K539 Tenjin by Sengai Gibon 仙厓義梵

The east wind blows
Even as far as China
Carrying the scent of plum blossoms.
The master here, too, carries a
branch of blossoms in his sleeve.
一枚
袖の
主の
匂ひけん梅の
諸越までも
東風吹けば
Sengai Gibon (仙厓義梵, 1750-1837)
K539 hanging scroll, sumi on paper 82.7 cm × 24.7 cm

Tenjin, the deified form of Sugawara Michizane (845-903), is the god of literature and learning. At one time, nearly every home in Japan had a portrait of Tenjin on display to encourage the children of the household to study diligently. Due to court intrigues Michizane was exiled to Daizai-fu in Kyushu. He missed his beloved plum blossoms so much it is said a tree flew from Kyoto to Daizai-fu to console him. After Michizane died in exile, his vengeful spirit wrecked so much havoc on Kyoto in the form of storms, earthquakes, disease, and death that his imperial titles were posthumously restored and he was enshrined as the god Tenjin. Tenjin is portrayed wearing Chinese-style robes —by legend he was said to have studied Zen in China—with a sprig of plum blossoms in his sleeve. Tenjin was perhaps Sengai’s favorite subject. Sengai had an especial affinity for Sugawara since he spent his last years in Daizai-fu, Sengai’s home district. Usually Sengai’s Tenjin are small enough to fit in any home. This one is quite large, likely brushed for a samurai household.