Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Life Lessons Learned from Hokusai for this Age of Centenarians
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

September 9, 2021
An exhibition of 103 unpublished drawings for woodblock prints by Hokusai Katsushika (1760-1849), an ukiyo-e artist during the Edo period, will open at the British Museum in the latter half of September.

The drawings have never been displayed because the woodblock prints were not published. However, for a long time, a French collector preserved the original drawings. The British Museum purchased them in 2019, and have arranged the first exhibition (also viewable online).

Of course, it is marvelous that these unknown works of Hokusai can see the light of day. However, the claim that these were supposedly drawn in 1829 caught my attention. This is because Hokusai suffered a stroke around 1827 before he turned 70 years old, and these works were drawn relatively soon after his illness.

Hokusai is known for his prolific work, but there are few works from around this time. Previously, his stroke was blamed for this unproductive period. However, the existence of as many as 103 drawings reveals that Hokusai continued to paint despite his disability.

According to "The Biography of Katsushika Hokusai" (written by Kyoshin Iijima and published by Iwanami Bunko), Hokusai brewed citron and created his own treatment for the stroke. Because an ukiyo-e artist who can't use a paintbrush would feel worthless, I can imagine him desperately working to recover. I'm thrilled to think that these original drawings for woodblock prints also served as his therapy. Using his hands to overcome the effects of the stroke was like killing two birds with one stone.

Drawing was everything to Hokusai, and he believed that you become better as you grow older. Therefore, his wish was to live as long as possible and become a "true artist". Thus, it can be said that he overcame the effects of the stroke with his intense determination.

However, when I wrote "Katsushika Hokusai - a Journalist in Edo", I truly felt that, even before the stroke, Hokusai had a healthy lifestyle.

For example, he enjoyed walking. Walking frequently made his legs strong, and strong legs made frequent walks possible. Even in his late 80s, he was not deterred by rain. Once he went from Katsushika to Ryogoku in the rain wearing only a straw hat and straw sandals for protection. Then, after he arrived, he created dozens of drawings upon request. He was over 180 cm tall, and used a shoulder-carry pole as a cane. His friends would say that walking long distances was no trouble at all to Hokusai.

And he had a plain and simple diet. In "The Biography of Katsushika Hokusai", it is written that he reached for a paintbrush as soon as he awoke and continued to draw throughout the day. When his eyes and body got tired, he ate two servings of soba noodles and slept.

People in the Edo period had a plain diet compared to today’s gluttony, but Hokusai subsisted on even less. The food that peddlers sold or the sweet buns given to him as gifts often became his meals.

Furthermore, he didn't smoke or drink. He only drank lower-grade tea. Since he was said to have strong teeth, he must have been blessed with good health from birth. With his manner of living, life-style related diseases wouldn't be of much concern to him.

This all helped Hokusai continue as an ukiyo-e artist until he was 90 years old; an amazingly long life for the Edo era. Even in his 70's, after he suffered the stroke, he published one masterpiece after another: "Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji" in 1831 and "One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji" in 1834. His talent fully blossomed in this period.

Even in his 80s, he often visited Shinshu Obuse, 250 kilometers from Edo, stayed there, and painted original drawings and ceiling paintings. His last visit to Obuse was in 1848 when he was 89 years old. During the New Year of 1949, he finished "Dragon Flying over Mount Fuji" - one of his final works.

Looking at the picture of a dragon rising high into the sky as a tornado-like black cloud against the backdrop of Mt. Fuji covered with snow, I think that the dragon was Hokusai himself as he foresaw his own destiny.

Four months later, Hokusai passed away in a small tenement house in the Asakusa temple precinct of Tokyo while being taken care of by his daughter, Oi, who was also an ukiyo-e artist. He wasn't just a person who lived a long life. An active painter throughout his life, Hokusai may have been just a pioneer for this "Age of Centenarians."

Keiko Chino (Freelance journalist, Sankei Shimbun, guest editorial writer)
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野 境子 / ジャーナリスト

2021年 9月 9日






しかしそもそも北斎は、生活スタイルが健康ライフそのものだったというのが、近刊『江戸のジャーナリスト 葛飾北斎』を書いた際の偽らざる感想だ。









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Life Lessons Learned from Hokusai for this Age of Centenarians