Nakahara Nantenbo (1839-1925)

Nanten staff, dated 1912

Hanging scroll

Ink on paper, 1924


Painting: 143 x 50.5 cm

Mounts: cm 212 x 73.5


Signed: Hachijugo-o Nantenbo [Nantenbo, aged eighty-five] and with two seals.

The poem reads:


If you answer, Nanten's staff 

if you do not answer Nanten' staff


The artist monk Nantenbo was a Japanese Zen master. His artist’s name Nantenbo is a combination of the name of the shrub and the word for staff :

Nantenbo made himself a staff from a branch of nandina and used it to prod his students toward making progress. His nickname thus embodied his sternness, his unbending behavior. In the center of the painting is the Zen staff. The script relates to the saying of Chinese master Te-Shan (782-865) “if you speak- thirty strokes; if you do not speak- thirty strokes”. Nantenbo adapted the sentence slightly. 

The last character, meaning staff has been replaced by a painting. This is a play on the words for the Zen staff and Nantenbo. The speech and silence of student suggest the koan riddles that the theater sets his pupils. There is no relation answer to it, but it can be given in a gesture, a sound a speech. Whichever way is chosen, the response will elicit blows from the teacher’s cane, intended to release the student from their mental confinement.

Nantembō was born in the city of Karatsu as the son of a samurai. He became a monk of the Rinsai Zen sect at an early age. His Buddhist name was Zenchū. Nantembō was the nickname he received in 1873 because of the nandina staff (Bō) he acquired to admonish his students. He became a controversial figure in Japanese Zen circles, devoting his energy to reforming Zen in Japan. He had to give up his prestigious post at the Zuigan-ji in Matsushima because of this. Later he was appointed at Kaisei-ji in Nishinomiya, where he stayed until his death in 1925.


Price: 3,500 €

Inventory Nr: 3017

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