Ueno Koen: Kyomizu Kannon-do

12Mar06


Kiyomizu Kannon-do is modeled after Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizu-dera, and is dedicated to the Senju-Kannon (the 1000-armed goddess of mercy). Inside the main temple building there are several interesting paintings, including an absolutely remarkable painting illustrating the final battle between samurai loyal to the idea of the Shogunate and soldiers fighting for the recently installed Meiji Emperor. Ueno hill was the site of this final battle, and if the painting has any historical accuracy it seems that a major portion of this battle took place on the temple grounds, and even in the temple buildings themselves. The painting depicts samurai wearing thin yukata and swirling from place to place while they fight with their katanas against stiff and orderly soldiers wearing European-style uniforms and firing volleys of bullets. The painting is great because it not only captures a historical moment, but it also embodies the cultural transformations tied to this moment. The fluid and seemingly ‘natural’ movement of the samurai is contrasted with the almost robotic-looking style of the Meiji infantry. In addition, the samurai are depicted as bodies — with visible arms, legs, feet, hands, chests, etc. — while the Meiji soldiers appear inhumanly hidden and jacketed within their uniforms, and in fact are wearing yellow horse-tail crests on their helmets that further serve to distance them from the samurai who they are fighting. It’s almost possible to watch the Edo period ending in this painting.

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