PMGenesis: Chapter 15

Peter Milward's Autobiography: Genesis of an Octogenarian (2008)


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Who is Peter Milward?
0. About PM Genesis of an Octogenarian
1. Attempt at an Autobiography
Pre-conscious World
Local Patriotism
Wimbledon in Wartime 
Pastoral Peace
Pastoral Philosophy
7. Life at Oxford
Between England and Japan 
9. A New Language and Culture
10. Rural Japan
Pastoral Theology
12. Teaching Shakespeare in Japan
13. A Missionary in Japan
Student Revolt  
A Floating University  
16. Literary Pilgrimages  
A Scholar's Paradise  
To and Fro in Japan  
Words, Words, Words  
Annus Mirabilis  
21. Renaissance  
Lost Years  
Two Papal Pilgrimages  
Two Peninsular Pilgrimages

More American Adventures
26. In the Footsteps of Hopkins and Newman  
Two International Conferences  
Catholic Shakespeare  
Last Words  
Bibliographical Afterword  










 Japanese Maples



























Who is Peter Milward?

Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier


Who are the Jesuits?

Joining the Jesuits in Japan








  A Lifetime with Hopkins  by Peter Milward









     Jacobean Shakespeare
by Peter Milward












Shakespeare the Papist by Peter Milward 













 Mystical Journey, the autobiography of William Johnston, S.J., author of Mystical Theology and many other works on mysticism












 Arise My Love by William Johnston, S.J.












All About Francis Xavier (Articles on Japanese Catholic History and Jesuits) 
















15. A Floating University


    Thanks to the kind invitation of my friend from Waseda, I was enabled on two occasions to escape from the troubles at my afflicted university – while he was enduring even worse troubles at his university.  Not, as I have protested, that I was running away from them, but there was nothing I could do to solve them – apart from my impassioned speech on the night before the riot police entered our campus.  Or rather, my absence was perhaps more beneficial than my presence could have been.  At least, I may say that my presence elsewhere on the floating university was certainly beneficial to myself and my peace of mind, and (I hoped) to the students whom I was going to teach on board.  Then, I may be asked, what was this floating university?  Was it a real university?  And was it really floating?  So far as I was concerned, on my two voyages there were different ships chartered for each occasion.  The chartering agency was an institute for academic research organized by a well-known journalist – though to my suspicious ears it sounded like one of the many means devised by enterprising Japanese for making easy money.  Anyhow, my friend had been roped in to arrange the schedule of English classes, which in those days provided an academic attraction to simple Japanese students, and to assemble a teaching staff to put his schedule into practice.  I didn’t go with the students on their outward journey, but the return journey offered me the opportunity of taking a pleasant, inexpensive voyage back to Japan.  As for the ship on which we were to make our voyage that summer of 1968, it was an old Greek ship once used as a transport for army troops, whether in the first or second world war – it wasn’t clear.  It was the sort of ship commonly described as an “old crock”.  During the voyage the rumour went around that no insurance company had been found to take on the evident risk of insuring it.  This seemed to be confirmed when we heard that shortly after our arrival in Tokyo it was sold for scrap iron.  So it must have been conveniently inexpensive to hire, and with seven hundred students on board paying fees for the journey, for their classes on board, and for the opportunity of visiting California – including Las Vegas and Disneyland – the sponsors must have made a handsome profit.


   When the time came for my departure from California, I made my way from Los Angeles to San Francisco, or more precisely from the Huntington Library to the Fishermen’s Wharf.  I didn’t board the ship till the time came for her to set sail or weigh anchor, and I paid no particular attention to its defects for the time being – till they became painfully evident in the teeth of a typhoon.  But for another reason I soon felt ill at ease.  Shortly after leaving the harbour of San Francisco, we encountered a heavy ocean swell, which made the ship roll convulsively forwards and backwards and sideways all at the same time, and I soon began to experience the symptoms of sea-sickness.  Not that I was actually sick, but I had much the same feeling as I had felt in the Arabian Sea on my way to Japan in 1954.  Only, what I remember more than the illness was the remedy kindly provided by my friend.  It took the form of a packet of soda-crackers.  The very thought of food at such a time was almost enough to make me vomit, but the packet was a real God-send, better than any banquet.  I soon recovered and was able to enter upon my new duties as a teacher of English.  They weren’t so heavy, as all I had to do was to engage in conversation with groups of students, who were only too willing to tell me their varied experiences of California in their broken English.  From the time they had disembarked in San Francisco till the time of their re-embarkation they had been free to do whatever they liked and to go wherever they liked.  They were given no guidelines for their actions or their studies, and if they had been given them, they would probably have disregarded them.  This was the adventure on which they had set out from Japan, and adventure is certainly what they found, if not always to their liking.  One pair of students who had even crossed the border into Mexico got robbed by bandits, though the bandits must have been God-fearing, as they left them with enough money to get back to San Francisco – in which they were remarkably fortunate.  Others had gone to Las Vegas and no doubt lost much of their money on the notorious roulette, but I didn’t inquire too precisely into such financial details.  Others had remained nearer the harbour of San Francisco and consorted with the hippies in the equally notorious Haight-Ashbury district.  Most of them managed to visit Disneyland to the South of Los Angeles and/or the Knott-Berry Farm.  A few had made their way to the giant sequoia forests to the North of San Francisco and the Yosemite National Park.  I couldn’t help admiring them for having shown such a daring, enterprising, venturesome spirit.  In the old days they would surely have made a bold, bad company of conquistadores, but as things were, their hour of conquest in this brave new world had been all too short, if they were to be back on board ship in time for her departure.  What surprised me was that they all somehow succeeded in returning without too much obvious injury.


   After a week or so at sea, we arrived at Honolulu for a couple of days’ stay.  While the students remained on board, or fended for themselves on land, the teachers were treated to free accommodation at the luxurious Royal Hawaii Hotel giving onto the famous Waikiki beach.  It was my first visit to Hawaii, and while we were there I had the strange feeling – which always comes back to me whenever I am in Hawaii – that for the short time I am there time stops.  It just seems to stop, or rather to give place to eternity, as if I were back in Paradise.  It is such an unearthly feeling, so different from what I feel in Tokyo, where there is nothing but time, and time flies there, like the proverbial arrow, more than anywhere else.  After all, what is time?  Is there such a thing as time?  I could well sympathize with the lotos-eaters on Circe’s magic island.


   Nevertheless, time did pass.  It turned out to be real, after all.  Anyhow, we were soon all back on board the old ship “Margarita” – such a fair name for such a foul ship!  Even the students staged a protest procession or demonstration against their living quarters, and then I feared we were in for a repetition of the scenes that had taken place at my university back in Japan.  Fortunately, the mood of the students changed, as it became apparent we were now facing another, more serious danger from the sea and the sky.  We were sailing, in fact, right into the teeth of a typhoon.  Then, while the students and most of the teachers took to their cabins, fearing the worst and hoping against hope once the storm was all round us, I and some other teachers made our way to the bridge.  We had been granted full freedom of the ship.  From there, even in the open, we could watch the mountainous waves coming down upon us, while we endeavoured to climb up them.  The great aim of the ship’s captain, an excitable Maltese, was to keep our bows head on to the waves, without exposing our side and thus inviting certain capsize.  From time to time a big wave would break over the ship, sending up clouds of spray and forcing us to duck beneath the bulwarks, till it was safe to stand up again.  It was a wonderful opportunity, such as I had had only once before, on a Channel crossing, to recite the lines from King Lear, “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!  Rage, blow, you cataracts and hurricanes, spout till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!” – at the top of my voice, without fear of being overheard.  It was such an exciting experience!  Never have I enjoyed myself so much in all my life!  Still, I caught myself wondering, if we went down, what wonderful headlines we would make in all the Japanese newspapers, “Seven Hundred Japanese Students Go Down with Their Teachers in Mid-Pacific!”  But that was not to be.


   Before the typhoon actually struck us, we teachers were gathered in the captain’s cabin for a special celebration.  It was for my silver jubilee as a Jesuit, twenty-five years since the day of my entrance into the noviciate of the Society of Jesus at St Beuno’s College.  Among the teachers were a couple of Catholic sisters, who had come aboard with some bottles of Californian red wine as presents for their friends back in Japan.  Some of the bottles came in useful for this occasion, and I went round the table filling the glasses with the wine in anticipation of the toast.  For some reason, however, we had to wait.  I was sitting there at the head of the table, and on my left was one of the sisters wearing a spotless white frock, as it were inviting an accident.  Nor did we have long to wait before the accident came, when the ship gave a sudden lurch, sending the tableware with the wine glasses sliding in her direction.  Instinctively I lunged to my left with the idea of preventing everything from piling up on her.  Only, I forgot that my chair was subject to the same law of gravity as the objects on the table.  So instead of protecting her, I only promoted the movement of the wine-glasses in her direction.  The upshot was that her spotless white frock was spotted with red, Californian wine-red.  Apart from putting the blame on me, there was nothing for her to do now but to beat a hasty retreat to her cabin and change her attire.  But then, as Shakespeare aptly remarks, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”  In this case, too, the sister’s embarrassment was augmented by the fact that it was the general time for dinner, as well for the students as for the teachers.  The students were all lined up along the ship’s corridors leading to the dining-room, the very corridors along which the poor sister had to pass in order to reach her cabin.  Thither she went, her white frock stained with red wine and fragrant with its characteristic Californian bouquet.  Her reputation was in tatters!


   Somehow or other we managed to weather the typhoon and to emerge into sunshine and clear skies.  I forget if the classes in English were resumed.  Anyhow, it wasn’t long before we encountered another, even more serious danger.  We were advancing full steam ahead into Tokyo Bay, when suddenly a small Japanese tanker appeared on the starboard bow, moving as if to cross in front of us.  In spite of all our siren warnings she held doggedly to her course.  It seemed as if there was no one on board to heed our warnings, still less to notice the direction in which we were heading.  All we could do was to continue our sirens, to reduce our speed as best we could, and to veer away from the direction in which the tanker was heading.  At the time I was saying Mass in the sisters’ cabin, and once Mass was over we came on deck – just in time to see the tanker passing only a few metres beyond our bows.  It was a close shave!  The captain said he had never been so scared in all his life, though to judge from his excitable nature, his life must have been a series of such scares and close shaves.  Anyhow, on our arrival in Yokohama he must have been relieved to see his late ship sold for scrap iron.


   The second voyage was, as I have said, on a Russian ship named “Ilich” (Lenin’s second name).  Again, it came as a relief to me in the middle of the Sophia lock-out, when life had become for me and everyone else at Sophia, as Hamlet puts it, “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable”.  On the other hand, the name and place of origin of the ship, as well as her destination, filled me with misgivings.  Only, as I had been specially invited by my friend, I put my misgivings aside and joined the teaching staff.  This time the student numbers were reduced from a seven to a mere three hundred, and there seemed to be less emphasis on English than on political issues.  So I found I had less to do as a teacher.  We were to make the rounds of countries in South-East Asia making Sihanhoukville in Cambodia our first port of call, followed by Bangkok and Singapore, but not Manila or Hong Kong.  It was a suspicious itinerary, especially in view of the Vietnam War then in progress – in so far as one can speak of “progress” with reference to a war.


   My troubles began on the very morning of our departure, March 12 1969.  As usual, I was late in leaving SJ House, but unusually for that time it happened to be snowing.  Fortunately, I was assisted all the way to Tokyo station by an American Jesuit friend of mine.  At Tokyo station I was to meet several of the teachers on the platform for the Bullet train, which would be taking us to Kobe and our ship.  They were in possession of both my passport and my ticket for Kobe, and they had strongly impressed on me the importance of reaching Tokyo well in advance.  But I was already late, and the snow made my train to Tokyo even later.  By the time I reached Tokyo, the Bullet train had  just departed with my friends.  Then I realized I hadn’t even the money to buy another ticket for Kobe, but my American friend was still with me, and he bought me the ticket I needed.  So I bade him a grateful goodbye as my train moved out of the station, though it was a slower train than that taken by my friends, and it was made even slower by the snow.  Now everything seemed to be working against me in the worst of possible worlds.  In the depth of my despair I suddenly realized, to my horror, that even if I reached Kobe in time, which was doubtful, I wouldn’t know from which of the many piers at Kobe harbour the “Ilich” was to depart.  Frantically I searched my pockets, and at last I found the crucial letter which indicated the relevant pier.  On arriving at Kobe, I took a waiting taxi and directed the driver to that pier.  There was the “Ilich”, but the gangway had already been taken up and the crowd of well-wishers who had come to see us off was beginning to disperse – when someone from the crowd came up to me and handed me my passport.  I could now see my friends at the railings, I waved to them and they used their influence to have the gangway lowered for me.  But the only welcome I received took the form of scowling faces.  It was all too reminiscent of the time I had almost arrived late for the sailing of the “Margarita” from San Francisco.  Clearly, I was incorrigible!


   As we moved Southward, the real purpose of our venture became increasingly suspicious.  Our way lay through the Gulf of Tonkin, and it was rumoured that we might even put in at Tonkin, the capital of the Viet Cong.  All the time we were being buzzed by American reconnaissance places, and we crowded onto the deck to watch them.  Obviously, we were being treated as an enemy vessel.  Anyhow, we safely passed Tonkin and made our way further Southward to Sihanoukville, where our misgivings were amply fulfilled.  Not that we witnessed their fulfillment.  As soon as we arrived at the harbour, we were whisked off on waiting buses to the capital city of Pnom Penh, where a soccer match had been arranged between our Japanese team on board and a Cambodian team.  Then, once the soccer match was over, we got on the same buses and were taken all the way to Angkor Wat.  There we, or those of us who chose to remain, spent the night at the hotel opposite the famous ruins.  What splendid ruins they were!  Since we could stay overnight, we were able to enjoy the view of them at sunset, at midnight under the light of the moon, and again at sunrise.  Except for the Grand Canyon, which isn’t really a ruin, I have rarely seen such an impressive ruin, which may well be called, in Shakespeare’s words, “a ruined piece of nature”.  All this time, my Waseda friend’s wife had felt indisposed and stayed on board our ship, and so from the ship she was our one witness to the unloading of the munitions for the Viet Cong.  Clearly, we teachers and students had been used by the Russians as a decoy to slip past the vigilance of the Americans.  The kindness of King Sihanouk in our regard hadn’t been without an ulterior motive!


   Once that purpose had been fulfilled, we could go on to Bangkok, where we were reduced to being mere tourists, instead of privileged guests.  Then at Singapore we were allowed a couple of days to see the sights, including the old Portuguese remains in the port of Malacca.  The afternoon before we were due to sail, I was invited to lunch by an English friend at the University of Singapore, but somehow the lunch took longer than we expected – as always happens on such occasions, especially in the traditional East where time isn’t taken too seriously.  Still, I should have remembered that “time and tide wait for no man.”  I had been told to be back on board ship by 2.0 pm, as we were to leave the harbour by 4.0 pm.  But at 2.0 pm we were still at lunch, and I thought I might well interpret the written warning as allowing me another hour, considering that 3.0 pm. should be no less acceptable.  I reached the harbour, therefore, punctually at 3.0 pm. – only to find not just the gangway lifted but the ship itself gone.  When I showed the written warning to the guards at the entrance to the pier, they had a discussion among themselves, and eventually they radioed the launch that had already gone to pick up the pilot from our ship.  So the launch came back to pick me up, and there on board were my Waseda friend and his wife!  They were as astonished to see me as I was to see them, but they more easily hit on the truth of my late appearance.  The same astonishment was registered on the faces of all the students who were lined up at the rails on deck.  They must have given me up for good!  Yet I myself felt no qualms, since I was convinced that something would turn up – as it usually does for me in the designs of divine providence.  As Hamlet puts it, “That should teach us, there’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”  Indeed, if I have any genius, it is in rough-hewing my ends!


   From there it was more or less plain sailing all the way back to Tokyo, apart from some fun and games we had on board to cover up our lingering misgivings about having been used as decoys for the Russians, not to mention the memory of my own misdeeds.  Still, all in all it had been a great adventure!

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