On Other Surfaces│3│

Table of Contents

Japanese art scholars have argued that realism in the modern era grew out of its reception in Western culture. As Kojin Karatani indicated in his Origins of Modern Japanese Literature (Duke University Press, 1993), realism became possible with the discovery of the “landscape” and the “interior” in modern literature. However, these origins have been forgotten and are hidden because of their interiorized landscape.

In this essay, Kurose views the origins created from landscapes and realism not in terms of the modern but in terms of the Suijaku Mandala, a religious painting from the 12–14th century. The Suijaku Mandala was based on suijaku, a spiritual practice thought to blend foreign Buddhism and the time-honored Japanese Shinto. In suijaku thought, the Buddhas of Buddhism are linked to the sacred ground of Japan: instead of a non-locational “Pure Land,” they are located in an actual location. Specifying the location of the sacred ground in the Suijaku Mandala demanded landscapes to be based on real places. This requirement inspired the birth of realism and landscape in medieval Japan. In Japanese art history, realism and landscapes were born through the blending of two religions, foreign and indigenous.

Through their interpretation as incarnations at the lowest level of Buddhas, the Japanese kami, who were natural spirits, became transformed into both gods with personalities similar to the Buddhas and spiritual beings who anguished over the lowness of their own divinity. From this dual nature came the discovery of interiority. The spirit kami depicted in the Suijaku Mandala serve as motifs that reveal the origins of realism hidden and overlooked by modern thought and, thus, represent an “outside” erased by an interiorized landscape.