Tesshu was one of the most famous calligraphers in Japan at the end of the nineteenth century. Unlike other masters, he would write for anyone, and never looked at the fee which they might offer. He threw all the envelopes, unopened, into a chest in his hall; when someone came in need, he opened them one after another until he had the required amount to meet the asked-for loan or gift.
A butcher once boldly asked him whether he would write a signboard for his shop. The master’s disciples were horrified – a tradesman asking for a masterpiece to hang in the street to increase his business!
Tesshu said, ‘Will it improve the appearance of the street?’
‘Of course,’ they said, ‘But he is not thinking of that, but purely of money, purely of money.’
The master said, ‘Probably he does feel that a sign written by me will make money, andjw/ are certainly thinking about money. But I am not thinking about money.’
He wrote it, and a Tokyo street became beautiful.
Tesshu once, in an emergency, borrowed a thousand yen from a moneylender. This was given on the word of a former samurai, but when the moneylender thought it over, he decided to ask for a formal acknowledgment of the debt. The master at once agreed and wrote on a large sheet of paper, in his wonderful calligraphy:
The classics say that each man has seven bad habits, and one of mine is a reluctance to repay a debt. In view of this bad habit, by giving this acknowledgement for this loan, I now rule it out and make the repayment of the money a little more possible.
He passed it over, and when the moneylender saw it he lost colour, seeing which the master clapped his hands and gave a great laugh. The moneylender had to take it and went slowly home.
One of his acquaintances, however, happened to notice the paper. He looked at it carefully and then said, ‘This is something quite out of the ordinary, both in its phrasing and the calligraphy; I will take it off you for a thousand yen, if you like. ’ The moneylender suddenly realized what he had, and had it framed.
When the time came for Tesshu to return the money and he told the other to collect it, the moneylender said,
T make a gift of it in exchange for the master’s writing,’ and would not take it. He kept Tesshu’s receipt as an heirloom.