Tani Buncho (谷文晁)

Buncho TANI (October 15, 1763 - January 6, 1841) was a Japanese painter who lived during the late Edo period. He perfected Edo Nanga (a school of painting originating in China), and he, as well as Okyo MARUYAMA and Tanyu KANO, are regarded as the three major painters of the Tokugawa period because of his achievement.

His name was Shoan.
At the first time, his go (second names) were Buncho and Siryo, and then he changed his go to Buncho which was also used as his azana (pseudonym)
He was generally called Bungoro or Naoemon.
He was also called Shasanro or Gagakusai,

Muni and Ichien
After he shaved his head and was appointed Hogeni (the second highest rank in the hierarchy of Buddhist priests), he was named Bunami. He was born in Shitaya-Negishi, Edo.

Place of origin

His grandfather, Honkyo TANI, was originally a lower-ranked government official, but he became known as a statesman because he excelled in business, and he achieved superior performance, handpicked by the Tayasu family. His father Rokuya TANI became a vassal for the Tayasu family and he was famous as a composer of Chinese poems. Buncho, who was raised in such a literary family, had literary talent and liked waka (Japanese poetry), Chinese poetry, and comic waka. His Chinese poetry was placed in the third volume of "Gozando poetry" of Gozan KIKUCHI.


When he was 12 years old, he learned from his father's friend Bunrei KATO of the Kano school, and when he was 18 years old, he studied under a disciple of Koyo NAKAYAMA, Gentai WATANABE. Since Bunrei died when Buncho was 20 years old, he studied under Kangan KITAYAMA and pursued Hokuso painting. It is said that he also studied under Fuyo SUZUKI, which is not clear. After that, he learned the style of the Kano school from Mitsusada KANO, and he studied the styles of the Tosa school, the Rinpa school, Okyo MARUYAMA and Goshun of Yamato-e painting (a traditional Japanese style painting), in addition to Korean and Western paintings. He planned a trip to Nagasaki and visited Kenkado KIMURA in Osaka when he was 26 years old, and he received formal instructions from Unzen KUSHIRO. After the death of Kenkado KIMURA, he expressed regret over his death and presented his portrait to the bereaved family. After he arrived at Nagasaki, he learned painting methods from Shukoku CHO and stayed for about one month.

Based on copies and sketches of ancient paintings and sketching, he eclectically mixed painting of various schools and aimed at a mixed style of north and south. His area of painting was wide, covering sansui-ga (painting of mountains and rivers), Kacho-ga (painting of flowers and birds), portraits, and Butsu-ga (painting of Buddha), and additionally, he established his own painting style called Hasshu Kengaku (syncretic study of all eight schools of Buddhist learning) and then he became a great authority of Kanto Nanga (a school of painting originating in China).

Working as an Officer

When he was 26 years old, he started to work for the Tayasu family as a trainee okuzume (adviser to the shogun) and then he was promoted to Kinjiban Todori Jiseki (vice chief of attendant to Shogun) followed by Okuzume Eshi (painter). When he was 30 years old, he was accepted by Sadanobu MATSUDAIRA, who was a son of Munetake TAYASU and became an adopted child of Sadakuni MATSUDAIRA, the lord of the Shirakawa Domain, and then he became his Kinju (attendant) and served Sadanobu until he retired in 1812. In 1793, he accompanied Sadanobu's trip to Edo Bay and produced a hand scroll called "Koyo Lanzhou." By order of Sadanobu, he investigated old important cultural properties to edit pictorial records called "Shukojyusshu" and "Kogaruijyu," and he sketched ancient calligraphic works, ancient paintings, and old treasures. He also supported the creation of a picture scroll called "Ishiyama-dera Emaki." He built his artier "Komine cottage" in the sannomaru (outer part of the castle) of Shirakawa-Komine-jo Castle. Daruma of Shirakawa Daruma Market is said to be derived from a picture painted by Buncho.

Trips and Mountains

He travelled all over Japan except for only four or five provinces until he became 30 years old.
He sketched mountains in various places and issued those sketches as his great book "Nihon Meizan Zufu (The Book of Famous Mountains in Japan)"
He liked Mt. Fuji best of all mountains, and he left a lot of fine arts such as Fujiminezu and Fuyozu.

Shasanro, Buncho's Painting School

He established his private school called "Shasanro," where many disciples including Kazan WATANABE and Kyosho TACHIHARA learned. He explained importance of sketching and copying of ancient paintings, and his lectures focused on copying of paintings of Nanbin SHIN. However, he did not get into methodism or formalism like Kano school but had educational attitude in which he respected personality or independence of disciples. Although he was famous as a teacher who well cared about his disciples, there are some criticism that he was authoritarian. His wife Kankan TANI (the Rin clan) and his sisters Shunei TANI and Koran TANI were also famous as women painters. The Tani family prospered as his biological younger brother Gentan SHIMADA was also good at painting and his adopted child Bunichi TANI and biological child Bunji TANI were also good painters. However, since Bunichi and Bunji who were regarded as his successors died young, Shasanro then ruined.

His Later Years

Buncho was considered as one of Sampuku-tsui (triplicity) of Shitaya with Bosai KAMEDA and Hoitsu SAKAI and enjoyed his life, but he vigorously painted to the last breath. Sadanobu died in 1829, and Buncho, who was 67 years old then, appointed as Goeshi (a painter for Shogun) and shaved his head. He was appointed Hogani and named Bunami at the age of 75.

He died in 1841. The age at death was 79. His graveyard is at Asakusa Genku-ji Temple, and his Kaimyo (posthumous Buddhist name) is Honryuuin Seiyo Ichinyo Hogen Buna Bunnchokoji.

Here is his farewell poem: An old raccoon dog which has been changing himself into some other forms throughout his lifetime finally shows his tail under the moon shining just beside the brow of a hill.


Kansei Bunsho are masterpieces created during the Kansei era (1789 -1801), at the ages of 27 to 38. They are especially acclaimed.

Karasu (crows) Buncho (as his signature and seal looked like footprints of a crow, also known as Chocho [butterfly] Buncho) are his work created from 1811 to 1840.
(Also called Buncho BATTERFLY) Masterpieces from 1811 to 1840
This period is said to be his overproduction period, but there are also many excellent masterpieces.

Important Work

"Koyo Tanshozu" in 1793, important cultural heritage, Tokyo National Museum
"Portrait of Kenkado KIMURA", in 1802, important cultural heritage, Osaka Municipal Museum of Art
"Hassennin zu (Drawing of 8 mountain wizards)" in 1802, Seikado Bunko Art Museum
"Hikoyama Shinkei Zu" in 1815, Tokyo National Museum


Buncho was a generous person, and when his disciple asked for his seal, he approved the use of his signature and seal even if it was not his painting. Anyone could use the real signature and seal of Buncho during his lecturer at his school called Shasanro, and a lot of disciples sold their paintings as Buncho's paintings to earn money. When he received complaints from buyers, he said, "These are my signature and seal so they must be my paintings," and he didn't care such complaints. Therefore, it is thought that there were many forgeries from that time. Consequently, signature and seal are not enough for the judgment of Buncho's work.

[Original Japanese]