A Stroll in a Child's Dream

Seiichi Omachi's Art and the Philosopher's Walk

8 DECEMBER 2013,
Mumble @ Shin Saito, Masateru Tada
Mumble @ Shin Saito, Masateru Tada

If you have travelled to Japan several times, but have never experienced the spartan shades of Kyoto, you are surely committing the first biggest mistake of your life. If you have tasted the sheer elegance of Kyoto, but have never walked down the heart-stirring Philosopher’s Walk, you are definitely guilty of your second biggest mistake in life.

Located in the northern part of Kyoto in the verdant Higashiyama district, a long two-kilometer stretch of a cobbled pathway, flanked by an old, rustic canal, graces the picturesque scenario surrounding the Philosopher’s Walk (Tetsugaku no Michi). Delicately etched in pure exquisiteness and pastel simplicity, the fascinating road invites many illustrious writers, artists, and philosophers, like the famous Kitaro Nishida who longed for meditation and inspiration in this haven; thus, the reason for its name.

While noted undeniably for its enchanting rows of pink-filled cherry blossom trees in spring, the delightful Philosopher’s Walk in summer, autumn, and winter likewise, is a tranquil stroll that often surges a breathtaking escape to that unreachable constellation of possibilities where quotidian struggles meet bare pleasures of nature; where unforced gestures of modernity contrast with arcadian hues of tradition. Chic, petite, and country-styled cafés and bric-a-brac shops sit on both sides of the pleasant canal, yet udon noodle shops, kimono stores, and artistic Kyoto teahouse gardens enjoy the graceful line-up of temples between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji.

Just a step away from the mid-canal of the Philosopher’s Walk, leading uphill toward the 17th century Honen-in Temple, is a most charming art gallery of hand-carved children statues, masterfully sculpted by Kyoto artist Seiichi Omachi. Opened in 1986, the Doushinchoubou (Child’s Mind Sculpture) Gallery displays an airy room, filled with beaming children’s faces in various irresistible, and some humorous poses that bring to mind the soft innocence of a child’s look in pastoral surroundings. Seiichi Omachi grew up in rural Uzumasa, Kyoto, and studied woodcarving, specializing in Buddha-styled sculptures. He reminisces his frolic childhood days, “My hometown was surrounded by many rice fields when I was a child, and I remember walking back home from elementary school, I would always notice the colorful paradise of yellow rapeseed fields and pure white-feathered butterflies fluttering playfully over them. I would run across the vast field with a net in my hand. On my footpath murmured a free-flowing creek, reflecting the deep blue sky, and red crayfish and black tadpoles swimming afloat. Far beyond were waves of green mountains. I always feel those visions capture the child in me that I always treasure and extend to my carvings. It is, indeed, such a small, children’s world.”

From 1976 to the present, Seiichi Omachi has held exhibitions in Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, and at the Ginza Matsuya and Mitsukoshi in Tokyo. He garnered the Special Kyoto Prize in the Japan Craft Competition in 1978. In 2004, he published his collection of children woodcarvings in Warabefuzei” (Child’s Taste), The World of Seiichi Omachi.

Unlike many Japanese traditional doll sculptures that are standing or clothed in the typically seen kimono wear, many of Seiichi Omachi’s creations are seated in a Buddha’s pose, austerely clothed in rural attire, and gaze playfully at you either with eyes shut or glowing in angelic curiosity. The carving technique is raw and natural, void of polish or sophistication that renders the proper feel of pristine infancy. Napping Little Monk, Lovely Soldier, Thunder Boy, Naughty Little Boss, Smile Jizou Buddha—these are just a few of the sculptural themes that do not fail to plant a tender smile on every gallery visitor’s face. “I am also inspired by the Seven Lucky Gods of good fortune in Japanese mythology. They express symbols of happiness, peace, knowledge, beauty and art—virtues I see in a child’s eye,” Seiichi Omachi explains.

These Seven Lucky Gods are Hotei, a fat and happy god of abundance and good health; Fukurokuju, god of happiness, wealth and longevity; Jurojin, god of long life; Bishamonten, god of warriors; Benzaiten, goddess of art, beauty and music; Daikokuten, god of commerce and trade; and Ebisu, god of fishers.

Such unblemished artistry becomes one’s perfect companion along the gentle poetry and inspirational imagery of the Philosopher’s Walk, as you paint the adorable childlike smiles on your every stop of rice cake and green tea, under the dreamlike cherry blossoms.