Yashiro (in Oiso) to Bernard Berenson

No. 1017 Oiso, Kanagawa Ken

Dec. 2, 1948

My very very dear B.B.,

Your letter of Aug. 15 with your new book Estetica, Etica e Storia has arrived me through Italian Diplomatic Mission & put me into ecstasy for joy. On the cover of the book, I saw your photo, which touched my heart very deeply. You look really much older than you did, when I was almost daily with you at Settignano more than twenty years ago. I took out your picture, which you gave me with your own autograph, when I said good bye to you in 1924, and which, framed, has always been either on my desk or in other parts of my room. Now the house, which I live in now here in this small sea-side town, is so small that I have no desk big enough to put anything except mere materials for writing, and so I had to put your framed photo into a drawer. Indeed you look much older now, but not so much as I imagined, and I congratulate you for your health & strength in spite of your high age of 84. I really want to see you once more and speak to you once more, as I used to do twenty years ago.

Please send me the English edition of your new book, when it comes out. Now my Italian is so poor that I cannot read your Italian edition very easily. Still I tried to read it & could grasp your meaning, altho’ the beauty of your sentences is beyond my appreciation. I am very much touched by your mentioning me in one part of the book. I am very very happy to find out that you look at your old Japanese pupil in that way. I will make still further effort in my scholarly works, so that I should not disappoint you in your expectation.

Also I am anxiously waiting for the publication of your next books, which you mention in your letter, “Sketch for a Self Portrait” etc.

As for me, I have many plans for writing books on Eastern Arts. Really Western interests in Eastern Arts have increased so much during the war, but what are being written on the subject by Western scholars are still very very inadequate and childish -- very much sophisticated but still entirely childish -- that I feel that I have a human duty to write on the problems of Eastern Arts. Don’t laugh at my conceit! Although good eyes and right understanding of the stylistic development and perhaps of its psychology would enable a scholar to grasp the essentials of Eastern Art as well as Western, yet in Eastern Art literature and art are so closely related with each other, that without a good command of language and literature it is practically impossible to get to the true meanings of Eastern Art. Just imagine, if a man says that he is a specialist of Greek Art without the knowledge of Greek, would he be taken serious? In the case Chinese and Japanese Arts, just such ignorant scholars write heaps of books and articles, and they are considered authorities! Of course language and literature are not everything, even for the study of Far Eastern Arts, and in this respect Eastern scholars, who are apt to consider language and literature everything, should be corrected, but all the same, without language and literature, scholars’ approach to Eastern Art really becomes narrow and superficial. Without modesty I feel that as an Oriental scholar, who however was fortunately brought up in BB’s way, with eyes made open, I have many works to accomplish in the cause of Far Eastern Arts before I die.

However, staying in Japan and leading the sort of life, which I am leading now, it is practically impossible to write books or articles in English. Here in Japan, I almost never speak English. Unless I speak English in my daily life, I simply cannot write English, losing facilities of expression in the language, which I am not actually using. This is one of the reasons, why I want to go to an American university, where I shall lecture as well as write.

You very kindly tells me that you would try to find a post for me somewhere. Although I am ashamed to trouble you with my affairs, please do! I am sure, I shall never put you to shame by your recommendation. Here in Japan, thank Heaven, after many difficult years my authority on the subject is finally recognized and established. Even my enemies had to admit that among Eastern scholars of art I am the only person with a wider view of art, who knows Western Art and Western mentality, which are important for a new study of Eastern Art. Just for that very reason, I am still not very much loved by conservative scholars of this country, but whether they love it or not, they gradually had to realize my authority and now even those people cannot entirely disregard me. Lately I am elected to the Board of Councillors of the National Museum and to the National Commission of Important Art-Objects. Many influential people began to think after the war that Director of the National Museum must have an international point of view and that I am the person for it. There is a strong chance that eventually I shall be elected as such. So I am happy to tell you that my prospect in this country is not entirely gloomy. How different Japan is becoming from both before and during the war, when I was persecuted for my “too international ideas”! All the same, I really want to go abroad, because this country is too small and our people are too narrow-minded for me, and I feel suffocated, closely surrounded by these people. Moreover Director of such a huge Museum as our National Museum is in charge of extensive administrative works, which do not interest me. I shall be infinitely happier, if I can go to some scholarly center in America -- and to concentrate on my proper work in the free, academic atmosphere. Moreover, as I have perhaps written to you before, I must think for my boy, whose musical education as a composer is simply impossible in this country. You ask me, whether I shall be able to take my family with me abroad, in case I get a position in an American university. Of course I and my family would be only too happy to go abroad and to settle ourselves wherever we can make our living and where I can continue my work and also give my boy a good chance to accomplish what genius he got from heaven.

When I ask you to recommend me to some American University, I know that I should not make much preference. However, I think I must make one point clear: that University or some other institution, which I might eventually join, must have some accommodation for study near at hand. As you know better than anybody else, a historian of art cannot work with brain alone, like a philosopher: he must have a library at least, and in America the library in any way adequate for a historian of Eastern Art is extremely rare. For that reason, I want to go to Harvard sooner than anywhere else. Of course, if the university, which invites me, is willing to buy books, the case is different. Even Harvard has no good library of the kind, except books published in Europe and America, but for real scholars of Far Eastern arts, old Chinese publications and modern Japanese publications are very very important. Without them one cannot do any serious work. At Harvard there is Harvard-Yenching Institute, who contains a fairly good general reference library for Chinese studies, and they are very useful. Moreover in Boston Museum there is a fairly good art-library with Eastern publications collected by Okakura and his successors. More than that, the Boston Museum collections of Eastern Arts, Indian, Chinese and Japanese, are most precious materials to be used by Harvard people. Speaking with absolute impartiality Harvard with Boston near at hand is the best place in America where a special chair for History of Eastern Art, especially of Chinese & Japanese art, should be created and made into the American Center for Eastern Studies.

Next to Harvard, perhaps Columbia with its “Japan Center”. Moreover in New York there is of course Metropolitan Museum with its collection and the Japan Institute with its well-equipped library. Yale, between New York & Boston, is good and also Pennsylvania University in Philadelphia with its University Museum of Chinese Art would also be good. Washington with Congress Library & Freer Gallery is well-adapted to be a center for Eastern studies, but I do not think there is any good university there. Chicago is not bad, but I prefer East Coast, where materials for study are much richer.

I wonder if you know that in 1931-2 I went to Harvard to give lectures for one semester as the guest of Carnegie Foundation. At the time Prof. Paul Sachs and Prof. Chandler Post and some others seem to have arranged with Carnegie officially to appoint me Lecturer on Art of Harvard and with that appointment my lectures were made regular lectures for graduate students. I had a glorious time, staying in the guest professor’s rooms in the Lowell House in daily association with tutors and students of the House. After this connection of mine with Harvard, the Art Faculty of Harvard began to send to me in Tokio special students of Eastern Art with travelling fellowship now and then and, as I was Director of the Art Research institute, I used to put those students in the Institute and to let them study with its staff. Ben Rowland, who seems to have become professor at Harvard, was one of the students thus sent to me in Tokio.

All these relations with Harvard make me feel specially attached to Harvard, even excepting my friendship with its professors at the time, Sachs, Post, PopeEdgell, Forbes, Warner, Etc. I shall be most happy, if I can go there again.

I am afraid I have written too long about myself. Please pardon me for doing so, because I want you to understand my situation and my ideas about my emigration abroad. This emigration, if ever it be made possible by your help, is an important thing for my family and for me, and I thought it necessary to tell you what I think about it.

It gives me great joy to hear that I Tatti with its library, collection & beautiful garden is almost unharmed by war. That Mrs. Berenson is there no more, pains me deeply, but everything passes in this world, and we must resigned to it. I am very glad to know that Miss Nicky Mariano is well and is working there with you as in old days. I can well imagine how indispensable she must be to you. Please send my love to her and tell her that whenever I think of B.B. and of I Tatti, I immediately think of her as the genius of the place, always so useful and so kind. As a pupil of B.B., I feel really grateful to her for serving my master & teacher faithfully & making him happy in his old years.

Also I feel both glad and proud to know that you have given I Tatti with everything it contains to Harvard. Besides appreciating your generosity, I am very glad that that great center of Italian studies, I Tatti, will be preserved and taken care of forever and will continue to be inestimable sources for future students of Italian Art. My joy as an old student, who was actually brought up there, is really very big.

It gives me great pleasure to know that you met my friend Auriti. Lately I got a long letter from him, in which very kindly he gave me minute descriptions about you, how you were publicly thanked in Florence by Italian nation for your services in the cause of Italian art, etc. And also he tells me how he admires you & how he is happy to have become acquainted with you. It would really be wonderful if we three can meet one day at I Tatti. I wish that such a day would come.

I am afraid I have tired you very much with this long letter. If I continue to write, this letter would become without end, because there are so many things I want to tell you after those terrible years. I stop now and wait for another chance to write to you my next letter.

Yours ever,

Yukio Yashiro