Modern Japanese Artist and Buddhism: Nichiren and Isolation of Exile on Sado Island

Modern Japanese Artist and Buddhism: Nichiren and Isolation of Exile on Sado Island


The contemporary Japanese artist, Sawako Utsumi, focuses in this art piece on the famous Buddhist holy man called Nichiren (1222-1282). Unlike other established Buddhist religious leaders who influenced the people of Japan, Nichiren went against the grain because he would openly rebuke other Buddhist schools of thought. Therefore, Nichiren made many enemies during his lifetime and for this reason he was exiled to Sado Island in order to contemplate the errors of his ways.

However, true to Nichiren the exile on Sado Island provided this holy man with new religious insights. At the same time, it did not infringe on his belief that he held the right path in this complex world. Given this reality, the stunning art piece based on Nichiren in exile by Utsumi illuminates this period of his life.


I comment in a past article, “Many amazing attributes and mysteries apply to Nichiren. After all, he escaped a brutal execution where so many others fell before him. This reality is based on the realms of nature but hidden within the mystery of life. Similarly, Nichiren predicted the Mongol invasion and challenged all and sundry where others would fear.”


Not surprisingly, Utsumi, in her art piece titled Buddhist Cleric Nichiren in Exile and Homage to Yoshitoshi, focuses on the original by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892 – above image by Yoshitoshi). Yet, despite this reality, more light in relation to his robes is noticeable and the same applies to a slightly bigger gap where Nichiren is contemplating many things deeply. These differences are minor but the meaning equates to a growing enlightenment that will open to a much wider audience based on the passages of time – despite his exile threatening much during this period of his lifetime.  Intriguingly, also, the sky is darker by Utsumi and this equally is based on the radiant robes of Nichiren that transcends night and day.


The main tenets of Nichiren apply to absorption, learning, tranquility, and the notion of Buddhahood. Sado Island, therefore, provided Nichiren with more time to contemplate the bigger picture. This reality can be seen in the original by Yoshitoshi and further extended by Utsumi based on more lightness despite the darkness of the time for this holy religious leader.

Lee Jay Walker

Please email Sawako Utsumi at



Book Review: Sawako Utsumi and her Kindred Spirit

European and Japanese Art: Buddhism, Christianity, Landscapes, Rinpa, Shintoism, Ukiyo-e, and Dutch Masters – Please click on to order the book.


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