Painting the fusuma of a world heritage

Hiroshi Senju

28th September, 2022

On July 31, 2017, I began the restoration of the paintings on the fusuma (sliding opaque plates that allow to delimit the interior spaces, editor's note) of the Buddhist temple Kongobu-ji. 

In 816, the man of letters and philosopher Kukai created the Koya monastery. Today, Koya is a town where 117 temples are concentrated in the mountains bearing the same name. It is listed in the Green Guide with three stars and is visited by many foreign tourists throughout the year. 

 Kongobu-ji is the most prominent temple.

In 2015, on the occasion of the temple's 1200th anniversary, I was given the task of restoring the fusuma, which had been intact since their creation, in two rooms of the main temple building. Around the room where the tea ceremony took place and the second room where the traditional heating fireplace is located, there are no less than 40 fusuma.  

I studied Kukai's thought, followed his spiritual path, but did not manage to get a concrete idea of this eminent sage. That is why I decided to draw as I saw fit. It took me two years to make this resolution.

Pendant cette étape, j’ai eu l’impression de revivre le passé. J’ai ressenti la même sensation et concentration que lorsque j’avais peint ma première toile.
C’était lors de ma première année d’étude à l’université des Arts de Tokyo. J’assistais aux cours du feu Professeur Ikuo Hirayama qui m’avait transmis l’art et la technique du gofun. Trente ans me séparent de la fin de mes étude et j’ai beaucoup peint, pétri des centaines de kilos de gofun. Or une telle réminiscence ne m’était jamais apparue jusque là.

No matter how much I read about Kukai, no matter how much I followed his pilgrimage path, I had learned nothing. It was only when I started drawing that I thought I heard Kukai say to me, "Turn the page and start from scratch. I had to start from scratch, from a blank sheet of paper.

Painting is not easy, because everything is always unpredictable. Every stroke has to be new. I told myself that days of asceticism awaited me, but at every moment I was animated by a beginner's enthusiasm that never made me lose the certainty of moving forward, even if I was groping.

Hiroshi Senju


Painter, professor at Kyoto University of Arts. Born in Tokyo in 1958, he graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts in 1982 with a B.F.A. in Japanese Painting and M.F.A. in 1987, and moved to New York in 1993. 1995, he was awarded the Honorary Prize in Painting at the Venice Biennale (the first Oriental to receive this honor). In 2011, he opened the Senju Hiroshi Museum of Art in Karuizawa; in 2013, he completed the sliding door paintings of Jukouin at Daitokuji Temple; in 2016, they were selected as "Heisei no supreme treasures" at Yakushiji Temple. In 2016, he received the Foreign Minister's Commendation, and in 2017, the Isamu Noguchi Prize. In addition to creating Japanese paintings, he has been active in a wide range of projects from stage design to art direction for train stations and airports.