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Okakura Kakuzō (1863-1913), 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 [Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku]) and as the important thinker who declared "Asia is One."1 But in addition to these activities, Okakura Kakuzō (not Tenshin) worked throughout his life to establish a method for describing the history of Japanese art. This side of his activities is hardly known and has not been properly evaluated.

Okakura Kakuzō has been and continues to be called Okakura Tenshin. This name "Tenshin," however, was popularized after his death. Our custom of calling him "Tenshin" began in the 1930s and the name carries the sense of him being a hero, a prophet of the Greater East Asia War. Therefore, the problems regarding this name "Tenshin" suggest another chapter concerning the fate of Japan's modern age from the 1920s through the 1930s, culminating in the war that ended in Japan's unconditional surrender.

During his lifetime, it was only in the context of signing his personal letters and poems that Okakura used the name "Tenshin," which was one of his literary pen names. After World War Two, in which "Tenshin" played a special role, scholars have had to be extremely sensitive and careful about the distinction between these two names and discriminate between their respective meanings and roles.2 In this essay, I would like to discuss the meaning and role of Okakura as a historian of art, and so I will refer to him as Okakura Kakuzō. What I would like to argue here is the importance of recognizing Okakura, not as the ultra-nationalist who declared "Asia is One," but rather as Okakura Kakuzō, a historian of Japanese art in the Meiji era (1868-1912). The ultra-nationalist Okakura Tenshin is an invention of the 1930s.

In order to better understand Okakura's activities I would like to classify his life into five periods: [End Page 26]

Period One, 1863-80. From his birth to graduation from the University of Tokyo. During this period, Okakura was a diligent student, who studied the Chinese classics and English literature and enjoyed authoring classical Chinese poems (kanshi) and producing literati paintings (bunjinga). It was in these student days that he met Ernest Fenollosa, who was his teacher at the University of Tokyo, and the Nihonga painter Kanō Hōgai. Fenollosa was an important mentor for Okakura, and they worked together for the Japanese Ministry of Education through the 1880s.

Period Two, 1881-98. The time during which Okakura first served as a government official of the new Ministry of Education, then as director of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (Tokyo Bijutsu Gakkō) and director of the fine art section of the Imperial Museum (Teikoku Hakubutsukan, today's National Museum) in Ueno Park (both in 1888), to his resignation from these two posts in 1898. In this period he worked diligently for the establishment and administration of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. While working at the National Museum he traveled throughout the Japanese archipelago, researching treasures of art that had yet to be recorded. He also began to write a history of Japanese art and attempted to publish this version through the museum. His journey to China in 1893 was undertaken with the purpose of editing such a survey.

Period Three, 1898-1901. From the establishment of the Japan Art Institute (Nihon Bijutsuin), to his trip to India. After his resignation from the two governmental institutes, Okakura aimed to establish a private art school to develop modern Japanese art, especially painting, but his plans for this project were not realized in the way that he had hoped.

Period Four, 1901-3. During this period Okakura resided in India for a year with the intention of studying the origins of Japanese and Asian art. There he became convinced that Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism were the three origins of Japanese culture. In this regard, this was a period in which he thought deeply about Asian culture as a community.

Period Five, 1904-13. From his first visit to Boston in 1904, working for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and traveling back and forth between Boston and Japan five times before his death. In this period Okakura developed his thoughts on the meaning of Asian art within the sphere of world art.

Okakura published three major works: The Ideals of the East with Special Reference to the Art of Japan (1903), The Awakening of Japan (1904), and The Book of Tea (1906). He wrote all three books in English. It was originally thought that a fourth book, The Awakening of the East, was written during his stay in India. It was published first in a Japanese translated edition in 1938 followed by an English edition published in 1940 (published in Japan, by a Japanese publisher). But the original manuscript consisted of rough notes written in English when Okakura was in India and considerable doubt remains as to whether he had intended to publish it, as he never mentioned its existence. The Awakening of the East was published in the mid-1930s in the atmosphere of extreme [End Page 27] militarism. Okakura's son Kazuo and the literary critic Asano Akira, those admirers of Tenshin as the prophet who intoned "Asia is One," later published it.

Analyzing the means and process of publishing The Awakening of the East is fundamental to the consideration of Okakura Tenshin, for it raises the question: How was Tenshin presented and accepted by intellectuals in the era of World War Two? In the scheme of Okakura Kakuzō's other activities, this book is not so important; or at least it does not have the same value as his three English books.

Okakura, who declared "Asia is One," was generally regarded as an Asianist. But this phrase was written by him only once, in the opening pages of The Ideals of the East, and he never used it before or after, either in English or in Japanese. And actually, what he wrote was "Asia is one," not "Asia is One." "One" is an invention by others after his death. Whether he really believed "Asia is one" or not remains a question. This phrase might have been suggested by Nivedita, the Scots-Irishwoman Margaret Elizabeth Noble who was living in India as a Hindu during Okakura's visit there. It was she who arranged to publish The Ideals of the East in London and included a preface in which she wrote "Asia is One." There is another reason that suggests Okakura was not satisfied with the expression "Asia is one." In a letter written to a Japanese editor in 1913, he rejected the invitation to publish The Ideals of the East in Japanese translation.3

Thus, apart from this one instance of his writing "Asia is one," we do not find any other proclamations in Okakura's published writings that suggest nationalist ideas that might be interpreted as a precursor to the ideology of the Greater East Asia War. It would also be difficult to call Okakura an Asianist in the political sense. If Okakura was not an Asianist or a nationalist, then what was he? -He was a historian of art. Through each and every stage of his career we find one motive and activity that he pursued consistently, the strong desire to describe the history of Japanese art. From his first period up through his fifth and final period, while he was working on each task—for example, studying art and literature in the first period, administrating the Tokyo School of Fine Arts and the National Museum in the second period, establishing a private art school in the third period, visiting India in the fourth period, and working for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the fifth period—the central problem he continued to encounter was that of describing a history of Japanese art. His travels revolved around thinking through how to do this. For Okakura, working for art schools and museums was also a way for him to realize a history of art. Therefore, we can say that the constant, central concern occupying his mind and thoughts throughout his life was that of how to "live the history of art," especially that of Japanese art.4

Trying to "live a history of art" meant that the task of describing a history of art was at the center of his life. In other words, whenever he faced problems, he tried to solve them by thinking about how they related to the possibility of realizing a history of art. He reduced the various issues he faced by focusing on the history of art. He believed [End Page 28] that if he could realize a history of art, he could achieve a fuller revelation of art and live in this world with greater knowledge.

In his lecture the "History of Japanese Art" (Nihon bijutsushi) delivered between 1890 and 1892 at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts,5 he stated: "You may generally believe that history is merely a document of past things or the dead; but this is greatly mistaken. History lives in us, in our active bodies. What the ancient people laughed about and were angered by is the origin of our feelings and thoughts."6 Okakura believed that art was a realization of life produced through the ages. How did Okakura "live a history of art"? We can find traces and evidence of this through each stage of his career.

First period. He wrote a graduation thesis at the University of Tokyo titled "On Art" (Bijutsuron, 1880).

Second period. He journeyed several times throughout Japan, researching ancient arts and treasures while working at the National Museum. This research was conducted repeatedly between the years of 1880 and 1913. This means his commitment to research trips continued to the end of his life.7 In this period he gave lectures on the history of art, both Japanese and Western, at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. He also prepared a summary of The History of Japanese Art that was to be published by the National Museum (between the years of 1891 to 1897).8 He wrote Ho-O-Den (Phoenix Pavilion), an English text for the Universal Exposition at Chicago (1893).9 He explored Chinese culture by traveling there in 1893 and wrote articles on ten Japanese paintings for Japan (1897), edited by Francis Brinkley.

Third period. He wrote the first chapter of On Japanese Art History (Nihon bijutsushi-ron, 1900).

Fourth period. He resided in India for a year for the purpose of studying ancient Indian art (1902). He published The Ideals of the East (1903).

Fifth period. He published The Book of Tea in New York (1906) and wrote essays included in Japanese Temples and Their Treasures (Kokuhō-chō, 1907), a volume prepared for the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London. He gave a lecture titled "History of All Kinds of Arts in Eastern Asia" (Taitō kōgei-shi) at the University of Tokyo in 1910. He also gave many lectures and reports about the collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1905-13). In particular, three lectures about the history of East Asia, "The Nature and Value of Eastern Connoisseurship," "Religions in East Asiatic Art," and "Nature in East Asiatic Painting" delivered at the Museum in 1911, are important because they are his last writings related to his project of describing the history of art. Before leaving Boston for the very last time, he prepared a history of lacquerware for the museum. All these works were deeply connected to his ambition of describing a history of Japanese art.

There are also notes on the history of ukiyo-e, Japanese painters, and rakkan and inshō (signs and seals of painters), which are believed to have been written during the third period. The Ideals of the East is an abridged essay that was based on research he [End Page 29] conducted in the third stage. The Book of Tea appears to be an introductory essay to understanding the tradition of the tea ceremony, but Okakura's description deepens into a discussion of the essence and origins of tea. In talking about tea, his pen leads him to ruminate on the philosophy and history of art. Thus, this book finds its proper place within the series of attempts Okakura made to describe a history of art.

We can follow changes in Okakura's thoughts on art and its history in these five periods. The second period was one filled with research and became the basis for Okakura's approach to describing a history of art. It is during this period that he collected a wide variety of materials and documents, based on learning the methods of art history.

In his lectures on the history of Japanese art that he gave from 1890 to 1892, Okakura proposed periodizations in order to divide and classify periods. He proposed several periodizations in the same lecture. Periodization was an important theme for him at this stage because it was the first step in his overall approach to art history. In order to introduce and classify works of art and artists, periodization is necessary. At the time Okakura first gave lectures on the history of art, he had not yet devised any fixed and reliable periodization for the history of Japanese art, and in this sense he was a pioneer. He tried various methods of periodization using the help of Western historians, for example Wilhelm Lübke (Outlines of the History of Art, 1860).10 It is also significant that he did not use the title "History of Japanese Art" for his first lecture. At that time he titled it "History of Eastern Asian Art" (Tōyō bijutsushi). The title "History of Japanese Art," which appears in The Collected Works of Okakura Tenshin (Okakura Tenshin zenshū) published by Heibonsha in 1979-81, for example, was given after his death by editors to refer collectively to Okakura's lectures that were reconstructed from different student notes. This title is thus a posthumous "invention" in the same way the Japanese practice of calling Okakura "Tenshin" is. This means that from the outset and his first attempt to describe the history of Japanese art, Okakura Kakuzō tried to understand Japanese art as a part of Asian art.

However, when Okakura began preparing his history of Japanese art for the National Museum in 1891, he gave this project the title The History of Japanese Art. So, at this moment, he also had the idea of editing a "History of Japanese Art." Of course, even with the title "Japanese art," he was always searching for the relationship between Japanese art and Eastern culture, and Chinese art in particular as an origin of Japanese art. This is why he attempted the journey to China in 1893.

Here is an example of Okakura's plan for a chapter of the National Museum's edition of The History of Japanese Art.

Tenchi Period

  1. 1. Ancient Indian Buddhist Statues

  2. 2. Ancient Indo-Greco Style Statues

  3. 3. Ancient China, India, West Asia and the Interchange of Cultures [End Page 30]

  4. 4. General Remarks

  5. 5. The Characteristics and Tradition of Tenchi Art
    Plates: 5 monochrome plates
    2 color plates

In accordance with Okakura's method, before discussing the art of the Tenchi era in seventh century Japan as the chapter's main theme, it was necessary for him to survey and reflect on the history of India, China, and other Asiatic arts. They were important enough to merit independent sections.

It was around the year of 1891 or 1892 that Okakura wrote his proposal for The History of Japanese Art. He was unable to realize this project due to his sudden resignation from the National Museum. The editor who succeeded Okakura was Fukuchi Mataichi, a curator at the museum and Okakura's subordinate.

The History of Japanese Art was published in 1900 under the new editorship of Fukuchi, who was said to be an enemy of Okakura's and was hostile to him regarding his understanding of the modernization of Japanese culture and his administration of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, as well as to his ideas on the history of Japanese art. To begin with, the book was not printed in Japanese, but in French. This big, luxurious edition, the first and official history of Japanese art published by the Meiji government, was printed in the French language and presented on the occasion of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris. This is the reason why the first history of Japanese art was published in French; the Japanese edition was published the following year, in 1901. Although the title of the French edition was Histoire de l'art du Japon (History of Japanese Art), the Japanese edition was titled Kōhon teikoku Nihon bijutsu ryakushi, which can be translated as Manuscript of an Abridged History of the Art of Imperial Japan. It was the only publication of a history of Japanese art at that time; furthermore, it was an official edition supervised by the Japanese government. It is not surprising that the ideas presented in this book regarding the history of Japanese art were taken as authoritative.

The table of contents of The Manuscript of an Abridged History of the Art of Imperial Japan (hereafter "Imperial Edition") is as follows:

  1. I. From the Beginning of the Country to the Age of Emperor Shōmu

    1. 1. Art of the Early Days

    2. 2. Emperor Suiko Period

    3. 3. Emperor Tenchi Period

    4. 4. Emperor Shōmu Period

  2. II. From the Age of Emperor Kanmu to the Kamakura Period

    1. 1. Emperor Kanmu Period

    2. 2. Fujiwara Regency Period

    3. 3. Kamakura Bakufu Period [End Page 31]

  3. III. From the Age of the Ashikaga Bakufu to the Tokugawa Era

    1. 1. Ashikaga Bakufu Period

    2. 2. Toyotomi Kanpaku Period

    3. 3. Tokugawa Bakufu Period

In the Imperial Edition, all the periods are preceded by the names of emperors, or the military leaders who were entrusted by the emperors to rule the Japanese islands. That is to say, in the case of the Imperial Edition, the periodization of Japanese art is defined by political power. Furthermore, this political power is determined by imperial lineage, which is believed to have followed an unbroken line of succession down through the ages.

This periodization is very clear and asserts that Japanese art is autonomous. It proposes that the origin of Japanese art lies within Japan and was developed by Japan itself. This idea of the periodization of Japanese art and the exclusive, unique history of Japanese art soon became the standard employed by scholars and others. The periodization adapted by the Imperial Edition is, of course, based on the concept that Okakura originally prepared. But it was Fukuchi who intentionally distorted it, according to his imperial nationalism. This distortion was shaped by the will of the age, the will of the Meiji government.

As a consequence, Okakura's efforts to seek the origins of Japanese art outside of Japan have been treated as the views of an outsider. This is the back-story that explains why Okakura has been ignored as a historian of art.11 Even if he has been acknowledged as an art critic, he has not been acknowledged as an important historian. This has been the dominant perception of Tenshin in the post-World War Two period. People who have wanted to continue to worship Tenshin as the founder of modern Japanese art and especially of the Japan Art Institute have tried to separate his artistic activities from his political and allegedly fascist wartime role. Thus, they have intentionally emphasized the activities of Okakura as an art critic, but have not been willing to reinstate him as an art historian.

The concept of the history of Japanese art proposed by the Imperial Edition took root and continues to be the prevailing view in Japan today. But the ideas of Okakura Kakuzō on the history of Japanese art were not, in fact, nationalistic, but Asiatic. According to Okakura's Asianism, the origins of Japanese art lay in China, Korea, and India. He states clearly that Japan is not the center of Asia; nor is it its master, but its frontier. In the first chapter of The Ideals of the East he writes, "The history of Japanese art becomes thus the history of Asiatic ideals—the beach where each successive wave of Eastern thought has left its sand-ripple as it beat against the national consciousness."12

What is at once striking and strange is that even his disciples, such as the Nihonga painter Yokoyama Taikan, believed in the ideas and periodization of Japanese art history suggested by the Imperial Edition—the publication of those who opposed Okakura, [End Page 32] their mentor. The significance of Okakura's work on the history of Japanese art has been ignored by virtually everyone.

We must continue to follow the changes in Okakura's thoughts on the possibility of a history of Japanese art, because from the very first period of his life until its very end Okakura's main interest lay in creating such a possibility. What should first be emphasized is that Okakura was a pioneer in describing the history of Japanese art. That is not to say that no written descriptions of Japanese art existed before him. There were writings during the Edo period (1603-1868), especially on painting. These were not, however, historical studies in the strict sense, but writings that documented the genealogy of artistic lineage accompanied by short biographies, or collections of signs and seals to aid in the judgment of works by connoisseurs. Authors in the Edo era had not developed a method for systematizing the works and lives of artists in historical studies. In short, they did not have a scientific method for outlining and describing history.

In this sense, Okakura was the first leading expert to survey the history of art. As mentioned above, his initial attempt to write a history of art was undertaken between 1890 and 1892 when he made the effort to establish periodization and locate the origins of Japanese art. The effort to locate an origin represents the basic desire to be scientific, and the task of periodization follows. The function of periodization is to try and understand clearly the course of development from the origin. After establishing a method of peri-odization, the survey and description of history becomes possible. Young Okakura had learned such methods of periodization from European scholars. He believed, as a pioneer historian in newly born modern Japan, that there would be a universal phase of beauty and art common to the East and West. And as a teacher of art education, he demanded that his students realize the level achieved by European culture in their own Japanese art. This is evident in his writings and lectures delivered on various occasions; for example, in the report he wrote upon his return from his trip through America and Europe in 1887, even in his preface to the first issue of Kokka (Flowers of the Nation, 1889), and in a lecture to inaugurate a new artist's association, Japanese Painting Refinement Society (Kokuga Gyokuseikai, 1907). Okakura understood the history of Japanese art as part of the history of Asiatic art, and the history of Asiatic art as a part of the history of universal, world art. This conception of Japanese art was firmly established in his early years.

After his exploratory trip to China, his thinking gradually changed, especially his stance toward the elements of history. His outlook shifted from looking toward the universal to paying more attention to diversity as a whole. During this third period he investigated the meanings of ancient Chinese art in order to shed light on the origins of Japanese art. He published the results of his research, but only as a short essay "On The History of Japanese Art: The Six Dynasties" (Nihon bijutsushi-ron: rikuchō jidai, 1900) that appeared in the journal Japanese Art (Nihon bijutsu). Here his research into the origins of Japanese art as lying hidden elsewhere in Asia—especially East Asia—went even further than during his second period. [End Page 33]

In studying ancient China, Okakura could not help but consider the meaning and role of ancient India. This prompted him to visit India, where he encountered the phrase "Asia is one." But this idea "Asia is one" does not suggest that there is only one origin of art. On the contrary, the phrase implies that there are many varieties and characteristics of art and culture in Asia. He used the word "one" in this case to mean "whole." A "whole" system of diverse cultures should be constituted by various ideals proper to each art. And the task of history should be to describe this diversity as a whole text. He wrote The Ideals of the East with this idea as its basis. Here, the word "Ideals" is plural. The table of contents of this book is as follows:

  1. 1. The Range of Ideals

  2. 2. The Primitive Art of Japan

  3. 3. Confucianism—Northern China

  4. 4. Laoism and Taoism—Southern China

  5. 5. Buddhism and Indian Art

  6. 6. The Asuka Period (550-700 A.D.)

  7. 7. The Nara Period (700-800 A.D.)

  8. 8. The Heian Period (800-900 A.D.)

  9. 9. The Fujiwara Period (900-1200 A.D.)

  10. 10. The Kamakura Period (1200-1400 A.D.)

  11. 11. Toyotomi and the Early Tokugawa Period (1400-1700 A.D.)

  12. 12. Later Tokugawa Period (1700-1850 A.D.)

  13. 13. The Meiji Period (1850 to the present day)

  14. 14. The Vista

From Chapter Six on, the periodization is not all that different from the Imperial Edition, although Okakura does not use the names of the emperors. However, between Chapter Two (The Primitive Art of Japan) and Chapter Six (The Asuka Period), he inserts three chapters that investigate Confucianism, Laoism, Taoism, and Indian Buddhism as the definitive sources of Japanese art. He thought of Japanese art as emerging topologically from three sites: northern China, southern China, and India. Of note is that during this period Okakura no longer seems to be interested in the problem of periodization.

The final results of his thoughts on the history of Japanese art are apparent in his lecture "History of All Types of Art in Eastern Asia" (Taitō kōgeishi) given at the University of Tokyo. He gives the following as the contents of his lecture:

  1. 1. Preface

  2. 2. Ancient Art

  3. 3. Six Dynasties in China, Three Ancient Korean Dynasties, and the Asuka Period [End Page 34]

  4. 4. The Tang Dynasty and the Nara Period (Early Buddhist Art)

  5. 5. The Late Tang, Five Dynasties, and Northern Song (Late Buddhist Art: Part 1)

  6. 6. The Heian Period (Late Buddhist Art: Part 2)

  7. 7. Popular Art, Tang and Nara, and Thereafter

  8. 8. The Present Age

The most notable change here is that Okakura emphasizes the role of ancient Korean culture as well as that of the Six Dynasties in China. He is supposed to have discovered the specific role of Korean art in the emergence of Japanese art during his Boston period. While he was preparing his lecture for the Japan Art Institute during the third period, he was still unable to define the significance of ancient Korea. Even in the fourth period, the importance of Korea was still not clear to him. Through such research he also tried to uncover the difference between religious and secular art. In this period he intended to describe all aspects of all types of art and dispose of the fixed framing process used to classify genres. This was still to be accomplished, however.

In a lecture delivered at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1911, Okakura stated, "At this moment we are, therefore, on the road to fundamentally important conclusions about the history of Eastern Asiatic art. It is true our knowledge is yet in its infancy. But we are now able, without mistake, to sketch out the history of art, as a whole, and not as isolated phenomena in India, China, and Japan."13

The documents necessary for describing the history of Japanese art are, as Okakura well knew, still inadequate and knowledge insufficient. But he was convinced that "we are now able to sketch it." "History of All Types of Art in Eastern Asia" is an example of such a "sketch." Note that he says "we are able" after giving his lecture at the University of Tokyo, and that he uses the word "sketch," not "describe." He was on the road to drawing a fundamental conclusion. His work would present the history of art "as a whole," "not as isolated phenomena in India, China, and Japan." "Taitō " means Asia as a whole, and Okakura included Korea in his "History of All Types of Art in Eastern Asia." At the time, the "history of East Asian art" (Tōyō bijutsushi), conceived of as a history of East Asian art that excluded Japan, was touted as the official line. But in using the word "taitō " (all the countries of East Asia), Okakura aimed to present a notion of Asia that, on the contrary, included Japan.

In authorized histories of Japanese art (Nihon bijutsushi) and of East Asia (Tōyō bijutsushi) that were prepared during Okakura's time, Japan was treated as an isolated entity. The Japanese people, however, who believed the authorized history to be the true history of Japanese art, did not, of course, just think of Japan as isolated, but also as independent. This concept was the one put forth by the Imperial Edition. And it is this notion that the Japanese accept as the standard framework for the history of Japanese art even today. This notion suggests that the origins of Japanese art have come from within, [End Page 35] and that even if Japanese art has been influenced by arts outside Japan, it is not of vital importance to state that a major part of the evolution of Japanese art was derived from sources outside Japan.

Okakura died three years later, after delivering "History of All Types of Art in Eastern Asia," and his history of Japanese art was never finished. The history of Japanese art that he wished to complete was left as a history that presented a notion of methods that defied the authorized version of art history and deviated from academism in Japan at the time. His words "we are now able to sketch" suggest that he was on his way to proposing a new method for the history of art, but the academic world did not listen.

In examining changes in Okakura's thoughts on how to describe the history of art, three important questions emerge that can be applied to how we describe the history of art today.

A: Is it possible to describe the history of art and remain liberated from the notion of periodization or period classification?

B: Is it possible to describe the history of art and remain liberated from nationalism?

C: Is it possible to remain liberated from the category of genres?

In regard to A, to remain liberated from the framework of periodization is, in a sense, the ultimate purpose of describing the history of art. The framework of periodization may be employed as an indispensable tool in describing the history of art, but the history of art should not be conceived in terms of this framework alone. Most historians of art would say that this is only natural, but in reality we cannot look at works of art in a manner that is perfectly removed from the framework of period divisions (or periodization). The framework is a necessary blinder for viewing the history of art.

In other words, in describing the history of art, we should not forget the purpose of this framework. However, while sufficiently appreciating the necessity of this framework, when forging a real dialogue with a work of art we must, at the same time, always try to free ourselves from it. This is because the framework of periodization is not intrinsically a necessary condition for the birth of the artwork.

In regards to B, that is, to be free of nationalism, for the purpose of understanding the artwork historians usually show interest in the background of the artist: for example, What is his/her nationality? In what period did he/she live? Generally, we may think that the idea of nationality is also indispensable to understanding the history of art. But nationality is an invented notion, created in the modern age. Therefore, it is important to be liberated from this notion and consider it merely as background information.

As for C, being liberated from the conception or category of genres is also very important but impossible to achieve completely. The conceptions of genres such as painting, sculpture, and crafts are categories that were formulated after the works were born, for the purpose of understanding them better. The classification of genres is not a natural attribute of the works. [End Page 36]

These issues were not clearly stated or resolved by Okakura in his texts, but are, however, implied by the changes in his thought as he struggled to describe a history of art. They have not, of course, been solved as of yet today. The histories of art that have been written until this time could not have been born without these three issues serving as structural axes. In other words, the history of art could not have been formed as history without the help of periodization, classification, or the categorization of periods, genre, and nationality. The desire, therefore, to describe the history of art on grounds liberated from these three delimiting categories is important. The fact that Okakura engaged these vital issues at such an early date, in the Meiji era, is significant, and he has left us with questions that still needs to be discussed. It may have been possible for Okakura to have such ideas at this early date because the officially sanctioned history of art as academism had not yet been established. At the same time, it was these very forces of the emerging academism that created the situation in which Okakura's methods and ideas were distorted intentionally by others, for political reasons, and as a result, Okakura Kakuzō's methods of describing the history of art have been largely ignored or misinterpreted, becoming a "blind spot" in the history of Japanese art that I hope this essay has served to illuminate.

Kinoshita Nagahiro

Kinoshita Nagahiro is a retired professor from Yokohama National University. He was an editorial member of Okakura Tenshin zenshū (The Complete Works of Okakura Tenshin) (Heibonsha, 1979-81) and has authored numerous publications on Okakura Kakuzō, including Okakura Tenshin: mono ni kanzureba tsui ni warenashi (Okakura Tenshin: In Meditating on the Object, Finally There is No I) (Minerva, 2005) and Shi no meiro: Okakura Tenshin no hōhō (The Maze of Poetry: Okakura Tenshin's Method) (Gakugei Shorin, 1989). His other publications include Bi o ikiru tame no 26 shō: geijustu shisōshi no kokoromi (26 Chapters for Living Beauty: Toward an Intellectual History of Art) (Misuzu, 2009) and Shisōshi to shite no Gohho (Van Gogh as Intellectual History) (Gakugei Shorin, 1992). He is currently working on a book on the intellectual history of self-portraits.


1. After his death, Okakura came to be known as "Tenshin" in Japan, and along with the mythologization of Okakura as "Tenshin" there emerged an idealized image of him as a visionary prophet of Asian unity in the 1930s. These later admirers of Okakura often capitalized "O" of "one" even though Okakura's original text The Ideals of the East (1903) was written as "Asia is one."

2. See Kinoshita Nagahiro, "'Okakura Tenshin' shinwa to 'Ajia wa hitotsu' ron no keisei" (The Myth of "Okakura Tenshin" and the Formation of the "Asia is one" Theory), in Inaga Shigemi, ed., Tōyō ishiki: musō to genjitsu no aida 1887-1953 (Oriental Consciousness: Between Reverie and Reality 1887-1953) (Kyoto: Minerva Shobō, 2012), 23-45.

3. See Okakura's letter to Koike Motoyasu dated May 17, 1913, in Okakura Tenshin, Okakura Tenshin zenshū (The Collected Works of Okakura Tenshin) (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1980), vol. 7, 250-51.

4. On this issue, see the chapter on Okakura in Kinoshita Nagahiro, Bi o ikiru tame no 26 shō: geijustu shisōshi no kokoromi (26 Chapters on How to Live Beauty: Toward an Intellectual History of the Arts) (Tokyo: Misuzu Shobō, 2009), 237-53.

5. Okakura's art history lectures have been published as a paperback edition with annotations by Kinoshita Nagahiro. Okakura Tenshin, Nihon bijutsushi (History of Japanese Art) (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2001).

6. Okakura, Okakura Tenshin zenshū, vols. 4, 5.

7. Okakura also served on a number of related governmental committees that oversaw the survey and preservation of national cultural patrimony, such as the Committee on Preserving Old Shrines and Temples (Koshaji Hozonkai) that was instituted by the Ministry of the Interior in 1896.

8. This summary and incomplete manuscript are reproduced in Okakura, Okakura Tenshin zenshū, vol. 2, 375-505.

9. This text was written as a guide to the building named "Phoenix Pavilion" (Hō-ō-den) that the Japanese government built on the World's Fair grounds in Chicago.

10. Wilhelm Lübke (1826-93) was a German art historian who wrote the popular art history survey book Grundriß der Kunstgeschichte. This book was translated into English by Clarence Cook in 1877.

11. On this issue, see the essay by Inaga Shigemi included in this volume. [End Page 37]

12. Kakuzo Okakura, The Ideals of the East with Special Reference to the Art of Japan (London: John Murray, 1905), 8-9.

13. Kakuzo Okakura, "The Nature and Value of Eastern Connoisseurship," in Collected English Writings (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1984), vol. 2, 132. [End Page 38]

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