Tomita Kojiro

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  • Born: 1890
  • Died: 1976
  • Japanese: 富田幸次郎 (Tomita Koujirou)

Tomita Kôjirô was a prominent scholar of Japanese art and head of the Asiatic Arts section of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A direct student of Okakura Kakuzô, he is considered one of the most influential scholars of Japanese art in the early 20th century USA.

Life and career

He first arrived in the United States in 1906, at the age of sixteen, as part of a government-sponsored mission to learn about Western industry and industrialization, and to promote Japanese traditional arts, particularly lacquerware. He hoped to establish a reputation as a prominent expert on aesthetics, and to see the societal role of intellectuals recognized and enhanced in stature.

Shortly after his arrival in the United States, he was hired by Okakura Kakuzô in 1909 to aid in translation and research efforts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the chief institution in the US at that time pioneering the field of Japanese art. Like Okakura, he made a point of appearing in kimono, so as to better present an appearance of authenticity in his persona as an Asian expert in Asian art and culture. Ironically, perhaps, he had never owned a kimono while growing up in Japan, where Western fashions had been adopted throughout the country; in order to better match American tastes and expectations of how a cultured Japanese ought to appear and dress, and in order to therefore earn respect and reputation, he wrote home in 1907, requesting that a formal kimono be made and shipped to him.

In 1910, he traveled to London, to represent Japan at the Japan-British Exposition, but returned to Boston roughly one year later, and remained at the Museum following Okakura's death in 1913. Working under John Ellerton Lodge, Okakura's successor as department head, Tomita became assistant curator in 1916, and full curator in 1931. In October 1921, he married Harriet Eliza Dickinson, a coworker at the museum.

Unlike his mentor, Okakura, Tomita was less strongly opposed to Westernization in Japan, and believed that Japan could pursue cosmopolitanism and internationalism without forsaking its tradition and distinctive cultural & national identity. He also less firmly believed in an inherent Japanese cultural superiority.

Tomita remained at the Museum for some time, passing away in 1976.


  • Chen, Constance J.S. "Transnational Orientals: Scholars of Art, National Discourses, and the Question of Intellectual Authority." Journal of Asian American Studies. 9:3 (October 2006). pp215-242.