Shiba Kokan (司馬江漢)

Kokan SHIBA (1747 - November 19, 1818) was a painter who lived during the Edo Period. He was also a rangakusha (a person who studied Western sciences by means of the Dutch language). He was also known as Harushige SUZUKI. His real name was Shun ANDO.

Kokan started his career as an Ukiyo-e painter but later turned to a Western-influenced painter. It is said that Kokan was acquainted with Gennai HIRAGA, and allowed to learn under Ryotaku MAENO and Naotake ODANO with the help of Gennai.

There is a theory that Kokan drafted 'Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi', a masterpiece of Hiroshige ANDO.

Ukiyo-e Painting
Kokan worked as a forgery painter of Harunobu SUZUKI (Ukiyo-e painter, a person who achieved the perfection of Nishikie [colored woodblock print]) under the name of Harushige SUZUKI. It is also said that he was a disciple of Harunobu.

Western Paintings

Among the painters who first developed the Western-style paintings in Japan, Kokan is viewed as influential along with Naotake ODANO. It is particularly worth noting that while Naotake employed Western drawing methods such as perspective and chiaroscuro while using traditional Japanese paints and ink, Kokan tried an oil painting using sesame oil. Kokan contributed to spreading Western paintings by featuring traditional Japanese sceneries such as Mt. Fuji while using Western drawing methods and oil-painting techniques, and offering the paintings to shrines and temples in various places across Japan. One of his notable extant works, 'Soshu Kamakura Shichiriga-hama zu' (Mt. Fuji viewed from Kamakura Shichiriga-hama beach), was originally offered to Atagoyama-jinja Shrine of Shiba, Edo. Although most Ema (a votive wooden plaque) deteriorates easily as they are hung on the walls of shrines and temples, this painting remains in a good shape as it was removed from the Shrine in early stage and preserved well.

Kokan is also the first Japanese etcher.

Western Studies and Suihitsu Essay
Kokan had such a deep interest in Western natural history including astronomy and plants and animals and introduced them to Japan.

Social Relationship
As Kokan wanted to get away from all the annoyance associated with human relationship in his later years, he sent his own death notice to his acquaintances and shut himself away from society. When he had to go out for errands and ran into one of his acquaintances as he had feared, he did not say a word and tried to run away. However, he couldn't fool them and grudgingly said 'a dead man does not speak'.

[Original Japanese]