of the birth of her father, Mr. Kajima, and that too is a
A temple is essentially an institution that is built upon and
supported by the goodwill and contributions of people with faith and
ties to that institution. Mrs. Ishikawa's donation is particularly
precious, being pure of spirit. I am delighted that she was able to
express her devotion to her father and memorialize him in this fine
way. As the head priest of Hontokuji, I thank Mrs. Ishikawa from the
bottom of my heart for adding so much to the grandeur of this temple.
Yoshiko Ishikawa's Floral Mandala
The Paintings on the Latticed Ceiling over the Raised Floor
Hontokuji's Main Reception Hall
||(Professor Emeritus, Kyoto University; Art Critic)
Throughout an illustrious career as a painter spanning more than
thirty years, Yoshiko Ishikawa has untiringly and consistently
dedicated herself to the painting of flowers. Rarely does one
encounter an artist who has concentrated on the sole subject of
flowers with such intensity; nor have many painters covered the vast
scope and diversity of this subject so assiduously. Moreover,
Ishikawa does not merely portray the exterior forms of her chosen
subjects. Although she may begin with a very detailed observation of
a flower's outward appearance, she goes on to ferret out relentlessly
all the varied charms possessed by a flower; its unique
characteristics, delicate nuances and fragrant aromas. In her recent
works, in particular, by way of gentle, flowing brush strokes, and a
dynamic utilization of space, she has succeeded in recreating the
inner vitality of a flower with its enchanting, almost mystical,
For several years now, Ishikawa has been devoting her energies to a
project commissioned by the Hontokuji Temple at Kameyama, Himeji, in
Hyogo Prefecture, to create new paintings for the latticed ceiling
over the raised floor of the temple's main reception hall. Hontokuji
was founded by the venerated Buddhist priest Rennyo Shonin and has a
distinguished five hundred year history as one of the most celebrated
temples of the Honganji branch of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist sect. The
temple is comprised of the main building and many other large
edifices. The main reception hall was built in the middle of the Edo
period and is renowned for its luxurious atmosphere, attributable in
no small part to the richly colored and gold screen and wall paintings
that adorn its two raised-floor areas.
The latticed ceiling over the lower of the two raised-floors consists
of a lattice of black lacquered frames, with five rows of frames one
way and seventeen rows the other way, for a total of 85 frames. Until
recently, every frame contained a stylized painting of a flower,
dragon, crane etc., each one with a different design. These works were
recently discovered to have the date March 9, 6th year of Kyoho (1721)
signed on the back, confirming their historic origins. Since the paint
was peeling off in many places, these paintings have been dismantled
and put in protective storage, together with the screen and wall
paintings which were also in disrepair.
Yoshiko Ishikawa's father, the late Mr. Morinosuke Kajima, was born
into the Nagatomi family of Harima (Hyogo Prefecture) , who were
closely associated with Hontokuji since the Edo period. In fact, Mr.
Kajima served as the chief parishioner of the temple for many
years. Through this connection, Ishikawa was offered the commission to
create Heisei era paintings to replace the Kyoho era works removed
from the latticed ceiling.
The project was planned as part of a comprehensive renovation of
Hontokuji; yet Ishikawa no doubt accepted this difficult assignment
and put her heart and soul into it in part as a memorial to her
father. After some five years of hard work, the new ceiling paintings
have finally been finished.
I recently had the opportunity to inspect these paintings at close
range, before they were mounted on the ceiling. Ishikawa has
maintained the structure of the ancient latticed ceiling with its 85
panels. Each panel is made of Japanese cedar, measuring about 55
centimeters square, and is covered by an oil painting. All the
paintings are, of course, of flowers. The panel at the center of the
latticed ceiling displays a large white lotus blossom against a gold
background, while the eight panels arrayed around it display a variety
of lotus blossoms in a round frame set against a gold background. The
several panels at each of the four corners of the ceiling reveal
freely arranged sprigs of dazzling cherry blossoms painted with
dynamic and bold strokes. Each of the remaining 54 cedar boards is
covered in gold leaf and inside each circular window at the center, a
different flower is painted.
These flowers cover a wide variety. They include such traditional
Japanese blossoms as chrysanthemum, camellia, morning glory, azalea
rhododendron and Japanese wistaria, as well as some of Western origin
such as poinsettia, anemone, pansy, moth orchid and
cyclamen. Renderings of gorgeous blossoms such as rose, peony,
sunflower, queen of the night and peach blossoms are set off by
delicate and quieter blooms such as gentian, fringed pink, narcissus,
Chinese bellflower, purple scabious, fringed orchis and
cornflower. The entire composition erupts with such a profusion of
beauty that my first impression was of being engulfed in a wave of
multicolored, dancing blossoms.
However, closer examination revealed that Ishikawa has neglected none
of the details of the lotus blossoms at the center, or of the other 54
varieties of flowers, each of which is depicted realistically and with
painstaking care. Meticulous observation and numerous sketches and
studies must have preceded each oil painting. Otherwise, it is
inconceivable that such remarkable portrayals of the individual charms
and characteristics of each flower could have been achieved so
Besides being realistically portrayed, the flowers are so ingeniously
bent and arranged as to fit into the round windows in the gold
backgrounds. In other words, the flowers have become decorative, as
designs in identically sized circles. Yet this decorative composition
of circles does not in the least detract from the realistic beauty of
each flower. On the contrary, the pattern of circles serves to
underline the diversity and color of the flowers all the more
vividly. Moreover, this latticed ceiling decorated with realistic yet
ornamental flowers is complemented by cherry blossoms in the four
corners. These blossoms are full of vivacious energy and are
representative of Ishikawa's artistic style. They convey a sense of
movement and save the whole composition from lapsing into a mere
Thus, this series of latticed ceiling paintings are indeed unique in
combining realism with decorativeness. Nonetheless, in my view, the
outstanding merit of this work lies in its spiritual dignity. Each
flower, whether blooming gloriously or standing quietly alone in a
field, radiates with a solemn yet graceful dignity.
Therefore, the new paintings for the latticed ceiling of Hontokuji can
be said to be the culmination of Yoshiko Ishikawa's lifelong pursuit
of floral beauty. As such, the paintings can be described as being a
" (Buddhist divine chart) resplendent with the richness
of floral vitality.
I wish to congratulate Ishikawa with all my heart for completing a
monumental work that succeeds in obtaining that rare combination of
artistic sensitivity and pure spirituality.
The Flowers of the World in a Buddhist Temple
― Paintings by Madam Ishikawa, The Artist ―
||M.Giuseppina Cerulli Irelli
||(Director of the Italian Institute of
I am not a scholar of Buddhist philosophy and art, nor am I a believer
of the Buddhist creed, being a Catholic myself.
Nevertheless, I have always been impressed by one aspect of Buddhist
spirituality with which I have become familiar in Japan; that is the
readiness to accept the universal beauty of this world.
Since I am a researcher of ancient Roman art, and a member of the
Roman Catholic Church as well, I am familiar with the Occidental sense
of mission to seek out and preserve the whole of the people of this
This sense of mission saliently appears ancient fine-arts objects
(from the altar of peace of Augustus to the grandiose mosaic with
Cristus docents) and in various modern expressions (such as in the
work of the present Pope, John Paul II). There is no ambiguity,
nothing is left to the imagination in order to comprehend its meaning.
Much different, at least to the casual observer, is the manner of
expression in Japanese Buddhism. It is discreet, essential, highly
poetic, and somewhat timid.
Recently I had the opportunity of viewing the works of the artist,
Madam Ishikawa, upon her kind invitation. Now I would like to describe
the beauty of her paintings.
A prominent lady artist, (she held a solo exhibition in the U.S.A. on
the theme of
- cherry blossoms - three years ago, and
beautiful catalogues in English were published.), she has recently
made a "pietas" deed by dedicating her decorative-paintings to the
Kameyama Hontokuji Temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect in Himeji (Hyogo
Prefecture) where her ancestors worshipped.
Her works are delicate ceiling paintings which are to be dedicated to
the Temple. Such decorative paintings, rarely preserved to the present
day, are art treasures that many religious edifices used to be proud
of in the old days both in the Occident and in the Orient. The revival
of this tradition is splendid and significant. On the other hand, it
must be pointed out that the temporary interruption of the tradition,
although only partly, (caused by damage through the years, and by
fires), made Madam Ishikawa's work more difficult.
The artist overcame this difficulty not only with grace but also with
sagacity by incorporating partially new elements: the expression of
the unity of the world through the variety and richness of flowers.
The flowers for decorating the ceiling of the Kameyama Hontokuji
Temple were chosen not only from the Japanese flora. Around the grand
lotus blossom in the center are placed exotic flowers such as can be
found in modern day Tokyo florists. Pansies, orchids, gentians, as
well as typical Japanese flowers like the Japanese wistaria are mixed
together and surrounded with large trees with full-blown cherry
blossoms that extend from the four corners.
Needless to say, the artist was inspired by experiences gained through
her own travels and by her research of foreign works of art, not from
the show windows of flower shops.
Truly, Madam Ishikawa's paintings recreate for me the great harmony of
the universe through the medium of a delicate symphony of color.
Flowers of the Japanese Spirit
||(Chairman, Saison Corporation)
Hideo Kobayashi (1902-1983) has said that there is no such thing as
the "beauty of flowers", there are only "beautiful flowers". Each
artist discovers by his/her own intuitive experience the "beauty of
flowers" and re-awards that beauty to the flowers one by one. This
process can either happen within the artists mind in a single
momentary flash, or it can crystallize slowly over a considerable
period of time.
Yoshiko Ishikawa has created numerous works depicting flowers and I
believe that they are the products of both intuition and timely
crystallization. The lines, through their movement naturally convey a
sense of vitality and the deep colors spread into unimaginable
transformations. Movement filled lines and deep colors penetrate the
viewers heart, blending and thereby creating a magical and extremely
real world of flowers.
The one-woman exhibition of Ishikawa's works entitled "
" held at the National Museum of Women's Art in Washington, D.C. presumably
reveals for many people the "
" (Japanese spirit) in these works.
Professor Alik Cavaliere, former president of the Milan Academy of
Arts, has indicated that these works depict a harmoniously unified
world of observed object and viewing subject. He traces her fusion of
eastern and western sensibilities in the works to the years this
artist spent as a child in Europe, and I have found in these same
works the sense of revived "
". Ishikawa's work characteristically allow the evocation of these
", is evoked prior to its fragmentation into the "
" (Japanese soul) and the "
" (aesthetic sense). Doubtlessly, I can recognize the "
" in her work. The strength in the gentle breeze, and the flower blossoming
grace in the strength.
After the creation of many of these works, Ishikawa painted the
ceiling paintings for the "
" (the main reception hall) of the
famous temple, Kameyama Hontokuji. When she received this request from
her father's family temple, Kameyama Hontokuji, surely she was
inspired by the religious paintings adorning the ceilings of Europe's
many cathedrals. There devote worshippers had created gloriously
mystical worlds and joyously dancing angels.
The revered priest, Rennyo shonin (1415-1499) established this
venerable temple, and its precincts house numerous Important Cultural
Assets, such as the Hondo, Rennyodo (Chusodo), and Kyodo. Paintings
adorn the structures, such as the "
" - (wall panel) paintings of the inner chambers of the "
" depicting scenes of imperial
audiences in ancient China. Ishikawa's work covers the entirety of the
heavily damaged ceiling paintings in the "
", a total of eighty five panels.
As I have seen the artist's exhibited works in Tokyo earlier, I had
the opportunity to recognize the hearty desire to create her own
Cherry blossoms frame the four corners of the five vertical columns by
seventeen rows of paintings. This enables the viewer to imagine a
shrine embedded in a forest of surrounding flowers. The decoration
setting off the ceiling makes it appear as if the flat ceiling invites
the viewer into a three dimensionally sensed, far off
heaven. Alongside these cherry blossoms, wild pinks, lilies, peonies,
irises, queen of the night, cockscomb, crinum, hibiscus and calla
lilies, a whole spectrum of different flowers are depicted within
circles surrounded by gold. These circles of flowers assemble to
compose a small cosmos flower, and each of the nine paintings then
form a large circular compositional whole. In the center of the whole
composition there is a flower which can only be called heavenly
In Buddhism, the birth of Buddha is celebrated with a rite known as
the flower festival, "
", which is celebrated in Japan on
the 8th of April, and is often called the washing the Buddha festival
(kanbutsu-e) or the nativity festival (kotan-e). In South Asia this
rite is known as the Vesak festival. The Flower Hall, or "
", is the Buddhist hall used for the worship of the birth of Buddha and
the name for this building comes from the multitude of colorful
flowers that adorn it. The lotus is one of these flowers, and
individual forms of this species carry a variety of symbolism, such as
the mandarage whose strongly scented flowers bloom in heaven and the
pundarika, the white lotus which symbolizes the chanting pilgrims who
descend to the depths of hell. In this sense, the arrangement of
flowers on these eighty five panels can be seen as a representation of
the depths of her devotion and reverence for her father, resembling
the creation of a flower mandala.
Even though she was blessed by her environment, I can't help but
meditate: what brought the artist to create such a beautiful world?
The work gives glimpses of death and hell behind its beauty, its
gentleness and its unyielding strength. It resonates with the
spiritual state of her mind, capable of depicting this world of
graceful flowers. As Hideo Kobayashi would express: here we find a
work that dose not depict the beauty of flowers, it conveys rather the
individuality, the creativity of the artist depicting the flowers
which decorate the heavens in all their strength, in all their
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