Sengai Gibon 仙厓義梵 (1750-1837)

The Lucky God Jurōjin Riding on a Deer

Inv. Nr. #19.034
Date Edo period, 1st half 19th C.
Material Ink on paper
Dimensions H 165,0 (88,0) x D 31,0 (27,5) cm

Comes with new fitted wooden box, with original lid and inscription inserted.


Price on request

A painting by the Zen master Sengai Gibon (1750-1837) depicting one of the seven lucky gods (shichi fukujin) called Jurōjin. Jurōjin is a figure revered in China and Japan as a symbol of wisdom, learning, and long life.  Usually depicted as a dignified old man, draped in long, noble robes, standing in a serene posture, he is here painted in Sengai's fluid brushstrokes as a happy, lively old man enjoying himself by riding around on his companion, a deer.

Sengai was born the son of a tenant farmer and was given to a local temple, Seitai-ji, at the age of eleven. There he was tonsured and given the monk name Gibon. He studied under Gessen Zenne (1702-1781) at Tōki-an in present-day Yokohama and, after his master's death in 1781, may have spent a few years wandering around the country before settling in Kyūshū at the age of 39. He became abbot of Shōkoku-ji in Hakata, Fukuoka, which had been built in 1195 by Myōan Eisai (1141-1215) as the first official Zen temple in Japan, but by the time of Sengai's arrival had fallen into disrepair.

Sengai not only rebuilt the temple grounds, but also succeeded in making the old site one of the thriving centers of Zen Buddhism in Edo Japan. He won the hearts of the local community with his compassion and understanding for the common people and their simple lives, as well as his great sense of humor. Sengai also gained great recognition within the Zen community, culminating in the official granting of the purple robe by the main Rinzai temple, Myōshin-ji, by decree of Emperor Kōkaku (1771-1840), which Sengai refused. Later, Sengai wrote in a poem: "Worldly fame and holy titles/ Each of them is a vain voice" (Furuta 1985, 19).


Later in life, Sengai spent more and more time creating the light-hearted ink paintings for which he was known. His paintings and calligraphies are always humorous and look like comic-like sketches, but they always have deeper implications drawn from his tremendous inner Zen experience. For example, he was not afraid to use symbols of folk beliefs, as in this painting. However, instead of aiming for simple adoration from the viewer, he painted the god of luck as a good example of not relying on someone else's mercy, but working on our own inner determination.



Collections (selection):

Metropolitan Museum, Fukuoka Art Museum, National Gallery of Australia, Tokyo National Museum, Idemitsu Museum of Art.


References (selection):

Suzuki, Daisetz T.: Sengai. The Zen Master, Greenwich 1971.

Furuta, Shōkin: Sengai. Master Zen Painter, übersetzt. v. Tsukimura Reiko, Tokyo/New York/London 2000.

Yuji Yamashita, Zenga-The Return from America: Zenga from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, Asano Laboratories, Inc., 2000, pp. 117-124.