A chawan by Zen Priest Yamamoto Gempo decorated with the character Okina (elder) within, his signature the only decoration outside. It is 5 inches (12.5 cm) diameter, 3-1/4 inches (8.5 cm) tall and comes enclosed in a black lacquered wooden box. For more on this artist see “Zenmi, A Taste of Zen” (2012) Morikami Museum publication from the Riva Lee Asbell collection
Yamamoto Gempo (1866-1961) was born to a poor family in Wakayama at the end of the Edo period, he was left to die of exposure as a baby, but was found by a stranger and adopted into the childless Okamoto family. This was an auspicious start to a violent and bitter youth. Virtually uneducated, his adopted mother would die when he was twelve, and he would descend into a world of debauchery and alcoholism until diagnosed with an eye disease which would lead to his near blindness. In 1890 he entered the priesthood under Yamamoto Taigen, from whom he received his name, and after a brief stay at Sekkeiji Temple he wandered Japan, sojourning in many temples and learning from many masters. Taigen died in 1903, and Gempo would take the reins of Sekkeiji. From 1908 to 1915 he would study under Shoun at the main training facility of Empukuji in Kyoto. After leaving Empukuji he was assigned the task of rebuilding Ryutaku-jo Temple. He would begin calligraphy about this age, as well as travelling the world, with trips to America, England, India, Korea, China and Manchuria. He would later serve the highest office in Rinzai Zen as head of Myoshinji, but never let it go to his head, and remained the kind country priest until his death. For more on this benevolent character see The Art of Twentieth Century Zen (Audrey Yoshiko Seo and Stephen Addiss, 1998) or Zenmi-A Taste of Zen (Morikami Museum, 2011).