Japanese art and the ethics of Confucius: the virtues of Tanomura Chikuden
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
The Japanese artist Tanomura Chikuden (1777-1835) lived during the Edo period in the land of the rising sun. From a young age the teachings of Confucius appealed greatly during his young adulthood, therefore, Tanomura Chikuden thought heavily about becoming a Confucius scholar. However, in time, the reality of life meant that he utilized Confucius ethics by dealing with feudal lords.
Confucius (551 – 479 BC) is one of the greatest teachers and philosophers of all time based on his concepts, ideas, knowledge, and powerful legacy. Not surprisingly, Tanomura Chikuden gained enormously from his studies of Confucius. Therefore, while art was a high passion for this Japanese artist from a relatively young age, he firmly focused on solving major issues with feudal lords in the area of reforms based on his natural circumstance.
Confucius said, “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.”
One can only hazard a guess to how complex it must have been for Tanomura Chikuden to deal with feudal lords. After all, the daimyo system and role of the samurai throughout the Tokugawa period meant that power concentration was firmly in the court of the ruling elites. Despite this, he earnestly focused on the need for reforms to be implemented. Therefore, the sincerity of his heart, the richness of his knowledge of Confucius teachings, and the sincerity of his firm focus all meant that Tanomura Chikuden strived with passion.
In the field of art, Tanomura Chikuden was blessed to study under Tani Buncho. This esteemed artist belongs to the art world of bunjin-ga and he must have gained new insights. Other famous Japanese artists and literary individuals he knew include Ueda Akinari, Urakami Gyokudo, Okada Hanko, Kimura Kenkado, Aoki Mokubei, Rai Sanyo, and Uragami Shunkin. However, true to the nature of Tanomura Chikuden then perspective and time meant that art would follow on more potently after exhaustive years in seeking reforms after peasant revolts shook the ruling regional elites.
Tanomura Chikuden reconnected with art to a much higher degree after retiring. In time, he developed a style that was independent given the constraints of the time he lived. Melancholy, given his personal reality, can be felt based on strokes of gentleness in relation to landscapes and nature.
Confucius said, “To love a thing means wanting it to live.” Therefore, it is fitting that the art of Tanomura Chikuden lives on given the role of Confucius within his heart because he truly loved art.
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Some art and cultural articles by Modern Tokyo Times are republished in order to inform our growing international readership about the unique reality of Japan.