Issho-ni/Tomo-ni!                                             (re-creating pure wisdom, together!)


Iwaya-ji, tempel gate, Yokota, Shimane, Japan

For the past four years I’ve made a very special journey to the soul of Japan. It turned out to be a journey into the unknown that changed my worldview permanently.

In 2015 I lived and worked as an artist-in-residence in Kyoto. From there, I went on a search to the origin of the two impressive Japanese templeguards that are now at permanent display in The Rijksmuseum. I ended up in a tiny town: Izumo-Yokota. It is located in the Japanese province of Shimane, an 8 hours train journey away from Kyoto. First by the spectacular Shinkansen, then by local trains and finally ending in an omnibus train, riding on a single track, rocks being used as a platform.

The project ISSHO-NI/ TOMO-NI (re-creating pure wisdom, together!) is the result of this journey. It is a project in which I want to ‘’return’’ the two templeguards to Yokota, Japan. However, I don’t want to do this by myself, I want to do this together, with you.

Let me take you on a journey with me! Let’s create a mutual movement and express our gratitude. Let’s re-create the templeguards and bring them home. Let’s build a gate to pure wisdom, literally and figuratively.

Let’s explore the different realities and the feeling of authenticity in Japan and in the Netherlands. Learn about ‘’our’’ unemployed templeguards and understand which stories they are still reproducing.

Issho-ni/Tomo-ni means something like ‘’doing together’’. How, you wonder?

2015-2018 Yokota, Japan

A few years ago, I visited Japan for the first time.
When I knew I would go there I went to my neighbours in The Rijksmuseum. These are two Japanese templeguards. They are tough guys. They are frowning fiercely, but nobody is afraid of them anymore. However in earlier days  the people used to be frightened by them. The guards were protecting 'a field of pure wisdom'. This field was located behind them in the Iwayaji temple. When you passed through templeguards, you would enter this field  , but only if you dared to…
Now, in The Rijksmuseum, they are still looking tough. Or at least they are trying to: everyone thinks they are cool and beautiful, but scary? Not so much.
In other words, they lost their jobs. You can’t even walk in between them any longer!
So, when I knew I would go to Japan I told the two templeguards: ‘’Guys, I will visit the temple gate, the place where you used to live’’. I wanted to do them a favour, lift their spirits. And, above all, I wanted to tell the temple gate, where they had been standing for more than 700 years, that the templeguards where doing fine. That they are being taken good care of, and that they are making many people curious about Japan.
And so I did.
I went to Japan, searching for the temple gate. With no idea that it would be this far away from my reality!

When I arrived, I discovered that the village of Yokota, once a prosperous region, roughly counted only 7000 inhabitants, spread out over a larger area.
My visit was quite surprising to them. And I was welcomed with open hearts. I went to the temple gate to show my gratitude for sharing its temple guards with us, and read it my letter “Dear Gate”. The villagers went along with me, and translated my English into Japanese in order for the gate to properly understand my words. The moving of the statues had not only changed the meaning of the statues, but it had also changed the meaning of their original location!    


Yokota 2018

In 2018 I returned to Yokota. This year I was invited to work on a project about the temple gate. In 2015 the idea of how people experience reality/authenticity differently got my interest. And especially how the Japanese context differs from the Dutch, so I went back for further research. When I almost left, I came up with a plan.

I felt hesitant to constantly go to Yokota to ‘acquire’ things. First the statues, then inspiration and now I was receiving money to stay there as an artist in residence… I felt the strong urge to give them something in return. I wanted to reverse the connection I felt with Japan when looking at the statues. I wanted to return the favour, create a mutual hospitality and open the Dutch hearts for the Yokotans.

I wanted to pay my respects and show the people how meaningful the history of the temple statues and the area is. (It is an area where, every year, untill today, all 1000 gods from Japan gather.) I wanted to let them know that it feels astranged that after 700 years of being part of  the community, they are now located in the ‘’white cube’’ of The Rijksmuseum, just being beautiful.

I wanted to re-create the templeguards physically, as well as mentally, and conceptually. And I wanted to do it joined together! So, I came up with the following idea:


Plan 2019
Since we are getting to know the Japanese culture through the templeguards Since we are getting to know the Japanese culture through the templeguards I wanted to give something from our culture to them in return. Create a same sort of access or gate to our culture. I thought of Delft blue. Something Japanese people always recognise as typically “Dutch” when I bring it with me to Japan.

Since the younger generations of Yokota don’t know much about the templeguards, or their rich history and since the older generations still mourn over their loss, and because I wanted to pay my respects from the Netherlands, I decided to create the templeguards in Delft blue tiles together with both the local Japanese villagers and people from the Netherlands. A way in which everybody can learn about their own cultural heritage and how this relates to a very different culture. I wanted to create a true connection.. To start a meaningful conversation about the importance of the templeguards, the difference in the experience of authenticity, reality and the meaning of ownership.


I will go to The Rijksmuseum to make  life-size drawings of the statues and cut it into pieces of 15x15 centimetres (the size of a Delft blue tile). Japanese and Dutch participants will paint these tiles: one per participant. Afterwards we will merge the tiles to reveal the templeguards in Delft blue. The piece will be ‘brought to life’ by ceremonially painting the right eye of the tempel guards. Together they will arisein the public space of Yokota. Re-creating the portal to pure wisdom again!

But we are not there yet...  First we have to paint about 240 tiles! 

So my call to you is:  

Get to know the temple guards!
In august/September I will welcome you in The Rijksmuseum and introduce you to the templeguards.
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And / or:
Come to my studio and paint a tile!
In September/October you can paint a tile in my Amsterdam atelier.
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And/or evenly  important:
Support this project financially!
The Embassy of the Netherlands in Japan, Foundation Iona, Global Bridges, Hitachi and the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts financially support this project. This is fantastic! Nevertheless a financial contribution by you is necessary to close out the budget. Both grand and small contributions are very much appreciated.

Next to the tours and workshops there will be presentations/debates and readings in different locations in both Japan and the Netherlands. The themes addressed in the project (different realities, authenticity and ownership) will be discussed during these meetings.
Thursday 15 Augustus, PUBLIC – Project plan presentation, Zaltbommel, the Netherlands
Saturday 19 October, Okuizumo Board of Education – Project plan presentation, Yokota, Japan
December 2019, Doshisha University – Project plan presentation, Kyoto, Japan
December 2019, Anewall Gallery – Debate and presentation project, Kyoto, Japan

I am looking forward to seeing you at one of the events and to introducing you to the ‘gate to pure wisdom’.

Let’s bring the templeguards back to their original residence, Yokota, Japan!

Jikke van Loon