About Our Founders

Frances and Thomas Blakemore

The Blakemores during a hunting trip to Izu Peninsula, 1960s. From Michiyo Morioka's An American Artist in Tokyo.

Thomas Blakemore (1915-1994)

Born in 1915 in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, Thomas Blakemore graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1936 with an B.A. in physics, and received his law degree from its Law School in 1938.

A chance encounter with Walter Rogers of the Institute of Current World Affairs (also known as the Crane-Rogers Foundation) changed the course of his life. The Institute offered the young American lawyer a grant to study comparative law at Trinity Hall College at Cambridge University in England (1938-1939), and then sent him to Japan to study Japanese language and law at Tokyo Imperial University (1939-1941) under the tutelage of Professor Kenzo Takayanagi.

Thomas Blakemore

During World War II, Mr. Blakemore served as an Army captain with the Office of Strategic Services in China and returned to Japan at war's end as a Foreign Service Officer. He subsequently joined the legal division of General MacArthur's Allied Occupation staff, and from 1946 to 1949 worked on the review and revision of the major Japanese legal codes. Mr. Blakemore's English translation of the revised Japanese Criminal Code was published in 1950.

In 1950, he took and passed the three-day Japanese bar examination in Japanese, becoming the first foreign lawyer in the post-war period to be admitted to the practice of law with full courtroom status. As founder and senior partner of the firm of Blakemore & Mitsuki, he practiced law for 40 years in Japan with an emphasis on international legal matters. He represented many of the leading American and European companies doing business in Japan.

Thomas Blakemore

In 1987 Mr. Blakemore was decorated by Emperor Hirohito with the Order of the Sacred Treasure Third Class for his contributions to Japan's legal system.

Active in the founding of Tokyo's International House of Japan, Mr. Blakemore served on its governing board until his retirement. As a Field Associate of the American Museum of Natural History, he organized and led expeditions for the Museum in search of specimens of a number of Asian mammals, including the Hokkaido bear, the kamoshika and the Iriomote cat.

He was an avid fly-fisherman and helped convert the neglected Yozawa River in the Okutama mountains into one of the finest fly-fishing streams in Japan. In later years, he became involved in experimental horticulture and introduced new varieties of fruit trees at his farm in Itsukaichi with the assistance of faculty and students from Japan's national agricultural college.

Thomas Blakemore

All images of Thomas Blakemore are provided by the Blakemore family archives.

Frances Lee Wismer Baker Blakemore (1906-1997)

Frances Blakemore was born in Pana, Illinois but grew up in Eastern Washington, where her family moved when she was four. She graduated from the University of Washington in 1935 with a degree in painting, sculpture, and design.

Mrs. Blakemore later related, "In college, all of my contemporaries wanted to go to Paris, but I was different. I wanted to go to Japan." (Seattle Times/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 24, 1986, p. J10). And after graduation, she did indeed move to Tokyo to pursue her lasting interest in Japanese and Chinese art.

Frances Blakemore on the ferry to Sado, from Michiyo Morioka's "An American Artist in Tokyo."

At the outbreak of World War II, she joined the Office of War Information and later served in the Civil Information and Education Division of SCAP during the Allied Occupation.

An active and versatile artist, Frances Blakemore held a number of painting exhibitions in Tokyo and New York, wrote and illustrated books, and became director of exhibits for the American Embassy in Japan. She is the author of Japanese Design Through Textile Patterns (Weatherhill, 1978, Fifth Printing 1984) and Who's Who in Modern Japanese Prints (Weatherhill, 1975, Fifth Printing 1983).

Frances Blakemore in front of a mural she painted in the Daiichi Hotel, from Michiyo Morioka's "An American Artist in Tokyo"

She was a co-founder of Franell Gallery, located for many years in Tokyo's Okura Hotel, which displayed prints, paintings and sculpture by Japan's leading modern artists. Her own collection of Japanese textiles and stencils, now in the permanent collection of the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, was exhibited at museums throughout the United States and Australia.

For a biography of Frances Blakemore see An American Artist in Tokyo: Frances Blakemore 1906-1997, by Michiyo Morioka, published by the University of Washington Press, 2008.

Frances Blakemore with a jeep on the outskirts of Tokyo, from Michiyo Morioka's "An American Artist in Tokyo."

All pictures of Frances Blakemore are sourced from Michiyo Morioka's An American Artist in Tokyo: Frances Blakemore 1906-1997.