‘Nippon Eden’ — A Cultural Twist on the Fabled Christian Paradise
The Garden of Eden is already a part of our collective imagination. We’ve all grown accustomed to the facts behind this legendary plot of land: that it’s paradise on earth, that flora and fauna flourished there more than anywhere else in the world, and that all in there is “good” for man — except for the tree that holds the forbidden fruit.
Today, we regard Eden as a myth, and perhaps its existence will remain a mystery for eternity. But it’s not exactly one that’s waiting to be solved. The concept exists to showcase the beauty of creation — and the devastating penalty of humankind’s detachment from the divine.
Most of the time, Eden serves as a backdrop in the infamous story of man’s first instance of sin. Almost all notable artworks regarding the Garden of Eden are closely tied to it. Take, for example, Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens’ Baroque masterpiece from the early 17th century: the garden, lush and rich with life, includes all the beauty of creation.
But despite its nuances, the painting still tells the story of sin. The same goes for other Eden paintings (such as Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych, called ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, or one of Michelangelo’s beloved frescos in the Sistine Chapel).
Most Western artists, especially in more archaic times, prefer to highlight biblical stories or the doctrines within them. But this cultural emphasis tends to ignore the other dimensions of the religious legend, and we forget to ask: What other insights can we pull from the concept of Eden?
The Garden of Eden and Asian Legends
Christian Benevides explores this inquiry in his Consecrea exclusive piece ‘Nippon Eden’, where the story shifts from the fall of humankind to a more optimistic note. Here, the man and woman perform a celebratory dance, one with nature and each other.
Instead of the Western elements that the Garden of Eden is usually depicted with, Benavides reimagines it in the context of Shintoism, an ancient Japanese belief system with a supreme reverence for nature and its deities (kami).
“I connect and feel a certain affinity with the Shinto tradition and Buddhist teachings,” he told us. “But beyond that, I certainly feel a connection with the artistic interpretation of these traditions.”
It’s a fitting statement made by someone like Benavides, who’s eager to learn cultures outside of his own. Even his creative alias, “Voyager Spirit,” is proof of that — he’s drawn towards Asian art and philosophies, so Shintoism is not entirely a new venture.
To him, it’s not only a source of fascination; it’s also a source of personal spirituality. “I like [that] the Shinto tradition has different rituals connected to nature. Rituals made with purpose can help us transform our subconscious,” he said.
(Read: Shinto Shrines: Celebrating Faith, Culture, and Nature)
These intricate illustrations aren’t just meant to be decorative. Every aspect of the painting — from the lotus in the pond and the eye of the kami to the Tengu mask — represents something from the Western source.
The torii gate itself is an indication of sacred ground. Behind it is the cherry blossom tree (which is often closely associated with Japan’s national identity), which Benavides interprets as Eden’s “tree of life.”
It doesn’t end there: “Inside the tree, we have a divine spark: the jewel inside the lotus, which is equivalent to the fruit of knowledge,” he explained.
Instead of depicting the traditional Adam and Eve, he said he illustrated them as Izanagi and Izanami — the kami assigned to bring order to the then-formless world. These deities don’t share the same characteristics or stories as their equivalents in the Christian tale, but they still serve their purpose.
“Izanagi dances and points down as the masculine energy of the rational and conscious mind. Izanami points up as the feminine energy of the subconscious and sensitive mind,” Benavides said. Notice the fish below them, too: yin and yang, dancing in circles around each other for eternity.
Buddhist elements are also significant details in this Eden, and they work beautifully alongside the Shinto references. (However, it shouldn’t be misinterpreted as an inconsistency; Buddhism and Shintoism do not contradict each other.)
Lotus flowers float above the water, symbolizing the Buddhist journey of enlightenment. Above them is Buddha himself — the ultimate enlightened being — in a meditative state.
Humans and Being One with Nature
Religious stories have been passed down for ages, and we often don’t see beyond what conventions dictate. But think about it: art helps us think of new ways to approach these tales and reframe them in other intuitive ways. New interpretations don’t always negate or take away the value of these traditions.
Perhaps it’s limiting to compare them directly, since the religious dimension is not entirely similar. Some may even find the visual analogy off-putting because it deals with different divine beings. Still, ’Nippon Eden’ is a reminder of an overlooked theme in the legendary Genesis story, regardless of divine belief: that humans and nature are one in life.
And this is expressed very meaningfully with the spirituality of Shintoism, which, in the words of Benavides, “places a strong bond between nature and humans… [in which] interacting with nature is interacting with the spirits.”
Get ‘Nippon Eden’ as premium framed wall art here.