Aizu was born in the Furumachi-dori of Niigata on August 1, 1881, and his birth date is a play on the characters for “eight” and “one”.
While at junior high school, he turned from sports to literature due to ill health and became a very cultured boy, submitting poems to the poet Shiki Masaoka’s haiku magazine Hototogisu and having essays on haiku serialized in his local newspaper. In August 1899 he attended a lecture by Shoyo Tsubouchi during a lecture tour at Tokyo Senmon Gakko, the predecessor of Waseda University, and was impressed by his poise and eloquence. He took a preparatory course at Tokyo Senmon Gakko High School from April 1902, and in September 1903 enrolled at the Department of Literature in Waseda University (which had changed its name the previous September) where he studied English literature. Under the tutelage of Shoyo Tsubouchi and, for just three months, guest lecturer Lafcadio Hearn, Yaichi learned about the poet Keats and the history of English literature, as well as ethnological observation methods, which contributed to his art history research in later years.
Although Aizu mastered his investigative approach to the history of art by himself, he knew about the traditional works of art of the master craftsmen of the Kiuchi family, one of whom was a fellow student from his college days, and Nara art taught by Kangetsu Awashima known as a person of culture, and he came into contact with western painting and art books through his cousin who was an art school student, all of which enabled him to cultivate an aesthetic sense and discerning eye. After graduating from Waseda University, Aizu returned to Niigata Prefecture where he became an English teacher at Yuko Gakusha, but in his lodgings were shelves of English and Japanese literature as well as Grecian art history books and Chinese classics and scriptures. The Chinese classics and scriptures were essential materials for studying Chinese art and Nara art, and it was during this time at Yuko Gakusha that Aizu really launched himself into art history research. In this way, Aizu’s art history was established as an area of learning that made use of research into actual works of art and research into historical documents, like the two wheels of a cart.
In September 1910, he became an English teacher at Waseda Junior High School, although this was under the patronage of Tsubouchi. While going on to teach English language and English literature at Waseda Junior High School, Waseda University Senior High School and Waseda University, he continued his research into art history and at last, in 1926, gained a position as lecturer in the history of oriental art at Waseda University’s Department of Literature. There, Aizu’s research into art history was finally acknowledged. Aizu had visited Nara for the first time during his days at Yuko Gakusha and understood the essence of Nara art, and he frequently visited Nara after moving to Tokyo. Just at that time, he purchased numerous Chinese antiques like burial goods, mirrors and tiles with which he began to build the foundations of the Aizu Collection. Of course he wanted them as actual materials for his education and research, and to get money for them he held sale exhibitions of his own calligraphic works, always took a drawing fee even from his relatives and old friends, and sometimes received support from Shoyo Tsubouchi and Shunjo (Kenkichi) Ichijima. Aizu’s study trips to Nara with his students were also the first of their kind in Japan, showing his thorough respect for the education and research of actual objects.
In “The Academic Culture of Respect for Real Objects” published in the Waseda University Newspaper in 1926, he wrote, “In order to learn, the most important thing is to observe real objects properly, to look at the order of things, not from far away. However well a theory is assembled, it is empty and void of learning unless it includes the credibility of having objects somewhere at its basis. Furthermore, I have been selling my own calligraphic works in order to buy teaching materials, but this alone is not enough. Waseda will be able to build a great collection in the long term if its students made to appreciate the above point, because there are so many students. I pray that a museum around the same size as the new library will stand over a corner of our campus at the earliest possible date.”
More than 70 years have passed since Aizu thus proposed the creation of a museum at Waseda University. It is all the more poignant that the Aizu Museum, which has brought his wishes to life somewhat, is the renovated former library designed by Kenji Imai (Building No.2), the then new library that Aizu wanted a museum to be as big as.
Former Director, Aizu Museum
Completed in 1925, the Aizu Museum building was the debut work of architect Kenji Imai (1895-1987) and initially constructed as Waseda University’s library. It is currently the second oldest reinforced concrete building in the university.
Students in those days would climb the large staircase in the center of the building and pass the painting “Meian” on their way to the second floor reading room (now a permanent exhibition room) where they would study. The polygonal roof and graceful curves incorporated throughout are of the school of expressionism and were remarkably original for a university building at that time. Although the building has a seemingly simple exterior, inside there are designs in every corner, including the eight-edged star-shaped fretwork adorning the great door, the six pillars holding up beautiful capitals, and the moon motifs positioned under the handrails of the staircase.