An Entrepreneur, A Painter, A Museum

From the time my Kurashiki guide, Hisako Kashihara, and I started our walk towards the Bikan Historical Quarter, she mentioned the names “Kojima” and “Ohara” many times. 

Throughout Kurashiki, there was a trail of buildings linked with Ohara-san. 

Ohara Museum of Art

Then, I could hear the excitement in Hisako-san’s voice whenever she said “Torajiro Kojima.” 

Upon reaching the Ohara Museum of Art and seeing the works of Kojima-san, I understood where the excitement was coming from. I love his artworks! 

After I returned to Manila, I read up more about these two men and was so delighted to discover how their paths had crossed. Sharing that with you…

The year was 1902. With a deep desire to be a painter, 21- year old Okayama native, Torajiro Kojima, who was studying at Tokyo Fine Arts School came to Ohara House, Kurashiki (located in Okayama Prefecture) to be interviewed for an art scholarship. He showed his paintings to the head of Ohara House, Koshiro Ohara and his 22- year old son, Magosaburo.

[Magosaburo who used to be a spoiled brat had just begun to mature.  On his New Year journal that year, he wrote, “Looking back at the last five years, I cannot help but feel ashamed of myself…If possible let the past be buried as the past. From this year on, with the knowledge and vocation given to me, I seek to serve God.” [Source].

Magosaburo’s transformation has been partly credited to his meeting Ishii Jyuji, sometimes referred to as “the father of children’s welfare who dedicated his life to saving orphans”. Jyuji-san is the Christian founder of Okayama Orphanage who aspired for social, cultural, and religious rather than monetary or military power gains. His influence on the young Magosaburo-san is said to have transformed the latter into a devout Christian.]

Magosaburo O’hara was highly impacted by Kojima’s passion for and commitment to art. The former along with his family sponsored Kojima-san’s art studies.  With hard work, Kojima-san finished in two years the art course that usually takes four. He proceeded to take his graduate studies at the Tokyo Fine Arts School. While there, an art exhibition was mounted to which Kojima-san submitted his painting, “Nasake no Niwa (Garden of Mercy)” featuring the orphanage of Ishii Jyuji. It won first prize and was purchased by the Imperial Household Agency as it caught the eye of The Empress herself.

Seeing Kojima-san’s promising talent validated, Magosaburo-san encouraged the former to further study art in Europe. 

Kojima-san attended the Academie des Beaux-Arts de Gand and graduated head of his class. He received praise where he went.

In the meantime, Magosaburo-san inherited his family estate and earned charge over his father’s businesses (Kurashiki Boseki or Kurabo Industries, Kurashiki Bank, among others). He supported Jyuji Ishii’s Okayama Orphanage. With Christian values, he sought to uplift employees’ working and living conditions. This attitude was not typical in that day and many people frowned upon it but Magosaburō-san persevered.

After Kojima-san’s European studies, he came back to Japan and wed Jyuji Ishii’s oldest daughter, Tomoko; the couple settled in Kurashiki. It is said that Kojima-san’s loyalty and values took precedence over his desire for fame. He did suggest to Magosaburō-san to collect Western art.  After some time, Magosaburo-san agreed and thus slowly began the O’hara art collection

When Kojima-san returned to Europe, he purchased original works by Monet, Matisse, Marquet, Cottet, Denis, etc. which were displayed at Kurashiki Elementary School. To Magosaburō-san’s surprise, response was phenomenal as people around Japan came to see the exhibit.  Kojima-san was commissioned to procure more art pieces and he added works by El Greco, Gauguin, Lautrec, Pissarro, Seurat, Gustave Moreau, Millet, Segantini, Chavannes, and others. These would later on form the collection that is today at Ohara Museum of Art,  which would have the record of being the first permanent exhibit of Western art in Japan.

Unfortunately, Kojima-san did not see the final museum as he died at age 47 before its completion. It was only the year after Kojima-san’s death that Magosaburō-san built the museum despite counsel’s apprehension that Kurashiki as a location would have limited visitors. 

The Ohara Museum of Art officially opened in 1930 with Kojima-san’s own works exhibited there as well. 

Today, the museum stands strong in Kurashiki and is managed by Magosaburō-san’s son, Soichiro who took over as head of family after his father’s death. Soichiro-san added modern works by Jackson Pollock, Sam Francis, Jasper Johns, Miro, and Lucio Fontana.

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