PMGenesis: Chapter 18

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  















 Izumo Taisha











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) 








18. To and Fro in Japan


While familiarizing myself with various countries in Europe, Asia and America, all in the Northern hemisphere, I wasn’t neglectful of the various provinces and islands in Japan.  Not that I ever went anywhere of my own accord for the purpose of sightseeing or mere vacation.  It wasn’t necessary.  Rather, as a missionary in Japan and as a professor of Sophia University, I had many calls on my time outside my university, and it was a principle of mine not to leave any call unanswered, and certainly not to refuse any request for a manuscript, whether book or article.  To all such requests my invariable answer was, as I imagined Shakespeare must have said in such circumstances, “Why, of course!”  First, as a priest I have quite a few requests to direct eight-day retreats – as from the Sacred Heart sisters at Sapporo, where I chiefly recall seeing a stuffed bear in the local museum that had been shot soon after devouring a man, and from the Ursuline sisters at Sendai, where I was able to visit the famed beauty spot of Matsushima with its innumerable islands.  Next, as a Shakespeare scholar I naturally joined the Shakespeare Society of Japan, which observed the commendable principle of holding its annual meetings one year in Tokyo and another in some historic city away from Tokyo.  I wasn’t so interested in Tokyo, according to the saying that “Familiarity breeds contempt” – or as the Japanese say, “The foot of a lampstand (or lighthouse) is dark.”  But I was fond of traveling to out-of-the-way places and seeing what each had to offer by way of scenery and historic buildings.  I also got the impression that, when the Japanese have such an interest, it is rather to sample the local food and to enjoy the hot springs.


 Then, after visiting so many places up and down Japan under the auspices of the Shakespeare Society, I was able to publish a small book of essays for Japanese students on my varied experiences in one place after another in alphabetical order – I could never remember the chronological order.  It may be enough for me to list the contents of the book to convey an idea of how widely I traveled within the space of some twenty years.  The place-names, with which I began each chapter, were Akita, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kagoshima, Kanazawa, Matsue, Matsushima, Nagasaki, Sapporo, Sendai, Tsuwano, and Yamaguchi.  The whole was entitled with the same words as I have used for this chapter, To and Fro in Japan – appropriately published, like so many of my books, on April Fools’ Day, 1976.  This work I ventured, without permission, to dedicate “to my fellow members and fellow travelers in the Shakespeare Society of Japan”.  In the Preface I explained how it had become a joke among us that the official Japanese word for such a society, kenkyukai, or “study group”, might well be changed to kankokai, or “sightseeing group”.  The academic meeting would last the two days of a week-end, but it was customary for scholars attending the meeting to give a day off to their students the following Monday, enabling them to spend an additional day seeing the sights of the locality.  Only, the committee of the Society, consisting as it did of graduates from the prestigious Tokyo University, couldn’t see my little joke but took my words too seriously, as they also took themselves.  So they wrote me a sharp letter of rebuke, which I refused to answer.  After all, they were but a small minority of the members!


Now, to follow the contents of this book, I first drew attention – for the benefit of my Japanese readers, in whom the sense of taste is so highly developed – to the unique delight of a certain kind of rice-cake called ringo-mochi, into which the taste of the famous Akita apple, or ringo, is inserted.  Akita is a Northern province of the main island of Honshu famed for pure water, delicious rice, and beautiful women, as well as apples, and I thought it ought to be famous for this ringo-mochi, too.  Then I went on, with reference to Fukuoka, to expand on the pleasure of staying in an old-style Japanese inn known as a ryokan, such as had been arranged for me by a former student of mine who was teaching at a local university.  It had long been a principle of mine since coming to Japan to do (as we say) “as the Romans do”, or in the parallel Japanese proverb, “on coming to a village to follow the behaviour of the villagers”.  To this inn I found the proverb perfectly applicable, apart from the fact that the city of Fukuoka was no village. 


What characterized the next place, Hiroshima, was, needless to say, her unique experience of the atomic bomb, being the first of its kind – though the second fell shortly after in Nagasaki – as well as her unique resurrection from ruin.  The symbol of the new city was accordingly the phoenix.  While she had risen from ruin, she still preserved as her priceless monument one of those very ruins in skeletal form as a reminder and a warning.  Next, I went South to the city of Kagoshima in Kyushu, where St Francis Xavier had landed on August 15 1549.  The symbol of that city wasn’t any monument, not even one to St Francis, but the island (or peninsula) volcano of Sakurajima.  The whole city I found dominated by the volcano, whose paradoxical name means “Cherry Island”.  From its crater smoke was always rising and it was illuminated at night by occasional flames.  I found it most impressive to see, but I was informed it isn’t so impressive when the wind is blowing in the direction of Kagoshima and the city is covered with ashes, reminding the citizens of their human mortality.


Kanazawa, on the opposite side of Honshu facing the Sea of Japan, I was delighted to find a most traditional city, often described as “little Kyoto”, with a castle in the midst and one of the three famous gardens of Japan, Kenrokuen, beside the castle.  The university occupied the space of the castle, but the year we were to assemble there for our Shakespeare meeting it had been taken over by radical students, and so we had to look at short notice for alternative accommodation.  That chapter I entitled “Tradition and Disillusion”.  Further along the coast I was enabled by the next Shakespeare meeting to revisit Matsue, the capital city of Shimane Prefecture.  It had once been the home of my famous fellow countryman – who had in fact been part English, part Irish, part Greek, and who had lived in America before coming to Japan – Lafcadio Hearn.  I had already been to Matsue castle one day in winter, but now I could spend a little more time in the lovely old Japanese house which had been occupied by Hearn.  It was the very house of my dreams, where I would love to live, if only I could adjust my recalcitrant limbs to bend in the squatting position on the tatami, or rice-mats. 


Then of all the cities in Japan which I visited, that which held the most tender memories for Christians was Nagasaki, which I had visited for the first time in 1973, on my way to Korea.  Unlike most of the cities I mentioned, I remembered not only the year but also the month, as it was the season of plum-blossom which was particularly characteristic of the place.  Almost all the sights of the city, beginning with that of the martyrdom of the 26 Christians in 1597, had to do with her Christian history from the time of her foundation by the Jesuit missionaries.  For my visits to this and other places I wasn’t so indebted to the Shakespeare Society, but I had other reasons for my travels.  Thus Sendai was the city I had visited for the retreat I gave to the Ursuline sisters, while Tsuwano and Yamaguchi I visited partly from Hamada, during my memorable experience of “rural Japan”, and partly from Hiroshima, during my year of tertianship.  About those two places I felt something holy.  Yamaguchi had been for a time the headquarters of St Francis Xavier, while Tsuwano had a shrine to Our Lady in a secluded valley named Otometoge, as being the place of martyrdom of some Japanese Christians in the early Meiji era.


During the 1970s I also became a kind of roving lecturer, with all expenses paid in addition to a handsome honorarium, for two educational networks.  One was a so-called yobiko, or cram school for helping high-school graduates who had failed to get into their desired university to try again the following year.  It must be an institution peculiar to Japan.  The largest and best known of such institutions was Yoyogi Seminar, located at Yoyogi not far from Sophia.  I was first invited to give a lecture there from time to time on such topics as how best to study English, or Shakespeare’s use of English.  Few of the students were really interested in the latter topic, but they sat through my lecture in anticipation of question time.  Then they would ask me nothing about Shakespeare but on how to pass the entrance exams into Sophia University.  I would answer that the best way would be either to spend a year in England, staying with an English family, or (if they didn’t have enough money) to read my books in English.  Then, as further branches of Yoyogi Seminar opened in Nagoya, Sendai and Sapporo, I would be invited to give lectures there in honour of the occasion.  Such branches, however, were only in the larger cities, since Yoyogi Seminar went in for what is called “mass production”, with which I have no sympathy.  They were far from my cherished ideal of rural Japan.


Closer to my ideal, however, were the smaller branches of the Japanese YMCA, or Young Men’s Christian Association, for whom I was once asked to give a talk at their annual Christmas dinner in Tokyo on “The English Sense of Humour”.  Then I noticed that their average age must have been well over seventy!  During the 1970s and 1980s they were developing branches for the teaching of English everywhere in Japan, not just in the big cities which had no attraction for me.  Again I was regarded as one who might be relied upon to give lectures here, there and anywhere.  It was thanks to the YMCA that I was able to extend my experience of Japan far beyond the historic cities patronized by the Shakespeare Society of Japan, from the farthest North in Hokkaido to the farthest South in Okinawa – an extent to which few Japanese of my acquaintance had managed to achieve.  The city in the North was a place called Kitami, which at once appealed to my passion for puns, since kita has the meaning of both “North” and “come”, while mi has the meaning of “see”.  Thus at the beginning of my lecture I could tell my audience, “I have come to Kitami, to see the North of Japan”.  And so from the outset, according to Cicero’s recommendation to the would-be orator, I “captured their benevolence.”  Such is the advantage of making even the most outrageous of puns in Japan.  At the same time, I had the opportunity of visiting the nearby town of Abashiri, famous in former ages for its prison.  Now, however, the prison had been turned into a museum, charging an admission fee of 1,000 yen.  How astonished, I reflected, would the prisoners of old have been if they could have foreseen an age when admission would become a privilege on payment of such a substantial fee, whereas they had been asked for no payment!  Their crime had been payment enough!  As for Okinawa, I found the American presence everywhere.  Even without them, the island seemed to be more Chinese or Korean than Japanese, since it had a long tradition of independence.  My general impression was of bright flowers, such as hibiscus, to greet my arrival in the spring.  The audience in Naha was unusually numerous, no doubt because there were fewer attractions to distract people from my lecture, as in the larger cities.


But to return to the Shakespeare Society, I have a special memory of the annual meeting which was held at the city of Toyama on the Sea of Japan.  I went there with a colleague of mine from Sophia in the October of 1985.  That was a long time after most of the events recorded so far, but it fits in best with this chapter.  The climax of the academic meeting happened to coincide with my 60th birthday on October 12, and as 60 is a sacred number in Japan, being five times the number of the twelve annual animals of their zodiac, preparations were being made by former students of mine for a worthy celebration of this great event.  First, on the way to Toyama I wanted to visit the famous Zen temple of Eiheiji in the neighbouring prefecture of Fukui, of which I had heard so much.  But such is the nature of eager anticipation, I found myself vaguely disappointed.  It seemed to be just one more Buddhist monastery of which I had already seen so many!  We then went on to stay at a charming fishing town called Himi, where a former student of mine was curator of the local museum.  There she showed us an ingenious method used by the local fishermen for catching fish without having to do any fishing.  All they had to do was to arrange their fishing nets in such a way as to make use of the local currents in the ocean and leave the fishes to catch themselves.  First, the fishes would swim into one large net, and from this they would be deflected into progressively smaller nets, till they would fill the smallest net, which the fishermen would proceed to haul out of the water.  After that another lady friend of mine at Toyama arranged a special lunch for us at a special Japanese restaurant at which no less a personage than Jimmy Carter had come to dine.  Indeed, it was both special and sumptuous.  From there we made our way to the campus of Toyama University, where the academic emphasis was not so much on Shakespeare as (from time immemorial) on medicine.  The climax of the day’s proceedings came, as might have been expected, not on the campus – where I had to endure the reading of academic papers of which I understood less than half – but in a Japanese-style pub.  There dressed in the scarlet attire customary for the occasion, I was surrounded by my old students of the Shakespeare study group of Sophia, many of whom had since become university teachers.  It was a jovial, uproarious affair, which might well have appealed to the heart of Shakespeare, who is said to have died of a fever contracted at such a merry meeting.  That was twenty years ago, but I am still fortunately alive, in contrast to the great dramatist who never even lived to see the age of 60.


Finally, I have to make mention of another way of going to and fro in Japan.  One of the members of my “Thomas More Pilgrimage” in 1977 was a high-school teacher of Nagoya and a graduate of the other Catholic university of Nanzan, run by the Divine Word fathers.  For that tour he had taken out his licence to drive a car, and he made good use of it while in England.  He would invite me out for what we call a “spin”, when he showed an alarming propensity for driving at full speed along the twisting country roads of England and Scotland.  Also on his return to Japan he would invite me to come driving with him, round the country lanes of the Izu Peninsula, of the island of Shikoku, and of the prefectures of Yamaguchi and Shimane, as far as the holy shrine of Izumo.  By then he had become more prudent and more skilful with more experience of driving, and in this way he helped me to fill in the remaining gaps of my varied itinerary in Japan.  Now I can truthfully say there is only one of the many prefectures in Japan where I have never been, not even in passing through by train, and that is Oita with its capital at the hot-spring resort of Beppu – though it, too, under the name of the Kingdom of Bungo, is sacred to the memory of St Francis Xavier.

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