Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sesshu and the Rat

Sesshu & The Rat

The artist and Zen monk who is known by the name of Sesshu is one of the greatest Japanese artists of all time. Born in Akahama (now part of Soja, Okayama Pref.) in 1420. The son of a samurai family, at the age of 10 he was packed off to the nearby Zen temple of Hofuku-Ji to train as a monk, and it was from this time that a famous story about him is set.

Apparently he was not a good novice, preferring to spend his time drawing rather than chanting the sutras, and one day as punishment for his misbehaviour he was tied to one of the pillars in the temple hall.

Later when a monk (or abbot) came to check on him he was startled by what appeared to be a rat on the floor in front of the bound Sesshu. On closer examination it turned out that the rat was a very life-like drawing done by Sesshu using his toe to draw in the dust of the floor with his tears.

His artistic talent being recognized he was encouraged to follow his heart and so became the great artist he is known as today.

There is another version of the story that says that the rat drawing was so life-like it actually became real and chewed through the ropes binding Sesshu and freed him.


  1. This is the first time I've heard this story. The sculpture at the top - do you know who the artist is or was?

  2. Hi MrCachet
    sorry I dont know who the artist is,,,, though by the style (kawaii) its obviously new.
    It is outside JR Soja station so you could probably google it in Japanese..

  3. My friend and I always see the one sculpture (first picture) around our town and wondered if there was a story behind it. Thanks for the wonderful story!

    On a side note, MrCachet, I've seen the sculpture available in Los Angeles China Town.