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Japanese Buddhism, Photo Dictionary of Japan's Shinto and Buddhist DivinitiesRETURN TO TOP PAGE of Japanese Buddhist Statuary A to Z Photo Library & Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Shinto Kami, Creatures, and Demons
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Buddhist-Artwork.com, our sister site, offers online sales of hand-carved wood Buddha statues.
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Creative Partnership
Combining Marriage with the Sacred Arts of Buddhism
The husband-wife team of Mukoyoshi Yūboku (Sculptor) and Nakamura Keiboku (Painter)

Asaba Buddhist Art Studio あさば仏教美術工房, located in Osaka's Asahi ward, is a magical place with magical people. During a recent visit, I met the husband-wife team of Mukoyoshi Yūboku 向吉悠睦 and Nakamura Keiboku 中村佳睦, two of Japan's most lauded contemporary artists of Buddhist statues, paintings, and crafts. Mukoyoshi specializes in Buddhist sculpture while Nakamura specializes in butsuga 仏画 (iconic Buddhist paintings) and kirikane kōgei 截金工芸作品 (crafts using cut gold leaf). Mukoyoshi says: "We actually started out in opposite fields. She began as a sculptor, while I began as a painter. But today she is the painter and I the sculptor." They are extremely amiable people and their love of religious art is palpable. Half of their work involves the restoration and repair of icons and paintings for renowned temples and other patrons, while the other half comes from new commissions. Both are acclaimed artisans at the height of their professions. The intricate gold-leaf patterns on Mukoyoshi's statues (see slideshow below) are the handiwork of Nakamura and her team of assistants (see kirikane section). Nakamura is likewise a virtuoso artisan of highly decorative and meticulously designed boxes and sutra containers. She has coauthored a number of books, including one with her husband entitled An Affectionate Introduction to Buddhist Statues やさしくわかる仏像入門.
 

 

Learn More About Mukoyoshi Yūboku (born 1961; began training in 1980)

Learn More About Nakamura Keiboku (began training in 1980)

Kirikane (Gold Leaf) -- click any image to enlarge
Special thanks to Nakamura Keiboku, who explained each step below and allowed me to photograph.

Kirikane Leaf

 

1. Kirikane 切金 (gold foil); also written 截金.

Cutting Kirikane with bamboo knife

 

2. Cutting kirikane with a bamboo knife.

Gold stripes can be cut in different sizes

 

3. Gold stripes can be cut in different sizes

Preparing the gold foil before applying

 

4. Preparing the gold foil before applying

Applying kirikane using glue, or rice paste, or lacquer.

 

5. Applying kirikane using glue, or rice paste, or lacquer.

Applying kirikane using glue, or rice paste, or lacquer.

 

6. Applying kirikane using glue, or rice paste, or lacquer.

Great precision can be achieved when "painting" kirikane

 

7. Great precision can be achieved when "painting" kirikane

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More About Kirikane (Gold Leaf) Techniques

Statue with kirikane (gold leaf)spacerKirikane 切金. Also written 截金. Literally cut gold. Says JAANUS: "Metal foil (haku 箔), generally gold or silver, cut into long, thin strips, or, triangular, square, and lozenge shapes systematically arranged to form lines or a decorative pattern on sculptures and paintings (see kirihaku 切箔) below. Exquisite use of kirikane is often found in the decoration of the robes of Buddhist images. The technique was passed down from Tang China and reached Japan around 7th century (Hakuhō period). Kirikane is found on the late 7th-century "Four Guardian Kings" Shitennō 四天王 in the Golden Hall, Kondō 金堂 of Hōryūji 法隆寺 and on the 8th-century "Four Guardian Kings" at Tōdaiji 東大寺. The kirikane technique was popular in the late Heian period (9-12c) for both sculpture and painting. An outstanding example from this period is the 12th-century painting of Bodhisattava Kokūzō 虚空蔵 in the Tokyo National Museum. In the early 13th century (Kamakura period) examples of the designs became more delicate and complicated, but often conventional and stylized. Since the mid-13th century gold outlines tended to be drawn in gold paint (kindei 金泥), and thereafter the use of kirikane declined. Also known as a decorative technique used on makie 蒔絵 (gold and silver applied to lacquer). A thin sheet of metal, generally gold or silver, is cut into squares, rectangles and triangles and affixed with lacquer forming clouds, mist, ground, trees and rocks. This technique was first developed in the Kamakura period and soon became highly prized for its ornate quality.

Kirihaku 切箔. Literally cut foil. Says JAANUS: "A method of ornamentation using gold and/or silver leaf cut (haku 箔) into different shaped pieces and applied to various surfaces with rice paste or lacquer. The term also applies to cut foil itself. The kirikane technique was developed in the 10c-11c (mid Heian period) and was most commonly used to decorate writing papers, sutras, illustrated handscrolls emaki 絵巻 and screens. Different names are given to the various sizes and shapes of kirihaku in accordance with their resemblance to natural objects: large pieces are called ishi 石 or stones; fine, long, narrow pieces (noge 野毛) for their resemblance to the tips or 'beards' of pampas grass; smaller square pieces (arare 霰 or hailstones) or sansho 山椒 (black pepper); and the finest ones (sunago 砂子) for their similarity to grains of sand. Those lacking a specific form are called momihaku 揉み箔 because they appear rubbed rather than cut. Kirihaku is similar to kirikane 切金, but kirihaku is sprinkled over a surface, not deliberately pasted, thus the resultant pattern is irregular and spontaneous.

Related Pages

  1. Busshi of Japan, A-to-Z Index (this site). Busshi 仏師 = Sculptor of Buddhist Statues. The term literally means "Buddhist Teacher." This section of our site provides an overview of Japan's main sculptors and sculpting styles, plus a few essential terms and concepts. It includes 14 pages, covers 100+ sculptors, features 100+ photos, and provides the web's first-ever integrated guide to Japan's sculptors.
     
  2. Buddhist Sculptors and Sculptures in Japan's Kamakura Period (this site). Mukoyoshi Yūboku is considered a sculptor from the Kei school, which originated in the 13th century and includes such lauded sculptors as Unkei and Kaikei.
     
  3. From Court to Commoner: Buddhism in Japan's Kamakura Period (this site)

This page is dedicated to art historian Patricia Graham,
who introduced me to Mukoyoshi & Nakamura.

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