Inspired by the Classics of East Asia ―Searching for a Meeting Place of Narratives and Paintings

Rina Matsudaira
(Sony Music, Kyoto)

My main concern is how we can paint narratives in this contemporary world.

History paintings had been a priority in the western academic world over the centuries. As for modern Japan, historical subjects had given a higher position for paintings, especially in the Meiji period, when the new genre Nihonga was born. They based on a canonical model of Chinese painting associated with the Imperial Court Academy in Song Dynasty to compete with the western academic art world. At that time, historical events and classical literature in China were widely known in the East Asian countries that use Chinese characters. Both Japanese and Chinese classics were familiar even to ordinary people.

Compared to them, we don't have much knowledge of classics nowadays. Still, would it be valid for us to paint narratives?


Looking back on the history of Nihonga, historical subjects in Japan were often associated with nationalism. They were used to lift the fighting spirit during the wars.

From reflection on World War II and taking advantage of some economic booms, Nihonga for the domestic market produced on a large scale in the post-war period.

To counter this inward trend, from the '90s, strategic uses of Japanese art were generated by world-renowned artists, such as Takashi Murakami.

Now, as the definition of Nihonga becomes more complicated, it cannot be associated with the painting techniques nor the subjects. That causes a loss of techniques preservation.


The techniques of Japanese paintings cannot be separated from narratives which developed in the relationship among the East Asian countries that use Chinese characters. I think not only the nationalistic ideas were produced from there. Thinking about a way of depicting narratives could be meaningful to restore the techniques of paintings.

Besides, I don’t think a too heroic or dramatic story is suitable to choose as a motif, as it sometimes contains someone’s ideologies at some point in time. A story of which significance is ambiguous in history is preferable. This kind of story helps us to open our imagination to the past.


I’d like to introduce my work series “Gazing at Evil Retribution” (2017-2018) based on “The Record of Miraculous Events in Japan (Nihon Ryōiki)”.The story is the oldest collection of the Buddhist anecdotes in Japan from 5th to 9th century. This book has two big features; one of them is that it suggests not only the Buddhist teachings but also mysterious Japanese folktales and anecdotes with ancient religion. Another is that it was originally written in Chinese classic literature. The author, Kyōkai, transformed the spoken language into foreign characters. The result was the book describes the mind of his contemporaries then. Respecting his will of translation, I tried to depict these stories with adaptation by weaving some current topics or daily thoughts into the pictures. I think this approach might be an alternative for an exclusive way of paint history.