Rosanjin Kitaoji ー  魯山人 北大路

“It takes more than a few words to explain just exactly what this person did. He displayed great talents in numerous fields, including pottery, calligraphy, seal engraving, cookery, painting, lacquer ware and gardening, among others. Some people have declared him to be “the only genius of modern times”. Indeed, his abilities far exceeded those of the average person, because everything he did was of the highest quality.

However, there were also people in the shadows, who said that he was “selfish”, “boastful”, “lustful” and so on. There are various opinions about him, but it is dangerous to judge any person by only one aspect. As for me, I am a chef, and as such I regard him in high esteem, because Rosanjin was the person who revolutionized Japanese cuisine.”


Large bowl with coloured design

Stories of this legendary artist abound, but one particularly revealing of his intuitive genius dates from when he was only three. Rosanjin himself, in 1951, told it to the art critic Kozo Yoshida.

“I was taken one day up a hilly path leading to Mount Jinguji behind the Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto. The area along and around the path was a riot of wild azalea blossoms of burning red. The beauty of the scene with the sun shining brilliantly on it was simply beyond words. Even the air appeared to glisten like a crystal. I was profoundly moved by this fascinating display — the very first one for me — of the beauty of Mother Nature, and a sort of determination rose in me to devote all my life to the pursuit and propagation of beauty.”

Indeed he followed an artistic path all his 76 years, and it can be argued that no other Japanese artist created more works in so many different genres and has had more retrospective exhibitions than Rosanjin (his name means “foolish mountain man”). He worked in seal carving, woodwork, lacquer, calligraphy, painting and, of course, ceramics.

Rosanjin was a man of the piercing inner eye.

There is no doubt that Rosanjin, a creative genius not only in ceramic art but also in calligraphy, seal engraving, lacquer-craft and painting, was also a superb man of the hand. To me, however, the artist appears to have been far more a man of the mind’s eye than a man of the hand. Rosanjin’s primary objective in his creative career was to test the furthest limits of the ability of the human eyes to appreciate beauty. Rosanjin could never forgive people who tended to blur those eyes. The artist’s scathing attack on the folk art movement headed by Soetsu Yanagi apparently had its source in this fact. Rosanjin had no support in his anti-folk art campaign and he is now branded a loser. I for one believe, however, that Rosanjin’s cause was a rightful one.

The most important fact about Rosanjin’s inner eye was that it waxed sharpest when it was turned on himself. He was keenly aware that, even if he was able to deceive others’ eyes, he would never be able to hoodwink his own inner eye. His frequent acts of arrogance were, it seems to me, nothing but forlorn expressions of frustration for his inability to ever tell sweet lies to himself. Isn’t a man of the inner eye another name for a die-hard disciple of beauty? By removing all the vanities from his life and recognizing no worldly authorities, Rosanjin offered his whole-hearted prayers to the altar of beauty.

“I hope to make the world more beautiful, if by a tiny iota, ” Rosanjin once stated. “My work is only a modest outpouring of this desire of mine.”

Rosanjin died on December 21, 1959 at the age of 76.


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