Chinese carved cinnabar saucer dish with chrysanthemum decorationWe again attended the Chantilly "Big Flea" this past weekend on Saturday, May 5th (and again arriving several hours after the show began.) We acquired a Qing dynasty carved cinnabar plate and a Showa kakiemon style Koransha vase which we hope to photograph and list soon.

We have also spent a little time working with our last acquisition at the "Big Flea" - the woodblock portrait of a monk. Having translated one row of characters, the sitter is found to be an historical figure. The name reads Shoichi Kokushi. And we believe the remaining characters read Zo (referring to an "image") Myoben.

Shoichi Kokushi was a thirteenth century Tendai monk who studied Rinzai under Japanese Zen master Eisai and then Mahayana Buddhism under the Song dynasty Chinese literati monk Wuzhun Shifan (also Eisai's, who previously traveled to China, mentor.) Shoichi Kokushi returned to Japan and helped found the Tofuku-ji in 1243. (This temple is named in the second row of characters appearing in the inscription.) Shoichi Kokushi is considered an early founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan - his first master, Eisai, never having completely parted with Tendai esoteric Buddhism.

Various sources attribute both Eisai and Shoichi Kokushi with introduction of Chinese green tea to Japan. No doubt both figures contributed to tea culture in Japan, but trade and the taste for things Chinese already assured a place for tea in Japanese culture. They are among few Zen monks, however, who did contribute directly to the tea ceremony with first hand experience from China.

This woodblock print is obviously nowhere near as old as the subject and is likely after a painting of Shoichi Kokushi. It may have originally been part of a series of notable Zen priests.