minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Jap-Anima

I have to admit that I love Animé. Often referred to as Jap-Animé to specify the animated movies, series, and graphic novels that come from Japan, the genre has gained popularity far beyond the shores of Japan. While reading about Christianity in Japan, I thought it would be interesting to look into some Japanese iconography. So Jap-anima sounded like a worthy pun for a blog about Japanese religious art.

Anima is a Latin word that would be understood as the soul or spirit, that unseen part of man that makes us alive. It is also the root for the word animation and thus Animé.

Japanese Madonna in Summer

One of the more popular icons found in Christianity is the Madonna and Child. Latin, Greek, Russian, Polish… there are a great many variations. It wasn’t a surprise that one of the first I came across from Japan was a Madonna and Child. This one is in a setting of the season of summer, and is part of a collection in different seasons.

It’s always interesting to see how culture can interpret history. Even historically we see this in such things as Nativity scenes with snow, Gothic architecture in biblical places or characters dressed in non period attire. I think this is good because it shows one of the great things about the gospel; that it is truly a catholic gospel. It is universal, not for the Jew or Greek, but for the Japanese as well as the 20th century American. It sees no difference between race, nationality or gender.

One of the more popular religious artists from the 20th century Japan was Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996). He used a traditional Japanese style of folk art called mingei and depicted biblical characters in Japanese settings and attire. With a very large collection of art, he may be the most recognized gospel artist from Japan.
Japanese Saints also find their way into the religious art and iconography. Japan had it’s share of martyrs and from this history several Saints are recognized; St. Paul Miki, St Fr. Jacobo Kyushei Gorobioye Tomonaga , St. Marina of Omura. Below is a picture of St. Magdalene of Nagasaki who served as an Augustinian lay sister in the 17th century and was martyred at the age of 23. It’s a modern picture and I wish that I knew who the artist was, not only so I could post it here, but so I could see what else they may have drawn.
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