Jiun Onkō (1718 - 1804)

Kotobuki (Long Life) 壽

Ink on silk, 77.1 by 83 cm

Mounts 201.3 by 113.3 cm

Sealed Senriki no Deshi / Onko no In / Itaru Tokoro Keige Nashi with the artist's seals 


The Chinese character Ju, or Kotobuki, implies gratitude upon receiving long life, but it also connotes the transcendence of the eternal cycle of birth and death. Jiun’s intention is to wish longevity while warning the reader at the same time: may we all have a long and happy life, but shall we spend it well, according to the buddhism’s teachings. The massive character is meant to emerge as a strong admonition. The horizontal brushstrokes sit tightly on top of each other, with barely any space between them. The perfect balance and proportions of the kanji opens up at the bottom with the the sweeping brushstrokes that surround the final punctuation of the round dot in the center, a typical feature of Jiun’s calligraphies. On top, with feeble and short lines, the explanation of Jiun’s auspice:

をの/づから/生る/衆生を/御法/にて我/尽しなき / ことぶきを / しる

“All the creatures that are born and live by the teaching of Buddhism get to live a long life.”

“Kotobuki” is a classical ichigyomono, litterally “one-liners”: short phrases or single characters that allude to longer sentences or deep concepts. They are often found in public places such as tea rooms, zen temples and martial arts dōjō.

Jiun Onkō (Jiun Sonja) is one of the greatest Japanese Zen artists. Born in Osaka, he joined the cloister at the age of thirteen and studied Confucianism, Shingon esoteric buddhism and Soto Zen. He was an excellent scholar, learning Sanskrit in order to study the ancient Buddhist manuscripts and the basic teachings of Buddhism, and founded a religious movement that wanted to bring Buddhism back to its origins (“True Dharma”). Jiun was one of the reformers of the Edo period Zen and still today he is considered one of the greatest Zen calligraphers ever lived in Japan.


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