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

Celebrating my 10th year anniversary in Japan in May 2018, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home. I have visited all 47 prefectures of Japan and for the last 4 years I have worked as a guide for foreign visitors. My special interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains and I love visiting temples and shrines. I am also a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and guide for Shinrin Yoku (Forest Therapy).   In recent years I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail, the 88 temple pilgrimage trail around Shikoku Island and to Dewa Sanzan, the three sacred mountains in Yamagata Prefecture. If you look for nature and spirituality in your trip to Japan, then Wakayama, Nara and Yamagata Prefectures are ideal places to get started!