Dark stained bamboo is decorated with inlayed beads of red coral in built up lacquer intimating the bursting fruit of a pomegranate tree enclosed in a box signd by the infamous Zen Priest Nakahara Nantenbo dated Taisho 3 (1914). The age darkened box is titled Koetsu-san Zakuro Sago. The “Ko” in the title indicates this piece was already old when Nantenbo had it in his possession. It is 22 x 5.5 cm (8-1/2 x 2 inches) and is in fine condition.
Nantenbo, (1839-1925 Toju Zenchu), did not start painting in earnest until he was already more than 65 years old. Despite this relatively advanced age he was one of the most productive and important Zenga artists in the Meiji/Taisho era and without a doubt the best-known 20th century Zen painter in the West. He derived his name Nantenbo from his bo (staff) cut from a 200-year-old Nanten tree. He used it to instruct his students and was a favorite illustration in his well known adage "To he who answers a strike of the Nanten; To he who refrains a strike of the Nanten". Born Keisuke to the Shioda samurai family in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture in North-West Kyushu, he resolved to become a monk at the age of 7. At the age of 11 he began his training in the Yuko-ji temple in Hirado where he received the name Nakahara Toju. Six years later he traveled to Kyoto to receive training at Empukuji temple. Most of his mature life he spent traveling and teaching. After meeting Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888) in 1885 they established a Zen training center at the Dorin-ji temple. Both men greatly influenced each other. He became abbot of Zuigan-ji, Matsushima in 1891 and in 1902 abbot of Bairin-ji and Kaisei-ji. In 1908 he was named the 586th kancho (Chief Abbot) of Myoshin-ji, but spent the remainder of his life at Kaisei-ji. Much admonished in his lifetime for his firebrand ways and infamous for angering superiors, his reputation and charisma did much to promote the revival of Zen in the early 20th century. For more information on this important Zen Master, see the art of 20th Century Zen by Stephen Addis and Audrey Yoshiko Seo.