PMGenesis: Chapter 28

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  






 Junshin Chapel







 School Buildings




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) 








28. Junshin


   As John Donne truly, if less originally, observes early on in the seventeenth century, “All things to their destruction draw,” and John Dryden adds, towards the end of the same century, “All human things are subject to decay.”  Such was the feeling that I, too, came to share as we drew to the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the third millennium.  Since I was born on the anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America, on October 12 1925, I reached the statutory age of retirement both from Sophia University and from the Renaissance Centre in 1990, or more exactly the following spring, 1991.  Still, I was allowed to continue teaching, under a contract that had to be renewed from year to year, till I reached the age of 70 in the autumn of 1995, or more exactly the spring of 1996.  But before I turned 70 and was due to be turned out of Sophia University, while remaining in SJ House on the campus of Sophia, I was approached by two sisters from Tokyo Junshin Women’s College in Hachioji to the West of Tokyo, the president and the head of the board of trustees.  They now invited me to transfer my academic allegiance from Sophia, where my days were already numbered, to Junshin, as dean of a new faculty to be formed there under the name of “Modern Culture”.  I asked them if they couldn’t wait for a year, till I had to leave Sophia University, but they replied that the Ministry of Education, which is all-powerful in such matters, couldn’t wait and that, to satisfy them, I would have to become a full-time professor of Junshin (still a two-year women’s college) before I turned 70.  This was because Junshin was in process of transforming itself from a two-year college to a four-year university, and while I was needed as dean for the new faculty, it was necessary for me to have been a full-time professor for one year in the two-year college.  Such at least was the logic of the bureaucrats, which I have never been able to fathom for myself or explain to others.  Thus it was that in the spring of 1995 I became full-time professor at the two-year college, called tandai in Japanese, while continuing to take all my courses at Sophia for one more year as a part-time teacher.  Finally, in the spring of 1996, on April Fools’ Day, I became dean of the faculty of Modern Culture at this new four-year university named Tokyo Junshin Women’s College in a brand-new building in the remote countryside of Hachioji, while remaining in SJ House for the week-end.  I still insisted on continuing my Katsuragikai classes on Monday evenings, and my open lectures for the Renaissance Centre on Saturday afternoons, while remaining available on Sundays for former students who wanted me to perform their weddings in the Kulturheim chapel.  Thus I wasn’t yet in full retirement, or what is called “an old crock”.


   For me the principal difference between Sophia and Junshin was the distance.  Till then, my classes had all taken place at it were on my front doorstep.  Nor was it unknown for me to walk into a classroom where the faces were all strange to me – I had come to the wrong classroom! – or to walk into a classroom where there were no faces – it was a national holiday!  Then, however, I hadn’t come from a long distance to make such a discovery!  But now I had to be more careful.  Another difference was that at Sophia I could expect my students to write their weekly essays for me in English, even if it wasn’t always correct English.  At least, they provided me with material for such books as A Miscellany of Mistakes, which I could dedicate to them.  But at Junshin I found it wasn’t so practical to expect essays in English from my students, and so I had to let them write in Japanese.  That reminded me of a similar, if contrary, requirement of my students at Sophia.  Once they had come to me with the request to give them grammatical explanations in English, not in Japanese, adding the reason that my English was easier for them to understand than my Japanese!  Now it was the biter’s turn to be bit!  At least, I could understand the Japanese of my new students, but their English was quite unintelligible!  Only, after I had read four or five of their Japanese essays, I felt so sleepy.  So I adopted the practice of reading them before going to bed at night.  Then I had no problem about falling asleep.  I even referred to them as my sleeping pills!


   As for the students themselves, apart from their weakness in English, they were, I found, just as good as, if not better than, those at Sophia.  What I liked about them was that they came for the most part not from the city but the countryside.  In their responses to my frequent praises of country life, they would tell me in their essays that they also preferred the country where they had been born and brought up, and that they wanted to live and die there, like their parents before them.  All too often one hears it said in Japan that the younger generation are all for living amid the noises of city life.  If that is so, then my students at Junshin must have been exceptional – like not a few of my students at Sophia as well.  On the other hand, I am convinced that we should never believe what we read in newspapers.  Journalists are for the most part interested only in what is sensational, such as the punk hair-styles of certain young students and their addiction to hard metal rock music.  But it is precisely what is sensational that is exceptional.  What is ordinary never hits the headlines.  The editors of newspapers aren’t interested in it.


   Amid my ordinary teaching of those ordinary students at Junshin, one memory stands out among all others.  The occasion was when I brought a group of some twenty for home-stay and English study to England.  We had arranged two such groups, one for America in the Mid-West, and the other for England in the South-West.  So it was natural for me to be in charge of the latter group.  This arrangement was made with the University of Plymouth at their Exeter campus, and they did their best to combine our need of English with their course on the English heritage.  The English “bread-and-butter” course was in the morning, with a simple introduction to the places to be visited that afternoon in the glorious county of Devon, as a precious part of England’s heritage.  Then in the afternoon we would set out on a chartered bus to visit one or other of those places, especially in the two national parks of Exmoor to the North and Dartmoor to the South.  The homes at which the students stayed had been arranged for them by the local Catholic priest, and I myself stayed with him at his rectory.  The most memorable event during our stay there was the tragic death of Princess Diana, which brought tears to the eyes of everyone, especially the Japanese students, who remembered her from her state visit to Japan.  The tragedy took place at the very beginning of our stay, and a week later her impressive funeral took place at Westminster Abbey – just after I had offered a memorial Mass for her at the church.  It was providentially combined with the death of Mother Teresa, who was also familiar both to the Japanese and to the late princess.


   The following year, too, there was a similar study tour to England, but this time only twelve students had applied.  This time, moreover, it was thought unnecessary to have anyone in charge, considering that the American party had no one in charge either.  So instead of accompanying them from Japan, I was already in England to greet them on their arrival and to wave them off to Exeter.  Again, instead of returning with them to Japan, I was still in London to meet them and see them off on their coach to Heathrow airport.  The year after that, only two or three applied for England, and so they were added to the American group.  Thus our elaborate plans for summer study in England, in the name of cultural exchange, ground to a halt.  This was, I fear, symbolic partly of the economic decline of Japan over the previous few years, partly of the declining number of students not only at Junshin but in Japan as a whole, as the universities, colleges and other schools came to suffer from the declining birth-rate.  If the young are getting fewer, the old are becoming more numerous – till now Japan leads the world in both respects.  Now people are wondering what is going to happen, without anyone doing anything about it.  It all depends, as I insist at the wedding ceremonies for my former students, on young couples and the number of children they can afford to have, not for themselves only but for the whole nation.


   On the other hand, while I enjoyed teaching such good students, however much they might decline in number with the passing of time, there was one aspect of life at Junshin I didn’t enjoy.  As full-time teacher and dean of the faculty, I had so many meetings to attend, faculty meetings, department meetings, committee meetings, meetings of all kinds.  And such meetings were both tiring and for the most part a waste of time.  In all my fifty years of life in Japan, I have never been really at home with what I call, in the title of one of my books, “this impossible language”.  I can usually say what I want to say in this language, and I can usually follow what others say to me, so long as it fits into my thought patterns.  But so often, when Japanese aren’t speaking directly to me, what they say fails to fit into those thought patterns of mine, and then I can’t understand them.  The result is that at most of the meetings I had to attend, either I understood nothing and held my peace, or when I thought I understood something with which I disagreed, I expressed my opinion only to find I was talking at cross-purposes with what had just been said, and my intervention was greeted with a stunned silence.  These meetings, moreover, took such a long time, and the longer the time they took, the greater became my feeling of frustration.  It wasn’t therefore surprising if in the spring of 1999 I fell ill with a heart complaint variously known as “fibrillation” and “arrhythmia”, and I had to be hospitalized – for the first time since 1964, but this time for only two weeks.  Thanks to the timely care of the hospital and its kind nurses, I was able to return to the land of the living, just in time for the celebration of Easter.  At the Easter Mass for my Katsuragikai group I had a record attendance, many of whom must have come to see if I was indeed risen from the dead!


   Already before my illness I had decided it was time for me, if not to retire from Junshin, at least to phase out my retirement in such a way as to give up my full-time position, as both dean and professor, and to revert to an easier part-time position, without the need of attending any meetings.  In this way I only needed to spend a couple of days at the college, with a stay overnight at the priests’ house on campus.  Thus I only had to go to Hachioji, an hour and a half’s journey from SJ House, on Wednesday mornings and return on Thursday afternoons, while missing all the meetings that were assigned to Tuesdays.  For me it came as such a welcome relief, and such a wholesome remedy for the modern disease of “stress” from which I had surely been suffering – though no doctor ever told me.  Still, I had to return regularly to my hospital for medical check-ups and supplies of medicine, and so to relinquish two of my treasured principles for keeping in good health, “Never consult a doctor”, and “Never take medicine.”  But it can’t be helped.  Now I am in the doctor’s clutches.  For me, however, the best medicine I have ever taken has been the simple decision to change my position from full-time to part-time, and then more drastically to give up even my part-time teaching – with the continual change it still involved between the foul air of the city and the pure air of the country.  In brief, I have come to the mature conclusion that the important thing in life is to take nothing seriously but to let things pass as they always do, while remembering the words of Jesus, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

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