Remembering Frances Blakemore, artist and good friend to Japan
TOKYO — Frances Baker was one of the more important foreign women in the history of Japan. She was a leading patron of the Japanese arts, a University of Washington graduate in painting, sculpture and design, who had come to the country in 1936 as the wife of an American missionary, and left half a century later, as the wife of a prominent American lawyer. In between she forged a trail of important accomplishments and goodwill activities.
Frances's first marriage was over in six months (a huge mistake, she liked to call it — a hot-blooded girl married to a cold blooded man with the only good thing out it being it brought her to Japan). Upon her divorce, she moved into a one-room apartment in Tokyo, and, to support herself, she taught English (to groups of students from Keio and Waseda Universities). She also painted murals in Ginza coffee shops, bars and night clubs, where the sight of a young red-haired Caucasian girl was enough to cause a full house at anytime of day or night.
Japan was in the middle of a military build up — its government shouting insults across the Pacific to Americans who had been complaining about Japan's advances into Manchuria — but still the Japanese people were intensely curious about foreigners because there were so few of them in their midst. At the time Frances was one of 500 English-speaking foreigners in the city. She was such a big attraction that one coffee shop advertised her painting on the walls of the Ginza Line subway stations!