Okakura Tenshin was a Japanese scholar who contributed to the development of arts in Japan. Outside Japan, he is chiefly remembered today as the author of The Book of Tea.
Born in Yokohama to parents originally from Fukui, he attended Tokyo Imperial University, where he first met and studied under Ernest Fenollosa. In 1890, Okakura was one of the principal founders of the first Japanese fine-arts academy, Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko (Tokyo School of Fine Arts) and a year later became the head, though he was later ousted from the school in an administrative struggle. Later, he also founded Nihon Bijutsuin (Japan Institute of Fine Arts) with Hashimoto Gahou and Yokoyama Taikan. He was invited by William Sturgis Bigelow to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1904 and became the first head of the Asian art division in 1910.
Okakura was a high-profile urbanite who had an international sense of self. In the Meiji period he was the first dean of the Tokyo Fine Arts School (now the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music). He wrote all of his main works in English. Okakura researched Japan's traditional art and traveled to Europe, the United States, China and India. He gave the world an image of Japan as a member of the East, in the face of a massive onslaught of Western culture.
In Japan, Okakura, along with Fenollosa, is credited with "saving" Nihonga, or painting done with traditional Japanese technique, as it was threatened with replacement by Western-style painting (Youga), whose chief advocate was artist Kuroda Seiki. Beyond this, he was instrumental in modernizing Japanese aesthetics, having recognized the need to preserve Japan's cultural heritage, and thus was one of the major reformers during Japan's period of modernization beginning with the Meiji Restoration.