A chawan tea bowl decorated with iron scribbling representing the I-Ro-Ha song (and alphabet) by the former head priest of Todaiji Shimizu Kosho enclosed in the original signed wooden box. It is 5-1/2 inches (13 cm) diameter, 3 inches (8 cm) tall and in excellent condition. Iroha is a popular motif in Buddhism. The subject is an old song used to teach the basics of literacy as it is a panagram, containing every letter in the Japanese alphabet once; a popular subject for Zen artists for its simplicity and usefulness. The song itself seems to say, Keep it Simple, and the title I Ro Ha is used to mean basic. It can be translated according to Dr. Ryuichi Abe:
Although its scent still lingers on
the form of a flower has scattered away
For whom will the glory
of this world remain unchanged?
Arriving today at the yonder side
of the deep mountains of evanescent existence
We shall never allow ourselves to drift away
intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams.
Kosho (1911-1999) was a unique and prolific artist-priest studied in the eccentric painting style associated with Nara. He was long time abbot of the massive Todai-ji temple complex in Nara, home of the great Buddha. Like many priests, he began producing art to propagate his teachings later in life. He proved extremely popular, the nonchalant style plucking a string in the Japanese heart. He worked in various media, refusing to be defined, and his work is as eccentric as it is unique, and highly sought in Japan.