Seven Calamities: Insight into the Kara-e Depicted Catastrophes of Japan
Keywords:Japan, emakimono, seven calamities, Buddhism, art, sumi-ink, ma, kara-e, history.
The Seven Calamities (1773, Cleveland Museum of Art) is an emakimono, or Japanese handscroll, created by Nijo Yana during the Edo Period of Japan depicting seven catastrophes that occurred in Japan throughout time. Buddhist Monk Nichiren used the seven calamities found in ancient sutras to explain the disasters agonizing Japan in his time and to stress the importance of following the Buddhist lifestyle. In order to keep the seven calamities at bay, the kings and rulers of Japan were required to recite and teach ancient sutras including the Prajna-Paramita sutra. As the legend tells it, Tathagata — honorific title of a Buddha — had committed this sutra to the kings and rulers because they had requisite power needed to establish the Law of the sutra, unlike the monks and nuns. Had the sutra not been extensively taught to the populace, the seven calamities would befall upon the land and punish the impudent humans that strayed away from Saddharma — Sanskrit for the Correct Law. In essence, it was up to the kings that Tathagata appointed to ensure order and balance to the lands by reciting the Prajna-Paramita. Each of the calamities were painted on paper with black ink, known as sumi-ink, contain ma, which means negative space, and use minimal color. This paper will dissect the history of the seven disasters of Japan and the reasoning behind their occurrence, analyze the use of Japanese sumi-ink combined with the kara-e Chinese style of art, and will contemplate the artist’s choice of substituting several of the seven original calamities with his or her own rendition and depiction of sequenced actions.
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