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Painting people, painting hearts
-portraits of a modern Japanese literati-

Megumi Shirahama
Department of Collection Management (Special collections room), Waseda University Library

After Naoya Shiga died, Bernard Leach painted a portrait of Shiga. Saneatsu Mushanokoji, seeing the painting for the first time, felt that Leach drew Shiga much elder than as he looked. However, he made a new comment later as follows.

Leach had an artist's eye. I think he must have watched Shiga a lot. Shiga was four years older than Leach, and he looked at him in that light. He saw Shiga two years older than I saw him.

Saneatsu Mushanokoji Shiga Naoya no Kao [A Portrait of Naoya Shiga](Kono Michi [This Path], May 1975)

Mushanokoji read how Leach viewed Shiga from a single painting When a person paints a picture of somebody, some kind of awareness or thought that flows between the artist and the subject appears, and these spiritual exchange perhaps create the painting.

Paintings, carvings, photographs, films, stories. There are various ways in which to convey a portrait of somebody. How it is conveyed differs depending on the type of medium. Even if we only take the painting described in this article, it is extremely interesting being able to see the demands and condition of the subject, the perception and skill of the artist, and, furthermore, the characteristics of that era. I would like to introduce that beauty through, while only a few, portraits of modern Japanese literati that are stored in our library.


Figure1:Hyakusui Hirafuku "A portrait of Ogai Mori and his daughter"(bunko14-B28)

When you hear the word portrait, oil paintings in magnificent frames may spring to mind. But in modern Japan, there are many portraits of literati drawn in sketch-form. Looking at magazines, newspapers and books of the time, we can see that illustrations depicting the true faces and everyday lives of literati were often used. Of those, we can see pictures by Hyakusui Hirafuku (1877-1933) and Fusetsu Nakamura (1866-1943) (both well known as illustrators.) They would draw sketches of literati they were close to and submit them as illustrations, or they would keep the sketches to present to somebody. Some of those may still exist today.

Hyakusui's sketch of Ogai Mori (Figure 1) is at a poetry party performed by Ogai and shows a heartwarming scene of Ogai's daughter Mari snuggling up to her father.

Hyakusui have drawn his direct feelings toward things he came across, and enjoyed and cherished sketching people and landscapes. The portrait may seem to be a casual sketch, but it can be said that the artist drew it freely and true to his feelings, and that it not only depicts the subject, but also the true face of the artist.

Photographs and portraits

Figure 2:Fusetsu Nakamura's "Portrait of Shiki"(bunko14-B5)

Figure 3:Masamu Yanase's "Portrait of Shimei Futabatei" ( "I" 04-2090)

Figure 4:"Shimei Futabatei portrait photograph" ("I" 04-2090)

"Juzo 寿像" refers to portraits of a subject drawn during their lifetime and the sketch of Ogai in figure 1 falls into this category. Portraits drawn after the subject's death are called "Izo 遺像" and most are drawn be relying on the artist's memory and imagination, faces of the subject's relatives, and photographs. Fusetsu's portrait of Shiki Masaoka (Figure 2) and Masamu Yanase's (1900-1945) picture of Shimei Futabatei (Figure 3) were drawn after the subjects' death, and both are thought to be based on famous photographs.

There are numerous portraits based on profile photographs of Shiki's face (by Chu Asai, Izan Shimomura etc.), but each image differs from each other and have something different from the original photograph. The image of Futabatei is also different from the photograph (Figure 4). It is not a straight copy of the photograph with additions. Slight arrangements by the artist and artistic instinct add interest to the work and a unique impression and flavor differing from the photograph can be seen in the portrait.

Artists and literati

Figure 5: Fusetsu's "Picture of Cowherd Sachio looking at Collection for a Myriad Ages"(bunko14-B50)

Figure 6: Hyakusui's "Portrait of Sachio Ito" ( "Nu" 06-9336)

The two portraits I will introduce here are of the same person. The subject is Sachio Ito.

In the foreground is a cow. In the background is a lightly dressed and close-cropped Sachio in an relaxing pose. In his left hand he holds the Collection for a Myriad Ages [Man'yoshu]. In his right a whip. Sachio has his eyes on Collection for a Myriad Ages, or is it the cow? Fusetsu's image of Sachio (Figure 5) is a unique and fun drawing. On the other hand, Hyakusui's image of Sachio (Figure 6) captures a rough outline of the man using light brushstrokes and gives Sachio a relaxed yet solid presence. The inscription is penned by Sachio himself and written in Man'yoshu characters and reads "when a cowherd composes a song, many new songs appear throughout the world."

Sachio Ito (1864-1913) was a writer born on a farm in Musha County, Kazusanokuni (present day Sammu City, Chiba Prefecture). He was a big man with a serious and pure nature. Belonging to the Negishi Group of poets affiliated with Shiki Masaoka, he displayed a tendency to portray things as they were, based on the Man'yo style, and formed the foundations of the magazine Araragi.. He was also a novelist, renowned for the romance novel Nogiku no Haka [The Wild Chrysanthemum Grave]. He was also well-known as a cowherd (milking cows) and was said to have worked 18 hours a day. He called himself "cowherd", and those around him also called him "Sachio the cowherd." He was close to Fusetsu and Hyakusui, friends with whom he could share thoughts regarding their interests and work, and he very much loved the talents and personalities of both these men.

Sachio's face in figure 5 isn't exactly drawn to true detail and barely resembles him. Even so, what leads us to believe that the man is Sachio can be said to be the portrayal of the cow and the Collection for a Myriad Ages, a clear representation of the man called Sachio. In the inscription which is shown in figure 6, Sachio expressed how he spent his life, the combination of work, creativity and pleasure. It is a song which represents his idea of how something can be created by spending life as a single person and living as a cowherd. By adding this inscription, the portrait of Sachio by Hyakusui makes us feel even closer to the real person.

By the way, in this material, there is a note of authentication on a box (Figure 7) by Sachio's pupil and close associate of Hyakusui, Mokichi Saito (1882-1953) which reads "Living in the time that the whole nation become one as the war approaches, I continually think of the two of you." The portrait in figure 6 is actually printed in Mokichi's Ito Sachio (Chuokoronsha, August 1942), and it is understood that when he borrowed this portrait to be published in the book, he wrote the note of authentication. Ito Sachio is an elaborate 512 page book where Mokichi tells the story of Sachio's life and all his work. While writing a note, he was no doubt writing with his late master Sachio and Hyakusui in mind.

Both portraits, which depict Sachio's disposition and soul, not just his external appearance, were completed with the friendship cultivated by Sachio, the subject, himself and his mutual understanding with the artist, in other words, they were products of deep friendships.

The beauty of portraits

Portraits can be enjoyed just by looking at them. But it isn't just that, they imply us a person's stance and soul from a different aspect to a diary or letter, for example.

When looking at the relationship between the subject and artist and the background of the picture, you notice the many messages thrown at you from a single piece of work. Sometimes the subject appears more realistic than in real life, surprising and moving the viewer. It's perhaps because a momentary gesture shown by the subject, or the life of the subject himself, relationships, the artist's beliefs, skills in bringing out the character of the subject and imagination are all intertwined.

In addition to the works introduced here, our library also houses portraits of modern Japanese literati such as Hyakusui's "Portrait of Shoyo Tsubouchi" (Collection 14-A200), "Hyakusui's Sketches of People"(Collection 14-B028)and Kiyokata Kaburaki's "Portrait of Koyo Ozaki etc."(Collection 14-B104). Many of those images can be found in the Japanese and Chinese Classics Database. Also, in the online exhibition "Library 'Portrait' Exhibition", various images and captions of portraits from the Edo and Meiji periods are introduced, so please take the time to check them out.

Japanese and Chinese Classics Database

From the online exhibition, 33rd "Library 'Portrait' Exhibition~Unforgettable Looks~" part1-3

Megumi Shirahama
Department of Collection Management (special material room), Waseda University Library

Full-time library employee. Born and raised in Kanagawa Prefecture. Graduated from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I in 2007, and completed her Master's at the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 2009. Majors in modern Japanese literature research in the Meiji period.