Art of Japan and Benkei the Warrior Monk of History and Folklore


Modern Tokyo Times
JUNE 3, 2015

POSTED ON MAY 30, 2015
Lee Jay Walker

In Japanese culture, history and art, it is clear that Saito no Musashibo Benkei left a lasting impression and this continues today in modern culture. This legendary warrior monk belonged to the intriguing period of the 12th century. He was born in 1155 and died in 1189 after serving the famous Minamoto no Yoshitsune. The images in this article come from the esteemed toshidama (Toshidama Gallery), whereby you can feel the power of Benkei and visually understand how he was portrayed in Japanese art.

Benkei is famous within the folklore of Japan because of his enormous strength which was matched by great loyalty. In the realm of Japanese art and the majestic ukiyo-e movement, then Benkei provides a wealth of images by many famous artists.

It is noted that he was extremely tall because by the age of seventeen Benkei had reached two meters in height. This is still very tall by the standard of today. On top of this was many other great attributes which belong to his fighting skills and the knowledge he obtained during his travels to many Buddhist monasteries.

Of course, within Japanese folklore and the mysteries of history and Shintoism, then many intriguing stories evolve around Benkei. He firmly belongs to the power and prestige of Buddhism and the warrior class that emerged during this period of Japanese history. However, just like Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all been influenced by the Pagan culture where they developed; this similarly happened to Benkei because the power of Shintoism was fused within many elements of Japanese Buddhism and folklore. Therefore, these intriguing stories about Benkei clearly have survived the test of time because he remains a potent figure today in modern Japan. Continue reading

Following the brush

Sasse sits below his two images of Buddhist dharma: "It was very emotional to do." Photo by Darren Southcott

Sasse sits below his two images of Buddhist dharma: “It was very emotional to do.” Photo by Darren Southcott

German scholar-artist Werner Sasse exhibits work at Jeju Stone Park

Jeju Weekly

Darren Southcott |
2015.05.27 11:12:12

“Normally I never have a subject, I just follow the brush,” says German Werner Sasse about his work. Photo by Darren Southcott

Werner Sasse’s work has an ephemeral air. Tacks pin down curled corners and free-flowing brush strokes, in the traditional Korean style, leave black ink trails across the thin white hanji paper.

Although much of the work on display at the Obaek Janggun Gallery, Jeju Stone Park, was produced over a month specifically for the exhibition, this is not the norm for the German-born scholar and artist.

“Normally I never have a subject, I just follow the brush. Of course, I have some kind of image in my mind but that goes away as soon as I start painting.”

“The first stroke really does something on the paper, and from that moment you start balancing, counterbalancing, looking at the spaces you have created, looking at the lines and their direction and their intimacy,” he says.

Is he ever unhappy with what his mind produces?

“When there is something wrong in the picture, I very, very seldom throw it away. I just leave it there, sometimes for a week or two, and then suddenly [clicks fingers] it comes.” Continue reading

Losang Samten Dismantling Ceremony Video Posted

Posted: Friday, May 29, 2015 6:48 am

CIBOLA COUNTY, NEW MEXICO – The long awaited video of Losang Samten’s mandala dismantling ceremony will finally be posted on the Cibola Beacon’s website on Sunday, May 31.

Samten visited St. Joseph Catholic School earlier this month. During his stay in Cibola County from May 4-8, Samten created a “Wheel of Life” mandala inside of the Schools’ sanctuary. “This whole week has been a great experience in coming to know the culture and tradition of Tibet, especially through a former Buddhist monk. Instead of reading about other cultures and religions, we had someone here in our midst help us learn about other people on the other side of the world,” said Antonio Trujillo, principal of the School.

On his final day at St. Joseph School at 2 p.m., Samten hosted a mandala dismantling ceremony that was very special. Trujillo said, “The dismantling ceremony was truly powerful in that much of the hard work that was put into creating the mandala and incorporating all the Catholic, Native, and Buddhist traditions were dismantled.”

Samten worked 5-6 hours a day, Monday through Friday, on the mandala specially made for our area residents.

“The ceremony really brought the reality that all the work we put into life must come to an inevitable end and what remains are the memories and stories of how we are able to love each other.”
Samten was born in Tibet, but had to flee during the Chinese invasion to Nepal, then India when he was a small child. He studied at the personal monastery of the 14th Dalai Lama.

The Ven. Losang was tasked by the 14th Dalai Lama in 1988 to come to the west and share the ancient art of the sand mandala and Tibetan Buddhist culture. Although it has a long history in Asia, much about the art was unknown to outsiders.

You can learn more about Samten online at


Book Review: Illuminating the Life of the Buddha: An Illustrated Chanting Book from Eighteenth-century Siam (2013)

Review by Jeffrey Martin

illumbuddhaAppleton, Naomi, Sarah Shaw, and Toshiya Unebe. Illuminating the Life of the Buddha: An Illustrated Chanting Book from Eighteenth-century Siam. Oxford, England: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2013. Print. 142 pp.

This brief book describes and illustrates (in 86 photographs) an 18-century samut khoi, an illuminated Thai manuscript now in the collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford University.

The manuscript’s format is traditional to Buddhist texts in many countries: a stack of long sheets of paper bound between planks of leather, wood, lacquer, or other hard material as covers.  This particular manuscript was made of several sheets of paper joined into one long piece, folded fan-like, into a stack 660mm long by 95mm wide. Each fold in the fan contains two flanking illustrations, with text in the center, but the content of the paintings and the text are only loosely related.   The text is an assortment of canonical material, from Vinaya to Abhidhamma to Qualities of the Buddha.  The illustrations depict the last 10 Jātaka stories, the early life of the Bodhisatta, and the Life of the Buddha.  It is possible this text was created in Thailand specifically for Sri Lankan monks and thus contains what were considered essential texts to help restore what was then a lapsed monastic tradition.


A visual map of the manuscript

A textual map of the manuscript

A textual map of the manuscript

Continue reading

Stories behind Buddhist art

“Avatamsaka Sutra (The Flower Garland Sutra),” created in 1334. (Horim Museum)

“Avatamsaka Sutra (The Flower Garland Sutra),” created in 1334. (Horim Museum)

The National Museum of Korea highlights devout patrons of Buddhist art

Korea Herald
Published : 2015-05-26 20:31

Around 1247, Empress Hampyeong of Goryeo (918-1392) commissioned an artisan known for his skilled silver engraving to inscribe patterns of clouds and lotuses on a bronze vase in a prayer for the well-being of her family and country.

It was after her two sons were sent away as punishment for attempting to remove a general who took power in a coup d’etat, while her daughters had to marry his sons.

The vase, made for use as an incense burner at a Buddhist temple, is now considered to best represent the silver engraving technique of Goryeo dynasty for its delicate and refined lines.

The glamour and opulence of Korean ancient art has largely been represented through Buddhist art. Buddhist statues, craftworks, sutras and paintings make up the majority of national treasures of Korea. And these magnificent artworks wouldn’t have existed without devout Buddhists who commissioned best artisans of their time to create them with the hope of fulfilling their wishes for peace and prosperity of their country and family.

The new exhibition at the National Museum of Korea sheds light on those patrons of Buddhist art. It reveals names of the patrons and their wishes and donations hidden behind the great works of Buddhist art from Three Kingdoms period (B.C. 18-A.D. 935) to the Joseon era (1392-1910). Continue reading

Up north: Call for exploration of archaeological sites

The remains of the Red Fort in Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. PHOTO: FILE

The remains of the Red Fort in Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. PHOTO: FILE

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2015.

ISLAMABAD: Archaeology is a gateway to the past of any nation, and unexplored sites in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) regions hold great educational and tourism potential.

The lack of exploration is primarily due to lack of resources and the ‘problematic’ locations of some of the sites — right along the Line of Control.

Speakers at a seminar on new archaeological discoveries in AJK and G-B, held on Thursday at the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU)’s Taxila Institute of Asian Civilisation (TIAC), stressed upon the government to establish museums in AJK and G-B. They also called for the provision of land for exploration, and introduction of archaeology as a subject at school and college-levels.

A TIAC team recently discovered more than 100 sites of archaeological importance in AJK, 80 of which were damaged by natural calamities in the region.

Archaeology and Museums Department Director-General Dr Muhammad Arif advised students to pay serious attention to artefacts found during surveys and unearthed during excavations as primary sources of research, besides review of literary sources. Continue reading

Park Seo-Bo: Dansaekhwa is a “tool for moral training”

"Ecriture (描法) No. 000729”, 2000. Acrylic with Korean Hanji paper on canvas. 182 x 228 cm / 71 3/4 x 89 3/4 inches (Courtesy the artist and Galerie Perrotin)

“Ecriture (描法) No. 000729”, 2000. Acrylic with Korean Hanji paper on canvas. 182 x 228 cm / 71 3/4 x 89 3/4 inches
(Courtesy the artist and Galerie Perrotin)

BY DARRYL WEE | MAY 24, 2015

Park Seo-Bo: Dansaekhwa is a “tool for moral training”

NEW YORK — Opening at Galerie Perrotin on May 28 is “Ecriture,” a solo exhibition devoted to a leading artist of the Korean Dansaekhwa movement, Park Seo-Bo. This is Park’s second one-man presentation at the gallery, following his first solo show at Perrotin’s Paris gallery last December.

One of the founding members of Dansaekhwa, Park combines the spirit of Western abstraction with a traditional Korean approach to method and composition, demonstrating an uncommonly disciplined and almost ascetic rigor in making his works, which he compares to “ a Buddhist monk’s repetitive chanting of a Buddhist prayer while sounding a moktak (wooden percussion instrument).”

In contrast to the strong gestural and action-oriented quality of other postwar modernisms like Gutai in Japan or Art Informel in France, Dansaekhwa is notable for its extremely conscientious “emptying” of the canvas and finely wrought handmade quality that can only be achieved through a sustained, meditative concentration. Park generously shared some of his thoughts on the more philosophical bases of his work, and Dansaekhwa in general.

How did the work of the predecessors of Dansaekhwa, such as Kim Whanki during the 1960s, influence and pave the way for its development during the subsequent decade?

There was no exchange of influence with the predecessors. The development and growth of Dansaekhwa was contemporaneous, and a natural phenomenon. Dansaekhwa and the Western monochrome movement each formed its identity in the U.S., Korea, and even Japan, and then became grouped into one flow. Dansaekhwa did not develop based on the influence of a few people. Continue reading