Amita Co. artists: Minai, Torahiko Kanamori, Takeshi

Yamanaka & Co. [山中商会] (1894 ~ 2003)

Sadajiro Yamanaka in 1896

The founder of Yamanaka & Co., Sadajiro Adachi [安達定次郎], was born in 1866 in Sakai near Osaka and started working as an apprentice for his father who was an antique dealer. At the age of thirteen, Sadajiro was sent to work as a live-in apprentice with Kichibei Yamanaka [山中吉兵衛], a well-known antiques dealer in Osaka. Sadajiro worked hard and eventually married Yamanaka’s eldest daughter and took the Yamanaka family name, a widespread practice among families without male heirs. Having observed westerners in newly opened Japan frequenting antique shops, Sadajiro began to think about opening a Japanese art shop in the United States.
In 1894 at the age of 28, Yamanaka sent Sadajiro and his brother-in-law to New York to open a shop near Madison Square. It was an immediate success. Prominent American collectors purchased scrolls, tea ceremony utensils, inro [印籠] pouches, netsuke [根付] miniature figurines, statues of Buddha, screens, and bronze vases. By 1899, Yamanaka & Co. had opened shops in Boston and Atlantic City. Sadajiro returned to Osaka but retained control of the business, frequently travelling to the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere in Asia.

Yamanaka art gallery, Kyoto

In the background of the popularity of Japanese art was a series of world expositions in which the Japanese government and private business saw an opportunity to promote the export of Japanese products. From 1862 to 1876, Japanese participated in the world expositions in London, Paris, Vienna, and Philadelphia with exotic stage settings and a wide range of artwork. The Philadelphia expo attracted 9.8 million visitors most of whom were exposed to Japanese art for the first time. Prominent American collectors began to pay serious attention to Japanese art. Yamanaka & Co. prospered and expanded the business to resorts in Maine, Rhode Island, Florida, and Washington, D.C.
In the early 20th century, Yamanaka & Co. began to sell more Chinese than Japanese art. During the Meiji period, the government imposed restrictions on the export of artwork. In addition, the escalating price of Japanese artwork made it difficult to gain profit abroad.

Sadajiro Yamanaka (New York branch), Rokusaburo Yamanaka (London branch) and Shigejiro Yamanaka (Boston branch)

In contrast, Chinese artwork flowed in large quantities to American and European art markets. The collapse of the Ching Dynasty and the ensuing civil war caused wealthy Chinese families to sell their collections. Moreover, looting by soldiers and antique thieves who excavated graves and temples led to a rampant black market.
The influence of Chinese art on Japanese art began to be recognized. In 1912, Yamanaka & Co. became the exclusive agent of Prince Kung, among the last of the Ching imperial family. In Beijing, Sadajiro bought warehouse-sized collections of bronze, jade, and porcelain and sold them in New York, London, and Japan. Yamanaka & Co. opened its Beijing branch in 1917. In the same year, Yamanaka & Co. moved into the new Rockefeller building at Fifth Avenue in New York and relations with the Rockefeller family deepened. In 1919, the London branch was added with royal warrants of King George V and Queen Mary.
In the 1920’s, Japan suffered from the Kanto Great Earthquake and a worldwide depression, which caused the art business to stagnate. With the Manchurian Incident of 1931 and the establishment of Manchuko by Japan, the flow of Chinese art stopped amid the chaos in mainland China. In New York, Yamanaka & Co. experienced declining profits, which was illustrated in correspondence with their Rockefeller landlord on negotiations over rent.

London branch (opened in 1900 and closed in 1940).

The rising tension between the U.S. and Japan in 1930’s affected the art business seriously. The U.S. Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act imposed high tariffs on imports and in 1939, Yamanaka & Co. was investigated on suspicion of violating customs regulations. The authorities charged Yamanaka with manipulating prices of imported goods and filing false reports. There is no record, however, about the outcome of the investigation or what happened to artwork that was confiscated by customs. In July 1941, the U.S., British, Dutch and Chinese governments froze the assets of Japanese individuals and corporations and prohibited trade with Japan.
A letter in November 1941 from a gift shop owner in Cleveland to the Boston branch of Yamanaka illustrated the hostile mood. The letter apologetically informed Yamanaka that many of the gift shop’s clients were involved in the war effort and tended to be emotional about political issues. Therefore, the shop decided not to hold its annual Christmas exhibition that featured Yamanaka artwork. The letter emphasized that the shop cherished their twenty year friendly relations and the decision had nothing to do with personal friendship. A reply from Boston Yamanaka was equally cordial, friendly, and understanding.
In December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. In July, 1942, the Office of Alien Property Custodian (OAPC) confiscated the assets of Yamanaka & Co. According to OAPC reports, 1,792 individuals and corporations, including Yamanaka & Co., were labeled enemies. OAPC put up 57,000 works of art owned by Yamanaka, worth of millions of dollars, for auction at deep discounts. The New York Times reported that the auction included museum-class artwork as well as art books and inexpensive trinkets and furniture. The sales totaled $467,000 dollars of which $390,000 dollars went to the government and the balance to the auction agent, Park-Bernet Galleries.

OAPC kept on the Japanese staff as employees to take inventory. OAPC took this approach so as to lessen the disruption of the Oriental art market, to give easy access to Chinese art since China was ally, and to maximize profit for the government. Relying on the Japanese staff’s knowledge of Oriental art, their long-term relations with prominent collectors and museums, OAPC began to sell the art in an orderly fashion. OAPC relations with the Japanese staff were friendly, according to the author. Treatment of Japanese after Pearl Harbor varied according to location and community in the U.S. Japanese in the east coast were not affected by drastic measures as the eastern states were not designated a military zone. The number of Japanese arrested or relocated was small.

Even so, the confiscation was a blow to the Yamanaka family in Osaka and it never recovered. After the war, Yamanaka reopened the business in New York but closed its doors in 1965. In Japan, Yamanaka kept its store in Osaka open until 2003 but after that only one art dealer in the family remained active but was not associated with Yamanaka & Co.

Addresses and locations
Examples (from the web)