Art of Japan and wisdom of Watanabe Kazan (1793-1841): Covid-19, economic struggles, and Confucianism

Art of Japan and wisdom of Watanabe Kazan (1793-1841): Covid-19, economic struggles, and Confucianism

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The wisdom of Confucius impacted enormously on the Japanese artist Watanabe Kazan (1793-1841). Hence, this esteemed artist helped the marginalized in the Tahara Domain (the environs of Aichi Prefecture in modern-day Japan) during the Tenpo Famine (1833-1837).

In modern times, the international coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis is highlighting the weaknesses of highly developed nations. Thus, despite the coronavirus crisis impacting less in Japan, the convulsions of poverty are showing. Therefore, more females are committing suicide, the hidden unemployed are increasing, single-parents are struggling (even more), temporary workers at the lower end face growing hardship, workers face decreasing bonuses and other perks are being taken away, and other ill winds in modern Japan.

Watanabe Kazan equally witnessed poverty and marginalization during his time on earth during the Edo Period. Yet, he refused to be a bystander and carry on with his own life. Instead, he campaigned and helped the marginalized during his relatively short time on this earth.

Confucius uttered, “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

These words – and so many other morals related to the teachings of Confucius – inspired Watanabe Kazan. Hence, he diligently helped the people of Tahara during the Tenpo Famine (1833-1837). The outcome was that not a single person perished in his environs because of the passion he embued in others to help the poor and marginalized.

However, political elites in modern Japan are mainly indifferent to the struggles of ordinary people. Thus Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike are more focused on the Olympic Games – rather than people struggling in society.

Indeed, for Suga, he passed a bill to increase military spending despite the economic convulsions of the coronavirus crisis. Hence, the leader of Japan is ignoring the reality on the ground. Therefore, from military spending, more financial support of the Olympic Games, and helping other nations – he can’t see the marginalized in his own country during this critical period.

Turning back to Watanabe Kazan, he suffered from the power concentration policies of the Tokugawa Period. Thus he was banned from selling his art and put under house arrest for refusing to relent. Equally, the ruling lord of Tahara who listened to Watanabe Kazan faced terrible repercussions for helping the poor. Despite this, the ruling elites of Tokugawa couldn’t crush his Confucius convictions of helping the marginalized.

In modern-day Japan, the political elites of the ruling party under Suga don’t concern themselves with people who are struggling. Hence, despite the coronavirus convulsions hitting more people in this nation, little economic assistance is forthcoming. Instead, the concerns of the ruling elites are increasing military spending, the Olympic Games, placating America, helping other nations, and other angles outside of helping the marginalized and working poor.

Therefore, if Watanabe Kazan was alive today, he would note the indifference of the political elites of the current government towards the marginalized.


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