Kawaguchi Seppo (川口雪篷)

Seppo KAWAGUCHI (1818 - 1890) was a calligrapher from the Satsuma Domain at the end of the Edo period and being taken under the wing of Takamori SAIGO, he taught calligraphy and Chinese poetry. As mentioning below, after returning from Okinoerabu-jima Island, he lived at the residence of the Saigo family until his death and served as superintendent of the residence during the master Takamori's absence and also educated Takamori's children.

Place of Origin

He was born in Nouso, Nishinoomote City, Tanegashima Island in 1818 as the fourth son of Nakazaemon KAWAGUCHI who was a retainer of the Satsuma clan and his family had been successively serving as Umamawari-yaku (body guard) of the residence of the Satsuma clan in Edo (Tokyo). His real name was initially Ryojiro, and he changed it to Shunsaku on February 6, 1869 and then to Seppo on October 21, 1872. As a calligrapher, he called himself Koun. In Edo, he became a pupil of Gozan KIKUCHI and learned Chinese poetry; and Karayo (Chinese style) was his specialty in calligraphy. He was an expert at Yomei-gaku (Yangming school, a school of Confucian started by Wang Yangming).

Exiled to Okinoerabu-jima Island

Due to his father's mistake, the members of the Kawaguchi family were fired and moved back to Kagoshima City. In Kagoshima, his older brother began some work and readjusted the family, however he committed a crime and the family name was taken; and Ryojiro was implicated in that and sent to Okinoerabu-jima Island (according to the description from the Kagoshima Prefectural Library). However, according to another story, when he was working as copyist for Hisamitsu SHIMAZU, he was found that he had been buying shochu (Japanese distilled grain liquor) by putting the public documents in pledge, and sent to Okinoerabu-jima Island (and this is the popular theory). There is also another story which says that in 1862 when Takamori SAIGO was exiled to Okinoerabu-jima Island and was locked in jail of Wadomari-cho, Kawaguchi went to the island to teach calligraphy and poetry to Saigo, although he was not a criminal (according to Yasutsugu SHIGENO's idea). Among the descendants of the Kawaguchi Family remains a story that since Ryojiro was given an important position such as Hisamitsu's shosei (a post managing clerical works) although he was just a so-called 'Shimagoro' (countryman from island) from Tanega-shima Island, some people were jealous of him and put a crime upon him. Although the real reason for his exile is not clear because of many different theories, it is a fact that Kawaguchi had been exiled to Okinoerabu-jima Island for some reason before Saigo was sent there in 1862, and that he lived in Nishihara Village and taught reading and writing to the children of the island.

According to the popular theory, Kawaguchi got on very well with Saigo from the first time they met; and everyday Kawaguchi visited Saigo's cell of the prison of Wadomari which was 3.4 kilometers away from Nishihara and discussed current issues and talked about learning, and he came to teach calligraphy and poetry to Saigo. When Magiri-yokome (officer of prison) Masahiro TSUCHIMOCHI worried that Saigo might have been annoyed and asked if Saigo wanted him to limit visiting, then Saigo answered "no, Mr. Kawaguchi knows a lot about both Chinese and Japanese classics and is worth talking with, leave it like this." There was a rather childish anecdote about them.
(Below was cited from "Tanegashima" by Masaru INOMOTO.)

Once, pointing at a poem by Li Po, Kawaguchi laughed and taught Saigo "Mr Saigo, a poem should be written like this, yours cannot form four ('四' [shi] which pronunciation is the same as '詩' [shi] Chinese poetry) yet, and cannot form even three ('三' [san] which pronunciation is the same as '賛' [san] a style of Chinese literature for praising someone or something), hahaha!"
He was quite a heavy drinker and when he was drunk, he fell asleep in the garden even if it was during the day. Then Nanshu (Saigo) gave Kawaguchi a gago (pseudonym) of 'Suimin-sensei' (睡眠先生, literally, 'Mr. Sleep'), however Kawaguchi changed it to 'Suimin-sensei' (酔眠先生, literally, 'Mr. Drunk and Sleep') saying he preferred it although they had the same pronunciation. One day Kawaguchi lost his way on the way to visit Nanshu; although he left his home early in the morning, he went round and round the way of only 4 kilometers, and arrived at the destination in the evening. Then Nanshu said "oh, that's unheard-of incident, maybe a fox did some trick, we should call you Ukatsu-sensei (Mr. Careless) from now on," and Seppo answered "call me whatever you like, since it's convenient to have a lot of names," and they promised each other, "whoever gets out of here first would support the other."

Living at Saigo's home

After Saigo had returned to the mainland, Kawaguchi was discharged around 1865 and went back to Kagoshima City, and at first drifted from one relative's house to another. After that, although it is not clear whether they had made such promise or he had another reason, he casually showed up at the door of Saigo's house in Uenosono and stayed as the family's guest. Because Saigo was busy with national affairs and was not at home mostly, his family needed a man who could manage the master's works, therefore Kawaguchi worked as butler to deal with the outside such as attending visitors and using his calligraphy for writing letters, and worked as rusui-yaku (person representing the master during his absence) as well as teaching calligraphy and Chinese literature to Saigo's children. During the Seinan War, all the adult males went to the front, and the women had to protect the Saigo family; and after the residence of Takemura had been burnt down, they drifted from one place to another in Kagoshima; during such days Seppo kept following them sharing the pains and sorrows, and gave them emotional support. It has been said that when Saigo's oldest son Kikujiro SAIGO was injured in a battle and lost his leg, Seppo made his best effort in obtaining a false leg for him.

Anecdotes after the Seinan War

There are some episodes to tell us about Seppo after the Seinan War.
According to the reminiscences by Mitsuru TOYAMA who visited Kagoshima in 1879, "in Saigo's house, there was a butler around the age of 70, called Seppo KAWAGUCHI who wrote calligraphy and poems well" (in fact Seppo was aged 62 at that time), and when Toyama asked first "I would like to see Mr. Nanshu," Seppo was appalled and yelled in anger "Don't you know Saigo died in Shiroyama?"
To answer him, Toyama said "There must remains Saigo's spirit" and they exchanged conversations as follows (cited from "Seinan Kiden").

Seppo ruefully said "although Kagoshima had many talented people before the war, such people and talents all vanished like those trees disappeared and only bald hills remain here, I cannot stand even saying this; it takes a hundred years to raise a tree, and I think a titan like Saigo would appear only once in a hundred years or once in a thousand years, so, we can never see anyone like him." Mitsuru then asked Seppo to see Saigo's cherished books, and Seppo showed him "Senshin Dosatsu-ki" and said "Saigo always had this book by his side and read during he was shutting himself up at the southern island." Mitsuru got his permit and read it, and found Saigo's hand-written notes in the book. Instantly Mitsuru asked Seppo to borrow it, then Seppo handed the book and left casually without saying goodbye. However, later Seppo asked him again and again to return the book. Mitsuru ignored it for a year. Mitsuru visited Kagoshima again and went to see Seppo to return the book; then Seppo was delighted and took out his "Wang Yangming Collection" to give Mitsuru, besides, Seppo apologized for his irrational behavior.

The "Senshin Dosatsu-ki" mentioned above is a collection of lecture notes written by Heihachiro OSHIO (Chusai) who stood up against the maladministration of Osaka Magistrate Office not considering the people's distressed conditions during the Tenpo Famine; and the book was widely read not only by Saigo but also by other supporters of the Restoration at the end of the Edo period. Those Seppo's words shows that he favored Yomei-gaku, however how much of his remarks were reflecting Saigo's real intentions is unknown although he had been very close to Saigo. Okinoerabu-jima Island was Saigo's spiritual base let him develop the idea of 'Revere heaven, Love people'; and according to a story, Saigo had about 1200 books sent from the mainland while he was there. Therefore, above remarks could be Seppo's subjective views, however it could be considered that Seppo wanted to tell Mitsuru about Saigo's spirit which had made him take the action for justice without thinking results.

End of Life

In 1890, Seppo died peacefully from illness as if he was relieved by watching that in the previous year Saigo's name as the leader of the rebels had been cleared and his honor as a meritorious retainer of the Restoration had been recovered. He died at the age of 72. He was buried in the Saigo family's graveyard. There was a monument of "Seppo KAWAGUCHI's exiled place" in Nishihara, Okinoerabu-jima Island to commemorate his efforts in educating children of the island.

Seppo as a Calligrapher

Reflecting his personality, his style of calligraphy is said to be free and bold; there are a few of his works in the possession of Kagoshima Prefectural Library for public displays. As for his influence on Saigo's calligraphy, according to Yasutsugu SHIGENO, at first Saigo learned Oie-ryu style (the Shorenin school which was very popular calligraphy of Japanese style) from Hansuke FUKUSHIMA, then learned calligraphy from Seppo, so Saigo's calligraphy was a mixture of Japanese style from Fukushima and Chinese style from Kawaguchi.

[Original Japanese]