REVIEW: Auspicious Animals by Jun’ichi Uchiyama
The world of mythical creatures born from human imagination.
Many imaginary animals believed to be auspicious symbols of good fortune originated in ancient China. The most famous ones are the “Big Four”: the Winged Dragon, the Chinese Phoenix, Qilin (a hooved chimeric creature) and the Spirit Turtle. There are many more, not only from China, but also from Japan and other regions around the world. This book showcases illustrated artworks, along with sculptures and applied arts, featuring these good omens. The collection, totaling around 240 pieces, is accompanied by rich, enjoyable and approachable text by Jun’ichi Uchiyama, a professor at Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University.
This wonderful book covers far more than imaginary or mythic creatures – though those are certainly here in abundance. In addition to those creatures such as dragons, phoenixes, and Qilins, there are animals considered to be exotic to China and Japan such as camels. lions, and originally peacocks that also came to have special meaning to the people of these countries.
The original Japanese text is included along with English translations that describe what you’re seeing.
Note to the reader- The image caption contains the following information: Title, artist (except if unknown), date, collection (including unknown or unrecorded)- For artists, dates of birth and death are included if known. Dates corresponding with the Gregorian Calendar are included except for select cases. For example: S? Shiksei (1715-86)- Japanese handscrolls, woodblock prints, and screens are viewed from right to left.
Twelve Sacred Beasts Handscroll (detail)
16th centurySeikado Bunko Art Museum
This is a diagram of the twelve types of sacred beasts from China that bring good fortune and ward off disaster. All of the sacred beasts shown here were also depicted in the Sancai Tuhui (Collected Illustrations of the Three Realms) published in 1607 (Ming dynasty, Wanli 35). The style of this work suggests that it was copied from a Chinese original during the late Muromachi period. According to the 1703 (Genroku 16) postscript by the previous owner Tanaka Hidesuke, this work was a gift from Nagai Naokiyo (1591-1671), the daimyo of Nagaoka, Yamashiro (later the daimyo of Takatsuki, Settsu), to his chief vassal Tanaka Katsuji (Hidesuke’s father). The images were pasted to a folding screen in young Hidesuke’s room to drive away evil spirits, but were later remounted as a single handscroll. We can surmise that the Chinese use of these images as a means to banish evil spirits was continued in Japan, and this work can be seen as a valuable document that informs us about the reception of sacred beast images.
Scrolls, paintings, wood items, textiles, chests, and even the rock walls of a burial tomb – the images range from late 7th- early 8th century through to the late nineteenth century. Parts of some images are enlarged and or isolated to show more detail. I found this to be an Asian art lover’s dream book. As of right now, it’s only listed as a paperback book but given the spread of some images across two pages, I have my doubts that digital copies would do the photography and images justice. I’m contemplating dropping the $40 it will cost to get my own copy. It is well worth spending time soaking up and marveling at the creative abilities of the artists. A-