| Associations | Articles | Exhibitions | Galleries

Visitors' Forum

Asian Art  Forums - Reply Message
Asian Art Forums

Message Listing by Date:
Message Index | Back | Post a New Message | Search | Private Mail | FAQ
Subject:Inscription on temple entrance relief
Posted By: Christopher Moss Tue, Mar 07, 2023 IP:

I would be very grateful for help translating this inscription, which is on the back of a relief that was apparently above a temple doorway. (The photo may be upside down.) Many thanks!

Subject:Re: Inscription on temple entrance relief
Posted By: Jem Sat, Mar 11, 2023

Not able to help with question, but I had to express how beautiful this carving is. Truly amazing in its fluidity and detail. I hope you find the answers you are looking for. Gosh. This is just great. Thanks for your time.

Subject:Re: Inscription on temple entrance relief
Posted By: Bill H Sun, Mar 12, 2023

Your carving carving of plum blossoms has a two-character stack in standard characters reading down as "Brilliance and devotion" (mandarin Guang zhong - 光忠) followed by a single script character that I think but am not positive might mean "Whetstone" (mandarin Li - 砺) but resembles the often unreadable personal marks I've seen used by some Japanese ivory carvers.

There's a strong possibility that the carving is Japanese and came from a set of carvings comprising the "Three Friends of Winter", which are the plum, pine and bamboo, which in Chinese, Japanese and other Asian cultures symbolize the steadfastness and other strengths whereby they can survive harsh winters and in the case of the plum flower, burst through crusts of late winter snow in blooming back to life. The Japanese call the trio "Sho Chiku Bai" (松竹梅 - literally "pine, bamboo, plum"). The carving also might have come from Taiwan, which was a Japanese colony until 1945 and where a song called "Meihua" (Plum Blossom) is an unofficial anthem of the Taiwanese. They and Mainland Chinese call the Three Friends the "San You" (三友}.

Wikipedia has more on this trio at the following URL:

I've attached a photo of a Japanese charger with the Three Friends design in the center.

Best regards,

Bill H.

Subject:Re: Inscription on temple entrance relief
Posted By: Christopher Mon, Mar 13, 2023

Thank you, Bill! This is very interesting and very helpful. I'm happy to hear your suggestion that the piece is likely Japanese. The dealer identified it as Japanese, and the wing-like profile of the top edge looks like a bargeboard pendant from the ceiling of an entrance gate to a Japanese temple (karahafu gegyo or unokedooshi). It’s about 3 feet wide, so the size is about right for a smaller gate. I’ll attach an image of a similar but more elaborate one at the Dazaifu Tenmangū shrine in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, also with plum blossoms.

If this identification is right, the inscription probably would have been invisible after it was installed, which makes the meaning even more intriguing. The last character could then very well be the mark of the carver, as you suggest. I know of other cases where artisans left their undecipherable marks on hidden surfaces of temple carvings. In that case, “brilliance” and “devotion” might also be a sort of dedication by the carver. I’ll see what else I can find on the topic of hidden carvers’ marks, but you’ve set me on a very promising path.

Many thanks again.


Subject:Re: Inscription on temple entrance relief
Posted By: Hans Mon, Aug 07, 2023

Christopher, is there any chance you might be able to post a photo or two showing side views of this carving? Thank you

Subject:Re: Inscription on temple entrance relief
Posted By: Christopher Wed, Sep 06, 2023

Hello Hans,

Thanks for your interest in this piece. Here are three more photos.

The image of the back shows the undulating profile of the top, which I think would have been attached to a karahafu-type gable above a temple entrance. At the center left and center right, maybe an inch below the top, you can see the dowel holes for pegs that would have secured the tenons that were attached to the gable roof.

The top view shows the rectangular cuttings for the two tenons.

Also, one side view. The other side looks pretty much the same.

Does this make sense to you? If my understanding is right, the strange thing is that the inscription (the first two characters, 光忠, are the name of the carver, Mitsutada) is upside down, as are a couple of later labels: W.891, in red paint, and 108, written on a paper label. And you can see from the D-ring hanger that a previous owner also thought that the double-curved surface was the bottom of the piece. (In that case, it would have functioned more as a kaerumata, but I think that those are always attached to transverse beams and have completely flat bases.)

Thanks for any thoughts or info you might have about this.


Post a Reply
Group: China & Japan
Link URL:
Enter here the complete URL of any site, page or image you would like to show other visitors.
URL Title:
Enter here the title of the link you've given above. This will appear to the visitor. Eg., if you are linking another picture, enter "Another picture". The link will not appear without a title.
Image URL:
Enter here the URL of an image if it is already uploaded on the web. The image will appear with your posting. Do not post pictures which are not yours without permission from the copyright holder. It is the responsibility of each poster to make sure they have permission to use any photos they post.
Image: You may upload up to three images. If you would like to upload more images to this message please do so by replying to this same message.

Please make sure the file type is JPEG or GIF and the filename does not contain spaces.

Use the Browse button to find an image (jpg or gif) on a local drive on your computer to upload for including with your message. Do not upload images with file names containing spaces. Please do not upload files larger than 500 KB in size. Do not post pictures which are not yours without permission from the copyright holder. It is the responsibility of each poster to make sure they have permission to use any photos they post. Check the "email notification" box below if you would like to be notified of any responses to your message.
Check here for email notification.
Security Code: Security Image: please enter the text appears in this image.

Please type in the code you see in the image directly above this input box. | Associations | Articles | Exhibitions | Galleries |