The Essentials of Poetry (Eiga taigai)

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Artist: Shokado Shojo 松花堂昭乗 (1584-1639)
Historical period(s)
Edo period, ca. 1639
Handscroll; ink on gold and silver-flecked paper with ivory jiku
H x W (overall): 27.2 x 516.6 cm (10 11/16 x 203 3/8 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — funds provided by the bequest of Edith Ehrman
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


cursive script, Edo period (1615 - 1868), Japan, poems, semi-cursive script, standard script
Provenance research underway.

1. (Y. Shimizu, 1981) [Inscribed:] written by my brush in accordance with the request from Doshun, the Seal of the Law.

[Signed:] Shokado Shojo


Colophon on separate sheet of paper, attached to the end of the scroll, by Hoso'ai Hansai dated 1781.

(Translation by Y. Shimizu of the colophon, 1981)

This Eiga taigai handscroll first appeared in Naniwa [the old name for Osaka]. According to the owner of the antique shop which had it, the scroll had come from Bizen as merchandise. Because I was the principal figure of the school of Shoka(do)'s calligraphy, the shop owner first asked me to authenticate and evaluate it. As soon as I unrolled a column or two of the scroll, there was no doubt in my mind that it was written by our patriarch of calligraphy (i.e. Shokado). At the end of the scroll was an inscription and a cipher, through which I learned that it had been written for Hayashi Doshun (i.e. Razan: 1583-1657) [Since Shokado] fully attained his intent, the calligraphy should be considered precious and very important. I secretly wanted to acquire it for myself, the price of the scroll being not necessarily too expensive, but, for me, it was not cheap either. What the shop owner wanted was something I could not afford and I felt, after having authenticated it, he just wanted to find out if such an unusual price should be put on the scroll. So I told him that it would be perfectly alright if there was already someone else who wanted to buy it before me, and that basically I did not want to deprive another person of his wishes, and that since the person might be in our group I would drop the matter. But the shop owner again opened the matter about the price. Could it have been that customer after customer who did not buy the scroll did not like it without a price tag and thus the shop owner kept coming back to me? Thus, I finally took the scroll and returned to Bizen.

Now amidst our group was one Mr. Sawada, who had shown great progress in calligraphy. As a connoisseur of calligraphy, he could certainly be counted among the two or three very best. I recounted to him everything about the scroll, and he really expressed great feeling for it. Since he and I were of the same spirit we did not discuss its price. (Mr. Sawada) thereupon went to the shop owner imploring numerous times asking for the scroll. Finally after several months, he want again to Naniwa. The scroll, then priced exactly the same as before, became Mr. Sawada's possession. Since by then I had already read the letter of thanks to Shokado's Eiga taigai included in Razan's prose anthology, and having climbed the hill of Otokoyama and visited the main temple there, where, when coming down, I was shown personal letters as well as the original letter of thanks by Razan, I considered the scroll to be more and more important.

Now, among the tea-aesthetes of Naniwa are also numerous calligraphers. Those of the powerful and influential families and their disciples are taken to elegant pastime and collecting of art objects. If they avail themselves of connoisseurship, authenticating objects, what a niggardly thing [that the shop asked me to authenticate the scroll]! Mr. Sawada is different; he is certainly beyond [such behavior]. As to the shop owner, he certainly was up to no good for having treated with contempt a poor person like myself.

The scroll was once a treasure of the Harai family. Beyond its provenance in Bizen each different pedigree cannot be ascertained. Since their descendants were very different [from their ancestors]--inheriting (the scroll), and sometimes swapping it with something else--and it has been some time since it had began to be thus handed down, eventually it was sold since it began to be thus handed down, eventually it was sold as merchandise in the [antique] market. A scroll of this sort naturally faces such a fate. It is my wish that someday, in Bizen, I could handcopy the scroll and ask for Hayashi's letters to be cut into blocks. Mr. [Sawada] had the scroll remounted and asked me for a colophon and label. As I return (the scroll) I recount the scroll's history. Mr. [Sawada] takes my word for it. On this twenty-fifth day of the (lunar) sixth month of the first year of Tenmei (1781). respectfully recorded by Hosoai Hansai Masaaki.


The text of this calligraphic work by Shokado, one of the leading calligraphers in the revival of writing in the Japanese mode during the early 17th century, is the critical essay on the composition of Japanese poetry by Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241). The preface, written in Chinese-style prose (kambun), concludes with the statement that there are no teachers of Japanese poetry but the poems themselves. The preface is followed by 103 poems, which Teika selected from various anthologies as the finest teachers. Shokado's calligraphy in this handscroll, especially in the passages of poetry written in hiragana, is closely linked to models of the Heian period (794-1185). Shokado's classicism distinguishes him from the bolder styles of his contemporaries, Koetsu (see F1903.309 and F1902.195-196) and Nobutada (see F1981.16).  For their accomplishments in calligraphy, they are known collectively as the "Three Great Brushes of the Kan'ei Era."

Published References
  • Fu Shen, Glenn D. Lowry, Ann Yonemura, Thomas Lawton. From Concept to Context: Approaches to Asian and Islamic Calligraphy. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 26, pp. 80-81.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
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