The Town of Masuda
in Shimane Prefecture
is famous for a great ink painter and a celebrated poet who left
great traces in history. Their name are Sesshu Toyo(1420-1506)
and Kakinomoto no Hitomaro(7th Cerntury).
Sesshu is one of the greatest Zen painters of Japan
and has become famous throughout the world. He captured
the images of local landscapes during his work here in the 15th century.
His visit to China had much influence on him. He had plenty of opportunities to study
the Chinese traditional master-paintings and become aware of the powerful
and realistic style of the classic Chinese paintings.
Sesshu was born in Okayama Prefecture, and died in Masuda at the age of eighty-seven. When he was forty-eight
years old, he visited China (then ruled by the Ming Dynasty) as a member of Japanese envoy.
In 1956, the World Peace Council held in Vienna, Austria, nominated ten people who rendered great contributions to world culture,
and commemorated them. Sesshu was selected as one of them along
with Italy’s Leonardo da Vinci.
The Sesshu Memorial Museum was established in the second year of Heisei(1990) to commemorate
the deep relationship the town of Masuda has with Sesshu. Inside the museum, we display Sesshu’s works that are registered as Important
National Cultural Properties. Alongside there are other important
artifacts and materials, such as the Portrait of the 15th Feudal Lord
Masuda Kanetaka, a work which is often called his ultimate masterpiece.
The Portrait of Masuda Kanetaka
The Portrait of Masuda Kanetaka
The 15th Lord of the Masuda Family” By Sesshu(Dated AD1479, age 60)
Panegyric by Chikusin
Painted in color on paper (82.7cm long and 40.9cm wide)Important Cultural Property
Memorial Museum, Masuda
This picture is what Masuda city purchased from
Masuda family at the price of one hundred million yen($1 million) in 1989.
The former owner inherited this painting from the 15th Feudal Lord of the
Garden The garden attached to our museum is called Kare-sansui(dry landscape
garden). It is a garden of arranged stones, trees and moss without
ponds or Yarimizu(artificial stream- an artificial narrow stream drawn
from a river into a garden).
In Japan, a garden is an artificial
open-air space attached to a building. With natural or artificial things
arranged in it, it serves for pleasant viewing, leisure, outdoor exercise,
Sesshu’s Life Buddhism was introduced to Japan by way of China and Korea. In the first half of the 6th century, a priest from India by the name of Bodhidharma introduced Zen to China and it was brought to Japan in the Kamakura Period(1185-1333) by priests who studied there. Zen rendered a strong influence on the way of the Samurai, as well as
on traditional culture such as, the tea ceremony, shaping many aspects
of the Japanese. According to Zen teachings, enlightenment can
be realized only through sitting in meditation and training in calming
the self. Zen priests improved the culture of their times, such as through
architecture, JapaneseGardens and ink paintings. Among them, ink painting, we can say,
was developed hand in hand with Zen Buddhism, and paintings often serve
as an illustration of the essence of Zen Buddhism.
Sesshu Toyo is considered to be the greatest painter priest of Zen-shu,
a sect of Buddhism. Buddhism in Japan is divided into several sects as in the case of Christianity.
Ink Painting is a monochrome picture in India
ink. Various objects in the picture are represented primarily
in shades of black and white. A special characteristic of this
style is the method of shading the India ink by making strong and weak
strokes. After being brought over from China in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), ink painting was at the height
of popularity in the Muromachi Period (1392-1573). At first,
mainly religious paintings were connected with teachings of the Zen sect,
but, by the 15thcentury, themes for ink paintings spread to include such
things as landscapes, flowers and birds. Ink Painting (Suigokuga)
in Japan came to perfection with the painter priest Sesshu Toyo.
Sesshu Toyo was born in 1420 (Muromachi Period) in Okayama Pref. in the
western part oof Japan. When he was twelve or thirteen years old, he entered
Shokokuji temple(相国寺) in Kyoto as an acolyte under the head priest of all
Zen temples(His name is Shunrin Shuto(春林周藤). From his early childhood he showed an extraordinary talent for painting. It
is a well-known tale that once, while being scolded and tied to a pillar,
he drew a picture of a mouse on the wooden floor with his own tears.
He became a pupil of Shubun(周文), who was
recognized as a famous painter at that time. It was decided
during that time, that Sesshu should become a priest painter. Shubun
worked under the protection of the 6th Shougun Yoshinori in the Muromachi
government. His talents were many-sided and his black ink paintings
are very sensitive, placid and full of lucidity. At the end
of the 15th century all painters studied his obscure. Sesshu
also studied it and became influenced by it. Sesshu’s life from
his teens until the later half of his thirties is obscure.
When he was forty-eight years old, Sesshu
visited China. Before he left for China, he was greatly influenced by Shubun, but his visit to China also influenced him, subsequently, after his return from China, his style had changed. His technique grew toward maturity and become free of Shubun’s influences. His
long travels from Ningpo to Peking made him feel the vastness of the nature
in China and gave him knowledge that could only be derived from the original
sources of ink painting.
The great priest painter Sesshu came to our
town, Masuda, twice in his life, and ended his life at Toko-ji Temple here. But as it was burnt down in 1580, any records and
ancestral tablets were totally and eighty-four years after Sesshu died,
a priest, Taiki Shoshuku, set up Taiki-an cottage as Sesshu’s mausoleum
in 1690. The grave of Sesshu still stands between Taiki-an and
our Sesshu Memorial Museum on a hillock. In 1921, a conservation society for the place of Sesshu’s death was organized
by the local people and famous modern artists of Japanese style painting. The reason why he left Unkoku-an in Yamaguchi with a longing for Masuda
was because of his respect for the noble spirit which the feudal lord Masuda
Kanetaka devoted his life to culture and peace through his religious belief
of the Zen sect.
While young, Sesshu was awakened to the Zen spirit
at Shokoku Temple in Kyoto. When he realized his long cherished wish to visit China by the support of the feudal lord Ouchi, he was recommended for the
first seat at Tien-tung, including a short sojourn. After his
return from China, his style became such that he mastered the art of transforming the Chinese
painting into a Japanese pattern. This became the starting point
for the Japanizing of Chinese art. He painted the outstanding
portrait of ‘Masuda Kanetaka’ at the age of 60, and completed his most
important work, the “Larger Landscape Scroll” when he was sixty-seven years
While staying in Masuda, Sesshu made spiritual
gardens called ‘Sesshu gardens’ at two temples, which are designated as
places of historical and scenic interest by the government. He
painted his masterpieces such as ‘Portrait of Masuda Kanetaka’, and ‘Birds
and Flowers of the Four Seasons-a pair of sex-fold screens’ in Masuda. We
respect Sesshu for his sincerity and passion. We are very proud
of Sesshu who created a Japanese style of ink painting which can still
be felt in contemporary Japanese art, Sesshu Toyo is, we believe, the world’s
supreme ink painter.
Hiromi Kijiyama: Supervisor
, Shimane Prefectural Board of Education
Yuki Shimada: Assistant of English Teacher
, Simane Prefectural Board of Education
Professor Shigeyasu Hasumi, the study of Sesshu Toyo.
Asahi Publishing Company, Tokyo
, 1997, pp.3-13
A dictionary of Japanese Art Terms.
Tokyo Bijutsu Co., Ltd., Tokyo
Traditional Japanese Culture & Modern Japan
Yoichi Sugiura & John K, Gillespie,
Natsume Co., Ltd. Tokyo
Takero Sato A Handbook Introducing Japan in English
Sogen-sha Co., Ltd., Osaka
Director of Tourism, Masuda City Office, Guide Map of Masuda City
Masuda City Office, Shimane, 1992
Information of Sesshu Memorial Museum Masuda-city, Shimane
Address: 1149 Otoyoshi,
Access: From JR Masuda Station, take the Iwami Kotsu Bus for ‘Kushiro’. Get off at Undo Koen(Sports Park) Bus Stop.
Open: 9:00am to 4:00pm
Fee: Adult: 300 yen, Child & Student: 100
(For groups of 20 or more, Adult: 240 yen, Child
& Student:80 yen.)
The Portrait of Masuda Kanetaka by Sessyu Toyo (Dated A.D. 1479, age 60, Painted in color on paper, Important
By Sesshu Toyo
The Larger Scroll of Landscapes of the Four Seasons.
(Dated A.D. 1486, age 67), Reproduction (180.7cm long 40.0cm wide) ,Painted by black ink and faint color on paper. Registered
as a “National Treasure” Owned by Hofu Mouri Hokokai,
Yamaguchi (Original Picture)
ー An excerpt from “HAND SCROLL SERIES” written by Hofu Mori Hokokai.—
“This painting popularly known as the Longer Landscapes Scroll (because
there is another smaller-sized scroll of landscapes by Sesshu) is a representative
master work of the famous artist Sesshu. The inscription by the artist
at the end of the scroll, stating “Painted by Sesshu Toyo”, formerly holder
of the first seat at Tine-tung, in December in the eighteenth year of the
Bunmei era (A.D. 1486) at the age of sixty-seven,’ provides that it was
done in the period when his skill in art was in its maturity｡
The scroll illustrates sceneries in the changing seasons of the year interwoven
with versed aspects of the lives of noble and plebeian people. The
seasonal sights that evolve as the scroll is unrolled from right to left,
are interestingly rich in variety.
The phrase ‘holder of the first seat at T’ien-tung’ in the inscription means that he was honored with the top position
among the Priests of the Ching-te-ssu Temple at T’ien-t’ung-shan during his sojourn in Ming China. The
term hitsu-ji (‘received the brush’) in the same inscription which he used
to mean “painted,” signifies that he learned the style of this painting
from those of earlier masters. The reason why he wrote the colophon in
such a formal style must have been that this painting was monumental for
the artist in some way or other. Around this time, his atelier
Tenkai Toga-ro , at his dwelling Unkokuan in Yamaguchi, was constructed
under the patronage of the Ouchi family, the ruler of Yamaguchi Pref, and
his itinerant life in religious and artistic pilgrimage came to a temporary
end. We might surmise that in this scroll of landscapes he expressed
what he was feeling at the time after his life-long travels as a Zen(contemplative
Buddhism) priest and a painter. Be that as it may, this scroll
is that most laborious work of Sesshu and doubtless a glory of the history
of Japanese art.”
Birds and Flowers
A pair of six-fold screens (179.0cm long and 365.5cm wide)
Attributed to Sesshu (Dated A.D. 1483. age 64)
Ink painting and light colored
Important Cultural Property
Owned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs(Original one)
The Sedentary Image of Zen Priest Sesshu
By Takamura Koun (1852-1934). Professor of the Tokyo School
of Fine Arts (the present Tokyo University of Arts). Carved from wood. Owned by Sesshu Memorial Museum, Masuda City.
Autumn and Winter Landscape By Sesshu
Painted in black ink on paper, Registered as a “National Treasure”
Copy of A View of Yamadera
A reproduction by Kano Tsunenobu (1636-1713)
Edo Period (1603-1867), Ink Painting on paper, Sesshu’s original picture: A sketch of Tokoji Temple in Masuda (Dated A.D. 1497 age 60)
Painting of Tenkai-togaro By Terasaki Kogyo ( Dated A.D. 19187)
Professor of Tokyo University of Arts, a judge of the Ministry of Education
Art Exhibition and a member of Nihonbijutsu-in (Japan Art Institute),Color
on silk base, 32.0cm long and 56.5cm wide. Owned by Sesshu Memorial Museum, Masuda city
Haboku Sensui (Splashed – ink landscape) By Sesshu (Dated A.D. 1495, age 76)
Ink Painting on paper (147.9cm, long and 32.7cm wide), Registered as a “National Treasure”.