PMGenesis: Chapter 27

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  








 Sen Rikyu







 View of Mount Fuji








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







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














27. Two International Conferences


  Entering into the final decade of the twentieth century, I may begin by asking, or imagining myself being asked, What was it like to have been alive at that time?  Was there a feeling of fin de siecle whether in Japan or in the outer world?  I confess I find it difficult to speak in such global terms.  Countries are so different from one another, and within each country people are so different from one another.  As an Englishman, I am always saying that “we English” – as opposed to the Japanese – prefer to think of ourselves as unique individuals, with more differences from than similarities to one another.  Yet for this reason I am always finding myself in conflict with the circumstances around me, which almost force me to find similarities everywhere, as the world at large falls under the spell of “globalization”.  That was in fact the typical disease of the fin de siecle, as the 1990s moved “with ravishing stride” towards the new century and the new millennium.  Here, however, I will speak not in general terms, not even about Sophia University or SJ House, still less about Japan or Britain, but more specifically about the institutions for which I have had some responsibility, the above-mentioned Renaissance Institute and Centre.


   As for the Institute, I have already explained the various publications we have sponsored over the years, the monographs in English and the lecture series or seminars in Japanese, the Renaissance Bulletin in English and the Renaissance News in Japanese, as well as the spring and autumn open lectures in English given under the sponsorship of the Centre.  But I haven’t yet mentioned the annual general meeting or conference which we have regularly held in the last week-end of September, previous to the resumption of classes at Sophia in October.  This meeting, consisting of English lectures on the Saturday and Japanese papers or a symposium with a special lecture on the Sunday, had invariably been national in scope, though a few members had come from abroad, especially America.  And because they had always been national, at least till the last decade of the twentieth century appeared in view, it came to be thought that they must always be national, according to the saying, “Consuetudo habet vim legis” – “Custom has the force of law.”  But now on the academic horizon, with its increasing interest in anniversaries and centenaries, there loomed the prospect or threat – according to one’s viewpoint – of the forthcoming celebration for the fifth centenary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage of discovery to the New World on behalf of Queen Isabella of Spain.  What, if anything, were we to do about it?


   As an Englishman who had come to Japan in 1954, and who had, if only for myself, made the discovery of Japan for the first time, also as one born on the very day Columbus had made his discovery of America, when I had received his name as my second name, I was all for doing something to celebrate the occasion.  Alas, few of the Japanese on our committee seemed to be so enthusiastic about Columbus.  After all, he hadn’t discovered Japan as I had, and in any case it was too much trouble to celebrate his memory.  In the outcome, however, they yielded to my importunity, which I justified by my other favourite proverb, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”  Two other reasons came my way at this time to spur my resolution.  One was the visit of a Dutch Jesuit from Rome, who had no small experience in organizing international conferences.   He agreed with me that the important thing was to take the decision and then look round for ways and means of implementing it, including some financial assistance.  The other was the recent formation of an Asian Society for Literature and Religion, which already existed in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, and which might well, we hoped, be launched for Japan at such an international conference.  Then what more appropriate place for this purpose, we thought, than Sophia University?


   Thus I began, with other members of our Renaissance committee, to look round for financial means of assistance, especially the Japan Foundation, as well as within Sophia University.  Somehow we managed to obtain something.  Then I had to decide on which speakers to invite to our conference from abroad.  After all, it would never do to stage an “international conference” whose speakers were either native Japanese or foreigners living in Japan.  So we formed a roster of three Englishmen, one of them from England, three Americans, two of them from the United States, three Chinese, two of them from Taiwan and a third from America, one Frenchman, from France, and one Korean.  As for our special lecture at the climax of the conference we invited the Japanese Catholic novelist, Shusaku Endo, to speak on “Kirishitan and Today”, in view of his special interest in the so-called “Christian century of Japan”.  That seemed to be a sufficiently international group of scholars, whom we could invite, look after and reward, without putting too much of a strain on our limited resources.  The really important thing for us was to have good helpers for the reception and entertainment of the visitors and for the practical running of the conference.  They were conveniently at hand in the graduate students of our English Literature department, who were eager to give their assistance under the direction of the secretary of the Renaissance Centre.  Thanks to them and thanks to the centrality of the university and the conference, and thanks above all to divine providence, everything went so smoothly, I could hardly believe it.  Anything in which I have a hand seems to go wrong, for all my skill in the art of rough-hewing.  Yet out of whatever went wrong everything came out right.


   On my shoulders fell the task of writing the necessary letters of invitation to those selected to come from abroad, since the Japanese aren’t such good letter-writers in English.  One prior condition which I set for those invited was that, once they had presented their papers, they should leave the manuscripts with us for the publication of the proceedings.  This condition was admirably kept, with the astonishing result that, once the conference was over on September 27 1992, I had all the material in my hands needed to bring out the next Renaissance Monograph by the following April.  Usually, the proceedings of such international conferences, or even if they are only national conferences, take such a long time to come out, not months but years.  Yet ours came out within half a year.  I almost felt like applying to the Guinness Book of Records, but for the fact that the Book doesn’t seem to welcome serious, academic records.  I also had in my hands a precious volume to present to His Holiness Pope John Paul II when the time came.


   Not that I was unaware of the prophetic warning of TS Eliot, misquoting similar words from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the Shadow.”  In this case the Shadow fell over my memory of all that lay in between the first proposal of the conference and its final fulfillment.  It must have called for a lot of preparation, especially for my secretary and her helpers.  Yet apart from the many letters I had to write, and the minimal amount of labour required for my own paper on “Providential Discovery in Shakespeare’s Plays”, it all seemed to be plain sailing.  One of my favourite passages from the Psalms is the text, “In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat, when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.”  So it was for me to do what it seemed I had to do, and to leave the more practical preparations in the hands of others who could do them more efficiently than I.  So I lost little sleep in the process, or rather, gifts were poured upon me while I was slumbering.


   To go back now to the original idea of the conference, it might have been asked what we in Japan had to do with this celebration of Christopher Columbus and his discovery of America?  Here we were in Asia, not in America.  So why not leave the celebration to people in America?  To this objection I would answer, first, that Columbus himself had remained, till his dying day, under the impression that he had discovered not a new world to be called America but part of the old world of Asia, perhaps not far from Japan.  Indeed, one of his prized possessions had been The Book of Marco Polo, with a description of Japan, or Chipangu, though the author himself never got that far.  So it was left to one of his followers, Amerigo Vespucci, to christen the new world with his own name as America, and to a subsequent conquistador, Nunez de Balboa, to make the further discovery of the Pacific Ocean in 1513.  Secondly, I would answer that the discovery of America on behalf of Spain in 1492, preceding Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea-route via the Cape of Good Hope to India on behalf of Portugal in 1497-98, might be taken as symbolically inaugurating the modern world by opening up new horizons to men of the Middle Ages.  Thus we might well take it as marking a significant date for determining the beginning of our studies at the Renaissance Institute.  These we had always thought of as extending from Sir Thomas More, with his Utopia, to William Shakespeare, with his Tempest and its “brave new world”, and even to John Milton with his Puritan fascination in the earthly Paradise.


   Thus it was that for the title of the conference we chose, not the mere discovery of America by Columbus in 1492, which had merely been a discovery for the Europeans of his time, but “The Mutual Encounter of East and West, 1492-1992”.  After all, it was Columbus who with his discovery of America had ushered in this new age, even if he himself had got no farther than the Eastern seaboard of that new world.  As for the Japanese, they had to wait another fifty years before their encounter with the first Europeans to land on their islands.  From then onwards it wasn’t just a one-way traffic from the West to the East but a mutual encounter, as I find it amply illustrated in the drama of Shakespeare.  European merchants may have come in search of the fabled riches of the Orient, and European missionaries may have come to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the command of Christ himself, to the ends of the earth.  But they in turn brought back not only merchandise to bear witness to those fabled riches, but also the precise reports of missionaries like St Francis Xavier on life in India, Japan and China.  Accordingly, considering the papers that were presented at our conference, I found myself able to divide them, as with Caesar’s division of Gaul, into three more or less equal parts, which I entitled respectively, “Encounter in Japan”, “Encounter in the Far East”, and “Encounter in Europe”, with Endo’s lecture on “Kirishitan and Today” as the Epilogue.


   Moreover, thanks to my old friend who had first introduced me to the Musha-Koji Senke tea-ceremony group, I was able to obtain from the Portuguese embassy in Tokyo a timely exhibition of photos on “Portuguese Travels in the 15th and 16th Centuries and the Meeting of Civilizations”, and to arrange a presentation of the tea ceremony itself by members of that group at the end of the conference.  Both the exhibition and the tea ceremony were held on the top floor of the Sophia Library, where there was ample space for moving around.  The tea ceremony itself was opportunely timed, without any previous deliberation on our part, to coincide with a beautiful evening glow behind Mount Fuji, as revealed once we drew the curtains after the tea ceremony was over.  What a wonderful climax to the proceedings and a symbol of the blessings of divine providence!


   Further, considering that “one good turn deserves another”, the Portuguese embassy took this opportunity to make me an additional proposal, that of holding a similar conference in the following year to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the first arrival of Europeans, namely Portuguese traders, on the coast of Japan, that is to say the island of Tanegashima, on September 23 1543.  They wanted us, as an academic institution, to be the sponsors, while they would do all in their power to assist us.  Inevitably, the Japanese members of our committee were no more enthusiastic about this proposal than about the previous one.  They were only overborne by the typically Japanese reason, “It can’t be helped!”  So we went ahead, with the benefit of accumulated experience.  The conference would, of course, take place at our annual meeting in the last week-end of September, which was sufficiently close to the date of the anniversary.  This time the international character of the conference would largely depend on scholars from Portugal and the nearby Macao, as well as specialists on Japanology in Japan and abroad.  As for myself, I proposed to contribute a whiff of Shakespeare with a paper on “Shakespeare’s Voyages to the Little World of Man”.  Then, when it came to arranging the scattered papers in a neat order, I found they fell into a geometrical formation of three threes, if fewer than before, under the respective headings of “From Portugal to Japan”, “In Japan” and “Between England and Japan”.  The general title was “Portuguese Voyages to Asia and Japan in the Renaissance Period”, this time without the addition of dates.  This time, too, we had an even more splendid exhibition, supplied by the Portuguese embassy, of Portuguese cartography in the sixteenth century.  It vividly depicted the advance made in the European knowledge of Asia, especially the coast of Asian countries (then commonly known as “the Indies”), up till the end of the period, when Shakespeare speaks in Twelfth Night (1601) of “the new map with the augmentation of the Indies”.  This, too, was a great success, thanks again in no small measure to my secretary and the graduate students of the English Literature department.  Then, too, the proceedings of the conference were again published within the space of six months as our next Renaissance Monograph.


   However, in spite of this twofold success in arranging two international conferences in the successive years of 1992-93, we held no further conferences but passively allowed the law of inertia to regain its sway, for lack of any further incentive.  After all, we were growing old and our years were moving towards the inevitable fin de siecle, now made all the more inevitable with the approaching end of the millennium.

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