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Friday, March 15, 2019

Woman Warrior: In celebration of Women’s History Month

Otagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875), a Japanese Buddhist nun, is considered one of the most important female artists in Japan. Raised as the adopted daughter of the Otagaki family, she received the broad education typical of a samurai family.  She excelled at a great variety of arts, including calligraphy, poetry, the game of “go,” and multiple forms of martial arts.

Otagaki Rengetsu, Tea Bowl, glazed stoneware with incised calligraphy
Otagaki Rengetsu, Tea Bowl, Edo Period (1603–1868),
glazed stoneware with incised calligraphy
Tragedy struck many times in her life.  Starting around 1819, she lost at least four children at an early age, two husbands, two siblings, and finally, her adopted father in 1832. This led her to join the Chion’in Temple in Kyoto as a nun and take the name Rengetsu. Soon after the death of her father, she began to travel Japan and compose poetry, creating tea wares to help support herself. Though she quickly became famed for her works, she remained humble, often describing her work as clumsily done. Her poetry, painting, calligraphy, and pottery all have a distinctive directness that is free, unconventional, and elegant.

She was also an outspoken pacifist. During the Boshin War (1868-1869), the civil war between the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and the imperial court, she penned a long poem decrying Oshio Heihachiro for his rebellion against the emperor and wrote a shorter one addressing the general Shimazu Tadayoshi, who supported the court, urging restraint toward his rebellious countrymen.

--Eddie Ouano, Curatorial Intern, Asian Art Department

March 15, 2019

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