Taiko Tobari, a curator at Asakura Museum of Sculpture, guided us around the museum.
We visited the museum in October 2013.
Q: Could you tell me about the restoration and renovation work?
Fumio Asakura died in 1964. One of the purposes of this restoration and renovation work was to restore the building to the state at that time when Fumio Asakura spent his final years. In order to increase the value as a cultural property, it was restored to the state that reflects Fumio Asakura's intentions. As a result of an earthquake inspection, it turned out that the building's woodwork did not meet the standard, so seismic retrofitting was also necessary.
Q: Was the building modified or repaired many times after his death? Is the building, which has the former studio, the one that was first built in Yanaka Tennoji-cho?
Since the surviving members of his family set up a foundation to manage the building as a museum, and opened it to the public or lent the space, a south part of the building was covered with a new roof in order for visitors to walk smoothly and use easily. Also, a warehouse was built on the grounds in order to keep Asakura's works. We removed those parts, and restored the building to the state in the 1960s.
The former studio wing that was built in 1924 is now used as a curator room. It is a kind of anteroom. Although it is difficult to open it to the public, a special opening to the public might be possible in some occasions.
The present, concrete studio wing was completed in 1935. It took seven years to build it. The concrete and wooden buildings stand surrounding the courtyard. It is the architecture in which buildings and gardens, including the roof garden, are merged.
Q: The studio wing is a three-story building. Was it used as a public space where he taught and guided students? Is it significantly changed after the restoration and renovation work?
The studio wing has the studio and the drawing room above it. Those rooms were used as public rooms for activities of Choso Juku and guests. The wooden building was privately used. In this restoration and renovation work, the structure of the buildings were not altered at all. A person in charge of the restoration and renovation work said that the ideal thing was to hear a comment, "It is not changed." The other day, a person who knows the buildings before the renovation visited the museum and said, "Oh, it is the same as before." so I think it was the successful renovation work. (continued in the lower column)
Q: What was altered is an entrance at the right back of the space just off the main gate, which could not be seen before, isn't it? It seems that an atmosphere of the windows of the studio and Choyo-no Ma are slightly changed.
That's true. A large warehouse stood there, so the entrance was hidden. The warehouse was a black building that was in harmony with the main building, so it seemed rather natural. However, it was added when the surviving members of Asakura's family managed the museum and the foundation, so it was removed during the renovation work. I was a little surprised to see that the Japanese-style entrance appeared at the back when it was dismantled. There is the private house's entrance on the side of Tennoji-cho. I think that the family used the discovered entrance as a private entrance on the side of Hatsune-cho. The studio wing has an entrance for Choso Juku, and there are two entrances on the side of Tennoji-cho: the formal entrance for guests and the private entrance for the family.
Although aluminum window frames were used for the studio and Choyo-no Ma before the renovation, the frames were restored to the original state, that is to say, steel frames. It seemed that Asakura taught his students and created large sculptures in the studio, but it is made of concrete, its ceiling is high, and inside temperature is very low in winter, so he also created sculpture in the former studio. He exhibited his sculptures in the studio, so he had many occasions to invite guests. The studio was also a place where guests looked at his sculptures, so I think he wanted to open the studio to the public after his death.
Q: There is a large study in the studio wing.
There are books collected by him and Toru Iwamura, his former teacher, in the study. I think the study was a place to relax at free moments during his work. There are photographs in which he smoked a cigarette, looked at his collections, or chatted with his daughter. Also, a pile of papers and unfinished manuscripts appear in photographs, so I think he wrote in the study. (continued in the upper right column)
Q: The building is a semi-Western style. What was his lifestyle?
Probably, his lifestyle was Japanese style. It seems that he wore Japanese clothes all the time except when he worked wearing a blouse, so I think he liked Japanese style. He kept the studio's floor very clean so that he could create sculptures with bare feet. He also taught his students at this studio and Tokyo Fine Arts School to keep the floors clean. If somebody stepped on a lump of clay that was dropped on the floor, it could not be used. He did not like such a situation. He always kept the studio's floor clean enough to walk with bare feet.
Q: Was the reason he established his residence in Yanaka Tennoji-cho that it was close to Tokyo Fine Arts School?
is elder brother (Osao Watanabe) who was already active as a sculptor lived in the vicinity of Hatsune Kindergarten. At first he temporarily lived in his elder brother's house, and began to study sculpture. Many artists also lived in this area. After he left his brother's house, he took a room in the area near Shichimenzaka. At that time, Kogan Tobari (a sculptor who followed Morie Ogiwara and was active from the end of Meiji to Taisho Periods) lived next door. After all, I guess one of the reasons he lived in this area was that it was close to Tokyo Fine Arts School. In his essay, Asakura himself wrote that, since he had lived in the Yanaka area after entering Tokyo Fine Arts School, he felt loath to leave the area, so he looked for a place to live in Yanaka.
Q: I heard that Asakura loved cats, and created many cat sculptures. Where did he keep cats? Were cats also used as subject matters in Choso Juku?
He kept many cats. There are many photographs in which he was surrounded by more than a dozen cats. He was a so-called "cat lover." There was a room in front of the former studio, and a student who took care of cats lived in the room. Probably, cats were kept around there. Cats were capricious, and he freely created cat sculptures. When he taught his students, I think, he sought subject matters in human bodies. Most of his representative works are human figures, so, I think, he crated cat sculptures when he was in the mood.
Q: A sculpture on the theme of hands is exhibited in the study. Did Asakura also create such sculptures?
The hand sculpture exhibited in the study is "Te," (1918) or hand, created by Kotaro Takamura (a sculptor who was active from the Taisho to Showa Periods). In order to put together a sum of money for going to the United States, Takamura planned to sell his sculptures. At that time, Asakura heard about Takamura's plan from Shogyo Tamura, a mutual acquaintance, and Asakura requested him to obtain Takamura's sculpture. When Asakura was asked what sculpture he wanted, he told Tamura that he wanted a sculpture of hands. Although Asakura thought that it was better to keep his name from Takamura, in reality, Takamura himself brought the sculpture to Asakura's house. When Asakura was young, he also created a torso on the theme of a brachial muscle and a sculpture of an arm that picked up a cat. He had a great respect for "Te" by Kotaro Takamura, and showed it to his students, saying that it was a great work.
Q: Asakura created many statues of distinguished people. Were most of the statues commissioned?
Yes, they were. There are many statues, including Statue of Tsuyoshi Inukai and Statue of Shigenobu Okuma. Most of the statues were commissioned. I think skills of Asakura as a sculptor was highly evaluated, so he was asked to create those statues.
Q: Was the exhibition method significantly changed after the restoration and renovation work?
Regarding the exhibition method, the elevating machine in the studio, which was used for creating large sculptures, was repaired to be usable, so we plan to use it to exhibit some sculptures if possible. The elevating machine is a electric-powered pedestal that can be moved up and down when creating large sculptures. We plan to show how it is used. In order to install the elevating machine, the studio was built of concrete; otherwise the building could not stand it. Asakua did not like a concrete building, but it was necessary. Also, the elevating machine had been hidden under the floor, but it is now opened to the public, so, I think, it is a good chance to know one aspect of how Asakura created sculptures. (continued in the lower column)
Elevating Machine[Click the image to see details.]
In addition to Asakura's works, there are also many collections of art works, including Chinese paintings, calligraphic works and curios, in this museum, so we will exhibit those in a harmonious way which makes the building look beautiful.