Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

April 13, 2013

Fujita Art Museum and Fujitatei-ato Park, Osaka

One of the most powerful early Japanese business tycoons was Fujita Denzaburo (1841-1912), who set up a conglomerate (Fujita-gumi) of companies active in mining, civil engineering, railways, electrical power generation, finance, textiles and newspapers. Mr Fujita, who was the first commoner to receive the title of "Baron," was not only a sharp businessman, he was also a cultivated person who collected art and practised the tea ceremony - he was known for his lavish spending to acquire expensive tea wares.

Fujita Art Museum and Fujitatei-ato Park, Osaka 
[The Fujita Art Museum - storehouse and pagoda]

Born in the castle town of Hagi in the Choshu fief in 1841 as the son of a sake brewer, Mr. Fujita as a young man came to Osaka to go into business. As the oligarchical Meiji government was for fifty percent formed by politicians from his old fief Choshu, we may safely assume that his "Old Boys network" was of prime importance in helping his businesses rake in profits. Besides buying magnificent art works, Mr Fujita also established villas in several prime spots in Japan. They were after his death renovated as the Taikoen in Osaka, the Chinzanso in Tokyo, the Hotel Fujita in Kyoto and the Kowakien in Hakone. 

Fujita Art Museum and Fujitatei-ato Park, Osaka 
[Fujita Art Museum seen from the Fujitatei-ato Park]

The Taikoen stands on the spot where his main residence was and here one also finds the Fujita Art Museum as well as a remnant of the original gardens. In WWII the baronial mansion was destroyed in an air raid, but fortunately the stone kura in the garden containing the artworks remained intact, and that storehouse now serves as a sort of "retro style" museum building. Through a corridor of what looks like an old school building, one comes to the storehouse. Inside, this has been beautifully fitted out with wood. Although there is an upper floor, too, the storehouse is quite small. That gives ample time to view at leisure the exquisite art works exhibited here, but it also leaves one with a feeling of disappointment: when you know how rich the total collection is, the amount on display during the two short annual exhibitions, is rather tiny (as is usual in small private museums in Japan, there is no standing exhibition).

Fujita Art Museum and Fujitatei-ato Park, Osaka 
[Fujitatei-ato Park, in the background Osaka Business Park]

The collection numbers approximately 5,000 articles and comprises 9 National Treasures and 48 Important Cultural Properties. While tea utensils form the heart of the collection (as in the case of most other Meiji industrialists), there are also excellent Chinese and Japanese-style paintings, calligraphy, sculpture and lacquerware. A famous piece is the "Yohen Tenmoku-glaze Tea Bowl" (one of the three in Osaka museums), possessing a beautiful iridescent bluish gloss on its black glaze – as if you are looking at the starry firmament. Also famous is the "Picture Scroll based on the Diary of Murasaki Shikibu," the first part of a hand scroll in Yamato-e style from the early Kamakura period (13th c.). The "Genjo Sanzo-e" (“Illustrated hand scroll of the Monk Xuanzang,” 14th c.) is a set of 12 picture scrolls depicting the life of Xuanzang, the Chinese Tang dynasty monk who made an arduous journey through Central Asia to collect Buddhist scriptures and artifacts in India. There are Chinese-style ink paintings ("New Moon over a Brushwood Gate," 1405), a sutra box decorated in maki-e lacquer with scenes from the Lotus Sutra (11th c.) and many other treasures. As the collection puts the emphasis on tea utensils, one will often encounter chanoyu bowls, flower vases, water containers, and incense boxes. Whatever is on display in this museum, the value is always high.

Yodo River Walk in spring 
[Sakura along the Yodo River on the way
from the Fujita Art Museum to Nakanoshima]

Although the museum also has a small garden with a beautiful pagoda brought down from Mt Koya, adjacent to it lies the large Fujitatei-ato Park, containing the remnants of the original gardens of Baron Fujita. These are now under the management of the City of Osaka as part of Sakuranomiya Park. Interesting is that Mr Fujita built his mansion on the site of Daichoji Temple, which figures in Chikamatsu Monzaemon's puppet play from 1720 "Ten no Amashima Suicides." The present gardens, with a grassy green and flowering trees, are pleasant as a city park, but not very special from the point of view of garden architecture, as perhaps too much was destroyed.

Where: 2 min walk from exit 3 of Osakajo-Kitazume St on the JR Tozai line. For the museum, turn left after exiting the station; for the gardens, turn right (the entrance of the gardens is therefore on the opposite side of the entrance to the museum). On the other side of the road opposite the museum stands the Taikoen restaurant, now mainly a venue for weddings. 
When: Note that the museum is only open for the spring (early March to early June) and autumn exhibition (early September to early December), when about 40-50 pieces from the collection are exhibited according to various themes. 10:00-16:00, closed on Monday (unless a National Holiday, when closed the following day). The gardens are in principle everyday open, 10:00-16:00.
How much: Museum JPY 800; gardens free.

April 7, 2013

Ohatsu Tenjin Shrine, Osaka

Popularly known as "Ohatsu Tenjin," the official name of this shrine is Tsuyu Tenjinsha. The founding goes back to the now grey times more than 1,300 years ago when metropolitan Osaka was a bay with scattered islands and sandbanks. It is difficult to imagine among today's profusion of concrete and glass, not to forget all those humans moving around among them. It was a quiet and lonely place when our shrine was founded on one of these islands, Sone-su. In the 11th c. things improved when the island became part of the mainland thanks to a land reclamation project. A village named Sonezaki was establsihed and the shrine became the guardian of the community. When the railways came in the late 19th century, the area turned into the gateway to Osaka, but the shrine still guards the surrounding area.

Osaka, Ohatsu Tenjin, Umeda
[The shrine building]

At the origin of the shrine stands the leading court scholar Sugawara Michizane. Falsely accused, this Minister of the Right was exiled to Dazaifu in Kyushu. On his way in exile, traveling down from the capital Kyoto, he visited this shrine and composed a poem which means something like: "My sleeve is soaked with dew formed by the tears I shed recalling Kyoto." "Dew" is "tsuyu" - and so the official name of the shrine was born, Tsuyu Tenjinsha. Michizane would go on to be deified as Tenjin, the patron saint of scholarship.

Osaka, Ohatsu Tenjin, Umeda 
[Statue of Tokubei and Ohatsu]

Now the popular name. "Ohatsu" is the female protagonist in a play written for the puppet theater (bunraku or ningyo joruri) by master playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon, called Sonezaki Shinju ("The Love Suicides of Sonezaki"). This work relates the tragic love story of Tokubei, a shop clerk, and Ohatsu, a courtesan, who seeing no way out for their love (it was socially accepted to visit a courtesan, but falling in love with her would lead to ostracism - like in 19th c. Europe) were driven to suicide in the woods of the shrine grounds - woods which do not exist anymore, by the way. The play was based on a real incident that happened in 1703 and became tremendously popular, bringing many new visitors to the shrine, who started calling it "Ohatsu Tenjin." Because of the association with the love story of Tokubei and Ohatsu, even today many couples wishing to have a strong bond visit to pray (enmusubi) - although I would think that the affair between the puppet lovers is not a good omen as it ended rather badly!

[The shopping arcade]

The present shrine buildings date from 1957 - they were rebuilt after their destruction in WWII. The area around the shrine with the Ohatsu Tenjindori Shopping Arcade today has a pleasantly retro atmosphere. It is a warm and comfortable place and the shrine itself is always busy with visitors.
Where: Near JR Osaka St, Umeda St on the Hankyu, Hanshin and subway Midosuji lines, and Higashi Umeda St on the subway Tanimachi line.
When: The shrine grounds are always open.
How much: Free.
Note: On the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month, the shrine holds a flea market wherein about 30 antique dealers participate. On the 3rd Friday and Saturday of July the summer festival is celebrated, with lion dances, umbrella dances and big drums.