Category Archives: Paintings on shikishi board


The ideogram 福, depicting the blessing, but also more simply happiness and good luck, in its ancestral form appeared as two hands raised towards the sky that offered a wine cask over an altar. In its current form it is composed of the ideogram 示, which means omens from heaven, and 畐 a container filled with votive offerings.

In the tradition of the Far East this kanji represents, together with prosperity (禄) and longevity (寿), one of the three most important auspicious symbols of life. These three goals, visually represented in the Chinese mythology by the Three Stars (三星), ie the three deities Fu Xing (福星), Lu Xing (祿星) and Shou Xing (寿星), in Japan are summarized in the figure of Fukurokuju (福禄寿), one of the Seven Lucky Gods shichifukujin (七福神).

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DRAGON (Keisen)

Although in Japanese writing the dragon is mostly represented with the simplified pictogram 竜 depicting a frontally viewed dragon, in this beautiful shodo (書道) calligraphy work we can appreciate the more elaborate and aesthetically refined form 龍, which is often used in literary contexts and which depicts in profile the body of the legendary creature.

The kanji 龍 derives graphically from the Chinese bronze inscriptions depicting a crowned serpent with prominent whiskered mouth and eyes. In the current form we see sketched, with simple and abstract lines, the whiskered mouth at lower left, surmounted by the eyes and a crown. On the right we see the body: tail at the top and legs in the lower part.

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LONG LIFE (Keisen)

The ancient ideogram 壽 depicting longevity, which in this beautiful shodo (書道) calligraphy work we see written in its simplified form 寿, in the tradition of the Far East represents, together with happiness (福) and prosperity (禄), one of the three most important auspicious symbols of life.

These three goals, visually represented in the Chinese mythology by the Three Stars (三星), ie the three deities Fu Xing (福星), Lu Xing (祿星) and Shou Xing (寿星), in Japan are summarized in the figure of Fukurokuju (福禄寿), one of the Seven Lucky Gods shichifukujin (七福神).

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Life is like walking along a long road shouldering a heavy load; there is no need to hurry (人の一生は重荷を負うて遠き道を行くがごとし。急ぐべからず). In this refined calligraphy work we read, inscribed inside an enso (円相) circle, the incipit of the famous Toshogu Goikun (東照宮御遺訓), a testament written in 1604 by Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康), in anticipation of his abdication as shogun (将軍), as a moral and political guide for his successors. The text continues as follows…

One who treats difficulties as the normal state of affairs will never be discontented. Patience is the source of eternal peace; treat anger as an enemy. Harm will befall one who knows only success and has never experienced failure. Blame yourself rather than others. It is better not to reach than to go too far (不自由を常と思えば不足なし。こころに望みおこらば困窮したる時を思い出すべし。堪忍は無事長久の基、いかりは敵と思え。勝つ事ばかり知りて、負くること知らざれば害その身にいたる。おのれを責めて人をせむるな。及ばざるは過ぎたるよりまされり。).

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Elegant painting on silk depicting the snowy peak of Fuji soaring above the clouds. Mount Fuji (富士山) is the highest mountain in Japan and is considered one of the “Three Holy Mountains” (三霊山) of the country, along with Mount Tate (立山) and Mount Haku (白山), and many Japanese consider it a duty to go on a pilgrimage on its slopes at least once in their life.

This shikishi (色紙) was made by Hasegawa Hokurei (長谷川北嶺), an artist born in 1950 in Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県) and specialized in the depiction of landscapes and kacho-ga (花鳥画) images of flowers and birds.

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KABUTO (Nishimura Kingyo)

Beautiful painting on shikishi (色紙) board depicting a kabuto (兜) adorned with stylized deer horns of the type okuwagata (大鍬形) and inspired, in all probability, to the helmet of Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経), the famous general lived between the end of the Heian period (平安時代) and the beginning of the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代).

In Japanese culture, the kabuto is still a symbol of good luck, and is given to children with the hope that they will grow up healthy and strong as warriors.

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DREAM (Keisen)

The kanji 夢 depicting the dream is composed of four ideograms: the first 艹 represents the grass, the second 罒 an oblique look, the third 冖 is a blanket and, at last, the fourth 夕 is a crescent moon evening. As a result, it is easy to imagine a person with half-closed eyes dozing on the lawn and sheltering, with a blanket, from the cool of a moonlit evening.

Others read, in the composition of the four kanji mentioned above, the act of waking up with flower petals on the eyes after having had a beautiful dream, a nice crowning of a pleasant evening.

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LOVE (Keisen)

Among the words of a language few words, like “love”, reflect in their etymology, or in our case in the meaning of the signs that compose the ideogram, the deepest and archetypal instances of a civilization. The kanji “ai” (愛) is composed of three ideograms that return its final meaning, and which we summarize with the word “love”. Looking at the kanji from the bottom to the top we find: 夂, a pictogram depicting a foot that drags wearily; 心, or the heart, the symbolic core of human feelings; 旡 (indeed in a completely different modern form), which means filled, full. The end result of this composition is a heart full of pain that is dragged by suffering.

From here it is easy to frame the role of love in a philosophical religious vision in which the transcendence of feelings puts us in a state of grace and peace while, on the contrary, amorous transportation places us in the flow of things that brings with it the pain of participation in things that change.

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JAPAN (Keisen)

The word “Wa” is the oldest name of Japan recorded by historical documents. The Chinese, Korean and Japanese writers, until the eighth century, regularly wrote Wa or Yamato with the Chinese character 倭. This character, however, had been conceived by the Chinese with a negative connotation: it indicated the Japanese as the people of “bent men”, that is, submissive, docile, obedient. Around 757 AD the Japanese scholars therefore decided to replace the Chinese logogram 倭 with the current 和.

According to some researchers, the origin of the ideogram 和 can be traced back to two kanji: 禾 and 口, that is the entrance of a military camp and the casket in which the peace agreements were placed. Literally then it presents the act of entering into an agreement on a battlefield but, in the broadest sense that is still used, it simply means “harmony”, “peace”.

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ENSO (Ougai Kofude)

Refined shodo (書道) work by the master calligrapher Ougai Kofude (小筆凰外) depicting an enso (円相), that is a circle. The enso is perhaps the most common subject of Japanese calligraphy. It symbolizes illumination, strength, the universe. It is believed by many that the character of the artist is completely revealed by the way he designs this circle; moreover it is believed that only those who are mentally and spiritually complete can draw a true enso. Some artists draw an enso every day, like a sort of spiritual diary.

Some draw the enso with an opening in the circle, while others complete it. The opening could symbolize that this circle is not separate from the rest of things but is part of something bigger. The enso is a sacred symbol in Zen Buddhism, and is often used by Zen masters as a signature in their works.

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