As a young man, the famed Budhist priest Kūkai (774-835) looked out from the Mikurodo cave in Southeast Shikoku where he meditated on the cycle of nature. This legend is the basis for Matsubara’s painting of a crescent moon, one of three compositions capturing the stages of this celestial body. The three works show a crescent, half, and full moon, and are each painted on sets of four sliding doors, or fusuma. The half and full moon sets are housed, respectively, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a private collection. Though separated, the three sets are artistically and spiritually linked. Before he began painting, Matsubara inscribed Kūkai’s poem Hizō-hōyaku (Precious Key to the Secret Treasury), an exegesis on the tenets of Shingon Buddhism, across the panels of the three sets connecting them as a single artwork. Here, the smooth white gold of Matsubara’s crescent moon shines among turbulent waves painted with a clay-resin mixture. Raised lines of mica-based paint accentuate the painting's highly textured surface. The moon’s deep waxing crescent, suggests the possibilities in new beginnings.
Matsubara depicts the sun and the moon in this pair of short, square folding screens. Light emanates from the sun’s golden halo on the left screen, reaching across space to a half-moon of white gold at the far right of the right screen. The image of the moon rests on the ocean rippling waves leading us to question if it is genuinely the moon we see or its reflection. The combination of the sun, moon, and sea recalls the life of the Buddhist monk Kūkai (774-835), who retreated to an oceanside cave as he meditated on the cycles of night, day, and sea to achieve awakening eventually. The viewer becomes part of this natural rotation sitting between the open screens.