Japanese art and Yumeji Takehisa: final years of sorrow
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Yumeji Takehisa was born in 1884 and died at the age of 49 in 1934. The last decade of his life was often traumatic and had many moments of bleakness because of natural events and disappointment during his lack of recognition when he visited America and Europe in 1931. After this, he returned to Japan in 1933 but his health had deteriorated and the following year he would pass away.
This may appear to be a strange way to introduce Yumeji Takehisa but his final decade on this earth sums up much about his lack of notoriety in Europe and North America. Indeed, during his lifetime he had many ups and downs and this applies to wanting to focus on poetry and getting divorced after a very short period.
Yumeji Takehisa also lived during momentous times in Japan and this applies to the liberalism of the Taisho period and the growing popularity of nationalism and socialism in Japan which would create many political convulsions in the 1920s and 1930s. Indeed, the spirit of the times can be felt by the fact that he never studied under any real mentor. Therefore, the romanticism and hope of the Taisho period for individuals with ambitions rubbed off on him.
In the artistic circles of his day much of his work was disregarded but he was popular amongst lay people outside of the artist inner-circle. This aspect of Yumeji Takehisa summed up his desire to be a poet in his early adult life because he soon realized that he couldn’t earn enough money in this field. Given this, he put great energy into his art and the free spirit of the times enabled him to move forward.
Tragedy struck Japan in 1923 because of the Kanto earthquake whereby vast numbers of people were killed and great devastation hit many areas. This event also impacted greatly on Yumeji Takehisa because he was forced to restart once more. However, with great dedication and being a prolific artist who created more than 3,000 works, then he overcame the many obstacles he faced.
In 1931 he left Japan and visited America and Europe but overall he was left dissatisfied because his work wasn’t accepted on the whole. Also, his health became bad because of a very serious disease and after returning to Japan in 1933 his days were numbered. The following year he passed away in a sanatorium and clearly the final years of his life were filled with great sorrow.
Sabine Schenk comments (Cultural News) that “Takehisa Yumeji, however, is still not well known in America and Europe and there are only a few non-Japanese references on him. The reason for that is that he didn’t fit the academic definition of fine arts during his active period from the 1900s to the 1930s, and that his work is not restricted to visual arts only, but ranges from painting, through all kinds of commercial arts, to poetry.”
“It is not easy to categorize him and outside of Japan he has not been recognized as part of the history of fine arts and, therefore, has not been the subject of detailed research, yet.”
Sabine Schenk further comments that “Yumeji had tried to enter the contemporary academic circles, but although he had been rejected, he maintained good relationships with recognized artists of that time such as Fujishima Takeji (1867-1943) and others.”
Yumeji Takehisa did create an impact within the Japanese art world and this applies to Shinso Okamoto, Osamu Shibuya, and others. However, you get the feeling that if the cards had been dealt more kindly, then his impact would have been greater both inside Japan and internationally during his lifetime.