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Asian art

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Kanzan and Jittoku


Jiun Sonja


1718 - 1804

YUSHO Zakkean


Unknown -


The semi-legendary eccentric recluses, Kanzan (Ch: Hanzhan, ‘Cold Mountain’) and Jittoku (Ch: Shide, ‘Foundling’), lived around the late eighth and early ninth centuries, on Mount Tiantai, the holy mountain of the Tientai (Jp: Tendai) school of Buddhism in Zhejiang province in southeast China. Kanzan wandered the mountains, composing poems which even today are admired as sublime expressions of an ‘untrammelled spirit’, free from social convention and material ambition. Jittoku worked as a monastery kitchen hand. The scroll and broom were the respective attributes of the two companion recluses who came to be regarded as emanations of the bodhisattvas Monju and Fugen. Their mad antics were perceived as the expression of profound spiritual insights, and the eleventh-century ‘Record of the Transmission of the Lamp’ (‘Keitoku dentōroku’) praised them as having ‘reached the gate of Zen’(1). They first became the subject for Chinese artists in the Song dynasty, after which time their popularity as a subject spread among Japanese artists.

Nothing is known about the artist Yūshō, but Jiun Sonja Onkō is acknowledged as the creator of some of the most visually powerful Zen-inspired calligraphy of the late Edo period, even though he was an ordained monk in the esoteric Shingon Buddhist tradition. He was celebrated for his Sanskrit studies, Sanskrit being the classical language of Mahayana Buddhism, as well as his understanding of Confucianism and Shinto. In his life Jiun stressed uncompromising attention to the precepts of the Vinaya monastic code and, rather than use the elaborate garments of contemporary ritual practice, even designed clerical robes based upon original Indian models (2).

The creation of collaborative works was widespread in Japanese art and literary practice, resulting in some of the finest paintings in ‘zenga’ (‘Zen pictures’), as well as other artistic modes. Jiun’s brief verse encapsulates references to the two recluses, Buddhist notions of impermanence and the pluralism of spiritual truth, which is said to equate in number to the mental afflictions, born of ignorance, to which the mind is prone. The calligraphy fittingly complements the image of two crazy adepts huddled in a conspiratorial, and perhaps unintelligible, whisper. The first by Yūshō reads on the right:

Carefree lunatics in rags with dishevelled hair, gloriously drunk;
This abbreviated sketch only hints at their real purpose
‘Painted and inscribed by Yūshō of Zakkean Hermitage’

This is complemented by Jiun’s verse:

One broom, two volumes of verse, 3,000 years.
Appearing in this world of dust to teach us in 80,000 ways.
‘Brushed by Jiun’ (3)

(1) Shimizu and Wheelright (eds) (1976, p.66).
(2) Addiss (1989, p.155)
(3) Translation in Pollard and Stevens (2006, p.88).

James Bennett, ‘Kanzan and Jittoku’ in James Bennett and Amy Reigle Newland (eds.), ‘The golden journey: Japanese art from Australian collections’, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2009, p. 62-63.
©Art Gallery of South Australia 2009. Reproduced by permission.


Place where the work was made


Media categories

Painting , Calligraphy

Materials used

hanging scroll; ink on paper


118.0 x 43.0 cm


Gift of Kurt A. Gitter 2006


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Jiun Sonja

Works in the collection


Artist information

YUSHO Zakkean

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 2 publications


James Bennett, The golden journey: Japanese art from Australian collections, 'Kanzan and Jittoku', pg. 62, South Australia, 2009, 62 (colour illus.), 63 (colour illus.), 307 (colour illus.). The colour illus. on page 63 is a detail of this work.

Clare Pollard and John Stevens, Zen mind, Zen brush. Japanese ink paintings from the Gitter-Yelen collection, Sydney, 2006, 88 (colour illus.).