By Wakako Takeuchi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Denchu Hirakushi (1872-1979) was an outstanding sculptor who continued to create artwork even after he turned 100.
A house where Denchu spent about 10 years during the last part of his life is now a feature of the Kodaira Hirakushi Denchu Art Museum in Kodaira, Tokyo.
In the museum, visitors can trace Denchu’s personal history by watching changes in his artwork from his youth — he was born in Okayama Prefecture — to his passing away at age 107.
A wood carving he did early on, “Shoka Kimigayo,” shows a very detailed image of a boy singing. Even the texture of the boy’s clothes and hat seem to be expressed in the work.
However, after meeting Tenshin Okakura (1863-1913), who contributed to the development of Japanese art, Denchu’s style began changing.
Denchu produced the wood carving “Jingyu,” which symbolizes the way to achieve Buddhist enlightenment.
Though the carving depicts an old man following a cow, there is no cow in it. The work is designed so that viewers would be able to see the cow by exercising their imagination.
After producing that work, Denchu devoted himself to the study of new techniques, such as realistic statuary and applying coloring learned from old wood carvings to his work. He continued studying and pursuing his ideal throughout his life.
What can be considered as the culmination of his artistic activities is his “Kagamijishi,” statues that depict movements by kabuki actor Onoe Kikugoro VI.
More than two meters tall, one of the statues is displayed at the National Theatre. In the museum, other items, such as a plaster statue of the kabuki actor striking a pose while wearing only a fundoshi loincloth, are exhibited so that visitors can deepen their understanding of the human body, as very thick kabuki costumes conceal it. By viewing the items in the museum, visitors can understand the processes by which the Kagamijishi statues were created.
In the memorial hall on the museum’s grounds, a calligraphy work hung on a wall of the living room caught my attention. The text says: “If I don’t do it now, when will I do it? If I don’t do it, who will do it?”
When the physical burden of producing sculptures became onerous due to his aging, Denchu shifted the focus of his artistic activities to calligraphy. The calligraphy on the memorial hall’s wall was written when he was 97.
On top of that, when Denchu was 100, he ordered raw wood for sculpting as preparation for production 20 years later. The wood remains in the museum’s garden. His passion and spirit overwhelm visitors.
Hiroko Hirakushi, 78, director of the museum, said: “My grandfather worked with a challenging spirit until the end and was active all his life. Although the population is graying, I want people to find their hopes by viewing the exhibition.”
■ Kodaira Hirakushi Denchu Art Museum
The museum opened in October 1984. It includes an exhibition hall built in 1994, and a memorial hall that was formerly Denchu’s house during the last years of his life. The items on exhibit, such as sculptures and calligraphy works, are excellent. In addition, the museum’s garden, which uses greenery along the Tamagawa Josui aqueduct as a borrowed landscape, is also beautiful. The garden is said to be an important reason why Denchu decided to move his residence to the site from Taito Ward, Tokyo, where he had lived for many years before that.
Address: 1-7-5 Gakuen-Nishimachi, Kodaira, Tokyo
Open: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays (the following day when a Tuesday falls on a public holiday), and during the year-end and New Year period.
Admission: ¥300 for adults; ¥150 for elementary and junior high school students