Rai Sanyo | Letter
Rai Sanyo was of Samurai descent and a man of letters. He was an outstanding historian, a thinker, and a poet. And as a master poet he was also a mentor. His best-known mentee was Ema Saiko (1787 - 1861). He corresponded with her on poetry, she sent him her poems, and he returned them with his comments in red ink. An other mentee was Koishi Genzui (1784 - 1849), a successful medical doctor, an amateur poet and Genzui’s friend. For years he had been honing poems under Minagawa Kien. When Kien passed away in 1807 Genzui asked Rai Sanyo for support. And Sanyo did not refuse. So, Sanyo had to do what mentors do. Read, fix, and eventually improve their mentees’ scribblings. But with Genzui it was more challenging than with Ema Saiko.
Sanyo’s letter is rather informal in style, and very direct in expression: «From the letter that you sent me, I learned that you got better. I am quite happy about this. I have been worried since I have heard that you were seriously ill. The piece you rewrote, got worse as did your reasoning. It is too perfect, so the beauty of expression vanished. The beginning was good, since it implies a spring setting. But it lacks seasonal expressions. It could for example mention this year’s intercalary winter month. I am sorry for the delay of the correction. I didn’t care because I thought there was no hurry.» - On the 24th day [of the twelfth month 1813], Yo [=Sanyo], to Tekei.
PS Chikuden [i.e., Tanomura Chikuden (1777-1835)] came today, it has been such a long time. And it was great to catch up with an old friend.
The letter is - no surprise - mounted on a hanging scroll, which is - big surprise - sealed. The seal reads «Obaku Gazen-do», which is one of the many seals Tanomura Chokunyu (1814-1907) used. The inscription on the inside of the box lid by Chokunyu is dated 1873. An auspicious year in three ways. It was sixty years after the letter had been written, Chokunyu celebrated his turning 60 (by Japanese count), and 1873 was also the year in which Japan changed to the so-called Gregorian calendar, which made intercalary months - as the one mentioned in the letter - obsolete. Tanomura Chikuden, mentioned in the letter was Chokunyu’s adoptive father.
Rai Sanyo (1780-1832)
Letter to Koishi Genzui (1784-1849)
Red ink on paper
16 x 21 cm (6¼ x 8¼ in.)
Mounting 109.5 x 37 cm (43 x 14 ½ in.)
Collector's box (Tanomura Chokunyu)