Kushiro Unzen (釧雲泉)

Unzen KUSHIRO (1759-December 31, 1811) was a painter in the literary artist's style in the late Edo period. Lived in journey and loved Sake (Japanese liquor), he was a proudly independent painter.

His alias, Unzen, was named after Mt. Unzen-dake. His first name was Ju, pseudonym was Chufu, common name was Bunpei, and another names were Rodo, Taigaku, Rokuseki, and Rairaikoji and others.

Brief Personal History

Unzen was born near Nodamyo-ji Temple in Shimabara, Hizen Province (Chidiwa-cho, Nagasaki Prefecture) as a son of a retainer of the Shimabara Domain.

From a child, he was fond of paintings, and there is an anecdote that he always spread mud and painted picture with a bamboo stick on a big stone called Unzen no tenarai ishi (Unzen's stone for learning) in a Shinto shrine, returning home with his dirty clothes.

When he was around ten years old, he became a trainee priest of Unzen Ichijo-in Temple, but he kept painting whenever he had time.

After that, he accompanied his father to study in Nagasaki, and learned about the Qing dynasty and the art of the Nanga (a school of painting originating in China). He was proficient in Chinese. His teachers are unknown, but since then, he admired Tohokuen, Geiunrin, and 王麓台. Also, he was influenced by painter Choshukoku, who came to Japan.

After his father's death, Unzen left for long journey. He visited a series of Kii Province, Awaji Province, and Shikoku region from the Sanyo-do Road.

In Sanuki Province, Unzen met Chikuseki NAGAMACHI and deepened a friendship with him.

He took up his residence in Edo temporarily.

In March 1791, when he was 32 years old, Unzen was introduced to Kenkado KIMURA by Baimei TOTOKI and visited Kenkado, who was deported to Nagashima-cho, Ise Province (Mie Prefecture) at that time. Then he returned to Edo again.

In the same year, Unzen got an introduction from Kakusai UNNO, who was an Edogaro (chief retainer stayed in Edo) of the Niwase Domain in Bicchu Province and became friends with Unzen in Edo, to Ensho MORIOKA, who was a real brother of Kakusai and a Karo of the Niwase Domain in the Bicchu Province and Unzen stayed Ensho's house.

For three years from 1791, Unzen actively drew pictures mainly in Kurashiki. He got closer to Senzo ONO in Nagao, the Bicchu Province. Also, he seemed to have contact with Gyokudo URAGAMI before his leaving from domain.

Around 1792, when he was 33 years old, he often traveled from Bishu to Kyoto and Osaka. In June of the same year, he again visited Kenkado.

After 1796, his main base seemed to be in the Eastern part of Bizen Province.

He visited Kenkado in 1798 (39 years old).

He left Bishu to live in Osaka in 1800 (41 years old).

He visited Kenkado in 1801 (42 years old). Then he started to live in Kyoto.

He took up his residence near the back gate of the Yushima tenjin Shrine in Edo in 1803 (44 years old). He established friendships with many writers and artists.

In April of 1805 (46 years old), Unzen went to Shinetsu with Shibutsu OKUBO. Departed from Takasaki City, he went through Annaka City, crossed the Usui-toge Pass, and entered Shinano Province, and then went down the Shinano-gawa River, and finally reached to Kashiwazaki City in Echigo Province. On the way, he got orders for paintings in various places and completed them. Shibutsu returned, but Unzen continued traveling and spend autumn in Sanjo City. Then he returned to Edo for a short time.

He moved to Echigosanjo with his wife and children and worked hard to spread the Nanga. During this time, he traveled widely throughout Echigo to train his disciples.

In June, 1811 (52 years old), he stayed at the OKADA family in Nakajo Town, and the SAKAI family in Yoshida Town (Niigata Prefecture) with Housai KAMEDA to draw pictures.

In the same year, he played in Izumozaki Town, Echigo. 菅泰峨, a chief priest of Joho-ji Temple, greatly welcomed Unzen and studied under Unzen. However, Unzen died suddenly when he was drinking Sake at Kendonya, a soba noodles shop. He died at the age of 53.

Buried in the Joho-ji Temple by Taiga. Requested from Kakusai UNNO, Housai KAMEDA inscribed on Unzen's tombstone, carved as 'Unzen sanjin bomei' (epitaph on tombstone of Unzen, a hermit).


Loved traveling and solitude, Unzen lived a supermundane life as a Gajin painter.

While he had a meticulous nature, he was extremely difficult, and hated snobs that Unzen did not speak people who he hated and often threw his paintbrush and glass to drive them away. Furthermore, he did not paint for his favor.

He loved Sake and Senchado (green tea ceremony). Enjoyed fishing that he carried a fishing rod whenever he traveled.

Because of his obsession with cleanliness, he did not feel right unless he did cooking and washing by himself.

His style and public assessment.

He continued to aspire to Nansoga (southern school of Chinese painting) of China. There are many masterpieces in his landscape paintings, especially in those drawn when he was relatively young. Paintings of Unzen's later years are usually described as somber.

Strongly influenced by Chinese painters such as Gen TO, Unrin GEI, and Shukoku CHO, his paintings are vivid, civilized, and supermundane.

Chikuden TANOMURA, who respected Unzen, lamented in his book, "Tosekisasaroku," that 'he taught people about Unzen, but they did not know Unzen was in their village.'

Unzen's works are highly evaluated in "Museishiwa" and "槃礴脞話" written by Uju KANAI and 森島長志 respectively.

According to "南宗書画品価録" published in 1866, each of Unzen's paintings were sold for a large sum of money of three ryo (unit of currency), the second largest amount after Taiga IKENO.

Representative Works
碧梧清暑図' (1793) with a legend of Chazan KAN. Shukou koukaku zu' (1799) (Painter's signature and inscription).
秋江独釣図,' a property of Tokyo National Museum. Sansui-zu rokkyoku byoubu,' a cultural property designated by Niigata Prefecture.

[Original Japanese]