“To the lover of Oriental art there can be no place better worthy of a visit in Tokyo than the museum owned by K. Okura. The handsome building in which his treasures of art are installed stands crowning in the Reinanzaka hill in Akasaka, which last, when translated into the English tongue, means ‘the red hill’.
“The mercantile firm of Okura & Co. stands in the lead among the best firms in Japan, but aside from his active business career of the last fifty years Mr. Okura has done more than any one individual to preserve to his country the art treasures of Japan.
“In the year 1880, Mr. Okura commenced this work of preservation, one of his large purchases at that time being a complete Shogun shrine. The enforced separation of Buddhism and Shintoism brought sacred articles belonging to both religions upon the market, and for thirty-five years Mr. Okura has added to his collection whenever an opportunity offered.
“The entire museum is open for the inspection of the public free of charge on presentation of permits which are obtainable at any of the embassies.”
– “Tokyo, the Leading City of the Far East”, by C.E. Ferguson, Overland Monthly, Vol. 55, January, 1910
“It is not improbable that the first plunge into Oriental art on Japanese soil should be taken by another foreigner as it was by me in viewing the collection of Baron Okura at his museum in Tokyo.
“This is a great house filled in all its rooms and stories with Asiatic antiques. Here are hundreds of remarkable bronze figures of Buddha from Tibet, Siam, China and Korea as well as from the ancient shrines of Nippon.
“Hindu divinities abound. Kwannon, goddess of mercy and help to man, some examples with eleven heads; other with two score of hands, each holding an emblem of toil are here in scores. The terrible threatening Deva gods mostly in carved wood who guard the temples are here in dozens. Woe, you say, to the evil spirits whom ill-advised malignity send in their direction.
“And these, it is well to know, reveal the outward signs of a great religion generation after generation, from many lands of the East, the most modern three hundred and the most ancient thirteen hundred years old.
“… Here first I saw great examples of the golden lacquer work in boxes and desks and netsuke whose graven work of gold upon gold is a dream of artistry, also lacquer work in larger variety of sealing-wax red. The collection is one of the glories of the nation and has been made by a man who built his own fortune, and active today at eighty, mingles his business and his archeology with the enthusiasm of twenty-five.”
– Japan at First Hand: Her Islands, Their People, by Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke, 1918
“The Okura Museum of Art was the first private museum in Japan, built to house the collection of pre-modern Japanese and East-Asian Art amassed since the Meiji Restoration by industrialist Ōkura Kihachirō. The museum collection includes some 2,500 works, among which are three National Treasures and twelve Important Cultural Properties. The museum and all the exhibits on display were destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake although works then in storage survived. The exhibition hall was rebuilt in 1927 by leading architect and architectural historian Itō Chūta and is a Registered Cultural Property. The museum collection was subsequently augmented by the founder’s son, Ōkura Kishichirō.”
“In contrast to most of the zaibatsu (literally, “financial clique”; industrial conglomerate), the Ōkura zaibatsu was founded by someone from the peasant class. Ōkura moved from what is now Niigata Prefecture on the north shore of Honshū to Edo and worked for three years before starting his own grocery store in 1857. After selling groceries for eight years, he became a weapons dealer during the turbulent years between the arrival of the Black Ships and the eventual overthrow in 1867 of the Tokugawa Shogunate. He became one of the principal business investors of the original Imperial Hotel completed in 1890.”