Saving Kotaro Takamura’s Tokyo Atelier; Preserving Connection with Artists for Future Generations

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The exterior of the atelier in Nakano Ward, Tokyo, where Kotaro Takamura spent the last years of his life.

A movement has begun to preserve the atelier of poet-sculptor Kotaro Takamura (1883-1956), known for his poetry collection “Chieko Sho” and other works. The atelier is located in Nakano Ward, Tokyo, where he spent the final years of his life.

In January of last year, the owner of the building passed away, and its continued management has become more complicated as a result. Efforts are now underway to preserve this historically significant atelier.

Creating ‘Statue of Maidens’

Born in Shitaya Ward (present-day Taito Ward), Tokyo, Takamura had an atelier in Tokyo’s Sendagi, Bunkyo Ward, but he had to evacuate to Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, after his residence was destroyed by fire during the war.

After the war, he moved to the atelier in Nakano Ward in 1952, where he worked for about four years until his death.

It is said that this is where he created the “Statue of Maidens,” a masterpiece of sculpture that stands by the shores of Lake Towada in Aomori Prefecture.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Inside the atelier

The partly two-story wooden structure with a distinctive slanted roof was designed by the architect Bunzo Yamaguchi (1902-78) and built by the Western-style painter Toshio Nakanishi (1900-48).

Since its completion in 1948, the year of Nakanishi’s death, the building has been used as a rental studio. Takamura, the sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-88) and others are believed to have stayed there at times.

More than 70 years after its completion, the blue exterior walls have worn and faded to white, but the structure itself has not changed much.

The large window, measuring about 3 meters in height and 2.5 meters in width, is exactly as it was in those days.

“It’s moving to imagine Kotaro looking out from the same window. It’s rare to find a building in Tokyo with such a deep connection to him. This is precious,” said Misa Sakurai, 60, a relative of Takamura.

Building deteriorating

Nakanishi’s son Riichiro, who managed the atelier, passed away in January of last year.

The building is deteriorating and is now closed to the public.

“It costs a lot to maintain [the building] and it’s dangerous to leave it as it is. It would be good if a public agency would take action, but if not, we will have to tear it down,” his wife Fumie, 73, said.

Under these circumstances, Kosei Soga, 71, a director of the Japan Poets Club who was a close friend of Riichiro, is taking action to preserve the atelier for future generations.

Soga devised a proposal to maintain the facility and is seeking to establish a preservation organization with the help of volunteers.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Takamura’s photo is displayed in the atelier.

Funding and support

The “Kyu Iseya Shichiten” pawnshop in Tokyo’s Hongo, Bunkyo Ward, was another building in danger of demolition due to its deterioration. The place is said to have been frequented by the Meiji-era novelist Ichiyo Higuchi (1872-96).

The original owner indicated a desire to sell the building, saying that it was too much for an individual to maintain. But in 2015, Atomi University in Bunkyo Ward acquired the building. The interior is now open to the public, mainly on weekends.

Soga envisions setting up a space to exhibit materials on artists associated with Takamura and others once the atelier is renovated.

In addition to lobbying Nakano Ward and the Tokyo metropolitan government, he is also considering the use of crowdfunding, he said.

“The atelier is extremely valuable for preserving the art and history of Takamura and Nakanishi for future generations,” Soga said. “We would like to find a way to preserve it without burdening the Nakanishi family.”