Hokusai’s famed 'phantom oema’ seen in color after 100 years
The Asahi Shimbun by KAZUHISA KUROKAWA/ Staff Writer October 25, 2016
After almost a century, an "oema" (large wooden votive table) painting by famed ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) that was destroyed in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake has been recreated in color.
The Sumida Hokusai Museum, which made the announcement Oct. 24, could not find any historical documents on the colors used in “Susanoo no Mikoto Yakujin Taiji no Zu.”
Instead, it had to form a conjecture on the hues and proceed with the recreation in collaboration with experts, researching other works similar to the oema.
The original 1845 artwork, 276 centimeters wide and 126 cm long, was Hokusai's largest piece, according to the museum in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward.
The oema was dedicated to Ushijimajinjya shrine in Mukojima district in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward. Both burned in the Great Kanto Earthquake. Since then, Hokusai's work has been called the “phantom oema.”
The government of Sumida Ward started research on Hokusai’s oema in 1995 in the hopes of recreating it.
One black-and-white photo that was featured in an art magazine called Kokka, published by The Asahi Shimbun in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), remains.
In addition, paintings reproduced by Hokusai’s pupils as well as historical documents written by people who viewed it were found.
However, the ward gave up on recreating it in color due to lack of information on the hues used. Instead, the ward made a panel created by enlarging the black-and-white photo to its full scale.
Last year, the ward restarted its research project on the oema in conjunction with the opening of the museum.
It took about a year and two months for the recreation. The colors were overseen by an expert of the Amanosan Cultural Heritages Research Institute in Osaka Prefecture.
The oema is a large type of ema, which literally means "picture horse." Ema are wooden votive tablets used in Shinto worship and kept in major shrines that originally portrayed horses and were substitutes for the real animals, considered as intermediaries that carry humans’ messages to the gods.
On the oema, looking down on various hoodoos, the Susanoo no Mikoto, the impetuous divine in Shinto mythology, has the evil-doers kneel in front of him and obtain a signed and sealed deed from them, promising to never cause disease or calamities.
The Hokusai oema will be shown to the public for the first time at the Sumida Hokusai Museum, which is scheduled to open on Nov. 22.
Hokusai, the only Japanese to make Life magazine’s ranking of “100 people in the world with important achievements in the last 1,000 years,” had a significant influence on domestic and international artists, particularly French impressionists.