This Meiji period sculpture recounts a popular scene from a dream had by the famous warrior-statesman, Takenouchi no Sukune [tah-kay-noh-oo-chee noh soo-koo-nay], where the Dragon King of the Sea presents him with the Jewel of the Tides. Takenouchi, seen on the right, wears elaborate armor and carries various weapons, such as a dagger, sword, and bow and arrow. The Dragon King, holding out the jewel, wears a fantastical headdress that includes a dragon and heavy ornamentation. The attendant on the left carries a large fan of palm leaves and wears a fish-form mask, lobster girdle, and seaweed skirt. In his dream, Takenouchi imagined that he was called by heaven to destroy a sea monster that was terrorizing both humans and sea creatures. After Takenouchi completes the task, the Dragon King of the Sea, Ryujin [ree-oo-jeen], rises out of the waters and presents Takenouchi with the Jewel of the Tides, which has the power to control the seas.
Takenouchi no Sukune [tah-kay-noh-oo-chee noh soo-koo-nay], a legendary figure in Japan, was a warrior-statesman who reportedly served as a counselor to as many as six monarchs. He is attributed with an extraordinary life, reported to have lived between 150 to 360 years. In the third century A.D., he most famously served the empress Jingo Kogo and became guardian to her son, the future emperor, Ojin, who ascended the throne in 270.
The scene illustrated in Takenouchi no Sukune Meets the Dragon King of the Sea recounts a dream had by the famous figure and became a popular subject in Meiji-period art. In his dream, Takenouchi imagined that he was called by heaven to destroy a sea monster that was terrorizing humans and sea creatures who ventured into its waters. After Takenouchi completes the task, the Dragon King of the sea, Ryujin [ree-oo-jeen], rises out of the waters and presents Takenouchi with the Jewel of the Tides, which has the power to control the seas.
The sculpture features three figures: Takenouchi no Sukune, the Dragon King of the Sea, and the King’s attendant. Takenouchi, seen on the right, wears elaborate armor and carries various weapons, such as a dagger, sword, and bow and arrow. The Dragon King, holding out the Jewel of the Tides in offering to Takenouchi, is also elaborately dressed and wears a fantastical headdress that includes a dragon and heavy ornamentation. The attendant on the left carries a large fan of palm leaves and wears a fish-form mask, lobster girdle, and seaweed skirt. The clothes of the three figures appear to be in motion as if the wind is blowing hard from the left. The rocks on which the figures stand are covered with details of sea life, such as crabs and turtles.
Much of the work coming out of Japan’s artistic tradition relates to samurai and samurai culture. The specific subject matter for many Japanese objects such as Takenouchi no Sukune Meets the Dragon King derives from war stories written between the tenth and seventeenth centuries and transmitted orally by wandering singers. These stories, based on real events, have been embellished over time and now serve as a large body of literature immortalizing and recalling Japan’s past glory as a military state. The stories forefront the virtues of loyalty and courage through compelling narratives and have influenced modern Japanese writers and filmmakers.
Samurai or bushi, who constituted the military class, first appear in historical records in the tenth century. These early warriors gained status and prestige through martial aptitude, such as archery, swordsmanship, and horseback riding. However, bushido, the samurai moral philosophy or Way of the Warrior, emerged in the following centuries and called for the balance of bu and bun or martial and cultural prowess. To further emphasize and maintain their status, many samurai became devoted patrons of the arts. Some demonstrated their cultural enlightenment through artistic practice such as poetry or calligraphy, while others simply amassed an extensive collection of painting and sculpture. Additionally, members of the warrior class were enthusiastic patrons of the theatre or sponsors of the construction of temple complexes and gardens in Japan. The Momoyama period (1573-1615) saw some of the greatest displays of wealth and splendor by the samurai warriors, who began to decorate their large castle-like residences with monumental, heavily ornamented paintings. The status of the warrior class was formalized during the Edo period (1615-1868), but was later dissolved during the Meiji period (1868-1912).
Between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries the military elite dominated the Japanese political and cultural setting. Prior to the twelfth century and the establishment of the military government, local farms were owned by an absent aristocracy, who spent the majority of their time at the imperial court in Kyoto. Because the imperial court and members of the nobility relied on the agricultural income of these far-flung landholdings, landowners employed bands of armed men to oversee the property. These bands, usually linked by kinship, eventually evolved into unrelated, elite military clans whose members were valued for military aptitude and bound to lords by vows of loyalty or contracts. In 1185, one clan defeated all others and established the Kamakma Shoganate, the first military government in Japan. High-ranked daimyos, or “great landowners,” governed regional domains and were supported by a group of samurai followers. These regional rulers supported the shogun who became the key political leader in Japan. Though the shogun professed allegiance to the imperial family, the emperor served as a ceremonial figurehead rather than a decisive political power.
The Meiji period (1868-1912), named for the reigning emperor Meiji, was a period of change in Japan. Prior to 1857, Japan had been closed to foreign visitors and the outside world for over two centuries by the military government of the shogun and his samurai warriors. After foreign powers induced Japan to reopen ports to the outside world and sign trade treaties, civil war broke out in the country, and a reform group rose to power. This group served as the catalyst of the Meiji Restoration and abolished the hereditary dictatorship of the shogun, returning power to the emperor.
During the Meiji Period, which transferred power from the former military government to the emperor, several edicts appeared that stripped the samurai of their power. They were ordered to relinquish lands to the emperor, forced to turn in their weapons, and subjected to heavy taxation. Former military domains were converted to appointed and later elected officials, and central power was maintained by the emperor. This reduced many former samurai, who had been prolific patrons of the arts, to poverty and shifted the source of Japanese metalworkers’ inspiration and patronage.
After reopening, Japan strove for modernization equivalent to leading European and American countries. Trade flourished, and the government encouraged participation in industrial exhibitions that showcased the artistry and quality of Japanese goods. After the Vienna Exhibition in 1873, Japanese metalwork saw a revival as foreign demand increased, and the government encouraged the reproduction of earlier pieces for export. The return to this earlier period for artistic inspiration showcased Japan’s ancient culture and the country’s height of artistic production. The DMA’s Takenouchi no Sukune Meets the Dragon King of the Sea was exhibited at the Second Domestic Industrial Fair in 1881 in Tokyo and later traveled to London for an international exhibition at South Kensington.
Made by the Sansei-sha Company, this bronze sculpture was created using the direct lost-wax method, which creates a single unique image as opposed to one that is cast from a mold of an existing image.
The sculptors mold images out of wax that is comprised of a mixture of beeswax and tree resin. Once the wax is fully molded into the key pieces of the final sculpture, it is placed in cold water to harden. The pieces of wax are joined after being reheated and connected with tubular struts. While the wax is malleable and sticky, sculptors form every detail because every mark on the mold will register on the finished metal cast sculpture.
The wax image is then covered with an outer mold of layered clay, and the entire piece is held together with metal wire suitable to the heat of fire. The clay-encased mold is baked, and the wax is then melted from the outer mold and molten metal is poured into it. After cooling for several days, the clay mold is broken open to reveal the metal sculpture within. The bronze is polished and smoothed and any excess clay or bronze chipped away to create the finished product.
The Sansei-sha Company was likely created between 1875 and 1879 by Oshima Katsujiro (artist name Joun) in Tokyo. From an inscription on this sculpture, we know that a Sansei-sha Company bronze master, Oshima Joun, and two assistants labored for two years to create this piece that would ultimately be displayed in 1881 at the Second Domestic Industrial Exhibition in Tokyo. The exhibition, held in Ueno Park in Tokyo, lasted from March 1st to June 30th, 1881.
Oshima began as a pupil of his father and became one of the most well-known figures of the late Meiji period. He was a teacher at the Tokyo Art School and served on many committees and panels of judges at exhibitions and competitions.
1. Describe the setting of this work of art. Where and when do you think this takes place?
2. Describe the figures that appear in this work. Who might they be and what do you think their relationship is to one another?
3. Takenouchi no Sukune is an extraordinary figure and culture hero in Japan. What are other protective figures or heroes that you can think of that appear in other cultures and societies (i.e. superheroes, rulers, gods/goddesses, family members.) How is Takenouchi similar to or different from other protectors and heroes with whom you are familiar?
1. Without knowing all of the facts and details from the story of Takenouchi, examine the work of art with a focus on the figures and setting. Consider the impact of what the artist presents to us visually. Share your ideas with the class. In groups, develop a plot based on what you see in the work of art and then present a brief dramatic interpretation to the class.
Look at other works of art in the DMA collection that feature legendary figures, such as the Black-figure panel amphora
with Achilles and Memnon or the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup
. Compare and contrast how the figures are represented, considering scale, composition, and materials.
3. This sculpture highlights a specific moment in the story of Takenouchi and the Dragon King of the Sea. Read or listen to someone read the story of Takenouchi. Create an image of a moment in the story that is different from the moment captured in this sculpture.
There once lived a great and courageous warrior in Japan named Takenouchi. It was rumored that he had lived to be 360 years old and, therefore, was very wise. Takenouchi was so wise that many of Japan’s rulers asked him for advice.
In Japan, a terrible and ferocious sea monster was terrorizing the waters and killing humans and sea creatures alike. In a dream one night Takenouchi learned that he was chosen by heaven to destroy the evil sea monster. He set out to rid the waters of the beast and accomplished this task with intense bravery.
Ryujin, the Dragon King of the Sea, was very pleased. He emerged from the deep waters of the ocean with his servant to thank Takenouchi for his help. As Takenouchi and the Dragon King met, all the other sea creatures came up to the surface to see the awesome warrior.
Ryujin presented Takenouchi with a beautiful and magical jewel that gave its owner control of the seas. Takenouchi thanked him and humbly accepted the wonderful gift. Both people and sea creatures rejoiced that the waters were now peaceful.
4. Imagine that you are an "eyewitness" of this scene. Write an account of your experience in first-person. What sensations would you experience? What would you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? Create a sensory poem describing how your five senses would be affected. (*note: Younger students can create a simple five sentence poem, with each sentence beginning I see...I hear...I smell..., etc.)
|Listen to curator Anna Bromberg discuss the story of Takenouchi.|
|Learn about the Meiji period in Japan.|
|Curator Anne Bromberg discusses this sculpture.|
Harris, Victor. Japanese Imperial Craftsmen: Meiji Art from the Khalili Collection. London: British Museum Press, 1994.
Impey, Oliver R. The Dragon King of the Sea: Japanese Decorative Art of the Meiji Period from the John R. Young Collection. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1991.
Impey, Oliver and Joyce Seaman. Japanese Decorative Arts of the Meiji Period 1868-1912. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2005.
Pitman, Bonnie, ed. Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2012.
Books for Students:
Dean, Arlan. Samurai: Warlords of Japan. New York: Children’s Press, 2005.
Iijima, Geneva C. Billin-Frye, Paige. The Way We Do It in Japan. Park Ridge, IL: Albert Whitman & Company, 2002.
Streissguth, Tom. A Ticket to Japan. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 1997.
Access extensive information about the Edo Period and activities for teachers.
Learn about samurai culture and related artworks.
Compare Takenouchi’s armor to arms in the collection of the Met.
Explore the art and culture of Asia through the MIA collections.
Many works of art seen in museums have a religious or ceremonial significance that may not be readily apparent or easily understood. Because many of the beliefs, values, and traditions associated with these objects are complex or unfamiliar, teaching about these objects can be challenging. In a diverse and global world, it is important to maintain a high level of cultural sensitivity in the classroom and to promote cultural literacy. Presented here are several guidelines for teaching about the beliefs, values, and traditions related to these works of art in a sensitive and respectful manner.
- Consider the Museum Setting
Remember that these objects were not originally intended to be displayed in museums and many served utilitarian as well as aesthetic functions. Some objects were never meant to be preserved and others were only supposed to be seen by a small, elite group within the source culture. These issues make it all the more important for educators to provide relevant contextual information surrounding these objects. Older students can consider the ethical implications of the placement of these objects in museums, from the colonial expansions that encouraged their acquisition to the educational benefits of publicly accessible art.
- Provide Context and Narrative
When discussing works that carry a religious or ceremonial significance, it is important to consider the original context in which the object would have been used. Where appropriate, emphasize that many of the ceremonies and religions studied are living traditions that are still practiced today. Additionally, providing a narrative through contextual storytelling engages students in learning about a culture or religion different from their own in a nonthreatening way.
Equally important to context is geography. Emphasize the diversity of the continents and encourage students to remember that Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas are made up of many countries and cultures. A great starting point is to locate where students live on a world map and then locate the country or region from which the artwork comes.
- Use Inclusive Language
Use language that is inclusive, and avoid indicating your own cultural or religious biases. By remaining neutral, all backgrounds can be respected and no one treated like an outsider. Avoid setting up a dichotomy of “us” and “them” when discussing these cultures and arbitrary categories such as “western” and “non-western.” Instead, be specific, and categorize the objects by country or religion. Specificity steers students away from the trap of oversimplifying diverse continents such as Asia or Africa into homogenous regions that serve as the “other” of the “western” world.
- Carefully Select Vocabulary
When discussing works of art with cultural and religious significance, avoid terms that carry a derogatory tone or that have typically been used to disparagingly describe works of art from other cultures. Avoiding loaded terms will discourage a value hierarchy between cultures and encourage both unbiased accuracy and sensitivity. Examples include: idol, myth, tribe, artifact, fetish, primitive, non-western, etc. This list is in no way exhaustive or without exception, and it is important to select words carefully when referring to various cultures or religions.
Insensitive vocabulary is sometimes compounded by the fact that there may not be English equivalents for the names of religions, belief systems, or peoples from other cultures (i.e. many of the belief systems practiced by various peoples throughout Africa).
- Avoid Decontextualizing Activities
Remember that religious and ceremonial objects have a very specific purpose and their own cultural context. Avoid the inclination to design open-ended, “make your own” exercises where the objects are directly appropriated and removed from their context. (i.e. make your own Hindu god or African spirit) Keep in mind how certain activities could be viewed as disrespectful or even blasphemous by peoples from the culture being studied.
- Find Common Connections
Humans throughout time and all over the world share a fundamental unity of experiences that reflect common concerns, instincts, and desires. We all seek to understand the world and our place within it. Universal themes and commonalities may be found among diverse peoples. Invite students to search for meaningful connections between the culture studied and his/her own. While honoring a common human experience, also encourage students to embrace particular nuances and maintain the integrity of differences of each culture or religion. Understanding both similarities and differences between cultures allows students to be more compassionate, culturally sensitive, and literate.
- Consider the Study of Cultures
In the last century, scholarship regarding Asian and African cultures and their associated religions and practices has expanded immensely. Information that was once scarce or obscure is now more accessible than ever and can provide greater understandings about the art and culture of these peoples. European and American art making and record keeping mostly emphasize the individual artist or artistic movement. This may differ from standards in African and Asian cultures. Consider the role art plays in various cultures, why makers may or may not be identified, how record keeping varies, and why some cultures emphasize certain aspects of objects and their history over others.
Breuilly, Elizabeth, and Joanne O’Brien, Martin Palmer, Martin E. Marty. Religions of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Origins, Beliefs, Traditions, and Festivals. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005.
Eck, Diana L. On Common Ground: World Religions in America. Columbia University Press, 2006.
Mbiti, John. African Religion and Philosophy (African Writers), 2nd sub edition. Hinemann, 1992.
Nash, Robert. Teaching Adolescents Religious Literacy in a Post-9/11 World. Information Age Publishing, 2009.
Prothero, Stephen. God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter. Harper One, 2010.
Prothero, Stephen. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-- and Doesn’t. San Francisco: Harper, 2007.
Ray, Benjamin. African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. Vintage Books, 1979.
“A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools”