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Samurai portraits by Masayuki Kojo at Kanda Myojin

Bujin-ga is my new Japanese word.  What about you, have you heard of it?  It means samurai portraits.  And Kanda Myojin, one of Tokyo’s most important shrines, had an exhibit of them.  Luckily, cameras were allowed.

平将門公 samurai portrait

The exhibition celebrated the 10th anniversary of the samurai painter Masayuki Kojo.  He is a professional painter of Japan’s legendary warriors.  The event was titled “Preparation.”   

Yukimura Sanada samurai portrait

Masayuki sees samurai not as fighters but as “a person who is prepared.”  His paintings depict moments of preparation.  In a way, they aren’t about fighting at all.  Look at each subject’s face, and you can see they are ready for what they are about to face.

His bujin-ga are simple.  They are in Sumi-e style, black ink on paper.  And Bujin-ga started during the Kamakura period (1185-1333).  So Masayuki is carrying on an age-old tradition.

He doesn’t only depict Japan’s samurai.  His work also includes modern-day fictitious characters from Star Wars and One Piece.  But, the Kanda Myojin exhibit focuses on portraits of the Heian era (794-1185).

Taira no Masakado on horse painting

There were also other artists.  I wasn’t familiar with them, and there was little information.  Their work was great, but it was in color, and some were more stylized.

samurai with bow on horse in river scroll

I enjoyed the event.  And it wasn’t only about Masayuki’s samurai portraits.  He also has items from Japan’s medieval period, which he displayed.  Those of Kanda Myojin supplemented these.  Some of the things I saw were:

  • Wrestling mask
  • Ema (votive tablets)
  • Momori (amulets)
  • Sake bottles
  • Armor
  • Saddles
  • Flags
  • Mikoshi (portable shrines at festivals)

I had one complaint.  Photography wasn’t allowed on the third floor.  It had some great exhibits, like a mikoshi (portable shrine) and armor.  But I was there for the  bujin-ga on the second floor.  So that was okay, I guess.

samurai painting

There was one minor problem.  The second one is minor, though.  When you moved to the exhibit rooms, they were dark and spooky.  That caused confusion.  Was I really in the right place?  After some hesitation, I took a step forward, and the lights came on.  They had motion sensors! 

Kenshin Uesugi samurai portrait

Masayuki Kojo’s “Preparation” samurai portrait details

  • When:  June 4th (Sat) -July 10th (Sun), 2022
  • Opening hours:  9:00 am to 4:00 pm.  You can buy tickets until 3:45 pm.
  • Where:  Kanda Myojin Cultural Exchange Center 1st floor.  Once you receive your ticket, move down to the basement and follow the arrows.
  • Admission costs: 300 yen
Ieyasu Tokugawa portrait on scroll

Wrapping up

Preparation is small, and it won’t take long to see it.  But 300 yen is a small price for fans of Masayuki Kojo and his samurai portraits.  And you will also get to see some other artists’ work too. 

Esaka Masami portrait of Taira no Masakado
Esaka Masami portrait of Taira no Masakado.

Make sure you walk around the shrine while you are there.  Kanda Myojin is a beautiful place, especially in spring.  It has some beautiful cherry blossoms.

And once you finish, there are some interesting places within walking distance:

  • Guitar Street in Ochanomizu

  • Holy Resurrection Cathedral

Have you been to Preparation?  Please let us know your thoughts.  If you have any other questions or comments, please leave them below.

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