Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire through Japanese eyes: Buddhism, Christianity, and Shintoism

Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire through Japanese eyes: Buddhism, Christianity, and Shintoism

The contemporary Japanese artist, Sawako Utsumi, who hails from Northern Japan, once more creates a lovely art piece. Spiritually, her background is based on Shintoism and tinged with Buddhism based on the cultural legacy. Yet, in general, the Shinto faith predominates despite paying deep respect during her visit to Buddhist temples. However, aspects of Christianity also appeal to Utsumi, even if this is in the cultural realm and based on small Christian churches appearing like folk Shintoism.

Unsurprisingly, Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire appealed greatly to Utsumi based on visual images of this Grade I listed building. In her mindset, the terrible events of the Dissolution (1536-1541) – or the Dissolution of the Monasteries – can be understood, to a degree, by the stunning grounds and buildings that remain of Fountains Abbey. This relates to the legacy of the spiritual effect that Fountains Abbey is still blessed with despite the terrible events of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

In other words, the secularization of modern-day Japan and the United Kingdom are creating a religious vacuum that is being entered by new “soulless cultures.” The upshot of this is that major Christian Cathedrals in the United Kingdom – just like potent Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in places like Koyasan, Kyoto, Nara, Nikko, and others – are important popular windows into a past that is often far-away from everyday life. Hence, these major centers of religion in Japan and the United Kingdom are still attracting countless numbers of people; despite vast numbers of ordinary Buddhist, Christian, and Shinto holy places struggling to attract worshippers in big numbers. However, often people who visit or pray are disconnected with the real tenets of the respective faiths based on secularization and modernization.

One can only imagine the utter devastation and disconnection felt by many Christian holy people and lay people during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Likewise, in post World War Two in the land of the rising sun, it is clear that Buddhism and Shintoism were put on a back burner. This is based on the demands of America put on Japan and the collaboration of Japanese political elites. Therefore, the new mantra focused heavily on modernization and high technology fused with many precepts that apply to Confucian logic in the realm of ethics and educational attainment.

The New Statesman reports, “It is said that Japanese marry in a Shinto ritual and live life with Confucian ethics, and the deceased is buried and its soul is transformed into ancestors in a Buddhist ritual. These three events are essential factors in a person’s life and the Japanese religions are centered round these three elements, birth, living and death.”

Hence, just like Shinto focuses on ancestors, Utsumi witnesses Fountains Abbey based on a plethora of different factors. For example, the spiritual realm of Fountains Abbey survives both the Dissolution of the Monasteries and modern-day secularization. Therefore, despite Fountains Abbey being but a shadow of a once thriving Christian holy place, just like Shinto ancestors that have long perished, the spiritual psyche remains potent based on the connection of the senses.

Utsumi is utilizing the life of the river by imbuing this flowing continuity inside the remnants of what is left of Fountains Abbey. In this sense, the power of nature in Shinto is a duality of the river within the spiritual mindset when visualizing – or visiting – the delightful Fountains Abbey. In other words, despite the passages of time the spiritual dimension of Fountains Abbey remains potent – just like nature – despite the countless upheavals done by humanity.

Overall, the end result is a delightful art piece by Utsumi who is fusing many themes. This is witnessed by the equal importance of the flowing life of the river that represents the spirituality that Fountains Abbey is blessed with, despite the terrible events of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Therefore, nature and spirituality come together to create a multi-dimensional effect to this gorgeous art piece by Utsumi.

Lee Jay Walker


Japan Artist, Christian Church in Heptonstall and Clarity to Blurred Lines: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and Shinto

Japan Artist, Christian Church in Heptonstall and Clarity to Blurred Lines: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and Shinto


The contemporary Japanese artist, Sawako Utsumi, adores the visual reality of traditional villages and towns in the Calderdale area of West Yorkshire. This noticeably applies to quaint old Christian churches that have survived modernity, the rugged landscape of the surrounding area, the canal area that runs through Hebden Bridge in both directions, and quaint houses that exist near the main Christian church in Heptonstall. Equally dramatic is the changeable weather and diversity of thought patterns that runs through Heptonstall and Hebden Bridge respectively.

Indeed, one minute you can be walking in lowland areas of Hebden Bridge, then suddenly high up with the Pennine Way in easy reach. Or, alternatively, walking uphill to the delightful village of Heptonstall. On top of this, Hardcastle Crags and the Rochdale Canal are a treat to people who cherish the outdoors.


In the art piece by Utsumi titled Heptonstall Christian Church in West Yorkshire, the artist focuses on a more clear vision. This contrasts noticeably with the more blurred art piece titled Heptonstall in Silence.

Reasons behind this are multiple but with one noticeable concept behind this. In other words, the older art piece by Utsumi resembles the mystery of Shintoism compared with the later art piece. Therefore, the blurred dimensions of Shintoism and nature fuse within the troubled history of Heptonstall despite the continuity of Christianity in this part of West Yorkshire.


The troubled history applies to a battle that took place in 1643 during the English Civil War. Similarly, David Hartley, alias the King of the Cragg Vale Coiners, was buried in Heptonstall after being hanged in York in 1770.


This reality means that the blurred and intriguing painting of Heptonstall in Silence is fused with the mysteries of Shintoism – that remains outside the knowledge of most non-Japanese people. However, Heptonstall Christian Church in West Yorkshire resembles the influence of Buddhism in Japan and the familiarity of this faith internationally. Therefore, the clarity of the second art piece is based on familiarity and the right path, compared with the power of nature that burnt brightly in the soul of the poet Ted Hughes who hails from Calderdale.


Ted Hughes wrote:

When God, disgusted with man,
Turned towards heaven.
And man, disgusted with God,
Turned towards Eve,
Things looked like falling apart.

But Crow . . Crow
Crow nailed them together,
Nailing Heaven and earth together


Ultimately, the Crow may have been Ted Hughes himself, compared with the mammal Sylvia Plath who is buried in Heptonstall. These fusions of ideas, and intricacies, equally enter the mindset of indigenous Shintoism. Yet, this applies to different angles because the Crow was Buddhism during the Edo Period that often devoured Shintoism. This reality persists in areas of high culture and political significance despite the changing winds of the Meiji era.


Sylvia Plath wrote:

I have no wit, I have no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
A lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is like the falling leaf;
Jesus, quicken me.


Overall, Utsumi is not only focused on the delightful setting of Heptonstall because this contemporary Japanese artist is trying to fuse this within her native land. Yet, unlike the sinister world of humanity and nature that awaits the Crow by Ted Hughes, in the world of Shinto nature is comforting and powerful. Equally important, it connects with the soul and ancestors. Therefore, Sylvia Plath may be buried far away from her native home but in the world of Shinto, her spirit is like a kami that awaits a new beginning – or, in the Christian trinity, a mystery remains where the Crow is defeated by the Lamb.

Lee Jay Walker – Sawako Utsumi personal website – Sawako Utsumi and where you can buy her art, postcards, bags, and other products. Also, individuals can contact her for individual requests.

Japanese Artist and Heptonstall In Silence by Sawako Utsumi

Japanese Artist and Heptonstall In Silence by Sawako Utsumi


I am Sawako Utsumi from northeast Japan.

This first minor post is just to start my new website. Hopefully, in time, people will come to enjoy my art and check my profile on Fine Art America.

I adore landscapes, nature, impressionism, fine art, still art, bijinga, Japanese woodblock prints and many areas related to Japanese and European art.

I believe that art needs to express emotions and other unique angles created by each respective art piece. – Sawako Utsumi and where you can buy her art, post cards, bags, and other products. Also, individuals can contact her for individual requests.