Frog in the Well

Portraits of Japan by Watanabe Kazan, 1793–1841

Donald Keene

Columbia University Press

Frog in the Well

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Pub Date: June 2006

ISBN: 9780231138260

304 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£30.00

Pub Date: June 2006

ISBN: 9780231511032

304 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£30.00

Frog in the Well

Portraits of Japan by Watanabe Kazan, 1793–1841

Donald Keene

Columbia University Press

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, Frog in the Well illuminates a life that is emblematic of the cultural crises affecting Japan in the years before revolution.

Keene has written an insightful and revealing biography about one of the last great painters of the Tokugawa age, and about the economic conditions of that time period. This book is a significant contribution to the studies of Watanabe in the West.

Fred Notehelfer, professor of Japanese history, UCLA

Donald Keene has here, in some of his best writing, explicated the life and accomplishments of Watanabe Kazan, not only an important and sympathetic figure in his own right, but one emblematic of the confusions suffered during those tremendous upheavals that were to come to Japan even before the time of his death. This biography, filled with historical and cultural background, becomes virtually an intellectual and social portrait of the entire period.

J. Thomas Rimer, professor emeritus of Japanese literature, theater, and art, University of Pittsburgh

Keene has produced a fascinating and readable study of a remarkable figure.

Hugh Cortazzi, The Japan Times

[An] elegant, detailed, and unprecedented account of an important intellectual... Highly recommended.

Choice

Lively and enjoyable... None who take up this smoothly written, instructive volume will fail to be edified by its portraits.

Tom Havens, American Historical Review
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Dutch Studies in Japan Before 1793
2. Japan in 1793: Kazan's Early Years
3. Genre Paintings and Early Portraits
4. Travels and Career
5. The Early 1830s
6. Foreign Influence and Major Portraits
7. The Meeting of East and West
8. Danger from Overseas
9. The Road to Prison
10. The Trial
11. Kazan the Painter
12. The Last Year
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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About the Author

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.