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FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT AND JAPAN

“EVER SINCE I discovered the print,” Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in his 1932 autobiography, “Japan has appealed to me as the most romantic, artistic country on Earth.” The Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, Vol. 6 No. 2, Spring 1995, was devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright, Japan and this country’s art. Here are several tidbits from the magazine.

The cover shows a sheet from the series Hisakataya Nakanochō, c. 1825, by Yashima Gakatei. The print is from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation collection.

It’s conjectured that FLW became interested in Japan and its art after seeing examples at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Between 1902 and 1922, he made the sea journey to Japan seven times, initially collecting ukiyo-e prints, later with his commission to build Tokyo’s (second) Imperial Hotel.

FLW, at left, and friends visit the Daibatsu in Kamakura during a 1921 visit to Japan. This and other images from Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, Vol. 6 No. 2, Spring 1995.

FLW later said he built Taliesin with the profits from selling Japanese prints to other collectors.

Actor Ichikawa Danjurō V as Hannya no Goro is a color woodcut by Katsukawa Shunsho. It depicts a Kabuki performance in 1776. Wright sold the print to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1918. This image is of another print of the same ukiyo-e from ukiyo-e.org.

FLW also collected surimono, small-format prints typically commissioned by poets for special occasions. Though FLW died in 1959, these prints weren’t discovered until the 1980s. Hitherto, Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly noted, “They were stored in an inconspicuous, unmarked Japanese wooden box and ignored for decades. Despite Wright’s frequent financial difficulties, the prints escaped foreclosure actions by his banks.”

The box contained some 700 small prints, more than 500 of which were classified as surimono. The magazine writes, “Because surimono embody a unique collaboration of artist and poet, image and text, each illuminating the other, they are more than just beautiful designs.”

A serimono from the series Ichiyôren Edo Meisho Mitate Jûnishi, c. 1825, by Yashima Gakutei, 8.4 x 7.4 in.

Despite FLW’s evident appreciation of Japanese art, he repeatedly claimed it did not influence his architectural designs. He wrote, “As for the Incas, the Mayans, even the Japanese—all were to me but splendid confirmation.” He spoke of having “digested” Japanese art, rather than adapting it.

On the other hand, of the 32 architectural projects FLW undertook outside the United States, 12 were in Japan. What’s more, only nine of his foreign projects came to fruition, six in Japan and the other three in Canada.

In addition to the Imperial Hotel (a portion of which remains in the Meiji-Mura architectural park near Nagoya), another FLW Japanese project is the Jiya Gakuen Myonichikan, School of the Free Spirit, in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Built in 1921 while FLW was also involved with the Imperial Hotel, this girls’ school still exists as an Important Cultural Property.

Jiyq Gakuen Myonichikan. Image by jmho.

This particular Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly ends with a tale about the manager of the original Imperial Hotel. Aisaku Hayashi, accompanied by his wife Takako, visited Taliesin, FLW’s Wisconsin estate, in 1916 to discuss the possibility of a new Imperial. Takako-San, FLW remembered, was “a beautiful presence at Taliesin, at the time, with her exquisite Japanese wardrobe.”

Aisaku and Takako Hayashi at Taliesin, 1916.

One evening at dinner, Takako-San asked FLW, “Wrieto-San, what means ‘goddam’?”

FLW, known for a wicked sense of humor, responded, “Oh, Takako-San, ‘goddam’ is a polite word for ‘very.’ You might say it is a ‘goddam fine evening….’ ”

To which Takako-San responded, “O, O, I see. Please, Wrieto-San, pass me the goddam fresh butter.”

“Was she wiser than she seemed?” FLW recalled later. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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