Ōtagaki Rengetsu

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Ōtagaki Rengetsu
Depiction of Ōtagaki Rengetsu at a high age, writing
Born(1791-02-10)10 February 1791
Died10 December 1875(1875-12-10) (aged 84)
Known forPoetry, Painting, Calligraphy, Pottery

Ōtagaki Rengetsu (太田垣 蓮月, 10 February 1791 – 10 December 1875) was a Buddhist nun who is widely regarded to have been one of the greatest Japanese poets of the 19th century. She was also a skilled potter and painter and expert calligrapher.


Ōtagaki Rengetsu Kagu-ato in Kyoto

She was the daughter of a courtesan and a nobleman. Born into a samurai family with the surname Tōdō, she was adopted at a young age by the Ōtagaki family.[1] She was a lady in waiting at Kameoka Castle from age 7 to 16, when she was married.[1] She was married twice and had five children.

However, her husband died in 1823. She became a Buddhist nun at the age of thirty after burying both husbands, all of her children, her stepmother and stepbrother. Her adoptive father joined her. Ōtagaki joined the temple Chion-in and became a nun, taking Rengetsu ("Lotus Moon") as her Buddhist name. She remained at Chion-in for nearly ten years, and lived in a number of other temples for the following three decades, until 1865, when she settled at the Jinkō-in where she lived out the rest of her life.

Being a woman, she was only allowed to live in a Buddhist monastery for a couple of years. After that she lived in tiny huts and moved around quite a lot. She was a master of martial arts having been trained since childhood by her adoptive family. The Otagaki family were well known as teachers of ninja. She trained in jujutsu, naginatajutsu, kenjutsu, and kusarigama.[2]

Rengetsu ware teapot for steeped tea (kyūsu) inscribed with a waka poem by Ōtagaki Rengetsu, stoneware with rice-straw-ash glaze. Late Edo period-early Meiji era, mid-19th century

Though best known as a waka poet, Rengetsu was also accomplished at dance, sewing, some of the martial arts, and Japanese tea ceremony. She admired and studied under a number of great poets including Ozawa Roan and Ueda Akinari, and later in her life became a close friend and mentor to the artist Tomioka Tessai. A number of Tessai's works, though painted by him, feature calligraphy by Rengetsu.

Her ceramic work became so popular it was continued after her death as Rengetsu ware.[3] Her work (both pottery and calligraphy) is held in several museums worldwide, including the Birmingham Museum of Art,[4] Los Angeles County Museum of Art,[5] the Harn Museum of Art,[6] the Saint Louis Art Museum,[7] the University of Michigan Museum of Art,[8] the Walters Art Museum,[9] the Harvard Art Museums,[10] the British Museum,[11] and the Maidstone Museum.[12]


  1. ^ a b Brinkley, Frank (1902). Japan, Its History, Arts, and Literature: Japan, its history, arts, and literature. J. B. Millet Company. p. 230.
  2. ^ Garcia, Raul Sanchez (3 October 2018). The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-33379-5.
  3. ^ "Otagaki Rengetsu – Lotus Moon – Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens". morikami.org. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  4. ^ "You are being redirected..." www.artsbma.org. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  5. ^ "Autumn Moon | LACMA Collections". collections.lacma.org. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  6. ^ "Hanging Basket" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ "Late Autumn Showers (Shigure)". Saint Louis Art Museum. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  8. ^ "Exchange: Eggplant and Calligraphy". exchange.umma.umich.edu. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  9. ^ "Teapot for Steeped Tea". The Walters Art Museum. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  10. ^ Harvard. "From the Harvard Art Museums' collections Poem by Rengetsu with Chestnut painting by Renzan (1802-1859) (Kuri no esan)". harvardartmuseums.org. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  11. ^ "painting; hanging scroll | British Museum". The British Museum. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  12. ^ "Otagaki Rengetsu | Japanese Collection". Maidstone Museum. 9 September 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  • Takeuchi, Melinda (1985). "Ōtagaki Rengetsu." Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ōtagaki Rengetsu. (translated by John Stevens) (2014). Rengetsu: Life and Poetry of Lotus Moon. Echo Point Books & Media. p. 182. ISBN 978-1-6265-4931-9.
  • Melanie Eastburn, Lucie Folan, Robyn Maxwell. Black Robe, White Mist: Art of the Japanese Buddhist Nun Rengetsu. National Gallery of Australia. 2008. 148 pages. ISBN 978-0642541390
  • John Walker, Kazuya Oyama. Otagaki Rengetsu: Poetry & Artwork from a Rustic Hut. 208 pages. Amembo Press. 2014. ISBN 978-4905333036

External links[edit]

Media related to Ōtagaki Rengetsu at Wikimedia Commons