Ino Takayuki’s “Grown up Ikkyū: The Shinjuan Painting Project at Daitokuji, Kyoto

A grand project to supplement 400-year-old painted fusuma sliding doors with new paintings by six contemporary artists is currently underway at Shinjuan, in the Daikokuji temple complex in Kyoto. Shinjuan is closely associated with Ikkyū Sōjun (1394–1481), an eccentric Zen Buddhist monk who was the model for a beloved cartoon character known simply as Ikkyū-san. The sixth installment in our series focuses on the illustrator Ino Takayuki.

A “Grown Up” Ikkyū-san

Of the six artists participating in the historical project, the illustrator Ino Takayuki is probably the one most intimately acquainted with Ikkyū-san. He is, after all, the sole creator of the 740 sheets of artwork for all 26 episodes of the 5-minute anime Otona no Ikkyū-san (Grown-Up Ikkyū-san), which aired on NHK’s educational television channel in 2016 and 2017. Ino’s “grown up” Ikkyū-san was a comical character—scruffy, rather shady, sharp-tongued, and all too ready to break his religious precepts—very different from the mischievous and sharp-witted little boy Ikkyū-san depicted in an older TV cartoon series that ran from 1975 to 1982.

Ino first met Daitokuji’s head priest, Yamada Sōshō, when he participated in a Zen mediation retreat at the invitation of one of the staff for the Otona no Ikkyū-san series. Yamada promptly asked Ino to contribute to the painting project. It was just as if Ikkyū-san himself had brought them together.

Ino contributed this illustration to the project’s crowdfunding website, showing a puzzled Ikkyū-san (on the right) asking Daitokuji head priest Yamada Sōshō what he means by “Crowdfunding?”

Put in charge of five fusuma sliding doors in the head priest’s chambers, the Daishoin, Ino has depicted the grown-up Ikkyū-san with mike in hand singing karaoke while his lover, the beautiful but blind Shinjo, and adherents listen with rapt admiration. Above Ikkyū-san are the words of a Chinese-style poem written by the real Ikkyū Sōjun that was the basis for the NHK anime series theme song. “I’m an unrepentant monk who frequents brothels and bars. Got a problem with that?” sings the brash Ikkyū-san. His senior, Yōsō Sōi, and other more conventional priests watch with envy from the side. The scene is at once irreverent and yet a telling reflection of real society.

While the other artists stayed at or commuted to Shinjuan for several months to complete their works, Ino finished his in just two nights and three days. The whirlwind speed with which he set about his task astonished everyone, but for Ino, this painting was the culmination of years of intense concentration on a complex and fascinating figure of Japanese Buddhist history that he had undertaken on the set of Otona no Ikkyū-san.

The fusuma sliding doors painted by Ino took the place of a set originally painted by Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539–1610), founder of the Hasegawa school of traditional Japanese painting. The sliding doors provided a much larger canvas than he was used to, says Ino, and the experience made him realize how much power and energy Hasegawa had infused in the original painting of trees and rocks. Yet Ino made no attempt to recreate the dynamic style of his distant predecessor.

Ikkyū-san belts out his raucous song while an envious Yōsō, standing behind the tree at upper left, looks on.

A Meticulous Cutting of Corners

Ino says he decided to become an illustrator because it seemed “an easy extension of doodling,” and that was something he could do. Commissions were scarce, however, and to make ends meet he worked in a coffee shop in Tokyo’s Kanda Jinbōchō district until well into his forties.

He remembers musing as he served cups of coffee: “I may end up doing this forever, but there’s no helping it. Can’t give up my illustrations.” His words were a jolt. Here I had been expecting a heroic tale of how he had buckled down to achieve success, but his apparent giving up was actually an awakening that allowed him to relax and apply himself to his art free of any pressure. Somewhere along the line, he says, he found he had carved out a livelihood as an illustrator.

Today, Ino’s art is in high demand for book covers, magazine article illustrations, and anime artwork. Yet he looks back fondly on his days as a struggling wannabe. “Life was more exciting then,” he recalls in a wistful manner that reflects the unique style of his artwork.

Ino Takayuki at his one-man exhibition, “Takayuki Ino’s National Portrait Gallery.” (Photo courtesy Ino Takayuki)

Ino seems to make a special effort in his work to distance himself from anything that might evoke even a hint of “ambition” or “aspiration.” He portrays a deflated world and deflated moments in time with seemingly deflated kindness that yet has the bite of irony. He calls this “the beauty of the absurd,” a meticulous cutting of corners.

It’s “neither good nor bad,” he says of his Shinjuan fusuma painting. “When people come for the special exhibit, I want them to flop down on the floor to see this.” He wants his viewers to relax and let themselves see what is before them without any preconceptions or bias. That is probably, after all, the message Ikkyū-san would have wanted to convey.

“I want people to flop down on the floor to view this,” says Ino.

Related > New Art in an Old Setting: The Shinjuan Painting Project at Daitokuji, Kyoto

Daitokuji Shinjuan Special Viewing
  • Dates: September 1 to December 16, 2018 (closed October 19–21)
  • Hours: 9:30 am to 4:00 pm (last entry)
  • Fee: Adults ¥1,200, junior high and high school students ¥600, ages 12 and under free (when accompanied by an adult). Note: preschool age children will not be admitted to the Tsūsen’in study or the Teigyokuken tea ceremony room.
  • Access: from Kyoto station, take the Kyoto municipal subway Karasuma line to Kitaōji. Transfer there to Kyoto city bus routes 1, 101, 102, 204, 205 or 206 and get off at Daitokuji-mae. From there, 7 minutes on foot (total travel time about 35 minutes).
  • Daitokuji Shinjuan special viewing website
  • Crowdfunding website for Kyoto Shinjuan (Japanese language only)

(Originally published in Japanese. Photos of fusuma paintings by Asano Satoshi.)

Kyoto tourism temple shrine