Young Kumagusu leaped out into the wider world when Japan was going through a metamorphosis from a feudal state into a westernized modern country. He went to America then to UK searching for a place where anybody, regardless of class, could study freely. He found it in the British Museum, where he put his heart and soul into research while buried in hundreds of books, arts and crafts and antiquities from the East and the West.
With ‘the Constellations in the Far East’ as a start, he contributed a total of 50 theses to ‘Nature’ and hundreds of articles and essays to a folklore magazine ‘Notes and Queries.’ This large number of articles shows he won an important place in the British academia.
He was blessed with an extraordinary memory and manipulated more than 10 languages. In addition, plenty of experience of copying books enabled him to master how to scrutinize empirical documents and the methods of comparative cultural studies, which was the basis of his unbounded capacity in writing. ‘Junishiko (A Study of Twelve Animals of Chinese Zodiac)’, one of his most important works, is the example.
After coming back to Japan he wrote a number of articles in quick succession for Japanese journals and magazines. Discussions of historical evidence from the East and the West between Kunio Yanagita, as shown in their abundant correspondence, had a great influence to the birth and the development of Japanese folklore studies
‘The Illustrated Book of Bionomics of Japanese Fungi,’ one of his greatest achievements and the embodiment of his admiration mixed with rivalry to Curtis and Berkeley, made a huge contribution to the development of the study of fungi and thus deserves international recognition. It covers 4,500 species with 15,000 pictures. Although the entries were 500 less than planned, the book also introduced his extensive research on fungi, slime molds and algae including Minakatella longifila Lister, enigmatic behavior of slime molds and parasitic algae on fish.
His advocacy of anti-shrine-consolidation protests had its roots in his deepest anger towards the loss of inhabitants’ spiritual hubs and the extinct of the landscape with which people felt an affinity. The ecological relation between nature and human beings, which Kumagusu looked at through the studies of biology, folklore, ethnology and religion, is still something we should always keep in mind.
Late Shinzo Koizumi, chancellor of Keio University and an admirer of Kumagusu, paid his tribute: “We should write it in the academic history in Japan that a maverick scholar acquired such extensive knowledge and accomplished such great achievements.”
The Minakata Kumagusu Museum introduces the life and achievements of Kumagusu through the exhibitions of his memorabilia, related materials and books.