PMGenesis: Chapter 8


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

Go to CONTENTS

<- Prev *** Next ->

Who is Peter Milward?
0. About PM Genesis of an Octogenarian
1. Attempt at an Autobiography
2. 
Pre-conscious World
3. 
Local Patriotism
4. 
Wimbledon in Wartime 
5. 
Pastoral Peace
6. 
Pastoral Philosophy
7. Life at Oxford
8. 
Between England and Japan 
9. A New Language and Culture
10. Rural Japan
11. 
Pastoral Theology
12. Teaching Shakespeare in Japan
13. A Missionary in Japan
 
14. 
Student Revolt  
15. 
A Floating University  
16. Literary Pilgrimages  
17. 
A Scholar's Paradise  
18. 
To and Fro in Japan  
19. 
Words, Words, Words  
20. 
Annus Mirabilis  
21. Renaissance  
22. 
Lost Years  
23. 
Two Papal Pilgrimages  
24. 
Two Peninsular Pilgrimages

25. 
More American Adventures
26. In the Footsteps of Hopkins and Newman  
27. 
Two International Conferences  
28. 
Junshin  
29. 
Catholic Shakespeare  
30. 
Last Words  
31. 
Bibliographical Afterword  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 On the boat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

Kimono

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

LINKS

Who is Peter Milward?

Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier

BriFra

Who are the Jesuits?

Joining the Jesuits in Japan

About

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  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) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LINKS

Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier

BriFra

About

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

8. Between England and Japan

 

  Forty days at sea it took us to get from England to Japan, in startling contrast to these modern, mechanized, enlightened days, when the same journey takes only half a day by air.  Yet I wouldn’t have had it otherwise.  Half a day to reach such a remote, romantic country as Japan is much too rapid, making no allowance for differences of culture and consciousness.  After all, it takes time to adjust the mind to new surroundings, especially when they were as new as Japan was to me.  In any case, after my finals at Oxford I had the whole summer vacation to spare for the journey by sea, for a gradual progress from West to East, from my old island home in England to my new island home in Japan.  Above all, the ship on which we were to sail was a part freighter part passenger ship, the MV Frankfurt, on its maiden voyage from Bremen to Yokohama.  That implied an even more leisurely journey, stopping at various ports on the way for loading and unloading.  That would allow us time to see the sights of various places and to observe the varying differences between Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.  In between, of course, we were afforded plenty of time at sea, which might seem tedious to those desirous of what Shakespeare calls “variation and quick change”, but to me it was precisely the sea in between the ports that I found most fascinating, as I took my place in the bows and sedulously watched the ever fluctuating face of the waters.  I imagined myself on the look-out for sharks, especially once we came to tropical waters, but the only fishes that swam into my ken were the porpoises in the Mediterranean, especially along the coast of Spain, and the innumerable flying fish in the South China Sea.  The movement of the ship, too, I found swift and graceful, like the flight of a swallow.  In heavy seas, such as struck us once we left Aden and ploughed through the Arabian Sea, she would move not only forwards but also sideways, lurching now to port now to starboard, till I feared she might lurch a little too much in one direction and turn turtle.  Fortunately for us, however, she always managed to right herself in time.

 

   In the Bay of Biscay, too, we had had the heavy seas for which that stretch of the Atlantic is notorious, but once we were in the Mediterranean it was plain sailing, and all the way we were accompanied by those friendly porpoises.  Here we came to our first port of call after leaving Southampton, Genoa, but our stay there wasn’t so long, and I have little memory of what it was like or what we did there.  Thence we sailed in a Southerly direction, past a succession of islands on the starboard bow, till we came to the Straits of Messina, the classical abode of Scylla and Charybdis.  Then we seemed to be heading straight for the Italian shore when, to my amazement, the shore opened up before us and we were able to sail through a narrow defile.  Even without the sound of any Siren’s song, it seemed a miracle!  From then onwards it was open sea till we came to another coastline, that of Egypt, and found ourselves again land-locked in the Suez Canal.  At Port Said a number of passengers disembarked in the hope of visiting the Pyramids, but we stayed on board ship owing to the bad relations between the Egyptians and the English, which in fact led to war a couple of years later.  So we had to content ourselves with the narratives of those who had gone and managed to come back safely at Suez.  Even without the excursion to the Pyramids, I found it impressive enough to view the sandy banks on either side of the canal, as we moved slowly through what looked like dry land.  I found it oddly reminiscent of the Israelites of old making their way under Moses across the Red Sea.

 

   Soon we were ourselves proceeding through the Red Sea, where we came in sight of Mount Sinai standing out majestically on our port bow, evoking further memories of the Bible.  Here it was, for the first time in my life, that I set eyes on a waterspout.  I found it quite eerie.  The colour of the sea wasn’t altogether what I would have called red, but I could understand the reason for its name, given the wide variation in linguistic usage between the adjectives “red” and “brown”.  Still we moved Southwards, till we reached our next port of call, Aden.  Here, as at Genoa, we didn’t have so much time to spend, but my impressions of Aden were much more vivid than those of Genoa.  Genoa had been just another Western industrialized harbour, with all the sordidness that goes with such a harbour.  How strange it is that in the West industry and sordidness have to go together, as when Hopkins complains, in contrast to “the grandeur of God”, how “all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil, and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell.”  It wasn’t so in Aden, where first I set foot on Asian soil.  There I remember watching a game of football played barefoot by local boys, again in contrast to Hopkins’ complaint in the above-mentioned poem, “Nor can foot feel, being shod.”  That was on our way to the bazaar, which I also found delightfully Oriental.  Now, I felt, we were really in the old world of Asia, having left the smudges and smells of Europe behind us.

 

   Then we went on through the Arabian Sea, with its mountainous waves that explained the lurching of the boat as mentioned above.  What I didn’t then mention was the concern of our captain on seeing me seated as usual at my station in the bows, and he sent one of the sailors to call me back to what he thought was safety.  I was so disappointed!  I was convinced I was quite safe, as long as the boat didn’t lurch too much to one or the other side – though at times the bows seemed quite cut off from the superstructure of the boat by the swirling seas which came overboard with every lurch.  Once I reached the safety of my cabin, however, I was sea-sick – which wouldn’t have been the case if I had remained safely in the bows.  So we continued day in day out, till we came to our next port of call, Colombo, the capital of what was still Ceylon but soon to be renamed Sri Lanka with the progressive liquidation of the old British Empire.

 

   On our arrival the boat was invaded by a number of taxi-drivers, and we soon drove what seemed to us a bargain with one of them, to take us to Kandy and back with a stay overnight at the Jesuit seminary.  I had been recommended to visit this seminary by an English Jesuit who knew some of the fathers there, though I hadn’t written beforehand, not knowing if we could get there or not.  The way was particularly memorable, as the car sped along the winding roads with a deep drop on either side to the paddies, and we prayed there might be no other car speeding along the same road from the opposite direction.  The hour of sunset was even more memorable, as the colours changed with the changing of the sun, outlining the palm trees in such a way as to deepen our feeling of having come at last to the inscrutable East.  In my boyhood I had obtained a free brochure about Ceylon from a travel agent’s shop, and what I had read then now came to life, just as I had imagined it.  Shortly after sunset we reached Kandy, and there we were welcomed by Fr Minister, who was also guest-master.  He assumed we had come to see the “Perahera”.  No, what was the “Perahera”?  It turned out to be the annual festival of Kandy, the sacred procession in honour of the Buddha’s tooth, with a long line of gaily decorated elephants and groups of singers and dancers in between each pair of elephants.  We had timed ourselves perfectly for the event, without any prior planning on our part.  Or rather, it must have been the plan of divine providence for us.  That night we slept, for the first time in my life, under mosquito nets in a wide room innocent of all furniture, and the following morning we rejoined our taxi-driver for the return journey to Colombo.  That journey was quite an anti-climax after the events of the evening before.

 

   So we continued our voyage through the Bay of Bengal to the Straits of Malacca and our next port of call, Singapore.  There we stayed at the house of the Irish Jesuits and saw some of the sights, including the historic Raffles Hotel, which I chiefly remember for the gigantic fans on the ceiling providing a cool breeze amid the tropical heat.  At that time, I suppose, coolers or air-conditioners hadn’t been invented.  There I specially wanted to meet a school-friend of mine who was in Singapore for a world conference of Catholic youth.  It struck me as appropriate to go by rickshaw, and I gave his address to a coolie, who immediately set out with all the assuredness of ignorance.  After a time on the run he stopped and asked me to show him the address again, and then, shaking his head, he went into a nearby shop to make inquiries, but in vain.  I therefore decided to leave him, after having foolishly paid him the sum he demanded, and somehow – I forget how – I found the place.  There I met my friend, who introduced me to the Japanese delegation, mostly girls in kimono.  It was the first time for me to see Japanese girls in kimono, a red-letter day for me.  Ever since then I have been an admirer of both kimono and Japanese girls.  That evening I met another friend from my days at Oxford, who had returned to his home in Singapore, having taken his finals with me, but he had got back sooner.  Now he treated me to a typical Singapore dinner by the wayside.  It was so proletarian, and so delicious!  Then I had to make my way back to the boat.

 

   From Singapore I kept my eyes open all the more keenly for any lurking sharks, but none of them swam into sight.  No doubt, if I had fallen from my perch on the bows, I would have seen more of them than I wanted, but then, I considered, “Prudence is the better part of valour.”  The only fishes I saw in any abundance were the flying fish, and they were everywhere to be seen in abundance.  I remembered the story told by Thor Heyerdahl in his Kontiki Expedition, that for breakfast they only had to hold a frying-pan over the fire and in would jump an obliging flying fish.  Now I could well believe it.  Here the sea was as smooth as it had been in the Mediterranean, and before long we reached the last outpost of the British Empire, Hong Kong.  There we again stayed with the Irish Jesuits, who had two large colleges, both named Wah Yan, one on the island of Victoria and the other on the mainland of Kowloon.  We took up our lodging at the former.  The main event of our sojourn that still sticks in my memory was a dinner arranged for us in the evening high up on the mountain by an army officer related to one of our English Jesuits back home.  To me it was memorable for two more firsts.  One was my use of chop-sticks for the first time – only I forget how skilful or how awkward I was in the use of them.  The other was the strange sound of the cicada all round us.  What kind of insect was this, I wondered?  I was soon to deepen and improve my acquaintance with the little creatures in Japan and to appreciate the way their sound seems to sink into the rocks, as the Japanese haiku poet Basho puts it.  Thus I was insensibly drawing closer to the land of my dreams, Japan.

 

   Before we reached our goal, however, we had one more port of call, Manila.  There the harbour was the least attractive of all the harbours we had encountered in the East – once we had left Genoa behind.  Anyhow, we found a taxi and asked the driver to take us to the nearest Jesuit house, which happened to be the Provincial’s residence.  Only, I wanted him to stop at a bank for the changing of money..  So we stopped at a bank and changed as much money as we thought we would need for the length of our stay.  Then we drove on, quite a distance, to our destination.  There we found, much to our astonishment, the driver charging us more than all the money we had changed at the bank.  The only thing we could do was to go into the house and ask the Fr Minister to come and help us.  His way of helping us was to scold the taxi-driver for overcharging us and to send him back to his office without any payment.  Thus we were able to keep our money.  There we found ourselves accorded the same warm welcome as we had received at all our ports of call, excepting only Aden, where there had been no Jesuits.  The kind Provincial, who was later to become Bishop of the Mariana Islands, arranged for us to have a guided tour of Manila, especially all the Jesuit houses in the city, some of them for Filipinos and others for Chinese.  Some of them, notably the noviciate of Novaliches, seemed quite palatial, in the Oriental manner, with open corridors giving onto balconies and wide bedrooms for the growing number of novices. Others, notably those for the Chinese, who were awaiting the time when they could return to the Chinese mainland, looked run-down and miserable, especially when it came on to rain – as it did for us during our visit.  I had never seen such rain in all my life.  It came down from the sky in solid sheets of water, so that it was impossible for us to distinguish individual drops.  Fortunately for us, when it came on to rain, we just had the time to take cover.  A few more seconds outside, and we would have become soaked to the skin.

 

   While we were visiting the famous Jesuit school, the Ateneo of Manila, we received word from the ship, via the Provincial’s residence, that we were to return at once.  The boat was leaving harbour immediately, owing to a typhoon in the offing.  All the same, we were unsuccessful in avoiding the storm.  One notable effect on one of the waiters on board, which happened while I was sitting near the rail, was his loss of balance while carrying a tray of glasses during an extra heavy lurch, and the glasses were all broken – reminding me of similar occasions in the refectory at St Beuno’s.  All the same, we managed to weather the typhoon, and it wasn’t long before we were moving into Tokyo Bay.  It was already evening after a drizzly day.  On our port bow we could see the last remnants of sunset, and in the pale red of its lingering glow we could make out the regular form of a lone mountain, a volcano with its slopes broken off at the top.  It must have been Mount Fuji!  From its position in relation to the coastline of the bay it could have been no other.  Now we had come to the land not, as it is commonly called, of the rising but of the setting sun, and its sacred symbol was Mount Fuji.  We soon arrived at the port of Yokohama, but it was too late for us to disembark or to go through the procedures for disembarkation.  For them we had to wait till the following morning, when the officials were ready to come on board and examine us in turn and check our luggage.  There we were met by another Fr Minister from our destined language school at Yokosuka, with a couple of Spanish scholastics who had come to help him and us.  Finally, once we had left our boat and the harbour of Yokohama behind us, we could feel we had come to the Far East and to Japan, just as St Francis Xavier had come four centuries earlier – not to Yokohama but Kagoshima.

 

   Finally, by way of postscript, what, I may be asked, did this voyage tell me about human life?  First, it taught me the precious lesson that all life is but a voyage from beginning to end, or from an old life to a new life – the old being symbolized by England and the new by Japan.  Secondly, it taught me how universal is the Society of Jesus, which I had joined at St Beuno’s and which had now sent me to Japan.  It also taught me how, as we say of the sailor, that he has a wife in every port, so I could say of the Jesuit, that he has a house of fellow Jesuits in every port – with one or two exceptions like Aden.  And everywhere, far more than we had any right to expect, we met with a warm welcome from the Jesuit missionaries in Asia, who were only too happy to see our fresh faces and to hear the latest news from home.  Thirdly, it taught me, what till now I had had to learn from maps and books of travel, what a great difference there is between the old world of Europe and the older world of Asia, between my old English home with its “old familiar faces” and places and my new home in Japan.  Now, though I wasn’t yet aware of it, I was acquiring a new kind of consciousness, and with that consciousness I was gaining new horizons in both a literal and a metaphorical sense.  Now I found my consciousness being stretched between an island in the Far West, or as Virgil puts it, “Et penitos toto divisos orbe Britannos” – “The British cut off from almost the whole world” – and another island in the Far East.  Now what Virgil thus says of Britain, I was coming even more vividly to feel of Japan, that she wasn’t just cut off from the whole world but that she was something of an intellectual and cultural backwater of this post-war period, in the very back of beyond.  This, however, was a thought that, so far from depressing me, excited me – giving as it did onto the further thought of what now lay ahead of me, in what Shakespeare might have called “the dark forward and abysm of time”.  After all, the future is no less dark than the past, however much we may embrace a false optimism which looks only to a bright future.  All we know about the future is that we know nothing about it.  Our poor knowledge, for what it is, is confined to the past and the immediate present, which is ever slipping into the past.  Anyhow, I could reflect on what Shakespeare’s Henry V shouts to his followers in the siege of Harfleur, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!” 

 <- Prev *** Next ->