Mountain Cherries, by Otagaki Rengetsu

  • Edo period
  • 19c
  • Hanging scroll, ink on paper
  • H-31 W-42.5
Catalogue Entry

Otagaki Rengetsu (1791‐1875) was a woman poet of the late Edo period. She married twice, but tragically lost both her husbands and children and in the end entered Buddhist orders. She began a pottery kiln in the Okazaki district of Kyoto to support herself, and her hand‐formed “Rengetsu ware" carved with her own poems became popular chiefly amongst the liter‐ati of her day. At the age of 60 she befriended the then 15 year old Tomioka Tessai, and she influenced the career of this literati painter, inscribing her waka poems on his paintings and generally helping with his career.

This poem tells of a person unkindly refused lodging for the night, who then experiences a wonderful moonlit night beneath flowering mountain cherry trees as a result. Thus, the Buddha's benevolence turns misfortune to fortune in our lives. A small glimpse of the branch of a mountain cherry tree blooms in the upper left of the composition, filled with the beauty of Rengetsu's pure spirit, gazing up at it.