reading notes for Yoshimasa And The Silver Pavilion, Donald Keene.
Yoshimasa is remembered by most people as the builder of the Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, and (unfavorably) as the shogun at the time of the Ōnin War (1467–1477). Following that war, the authority of the shogun all but disappeared, replaced by the rule of provincial military governors (shugo daimyō).2 In a letter to his son written in 1482, the hapless Yoshimasa complained, “The daimyo do as they please and do not follow orders. That means there can be no government.”3 Unable to assert his authority over the daimyos, he turned his back on politics and devoted himself instead to his quest for beauty.
Yoshikatsu’s younger brother Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–1490),
The oppressively gloomy atmosphere engendered by their dusty ranks seems to confirm the impression that most Japanese have of the medieval period of their history. There are no cheerful anecdotes about the Ashikaga shoguns.
Yoshimasa’s mountain retreat in the Higashiyama (Eastern Mountains) area of Kyoto, gave its name to the Higashiyama period (1483–1490) and greatly influenced all subsequent Japanese culture.
His indifference to the fighting and the suffering it caused may have been exaggerated by chroniclers of the time, but there is no reason to doubt that Yoshimasa, having decided not to participate in the warfare (though as shogun, the supreme military commander, he should have led his troops), devoted himself almost exclusively to aesthetic pleasures.
The Ōnin War led not only to the birth of a new culture but also to the immediate diffusion of culture to the provinces. Poets, painters, and others fled the capital, where almost all the fighting occurred, to take refuge with local potentates. The poets introduced to their often barely literate hosts the literary masterpieces of the past, including the tenth-century anthology of poetry Kokinshū and the eleventh-century novel The Tale of Genji, and they taught their hosts how to compose poetry. Even the most barbarous warlord desired the trappings of culture that would enable him to feel like a civilized man.
A renga sequence was normally composed by three or more participants who took turns supplying alternating verses in seventeen and fourteen syllables. Each poet was free to change the direction of the sequence as he saw fit. It was not considered desirable to create the impression that one poet had composed the entire sequence of a hundred or a thousand “links,” but ultimately each participant was sharing in the experience of creating one long poem
The daimyos enjoyed renga sessions so much that they offered visiting poets months or even years of hospitality.
Renga were composed through the worst of the Onin War. In fact, this was the golden age of renga, perhaps because at a time of destruction and death, composing the linked verses provided occasions for bringing people together to share with friends the pleasure of creating poems. Today the composition of renga is no longer of much interest except to a handful of scholars, but the idea of several people composing an extended poem—whether or not in keeping with rules—has in recent years found exponents even outside Japan, and haiku, which originally was the first link in a chain of renga, rank today as the most popular of all Japanese verse forms.
Of particular interest are the Chinese poems of Ikkyū Sōjun (1394–1481)
The nō theater also flourished. Although Zeami, the supreme master of the art, died before the Higashiyama period, his successors frequently performed for Yoshimasa. The austere expression of the no plays was congenial to the Higashiyama taste. Masks made during this period rank as the finest and are used to this day, and the robes bestowed on actors by Yoshimasa after outstanding performances are treasured and still serve as models for new robes.
The bare nō stage itself was a perfect example of the evocative simplicity that had become an aesthetic ideal. An even more typical form of architecture invented during the Higashiyama period, the shoin-zukuri, developed into the most common variety of traditional Japanese houses. Likewise, the gardens surrounding the buildings provided models for the gardens of later centuries.
The tea ceremony (chanoyu), another important development in Higashiyama culture, originated in a small room at the Ginkaku-ji where Yoshimasa offered tea to his friends. Today, a tiny wooden ladle (chashaku), even if it is hardly more than a bent piece of bamboo, may be worth a fortune if a connection with Yoshimasa can be established. Most of the tea bowls used in the ceremony today are simpler and sturdier than the Chinese ceramics that Yoshimasa himself preferred, but they harmonize even better with the bare interiors of the rooms where he first drank tea with his friends. Flower arrangement developed along with the tea ceremony, enhancing the rooms with the beauty and spiritual qualities of blossoms artistically arranged in ceramic vases
The soul (kokoro) of Japan, the aesthetic preferences of the Japanese, was shaped in this period probably more than in any other. But even though Yoshimasa played a leading part in the formation of Japanese taste, his achievements have not brought him a favorable reputation. Rather, he is most often depicted by historians as a spiritual weakling, completely under the dominance of his wife, Hino Tomiko. His extravagance, his incompetence in dealing with state business, and his inability to succor the people in times of famine or to end the meaningless Onin War are deplored, quite properly. And in the eyes of most historians, his virtues, particularly his encouragement of the arts, have not compensated for his faults.
The simplicity and reliance on suggestion of the buildings and gardens at Higashiyama may indicate that a man who had earlier exhausted the pleasures of extravagance had at last achieved a kind of enlightenment. Yoshimasa’s seeming incapability to act, even when warfare reached his doorstep, may also be interpreted not as the callous indifference of a tyrant but as the result of the despair felt by a civilized human being who could find no solution to endless warfare. It was less admirable, no doubt, to withdraw from the world than it would have been to face courageously the terrible problems facing Japan, but Yoshimasa’s withdrawal from society enriched Japanese culture far more than any display of courage of which he might have been capable.
The retreat that Yoshimasa built in Higashiyama is popularly known as the Ginkaku-ji, or Temple of the Silver Pavilion, a name that appropriately suggests a humbler version of Yoshimitsu’s Kinkaku-ji, or Temple of the Golden Pavilion, built some eighty years earlier. Unlike the gilded Kinkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion was never decorated with silver leaf. The name instead suggests an age less brilliant than Yoshimitsu’s Age of Gold. The arts that Yoshimasa favored—the tea ceremony, ink painting, the nō, and the rest—had the unobtrusive elegance of oxidized silver.
In 1449, the year when Yoshimasa assumed the duties of shogun, the reigning emperor was Go-Hanazono (1419–1470) >The emperor during the war, Go-Tsuchimikado (1442–1500; reigned from 1464), was not asked his preference between the two sides. He had no soldiers at his disposal and was protected only by the aura surrounding the throne
In retrospect, the Ashikaga period (also known as the Muromachi period after the section of Kyoto where Ashikaga Yoshimitsu built his “Palace of Flowers”) might seem almost unrelievedly dark because of the wars and the way the wars affected the lives of members of the court and other educated people. If we turn, however, from those at the court to the humbler classes, as described in the popular fiction of the time, we find stories showing that despite the warfare, the period for many commoners was far from being a time of unvarying gloom. The hero of these stories is often a commoner who, by dint of hard work and mother wit, becomes fabulously rich and may even marry a princess. Granted that these stories are fiction and not fact, they could exert their appeal only if in some way they reflected the society. The Ashikaga period is frequently characterized as age of gekokujō, or those underneath conquering those above.
Unlike the writers of the prose pastiches, the most important poets of the Higashiyama era wrote a new kind of poetry, renga, that had antecedents in traditional poetry but was distinctly of its own time. The other arts, whether visual or performing, were also essentially new and strongly influenced Japanese culture in the future. Under the guidance of the former shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the Higashiyama era represented a kind of cultural renaissance in the wake of the worst destruction Japan had ever experienced.
When it was discovered that Gien had won the lottery, he was informed that he would have to return to the laity. At first he expressed unwillingness to leave the priesthood, but eventually he convinced himself that his elevation to the rank of shogun had been the wish of the god and that he was therefore obliged to obey. His belief in the efficacy of drawing lots as a manner of discovering the will of the gods was further illustrated four months after he succeeded as shogun, when he proposed that a land dispute be settled by lots. In later years, other important decisions, ranging from the selection of the editor of an imperially sponsored anthology of poetry to the appointment of a priest for the Inner Shrine at Ise, were made according to lots drawn at Shinto shrines.
Mansai wrote on slips of paper the names of four younger brothers of Yoshimochi. The slips, in elaborately sealed envelopes, were taken to the Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine by the shogunal deputy (kanrei) Hatakeyama Mitsuie (1372–1433) so that he might draw the lots in the presence of the god. The lot that Mitsuie drew, which was opened as soon as Yoshimochi died, bore the name of Gien, the abbot of the Shōren-in
Again, when a retainer offered the shogun a splendid plum tree, Yoshinori was angered to discover that one of the middle branches had been broken. The three gardeners who had transported the tree were imprisoned for breaking the branch, and an order was issued for the arrest of five retainers of the man who had presented the tree. Three of these men fled for their lives, and the other two committed suicide. In 1435 when Yoshinori traveled to Ise, he was annoyed by the tastelessness of the food he was served. The cook, albeit a samurai, was unceremoniously sent back to Kyoto. After Yoshinori had returned to the capital, the cook, all fear and trembling, again appeared in his presence. He was immediately arrested and beheaded. Two years later, three other cooks were executed for the same crime
Yoshinori’s reign of terror was small in scale when compared with similar periods of imperial persecution in China, but in Japan there was no precedent for the bloodthirsty cruelty Yoshinori showed toward those who displeased him. During the Heian period, not one person in high office was executed for his crimes, the worst punishment being banishment
No one dared to remonstrate with the shogun in the manner prescribed in Confucian texts for those who advised men in power.
Yoshinori was not easily convinced of the loyalty of those around him. In order to feel absolutely secure, he reversed the tendency toward rule by consensus that had evolved and instead most often acted like a bloodthirsty tyrant. His first response to any act that seemed to be disloyal was an order to kill. When the heads of his enemies were sent to the capital, he personally inspected them, to satisfy himself that the heads were not those of imposters. After the fall of Yūki Castle, the stronghold of one of Yoshinori’s chief enemies, some fifty heads were sent to Kyoto for his inspection. Although they had been pickled in saké, in the intense heat of the Kyoto summer their features had decomposed and lost all semblance of their original appearance
Most were killed on the spot or died later of their wounds. Madenokōji Tokifusa (1394–1457) wrote in his diary that this was an unspeakable event without precedent in all of history, an opinion shared by other nobles who kept diaries.10 Akamatsu Mitsusuke, who was supposed to be hopelessly insane, showed himself at this point and made plain that he had been the leader of the plot to kill the shogun. The Akamatsu retainers, after first setting fire to their residence, successfully made their escape. Azumi Yukihide, the man who had cut off Yoshinori’s head, took it with him, held high on a pike
Kikei Shinzui (1401–1469), the chief priest of the Rokuon-in, feeling responsible as a member of the Akamatsu family for the loss of Yoshinori’s head, had decided some days earlier to go to Harima, at the risk of his life, to obtain the head for the funeral.
The initial targets of the peasants were saké breweries and storehouses. The owners were not only the most conspicuous possessors of wealth but also the chief moneylenders. Temples that practiced moneylending (though they disguised their profits as “gifts” from parishioners for temple repairs) were also subjected to the wrath of the peasants, who assaulted storehouses and temples alike, seizing debt documents and burning them.
The peasants were demanding an “act of grace” (tokusei) to cancel their debts. This was not the first time peasants (and other malcontents) had banded together for the purpose of obtaining a tokusei, but the uprising was on a larger scale and better organized than any previous confrontation between peasants and shogunate troops had been.
The long-awaited tokusei was finally issued on the fourteenth day of the ninth month. This was the first time in the history of Japan that the government had bowed in this manner to demands of the common people. The decree, promulgated in the name of Kyogoku Mochikiyo, was pasted on the walls of the Council of Retainers (Samuraidokoro) and displayed at prominent places inside the city and at the seven gateways. It applied to everyone, regardless of class
The heads of Akamatsu Mitsusuke and Azumi Yukihide (the man who had beheaded Yoshinori) were paraded through the streets of Kyoto on the twenty-first of the ninth month. The feelings of those who watched as the heads passed by were probably mixed. The executed men, denounced as traitors to the shogunate, had been punished accordingly; but it was hard to forget that it was thanks to their crime that Yoshinori’s age of terror had been brought to an end. After the heads had been carried through the streets, they were nailed to the prison gate.
Two events—the assassination of the shogun and the issuance of the first tokusei, both in 1441—marked a turning point in the history of the Muromachi shogunate
Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth Ashikaga shogun, was born in 1436, two years after his brother Yoshikatsu. The mother of both, Hino Shigeko, came from a family that claimed descent from the legendary Fujiwara no Kamatari (614–699).13 If his brother had not died young, Yoshimasa probably would have entered Buddhist orders. Instead, at the age of seven, he became the head of the Ashikaga family, though he did not succeed to the office of shogun until after his genbuku ceremony in 1449.
Today Yoshimasa is generally better known for his failings than for his modest attempts to act the part of a shogun. His faults, however, were intimately related to aesthetic preferences that were his major contribution to Japanese culture. Although his passion for building palaces led to immense debts and desperate, usually ill-conceived attempts to raise money to pay the bills, this passion also fostered the development of a distinctive new architecture. To the people of the time, the great expenditure of money was more obvious than the artistic contribution
Was it perhaps a portent that a great disturbance was about to break out? The nobles and military alike were greatly given to luxury, and in the towns and countryside, and even in remote regions, quite ordinary people indulged in display. The opulence of the great houses and the suffering of the masses were beyond description. This caused the masses anguish and distress, and they cried out like the people of Hsia in protest against the outrages of King Chieh: “Who will perish today? Perhaps it will be the both of us.” If there were loyal subjects at this time, why did they not come forth with remonstrances? Instead, people displayed an attitude of “if the country is going to break, let it break, if society is to perish, let it perish.” They acted as if they were indifferent to what happened to others; as long as they themselves had wealth and rank, all they thought of was shining more brilliantly than anyone else.8
“When Sōzen read Tomiko’s letter, he reasoned that if Yoshimi succeeded to the post of shogun he would certainly favor Hosokawa Katsumoto, who had acted like a father to him, and that this would be disadvantageous to the Yamana family. Although Sōzen foresaw the likelihood of conflict between his allies and those of Katsumoto, this did not deter him, for a war would give him an opportunity to destroy his rivals. He told Tomiko that he would accept her request.17
This was the immediate cause of the Ōnin War, during which the Yamana family supported Yoshihisa, the son of Tomiko, against Yoshimi, who was supported by the Hosokawa. In the first paragraph of Ōnin ki, the author blames Yoshimasa, and especially the women around Yoshimasa, for the turmoil into which the country was plunged by the war”
Ichijō Kaneyoshi (1402–1481), in “Sayo no nezame” (Waking at Night), a work written in about 1473, expressed quite a different opinion about the role of women in government
The most unusual feature of the war as it developed was the almost total lack of involvement by the shogun (and the emperor) in a war that destroyed the city of Kyoto, where both remained during the ten years of warfare. Although the chronicler of Ōnin ki was biased against Tomiko and other women of the shogun’s court, he did not neglect to blame men for the outbreak of war. Yoshimasa, of course, was rebuked for both his extravagance and his fatal lack of leadership
On learning that Masanaga had burned down his own house as a sign that the course he was about to take was irreversible
Although the Ōnin War ostensibly was fought to decide whether Ashikaga Yoshimi (Yoshimasa’s half brother) or Ashikaga Yoshihisa (his son) would succeed Yoshimasa as shogun, it was essentially a struggle between the Hosokawa and Yamana families for control of Japan. The fighting dragged on for ten years. It was largely confined to Kyoto and resulted in the almost complete destruction of the only large city in Japan. Accounts written by people who remembered the appearance of Kyoto at the height of its glory described their shock when returning after the war, they saw how terribly the city had been ravaged. Of course, many cities all over the world have since been shattered by street fighting or bombing, but if the buildings are of brick or stone, at least hollow shells remain as reminders that a city once stood there. In Kyoto, however, the buildings were made of wood, and nothing was left after the fighting except the occasional storehouse with earthen walls and a few temples that had miraculously escaped the fires. The desolation was almost total.
“Haga Kōshirō, who was deeply aware of Yoshimasa’s role in fostering Japanese culture, wrote,
Yoshimasa, as a statesman, and especially as the shogun during an age of confusion whose vortex was the great upheaval of the Ōnin and Bunmei eras, was a total failure. He bears at least a part of the responsibility for the outbreak of the great conflict, and his political record could be described quite literally as a series of failures; there is no room to defend him.”
With respect to the culture of his time, however, Yoshimasa displayed extraordinary leadership, and the culture of which he was a great patron lasted long after the battles of the Ōnin War had been forgotten. Yoshimasa would be remembered for his encouragement of aesthetic tastes that, transmitted to the Japanese people, became indispensable to their culture. When one speaks today of Nihon no kokoro—the soul of Japan—one is likely to be referring to elements of Japanese cultural preferences that were encouraged by Yoshimasa.
The culture to which Yoshimasa so greatly contributed is known today as Higashiyama, from the section of Kyoto where he built the retreat where he lived from 1483 to 1490. Yoshimasa obviously did not create the new culture single-handedly. Unlike Hui-tsung, he is not known today as a master of painting, calligraphy, and poetry, though he was highly competent in the latter two arts.19 Rather, Yoshimasa’s greatest gift was his exceptional ability to detect talent in other people and his readiness to employ them, regardless of their social station
In creating a new culture after the end of the Ōnin War, Yoshimasa was helped by daimyos from the provinces who had acquired a taste for culture as the result of giving refuge during the war to poets and artists who had fled the capital. Yoshimasa was helped also by learned Zen monks whom he consulted less on religious than on aesthetic matters.
Many people—ranging from daimyos, Zen priests, rich merchants, and hermits all the way down to outcasts—participated in creating the Higashiyama culture, but ultimate guidance was provided by Yoshimasa, especially after construction started on his retreat.
Yoshimasa’s aesthetic preferences were clearly revealed in the works he chose for his collection of Chinese paintings. He favored ink painters of the Southern Sung and Yüan periods, especially Ma Yüan, Hsia Kuei, and Li T’ang. These painters, all members of the academy founded by Emperor Hui-tsung, were especially popular in Japan, as we know from the large number of their paintings imported in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Works by Chinese Zen masters like Mu Ch’i and Liang K’ai were rated higher in Japan than in China. Japanese painters, many of them Zen priests, initially copied the works of the Chinese masters more or less slavishly but gradually made the imported styles their own.
The greatest Japanese painter of the Higashiyama era was undoubtedly Sesshū (1420–1506), though he did not work in Kyoto because of the prolonged warfare.
Many other painters of importance created works of art for Yoshimasa, notably Kanō Masanobu (ca. 1434–ca. 1530), the founder of the Kanō school.
The Higashiyama taste, though its creation was chiefly indebted to the shogun (rather than to the emperor or members of the nobility), was aristocratic.
typified by the Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji)
The Golden Pavilion was coated with shining gold leaf, but there was nothing silvery about the Silver Pavilion. Instead, the differences between the two buildings were symbolized by their names: Yoshimitsu’s unconventional and sometimes even vulgar taste was symbolized by the glitter of gold, whereas Yoshimasa preferred the austerity of Chinese ink paintings to more obviously artistic effects. And because gold is more precious than silver, the Silver Pavilion suggests a decline in the fortunes of the shogun and of all Japan, even though the unadorned beauty of Yoshimasa’s pavilion is closer to the hearts of the Japanese today than is Yoshimitsu’s palatial temple.
By 1396 Yoshimitsu had destroyed most of the last remnants of Southern Court resistance and had established himself as the master of all Japan. He now was able to turn his eyes abroad, and in the following year, in the hopes of establishing trade and cultural relations with China, he sent a first embassy.26 Four years later, in 1401, Yoshimitsu sent a second embassy, this one with a message couched in deferential terms asking for the renewal of the friendly relations between Japan and China that had existed ever since Japan was founded. Gifts were sent, and although they were not designated as tribute, that surely was how the Chinese interpreted them.
Two Chinese ambassadors returned the visit, in 1402 reaching Hyōgo, where they were met by Yoshimitsu himself. The Chinese ambassadors, appreciating Yoshimitsu’s deferential language, replied with genial flattery. The emperor’s rescript, also couched in friendly terms, included the words: “Japan has always been called a country of poems and books, and it has always been in Our heart.”27 From then on, the exchange of embassies became routine.
In the hopes of being richly rewarded by the Chinese court, Yoshimitsu agreed to destroy the Japanese pirates who had been plundering the Chinese coast. He carried out this promise with severity. As George Sansom related, “According to a credible account, one of the first missions under the new trade agreement presented a number of captives to the Emperor of China. His Majesty politely returned them to the Japanese leaders, who had them boiled alive.”
“A modern Chinese scholar well described the difficulty of establishing and maintaining official relations between Ming China and Japan in terms of the difference in their attitudes with respect to trade:
For the Japanese, trade was, perhaps, the raison d’être for tributary relations otherwise undesirable and humiliating. For the Chinese government, trade was an annoying aspect of the system, to be limited as much as possible. It regarded the periodic Japanese missions as primarily of a symbolic tributary character and was anxious to restrict the numbers of members of Japanese embassies, as well as the quantities of merchandise they brought with them to China.34”
Relations with China were renewed by Yoshimochi’s successor, Yoshinori. In 1432 the Chinese emperor Hsüan-te sent a rescript to Yoshinori through the king of Ryūkyū urging the new shogun to follow the example of Yoshimitsu and promising to treat the Japanese generously. Yoshinori responded favorably, sending a priest of the Tenryū-ji as his ambassador.
Japan gradually came to depend on China for such essentials of modern life as coins.
The fact that the coins bore the name of a foreign ruler did not bother the Japanese. Although they did not adopt the Chinese calendar or take Chinese-style names, as the Koreans did, they were profoundly indebted to the Great Ming dynasty, and this was a source of pride and not of shame.
Yoshimasa, no less than his grandfather, was ready to identify himself as a vassal of the Great Ming. Paradoxically, the Higashiyama era—broadly speaking, the fifty or so years between Yoshimasa’s accession to the post of shogun and his death in 149036—was marked by a steady Japanization of cultural forms borrowed from China and the emergence of a distinctively Japanese aesthetic that persists to this day.
Unsen Taikyoku used the phrase “rare plants and curious rocks” (kika chinseki) when praising the garden, an indication that it probably was in Chinese, rather than traditional Japanese, taste.
A difference between the aesthetic ideals of the two countries was indirectly suggested by the priest Kenkō in Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness) when, after describing the flowers that he thought desirable in a gentleman’s garden, he added: “It is hard to feel affection for other plants—those rarely encountered, or which have unpleasant-sounding Chinese names, or which look peculiar. As a rule, oddities and rarities are enjoyed by persons of no breeding. It is best to be without them.”5 Kenkō preferred ordinary flowers to exotic plants and did not share Yoshimasa’s taste for “rare plants and curious rocks,” even though they were essential to Chinese gardens.
Although he devoted the last years of his life to building the Ginkaku-ji, Yoshimasa seems not to have been impelled by the desire to immortalize himself. Palaces he had built were destroyed by fire even in times of peace, and he knew from the experience of the Ōnin War how unlikely it was that any building could long resist destruction. Indeed, he may actually have courted it. For all his admiration of China, it did not occur to Yoshimasa (or anyone else of that time) to build in brick or stone in the manner of Chinese temples. Instead, Yoshimasa chose to follow Japanese tradition and used only the most perishable materials—wood and paper—as if to demonstrate his awareness of perishability as an essential element in beauty. His testament to the world—the Higashiyama retreat—is indeed a thing of beauty, but he probably did not expect it to defy the ravages of time. Paradoxically, it has lasted longer than many supposedly deathless monuments
The Dōjinsai, four and a half tatami in size, resembles innumerable similar rooms in temples and private houses all over Japan for the simple reason that it was their model. Every Japanese-style building constructed since the sixteenth century owes something to the architecture here. The shōji, the chigaidana (staggered shelves), the layout of the tatami in the tea room, the ceiling, the square interior pillars, the desk, and the space provided for the display of flowers or objects of art all are characteristic of the shoin-zukuri architecture, which reached definitive expression in Yoshimasa’s retreat. Almost any Japanese, even if he lives by choice in a reinforced-concrete apartment house, is likely to feel a sense of “coming home” when he enters the Dōjinsai. This architecture is a part of the living culture of Japan; by contrast, a Heian room is a distant ancestor.
Much of the tangible culture of the Muromachi period has disappeared. The Ōnin War and the battles of the sixteenth century destroyed most of the temples, palaces, and other buildings.
The first truly distinguished priest-painter of the Muromachi period was Josetsu, whose Catching a Catfish in a Gourd, painted by command of Ashikaga Yoshimochi, was considered by artists of the Kanō school to be the origin of their art, the earliest successful example in Japan of a distinctive Chinese style of ink painting.
One painting of this period stands out in particular, the portrait of the celebrated monk Ikkyū by his disciple Bokusai Shōtō (d. 1492). Unlike more typical paintings of the period, landscapes that are skillful and pleasantly evocative but convey little individuality, Bokusai’s portrait of Ikkyū is unforgettable. It is the face of an individual, as striking, strange, and unorthodox as Ikkyū’s own life and poetry.
The most important form of Japanese poetry in the Higashiyama culture was undoubtedly renga. During the first centuries of its existence (the oldest example goes back to the eighth century), renga was little more than a test of whether a second poet was clever enough to complete a poem after someone else had composed a puzzling seventeen syllables. The more obscure the opening verse, the greater the achievement of the man who managed to make sense of it in his response.