T ▪ House

An Interview with Akiko Yamazaki

An Interview with Akiko Yamazaki

One of the first things I learned when I met a real geisha is that geisha, or geiko as they’re called in Kyoto, translates to “art person.” They are the living, breathing embodiment of classical Japanese arts, perfecting their work every moment of every day. Every geisha I’ve met brings a timeless tradition to life in her own way.

That’s why I feel such a close connection to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. For the past fifty years, this iconic museum has brought a world-class collection of contemporary and ancient artworks. Their thought-provoking exhibits bring Eastern art to Western audiences, aligning with Tatcha’s mission to bring classical Japanese beauty rituals to modern women everywhere.

I was fortunate on one my visits to the museum to meet Akiko Yamazaki, Chair Commissioner and Trustee of the Asian Art Museum through a dear mutual friend. Akiko is one of the warmest people I’ve met, and we instantly bonded over a shared love for Kyoto and Japanese art. In addition to being an expert in the arts, Akiko is also a highly accomplished equestrian and owns championship-winning horses. Her eye for craftsmanship and artistry is an inspiration, and has helped lead me to new discoveries.

In honor of the Asian Art Museum’s 50th Commemoration and Golden Gala, I am so excited for you to get to know Akiko.


You are an entrepreneur many times over — you are a co- founder of the Wildlife Conservation Network, owner of Dressage Barn Four Wind Farms, and sit on several boards, including the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco — and you have two beautiful daughters as well. What advice would you give to someone looking for a new beginning, either in their career or making a change in their life?

Follow your passion and love!


We’re so excited about the Asian Art Museum’s 50th Anniversary! Can you tell us a little bit about the museum’s plans to celebrate?

The Asian Art Museum is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. Please stay tuned for the many celebratory events through the year, the first being our Golden Gala on February 11, for which Tatcha is our generous gift sponsor!


Your parents are Japanese, and you were born and raised in Costa Rica, coming to California to attend Stanford. What special perspectives did your multi-cultural upbringing give you?

I grew up in the warmth of Costa Rica and its people, in a disciplined Japanese home and school environment. I was lucky to arrive to a land of opportunities in California. I couldn’t be more fortunate.


You met your husband, Jerry Yang, who is the co-founder of Yahoo,  in Kyoto while you were both in a Stanford overseas studies program. Kyoto is one of my favorite places as well, so I wonder if you have some special memories there?

I had a Siberian Husky named Bowie (after David Bowie) in Kyoto. He was a beautiful brown husky with one blue eye and one brown eye. I lived along the Philosopher's Path and Bowie and I went on many walks off the beaten path.


I read in an interview that your parents often emphasized that "the journey is always more important than the end result.” How would you describe this stage of your journey, and what intrigues you most about the adventures ahead?

While it is true that the journey is important, they also said, “when the end is good, everything is good!” I am on many journeys. I have two horses contending for the Olympics this year (ridden by a professional but they belong to me). I have my own two horses which I hope to qualify for Nationals. The Asian Art Museum is celebrating its 50th Anniversary and we have big plans ahead. The Wildlife Conservation Network is spearheading the Elephant Crisis Fund… Some journeys will culminate in a definite result this year and some journeys are for the long haul. I like to have this positive tension in my life.


Your family’s collection of Chinese calligraphy was exhibited at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. What do you love most about these low-tech masterpieces?

The Chinese calligraphy is more of Jerry’s [my husband’s] collection. Chinese Calligraphy represents the highest form of scholarly art in Chinese art. My love is ceramics. I collect Song Dynasty ceramics and contemporary Japanese ceramics that were directly influenced by them. It is so fascinating to see what modern kiln technology allows today’s artists to achieve; yet the old masters perfected the form which continues to inspire today’s artists.

Not everyone knows what an accomplished dressage competitor you are, as well as owning some of the sport’s most-prized horses. I read that you started riding at age 6 because your mother enjoyed riding, but what made you want to stay with it for all these years?

It is my first love and my passion for life. I was born with the horse bug. I am also fortunate to be in a position to sponsor world-class horses who compete in the highest level of competition. It is very inspiring to be close to anything that is world class!


Where do you find your inspiration?

I find inspiration from anything or anyone that is excellent or strives to achieve excellence.


What are your secrets for feeling beautiful with your busy schedule? Do you have any special rituals?

I love Tatcha’s sunscreen. I discovered that it works really well as a primer!


Tatcha is based on the wisdom of generations, finely honed and handed down by women. Who has made your journey more beautiful, and what did they teach you?

My journey has been made more beautiful by my horses. They are not only beautiful beings, they keep you humble and honest. Horses live in the moment. Riding them is about what the feeling is in that moment. I don’t and can’t think about anything else. They are your loyal partners if you are honest yourself. They are a mirror into your soul.


The Asian Art Museum’s Golden Gala takes place today, February 11th. Please join me for this incredible event on our Instagram, where I’ll be sharing photos. For more information about the Asian Art Museum, visit their website at: http://asianart.org.


Victoria Signature

Victoria Tsai
Chief Treasure Hunter

Published February 11, 2016
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