Watanabe Kazan (渡辺崋山)

Kazan WATANABE (October 20, 1793 to November 23, 1841) was a politician and painter who lived during the late Edo period. He was a senior retainer of the Tahara Domain of Mikawa Province (roughly equivalent to today's city area of Tahara, Aichi Prefecture). His common name was Nobori (or Tadashi) ('Noboru' is also written in some of his works), and his personal name was Sadayasu. His first pen name was 華山 (Kazan), but the kanji characters were changed to 崋山 when he was about 35 years of age.

His birth and childhood days in distress

His father was a feudal retainer of the Tahara Domain, Sadamichi WATANABE, and his mother was Sakae; he was their first son. The Watanabe family maintained the family status of joshi (superior samurai) in the Tahara Domain and was granted 100 koku through generations, but since his father Sadamichi was an adopted son, his salary was reduced to 15-people buchi (or 27 koku when converted to koku in the Tahara Domain) and the actual income was only 12 koku because of the financial difficulties of the domain. Because his father Sadamichi was prone to illness, the family's money was very much spent on the cost of Sadamichi's medicine, and therefore he spent his childhood in extreme poverty. They were so poor that they even couldn't have meals each day, and one after another Kazan's younger brothers and sisters left their home to work as someone else's servants. Those hard days are depicted in detail in one of his works in his older days, "Taieki Gansho no Ko." These descriptions of suffering were used in an ethics textbook before the Pacific War, together with the descriptions of his dedication to study in later years. Given the circumstances as well as his talent, Kazan, young as he was, came to support the family by selling his drawings. Later he became a student of Buncho TANI, which led to a great leap in his abilities as a painter; he achieved success in his mid-twenties, which lifted his family's life from financial misery to modesty. He was also dedicated to learning; he studied Confucianism (Neo-Confucianism) under Seiko TAKAMI and later under Kodo MATSUZAKI and eventually under Issai SATO while he attended Shoheizaka Gakumonjo (Shoheizaka School). He studied agriculture with Nobuhiro SATO.

His Days as a Retainer of the Tahara Domain

At eight years of age he was assigned to serve as an attendant to Kamekichi, an heir of the domain lord Yasutomo MIYAKE, as well as Kamekichi's younger brother Motokichi (who later became the domain lord Yasuaki MIYAKE) after Kamekichi's early death, and because of this assignment Kazan was well remembered by his master Yasutomo, which means he was very close to the lord family from his childhood days. The memories of his younger days created in him a sense of familiarity and a high degree of loyalty to the lord family. At 16 years of age he was officially ordered to work at the Edo residence of the Tahara Domain, where the roles he was assigned were those very close to the lord, such as Nando-yaku (being in charge of the lord's personal care) or Tsukaiban (a role similar to that of a liaison). In 1823 he married Taka, a daughter of the Wada family of the Tahara Domain, and inherited the Watanabe family following the death of his father, whereupon he took over the karoku (hereditary stipend) of 80 koku (the stipend returned to the original level with his father's promotion in the domain administration) in 1825. In September 1826, he was appointed as Toritsugiyaku (liaison).

In 1827, Yasuaki, the lord of the Tahara Domain, died at just 28 years of age. The leaders of the domain administration intended to adopt a member of the Himeji Domain's lord family, which was relatively rich in those days, with a dowry in order to solve the domain's financial distress. Kazan strongly opposed their plan and conducted an effort, together with Sadachika MAKI, one of the lord chamberlains, demanding that Yasuaki's half-brother Tomonobu MIYAKE be made the next lord. The top management of the domain administration finally governed the decision, and Yasunao MIYAKE, adopted from the Himeji Domain, became the new lord; consequently, Kazan led the desperate life of a drunkard for a while. However, Kazan negotiated with the domain administration and the Himeji Domain; he had them approve that a son of Tomonobu MIYAKE would marry a daughter of Yasunao and that their son would be the next domain lord (an arrangement that was later realized as their son, Yasuyoshi MIYAKE). The top management of the domain also granted the status of former domain lord to Tomonobu and gave him preferential treatment by giving him a separate residence at Sugamo, partly for the purpose of soothing the opposition group, including Kazan. Kazan came to be on good terms with Tomonobu as one of his chamberlains, and this close relationship led to Tomonobu's willing provision of funds when Kazan wanted to purchase foreign books. Tomonobu authored a biography of Kazan titled 'Kazan Sensei Ryakuden' (Brief History of Teacher Kazan) in 1881, after the death of Kazan.

In May 1832, Kazan assumed Toshiyori-yaku Masseki (the lowest position of executive retainer, which is a position of Karo, or chief retainer) of the Tahara Domain. Already a renowned painter since his mid-twenties, Kazan seemed to dedicate himself to painting away from the important positions of the domain administration, but his wish wasn't honored.

Thus he was determined to do his best to reform the domain government. He introduced the merit system, in which the stipend was determined based on the rank of one's role instead of the status of family, in order to promote the employment of excellent people and improve the retainers' morale; he also took measures to reduce the expenditures of the domain. Additionally, he attempted to encourage new industries by inviting the agriculturist Nagatsune OKURA to Tahara. Nagatsune first conducted the technical improvement of rice cultivation in Tahara, and among the measures taken by him the introduction to remove pests from rice fields with whale oil is believed to have brought great success. He also promoted the cultivation of commercial crops, which had come to be a major income source for the domain, and particularly he attempted to establish sugar cane in Atsumi Peninsula, which is particularly warm in climate, but that effort didn't succeed. Other achievements of Nagatsune include the successful cultivation of Hazenoki (Rhus succedanea, a kind of wax tree) and Kozo (a mixture of Broussonetia kazinoki and B. papyrifera, a material for Japanese paper), mastery of the wax extraction technique, and the settlement of production of unglazed earthenware as a samurai's side job.

When the Tempo Famine struck the domain from 1836 to 1837, Kazan helped the domain survive without any deaths due to starvation by taking various precautions, including the construction of food storages (named "Homin-kura"), education on strict compliance with the law and order, the importance of saving by means of a handbook called "Kyoko Kokoroe-sho" (Handbook for Disaster Preparedness), and imparting the principle of priority on the survival of the domain's people to the samurai retainers of the domain; consequently, the Tahara Domain was the only domain that was awarded by the Tokugawa shogunate for its great feat.

Great Donor in Rangaku'

Kazan participated in Shoshikai (a kind of think tank) established by a Confucian official of Kishu Domain, Katsusuke ENDO, and exchanged notes with many people (including Choei TAKANO) regarding measures to be taken against famine. As a result of such discussion, Choei authored "Kyuko Nibutsu-ko" (Two Crops for Disaster Restoration), in which potatoes and soba (buckwheat noodle) should be prepared as a solution to famine, and Kazan, an expert painter, provided illustrations for the book. Their study circle further grew with the occurrence of the Morrison Incident, involving Dutch scholars (a person who studied Western sciences by means of the Dutch language), with Choei, Sanei KOSEKI and Kanae HATAZAKI, the shogunate retainer Toshiakira KAWAJI, Kando HAKURA and Hidetatsu EGAWA (Tarozaemon) being members, covering a range of themes to discuss in detail, even extending to issues of naval defense. Egawa, in particular, became a devoted disciple of Kazan and received advice from him on the naval defense policy for the shogunate government.
Toko FUJITA, who attended those sessions, remembered the enthusiastic Kazan and described him as 'the Great Donor in Rangaku.'
Although Kazan himself was not a Dutch scholar, Fujita's description came from his status as the leader of Dutch scholars in those days.

Bansha no goku (Imprisonment of Scholars of Western Learning) and His Last

Those activities, however, were viewed unfavorably by the conservatives of the shogunate, particularly Yozo TORII, the metsuke (inspector of the Tokugawa shogunate). Torii was originally from the Hayashi family, which traditionally served the shogunate as Confucianist (New-Confucianist) and, given that background, did not like the interference of Dutch scholars in the politics of the shogunate and, according to some interpretations, considered Kazan and Egawa as traitors of Confucianism because they had once studied Confucianism under the Hayashi family (Shoheizaka School). Torii finally attempted to make Egawa and Kazan criminals based on a false charge in June 1839. Egawa was safe, as he was harbored by roju (Shogun's council member) Tadakuni MIZUNO, but Kazan criticized the shogunate's conservative naval defense policy while his house was being searched and, because of that agitation, his personal paper "Shinkiron," which he had refrained from publishing, was found by house researchers, whereupon he was deemed guilty of blaming the shogunate's policy; consequently, he was placed under house arrest in his hometown of Tahara. Two years later, one of Kazan's disciples, Hanko FUKUDA, felt sorry for the miserable life of the Kazan family living in confinement in the Ikenohara residence of Tahara and planned an exhibition of his paintings in Edo so as to apply the profits to the Kazan family's living expenses. However, the rumor emerged that the shogunate viewed the sale of Kazan's works to support his life as a problem (one theory says this was a scheme attempted by an anti-Kazan group in the Tahara Domain), and since Kazan was afraid it would damage the domain, he killed himself by seppuku in the barn of the Ikenohara residence, having left the farewell words 'Fuchu Fuko Watanabe Nobori' (Disloyal, Unfilial, Watanabe Nobori). The pressure of the anti-Kazan group remained so strong even after his death that, according to some records, they didn't allow the establishment of Kazan's tomb even after his son, Shoka WATANABE, assumed the post of karo (chief retainer) of the Tahara Domain in order to restore his family's impaired reputation (it was in April 7, 1868, immediately before the collapse of the Edo shogunate, that the shogunate allowed the rehabilitation of Kazan's honor and the construction of his tomb). Because Shoka and all the children of Kazan did not have children of their own, Kazan's family line was extinguished in the Meiji period.

His works include "Seiyo Jijosho" (Affairs in the Western Countries).

Kazan as Painter and Literati

As a child, Kazan wanted to become a professional painter in order to support his family. At first he studied painting under his great-uncle Bunkyo HIRAYAMA, and then he studied with Shizan SHIRAKAWA, but eventually Kazan was excommunicated by Shirakawa because his family could not send him gifts. Feeling sorry for him, his father found that the professional painter Kinryo KANEKO was a retainer of a relative of the Tahara Domain's lord family and asked Kaneko to take Kazan as his student based on that connection, whereupon Kaneko accepted it (Kazan was then 16 years old). Kinryo took good care of Kazan and helped him achieve great improvements in his painting ability. In those days, Kazan had the side job of drawing Hatsu-uma lanterns. According to Kazan, he was paid one kan (a monetary unit of the Edo period) for 100 paintings drawn, but he had acquired a rapid drawing technique from his side job; it seems apparent that this technique was very helpful when he drew sketches to accompany the travel essays he wrote in later years.

He also studied under Kinryo's master, Buncho TANI. Buncho knew that Kazan had great potential; not only did he teach him the painting techniques but his works also served as the role models of literati painting for Kazan. Following the example of Buncho, Kazan acquired the technique of nanga (a school of painting originating in China) and also learned about various schools of painting. His literati painting was strongly influenced by Yun Nantian, of Qing. For portrait paintings, Kazan successfully acquired the technique of painting naturalistically, which he performed with great dexterity using shades. Although he was certainly influenced by Western painting, he established his own unprecedented style. His portrait paintings won a high reputation in those days, and he drew many of them.
His representative portrait works include 'Portrait of Takami Senseki,' 'Portrait of Sato Issai' and 'Portrait of Ichikawa Beian.'
He developed such disciples as Chinzan TSUBAKI and Hanko FUKUDA.

There is an episode that describes how keenly he sought photorealistic depiction. In 1835, one of his painter friends Kinrei TAKIZAWA died, and Kazan was asked by Kinrei's father Kyokutei Bakin to draw Kinrei's portrait at the funeral. In those days, a person's portrait was often drawn often after death, so the painter had to draw the portraits without actually seeing the model and therefore needed to imagine in order to draw, which should also have been the case with Kazan's drawing of Kinrei's portrait. Kazan, however, didn't accept that approach; instead he opened the lid of the coffin, took a look of Kinrei's face, sketched it and touched his face (according to Bakin's book, "Nochino tameno ki" (Records for the Future). Actions such as those represented a significant departure from the sense of protocol in those days.

Kazan had originally started painting partly for the purpose of supporting his family, but his talent brought great success, and the frame of reference and personal connections he obtained as he mastered painting were indispensable for enhancing his very original manner of thinking. Isso Hyakutai Zu,' which depicts the manners and customs of those days, is one of the portrait masterpieces. As a man of literature, Kazan produced travel writings and essays including "Zengakudo Hiroku" and "Nikko Kiko"; his writings, like his abundant illustrations, vividly depict the scenes of his travels and serve as important materials to depict the culture, local manners and customs.