Table Speech

In Order To Make Culture and Fine Art Play Instrumental Roles

October 12, 2016

Mr. Ken-ichiro Oohara
Honorary President, Ohara Museum of Art
Honorary Member, Kurashiki RC

 Culture, fine art and humanities are in themselves priceless. They are also dynamic and helpful. Since 1992, I have long worked to re-empower arts and culture in Kurashiki, a local town in Okayama Prefecture. I base my activities on two beliefs. Firstly, we must build world-class regional towns and cities across our country to transform Japan into the world’s most respected nation. When we look overseas, there are always distinctive regional towns in prominent countries, such as Florence and Venice in Italy, Frankfurt and Heidelberg in Germany and Bruges in Belgium. We hope Kurashiki will serve as one of the world’s leading local towns together with others across Japan, including Nagasaki, Matsue, Kanazawa, Hakodate and Matsumoto. I also believe culture plays an instrumental role for the refinement of Japan.

Kurashiki and Ohara Museum of Art
 Kurashiki was a “town of merchants” and a demesne under shogunate control during the Edo era. We have conserved the beautiful townscape of a canal and storehouses. We have also handed down precious art works, together with interesting stories behind them. Ohara Museum of Art houses art works of Japanese painters from the late Edo to early Meiji era, including Õkyo Maruyama (1733-1795) and a literati painter Cyokunyu Tanomura (1814-1907). Both artists frequented Kurashiki and enjoyed social gatherings at the Ohara residence.

 Torajiro Kojima was the first man to collect art works for our Museum while he studied art in Europe. He chose pieces through his aesthetic sense possessed as a Japanese artist, including masterpieces by El Greco (Annunciation), Monet, Gauguin and Matisse. El Greco was Greek who became a prominent painter in Spain, a place of multicultural mix of Muslims and Christians. Kojima felt genuine empathy for El Greco who had succeeded in a foreign land, as he was torn between Japan and Europe in his career.

 The Museum has expanded its collection over time to include both modern and contemporary art from the West and Japan. We have also believed that Japanese beauty underlies our daily life and collected pieces by artists who served the Japanese folk art movement. Our extensive collection ranges from works by Picasso, Fontana, Pollock to Sōtarō Yasui, Ryūzaburō Umehara to Shoji Sekine.

Power of Culture
 I believe art, culture and museums have a dual role to play. They improve our quality of life through creativity as well as promote cultural harmony while maintaining the uniqueness and integrity of our country. Art is not leisure to kill time. Culture plays an instrumental role to transform and support a country and to reconcile different cultures and civilizations.

 As Japan strove to recovery from the War devastation in the 1950s, about a hundred of our antique art works made a grand tour in Europe and the USA. Half of the works exhibited were national treasures and important cultural properties. The tour surprised many countries which regarded Japan as a weird country that had waged a self-destructive war. The exhibition was covered by the news media and helped ease the inhospitable attitude towards Japan from countries around the world. Japanese culture facilitated our national reconstruction and established our foothold in the international community.

 There are many countries that make culture play a significant role. For example, expos and museums like Louvre, Orsay and Pompidou Centre have served to disseminate messages throughout the world on France being the world’s cultural city. More recently, Quai Branly Museum opened in Paris which is dedicated to preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of ‘others’ and thus deepens understanding on multiple different cultures. Austria is another good example where its important cultural assets, including the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra, Vienna State Opera House and Schönbrunne Palace, served as a deterrent to military threats during the Cold War. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is also headquartered in Vienna, which serves as a linking bridge to the international community and is more powerful in protecting one’s country than military buildup.

Re-empower culture, fine art and humanities
 It is alarming that culture, fine art and humanities are in peril here in Japan. It was reported about a year ago that the Education Ministry notified regional universities to “either close or scale down their humanities faculties.” The Japan Federation of Economic Organizations presented its counterargument, stating “we are in direct opposition to the administrative directive if it is based on the logic that humanities are unnecessary to make Japan a technology-oriented nation.” I worked for a chemical company for many years and met top researchers from the world’s leading companies including Bayer, Hoechst, BASF and Dupont. I learnt these scientists were also well-versed in culture, fine art and humanities.

 I hope you understand and support our initiatives to run a Museum and disseminate information on culture and fine art to enrich people’s minds. I want to make culture and fine art play instrumental roles so that Japan will gain respect as a mature country in the international community. Japan will be revitalized by diversified cultures in different local towns. I aspire to render my greater service in Kurashiki.