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Okakura Kakuzo

This article is about Okakura Kakuzo.

Okakura Kakuzo

Okakura Kakuzo (February 14, 1863 - September 2, 1913; also known as Okakura Tenshin) was a Japanese scholar who contributed to the development of arts in Japan. Outside Japan, Okakura Kakuzo is chiefly remembered today as the author of The Book of Tea.

Born in Yokohama, Okakura Kakuzo attended Tokyo Imperial University, where he first met and studied under Ernest Fenollosa. In 1890, Okakura Kakuzo was one of the principal founders of the first Japanese fine-arts academy, Tokyo bijutsu gakko (Tokyo School of Fine Arts) and a year later became the head, though he was later ousted from the school in an administrative struggle. Later, Okakura Kakuzo also founded Nihon Bijutsuin (Japan Institute of Fine Arts) with Hashimoto Gaho and Yokoyama Taikan. In 1904, Okakura Kakuzo became the first head of the Asian art division of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Okakura Kakuzo was a high-profile urbanite who had an international sense of self in the Meiji Era as the first dean of the Tokyo Fine Arts School (now the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music). Okakura Kakuzo wrote all of his main works in English. Okakura Kakuzo researched Japan's traditional art and traveled to Europe, the United States, China and India. Okakura Kakuzo gave the world an image of Japan as a member of the East, in the face of a massive onslaught of Western culture.

Okakura Tenshin Kakuzo

Okakura Tenshin Kakuzo

Okakura Kakuzo's book, The Ideals of the East, published on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, is famous for its opening line, "Asia is one." Okakura Kakuzo argued that Asia is "one" in its humiliation, of falling behind in achieving modernization, and thus being colonized by the Western powers.

But then afterward, Okakura Kakuzo was compelled to protest against a Japan that tried to catch up with the Western powers by sacrificing other Asian countries in the Russo-Japanese War. Japan rapidly advanced militarily across Asia, but was forced to do an about-face after its defeat in World War II.

In Japan, Okakura Kakuzo, along with Fenollosa, is credited with "saving" Nihonga, or painting done with traditional Japanese technique, as it was threatened with replacement by Western-style painting, or "Yoga," whose chief advocate was artist Kuroda Seiki. Beyond this, Okakura Kakuzo was instrumental in modernizing Japanese aesthetics, having recognized the need to preserve Japan's cultural heritage, and thus was one of the major reformers during Japan's breathtaking period of modernization beginning with the Meiji Restoration.

Outside of Japan, Okakura Kakuzo had a remarkable impact on a number of important figures, directly or indirectly, who include philosopher Martin Heidegger, poet Ezra Pound, and especially poet Rabindranath Tagore and heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner, who were close personal friends of his. For more on this subject, see Benfey, below.

References "We Must Do a Better Job of Explaining Japan to the World." Asahi Shimbun, August 12, 2005

Benfey, Christopher. "The Great Wave : Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan." 2003

Okakura Kakuzo

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