In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Okakura Kakuzō as a Historian of Art
  • Kinoshita Nagahiro (bio)

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...