Nakamaro views the moon in China

Abe no Nakamaro (701-770) was the son of a high court official, who at the age of 16 was sent to China to study timekeeping and the Chinese calendar. By the whim of fate he remained there until he died. The poem is thought to express his homesickness for Japan: “Now I lift my gaze…

Harano no tsuki

The moon of the moor The Heian governor and musician Fujiwara no Yasumasa (958-1036) charms his outlaw brother Hakamadare Yasusake by playing the flute. The bandit had planned to rob him, but the music was so beautiful he could not draw his sword. In this design, the perspective from behind Yasumasa’s back, rather than looking…

Godo no tsuki

Moon of Enlightenment Hotei, the god of happiness, demonstrates the Zen Buddhist wisdom: “All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; and those whose gaze is fixed upon the pointer will never see beyond. Even let him catch sight of the moon, and still he cannot see its beauty.”

Gojobashi no tsuki

Gojo Bridge moon A scene from the Noh play “Benkei on the Bridge”. The child Minamoto Ushiwaka in mid jump, defending the passage on Gojo Bridge in Kyoto against the warrior-priest Benkei. When Benkei cannot defeat Ushikawa, and learns of his high birth, he humbly surrenders. Ushiwaka later became the legendary General Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159-1189),…

Gekkyo no mukae

Received back into Moon Palace In this scene from the Taketori monogatari (Tale of the Bamboo Cutter), an old bamboo cutter watches in awe as heavenly messengers lead the girl he adopted and raised, Princess Kaguyahime, daughter of the Moon Queen, back to her home.

Getsumei rinka bijin majiru

The elegantly dressed Chinese woman represents the spirit of the plum tree that appeared to the Chinese poet Zhao Shixiong.

Does the cuckoo too announce its name from above the clouds?

Minamoto no Yorimasa (1106-1180) made his fame when he shot a mythological nue-monster that was disturbing the Emperor, and was given a sword, and Lady Shobu for a wife. At the rewarding ceremony a cuckoo calls, and Minister Yorinaga asks: “Does the cuckoo too announce its name from above the clouds?” Yorimasa replies: “I only…

Dokusho no tsuki

Reading by the moon In Confucian thought, filial piety is one of the virtues to be cultivated: the love and respect for one’s parents and ancestors. This design shows Zi Luo (543-480 BC), a disciple of Confucius, who became a government official. He is studying by the light of the full moon, while carrying a…

Gen’i viewing the moon from his castle

Gen’i (Maeda no Munehisa, 1536-1602) was a wise priest and shrewd politician, who had a successful career despite the complications of the civil war. Here he is seen reclining on the veranda of Kameyama Castle in Tamba Province, where he may be reflecting on the material world that is clouding the Buddha nature. His poem…

Fukami Jikyu challenges the moon

Fukami Jikyu was a samurai whose skills were no longer needed once peace was established under the Tokugawa Shogunate. He joined the Otokodate, groups of able fighters that were charged – or charged themselves – with keeping the peace. In many areas they developed into organized crime families, and they were often associated with excessive…

Chinese beauty holding a stringed instrument

This picture is an illustration of a quatrain about the moon on a spring night by the 8th-century Chinese poet Wang Zhang Ling. A noblewoman has been playing on her guqin – a seven-stringed zither – when she notices how beautiful the night is outside. She instructs her attendant to roll up the blinds so…

Sumiyoshi full moon (Sumiyoshi no meigetsu)

On a vigil at the Sumiyoshi Shrine in Settsu, south of the present Osaka, the poet-courtier Fujiwara no Sadaie (Lord Teika) fell asleep. Sumiyoshi no Kami, who is worshipped as the patron of poetry, appeared to him in a dream. According to the Noh play Haku Rakuten, Sumiyoshi was instrumental in saving Japanese poetry from…