Nakahara Nantembo painting

Nakahara Nantembo

Nakahara Nantembo (1839-1925)


ink on paper; signed hachiju-go ou Nantembo (Nantembo at the age of 85) with three artist's seals hakugaikutsu, toju and hachiju-go ou Nantembo, ca. 1921

painting: 53 7/8 by 12 3/4 in., 137 by 32.5 cm
overall: 77 1/8 by 17 3/8 in., 196 by 44 cm

The influential Zen master Nantembo, born Tojyu Zanchu to a samurai family, acquired his nickname in reference to his large staff ('bo') of a type of bamboo ('nanten') which he apparently brandished as a weapon of intimidation as well as using it directly upon trainees. Known for his rigorous training and adherence to strict Zen principles, Nantembo developed a highly regarded individualistic Zen painting style.

The enso (lit. 'circle') is strongly associated with Zen Buddhism, and is a popular subject of Japanse calligraphy (although technically it is not a character). In Zen teachings the enso represents a void for contemplation of simplicity, strength, elegance, everything and nothingness, and enlightenment itself. Here, Nantembo references both the enso, and a less abstract circle, the moon.

Kono tsuki ga
hoshikuba yarou
totte miyo

If you want this moon
I will give it to you
try to capture it

Stephen Addiss, The Art of Zen: Paintings and Calligraphy by Japanese Monks 1600-1925, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989
Yoko Woodson, Zen: Painting and Calligraphy, Asian Art Museum, 2001
Yuji Yamashita, Zenga-The Return from America: Zenga from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, Asano Laboratories, Inc., 2000, p. 168, pl. 87



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site last updated
October 14, 2021

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475