Photo/IllutrationManga artist Kenichi Kitami’s “Rakuen” for “fusuma” sliding door panels at Daitokuji temple’s Shinjuan sub-temple in Kyoto’s Kita Ward (Yoshiko Sato)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KYOTO--Sliding door panels replete with images from popular culture will compete with scenes painted by masters centuries ago under a plan to make a renowned Buddhist temple here more relevant to the modern age.

Shinjuan, part of the sprawling Daitokuji temple complex in Kita Ward that is famous for its Zen gardens, is undergoing an interior makeover of 21st century proportions.

The sub-temple, founded in the 15th century, is closely associated with the Zen monk Ikkyu Sojun (1394-1481), commonly referred to as Ikkyu-san.

When Shinjuan chief priest Sosho Yamada, 63, decided to replace paintings on 40 or so “fusuma” sliding door panels for the first time in 400 years, he opted for a decidedly unconventional approach.

The paintings were created by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610) and other master artists of their time. But Yamada determined he had an opportunity to reach a wider audience and approached a cartoonist, an animation film director and four other artists with his proposition.

The results, which will be available for the public to judge in September, represent a break with the past in favor of a modern touch by contemporary masters.

The collaborators, who have been on good terms with Yamada, were happy to work for free.

Among them is Kenichi Kitami, 77, best known for the long-running manga series “Tsuribaka Nisshi” (Diary of a fishing fool).

Titled “Rakuen” (Paradise), his artwork is set in Yoronjima island, Kagoshima Prefecture, which holds fond memories for him due to frequent visits there over many years.

His drawings feature islanders enjoying a feast at dusk with some of his manga characters and his cartoon mentor Fujio Akatsuka.

Isamu Kamikokuryo, 47, who served as art director for the globally popular “Final Fantasy” role-playing video game series, was asked to draw “Kannon bodhisattva from the future.”

Kamikokuryo painted Japanese Shinto and Buddhist deities on eight fusuma panels under the theme of “jodo” (pure land). He asked members of male pop group Exile to serve as models for Fujin and Raijin (wind and thunder gods).

“I tried to add my own interpretations,” Kamikokuryo said. “This work couldn’t have been created anywhere other than Kyoto.”

Anime film director Hiroyuki Yamaga, 56, drew a series of illustrations called “Karojite Ikiteiru” (Barely alive) for the room where fusuma paintings by Tohaku had been on display.

Yamaga, who is president of Gainax Co., known for the “Neon Genesis Evangelion” anime series, spent six months working on the panels, often staying overnight at the temple.

“Tohaku visited Shinjuan and painted his works there,” said Yamaga, who incorporated fighter aircraft and other scenes from his next project. “It felt like we were in camp together as I tried to share his thoughts.”

The restoration work of fusuma paintings from centuries ago is expected to take a number of years. Some of the paintings are designated by the government as important cultural properties.

Yamada, the chief priest, anticipates the prospect of the modern additions sharing space with the old masters in the future.

“Eventually, we hope to be able to display the old and new fusuma paintings as we see fit, and rearrange the exhibits on occasion,” he said.