Near Lake Yamanaka at the foot of Mt. Fuji, Toko Shinoda keeps a country cottage. Originally an old house moved and rebuilt on the site, it is designed for her to spend time away from her artwork. In her sojourns there to escape the summer heat of the city, she enjoys carefree days, often just gazing off at the famous peak looming close by. Watching the hues of Fuji shift with each advancing hour, she is reminded of the varied shades of sumi. She sometimes draws water that drips from nearby rocks to fill her inkstone, and uses it to make her ink.
With Mt. Fuji right before her eyes, Shinoda feels enveloped by the great mountain, and the more she gazes at it, the more keenly she realizes its constantly changing figure contains an endless supply of what is hardly visible. Such experience overlaps with the sense of awe and humility she feels toward sumi, making her realize that if such hues are not captured by one’s heart one could not convey them in sumi.
Mt. Fuji’s peak, “Towering lofty, noble, divine ever since heaven and earth were parted . . .,” as captured in the opening line of a poem by Yamabe Akahito in the eighth-century anthology Man’yoshu, has always been a symbol of the awesome and sublime. But as she tells us, she has never depicted Mt. Fuji or even tried to do so in any of her works. That may be because, as Akahito’s verse continues, Fuji is so awesome that there is nothing to do but “tell of it mouth to mouth.” This is the mountain before which even Shinoda is humbled and that vividly evokes the hues and shades of sumi.