Worth a Michelangelo

Hidden treasures from the master carver of Japan

By Alena Eckelmann    - 1 min read

Nikko's Toshogu shrine is not the only place where you can find fascinating wood carvings in Japan. Some temples in the Echigo area of Niigata Prefecture are a real treasure trove for beautiful frescos, statues and carved ceilings crafted by Ishikawa Uncho, also known as the "Michelangelo of Echigo". While alive, the maestro was rather infamous for his habit of joining gambling and drinking parties that also involved beautiful local girls. Now he is famous for having depicted scenes from exactly these parties. As his clients were priests and his works would decorate temples, one wonders how he got away with his mostly rather realistic scenes and illustrations of this-worldly creatures. I suppose his superior carving skills enabled him to get a special status of sort and to became a local VIP. Although the comparison with the real Michelangelo seems a little stretched, the two masters had some traits in common in terms of their artistic skills. If you love wood carvings but you don't like crowds, make your way to Echigo's Eirinji Temple and Saifukuji Temple located near Uonuma City.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Founder of Kii Monogatari, my story and the story of the Kii Peninsula of Japan. Originally from East Germany, I came to Tokyo, via Berlin and London, in 2005. In summer 2011 I moved by choice to remote Kumano in the south of the Kii Peninsula where I live, work and play now, and explore every day.The whole of the Kii Peninsula is a Healing Hub for me with its abundance of forest, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, the ocean, friendly rural communities and sacred places. This is where nature meets spirituality, and tradition meets sustainability, the new paradigm for travel post-pandemic. My deep interest is in Japanese nature & spirituality. I love being in nature, in the forest and in the mountains, and I love spending time at temples and shrines.  I am building my life and my work around these two passions. I am a Licensed Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy) Guide and a Licensed Kumano Kodo and Koyasan Guide. I am also a Licensed Retreat Facilitator and I am planning retreats on the Kii Peninsula. Last but not least, I have been the Japan Travel Partner for Wakayama and Yamagata since the conception of the platform in 2011! These two prefectures are close to my heart because they are the centers of Shugendo, a spiritual tradition of mountain ascetism. I am a Shugendo Practitioner for over ten years now and received Tokudo in 2016 at a Shugendo temple on Yoshinoyama. Please kindly connect via my Facebook Page Kii Monogatari. Take care, keep well, stay safe!