In 1843, a great painter visited the small village Obuse in Shinshu (today’s Nagano Prefecture). The place where you can see the painting of Phoenix even today.
Hokusai and Obuse
The great painter was Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). He was 83 years old at that time. He had become the popular painter by the success of “Thirty-Six Views of Mout Fuji” (1822-1831). Even the period that Hokusai had drawn the series of ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock), he was already in the mid-70s. For reference, the average life of the Japanese at that time was about 50 years old. He had stayed four times until he died. The most of the people take a journey on foot in Edo Period (1603-1868). It is certainly that Hokusai loved a moving (he changed the home 93 times!). But the distance from Sumida (in Edo) to Obuse is more than 160 mile. And he was in the 80s.
Patron Takai Kozan
From 1830 to 1843, the ukiyo-e artists and publishers had a bitter experience since the Tempo reform. The politics of the shogunate regulated the publishing of the ukiyo-e. Hokusai visited Obuse for receiving the support from a wealthy merchant to continue to drow pictures.
The local merchant Obuse Takai Kozan (1806-1883) was well- versed in painting, poem, and Confucianism. He had the relationships with many artists and thinkers. It’s like a cultural salon of Kozan.
When Hokusai stayed on Obuse first time, he was 83 and Kozan was 37. But they had mutual respect and Kozan gave a studio for Hokusai. It is said that the great ukiyo-e artist got absorbed in painting every day at the studio.
“Phoenix glaring in all directions”
At the last staying at Obuse, Kozan encouraged Hokusai to make a 38 ㎡ large-scale work. That was the painting on the ceilling of Gansho-in Temple, “Phoenix glaring in all directions”.
He was 89 years old, the years before he died. It is obvious that he improved a sense of coloring and stroke of the brush more and more in his later years.
You can enjoy the masterpiece at Gansho-in Temple even today. The temple is also famous for the place where Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) made the popular haiku poem.
And if you love Hokusai, you can see many his original paintings at Hokusai Museum in Obuse.
If you want to enjoy Japanese artworks of painting, print, and craft everyday, check the Twitter account of Masterpiece of Japan!