Masuda City Tourist Information Center


〒698-0024 17-2 Ekimae-cho Masuda-shi Shimane Japan

雪舟sesshu toyo


Kiyoshi Miyamoto
(The Former Curator of Sesshu Memorial Museum)    

The Town of Masuda in Shimane Prefecture is famous for a great ink painter and a celebrated poet who left great traces in history.  Their name are Sesshu Toyo(1420-1506) and Kakinomoto no Hitomaro(7th Cerntury). Sesshu is one of the greatest Zen painters of Japan and has become famous throughout the world.  He captured the images of local landscapes during his work here in the 15th century.

Sesshu was born in Okayama Prefecture, and died in Masuda at the age of eighty-seven. When he was forty-eight years old, he visited China (then ruled by the Ming Dynasty) as a member of Japanese envoy.His visit to China had much influence on him. He had plenty of opportunities to study the Chinese traditional master-paintings and become aware of the powerful and realistic style of the classic Chinese paintings.

    In 1956, the World Peace Council held in ViennaAustria, nominated ten people who rendered great contributions to world culture, and commemorated them.  Sesshu was selected as one of them along with Italy’s Leonardo da Vinci.

The Sesshu Memorial Museum was established in the second year of Heisei(1990) to commemorate the deep relationship the town of Masuda has with Sesshu. Inside the museum, we display Sesshu’s works that are registered as Important National Cultural Properties.  Alongside there are other important artifacts and materials, such as the Portrait of the 15th Feudal Lord Masuda Kanetaka, a work which is often called his ultimate masterpiece.

The Portrait of Masuda Kanetaka

The 15th Lord of the Masuda Family”  By Sesshu(Dated AD1479, age 60) 
Panegyric by Chikusin Shutei
Painted in color on paper (82.7cm long and 40.9cm wide)Important Cultural Property
Owned by Sesshu Memorial Museum, Masuda


   This picture is what Masuda city purchased from Masuda family at the price of one hundred million yen($1 million) in 1989.
The former owner inherited this painting from the 15th Feudal Lord of the Masuda.


In Japan, a garden is an artificial open-air space attached to a building. With natural or artificial things arranged in it, it serves for pleasant viewing, leisure, outdoor exercise, etc. The garden attached to our museum is called Kare-sansui(dry landscape garden).  It is a garden of arranged stones, trees and moss without ponds or Yarimizu(artificial stream- an artificial narrow stream drawn from a river into a garden).

Sesshu's Life

Sesshu Toyo is considered to be the greatest painter priest of Zen-shu, a sect of Buddhism.  Buddhism in Japan is divided into several sects as in the case of Christianity.  Buddhism was introduced to Japan by way of China and Korea. In the first half of the 6th century, a priest from India by the name of Bodhidharma introduced Zen to China and it was brought to Japan in the Kamakura Period(1185-1333) by priests who studied there. Zen rendered a strong influence on the way of the Samurai, as well as on traditional culture such as, the tea ceremony, shaping many aspects of the Japanese.  According to Zen teachings, enlightenment can be realized only through sitting in meditation and training in calming the self. Zen priests improved the culture of their times, such as through architecture, JapaneseGardens and ink paintings.  Among them, ink painting, we can say, was developed hand in hand with Zen Buddhism, and paintings often serve as an illustration of the essence of Zen Buddhism.

Ink Painting is a monochrome picture in India ink.  Various objects in the picture are represented primarily in shades of black and white.  A special characteristic of this style is the method of shading the India ink by making strong and weak strokes. After being brought over from China in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), ink painting was at the height of popularity in the Muromachi Period (1392-1573).  At first, mainly religious paintings were connected with teachings of the Zen sect, but, by the 15thcentury, themes for ink paintings spread to include such things as landscapes, flowers and birds. Ink Painting (Suigokuga) in Japan came to perfection with the painter priest Sesshu Toyo.

Sesshu Toyo was born in 1420 (Muromachi Period) in Okayama Pref. in the western part oof Japan.  When he was twelve or thirteen years old, he entered Shokokuji temple(相国寺) in Kyoto as an acolyte under the head priest of all Zen temples(His name is Shunrin Shuto(春林周藤).  From his early childhood he showed an extraordinary talent for painting.  It is a well-known tale that once, while being scolded and tied to a pillar, he drew a picture of a mouse on the wooden floor with his own tears.

He became a pupil of Shubun(周文), who was recognized as a famous painter at that time.  It was decided during that time, that Sesshu should become a priest painter. Shubun worked under the protection of the 6th Shougun Yoshinori in the Muromachi government.  His talents were many-sided and his black ink paintings are very sensitive, placid and full of lucidity.  At the end of the 15th century all painters studied his obscure. Sesshu also studied it and became influenced by it.  Sesshu’s life from his teens until the later half of his thirties is obscure.

When he was forty-eight years old, Sesshu visited China.  Before he left for China, he was greatly influenced by Shubun, but his visit to China also influenced him, subsequently, after his return from China, his style had changed. His technique grew toward maturity and become free of Shubun’s influences.  His long travels from Ningpo to Peking made him feel the vastness of the nature in China and gave him knowledge that could only be derived from the original sources of ink painting.

The great priest painter Sesshu came to our town, Masuda, twice in his life, and ended his life at Toko-ji Temple here.  But as it was burnt down in 1580, any records and ancestral tablets were totally and eighty-four years after Sesshu died, a priest, Taiki Shoshuku, set up Taiki-an cottage as Sesshu’s mausoleum in 1690.  The grave of Sesshu still stands between Taiki-an and our Sesshu Memorial Museum on a hillock. In 1921, a conservation society for the place of Sesshu’s death was organized by the local people and famous modern artists of Japanese style painting. The reason why he left Unkoku-an in Yamaguchi with a longing for Masuda was because of his respect for the noble spirit which the feudal lord Masuda Kanetaka devoted his life to culture and peace through his religious belief of the Zen sect.

While young, Sesshu was awakened to the Zen spirit at Shokoku Temple in Kyoto. When he realized his long cherished wish to visit China by the support of the feudal lord Ouchi, he was recommended for the first seat at Tien-tung, including a short sojourn.  After his return from China, his style became such that he mastered the art of transforming the Chinese painting into a Japanese pattern.  This became the starting point for the Japanizing of Chinese art.  He painted the outstanding portrait of ‘Masuda Kanetaka’ at the age of 60, and completed his most important work, the “Larger Landscape Scroll” when he was sixty-seven years old.

While staying in Masuda, Sesshu made spiritual gardens called ‘Sesshu gardens’ at two temples, which are designated as places of historical and scenic interest by the government.  He painted his masterpieces such as ‘Portrait of Masuda Kanetaka’, and ‘Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons-a pair of sex-fold screens’ in Masuda.  We respect Sesshu for his sincerity and passion.  We are very proud of Sesshu who created a Japanese style of ink painting which can still be felt in contemporary Japanese art, Sesshu Toyo is, we believe, the world’s supreme ink painter.

English Revisor
Hiromi Kijiyama: Supervisor, Shimane Prefectural Board of Education
Yuki Shimada: Assistant of English Teacher, Simane Prefectural Board of Education

Professor Shigeyasu Hasumi, the study of Sesshu Toyo.
Asahi Publishing Company, Tokyo, 1997, pp.3-13
A dictionary of Japanese Art Terms
Tokyo Bijutsu Co., Ltd., Tokyo, 1990

Traditional Japanese Culture & Modern Japan
Yoichi Sugiura & John K, Gillespie,

Natsume Co., Ltd. Tokyo

Takero Sato A Handbook Introducing Japan in English
Sogen-sha Co., Ltd., Osaka, 1992

Director of Tourism, Masuda City Office, Guide Map of Masuda City
Masuda City Office, Shimane, 1992

Information of Sesshu Memorial Museum
Address:  1149 Otoyoshi, Masuda-city, Shimane
Telephone: 0856-24-0500
Access: From JR Masuda Station, take the Iwami Kotsu Bus for ‘Kushiro’.  Get off at Undo Koen(Spo rts Park) Bus Stop. Open:  9:00am to 4:00pm

Admission: Adult: 300 yen, Child & Student: 100
(For groups of 20 or more,  Adult: 240 yen,  Child & Student:80 yen.)

Main Exhibits
The Portrait of Masuda Kanetaka by Sesshu Toyo
Dated A.D. 1479, Age 60, Painted in color on paper
Important Cultural Property of Japan
Note: Exhibited only twce a year , from the late April to early March, and two weeks in November.

The Larger Scroll of Landscapes of the Four Seasons by Sesshu Toyo
Dated A.D.1486, Age 67, Reproduction (180.7cm long 40.0cm wide)
Painted with indian ink and faint color on paper
Registered as a “National Treasure” Owned by Hofu Mouri Hokokai, Yamaguchi (Original Picture)

 An excerpt from “HAND SCROLL SERIES” written by Hofu Mori Hokokai

“This painting popularly known as the Longer Landscapes Scroll (because there is another smaller-sized scroll of landscapes by Sesshu) is a representative master work of the famous artist Sesshu. The inscription by the artist at the end of the scroll, stating “Painted by Sesshu Toyo”, formerly holder of the first seat at Tine-tung, in December in the eighteenth year of the Bunmei era (A.D. 1486) at the age of sixty-seven,’ provides that it was done in the period when his skill in art was in its maturity。

The scroll illustrates sceneries in the changing seasons of the year interwoven with versed aspects of the lives of noble and plebeian people.  The seasonal sights that evolve as the scroll is unrolled from right to left, are interestingly rich in variety.

The phrase ‘holder of the first seat at T’ien-tung’ in the inscription means that he was honored with the top position among the Priests of the Ching-te-ssu Temple at T’ien-t’ung-shan during his sojourn in Ming China.  The term hitsu-ji (‘received the brush’) in the same inscription which he used to mean “painted,” signifies that he learned the style of this painting from those of earlier masters. The reason why he wrote the colophon in such a formal style must have been that this painting was monumental for the artist in some way or other.  Around this time, his atelier Tenkai Toga-ro , at his dwelling Unkokuan in Yamaguchi, was constructed under the patronage of the Ouchi family, the ruler of Yamaguchi Pref, and his itinerant life in religious and artistic pilgrimage came to a temporary end.  We might surmise that in this scroll of landscapes he expressed what he was feeling at the time after his life-long travels as a Zen(contemplative Buddhism) priest and a painter.  Be that as it may, this scroll is that most laborious work of Sesshu and doubtless a glory of the history of Japanese art.”

Birds and Flowers
A pair of six-fold screens (179.0cm long and 365.5cm wide)
Attributed to Sesshu (Dated A.D. 1483. age 64)
Ink painting and light colored
Important Cultural Property
Owned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs(Original one)

The Sedentary Image of Zen Priest Sesshu
By Takamura Koun (1852-1934).  Professor of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (the present Tokyo University of Arts). Carved from wood. Owned by Sesshu Memorial MuseumMasuda City

Autumn and Winter Landscape By Sesshu
Painted in black ink on paper, Registered as a “National Treasure”

Copy of A View of Yamadera
A reproduction by Kano Tsunenobu (1636-1713)
Edo Period (1603-1867), Ink Painting on paper, Sesshu’s original picture: A sketch of Tokoji Temple in Masuda (Dated A.D. 1497 age 60)

Painting of Tenkai-togaro By Terasaki Kogyo ( Dated A.D. 19187)
Professor of Tokyo University of Arts, a judge of the Ministry of Education Art Exhibition and a member of Nihonbijutsu-in (Japan Art Institute),Color on silk base, 32.0cm long and 56.5cm wide. Owned by Sesshu Memorial Museum, Masuda city

Haboku Sensui (Splashed – ink landscape) By Sesshu (Dated A.D. 1495, age 76)
Ink Painting on paper (147.9cm, long and 32.7cm wide), Registered as a “National Treasure”