For anyone who enjoys the sight of old-fashioned Japanese houses and the rich culture that flourished in the early 1900s, the Nezu residential district of central Tokyo is a wonderful place for a stroll.
In complete harmony with the surrounding area of Bunkyo Ward, the Takehisa Yumeji Museum displays the works of this famous artist, long popular in Japan as a symbol of the romanticism of the Taisho Era (1912-1926).
Born in 1884, Takehisa grew up in a time of rapid influx of Western culture following the long years of isolation during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Takehisa, a painter, illustrator and poet whose real name was Mojiro Takehisa, depicted women and their fashion in transition, with traditional Japanese attire and hairstyles greatly influenced by modern Western fashion.
Takehisa selected a certain type of woman — often his lovers — to be the subject of his works, preferring large eyes and sad expressions. His works are said to epitomize the lyricism of the Taisho Era.
His illustrations are also unique due to the mixed elements of traditional ukiyo-e art and Western Art Nouveau, said Keiko Ishikawa, a curator of the museum.
“Because modern society is full of bad news and we don’t have enough time to take a rest, we want visitors to enjoy the legacies of the romantic Taisho Era,” Ishikawa said.
The era is often described as Japan’s good old days, as most of it was a time of peace between two world wars and the culture was being enriched by the influence of Western culture and free ideologies, she said.
Visitors can still find reminders of that period, as well as even earlier times, in Nezu and surrounding districts as they were some of the few parts of Tokyo that survived the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and U.S. air raids during World War II.
The museum, the exterior of which resembles the Hotel Kikufuji that once stood nearby, is next to the time-honored brick buildings of the University of Tokyo and stands amid old-fashioned, wooden houses dotting the district.
“This area had close ties with Takehisa,” Ishikawa said. The Okayama Prefecture-born artist, who died in 1934, mainly worked in Tokyo, and the Hotel Kikufuji, a 25-minute walk from the museum, is where he often met one of his lovers, Hikono Kasai. His relationship with Kasai was the final blow to his already foundering marriage.
The district, southwest of Ueno Park, is also well-known for a number of scenes that appeared in the masterpieces of great writers of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), including Soseki Natsume and Ogai Mori, and for the houses in which they lived.
Thanks to a wide range of Takehisa’s works, ranging from covers of women’s magazines and illustrations for children’s books to oil and watercolor paintings, the museum has been able to rotate its exhibits four times a year since its opening in 1990, choosing from a total collection of 3,000 items.
Takehisa is unusual for his resilient popularity, which has not waned in the nearly 70 years since his death. As 2004 will be the 120th anniversary of his birth, the museum plans to hold special exhibits highlighting more of his works, Ishikawa said.
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