Public Garden Memories

Voices And Images Of Those Remembered

Kaji Aso


Story By: Ivanha Paz
Video By: Ivanha Paz

Scroll down to see a Japanese translation of this article

“What a nice day,” Kate Finnegan said, as she looked up at a Japanese mountain cherry blossom tree, in full bloom, while preparing for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony on April 19. The Public Garden was bustling. After a brief chill, the warm Saturday afternoon had drawn the winter-weary city outside. Wearing dark indigo Japanese kimonos, Finnegan and her two assistants spread a red carpet on the grass. Those visiting the garden looked on from afar.

Under the cherry tree, is a plaque with a Haiku engraved: “Day is over
Yet, still cherry petals
Are Flying.” The author of this haiku is Kaji Aso, an artist. The cherry blossom was planted to honor him.
The tree and plaque were donated to the Garden in 2006, when Aso passed away after battling cancer. In 1980, the City of Boston honored him as a Distinguished Bostonian.

Aso was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1937. After graduating Tokyo University of Art, he moved to Boston in 1967 and worked as an art teacher at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Tufts University, and Cambridge School of Arts. In 1972, Aso founded his own studio, Kaji Aso Studio in Back Bay. It remains active to this day.

Initially, Aso had intended to settle in San Francisco, but he found an enormous Japanese population there, and decided to go to the other coast. Aso never wanted to live far from the water. His answer: Boston. At first, he planned on staying here a few years, then move to Cuba to establish his art school. His plans changed when his pupils, talented young artists, convinced him to stay in Boston – and stay he did, for the rest of his life.

His studio focuses on European Impressionist art, one of Aso’s most important influences being William Turner in Western art history. In addition, he encouraged his students to learn the art of other genres and cultures: watercolor painting, Japanese sumi (black ink) painting, Japanese tea ceremony, poetry, and even music. He believed that all forms of art were significant. It was his dream to create a space where they all coexisted.

Finnegan, from Washignton DC, was a student of Aso in his watercolor and oil painting class at Tufts University. She kept in touch with Aso after graduation, and supported him in founding the Kaji Aso Studio. Now she is a board member of the studio and teaches various art forms.

Katie Sloss from Newton has known Aso since 1973, when she attended his art class at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln. She still remembers the first day. Around 15 students came to a classroom, empty except for the canvases. There were no models, no distractions. “Alright, start painting,” Aso told them.

“It was like, ‘Okay, jump out of the airplane,’” said Sloss.

Professor Aso walked around the room and commented on each of the students’ paintings. Sloss was impressed how carefully and personally he communicated with each student.

Finnegan remembers her first assignment as well. Aso told his students to paint the sky. She recognized that he viewed human beings as a part of nature. “All of his inspiration came from nature,” Finnegan said.

Aso also gave Sloss the assignment to paint the sky; no sun, no birds, no clouds. It was a challenge that led her to experiment with colors. The notion that sky, or space, is shared by everyone on this planet was at the core of Aso’s art, as well as his vision of life..

Kaji Aso can’t be described simply as an artist. He was a poet, marathon runner, tenor, adventurer, philosopher, and what can only be classified as a “bon vivant.” He considered all of these activities as necessary to polish and refine his artistic sensibilities. He ran the Boston Marathon37 times –a record that yet to be broken by any other Japanese runner.

Sloss, 72, shared those art-related activities with Aso. He once treated Sloss to a casual Kaiseki, a Japanese traditional dinner, at his tea house. Another time, they sang opera together at his studio. Aso wore a traditional Naples costume and sang “O Sole Mio” followed by Sloss with the chorus.

“I think he wanted to live well and help other people to live well,” Sloss said. “And he enjoyed the time together.”

Honoring Aso at the Public Garden was a natural decision for those at the studio. The garden was a favorite place of his. He would often rollerblade alone along the garden at 2 AM, when silence blanketed the city. The mountain cherry blossom was selected because of its vitality and color.

When Aso came to the US in 1967, he was shocked to see people walking down the street and sipping coffee. In the Japan that he came from, coffee-to-go looked “too busy.” “When do they stop drinking coffee? Why don’t they sit down?” This is one of the main reasons he decided to import the Japanese tea ceremony to Boston.

The tea ceremony is often seen as solemn and traditional, but the actual meaning goes beyond that, according to Finnegan. “The main part of the reason of the tea ceremony is,” Finnegan said, “to have a calm, peaceful moment in your life.”

Anri Tsuji, 19, came from Nagasaki, Japan, and started an internship at the studio last year. At the end of the ceremony, Finnegan asked her to make very light Matcha tea and poured it on Aso’s tree. The nutrition of the tea helps the tree to be healthy, according to Finnegan. Tsuji crouched under the tree and tilted a green vase named “Midori-kaki” close to the root.

“I am Japanese, but learning Japanese culture has only been possible after leaving my country. It is so interesting,” Tsuji said.

Kaji Aso would doubtless have nodded in agreement.

Story By:  Aya Minami


ケイト・フィネガンさんはそう言って、頭上の桜の樹を見上げた。日本を代表する山桜は、春の陽気に包まれて満開だ。4月19日の昼過ぎ、彼女と二人のアシスタントは、パブリックガーデンで茶道の準備をしていた。前日まで肌寒かった天気と打って変わり、この日のガーデンは多くの人で賑わっていた。濃紺の着物を着たフィネガンさんは、青々とした芝生に鮮やかな赤の敷物を敷く。なんとも異国情緒ある光景に立ち止まったボストンの人々は 、少し離れた場所から、じっと茶道の様子を伺っていた。


“Day is over, yet cherry petals are flying.”


39年間ボストンで活動を続けた麻生さんは、2006年にがんとの闘病の末にこの世を去った。彼は 1980年にボストンの名誉市民にも選ばれた、ボストンに愛された日本人だ。麻生さんにとっても、ボストン、とりわけパブリックガーデンは愛着のある場所だ。世界が寝静まった 深夜2時に、麻生さんはよくガーデンでローラーブレードをしていたという。麻生さんの思い出に桜を植えよう、というアイデアは彼にぴったりだった。記念碑の俳句から日本の桜にしようと決まり、健康に長生きするという理由で山桜が選ばれた。



ウィリアム・ターナーをはじめとしたヨーロッパの印象派に傾倒していた麻生さんだが、水彩画、油絵、版画、墨絵など様々な美術をたしなみ、生徒にも幅広くアートを学ぶようにと教えていた 。彼のスタジオではそれ以外に茶道、俳句、そして音楽がクラスの一環だ 。


ニュートンに住んでいるケイティ・スロスさんが麻生さんと出会ったのは1973年、 リンカーンにあるデ・コルドバ美術館で開催されていた麻生さんのアートクラスに参加したときのことだ。15名ほどの参加者が着席した教室には、デッサンやモデルに使えそうなものは用意されていなかった。麻生氏は開口一番、こう言った。「では、絵を描きましょう」





麻生さんを シンプルに「アーティスト」と表現するのは、少し違う。麻生さんは実に多彩な顔を持つ。詩人、茶道家、ランナー、冒険家、テノール歌手、哲学者、そして美食家。 全米最大級のマラソン大会・ボストンマラソンを37回完走したという麻生さんの記録は、日本人最多であり、未だ破られていない。彼は亡くなった2006年の大会でも、69歳にして完走を果たしている。



麻生さんがアメリカにやってきた60年代後半、日本には「歩きながらコーヒーを飲む」という習慣はなかった。なんて忙しい街なんだ、なぜボストンの人は ゆっくり座ってお茶を飲まないんだ。麻生さんはこうした疑問から、ボストンで精力的に茶道を教えるようになった。





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