Sesshû was one of a very few prominent pre-modern Japanese painters who spent time in China, doing so in 1468-1469. A number of his paintings are signed Nihon zenjin Tôyô ("Tôyô, Zen man of Japan"); it is believed this may designate works composed while Sesshû was sojourning in China, in order to identify himself as Japanese, and distinguish his works from those composed by Chinese painters.
Some legends have grown up around Sesshû, attesting to the greatness of his artistic skill. According to one such legend, while he was staying at a Buddhist temple in China, the abbot, punishing him for neglecting his other duties in favor of painting, tied him to a post. Crying, Sesshû realized that his tears mixed with the dust on the ground to form a paste he could shape; he then sketched several mice with his toes, doing so with such mastery that they came to life, like the dragons of Wu Daozi and Zhang Sengyou, and gnawed the ropes, freeing the painter.
Several of his works have been designated National Treasures.
- Timon Screech, Obtaining Images, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 22.
- Michyo Morioka and Paul Berry, Modern Masters of Kyoto, Seattle Art Museum (2000), 19.