About the legend of the karajishi

About the legend of the karajishi

  • Artetrama

So what do these lions mean? These lions depicted in Murakamis' works "Of Chinese lions, peonies, skulls and fountains" and "As the interdimensional waves run through me I can distinguish between the voices of angel and evil!" represent the karajishis, ancient mythical Chinese lions that guarded Buddhist temples separating the sacred areas from evil. These mythological figures, first represented by Chinese and then Japanese, were inspired by descriptions heard by the Indian and Assyrian, without ever had seen a real one. In the legend, these lions, believed to be born from a dragon, threw their cubs off the cliffs to test their strength.

So here is Takashi Murakami representing these lions with their cubs playing around on the top of their parent above a bridge formed by human skulls. Since it is to assume that these cubs are the survival of the fittest, maybe the thought Murakami is giving us here is that growing up is not so easy...

But what about the titles of these two works we have here? Clearly "Of Chinese lions, peonies, skulls and fountains" tell us about these karajishi we’ve mentioned before, we see the skulls and we see the fountains on the sides but, as occidental-cultured, we may ask ourselves: where are the peonies? Well, shoguns (in medieval Japan, they were landlords with their own samurai army) had the lion as the strongest and king of all animals, and they had the peony as the queen of all flowers, so both the lion and the peony were symbols of luxury. Legends tell the lion, the most fearful animal was afraid of a tiny bug. A tiny bug that could get under its skin and eat him from the inside. But this bug was killed by the flower of the peony so karajishis would always be found resting over these flowers. Like in ying-yang, the fiercest creature is tempered by the most delicate of the flowers, the peony.

Regarding "As the interdimensional waves run through me I can distinguish between the voices of angel and evil!", the reference to Japanese traditional culture meets with the previous work. But it is possible that in this work, Takashi Murakami want to get us closer to a thought about multiple dimension worlds like Edwin A. Abbott does in his novel “Flatland: A romance of many dimensions”. In this novel Edwin A. Abbott tells the story of Square, from Flatland, whom one day has a revelation where he travels to a world unknown, Lineland. There, only one dimension exists and its citizens, dots and lines, can only move on a line back and forth. Square meets the king of Lineland to whom he tries to explain the reality of his world of two dimensions. The king cannot believe him, takes Square as a fool and expels him from his world. Back in Flatland, Square meets Sphere who tells him about a three dimensional universe, a concept that Square doesn’t understand and so he rejects Sphere the same way the king from Lineland rejected him. Square is only able to accept the existence of a world more complex than his when Sphere shows him Spaceland to make him understand that there are other realities different from his. The novel is a satire about the social hierarchy of the Victorian society and talks about learning to aspire and how to teach others to have aspirations and accept other realities. Maybe it is natural for the human being to consider our own perception as the right one, criticizing lower realities and not accepting whatever that contradicts our own perception of the world we live in. Relating this to Murakami’s work, he uses the term superflat to deal with his own work and he does it under a formal or aesthetic point of view, but projecting it into what is historical and social.

Finally, in these two pieces we can see a line of Chinese characters that belong to an ancient Buddhist text, it says: “Grass, trees, countries, the earth itself–all these shall enter wholly into Buddhahood.”

Takashi Murakami shows us in these works his knowledge about traditional culture and how he understands it making it clear that he is a man with deep thoughts about philosophy, religion and his spiritual roots.