Connect with us


[A Visit to the Atelier] Kobayashi Eitaku, A Renewed Perspective

Many works of the often neglected artist Kobayashi Eitaku ended up abroad, including one in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, similar to the one introduced here.



Closeup of part of the work "Izanagi and Izanami," color on silk, by Eitaku Kobayashi. (© JAPAN Forward from the collection of Toshihiko Isao)

It has been a while since I contributed an article to the series A Visit to the Atelier on JAPAN Forward. In this second of a 2-part series, I would like to expand on my introduction of a neglected artist I have been interested in for some time now: Kobayashi Eitaku

Part 1: [A Visit to the Atelier] Discovering Kobayashi Eitaku, the Neglected Ukiyo-e Artist

Eitaku has been neglected as an artist because he did not follow the Meiji-era trends of reviving Japanese art. His specialty and main subject, Japanese mythology, was probably also considered old-fashioned at the time.

However, Eitaku’s works were very popular among the many foreign visitors who came to Japan around the time of the Meiji Restoration (1868). And many of his works can still be found overseas. In other words, because people from abroad paid more attention to Eitaku's works than the Japanese, many of his works ended up overseas.

Despite many Eitaku works ending up abroad, the work I would like to introduce here is a painting of his that I recently obtained. I am convinced that this was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter for me, as I have been paying much attention to Eitaku.

Until recently, I had been familiar with an almost identical composition by Eitaku in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, so I was truly surprised when I saw the following work in the inventory of an antique shop. This work is a true masterpiece by Eitaku, who excelled at paintings based on Japanese mythology. Let’s have a look.

"Izanagi and Izanami," color on silk by Eitaku Kobayashi. (© JAPAN Forward from the collection of Toshihiko Isao)

Eitaku's Creation of the World

This painting depicts the creation of the world in Japanese mythology. According to the ancient chronicles, the world was created by the gods. Thereafter, the age of the gods continued for seven more generations. 

At the end of this period, Izanagi and Izanami no Mikoto were born. According to the legend, they created the Japanese archipelago at the command of the gods. These gods are also the ancestors of Japan’s Imperial Family.

In Izanagi and Izanami, Izanagi no Mikoto is shown churning the heavenly jeweled spear in the muddy, swamp-like sea to create the Japanese archipelago. The painting is thought to have been produced around the same time as the one in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and I believe it is in no way inferior to that work. The two paintings are almost identical, but the only differences are that the one in my collection is a bit smaller in size and slightly discolored.

Entrance of Myohoji Temple in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, where a portrait of Kato Kiyomasa, a true Eitaku masterpiece can be viewed at any time. (© JAPAN Forward by Toshihiko Isao)

See a Famous Eitaku Work in Japan

Lastly, I would like to share with you some information that may be of interest to you. 

Since there are no exhibitions or large museum collections of Eitaku's works, it is difficult to see his masterpieces in person. However, there is a place where you can see his works at any time.


The place is Myohoji Temple in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. In the temple's ema (votive tablet) hall, there is a portrait of Kato Kiyomasa. It is a true Eitaku masterpiece that can be viewed at any time. 

There are in fact many ema hanging in this temple. However, Eitaku’s work is exceptional and by far the most excellent at the temple. About five years ago, my daughter and I took a bicycle ride to go and see it. I hope JAPAN Forward readers will take a look at it when they are in Japan as well.

The portrait of Kato Kiyomasa, a masterpiece by Eitaku Kobayashi, is found the Ema Hall at Myohoji Temple in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. (Both images: © JAPAN Forward by Toshihiko Isao)

Eitaku's Connections with Other Artists

Eitaku is also known to have interacted with many artists of different schools and circles. A large monument was erected at Kameido Tenjin Shrine in Tokyo on the thirteenth anniversary of his death. It testifies to this. 

The monument lists the names of those who supported its construction. They included the artists Hashimoto Gaho, Yokoyama Taikan, Hishida Shunso, Kawai Gyokudo, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, the disciples of Kikuchi Yosai, and the children of Kawanabe Kyosai, just to name a few.

For all these reasons, I believe the time will come when Eitaku and his works will no longer be overlooked in the future.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Toshihiko Isao, painter and ukiyo-e scholar

Find more columns and insights into Japanese art by the author in his column, A Visit to the Atelier, on JAPAN Forward.

Our Partners