Major tourist attractions are all well and good, but it’s only when you live in a place that you discover all the little places that are rarely visited by the average traveller. These might include specialist art galleries, hidden parks or tiny museums that aren’t listed in many guides. One such museum in Kumamoto is the Tokutomi Memorial Garden.
Located about a 15/20 minute walk from the centre of Kumamoto, the 3-floor museum has exhibits that are displayed entirely in Japanese, so it may be of limited interest to the foreign visitor. There was no English pamphlet available, but for a mere 200 Yen entrance I didn’t feel like I was missing out.
The exhibits consisted mainly of rows of old books, but they were closed so you couldn’t see what was in them. Aside from that there were a few old posters of interest, and basically that is all there was to it. Outside there was a traditional style Japanese house, but on my visit the windows were so dirty and clouded over that I couldn’t see into the building (but photos by other visitors on the internet have led me to believe that the rooms might be available for viewing at other times of year.) Despite being tiny, the garden was quite nice, with some impressive trees casting a shadow over the museum.
So, with no English explanations, my visit taught me very little as to what the Tokutomi Memorial Garden and Museum is for. My research has since enlightened me to the fact that is was the family home of the Tokutomi family, most notably the Tokutomi brothers (one a journalist/historian and the other a philosopher/author.)
Tokutomi Soho (1863 – 1957) was actually called Tokutomi Iichiro – Soho was his pen name. Despite not being able to graduate from Doshisha University (in Kyoto) where he studied, Soho was clearly an academically gifted individual and a talented writer.
In Kumamoto he started a local newspaper, and later when he lived in Tokyo, Soho founded the Min’yusha Publishing company, which specialized in printing the first general newspapers of Japan.
Unusual for a Japanese man of his time, Soho was controversially liberal and encouraged democracy and free speech, something which didn’t make him or his newspapers popular with the government of the time. However, by the 1900’s there had been a governmental shift and after the First Sino-Japanese War, Soho and his work became highly regarded and much respected. He was a close confidant of both Prime Minister Yamagata Aritomo and Prime Minister Katsura Taro.
In 1943 he was given the Order of Culture by the Japanese government for his literary contribution. However, two years later he was held under house arrest during the Occupation of Japan until August 1947 – he was viewed with much suspicion by the American Occupation Authorities and was thought of as a Class A War Criminal. The charges never came to trial, mainly because of his age (he was in his eighties at the time) and spent the remainder of his life at Atami.
Tokutomi Kenjiro (1868 – 1927) was the younger brother of Tokutomi Soho, though he is better known by his pen name Roka. He was a writer and philosopher, and he famously corresponded with Leo Tolstoy – a copy of this letter is on show at the Roka Park Museum. Prior to 1900, he worked on some of his brother’s publications, but after the success of his first book (The Cuckoo) he began working full time as an author. His books have been translated into several languages, including English, German and French.
So there we have it – unless you can read Japanese, none of these fascinating facts can be revealed to you upon visiting the Tokutomi Memorial Garden in Kumamoto, but now that you know the interesting history of the Tokutomi brothers, perhaps you will pay it a visit to see where those two intriguing characters spent their childhood years.