Cho Tosai (趙陶斎)

Tosai CHO (1713 - May 17, 1786) was a calligrapher during the mid Edo period.

His given name was Yo with his surname being CHUI having a title (appellative) of Tosai and was also known as Sokushinkoji, Kukeon, and Seikakaku. He was born in Nagasaki Prefecture.


Shoyo CHO, a Chinese merchant from Nanjin City, Qing visited a brothel in Maruyama (a redlight district in Nagasaki City) and Tosai was born between that Chinese man and a courtesan. It is said that Tosai was a descendant of Shiko CHO. Being orphaned at very young age, Tosai had unhappy upbringing but, during the visit of Jikuan Join, the naturalized priest from Qing, to Kofuku-ji Temple in Nagasaki (Nagasaki City), Jikuan Join took a kindly interest in Tosai whereby Tosai became his disciple. He became a priest at age 11. In 1734, as Jikuan became the resident priest of Manpuku-ji Temple in Uji, the Head Temple of Obaku sect, Tosai went to Kyoto with Jikuan. Tosai remained in the priesthood for 18 years until he was 28 years of age but, around 1740, he returned to secular life for some reason and became a Confucian. It is said that Tosai visited as many as 58 provinces throughout Japan. When he was around 32 years of age, Tosai went to Edo where he spent a dozen years living at various locations including Azabu but, subsequently at about 46 years of age, he lived with a Chinese interpreter Kuhei FUKAMI in Osaka. Tosai lived in Shio-cho with his wife, going by a surname of UCHIDA (presumably the surname of his wife's family) for a period of time. Tosai moved to Sakai City at about 58 years of age and lived at the villa of his patron by the name of Osafumi MASUDA (益田孟文), earning his living by selling medicine. During this time, Tosai planted wolfberries in the backyard which was called Kukoen (the wolfberry garden) and prepared pills with wolfberries to supplement his income. A daughter was born when he was 65. To celebrate his 70th birthday, a lavish banquet was given for Tosai at a Japanese-style restaurant known as Fukuya.

His age at death was 74. Sessai MASHIYAMA made an arrangement for Tosai's funeral by sending the Confucian scholar Baigai TOTOKI to Sakai. He was buried at the Hongenin burial grounds of Nanshu-ji Temple.


Tosai excelled in calligraphy, paintings and a Tenkoku (carving using the special Chinese character, Tensho). Tosai originally learned the Tang-style calligraphy from the Zen monk Jikuan but, before long became strongly influenced by Chomei BUN and Mofu CHO and, in his old age, was devoted to Futsu BEI. To study the art of calligraphy of philosophers of the past, Tosai collected their notes and handwriting trying to imitate them. Around the time that Tosai moved to Osaka, he became celebrated as a calligrapher gaining popularity as the leading expert on 'karayo' (Chinese style) attracting numerous pupils. Various distinguished writers including Shunsui RAI, Kenkado KIMURA, Baigai TOTOKI as well as Sessai MASHIYAMA and Shitoku MORITA of the Nagashima clan in Ise Province studied under Tosai. Beian ICHIKAWA, a calligrapher in the late Edo period, mentioned Tosai as the best penman for the absence of Japanese-style influence (detectable Japaneseness) in his handwriting. Sanyo RAI also had a high opinion on Tosai as being comparable to Dokuryu (Zen priest) and Setsuzan KITAJIMA.


Tosai was well-versed in Yusoku kojitsu (court and samurai rules of ceremony and etiquette) conducting himself as if he were a samurai.

It is said that, unafraid of the magistrate's office or government officials, he remained undaunted towards them.

When called to the Hikone domain to make drawings on a folding screen, offended by being treated as a painter for being paid a fee for is calligraphic works and paintings, Tosai tore the folding screen and left.

It is said that Shitoku MORITA, one of Tosai's pupils, came into possession of a large quantity of popular calligraphy by getting his teacher Tosai drunk and making Tosai write on scrolls adorned with gold thread with a brush.

Tosai was able to speak Chinese at virtually a native level.

Although being a priest, Tosai ate meat and had great love for sake.

Being a person of letters, Tosai left numerous essays. Those essays include "Cho Tosai Hikki" (Transcripts of Tosai CHO), "Tosai sensei Nikki" (Journal of Mr. Tosai) and others.

In his old age, Tosai became noticeably stubborn and disagreeable.

[Original Japanese]