Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
Spring 2008, vol 6 no 1



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Nantembo (1839-1925)

Ink on paper
135,5 x 32,3 cm

If you speak Nanten's staff, If you can't speak, Nanten's staff.

The most characteristic subject for Nantemb˘ is the Nanten staff. The inscription alludes to the famous saying of the Chinese master Deshan (J. Tokusan, 782-865) taken from the Rinzai-roku: If you speak, thirty blows; if you can't speak, thirty blows. Nantemb˘, who also whacked this followers when he felt it might awaken their spirit, wrote: If you speak Nanten's staff; if you can't speak Nanten's staff" In place of the last character, staff (J. Bo), he drew the staff itself.

Nantemb˘ literally designates a stick made of nantin (Nandina domestica) a kind of evergreen shrub; the nickname of the Rinzai priest T˘jű Zenchű (Nakahara 1839-1925), it was the sobriquet Nantemb˘ used when referring to himself. Nantemb˘ recalls how, during one of his trips in the Kyűshű area, he happened to see an exceptional tree, which looked as if it were wriggling out of a cowshed. Struck by the sight, he asked the farmer to cut it, and used this piece of wood as his favourite stick. As the stick Nantemb˘ carried throughout his life, it became a symbol of his spirited attempt to revive the Rinzai School. Nantemb˘'s actual stick is kept at the Zuigan-ji Museum of Matsushima.


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