Behold the masterpieces of Wang Xizhi, one of the greatest calligraphers from 4th century China, as well as other rare Japanese treasures in this special exhibition! This exhibition will display the famous Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchard Pavilion, Lantingji Xu, among other exquisite copies.
*English explanations of the exhibits are available.

Current Exhibition:

WANG Xizhi and Japanese Calligraphy


February 10 (Sat) – April 8 (Sun), 2018


Sunday · Tuesday - Thursday* Closed on Monday

9: 30 - 17: 00 (last admission 16:30)
Friday and Saturday [Open at night]

9: 30 - 20: 00 (last admission 19:30)


Adult 1,600yen (1,400yen)

University students and High school students 1,000yen (800yen)

Junior high school students and elementary school students 600yen (400yen)

*( ) is for advance tickets and group tickets (more than 20 people)

*Free admission for disability and 1 caretaker. Please bring the physical disability certificate.

*( ) fee is also for over 65 years old. Please bring identification with birth date such as health insurance card, driving license, and so on.

Reduced admission fee for evening visit (applicable between 17:00 and 19:30 only)

Adult 1,400yen

University students and high school students 800yen

Junior high school students and elementary school students 400yen

*The tickets for evening visit will be available only on Friday and Saturday after 17:00 at the museum ticket counter and valid on the day of purchase.

Audio guides

Audio guides are available in English, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, and can be rented for a fee.
Length of recording: about 30 minutes (Contents may be different depending on exhibition changes)
Fee: 520 yen per device

Exhibition introduction 60 sec

Exhibition Overview

Chapter 1: Reverence for Wang Xizhi

Wang Xizhi (303-361) was an eminent calligrapher where his works are highly influential around the world. In 7th century China, his masterpieces were so esteemed that Emperor Taizong of Tang (626-649) had ordered the surviving original works of Wang to be collected and elaborate copies to be made. Some of these copies arrived on Japanese shores via Japanese envoys in the 8th century. Wang was thereafter revered as a teshi, or peerless calligraphy master. His skilled pieces were deemed the source and became the foundation of Japanese calligraphy. In the early Heian period (794–1185), Kukai, Saicho, and other Buddhist monks travelled to Tang dynasty China to study Chinese calligraphy and its culture. In the 8th and 9th centuries, people in Japan greatly admired Tang calligraphy styles, with Wang’s style being the most outstanding, and strove to learn from them.

Transcription of Wang Xizhi's letter known as

Transcription of Wang Xizhi's letter known as "Maishijo"

Hanging scroll, elaborate traced copy on paper
Original: by WANG Xizhi, Eastern Jin dynasty, 4th century
Copied: Tang dynasty, 7th – 8th century
Kyushu National Museum

Period: February 10, 2018 (Sat) ~ April 8, 2018 (Sun)

An exquisite replica of a letter handwritten by Wang Xizhi, which was made at court in Tang dynasty China, using the shuang gou tian mo technique, where only the outlines of characters were traced with thin lines on paper placed over the original writing, and later filled in with sumi ink. The replica still retains the beautiful and vivid color of sumi ink. The rounded shapes of these characters would become one of the specific features of wa-yo or Japanese style calligraphy.

Certificate of advanced Buddhist studies for the priest Kojo

National Treasure
Certificate of advanced Buddhist studies for the priest Kojo

Handscroll, ink on paper
By Emperor Saga
Heian period, dated 823 (Konin 14)
Enryaku-ji Temple, Shiga

Period: February 10, 2018 (Sat) ~ April 8, 2018 (Sun)

A certificate showing that Kojo, a Buddhist monk of the Tendai sect and the leading disciple of Saicho, was granted bosatsukai (receiving bodhisattva precepts). This document was handwritten by Emperor Saga, praising Kojo’s efforts to build a Mahayana ordination platform and completing the plan of his master Saicho. The influence of Tang China calligraphy styles and Wang Xizhi’s style which was dearly loved by the Emperor, is illustrated by use of kaisho-tai or block style calligraphy in the initial portion and the sosho-tai or cursive style in the main text.

Chapter 2: Establishment of Japanese style Calligraphy or Wa-yo and Hiragana

In late 9th century Japan, Japanese syllabic characters known as hiragana were created based on the Chinese characters written in sosho-tai, a cursive script, which allowed the Japanese to express their thoughts and feelings more freely. Before that, people in Japan used the phonetic values assigned to Chinese characters to write. The writing styles of hiragana were further refined along with the flourishing of elegant Heian court literature, such as novels and essays. In the 10th and 11th centuries, the three greatest calligraphers of the time—Ono-no-Michikaze, Fujiwara-no-Sukemasa, and Fujiwara-no-Yukinari—established wa-yo, Japanese style calligraphy which featured refined characters, based on Wang Xizhi’s calligraphy style and the current aesthetic consciousness. Chinese characters written in wa-yo were characterized by curvilinear brushstrokes, which better harmonized with hiragana characters. As a result, writing in hiragana mixed with Chinese characters became the standard system of writing.

Poems of Bai Juyi, Kan'nin version

National Treasure
Poems of Bai Juyi, Kan'nin version

Handscroll, ink on decorative paper
By FUJIWARA-no-Yukinari
Heian period, dated 1018 (Kan'nin 2)
Tokyo National Museum

Period: March 13, 2018 (Tue) ~ April 8, 2018 (Sun)

Fujiwara-no-Yukinari inherited and developed the calligraphy styles of Wang Xizhi and Ono-no-Michikaze to establish the elegant wa-yo, Japanese-style calligraphy, which features round and gentle shapes. A passage from Bai Juyi's anthology of Chinese poems handwritten by Yukinari is outstanding and shows the true value of Japanese calligraphy.

Chapter 3: New Developments in Calligraphy in Japan and China

In medieval Japan, Japanese calligraphy evolved considerably in terms of expression after the system of writing hiragana with Chinese characters became widely used. Around the same time, shodo, the Japanese art of calligraphy, was also firmly established. Various schools of calligraphy were founded; each placed importance on their theories, customs, and techniques which were passed down to successors and disciples. Conversely, a new writing style that placed importance on expressing the writer’s feelings began to flourish in Song China (960–1279). This new calligraphy style was introduced to Japan along with Zen Buddhism which spread across the country, especially among Zen monks. It was used for Chinese style prose and poetry, while the conventional Japanese style of writing was used for writing waka (traditional Japanese poems of thirty-one syllables) and day-to-day documents. Japanese calligraphy was thus developed under the influence of these two contrasting styles.

국보 Origins of the Seiganji urabon (Ullambana) ritual

National Treasure
Origins of the Seiganji urabon (Ullambana) ritual

Handscroll, ink on decorative paper
By Yosai
Heian period, dated 1178 (Jisho 2)
Seigan-ji Temple, Fukuoka

Period: February 10, 2018 (Sat) ~ April 8, 2018 (Sun)

A work handwritten by Yosai, a Zen monk who introduced Rinzai Zen from China to Japan. This handscroll documents his observation of urabon-e, a Buddhist memorial service where the hokke ippon sutra was read, during his stay at Seigan-ji Temple in Imazu, Chikuzen Province while waiting for the arrival of the Song version Issai kyo (complete Buddhist scriptures). The influence of Huang Tingjian’s style, a Chinese calligrapher from Northern Song China, can be seen in this work.

Last testament of Emperor Gotoba with hand prints

National Treasure
Last testament of Emperor Gotoba with hand prints

Handscroll, ink on paper
By Emperor Gotoba
Kamakura period, dated 1239 (Ryakunin 2)
Minasejingu Shrine, Osaka

Period: March 13, 2018 (Tue) ~ April 8, 2018 (Sun)

The last letter of Emperor Gotoba, before his death, to his trusted vassal.

Chapter 4: Pleasure of Writing and Flourishing Individualities in Calligraphy

The Tokugawa shogunate was established in the late 16th century after the end of civil war, marking the start of the Edo period (1603-1868). Social stability in Japan led to great economic and cultural developments. While Japanese calligraphy continued to develop, the official style of writing designated by the Tokugawa shogunate or Oie style was taught in schools for commoners so they could also read and write. The founders of the Oie style calligraphy were Imperial Prince Son’en and his father, Emperor Fushimi, though the origin of the style could be traced to Fujiwara-no-Yukinari, Ono-no-Michikaze, and even Wang Xizhi. The kara-yo style of Chinese calligraphy, introduced from Tang China to Japan via Nagasaki, became popular among intellectuals, including Confucians and literati, and was also later accepted by ordinary citizens as a refined and elegant calligraphy style. The Edo period was a time where a large part of the population enjoyed calligraphy and had practical and artistic benefits from writing.

Cypress grove with poem

Kyoto City Cultural Property
Cypress grove with poem

Six-panel folding screen, ink on paper
Calligraphy by KONOE Nobutada, Painting by HASEGAWA Tohaku
Azuchi Momoyama-Edo period, 16th – 17th century
Zenrin-ji Temple, Kyoto

Period: February 10, 2018 (Sat) ~ March 11, 2018 (Sun)

A large cypress forest is drawn at the center while the blank space is filled by a waka poem, boldly written by Konoe Nobutada. The poem reads: “Evening comes when I am crossing over the mountain. I try to find accommodation, while an autumn wind blows in the cypress forest in Miwa”. However, “in the cypress forest in Miwa” was intentionally omitted as the painting of the cypress forest was thought to help viewers understand the poem with ease.