Memory of Uncle “Taiwa”

By Koki Matsuoka


By Koki MatsuokaAbout thirty-five years ago I decided to remodel my house, which still had an old-fashioned thatched roof. When the main pillar by the stone platform used to soften straws was removed, the characters signifying “Fourth Year of Bunka, Year of the Ox,” written in black ink, appeared in the mortise (meaning the pivot hole).


The year 1808 was the fourth year of Bunka. The master carpenter who built the house, during the late Edo period, must have marked the year he built the house on the mortise. Taiwa was born in this house.


The house is not one for an affluent family. Instead it’s a somewhat simple farmhouse. For Taiwa’s father, who was a squireling, it was a great burden to have two sons attending universities away from home in Tokyo and to support Taiwa’s artistic career. Therefore, he did not have the luxury of decorating the house.


My grandfather and father both served as mayor of the village, so I have taken the family tradition of not being able to afford to place the financial priority on my residence.


In the spring of 1959 I was accepted to a university, so I went to live in Tokyo. Often, on my days off from school, I would visit my uncle’s house. The purpose of those visits was to help out with the physical labor of chores, and of course to be nourished with my aunt’s home cooking.


I often helped to carry my uncle’s artworks to exhibits for the Japan Urushi Art Association, which were held at Mitsukoshi department store.


My uncle’s house in Setagaya had more than half its space allocated for use as his art studio. The studio impressed me as being like a chemistry lab instead of a space for painting. Perhaps it was because the studio was also the work space for the creation of Urushi colors.


My uncle and aunt were in their sixties, and the house was quiet.
When he was not in his studio my uncle often spent his time warming his legs in the built-in kotatsu, a small table covered by a quilt with a heater underneath and leg space sunken in the floor. There he would lean against the column and quietly contemplate his artwork.


Whenever I visited his house, he loved to chat with me over a glass of Japanese Sake and salted, roasted bean snack bought in Asakusa, as if to reminisce about his early days. This was perhaps because I resembled his younger brother.


Taiwa completed certain artworks–such as the one displayed in the lobby of the prefectural mayor’s office portraying foliage by the Tatsuta River and the scenery of Yamato–during my stay in Tokyo.


Eventually I became an attorney. Then, on one occasion when I visited his house, my aunt was mumbling in a sad tone, “He isn’t painting much nowadays.”


During wartime my uncle had turned the school playground into a farm field to grow sweet potatoes to stave off the hunger, and his aging body had become riddled with senile tuberculosis.


My uncle quietly passed away at his former student’s hospital in 1978.


His artworks were kept together through my aunt’s passion for them. All the artworks were donated to Uda City, and have been awaiting the establishment of a “Taiwa Museum.”


As a resident of Uda City, though my capacity may be uncertain, I want to devote myself to ascertaining the true value of my uncle’s artworks, which are said to become even more beautiful as they age. I want to ensure that these artworks are handed down to the next generation, so that they will always be cherished.