Rai Sanyo letter calligraphy scroll literati nanga detail

Rai Sanyo | Letter

SKU: 2276



A private letter in a relaxed, balanced, and well spaced writing. The addressee of this letter is Maki Zensuke (1801-1863), better known by his later pen name Hyakuho, was one of Rai Sanyo's master students.

Tomorrow, Fukui-Ominosuke will come to me regarding the book “Shangu daobi”, he will also come for a different reason. Yoshiji will come too, so I will pass the book along. Please get it from him and have a look at it. I only have an extract, but I have not yet seen the book itself. This book should be simple and clear. Please read it, it should not be difficult. Please make a good arrangement.
Best, this 3rd day of the 8th (lunar) month. - To Zensuke from Noboru, and also to Yoshiji.
 - Signed: Noboru [=Rai Sanyo's given name].


Fukui Ominosuke, Rai Sanyo’s friend, also known as Fukui Teien (1783-1849), was a medical doctor by training but a poet and calligrapher at heart. Rai Sanyo obviously knew that he owned a copy of Huang Tingjian's (1045-1105), compilation of letters (Shangu Daobi) - may well be that it was the 1827 edition in six volumes - and Sanyo wanted to borrow it. Not for himself but for one of his most promising students, Maki Zensuke, the addressee of this letter. Sanyo wanted to get Teien's book and pass it on to Yoshidaya Jihei, a well-known editor and book dealer. Zensuke should pick it up from Jihei. What seems complicated in the beginning turns out to be smart logistics: Jihei and Zensuke were neighbours.

What was the reason for Sanyo to recommend this Chinese book to his student? - Huang Tingjian (Jap. Ko Teiken) was, like Sanyo too, a committed, some say compulsive, writer of letters. In his monumental compilation there are hundreds of letters to different people of different social standings and cultural backgrounds. For both Sanyo and Ko Teiken writing letters not only was a means of transmitting information but a valuable genre of expression like poetry, painting or music.  

One of Japan's major literati artists of the early nineteenth century, Rai Sanyo came from a noted Confucian family. His father Rai Shunsui and his uncle Rai Kyohei were both well-known teachers, but as a youth Sanyo was rebellious. After studying for a year at the Hayashi Confucian academy in Edo, he returned to his family home in Aki, Hiroshima, where he led a dissipated life. An arranged marriage to a young bride failed, and in 1800 he left Aki without official permission, a serious offence at the time. Caught in Kyoto, he was returned for three years of house arrest in Aki. During this time he began his unofficial history of Japan, Nihon gaishi, which he finally completed in 1827. His emphasis on emperors rather than shoguns became popular with literati, but not with the Tokugawa government. Sanyo's son Mikisaburo continued the anti-shogunal movement and was beheaded in 1859. (Stephen Addiss: 77 Dances. Japanese Calligraphy by Poets, Monks, and Scholars, 1568-1868, p. 132)


Rai Sanyo (1780-1832) | Letter 

14,9 x 46 cm (5 3/4 x 18 in.) 

Mounting 116 x 48 cm (45 1/2 x 18 3/4 in.)
Wooden box 


Cf. Woodson, Yoko: Travelling Bunjin Painters and Their Patrons. Economic Life Style and Art of Rai Sanyo and Tanomura Chikuden, Phil.Diss., University of California, Berkeley 1983.