The Journey

The Travels of the Monk Saigyo

  • 26
  • Japan
  • Momoyama period, 16th century
  • Pair of six-fold screens; ink, color, and gold on gilded paper
  • Each screen, H. 59 1/8 x W. 139 1/4 in. (152 x 353.8 cm)
  • Property of Mary Griggs Burke
  • Kumano Shrines (Hayatama)
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Saigyo (1118–1190) was a courtier of the late Heian period who, at the age of twenty-three, took the tonsure and spent the rest of his life engaged in an often grueling series of pilgrimages to locations throughout Japan. These screens focus on two major episodes of Saigyo's life. The screen on the right depicts him sitting alone on New Year's Day gazing at a blossoming plum tree, while nearby monks entertain themselves with young male attendants. This is the point in Saigyo's biography when he decides to take to the road as a wandering pilgrim. On the top left of the left screen, he is shown brushing a poem on the fence of Yagami no Oji, one of the ninety-nine shrines that lined the length of Japan's Kumano pilgrimage route.

PHOTO CREDIT: Bruce Schwarz

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