Scope and Content Note
In the five months worth of personal letters that comprise this collection, the artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi describes his 1931-1932 journey back to Japan in vivid detail. Writing to his wife Katherine (Schmidt) in New York, Kuniyoshi details every experience--from spending time with his ailing father and revisiting Okayama, the place of his childhood, to preparing for his one-man exhibitions and adjusting to the frequent social functions required by those shows and to other customs that now seemed awkward and strange to the artist. Kuniyoshi's chronicle begins around September 29, 1931, as he traveled by train through parts of the West, continuing to Vancouver where he boarded the ship Hiye Maru. He recounts the people he met, his meals and facilities and the entertainment provided on the ship.
Arriving in Japan by mid-October, Kuniyoshi traveled between Tokyo, Osaka and Okayama. Throughout his stay, he continually notes the generous amount of favorable publicity he was receiving. Most of the media coverage came from newspapers, which Kuniyoshi noted as being the power brokers with art exhibitions, and actually responsible for arranging them. As was the custom in Japan at the time, one-man shows were held at department stores, usually for no more than five days since, according to Kuniyoshi, the "circle of interest in art is small." His exhibition in Tokyo, held November 19-23, took place at Mitsukoshi, which still operates today as Japan's oldest department store. Although the exhibition "opened with a bang," it was financially disappointing for the artist, since he needed to come down in price before selling one small still life and five lithographs. One of the many related incidents he also describes is his encounter with the police, who were required to inspect any depictions of nudes that would be publicly displayed. After applying white chalk to the "doubtful" section of one of his works, Kuniyoshi received their approval with a smile. Some of Kuniyoshi's correspondence is written on postcards printed with reproductions of some of his works. Created for sale at his shows, the cards proved popular with visitors, especially when asking the artist for his autograph. The exhibition checklist for the Osaka exhibition, which was held December 18-21 at the Shirokya department store, is also included here. Kuniyoshi claims to have sold only two lithographs at that show. In addition to the Tokyo and Osaka exhibitions, he also mentions a third show in Okayama for the following year. While the one originally scheduled for January 15-22 was cancelled, a small exhibition of his lithographs was held January 17-18.
Of personal matters, Kuniyoshi regularly writes of his father's declining health, which according to the art historian Donald B. Goodall, precipitated this trip. Kuniyoshi spent most of his time in Japan at his father's home in Okayama and describes being with his family, his memories of the area, and an enthusiastic reception with neighborhood friends. Kuniyoshi's father died soon after the artist returned to America. Kuniyoshi's letters also suggest that life back in the States for him and his wife, who was also an artist, was a struggle. In many of his letters, he would bid his wife not to worry about money and would express his frustration with the treatment they were receiving from Daniel Gallery. This was the New York City gallery operated by Charles Daniel, one of the early dealers of modern art in America. In each letter, which Kuniyoshi wrote on an almost daily basis, he'd express his affections for his wife and how much he missed her, as well as the many gifts of kimonos and unusual or antique Japanese toys he had for her. The last piece of correspondence in this collection is a cable dated February 17, 1932, telling his wife of his safe arrival in San Francisco. During that same year, the couple divorced.
A few photographs of Kuniyoshi's stop in Montana and an original writing in Japanese, laid out in a scroll format, are also included.