The inscription Katsu!, the famous Zen shout, is supposedly by Yoshida Shigeru (1878-1967), who was twice prime minister of Japan during the post-war period. Little is known about Itten Tokai other than that he was a Soto Zen priest who lived in distant Hokkaido. His Daruma paintings are wonderfully expressive, however, some of the finest examples of the 20th century. As is often the case with Soto Zen artists, who tended to live quietly in remote areas—beginning with Fugai and Ryokan, and down to the present—there is almost no biographical information available on the artists but the Zenga they produced are frequently outstanding. This delightful scroll is no exception, and it is even more intriguing if a prime minister of Japan inscribed it.
Although Tokai Itten, a Soto Zen abbot, lived in remote Hokkaido, he had many followers all over the country, including one Japanese prime minister. Itten was known for his distinctive portraits of Daruma.