The Edo Period in Japan was an era of "small government."
In the central government, local government, in the towns,
and farm villages, the citizens bore part of the responsibility
of administration. Much of the administrative execution
was performed by citizens, and most societal projects and
enterprises such as festivals and collaborative work was
carried out by the citizens. These benefactors were referred
to as "Danna,"usually wealthy business owners,
merchants and farmers, spread far and wide.
There wasn't a strict model for "Danna bunka"
(bunka=culture) which flourished and varied by region and
person. Politics, administration, economy, education, and
culture fell into the domain of Danna culture. This way
of life continued through the Meiji Period to early Showa
period, when it became ever so rare. But it was completely
obliterated after WW II. Now as the need for corporate citizenship
and a small, efficient government increases, we should rediscover
that there is a historical precedent that should be followed
in the traditional values and ways of "Danna bunka."
|Not only did Sakuzaemon (Takai Kozan's
grandfather), the 10th generation Ichimura provide
food after the fated famine, he also had a library
constructed afterwards over the course of several
years. In those days, such things were not uncommon,
and many structures and gardens were constructed in
the same way from Shinshu towards the Tohoku region.
In the "small government" time of the Edo
Period, citizens launched not only fire fighting and
recovery strategies, but also reconstruction plans
as well. In this way, the people's wealth became a
tool to help others. This is one part of Patron Culture.
|In the second or third year of the
Tempo Era, Hokusai came to Obuse because of the reconstruction
of the Ganshoin main temple which had been lost in
a fire earlier. After that, he visited several more
times. Kozan called Hokusai sensei (teacher), and
Hokusai called Kozan danna (master/patron). The ceiling
paintings at Ganshoin and on festival floats which
still remain in Obuse were born from the relationship
between those two. The motifs of the Kanmachi festival
float wave edge paintings are proof of this relationship
and at the same time also continue to present mysteries
to us in the present. Patrons not only provided funds
but also culture and sensibility.
|Afterwards, Hekiiken, the place which
hosted the exchange with Hokusai, became the site
of political activists Sakuma Shozan, Fujimoto Tesseki,
and Kusaka Genzui's heated debates, as well as a space
for intellectual exchanges between writers and artists
such as Kawanabe Kyosai, Kikakudo Eiki (Haiku poet),
and Yanagawa Seigan's widow Koran. Most likely many
local people also attended. In other words, it was
also an important role of a patron to provide a salon
to create intellectual stimuli and bring about societal
|Hekiiken served as Hokusai's atelier
as well as his place of residence while he stayed
in Obuse. "Hekii" was taken from a verse
of a poem that the Chinese poet Li He read at the
peak of the Tang Dynasty about the spring in Jiangnan,
and since the flowery scenery of the Chikuma River
and Obuse at the time was reminiscent of that in the
poem, the name "Hekii" was used by Hokusai.
However, most likely there were other residences besides
Hekiiken. The Sato estate in front of the Masuichi-Ichimura
Sake Brewery Main Store was one of these others. Artisans
on long-term visits would set up temporary residences,
but to the people already living in Obuse, having
people from outside always around provided a great
opportunity for culture exchange or an influx of other
types of culture.
|The Taisho Era was the time of Taisho
Democracy and Taisho Romance. The feelings of this
era drifted to Obuse, and the current premises of
the Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery were a club, a
hangout for young people. Meetings of people watching
"magic lanterns", precursors to modern movies
were held as well, and the club functioned as a place
for entertainment and discussion, however unfortunately
since the club faced the main street, at the end of
the Taisho Era the store was remodeled, and the club's
brief life ended. Then the boom of imported bicycles
took place in Obuse, and the competition between Raleigh
fans and Triumph fans became a thing of that era.
|Obuse during the Edo period was much
smaller than it is now, filling the place that is
now known as Oaza Obuse. It was commonly called Go-cho,
and in that place communal tenant farms survived until
the agrarian reforms after World War II. Even after
the Meiji period it seems separate funds were maintained
at the town hall for the tenant farms in Go-cho and
distributed for things like the traditional "Yasuichi"
festival. There was a separate "public"
that differed from the town hall in this way, and
managing them was the duty of the patrons.
|During the Edo Period, aside from the
Samurai families (only 7% of the population), society
wasn't always centered on men. For example, in Obuse
during the Bunkyu (1861-64) and Keio (1865-68) eras,
the village head was chosen by a vote among the landed
farmers. When examining all the signatures of the
people that voted, it was found that about one tenth
of the names were of women. In other words, it was
not that uncommon for a woman to represent a household
(though most are thought to have been widows). It
than thus be said that women's suffrage existed since
the Edo period.
|There are seven festival floats in
Obuse. The floats of Higashi-machi and Kan-machi are
famous for their ceiling paintings by Hokusai, but
it seems that in the Edo period the "Glass Float"
of Naka-machi was even fancier. With its walls and
ceiling made of blinds constructed out of glass poles,
and considering the cost of glass at the time, it
is natural to think of it that way. However if you
consider that all the festival floats were made using
donations, you can feel the spirit of the people back
then, and in contrast, well, we have a lot to ponder
|The Oaza Obuse (Go-cho) area, out of
all of Obuse, was reborn as a market town during the
start of the 17th century. Originally, Obuse merchants
focused on selling local products, but gradually began
to move items on a national scale, and by the end
of the Edo period wealthy merchants who established
centers in Edo, Osaka, and Echigo Takada had emerged.
This sort of national pattern of information and sensibilities
had a favorable effect not only on politics and economics,
but culture and education as well. We can say that
Hokusai's visit to Obuse is a result of that trend.
|Hokusai came to Obuse to paint festival
float and temple ceiling pictures (Gansho-in). Why
he was willing to travel all the way on a road over
60-li long when he was already older than 80 is a
mystery. However it is worth noting that they are
all public spaces. In other words, would Hokusai really
have answered even if the request simply was "I'll
give you money, so please come to Obuse?" We
think that the 12th generation Takai Kohzan's request
to have the ceilings of the festival floats owned
by the people of Kan-machi and Higashi-machi as well
as the ceiling of a temple painted, where they could
be seen by everyone, moved Hokusai's heart.
|Approaching the Meiji era, 12th generation
Kohzan felt keenly aware of the importance of education,
so he established a village school on his property
during the period leading up to the school system
promulgation in the 5th year of Meiji. On the other
hand, after going to the capital and working for the
Ministry of Education and the Tokyo government, founded
the Takai Private School at Shiba no Nishikubotomoe-cho
in the 9th year of Meiji, and in the 12th year founded
the Takai Private School in Nagano and poured his
heart into educating the youth.