Ono no Michikaze (小野道風)

ONO no Michikaze (also known as ONO no Tofu) (June 894 – February 9, 967) is one of the foremost calligraphy artists from the Heian period, and is numbered among the 'sanseki' (The Three Famous Calligraphers of Japan). He was a descendant of ONO no Imoko's, who had been famous for having been a delegate during the Prince Shotoku Era on one of the official Japanese diplomatic missions to China during the Sui dynasty, and was born in what is present day Kasugai City, in Aichi Prefecture. Although the actual reading of his given name is 'Michikaze,' the honorific reading 'Tofu' is often applied.


From the early part of the Heian period into the 10th century, ONO was active as a calligrapher; he is credited with having cast aside the practice of using the Chinese style of calligraphy, which had been the convention up to then, and laying the foundation for the development of a Japanese school of calligraphy. Later, Michikaze, along with FUJIWARA no Sukemasa (also known as FUJIWARA no Sari) and FUJIWARA no Yukinari (also known as FUJIWARA no KOZAI) came to be called the 'sanseki' (The Three Famous Calligraphers of Japan). Michikaze was attached to the Ministry of Central Affairs, carrying out the duties of shonaiki (chronicler), in which he produced calligraphy for folding screens used by the Imperial Court, and also reproduced clean copies of official documents. As a calligrapher, Michikaze was held in high esteem in his day, and at a time the Imperial Court and nobility made much ado about the 'rebirth of Gishi O' (also known as WANG Xizhi, a celebrated Chinese calligrapher).
In the illustrated folio versions of the "Tale of Genji," the comments were rendered in characters drawn by Michikaze, leading people to say that his calligraphy 'imparts a modern effect that was both beautiful and dazzling to behold.'
Such glowing evaluations were heaped upon him after his death, with some people worshipping of him as a deity of calligraphy.

Michikaze's grandfather was ONO no Takamura, a celebrated scholar of Chinese classics and a poet of the early Heian period.

The Tofu Memorial Museum is located at his birthplace in Kasugai City, Aichi Prefecture.

Chronology of government posts and ranks
* NB: Dates follow the lunar calendar
Appointed to the post of archivist in 921. Permitted to enter the Imperial Court.

Appointed as a hyoefu (Palace Guard), in 921.

Nominated to the post of naiki (secretary), in 925.

Transferred to the post of Uchikura-Gonnosuke (First Assistant to the Assistant Curator of the Palace), in 939. Awarded the Court rank of Jugoinoge (Lower Junior Fifth Rank).

Transferred to the post of Uemon no suke (Assistant Captain of the Right Division of Outer Palace Guards), in 942. Appointed to the position of Usazukai (a messanger to Usa-jinja Shrine) in the Imperial Court, on April 27.

Promoted to the court rank of Jugoinojo (Upper Junior Fifth Rank), in 946.

Subsequently appointed to the position of Jijiju (Chamberlain) in 947.

Nominated to the Mokunoryo (Bureau of Carpentry), in 957.

Promoted to the court rank of Jushiinoge (Lower Junior Fourth Rank), in 958. Assumed a role similar to "Chief "of the Bureau of Carpentry.

Promoted to the court rank of Shoshiige (Lower Senior Fourth Rank), and nominated to the position of Uchikura gon no kami (Assistant Curator of the Palace) in 960.

He died in 966, at 73 years of age. At the time of his death he held the court rank of Shoshiinoge (Lower Senior Fourth Rank), and the position of Kyo-kuraryo (the Chief Curator of the Bureau of the Palace).

Michikaze is known for being the person depicted on the Hanafuda (traditional Japanese playing cards in floral motif). There was a time when Michikaze was nurturing a sense of self-loathing regarding his ability, becoming profoundly troubled to the point of considering giving up calligraphy, when, having set out for a stroll one rainy day he noticed a frog trying to jump onto a willow tree only to slide off, and after watching it try time and time again.
"The frog is foolish. "
"No matter how many times he tries, he will never succeed in jumping onto that tree." Just when he was immersed in his thought, a strong gust of wind happened to blow, causing the willow tree to sway in the wind, and the frog gracefully lept onto the willow tree. Seeing this, Michikaze thought to himself, "It is I who am the fool. I happened to associate the frog struggling with all its might with my own circumstances, but I hadn't been making as much of an effort as the frog had," and this revelation is said to have spurred him on to work his fingers to the bone. In truth however, it is uncertain whether or not this anecdote is based in historical fact; it had spread in the mid part of the Edo period in Joruri (a narration accompanying the Japanese traditional puppet play) called "Ono Tofu's Green Willow and Ink Stone," which was first staged in 1754.
(This anecdote was included in a series of essays by Baien MIURA entitled "Baien-sosho" (Baien Volumes) which had been written slightly before that, in 1750, but was not published until 1855.)
The anectdote was subsequently included in pre-WWII government approved textbooks, and became known widely.

The anecdote was adopted as the theme of many paintings, and served as the material upon which the Hanafuda was based.
(Hanafuda cards utilizing Michikaze ONO motif appeared from the Meiji Period.)

Major works

Michikaze's works are sublimely beautiful and exceedingly graceful, being executed in a masterful yet refreshingly exquisite cursive style (sosho) of script. Emperor Daigo deeply admired his calligraphy, commissioning Michikaze to draw the calligraphy for the name-plate of Daigo-ji Temple, and also to pen several scrolls on various aspects of the art of calligraphy.

Actual examples of his calligraphy
Santai hakushi shikan (designated as a National Treasure): A collection of semi-formal poems on white paper, preserved at the Masaki Art Museum. Chishodaishi shigo chokusho (designated as a National Treasure): An imperial rescript of the posthumous conferring of a title onto the priest Enchin, preserved at the Tokyo National Museum. In 891, Enchin, then the fifth head priest of Enryaku-ji Temple, passed away with the rank of "Shozozu Hogenwajo"; after 36 years later, in 927, an imperial rescript was issued in his honour, bestowing upon him the rank of "Hoindaiwajo," and the posthumous Buddhist name of Chisho Daishi; this imperial rescript was written by the hand of Michikaze. The text, which was selected by FUJIWARA no Hirofumi, Chief Judge of the Ministry of Ceremony, was written by Michikaze when he was 34 years old, and is written in indigo on mourning paper in a semi cursive style, in a broad yet flowing script.

Byobu Dodai (rough drafts of calligraphical renditions of Chinese poems that were to be used on folding screens in the Imperial Palace) : Preserved at the Sannomaru-shozokan (Museum of the Imperial Collections). Dodai is 'rough drafts,' meaning rough drafts of Chinese poems for use on screens within the Imperial Palace. In December 928, Michikaze was commissioned by imperial order to make drafts for the Imperial Court, preparing calligraphy drafts of poems written by OE no Asatsuna; eight "risshi" style Chinese poems and three "zekku" style poems. Although the works are unsigned, as a postscript, in the latter part of the Heian period, FUJIWARA no Sadanobu, who had long worked as an appraiser of calligraphical works (and was a noted calligrapher in his own right), authenticated the calligraphy as being penned by Michikaze at the age of 35, giving credence to the works' authenticity. It is penned in a cursive style in Kansubon (book in scroll style), and the paper stock is mulberry paper. In a number of places there are notes made in minute handwriting, which relate to lettering styles and the like, and indicate that there were multiple revisions. Although Michikaze's style of calligraphy is abundant and beautiful, its impressions are sublime, and the power in his brush strokes poised.

Gyokusen Screens: Preserved in the Sannomaru-shozokan (Museum of the Imperial Collections). The Hakushimonju (an anthology of poems by Hakkyoi (also known as BAI Juyi), a famous Chinese poet) caught the interest of Michikaze, who then penned a Kansubon that began with the first words from the poem 'Strange flowers in Nankan, Gyokusen,' giving the scroll its name. He achieved richness through variation, mixing three different stroke styles (stiff, cursive and flowing), as well as large and small letters, and bold and thin strokes in his brushwork.

Kinujigire: Preserved at the Tokyo National Museum, along with other fragments.

Works whose author is said to be Michikaze but whose validity is not confirmed

Tsugishikishi (poems written on fixed sheets of paper)

Together with 'Sunshoanshikishi' (written by KI no Tsurayuki) and 'Masushikishi' (written by FUJIWARA no Kozei), 'Tsugishikishi' is considered to be one of the three best kana script writings of ancient times. The name Tsugishikishi is derived from the fact that two sheets of paper were fixed together, and a poem would be written in a free-form style thereupon. This poem is written on fragmentary pieces of Deccho-bon (a type of a book) with Torinoko paper (stout, smooth Japanese paper) that has been dyed a color such as purple, indigo, red ochre, or green and bound together with white paper.

Akihagijo: Preserved at the Tokyo National Museum (National Treasure)



The Shukonaniwajo (Anthology of ancient Naniwa Scrolls), is a collection of Michikaze's correspondences that was published as woodblock prints.

[Original Japanese]