Frog in the Well: Portraits of Japan by Watanabe Kazan, 1793-1841

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Columbia University Press, Jun 19, 2012 - History - 304 pages
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Frog in the Well is a vivid and revealing account of Watanabe Kazan, one of the most important intellectuals of the late Tokugawa period. From his impoverished upbringing to his tragic suicide in exile, Kazan's life and work reflected a turbulent period in Japan's history. He was a famous artist, a Confucian scholar, a student of Western culture, a samurai, and a critic of the shogunate who, nevertheless, felt compelled to kill himself for fear that he had caused his lord anxiety.

During this period, a typical Japanese scholar or artist refused to acknowledge the outside world, much like a "frog in the well that knows nothing of the ocean," but Kazan actively sought out Western learning. He appreciated European civilization and bought every scrap of European art that was available in Japan. He became a painter to help his family out of poverty and, by employing the artistic techniques of the West, achieved great success with his realistic and stylistically advanced portraits.

Although he remained a nationalist committed to the old ways, Kazan called on the shogunate to learn from the West or risk disaster. He strove to improve the agricultural and economic conditions of his province and reinforce its defenses, but his criticisms and warnings about possible coastal invasions ultimately led to his arrest and exile.

Frog in the Well is the first full-length biography of Kazan in English, and, in telling his life's story, renowned scholar Donald Keene paints a fascinating portrait of the social and intellectual milieus of the late Tokugawa period. Richly illustrated with Kazan's paintings, many in color, Frog in the Well illuminates a life that is emblematic of the cultural crises affecting Japan in the years before revolution.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
1 Dutch Studies in Japan Before 1793
17
Kazans Early Years
33
3 Genre Paintings and Early Portraits
50
4 Travels and Career
72
5 The Early 1830s
90
6 Foreign Influence and Major Portraits
106
7 The Meeting of East and West
127
9 The Road to Prison
161
10 The Trial
179
11 Kazan the Painter
198
12 The Last Year
218
Notes
235
Bibliography
269
Index
277
Copyright

8 Danger from Overseas
145

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About the author (2012)

Donald Keene is Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and University Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. He is the author of more than thirty books, including Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World and the definitive multivolume history of Japanese literature.

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