Saturday, 10 September 2011

More Kumamoto - more Musashi

Poster advertising the current display at the Eisei-Bunko Gallery

Kumamoto - more of Musashi in the Prefectural Collection 

The Shimada Museum was the first stop on this whirlwind tour of Kumamoto, but not the only one. I was interested in seeing sites connected with Musashi, but more than that, it was artefacts that interested me. Time was short, so I chose the Prefectural Museum as my next stop. This had the added attraction of being situated in the castle grounds.

Kumamoto-jo (Kumamoto Castle) 
I am not exactly a castle buff, but the promise of the sight of one never fails to bring me eagerly to a train window - even the post-war reproductions are impressive: they have a unique beauty, often towering over the surrounding buildings. Just the foundations or a single tower still have an impressive grace. 

Living in Kyoto gives me access to several castle views with a minimum of effort. Nijo Castle is situated in the city itself, and one of the train lines running from Kyoto to Osaka gives you views of three castles inn the journey between the two cities. Then of course, there's Himeji Castle not so very far away - generally reckoned to be the most graceful of all the surviving castles in the country. As well as all of these, there are a few other castles that I have visited or seen in my travels around the country, so I can say I have seen a fortification or two.

Kumamoto Castle was a completely different experience from these. For a start, it's grounds are huge, and unlike Osaka castle, for example, which is surrounded by the modern high-rises of the city, it stands apart from everything in a grassy park which contains or is close by several other related facilities. The other thing that stood out immediately was that, unlike the castles in Kansai, which are almost all white, it is clad in dark, weathered wood, giving it a very different feel.

Eisei-Bunko… The Hosokawa Collection
So, my first stop in these grounds was not the castle, but another museum. To be more precise, the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum, which also houses the Kumamoto Gallery of the Eisei-Bunko Collection.

The Eisei-Bunko Collection is the result of some several centuries of careful acquisition, patronage and preservation by the Hosokawa family. As well as Kumamoto, there is an Eisei-Bunko Museum in Tokyo. In addition, parts of the collection go on tour from time to time, both nationally and abroad. Of course, as the Hosokawas were also Musashi's patrons, it is no surprise that several of Musashi's works of art are held in the collection. However, as the displays are not permanent, you never know what you will find on any particular visit. 

Nothing of Musashi's on this particular visit, although a touring exhibition of the collection's treasures is coming to Kyoto next month (lucky me) so I have another chance to see more of the collection. For anyone wishing to visit the museum in Kumamoto, my advice is go! Although there are only two rooms in the Eisei-Bunko Gallery, the standard of the collection is superb, and it is likely the you will see the work of artists seldom exhibited elsewhere. I was introduced to the work of the Yano school - I am only an interested amateur, perhaps, but I had seen none of their work before, as I recall, and the standard was clearly equal to that of the more famous Kano School. 

There was more of the Yano School next door in the Prefectural Museum proper. (It is possible to see only the Eisei-Bunko Collection.. for the grand price of 400 yen, or get a ticket allowing entry to the main part of the museum as well). 

Kumamoto Prefectural Museum
A very pleasant place, with the sensible placement of the child-centred exhibition on the B1 floor to quickly syphon off the deluge of parents and small children from the coffee shop/restaurant on the ground floor. The food was very nice, the staff friendly, and the view across the park towards the castle was perfect.

Anyway, back to the art. There were three galleries for the permanent collection - however I assume this really refers to a regularly changing display of works from the permanent collection - if I went back in 6 months time I probably wouldn't see the same things as I did this time. One had 'traditional' works from the Muromachi through the Edo period; the second displayed work from the Meiji period through till roughly pre-WWII; the last had 'modern' and western art. 

Overall, the quality of works on display was very high. The western artists included Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Durer, Rembrandt, Bougereau - all represented by good pieces… a wood cut and an etching in the case of Durer and Rembrandt. The 2nd gallery included some excellent lacquerwork by artists that I had been researching previously, but whose work I hadn't seen before.

The general, the swordsman and the lady - calligraphy and character
The 1st gallery contained some interesting works, all linked with Kumamoto. Once again, some very fine paintings from the Yano School, and some mounted calligraphy from some famous people, including Kato Kiyomasa, the daimyo who built much of Kumamoto castle, Hosokawa Gracia, the wife of Hosokawa Tadaoki (who was Musashi's patron) famous for being a Christian, and the model for the Mariko character in James Clavell's Shogun, and Musashi's Dokodo, another version of which I had already viewed in The Shimada Museum, an hour or so previously.

I find the calligraphy of famous people is quite fascinating - one fancies there are all kinds of secrets to be revealed by a careful study. Whether or not this is true, I don't know, but comparing the styles of people you know something about is an interesting exercise.

See what you make of these (answers at the bottom of the page). They were written by the three people above:
Miyamoto Musashi, Kato Kiyomasa and Hosokawa Gracia, and each of them displays quite different characteristics. Are they just aesthetic, or do they reflect the characters of the writers? (They are all letters, by the way).


What you might be looking for are the strong, unaesthetic characters brushed by Kiyomasa, a man of action used to controlling armies, running campaigns and building castles;  Musashi, also a man of action, whose life had depended upon his judgement of fine tolerances, and instantaneous explosion of force, but who combined this with a contemplative, intellectually searching mind; Hosokawa Gracia's style is different yet again, displaying the aesthetic demands required by one of her class and accomplishments.

Just for the sake of comparison, here are some pieces by Hosokawa Tadaoki himself, and another by his wife Gracia, writing in a different style.

Hosokawa Tadaoki from the Waseda University Library Collection - (click on the image to get a better view)

Gracia Hosokawa from the National Diet Library
As you can see - there was variation even within the writing of a single person. For calligraphers, there is much to be learned from looking at these kinds of pieces. I have been around calligraphers quite a bit, and studied for long enough to realise i didn't have the time to practice enough to make it worth my while continuing, and I feel that, even without understanding the words, you can get something from them - a glimpse into someone's character in quite an intimate way.

Musashi's Dokodo,
from Kumamoto Prefectural Museum

Even simple things give you some feeling of the humanity of these famous figures from the past. In Musashi's Dokodo at the Prefectural Museum, it is easy to see the attention he gave the characters, even as he was on his death bed, and the strength and precision they retained. You can also see how he charged his brush before each new precept, unlike in a letter, where the ink would gradually run out and the brush dipped in again wherever it happened to occur in the letter, mid sentence or no.

And the castle...?
Well, the castle will have to wait... but it was there that Musashi lived while he was a guest of Hosokawa Tadaoki.. so I'll say some more about it next time.

Answers (with links to the sites they came from):