Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Samurai at the Asian Art Museum

When did June become such a busy month of blockbusters? Aren’t we all supposed to be toe-deep in the sand, reveling in the bliss of summer sloth?

Apparently not. As the culturati dished out endless dollops of tantalizing invites last month: Samurai at the Asian Art Museum, Tut at the de Young, Gordon Getty at the SF Conservatory of Music. And the indefatigable and stylish Charlotte Mailliard Shultz hosting a round of private parties with great panache.

First up? The opening-night gala for the Lords of the Samurai: The Legacy of a Daimyo Family exhibition (through Sept. 12) at the Asian Art Museum.

Michael Kim and his wife, Letitia Todd Kim, served as Samurai Gala co-chairs for this sold-out crowd of almost 400 supporters who raised some $200K for the Asian’s arts and education programs.

“We actually had to turn people away,” said Michael Kim, disappointed they could not fit more folks into to the museum.

However, Kim was still excited to see this stellar show (co-organized by Asian Art Museum Curator Yoko Woodson) that features 160 exquisite Samurai objets from the private family collection of former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa.

“The Samurai were often very poor but lived their life by the code of Bushido,” explained Kim. “These warriors were also very artistic and created beautiful poetry and paintings.”

Much of the ornate and heavy (55-lbs-plus) armor worn by the Samurai will look familiar even to the casual viewer as, at first glance, they appear to be of a more recent, big-screen vintage.

George Lucas was very much inspired by the Samurai and I love this exhibit because I’m a huge Star Wars fan!” said Kim, with a laugh.

Gala guests were greeted by the clashing sounds of Kendo enthusiasts who, draped in slightly spooky robes, expertly demonstrated their martial arts prowess.

Because of the origins of this exhibition, there was much protocol (a traditional Sake ceremony to kick-off the party) for the Honorary VIP co-chairs: The Hon. Morihiro Hosokawa; the Hon. Michael Armacost (former U.S. Ambassador to Japan and a Fellow at Stanford University’s Institute for International Studies) and the Hon. Yasumasa Nagamine (Consul General of Japan) and the Hon. George Shultz (former Secretary of State).


Consul General of Japan Yasumasa Nagamine and his wife, Ayako Nagamine, former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and Asian Art Museum Director Jay Xu

There was also many beautiful gowns and traditional costumes in attendance, too. Akiko Yamazaki went modern in a gorgeous Colleen Quen Asian-inspired top coat. And Judy Wilbur (a linchpin of the Asian’s new building and whose family co-founded The Asia Foundation) wore a resplendent kimono presented to her late mother-in-law, Dita Wilbur, during Dita’s many trips there with the family’s import-export business.

“She would be very pleased to know that this robe had made its way out of the closet,” laughed Wilbur.

As guests dug into a delish Asian-inspired dinner (Bing cherry soup with Shiso; Hamachi and green papaya salad; Loch Duart salmon in mirin and soy and ginger creme brulee tart)served up by McCall Associates Executive Chef Lucas Schoemaker, Asian Art Foundation Chairman Dixon Doll made an announcement.

“There are two things we’re very proud of at the Asian Art Museum,” said Doll. “One, we throw the best parties! And two, we give the shortest speeches!”

However due to a crowded roster of exalted personages and a translator for the Prime Minister, this was not quite the case. But guests were, nonetheless, fascinated.

“Some guests have remarked tonight on how much the Samurai resemble Darth Vader,” said Asian Art Museum Director Jay Xu. “To which I must correct them and say, Darth Vader looks like the Samurai!”

The ebullient Xu went on to explain that the exhibition represented 700 years and 18 generations of the Hosokawa family -- one of the most prominent Samurai clans in the history of Japan.

“We are honored to host this collection which tells of the long history and artistic achievements of the Hosokawa family and Japanese culture at large,” said Xu. “This exhibition is the first time such a collection has been presented in such a complete manner, anywhere in the world.”

Hosokawa, himself an acclaimed tea practitioner as well as a skilled calligrapher, explained to the crowd that among all the Daimyo collections in Japan, his family’s is noted because of its dedication to culture and literature: “In Samurai culture, one of the highest ideals is to wield both the sword and the brush.”

Next up was our new favorite event speaker, Union Bank President Masaaki Tanaka who served as Lead Corporate Sponsor of the event. Honestly? This charming and well-spoken man should be booked at every event.

“It would be very easy to think of the art in this collection as nothing more than a remembrance of history,” said Tanaka. “But the history of this exhibition is important because it shows a way of life as rare now as it was 100 years ago.”

Tanaka then briefly touched on the tenants of Bushido -- courage, benevolence, honor, loyalty, integrity.

“These historic concepts, the inner spirit of the Samurai,” said Tanaka, “speak to the constants we should appropriate into our current life.”

Check out more photos below


Asian Art Foundation Trustee Michael Kim and his wife, Letitia Todd Kim served as Samurai Gala co-chair


Asian Art Foundation Trustee and Lead Corporate Chairman Masaaki Tanaka, Asian Art Foundation Chairman Dixon Doll, CA Bank of America President Janet Lamkin and Richard Rosenberg


Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and his wife, Asian Art Foundation Trustee Akiko Yamazaki


Asian Art Foundation Trustees Gorretti Lo Lui and Judy Wilbur


The Hon. Michael Armacost and Asian Art Commissioner Bill Kim


Members of the Northern CA Kendo Federation battle it out in front of the Asian Art Museum at the Samurai Gala


George Norton and Asian Art Foundation Trustee David Lei with (from left) Jane Tom, Lynda Lei, Jennifer Chen and Asian Art Commissioner Martha Hertelendy


Chris and Michael Boskin


The Sake Ceremony

Grace King and her sister, Philomena King

Scott Harkonen and Sandy Mandel

Troy and Angelique Griepp

Carol Doll, Gretchen Kimball and Marion Cope

Kelly Grimes and Lionel Shaw

Iron military helmet with headband decoration, 1600s, Japan, Edo period

Christopher Contos and Alexandria Marcus

Michelle Curtis and Roberta Economidis

Full-body Samurai armor