Nun Myōkai's Later Years 

from the Righteous Samurai Collection, 1920

by Kosugi Misei

IHL Cat. #2599


The nineteenth print appearing in Volume 4 of Gishi taikan, edited by Fukumoto Nichinan. 

The artist pictures the elderly nun Myokai-ni 妙海  (1686-1778) peering into the garden at her hermitage in Sengakuji, the temple where the Righteous Samurai graves are located. Presenting herself in 1774, seventy years after the seppuku of the Righteous Samurai, as the wife (or, in some tellings, the daughter) of Horibe Yasubei 堀堀安兵衛 (1670-1703), she tended the graves of Yasubei and the other gishi and told enthralling stories about the Akō rōnin, making her a popular figure. She remained at the temple until her death and was buried beside the graves of the rōnin. As Yasubei's wife died in 1720 at the age of 45 her story was known to be fiction.

Among the stories that grew up around her was that the wife of Lord Asano, Aguri (Buddhist name Yōzen-in), gave Myokai a potted plum tree which she then transplanted in Sengakuji. 

While Nichinan included the story of Moyokai-ni in section 304 of Genroku kaikyoroku 元禄快挙録 (Record of the Valiant Vendetta of Genroku), he notes that there are "many extremely strange stories about the nun Myokai" and while personally attached to the story he doesn't "believe much of what is said." He left the story of Myokai out of his subsequent account of the vendetta.

Print Details

click on image to enlarge

artist signature and seal

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Tribute Preceding Print by

Kawahigashi Hekigotō (1873-1937)


haiku poet

from Volume 4 of Gishi Taikan

image source: The Early Japanese Book Portal Database, Art Research Center AkoRH-R0419-4

click on image to enlarge

Print Commentary from Volume 4 of Gishi Taikan


【圖は, 堀部安兵衛の未亡人幸子(彌兵衛の女)の妙海尼が, 泉岳寺内の庵室にありて, 亡君並に義徒の冥福を念ずる處である, 是は俗傳 によつたのであるが, 妙海尼が果して安兵衛の妻でありしや否やは別問題として, 尼の庵室を泉岳寺に結びて行ひ澄せしに對しては, 世の義士を渴仰するより尼も大に珍重せられ, 九十三歳まで長命して,屢々儲侯の後庭にも召出され, 其談を聽かれたどの事とある.】 

image source: The Early Japanese Book Portal

Database, Art Research Center


Artist Profile

Kosugi Misei 小杉未醒 (1881-1964)

Kosugi was born in Nikkō in 1881. His real name was Kosugi Kunitarō 小杉国太郎 and he is best known by the art name he took later on, Kosugi Hōan 小杉放庵 .  He initially studied Western painting (yōga) under Ioki Bunsai 五百城文哉 (1863-1906) and then with Koyama Shōtarō 小山 正太郎 (1857-1916) at Koyama's Fudōsha school. While at Fudōsha he changed his art name to Kosugi Misei, became active in Taiheiyo Gakai (The Pacific Art Society) exhibition, and won several awards from exhibitions sponsored by the Ministry of Education. He became acquainted with Yokoyama Taikan 横山大観 (1868-1958), who was instrumental in the development of Nihonga, and participated in The Japan Art Institute where he would supervise the Western painting department after the death of the Institute's founder Okakura Tenshin 岡倉 天心  (1863-1913). After the dissolution of the the Institute's Western painting department, he formed the Shun'yōkai, but would eventually turn away from Western models toward his own distinctive interpretation of Nihonga and retake the art name Kosugi Hōan. Laurance Roberts notes that "In his later years, this Japanese style, light and delicate, with frequent touches of humor, almost completely superseded his Western" oil painting work. For a time he made a living as a cartoonist and illustrator for newspapers and magazines, including a stint as an artist-reporter during the Russo-Japanese War. He also designed  lithographs, etchings and woodblock prints. In his later years, he lived in a mountain house in Akakura, Niigata-ken, and passed away in 1964 at the age of 82. 

Sources: Portland Art Museum;id=78989;type=101#; A Dictionary of Japanese Artists: Painting, Sculpture, Ceramics, Prints, Lacquer, Laurance P. Roberts, Weatherhill, 1976, p. 92; Kosugi Hoan Museum of Art, Nikko