About me, Contact




Contact Address


TenmanguGate DSC02689

Ladprao DSCN5171

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Chiiori Co. Ltd.,
Yada-Tenmangu  Mubanchi
Higashi-Kakiuchi, Kamiyada-cho,
Kameoka-shi, Kyoto-fu
JAPAN  621-0856



15/25 City Lake Tower
Soi 16 Sukhumvit Road
Bangkok 10110
Tel/Fax: +66 (2) 259-4896

About Me


I've lived most of my life outside of America, largely in Japan and Thailand, both of which I think of as "home".  My great passion is the traditional arts and environment of East Asia.

Academic background, Employment, Background in East Asian Art and Literature

About Me




About AAK_resize

Alex Kerr   

Born: June 16, 1952
Maryland, USA
Citizen: USA

I've lived most of my life outside of America, largely in Japan and Thailand, both of which I think of as "home".  My great passion is the traditional arts and environment of East Asia which I believe have so much to teach the world.

Growing up in a Navy family, I lived in many places, from Naples Italy (my first language was Italian), to Honolulu  and Washington DC. My family came to Japan in 1964, and after that I came and went constantly for summers, vacations, and forth, eventually majoring in Japanese Studies at Yale.

I went on afterwards to do Chinese Studies at Oxford.  In my final year there in 1977 I ran out of money, and seeing that I could earn Ł50 if I won a prize for an essay, I submitted one on the subject of Tibet, then (and now) a deep personal interest. This
essay won the Oxford Chancellor's English Essay prize, the first time it had been awarded to an American. While it took another decade before I began writing again in earnest, this was the beginning of my writings, which today I think of as my main occupation.

When I finally finished college education, I took up a job in 1977 at the Oomoto Foundation in Kameoka, on the outskirts of Kyoto.  For the next twenty years I helped to managed the Oomoto School of Traditional Japanese Arts, and also worked as translator for Oomoto and many other Japanese religious groups (Shinto and Buddhist) at world inter-religious conferences.

During the period that I was at Oomoto, I had great freedom to spend time away from the headquarters, giving me the chance to explore my interests in Kabuki, Calligraphy, Art Collecting and so forth, experiences which I wrote about in the book
Lost Japan (1993 Japanese, 1996 English).

The art collecting began as a hobby (I started with old Edo-period printed books), but in time came to be an occupation when I found that I had become an art dealer. Today I continue to collect and sell Japanese paintings ans calligraphy, (see 
Fine Arts), expanding into Thai crafts and modern design, as well. In order to repair and mount the old scrolls and screens which I had collected, I set up a mounting studio, first in Kyoto, and now in Bangkok, Thailand.  At the studio, we use glues, papers, and brocades from Japan, while the work is managed by an experienced Thai staff trained by a classical Kyoto mounter.

In 1984, there was a fateful meeting with Trammell Crow, founder and chairman of Trammell Crow Company, leading Dallas real estate developer.  I began as advisor to Trammell's art collection, but later ended up managing the company's operations in Japan during the "bubble" years of the late 1980's and early 1990's. This background in business proved very helpful in writing my later book
Dogs and Demons (2001 English, 2002 Japanese) which tried to combine a study of finance and the bureaucracy with cultural issues — to show that Japan's modern malaise arises from the same causes in all these fields.

My first trip to Thailand was in the mid 1970's as a student, but I began visiting in earnest in the late 1980's when I tried to get Trammell Crow Co to invest in Bangkok.  I became so interested in the arts of Southeast Asia in general and Thailand in particular that in 1997 I moved my base from Kyoto to Bangkok. I now live about half the year in my home in Kameoka; and the other half in an apartment in Bangkok.

In fact, since the "move" I've ended up spending even more time in Japan than I had before.  The reason is that the issues in Dogs and Demons have now come center stage in Japan, and I'm now involved in many different activities:  speaking at various events in Japan and elsewhere, and consulting for provincial Japanese towns and cities that want to improve their environment,  Since 2004, I've restored about 25 houses in Kyoto, Iya Valley, Ojika Island (Nagasaki prefecture) etc, and I and my team are now working on similar projects in other towns.

Meanwhile, I continue managing the
Origin Program of Traditional Asian Arts.  The Oomoto program was unique, and in the process of running it we developed a unique way of teaching traditional Japanese arts to modern people. After 1997 I revived the program outside Oomoto, and I now run the program in three places:  as "Origin Program" in Bangkok and Chiangmai, Thailand (for Thai and Lanna traditional arts),and as the "Kyoto Program" in venues in and around Kyoto (for Japanese traditional arts).

My leisure time is spent listening to music, watching theater, and when I have time and a bottle of Shiraz wine and a good friend with me, then I spend an evening doing
calligraphy.  When just nine years old, I attended a school near Washington DC that introduced children to Chinese characters, and I fell in love with writing them.  Ever since then I've been writing Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, and this is still my great joy.


Academic background

Jun 64 - Aug 66

First came to Japan (with family, posted at Yokohama Navy Base).



Sep 69 - May 74

Yale University, Japanese Studies B.A. (Summa Cum Laude)



Sep 72 - Jul 73

Keio University (International Center).  Rotary International Scholar. Japanese Certificate.



Sep 74 - May 77

Oxford University, Balliol College.  Rhodes Scholar from Florida.  Chinese Studies, B.A. and M.A.  


May 77 - Aug 97

Oomoto Foundation, International Dept. Oomoto is a Shinto foundation, emphasizing international activities based on interfaith activities and traditional arts.  I managed school of traditional Japanese arts.



Jan 84 - Jan 93

Consultant for Trammell Crow art collection



Oct 84 - present

Founded Chiiori Ltd., specializing in Japanese and Chinese Fine Arts



Oct 86 - Jan 93

Japan Representative for Trammell Crow Co., largest US real estate developer, based in Dallas, Texas



Aug 96 - Dec 96

Visiting Associate Professor, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto



Sep 97

Move from Japan to Thailand. However, remain active in Japan with Chiiori Ltd. business and cultural activities.



Sep 97 – Jul 04

President of Chiiori Co. Ltd. (Thailand), specializing in East Asian antique arts and modern crafts.. From 2010 onwards, Chiiori is active across Japan in regional consulting and restoration.



Jan 2004 - Oct 2010

Founded Iori Corporation, based in Kyoto, where we restored old houses. After leaving Iori in 2010, I continue to restore old houses across Japan through my company Chiiori Ltd.



Jan 2005

President of ORIGIN Asia Co Ltd in Thailand. ORIGIN teaches traditional Thai arts in Bangkok and Chiangmai.  



Nov 2010 - present

Regional consulting in Japan through Chiiori Ltd.  This is an expansion of the work I did while at Iori, now with a nationwide scope.  We have done projects in Iya Valley (Shikoku), Ojika Island (Kyushu), Totsukawa Village (Nara prefecture), Utazu and Mitoyo Towns (Kagawa prefecture), etc

Background in East Asian Arts and Literature

May 73 - present

Purchased a 200 year old farmhouse "Chiiori" in Iya Valley, Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku. Rethatched, Jun 88.



Oct 78 - present

Translator for Japan's religions, including Shrine Shinto, Zen Buddhism, etc.



Oct 79 - present

Calligraphy exhibitions and shows of my own calligraphic works.   Incl: Washington Cathedral (1979); annual Kyoto Shinbun "Leading Artists of Kyoto Show" (since 1987), etc.



Sep 90 - present

Cultural Events: art works, dance, tea ceremony, flowers, and calligraphy.  Incl: Nov 93 at Manpukuji Temple; Oct 94 at Yushima Confucian Temple, Tokyo; Dec 98 at Suan Pakkard Palace, Bangkok;  Sep 01 at the National Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; 02~07, annual June-July Toyota Teachers program in Japan; June 06 Indonesian and Thai dances at Mangkunegaran Palace, Solo, etc

In 2005, these programs were organized under the name ORIGIN programs, dedicated to teaching traditional arts in Japan (Kyoto) and Thailand (and other Asian countries in the future).



Nov 84 - present

Appearances on TV and radio. Appearances on TV and radio.  Including:  Sep 94 Asahi TV "News Station" special guest; Mar 95  Host of final segment of NHK TV series on tea ceremony;  Sep 02, featured on NHK "Haro Nippon", since 2001 regular interviews on BBC, June 07 TBS "Jonetsu Tairiku", Jan 08 NHK "Manyoshu" and NHK "Kokoro no Butsuzo", etc



1992 - present

Interviews and book reviews in magazines & newspapers. Incl:  New York Times, Geijutsu Shincho Mag., Nippon Keizai Shinbun Npr. (Newspaper), Sankei Shinbun Npr, Japan Times Npr., Shukan Asahi Mag., Yomiuri Npr., Fujin Gaho Mag., Esquire (Japan) Mag., Elle Decor (Thailand), Bangkok Post Npr, Architectural Digest, President Mag. etc., Bloomberg, New York Review of Books, Newsweek, Waraku, Brutus, Art and Antiques, etc,



May 94

Shincho Literature Prize (Shincho Gakugei-sho), awarded for best work of non-fiction in Japanese (first foreign recipient) for book: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan (written in Japanese)



Nov 94 - present

Director of International Shinto Research Foundation



Aug 95 – Aug 04

Named a "Special Ambassador for Tokushima Prefecture" by the Governor of Tokushima



June 97

Asia-Pacific Publishers Award, Gold Prize, for Best Translation of 1996 for book Lost Japan.



Jan 2004 – Oct 2010

Chairman of IORI Co, a company established to restore traditional homes (machiya),



Jan 2005

Established ORIGIN traditional arts program in Kyoto  



Jan 2005

Established ORIGIN Asia Co Ltd in Thailand. ORIGIN Asia teaches traditional Thai arts at two centers: one at Ladprao in Bangkok, and the other in old houses on the grounds of Chiangmai University in Chiangmai.



Nov 16, 2005

American First Lady Laura Bush studies calligraphy at ORIGIN program in Kyoto



Nov 2005

Establish NPO to spearhead activities in Iya Valley, centered on the house Chiiori, called Chiiori Trust.  Focus is on volunteer activities, experience of rural life including natural agriculture and re-thatching of the house, and plans to develop sustainable tourism in Iya.



Feb 9, 2006

Named to a committee to advise PM Koizumi and departments of the government involved with international tourism. The committee of long-time foreigners living in Japan, is called Committee for Tourism and Town Revival as Seen by Foreigners."  The group met with PM Koizumi, at the Prime Minister's Residence in Tokyo on Feb 9, 2006.



Jan 18, 2008

Named a "Yokoso! Japan Ambassador"to represent Japan's international inbound tourism, by the Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism



Feb 18, 2008

Named "Tourist Ambassador" of Ojika Island (Nagasaki Prefecture)

Selected Publications   [J ] = Japanese,  [E] = English

Jun 1977

Essay: Thoughts on Mysticism and Explorers in Tibet,  [E]  Kailash (Kathmandu, Nepal).  May 76, won the Oxford Chancellor's English Essay Prize (First American; prize won previously by Oscar Wilde)



Jun 1980

Articles: Translation, and 5 articles on Kyoto for Clifton Karhu's Kyoto Rediscovered
(Weatherhill Co., Tokyo)   [E] 



Jun 1989

Book:  IMMORTAL IMAGES,the Jade Collection of Trammell Crow.   [E]   Trammell Crow Admininistration (Dallas, Texas)



Aug 1991

Translation: Edogawa Ranpo and Mishima Yukio's Black Lizard. [E] 



Apr 1991

Sections of Book:  Kyoto and Nara sections for Insight Guide's Japan, APA Press, Singapore  [E]  



Jul 92 - present

Over 100 Articles in Japanese.   [J]   Including:  8-part series for Kyoto Shinbun Newspaper (Jul 92 - Jun 93), 24-part series for Sankei Shinbun Newspaper (Sep 94 - Mar 95), 15-part series for Shukan Shincho Mag. (Jul 93 -  July 97), 3-part series for National Museum News (Jun 95), Newsweek Japan (Dec 2001, Dec 2003)



Jul 92 - present

Articles in English.   [E]   Including:  Newsweek, TIME, Sawasdii, Winds, Orientations, Kyoto Journal, Japan Times, Lonely Planet's Kyoto City Guide, etc.



Jul 93

Book:  UTSUKUSHIKI NIHON NO ZANZO, [J]  Publ: Shinchosha, Tokyo. , July 1993.  Reissued as an Asahi Bunko paperback Sep 2000.



May 96

Book.  LOST JAPAN,  [E]. Publ: Lonely Planet Co., Melbourne, Australia. English version of UTSUKUSHIKI NIHON NO ZANZO.
— Translations in Italian and Polish in 1999



Apr 2001

Book.  DOGS & DEMONS,  [E]  Hill and Wang, New York.

— Translation in Korean by Hong-Ik Publishing in Feb 2002

— Translation in Chinese by CITIC, June 2006



May 2002

Book:  INU TO ONI.  [J]  Publ: Kodansha, Tokyo, May 2002. Translation into Japanese of DOGS AND DEMONS.



Dec 2003

Book: NIHON BURANDO" DE IKŌ [J] "Let's go with 'Brand Japan'"
(Publ: Waytz, Tokyo, Dec 2003)



Nov 2006

Book:  LIVING IN JAPAN,[E], co-written with Kathy Sokol. 23 houses traditional and modern.  Publ: Taschen (Köln, Germany)



Jan 2010

BANGKOK FOUND, [E]  Publ: River Books, Bangkok



Jun 2013

Book (planned):  [J] AREKKUSU KA NO NIHON KEIKAN RON, "Alex Kerr's Theory of Japan's Modern Scenery", with Kiyono Yumi  Publ. Shueisha, Tokyo



Aug 2013

Book (planned):  [J & E] KYOTO FOUND, with Kathy Sokol.  Publ. Kateigaho, Tokyo