With the buoyant, jazz-like rhythm of each stroke, this calligraphy gives assuring and quiet grace to viewers. Little would they know, the two kanji characters read “Jigoku,” which means Hell. In Jigoku, “Ji” means earth and “goku” means cage or prison. It describes a hell on earth, whether the inner turmoil of the mind or the suffocating constraints of the human condition. Jigoku is a rigid hell: a cage without windows, lacking in both freedom and the fluidity of a breeze. We need not enter the afterlife to experience it. Knowing that an enlightened Zen monk made this work, we can understand that its beauty arises from the maker’s cool detachment. He himself situated at perfect internal harmony, the monk feels no need to pontificate or preach through this calligraphy. He has accepted the world, and Jigoku along with it, as reality. He simply presents it to us, to appreciate however we choose to. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Chuho-so-u was the 418th head monk of Daitokuji-temple in Kyoto. It is one of fourteen independent branches of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen. He used several other pseudonyms to sign his calligraphies: Rakuyojin, Ikkai, Shougetsuroujinn, and Hasui. He is one of the most revered calligraphers not only in Daitokuji line but among monk artists.