Katayama Hokkai (片山北海)

Hokkai KATAYAMA (February 14, 1723 - October 19, 1790) was a Confucian and a composer of Chinese poems in Japan who lived during the middle of the Edo period. Along with Hokkai EMURA of Kyoto and Hokkai IRIE of Edo, he was referred to as the three Hokkai of three cities (Kyoto, Edo, and Osaka).

His name was Yu, his azana (Chinese courtesy name which was, historically, the name formerly given to adult Chinese men, used in place of their given name in formal situations; scholars and the literati of Japan adopted this custom of courtesy name) was Kotetsu, his common name was Tadakura, and other than Hokkai as his go (pen name), he had Komatsukan which was also the name of his house. He started Konton-shisha (Chinese poetry club) in Osaka, and turned out many outstanding disciples such as Shunsui RAI, Jishu BIDO, Seiri KOGA, and Kenkado KIMURA.


Hokkai was born to a farming household in Yahiko-mura, Echigo Province (the present Yahiko-mura, Nishikanbara-gun, Niigata Prefecture). His father was called Mokuo, and his mother was from the Miura clan. Since this village was facing the Japanese sea, he referred to himself as Hokkai as he grew older. Until the age of 10, he was taught the teachings of Shisho (The Four Books of Confucianism), but since he displayed remarkable talents, the adults around him tried to educate him. However, they could not find a teacher near the place they lived, and although they made him study in such places as Nagaoka City, Shibata City, and Takada City, they still could not find a suitable teacher.

When he turned 18 years old, Hokkai went to Kyoto and looked for a teacher, but he was unable to meet a person whom he could admire. One can gather that Hokkai had more ambition than his initial determination.

In 1740, he finally met a teacher named Asaka UNO, and became his disciple. Hokkai admired his teacher, and adored his theories. Hokkai's teacher, Asaka also saw his caliber, and trusted him deeply. This teacher and student relationship continued for six years, but Hokkai became homeless when Asaka died. In addition, he was forced to live in destitution with his father who had been living with him, hoping for his son's success. However, Hokkai continued to study hard while being dutiful to his father.

There was a disciple of Asaka who was a wealthy merchant that lived in Osaka, and since he was an acquaintance of Hokkai, Hokkai was invited to Osaka in order to open a school. Hokkai was known for being taciturn and having a gentle personality, and did not discriminate according to one's social standing. Furthermore, he did not have political ambitions, and as a Confucian, he expounded doctrines that were timely and practical. His reputation was quickly heightened, and in some thirty years, he had more than about 3,000 disciples. On learning about Hokkai's reputation, there were many lords such as lord OKABE of Kishiwada Domain in Izumi Province who invited him as Hanju (a Confucian scholar who work for a domain), but Hokkai firmly declined them all.

Since there was an old pine tree that stood in his house in Yodobashi yokocho, he referred to the place as Komatsukan. Many writers and artists gathered and composed poetry and poems while drinking and talking about politics. Hokkai did not drink, but went along with them and had not gotten tired of it. Jishu BIDO, when he was young, tried to argue against the poems that Nankaku HATTORI wrote, but Hokkai smoked tobacco with composure and did not respond. This is an anecdote that tells of a free and light hearted atmosphere without the serious treatise on literature. He was also a master of Oteki (transverse flute) as well as a man of refined taste who was fond of green tea ceremony.

Konton-shisha was established in 1764, and Hokkai was recommended as the leader, and it quickly became the most active poetry club in Osaka.

His life time friend, Daiten KENJO, was his fellow pupil of Asaka UNO, and a Zen monk of Shokoku-ji Temple,.

He died at the age of 68. He is buried in Baishoin (Jonantera machi, Tennoji Ward, Osaka City).

Literary works

All through his life, Hokkai did not take a liking to writing his own book, and there were none that became published when he was alive; but book of his songs were complied and published by his disciples after his death.

"Hokkai bunshu" (Hokkai anthology in 12 volumes)
"Hokkai shishu" (Collected poems of Hokkai in seven volumes)
"Kontonsha shiko" (Manuscripts of poems by Kontonsha in three volumes)

[Original Japanese]