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Mongaku Shonin Under the Waterfall (1860)

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About the Art

The monk Mongaku Shonin does a harsh penance beneath an ice-cold waterfall.

The scene is taken from the legend of Endo Morito, Mongaku's secular name.

As Morito, he served as a samurai, guarding the imperial family in Kyoto. In his teenage years he fell in love with Kesa, the beautiful wife of his fellow samurai Watanabe Wataru. She rejected his persistent advances until one night she agreed to receive him in her house at night, where she said he would find her husband asleep in a room and kill him.

Morito did as she said. After plunging his sword into the shape in the bed however, Morito realized that he had killed the lady herself. She had put herself in her husband’s place to save her honor.

Morito, ashamed of his evil deed, became a monk and took the new name of Mongaku. As a harsh penance, he prayed under the waterfall of Nachi in Kumano in the winter for 21 days, reciting incantations to the deity Fudo Myoo (seen above him in the print).

It is said that at the point of freezing to death, Mongaku was rescued by the two attendants of Food Myoo, Kongara, and Seitaka, so that he could complete the three weeks of repentance.

Kuniyoshi was a master of depicting water, in all its varied forms. Here we see 4 varieties of water in a single image, with the flat sheet of the falls, the splashing rays shining outward from Mongaku's head, the agitated waves around his feet and the frothing spray around him as it crashes against the rocks.

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