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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

During the reign of Go Daigo 1318 1339


were in China, at the time of the Ashikaga, two schools of painters: a Northern and a Southern. The term is misleading, for the distinction was really not one of geography but one of method. What distinguished the Southern school was delicacy of conception, directness of execution, and lightness of tone. To produce a maximum of effect with a minimum of effort; to suggest as much as to depict, and to avoid all recourse to heavy colours--these were the cardinal tenets of the Southern school. They were revealed to Japan by a priest named Kao, who, during the reign of Go-Daigo (1318-1339), passed ten years in China, and returning to Kyoto, opened a studio in the temple Kennin-ji, where he taught the methods of Li Lungmin of the Sung dynasty and Yen Hui of the Yuan. He revolutionized Japanese art. After him Mincho is eminent. Under the name of Cho Densu--the Abbot Cho--he acquired perpetual fame by his paintings of Buddhist saints.

But Mincho's religious pictures did not help to introduce the Sung academy to Japan. That task was reserved for Josetsu--a priest of Chinese or Japanese origin--who, during the second half of the fourteenth century, became the teacher of many students at the temple Shokoku-ji, in Kyoto. Among his pupils was Shubun, and the latter's followers included such illustrious names as Sotan, Sesshu, Shinno; Masanbbu, and Motonobu. It is to this day a question whether Japan ever produced greater artists than Sesshu and Motonobu.

To the same galaxy belongs Tosa no Mitsunobu, the founder of the Tosa school as Motonobu was of the Kano. That official patronage was extended to these great men is proved by the fact that Mitsunobu was named president of the E-dokoro, or Court Academy of Painting; and Motonobu received the priestly rank of hogen.


Industries in general suffered from the continual wars of the Ashikaga epoch, but the art of forging swords flourished beyond all precedent. Already Awadaguchi, Bizen, Osafune, and others had attained celebrity, but for Okazaki Masamune, of Kamakura, who worked during the reign of Go-Daigo (1318-1339) was reserved the renown of peerlessness. His long travels to investigate the methods of other masters so as to assimilate their best features, are historically recorded, and at the head of the great trinity of Japanese swordsmiths his name is placed by universal acclaim, his companions being Go no Yoshihiro and Fujiwara Yoshimitsu.* In Muromachi days so much depended on the sword that military men thought it worthy of all honour. A present of a fine blade was counted more munificent than a gift of a choice steed, and on the decoration of the scabbard, the guard, and the hilt extraordinary skill was expended. Towards the close of the fifteenth century, a wonderful expert in metals, Goto Yujo, devoted himself to the production of these ornaments, and his descendants perpetuated his fame down to the middle of the nineteenth century. The Gotos, however, constitute but a small section of the host of masters who will always be remembered in this branch of art. In the Muromachi period alone we have such names as Aoki Kaneiye, Myochin Nobuiye, Umetada Akihisa and others.** Armour making also was carried to a point of high achievement during the epoch, especially by Nobuiye.***

*Chamberlain in Things Japanese says: "Japanese swords excel even the vaunted products of Damascus and Toledo. To cut through a pile of copper coins without nicking the blade is, or was, a common feat. History, tradition, and romance alike re-echo with the exploits of this wonderful weapon."

**For an exhaustive analysis see Brinkley's China and Japan.

***See Conder's History of Japanese Costume; Vol. IX. of the "Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan."

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