Across the Atlantic Ocean the ship arrived at Liverpool. Coming to London Kumagusu visited Yoshikusu Nakai, branch manager of the Yokohama Shokin Bank, an old friend of the Minakata family from Wakayama. The man handed him a letter from Tsunegusu, one of his younger brothers, about their beloved father’s death. Kumagusu was totally devastated.
He lived in downtown London where rents were cheap. While working on herbaria and exchanging specimens and letters with William W. Calkins and Allen, he visited the British Museum, the South Kensington Museum and other galleries. He then was introduced to a Japanese Oriental antique dealer Kataoka Prince.
In August 1893, Kumagusu read in Nature magazine, his favorite since the time in US, a thesis entitled ‘Five articles about the composition of constellations,’ the questions in which inspired him to write a reply. Kataoka Prince, who had noticed the erudition of the shabbily looking man, introduced him to Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, the first keeper of British and medieval antiquities and ethnography at the British Museum. Kumagusu visited the museum more often to ask advice from Sir Wollaston.
Using a fragmented dictionary borrowed from the landlady, he completed an article entitled ‘the Constellations in the Far East’ in 30 days. The article was published in ‘Nature’ and he suddenly became famous among the intelligentsia. He contributed regularly to the magazine after that and also started writing for ‘Notes and Queries.’ He continued to write a number of articles and letters to the magazines after going back to Japan and won a reputation worldwide as an authority on the Oriental studies.
His rising reputation opened the door to friendships with notable figures including Frederick. V. Dickins, registrar of London University, as well as people from the British Museum including Sir Robert K. Douglas, director of the Oriental Books Section and Charles H. Reed, the successor to Franks.
He visited the British Museum almost every day. While immersing himself into reading of rare books of all ages from the East and the West, particularly in the fields of archeology, anthropology, folklore and religion, he copied them onto notebooks. A collection of 52 thick notebooks from this period called ‘London Extracts’ is kept in the Minakata Residence and the Minakata Kumagusu Museum. The pages are densely covered with tiny letters he put in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek and Latin.
Douglas, who had been impressed with his extensive knowledge, offered Kumagusu a job at the British Museum, but he declined the offer in light of freedom. Instead, he helped make a catalog of the books and manuscripts of the library and conduct historical research on the Buddhist statues of the museum using his expertise that had been accumulated through reading and transcribing of a large number of books including classics and encyclopedia since childhood.
One of the highlights in London was getting to know Sun Yat-sen, father of the Chinese Revolution. Kumagusu put it in his diary how they hit it off straight away on first acquaintance at the Douglas’s office in the British Museum in March 1897 and quickly developed a friendship through visiting each other and talking till late almost every day. The descriptions, though very brief, reveal the closeness between two friends. Their company lasted only four months until Sun had to leave London for Asia in early July.
Meeting with Horyu Toki, who later was the chief abbot of the Koyasan Temple, also deserves special mention. Kumagusu and Toki, much senior to him, opened up each other and exchanged frank opinions about religion. They wrote to each other until later years.
Many famous figures from Japan visited Kumagusu in London. They all were astonished at his erudition and shocked at his total disinterest in daily life. Although highly regarded by some scholars, Kumagusu sometimes experienced discrimination because of his ethnicity, the cause for his frequent reckless behaviors leading up to the departure from the British Museum in December 1898.
Frequent delay of money expected from the family in Japan forced him to make ends meet. He undertook a job to translate the titles for the calligraphy collection at the South Kensington Museum and sold Ukiyoe with his friends. High hopes of becoming an assistant professor at the soon-to-be opened Japanology program in Cambridge or Oxford were gone when the plan was turned down. Forced into straitened circumstances, he made a decision in despair to leave UK, where he had spent eight years. In September 1900 Kumagusu got on board Awa Maru at the port on the Thames and went home.
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