Tsutomu Yoshioka’s life has come full circle. In the early 1940s, he was a teenage student at Jiyugakuen, the Freedom School founded in 1921 by Yoshikazu and Motoko Hani. Now he is director of Myonichikan, Jiyugakuen’s original buildings, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The American architect said at the time that his “prairie house” style and the name of the school belonged together in implying a free spirit. The school was “intended to be a simple happy place for happy children,” he wrote.
Between his school days and his present directorship, Yoshioka had four decades in commerce in different locales where he specialized in marketing, advertising, sales promotion, public relations and corporate management. He is concerned now with the conservation and restoration plans of Myonichikan, designated in 1997 a National Important Cultural Property.
Yoshioka and his elder brother were young boarders at Jiyugakuen during the war when their parents and younger siblings lived in Manchuria. After the war their father, a banker, was taken for four years to Siberia. Yoshioka said: “My father didn’t smoke. When he was a prisoner, he unrolled the cigarettes he was given, gave away the tobacco, and on the cigarette papers wrote his complete translation of a book of H.G. Wells. During strict inspection when he was being repatriated, his cigarette papers were lost. Back in Japan, he did the translation all over again, and had it published.”
Eventually all the Yoshioka siblings attended Jiyugakuen, and benefited from its specialized attention to the arts. One became an architect, one an industrial designer, and one a musician. “I didn’t have any natural talent for any art of my own. But I went on to spend more than 16 years in advertising, and thanks to Jiyugakuen’s training I did have some good judgmental sense in design,” Yoshioka said. His first employment was in the public relations department of Matsuo Mining in Iwate Prefecture. His years in advertising began in the head office of Japan Airlines, in 1959.
When JAL transferred him to its advertising and sales promotion department in San Francisco and then New York, Yoshioka spoke little English. “I was very nervous when I had to pick up the telephone,” he said. During his seven stateside years, he learned. From the U.S. he came back to JAL’s regional office in Fukuoka, had two further years in the Tokyo head office, then went to Sydney. He was the regional manager in Australia for five years.
Okinawa came next. “That was a valuable experience for me, as tourism there was developing,” he said. “It was also my chance to understand more of Okinawan culture.” Transferred to JALPAK, JAL’s package tour wholesales affiliate, he became managing director and vice president of marketing and sales. Then, as senior vice president, he transferred to the Kyoto Hotel Co., a member of the JAL hotel system.
“I had the project there to rebuild, and I had to face protests and resistance to change in Kyoto,” he said. “I was expected to solve those kinds of problems. I had to proceed with rebuilding, as otherwise a hotel couldn’t operate on a commercial basis. That period was good experience for me when I came to take over the Myonichikan business.” He spent a final two years with JAL Cultural Development Co. before retiring from JAL in 1993.
Jiyugakuen expanded its educational range before the war, and moved to a more spacious campus. The buildings of the original campus then became known as Myonichikan, a name of hope for the future. After the school moved, Myonichikan was used by female alumni for developing and creating art and craft products, and researching consumer trends. Myonichikan is said to be the only original Frank Lloyd Wright work surviving in Tokyo, and one of only two surviving in entirety in Japan.
“We are living in a rapidly moving civilization,” Yoshioka said. “We often run into conflicts over preserving culture, and we have to find the means to conserve. Myonichikan, nearly 80 years old, has to be restored and put to good use in order to survive. We have spent lots of time in studying how to repair the buildings, and their utilization.” Restoration plans envisage the use of these buildings as a community center, opening in the autumn of 2001.
“I owe a lot to the school for the interesting life that I have led,” Yoshioka said. “I think what I am trying to do now is quite meaningful, not only for the school but also for preserving a cultural asset.”