Contemporary Japanese Artist: The Fading Spirit of Kano Chikanobu Awakened by Shintoism

Contemporary Japanese Artist: The Fading Spirit of Kano Chikanobu Awakened by Shintoism

The contemporary Japanese artist Sawako Utsumi in her latest art piece titled The Fading Spirit of Kano Chikanobu Awakened by Shintoism, provides an adorable individual approach. This applies to a fusion of homage to Kano Chikanobu (1660-1728) along with a spark of individualism that takes you away from the original and then back again.

Another delightful approach by Utsumi applies to the Shinto angle. Indeed, while the impact of Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Shintoism was more powerful during the lifetime of Chikanobu (original art piece below), the contemporary artist focuses on the religious angle within her art piece. Of course, for Utsumi, the significance belongs to the indigenous faith of Shintoism that continues to endure in modern Japan, even if sometimes in the shadows.

The title is a reminder that in time all artists and famous people fade into dwindling influence culturally and scientifically, irrespective of the name. Yes, famous artists, philosophers, scientists, and so forth, remain well known but scratch under the surface and most are known superficially apart from specialists. However, holy religious people including Abraham, the Buddha, Jesus, Lord Ram, St. Paul, Mohammed, and many others from faiths already mentioned or from other faiths including Sikhism, remain potent just like they were born yesterday. Hence, Shintoism awakens the fading spirit of Chikanobu because the Shinto faith will continue to be culturally and religiously significant to Japan until the end of time, even if shadows encroach.

Chikanobu lived during the early Edo period and while Japan was mainly isolated – but not completely – the flows of the past continued. In other words, Chinese and Japanese classics impacted greatly on the famous Kano School of Art.

Utsumi herself plays on this but in the opposite direction because she is returning to the past. Therefore, while modern Japan is awash with modern technology, the reality of animation, communication via social media, skyscrapers, the impact of different cultures including America, and other realities, Utsumi binds her homage to the traditions of Shintoism. Equally important, Utsumi does this based on the distant approach taken by Shintoism, whereby nature and a subtle reality are more important than open proselytism or a rich theocratic dogma that belongs to other international faiths.

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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