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Okakura Kakuzō

Okakura Kakuzō Okakura Kakuzō[2†]

Okakura Kakuzō, also known as Okakura Tenshin, was a Japanese scholar and art critic who played a significant role in the era of Meiji Restoration reform[1†][2†][3†]. Born on February 14, 1863, in Yokohama, Japan[1†][2†], he promoted a critical appreciation of traditional forms, customs, and beliefs[1†][2†][3†].

Okakura’s influence on modern Japanese art is profound[1†]. He graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1880[1†][4†], where he met and studied under Ernest Fenollosa, an American art critic and amateur painter[1†]. Fenollosa was teaching at Tokyo University at the time and had become the preeminent voice in defending Japan’s traditional art forms against the drive to modernization and westernization of the early Meiji Restoration[1†]. Under his influence, Okakura worked towards reeducating the Japanese people to appreciate their own cultural heritage[1†].

He was one of the principal founders of the Tokyo Fine Arts School, which opened in 1887, and a year later became its head[1†]. He and Fenollosa intentionally omitted Western painting and sculpture from the new school’s curriculum[1†]. In 1898, Okakura was ousted from the school in an administrative struggle[1†]. He then established the Nippon Bijutsu-in (Japan Academy of Fine Arts) with the help of followers such as Hishida Shunsō and Yokoyama Taikan[1†].

Okakura’s works, such as The Ideals of the East (1903), The Awakening of Japan (1904), and The Book of Tea (1906), were written in English to spread his ideas abroad[1†]. His enthusiasm for traditional Japanese art often led him to assert the superiority of Oriental over Western art[1†].

Early Years and Education

Okakura Kakuzō was born on February 14, 1863, in Yokohama, Japan[2†][1†]. He was the second son of Okakura Kan’emon, a former Fukui Domain treasurer turned silk merchant, and Kan’emon’s second wife[2†]. His name, Kakuzō, was initially derived from the corner warehouse (角蔵) in which he was born, but he later changed the spelling of his name to different Kanji meaning “awakened boy” (覚三)[2†].

Okakura’s education began in a school operated by a Christian missionary, Dr. James Curtis Hepburn, where he learned English[2†][5†][4†]. Hepburn is known for the Hepburn romanization system, which is widely used for the romanization of Japanese[2†][5†][4†].

At the age of 15, Okakura entered the newly renamed Tokyo Imperial University[2†][5†][4†]. There, he met and studied under the Harvard-educated art historian Ernest Fenollosa[2†][1†][5†][4†]. Fenollosa was teaching at Tokyo University at the time and had become the preeminent voice in defending Japan’s traditional art forms against the drive to modernization and westernization of the early Meiji Restoration[2†][1†]. Under Fenollosa’s influence, Okakura worked towards reeducating the Japanese people to appreciate their own cultural heritage[2†][1†].

Career Development and Achievements

In 1886, Okakura Kakuzō became secretary to the minister of education and was put in charge of musical affairs[2†]. Later in the same year, he was named to the Imperial Art Commission and sent abroad to study fine arts in the Western world[2†]. After his return from Europe and the United States, in 1887 he helped found, and a year later became director of, the Tokyo School of Fine Arts[2†][1†]. The new arts school represented “the first serious reaction to the lifeless conservatism” of traditionalists and the “equally uninspired imitation of western art” fostered by early Meiji enthusiasts[2†].

At the school, and in a new periodical Kokka[2†], Okakura sought to rehabilitate ancient and native arts, honoring their ideals and exploring their possibilities[2†]. When, in 1897, it became clear that European methods were to be given ever-increasing prominence in the school curriculum, he resigned his directorship[2†][1†]. Six months later he renewed the effort, as he saw it, to draw on western art without impairing national inspiration in the Nihon Bijutsuin (Japan Academy of Fine Arts) with the help of such followers as Hishida Shunsō and Yokoyama Taikan[2†][1†].

At the turn of the century, Okakura became curator of the Oriental art division of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts[2†][1†]. His enthusiasm for traditional Japanese art often led him to assert the superiority of Oriental over Western art[2†][1†]. Many of his works, such as The Ideals of the East (1903), The Awakening of Japan (1904), and The Book of Tea (1906), were written in English in order to spread abroad his ideas[2†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Okakura Kakuzō’s main works are renowned for their profound influence on both Japanese and Western understanding of East Asian culture[2†][1†][6†][7†][8†]. His works were written in English, demonstrating his desire to bridge the cultural gap between East and West[2†][6†].

Here are some of his notable works:

It was originally thought that a fourth book, The Awakening of the East, was written during his stay in India[2†][6†]. However, further details about this work are not readily available[2†][6†].

Okakura’s works are characterized by a deep appreciation for traditional Japanese culture and a critical perspective on Western influence[2†][1†][6†][7†][8†]. His writings continue to be widely read and respected for their insightful commentary on East Asian art and culture[2†][1†][6†][7†][8†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Okakura Kakuzō, often called Okakura Tenshin, is well known for having created Japan’s first modern national art school, today called Tokyo National University of the Arts[6†]. He declared “Asia is One,” and worked throughout his life to establish a method for describing the history of Japanese art[6†]. This side of his activities is hardly known and has not been properly evaluated[6†].

Okakura graduated from Tokyo Imperial University in 1880[6†][1†]. Soon thereafter he met Ernest Fenollosa, an American art critic and amateur painter who, while teaching at Tokyo University, had become the preeminent voice in defending Japan’s traditional art forms against the drive to modernization and westernization of the early Meiji Restoration[6†][1†]. Under his influence, Okakura worked toward reeducating the Japanese people to appreciate their own cultural heritage[6†][1†].

He was one of the principal founders of the Tokyo Fine Arts School, opened in 1887, and a year later became its head[6†][1†]. He and Fenollosa, also teaching there, intentionally omitted Western painting and sculpture from the new school’s curriculum[6†][1†]. In 1898, Okakura was ousted from the school in an administrative struggle[6†][1†]. He next established the Nippon Bijutsu-in (Japan Academy of Fine Arts) with the help of such followers as Hishida Shunsō and Yokoyama Taikan[6†][1†].

A frequent traveler abroad, at the turn of the century, Okakura became curator of the Oriental art division of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts[6†][1†]. His enthusiasm for traditional Japanese art often led him to assert the superiority of Oriental over Western art[6†][1†]. Many of his works, such as The Ideals of the East (1903), The Awakening of Japan (1904), and The Book of Tea (1906), were written in English in order to spread abroad his ideas[6†][1†].

Okakura Kakuzō played a vital role in the development of modern Japanese art during the Meiji era as Japan catapulted itself into a new age of Westernization and modernizing reforms[6†][9†].

Personal Life

Details about Okakura Kakuzō’s personal life are scarce. He was born in Yokohama in 1862[10†], less than a decade after the Japanese elite elected to reconnect with the west after centuries of seclusion[10†]. He was an accomplished student at the newly established Tokyo University[10†].

Okakura was the second son of Okakura Kan’emon, a former Fukui Domain treasurer turned silk merchant, and Kan’emon’s second wife[10†][2†]. He was named for the corner warehouse (角蔵) in which he was born, but later changed the spelling of his name to different Kanji meaning “awakened boy” (覚三)[10†][2†].

During his early life, Okakura learned English while attending a school operated by a Christian missionary, Dr. James Curtis Hepburn, of the Hepburn romanization system[10†][2†][4†]. He was a diligent student, who studied the Chinese classics and English literature and enjoyed authoring classical Chinese poems (kanshi) and producing literati paintings (bunjinga)[10†][11†].

Okakura Kakuzō passed away on September 2, 1913, in Akakura[10†][2†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Okakura Kakuzō, also known as Okakura Tenshin, left a significant legacy in both Japan and the Western world[2†][1†]. His work as a scholar, art critic, and promoter of traditional Japanese forms, customs, and beliefs during the Meiji Restoration reform era had a profound impact on the appreciation and understanding of Japanese culture[2†][1†].

Okakura’s influence extended beyond Japan, particularly through his writings in English, which aimed to spread his ideas abroad[2†][1†]. His book, “The Book of Tea,” is still widely read today and offers insights into Japanese culture and the philosophy of tea[2†][1†]. His other works, such as “The Ideals of the East” and “The Awakening of Japan,” also contributed to a greater understanding and appreciation of Japanese art and culture[2†][1†].

In his role as the curator of the Oriental art division of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Okakura had a significant influence on the perception and appreciation of Oriental art in the West[2†][1†]. His enthusiasm for traditional Japanese art often led him to assert the superiority of Oriental over Western art[2†][1†].

Okakura’s legacy continues to be felt today, both in Japan and internationally. His efforts to preserve and promote traditional Japanese art forms and his writings on Japanese culture have contributed to a greater understanding and appreciation of Japan’s rich cultural heritage[2†][1†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Okakura Kakuzō: Japanese art critic [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Okakura Kakuzō [website] - link
  3. Pantheon - Okakura Kakuzō Biography - Japanese scholar and art critic (1863–1913) [website] - link
  4. Goodreads - Author: Kakuzō Okakura (Author of The Book of Tea) [website] - link
  5. Stone Bridge Press - Stone Bridge Press [website] - link
  6. JSTOR - Okakura Kakuzō as a Historian of Art [website] - link
  7. Open Library - Okakura Kakuzo [website] - link
  8. Wikisource (English) - Okakura Kakuzō [website] - link
  9. Nippon.com - Beyond East And West: Okakura Kakuzō And “The Book Of Tea” [website] - link
  10. The School of Life - Kakuzo Okakura — The Book of Tea [website] - link
  11. Project MUSE - Johns Hopkins University Press - Okakura Kakuzō as a Historian of Art [website] - link
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