29.Japanese Dealers

In past years I intended to write a nostalgic essay about Japanese art dealers and my experiences with them, to be published in some Japanese journal. I never did it, partly because a Japanese colleague or student persuaded me that it would have to be done very delicately to avoid writing the wrong things, embarrassing them, seeming to put down one by praising another, etc. Here I will write only a few notes and episodes.

(I did write a similarly reminiscent and nostalgic piece about Hong Kong collectors and dealers: “Seeing Paintings in Hong Kong” (Ching Yuan Chai so-shih III). In: Kaikodo Journal XVIII, 2000, pp. 20-25.)

Mayuyama. The Japanese dealer with whom I was closest was Junkichi Mayuyama, whose store, Ryûsendô, was near the Kyobashi station of the subway. Junkichi and I had met at the Freer Gallery while i was there on the Hackney Scholarship, in 1950-51, and later ran into each other by chance in New York. Both strangers to the city, we enjoyed each other's company and went around together. Junkichi was over-polite, almost like caricture Japanese (Mr. Moto in the Marquand novels), probably because he thought that was proper behavior for a dealer; but under this he was a sympathetic and likeable person. Later, and for many years after, Ryûsendô was my "headquarters" in Tokyo: I received mail there, made phone calls from there, stored things there when away from Japan. I was criticized for this, but it was an honest arrangement: I never favored Mayuyama as a dealer, and he said that I was "good for business' in the sense of making the Chinese art field as a whole more attractive to potential buyers.

My particular friend there was Haruo Igaki, who did most of the productive work—Junkichi's brother Takahashi (adopted into another family) stood around idly and talked with customers, and the young clerks, mostly hired for family connections and other non-professional but very Japanese reasons, did the same, carrying and hanging the works shown to customers, serving tea, carrying on conversations with them in the waiting rooms. Igaki, a real professional, handled much of the real business, keeping books, carrying on correspondence, arranging for translations. When I was there I often helped with English translations, sometimes virtually rewritings, of documents, including talks to be given by Japanese scholars going abroad. And he helped me with such matters as making contact with Japanese collectors and arranging loans for exhibitions. We often went out drinking at one of his favorite places—one I remember especially where one drank lots of hot sake from square wooden containers, which a very skillful pourer would fill in a stream from on high until they brimmed over but never spilled, and ate kushiyaki, various good things cooked and served on skewers. (This combination, sake and kushiyaki, was the standard offering at all the small shops and open stalls clustered around train stations, offering men returning from work a period of respite from going home to wives and family.) The death of Igaki, along with those of so many others who were the people I enjoyed being with in Japan, was partly responsible for my giving up these regular stays in Japan—other factors included the unpleasant shooting-down of the Buson exhibition that Maribeth Graybill and I planned, and the opening of China, where I spent more time from the early 1980s.

Shizuoka-kan, and Japanese ryokan. Through Mayuyama's introduction, I stayed in Tokyo always at the Shizuoka-kan, a small (five guest rooms) ryokan or Japanese inn on a narrow, pedestrians-only alley between the store and the Kyôbashi intersection. It made no pretensions to luxury or elegance, serving mostly businessmen who needed a place to spend the night. Kyôbashi, center of a busy business district and noisy in the daytime, was largely deserted and quiet in evenings and at night. The single maid, Eiko-san, was patient (if censorious) with my late-night returns,, and knew exactly what I liked in Japanese breakfasts, a wonderful way to begin the day. Over the years I stayed in many ryokan, from the poorest and cheapest, used by students, to the most elegant (when someone else was paying), all the way up to the Harihan, the famous one in the hills above Ashiya where I was sometimes put up by the Temple (the Kiyoshi Kôjin in Takurazuka) when for some reason they could not have me stay at the Temple itself. I could write a book, or at least an essay, on Japanese inns and their pleasures. Another great one, used when Skira was sending me to Japan: located down the hill from the present Okura Hotel, owned and run by a woman who was a friend of Rosanjin, the potter and designer, whose works were in our rooms and on our breakfast and dinner tables. Once I missed a screen and scroll from my room, and learned that they had been taken off for an exhibition of his works at the Museum of Modern Art, then near Kyobashi. Another time, when the dealer Alice Boney was having dinner with me there, both of us drinking a lot of sake, she asked the maid who was serving us in my room how much it would cost her to take home some of the ceramics; she became quite angry when the maid told her they weren't for sale, and began shouting, as though she had somehow been cheated. This was the same inn, by the way, that had an English-language sign in their very elegant bath (o-furo) room, explaining at length how to use the o-furo and ending: FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE DO NOT TAKE THE PLUG OFF THE TUB'S BOTTOM!

Setsu. Back to dealers: on the same street as Ryûsendô, along with quite a few other dealers, but closer to Nihonbashi (the next stop on the subway, best known for the department store Takashimaya) was the dealer Setsu. My first visit there was by chance: I had heard the name, but didn't connect it with the single-character sign on their modest storefront. In their window was a large pot by Ninsei, related somehow to one that the Freer had recently purchased, and I went in to look at that. Since I was there, I asked "Do you have any Chinese paintings?" and the answer was "Yes, we do—what kind would you like to see?" From my experiences with other stores, I said cautiously, "Ming-Qing paintings?" and the answer was, "We don't have any Ming-Qing paintings, only Song-Yuan." I came the next morning, by their invitation, and in their upstairs viewing room there came forth, one after another, several well-known and often-published pieces, beginning with the "Huizong" dove on a blossoming peach branch and the "Shrike on a Pine Branch" ascribed to Muqi, I was bowled over. They were not for sale, at least abroad—registered objects. I never came to know the old Setsu well, but did make friends with his son Iwao, who was then something of a playboy, spending much of his time practicing golf at the putting green atop the big Maruzen bookstore nearby.

Around the corner, across the side-street from Takashimaya, were several other dealers: Kochûkyo, which dealt mainly in ceramics but sometimes had good paintings, always too expensive for me; Fugendô, where I bought a number of good pieces over the years (it was only later that I really came to know the owner, the old Sakamoto, who had by then retired to Kyoto). And several others, the names of which I don't recall.

Ogiwara. A favorite dealer, from whom I bought mostly Japanese paintings, both for myself and for my stepfather George Schlenker after I had begun collecting for him, was Ogiwara, who didn't have a store but dealt from his home, near Ocha-no-mizu; my close friend Hugh Wass and I, going around together as we did for quite a few years, would combine a visit to him with one to the Yûshima Seidô, the Confucian temple in the valley below, which also had Chinese paintings for sale, along with books. Ogiwara was an old, well-established dealer with a large stock. His manager, Katsuhiro Kobayashi, became an independent dealer after his death and handled some of the leftovers for his heirs. I remember telling Ogiwara to watch for a really good Baiitsu landscape, because I had seen a fine one and realized he was more interesting in these than in his better-known bird-and-flower works. When I came back next year, Ogiwara told me, "I have a great Baiitsu landscape for you." And indeed it was; I bought if for George. (Carol later sold it to Bill Clark—it was one of Bill's earliest Nanga acquisitions.) Ogiwara didn't deal much in Chinese paintings, but he did make the mistake of acquiring the fake Chang Ta-ch'ien "Dunhuang" Bodhisattva in the 1950s—it's discussed in Wen Fong's article on forgeries in Chinese painting, in my lecture on Chang's forgeries, etc. (Another Tokyo dealer, Yabumoto Soshiro, see below, reportedly acquired the fake Dong Yuan and Juran hanging scrolls by Chang Ta-ch'ien, perhaps others, from the Shanghai collector J. D. Chen, who had published them. His son may still own them.)

Yabumotos Of the two Yabumoto brothers, both important dealers, Soshiro was the older, Sogoro the younger. Soshiro's shop was located in Kyoto first, while I was a Fulbright student in the 1950s and for some years after; later he moved to Tokyo, and located in a building between the Imperial Hotel and the Ginza area. Much of his stock was stored in an underground storage located on the street that runs left from Ropppongi as you approach it up the hill from the center of the city. Sogoro Yabumoto was the younger, dealing from his house near the Amagasaki stop of the Hankyû line running between Osaka and Kobe. he also had a small shop, open to walk-ins, on the seventh? floor of the Hankyû Dept. Store in Osaka. where the trains came in. This was mostly manned by his son Kozo, who now, I understand, has inherited the whole collection.

Soshiro was very kind to me while I was a student, showing me paintings at his shop, taking me on outings. One morning he was showing me a Tessai painting of an apparatus unfamiliar to me, and I couldn't understand his explanation of what its function was (for one thing, I didn't know shishi could mean deer as well as lion, and couldn't imagine a device for frightening away lions.) So he said he would take me to show me one; he made a phone call, put his assistant in charge of the shop, and off we went, to the Nanzenji on the eastern edge of Kyoto and up the hillside from there, climbing quite a ways up to where, on a flat place, a house and garden were set. I had no idea anyone could live in such a place. He showed me in the garden the device Tessai had painted—the see-sawing bamboo tube that fills with water from a running stream, and, when the part above the fulcrum is heavier, tips and pours out the water, falling back with its base hitting a stone and producing a konk! that—right, scares away the deer from the garden. (All through that year I was encountering such delightful examples of how the Japanese have incorporated poetic imagery and experiences into their daily lives.) In the house, Yabumoto introduced me to our host, Mr. --- (it will come) and his wife, a former geisha. He collected small Song-Yuan paintings of fruits and flowers and insects and the like, the kind imported early to Japan, sometimes ascribed to Qian Xuan or Wang Yuan; some of the paintings in Shina Kachô Gasatsu are his. While we looked at them his wife served us warm sake in Momoyama-period Oribe ware flat cups. It was one of the many memorable experiences of that great year.

After Soshiro Yabumoto moved to Tokyo, I visited him often; he was quite close to Kusaka Shogado, the Imperial Hotel, etc. He dealt in really top-class pieces, Japanese and Chinese. He was one of those who lent to our Sôgenga exhibition (University Art Museum, Berkeley, 1982); it was he who handled for me the negotiations with the Bunkachô during the Great Buson Caper (see below) and gave me two great paintings for the money I received for the Buson.

Sogoro Yabumoto was very different. He spent most of his time at his home near Amagasaki; his enormous stock of paintings was kept there. He bought in huge quantities at the dealer's auctions: if you mentioned a Japanese artist you had become interested in, even a secondary one, he and his assistants would go off and return with armloads of boxed paintings, and hang them on the walls of three rooms of the house. He never seemed anxious to sell, and would sometimes tell me flatly that a certain painting was not for sale. For Japanese painting, he had a very sharp eye, and a wide knowledge. When I was working on Sakaki Hyakusen, I saw on a northern trip (the great one organized by Tsuji Nobuo, to be recounted some time) at the Homma Museum a "Landscape with Willows" that was commonly reproduced as Hyakusen's (e.g. in Genshoku Nihon no Bijutsu); it was on its way to becoming the artist's daihyôsaku or "representative work," the one chosen by the specialists collectively to represent that artist in publications etc. I was troubled by its dissimilarity with other Hyakusen landscapes—he paints in many styles, but still within limits (a hard concept to argue, but true in the experience of anyone studying visually the oeuvre of an artist--he has a limited infinity of choices, if you will.) And after seeing it and making slides, I realized whose style it was in: Chô or Tanke Gessen (1721-1809), the monk-artist. My friend Suzuki Susumu, the famous Nanga specialist, was about to have this painting registered as an Important Cultural Property; Yoshizawa had published it, as had others. When I next visited Yabumoto, I mentioned having seen it and asked who he thought really painted it. "Gessen" he said, without comment, as though it were well known.

Sogoro Yabumoto also collected Chinese paintings, especially Song-Yuan paintings, in quantity, buying them as they appeared at auction without worrying about when he might sell them again; his prices for them were high. Kohara Hironobu believes that he made a mistake, and that his son Kozo (the father having died) is now stuck with a lot of not-so-good Chinese paintings that will be difficult to dispose of. Many are in bad condition. He was happy to show them to anyone, but didn't pretend to know as much about them: he often asked for my opinion on Chinese paintings.

Sogoro was part of a very high-level club that met monthly at very good restaurants and heard talks. I gave one of them once—I can't remember the name—was it White Swan Association? He also was an amateur potter, making tea-bowls in the raku manner. His wife was the sister of the wife of Kumita in Tokyo, making those two brothers-in-law. (Kumita was a very different kind of dealer and person.)

Having such a large stock was useful when some provincial museum, for instance, begins collecting the work of a local artist and is looking for examples: Sogoro Yabumoto, and now Kozo, can usually produce more of them than anyone else., and ease the work of collecting.

Kumita lived and dealt out of a house in a place far from the main centers of Tokyo; he always welcomed scholars and potential customers. His stock was never huge, like Sogoro's, and I had the impression that he was selling and acquiring pieces steadily while I first knew him. Later it was said that because of some tax conviction he was forbidden to continue dealing; somehow he was still free to sell pieces he owned. I saw many fine Japanese and Chinese paintings there, but didn't buy much. He owned a superlative Buson, his "A Single Road Through Cold Mountains." Once when Emily Sano was in Tokyo, and still curator at the Kimbell (which in principle buys only the very best of everything), I told her, "Emily, if you have time, I'll show you the most beautiful painting in Tokyo." She had time, we went to Kumita's, they bought it (last painting in my Lyric Journey book, detail on the cover.)

A dealer I liked very much, and bought a number of pieces from, was Kusaka ShôgadIo, whose small shop was located in the (forgot name, sewing machine company—Masaki?) building on a corner close to the Imperial Hotel. He was always open, and always there, looking like a properly commercial dealer. I would drop by while going around Tokyo for tea and conversation and to see any paintings he had newly acquired. His prices tended to be reasonable. (He was somehow related in business, but very different from, Kawai Shôgadô in Kyoto.) He bought and sold Ming-Qing paintings, Alice Boney sometimes bought from him. On one occasion Alice asked me to go by his place and look at a Gong Xian and tell her whether it was real. I went and looked at it; it was the "Landscape with Willows," giving more space to the inscription than to the painting, which occupied a smaller area at the bottom and wasn't especially impressive. I told Alice it didn't look good to me. But later, looking at it longer, I realized it was a fine Gong Xian (it appeared later in Fu Shen's calligraphy exhibition carried out while he was at Yale) and phoned Alice to correct my view, and ask her whether she would sell it to me, adding some profit for herself. She said no, go ahead and buy it, she wasn't enthusiastic about it, and I did. Kusaka had a very smart daughter and (younger) son, who took over his business after his death, moving to a different location, closer to Shimbashi.

Tanaka Heizandô was located a few blocks from Hongô Sanchôme; there was no storefront, and one had to know what it was. This Tanaka (not the same as the Tanaka who ran "London Gallery" up beyond Roppongi) was a down-to-earth, no nonsense dealeer. He would show you photos of what he had, you chose, he brought it out, you bought it or didn't. His stock included both Japanese and Chinese paintings, some quite important, some of questionable authenticity—this was a caveat emptor, "buyer beware," situation. I bought a good Kôrin picture of Hotei from him for George Schlenker, and several other things. I was not a favorite customer, because I had taken something (for George) and then returned it, realizing it was a copy. Nevertheless, he and his son took me to a great Kobe beef dinner at a place near Roppongi, which must have cost a lot—he did this, I assume, for regular customers.

The dealer I most liked and respected in Japan was Eda BungadIo;. His shop was located on a narrow street near Hongô Sanchôme; it was so inconspicuous, marked with a barely readable weathered wooden sign, that one could walk past it without noticing it—I did, several times, in trying to find it again after first going there. I was taken there, halfway through my Fulbright year (1954 -5) by a professor of Chinese history who collected paintings in a small way; this was a place for knowledgeable but poor collectors. It sold takuhon,, calligraphy rubbings; paper, ink, inkstores etc.; reproduction books of calligraphy and painting; and, once one had got through the defenses of the properietor, Eda Yûji, and persuaded him that you were worth his spending time with, Chinese paintings and calligraphy.

Eda was a gentle man, completely free of pushiness; he was lame, shuffling slightly with his bad leg. He would spend long stretches of time showing you how certain kinds of ink looked, how the inkstone on which they were ground changed their "color," how certain papers absorbed them. Or taking you through the subtleties of Japanese incense enjoyment. He would show Chinese paintings, a few each time, never with any apparent urge to part with them. I bought a few things very cheap there during my Fulbright year, including the Zhao Zuo scroll (later sold, unwisely, through Jim Soong to Cheney Cowles in Seattle.) I took Suzuki Kei there—a mistake, he had never been there, immediately began worrying about how good Chinese paintings were being lost to foreigners through outlets unknown to him such as this.(See 34 below for an outcome of this.) I also brought Wen Fong—again a mistake. Eda took me several times to meet and talk with the calligrapher Nishikawa Nei (or Yasushi), see no. 15 above. He also took me to a special invitation-only bonsai exhibition (and talked learnedly about the trees), to a special exhibition of Kazan paintings drawn from private collections, and to other events I would never have known about.

Striking was the seeming disparity between Eda's extreme refinement in all the world of sinophile calligraphy, seal-carving, etc. (with Kawai Senrô as a revered figure behind them) and his plaiinness as a person. We had dinner together several times, on one occasion facing off against each other and eating fiery-hot Szechwan food, tears streaming from our eyes, always smiling and saying how great it was. Once he took me to his favorite night-life place, and it was decidedly low-class; not one of the Ginza bars but a noisy drinking place with hostesses dressed in crude pseudy-geisha costumes. Eda danced with them, as well as he could; after he had an operation that improved the mobility of his leg, he took up ballroom dancing and talked proudly about it.

Hiro Kobayashi and I visited him late in his life, when he was less than perfectly coherent; he had built a new house, and many of his Chinese paintings had been taken to the Bunkachô, for eventual purchase by them (belatedy—the best having already left.) He burned incense for us and talked about it, and showed us a few scrolls (mounted Suzhou prints). After his death his widow and daughter must have sole his remaining holdings to the Chinese dealer Chang Yin-chung, formerly located in Tokyo, now in a great palace-like complex outside Taipei; Eda's collection of Suzhou prints was still there, and I told Soren Edgren and Christer von der Burg about it. They visited Chang and bought the whole lot of mounted prints, which included some not previously known.

So much for Japanese dealers for now; in another installment I will write about Kyoto and Osaka dealers, including the Yamanakas.

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