For 700 years, the Higo Domain on the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu has been the province of the Hosokawa clan. Their coat of arms, known as The Nine Planets, is shown on the bell and on the banners hanging from the ceiling.
The head of the clan was the daimyo, which translates as "great land holder". The daimyo had the multiple responsibilities of ruling his province and representing the interests of his region at court. During the age of the shogun, there were two courts, the emperor's palace in Kyoto, and the court of the shogun in Edo, now known as Tokyo, the seat of political power. Since the Hosokawa clan's ancestral land is on the island of Kyushu and both Edo and Kyoto are on the main island of Honshu, the Hosokawa clan had to maintain a fleet to make the trips back and forth.
The exhibition includes many household artifacts from the home of the daimyo, including this centuries old board for the great Asian game of strategy known as go in Japanese, and wei qi in Chinese and baduk in Korean. The pots in the foreground hold the black and white stones, which the players place on the cherry wood board to form walls and capture territory.
Also on display were beautiful ceremonial clothes. All the artifacts in the exhibition come from the Hosokawa clan, who hold one of the largest such collections in all of Japan. It is a remarkable stroke of fortune that these delicate objects survived the centuries, both the internal political upheaval in Japan and the American bombing of World War II, which burned vast sections of countless Japanese cities to the ground.
The current daimyo of the Hosokawa clan, Hosokawa Morihiro, was on hand for the opening. Though the political power of the hereditary position has been greatly reduced by land reforms instituted in both the 19th and 20th Centuries, Mr. Hosokawa had success in politics, serving both as a regional governor and as prime minister of Japan, as did his grandfather Fumimaro Konoe. He can trace his ancestry back twenty six generations, though he modestly admits that his family have been the daimyo of the Higo Region for only the last eighteen of those generations. He is seen here with Melissa Rinne, Assistant Curator of Japanese Art, who translated his remarks into English. They were also kind enough to answer some questions I had about the specifics of when a samurai became a ronin, and the circumstances in which a ronin might pledge his allegiance to a new daimyo.
Besides his career in politics and his work as a journalist after graduating from university, Mr. Hosokawa continues the family tradition of interest in the arts and culture, and his ceramic work shown here is included in the exhibition.
The exhibition continues until September 20. This will be the only American showing of the treasures of the Hosokawa clan, and it is a remarkable display, as is the permanent collection of the museum on the other floors. The Asian Art Museum is at 200 Larkin in the Civic Center neighborhood of San Francisco, easily accessible by BART and Muni.
All photos by Mike Strickland