Self-Portrait of Katsu Kaishu


Presented here is a self-portrait by Katsu Kaishu (1823‒99), who was a naval navigator and Japanese statesman during the Bakumatsu (the final years of the Edo period) and the Meiji Restoration. Born in Edo (present-day Tokyo), he studied in 1855‒59 at the Navy Officer Training School in Nagasaki and mastered Dutch and Western military science. In 1860 he traveled to the United States as captain of the Kanrin-maru, Japan’s first sail and steam-power corvette. He held several high naval administrative roles and opened the Naval Operation Training School in Kobe in 1864. Katsu was one of the most senior retainers from the Bakumatsu to continue to hold high office in the Meiji era; he was a member of the Chamber of Elders and a privy councilor. The gasan (inscription, in poetry or prose, added to a picture) that he wrote for this self-portrait includes this poem: “It is not in my disposition to fuss over details. Whether I am a counselor to the imperial court or an ordinary person outside of the government, in any situation, I see the world with an unclouded mind.” It is believed that he wrote this when he left political office, but the date is unknown.

Last updated: January 9, 2018