PMGenesis: Chapter 10

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


<- Prev *** Next ->

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  









 Mount Fuji















 Mannengahana (Hamada)









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) 



















10. Rural Japan


  Visitors to Japan are often impressed by the modernity and convenience of Tokyo.  But I am not so impressed.  Nor have I ever been impressed from the time I first set foot in this great city.  It was shortly after our arrival in Taura that we first made our way thither by primitive modes of transport, past interminable rows of primitive dwellings, to Tokyo.  Our purpose wasn’t sightseeing, since in those days there were few sights worth seeing, but the making of our first acquaintance with Sophia University, known in Japan as Jochi Daigaku.  After all it was for Sophia that I had come to Japan, but that wasn’t to be till I had completed our two-year course of language study at Taura and four more years of theology at St Mary’s College in Kami-Shakujii, Tokyo, as well as another year of tertianship at Hiroshima.  We Jesuits are nothing if not thorough in our formation and our preparation for various kinds of ministry – except when we are rushed into doing something with insufficient forethought, and then we soon regret it.  In fact, we found the buildings of Sophia among the most impressive we saw in Tokyo, especially the old faculty building called the Kulturheim, which was soon to become a desirable chapel for weddings (mostly for former students) with elegant waiting-rooms for bride and bridegroom.  By Japanese standards it was very old, going back as it did to the Meiji era at the beginning of the twentieth century.  It was almost a museum-piece.  Even more impressive was the church of St Ignatius adjoining the Sophia campus.  It wasn’t so old, as it had only been put up after the war, when the whole area had been devastated by the American bombs.  Yet after only fifty years it had come to be regarded as too old, in need of replacement by a modern church – though I have to admit that the modern replacement isn’t as bad as such buildings go.


   As I have said, one of the three of us stayed behind at Sophia to teach English to the students there for six months, while we two returned to Taura to teach English to our Spanish companions.  Still, I was invited to spend one day a week – our one free day in the week – to give a couple of classes in the English Literature department.  This was by no means an unwelcome request, since it offered me a change first from the tedium of teaching English, and next from the greater tedium of learning Japanese.  Once a week, therefore, I would take the train from Taura to Tokyo and introduce my new Japanese students to the mysteries of Shakespeare and Victorian literature (as seen through the eyes of GK Chesterton).  This division of subject-matter I found interesting, fresh as I was from Oxford.  With Shakespeare I had no difficulty, but for me Victorian literature was an almost entirely new subject, since at Oxford the serious study of English comes to an end with the death of Sir Walter Scott in 1832.  For my textbook I chose Chesterton’s Victorian Age in Literature partly because it was incomprehensible to my students and therefore calling for detailed explanation on my part.  Even with my explanation I suspected it still remained incomprehensible to them.  Only, they prudently and charitably concealed from me their lack of comprehension.  No doubt they considered it would be impolite if they showed any dissatisfaction with the teacher’s chosen textbook.


   Apart from this day a week in term-time, I preferred to keep away from Tokyo, just as in my boyhood I had preferred to keep away from London, with my eyes and my heart looking rather to the countryside.  In the city, even a bombed-out city like Tokyo, everything is modern and up-to-date, everything is distracting to the spirit of man.  But in the countryside, especially in post-war Japan, before the economic recovery had time to penetrate to its inmost recesses, everything is rural and traditional and conducive to peace and prayer.  Once, early in my sojourn at Taura, I had the opportunity of going further afield than the Miura Peninsula to the district of Hakone at the foot of Mount Fuji.  This was a place noted for its many hot springs, but I was more interested in the wild mountain scenery than the hot springs – though these form another basic item of Japanese culture, after food.  The scenes of Mount Fuji were, in particular, breath-taking, especially when reflected in the nearby Lake Ashi.  At that time, I was so excited at the view of this fairy mountain, even from a moving train window, that I would point to it with the cry, “Mount Fuji! Mount Fuji!” – in much the same spirit as Gerard Manley Hopkins, looking up at the stars, cried, “Look up at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!”  For me she wasn’t just one among the many mountains in this mountainous island, she was unique, herself alone – with all the uniqueness of Shakespeare among the poets and other authors in English literature.

   The following summer, after almost a year had passed since my arrival, I had a similar but more extended opportunity of spending a couple of weeks at the foot of this mountain, beside one of the many lakes there, Saiko – or Western Lake.  Here we held our summer “villa”, customary for Jesuit scholastics as a respite from our studies, when we would be encouraged to vegetate and forget about books and classes.  Here we were divided among a group of huts or bungalows on a hillside facing the mountain across the lake.  It was a perfect spot for a rest.  We were also supplied with bicycles to ride from lake to lake, with the lovely form of Fuji before us or behind us or at our side.  It was, moreover, a convenient starting-point for making our way to and up the mountain.  We could easily reach it by bus, which took us half-way up, and from then onwards it was an arduous climb up a path of outsize cinders – not at all romantic!  All the way up I was reflecting how much more romantic Mount Fuji was from a distance.  Close up was the harsh reality, like life in the modern world.  At a certain stage in our climb we came to a hut where we could snatch a few hours of sleep before making the final ascent in time to view the sunrise from the summit.  In Japanese this was called goraiko – “the honourable coming of the first rays of sunshine”.  It was indeed a magnificent view, the first time I had ever really seen the sun rising, not just at a glance but steadily through all its stages from the first appearance of the morning star till the eventual emergence of the glorious sun.  It was the experience of a lifetime, and therefore not to be repeated.  Once was enough.


   The following summer I had another unique experience, for which I had to venture further to the West of Japan.  We had a little Jesuit church in the fishing town of Hamada on the Japan Sea in the rural prefecture of Shimane.  The priest in charge was planning to run a summer school in English for the high-school students there.  He had no doubt heard of the presence of English scholastics at Taura, and so I was invited to go about the beginning of August.  First, I thought I would go to Hiroshima, where we also had a large Peace Memorial Church.  There, too, the city was holding its annual commemoration of the atomic bomb, which had destroyed the whole region on August 6 1945.  By fast train from Tokyo it took me some eighteen hours to reach Hiroshima – a journey that nowadays takes only five hours.  It was a steam train, and there were many tunnels on the way, and the only means of ventilation in the hot weather was by opening all the windows.  Since I was wearing a white shirt, by the time I reached my destination that shirt was quite black with soot.  Once I was there, I found myself in a crowd of Catholic pilgrims, who were converging on the Peace Memorial Church for the occasion.  It was so inspiring, singing with them all in that vast cathedral.  That night I took the express bus across the mountains to Hamada.  This was another memorable experience, not so inspiring but eerie and at times frightening.  I would have been even more frightened in the daytime, if I could have seen the steep precipice on one side as we were driving along the primitive mountain roads.  Whenever traffic, especially a truck or a bus, came from the opposite direction, much careful manoeuvring was needed on either side, as the road was so narrow and dangerous.  The next morning we drove into Hamada, and there was the priest with a number of my future pupils waiting to welcome me.


   The church of Hamada wasn’t at all like a church.  It was an ordinary rural house in the traditional Japanese style, with a chapel converted from a room on the first (or what Japanese and Americans call the second) floor, and my bedroom was next to the chapel.  On the ground floor I was to hold my English classes, for which the boys came from the local high school with one of their teachers.  The teacher had met Englishmen before, having served as interpreter for the British navy whose base had been not so far away.  For the boys, however, I was the first Englishman and no doubt the first foreigner (apart from the Spanish priest) they had ever seen.  They looked up at me with wide open eyes.  We didn’t spend all our time in the classroom, however.  When the weather was fine, we went outside to a beauty spot in the vicinity from which we had an excellent view of the sea.  The spot was named Mannengahana, or literally, “Nose of Ten Thousand Years”, a headland from which we could look down on the rocks far below and the breaking waves, with sea-gulls soaring overhead.  It was so romantic, provided we directed our thoughts away from the ill omens connected with the place.  This was notorious as a favourite spot for suicides, particularly the joint suicides of frustrated lovers, who would be protected in the other world by the goddess Kwannon with her statue standing at the highest point of the headland. But we weren’t troubled by such thoughts – at least, I wasn’t.  Our troubles came in the more particular and painful form of mosquitoes, who would have pestered us no less at the church than on this headland.


  The church stood at the foot of a castle mound, of which only the mound and a Shinto shrine remained.  Still, it was good to climb it from time to time and look down on the fishing harbour below.  As for the shrine, it was fronted by two stone lions called komainu, who looked more like ferocious dogs than lions.  There was also a stone basin with flowing water, for washing one’s hands and face by way of purification before entering the sacred precincts.  Then there was the stone torii, and then a walk uphill till one came to the shrine itself in an open space.  Here, too, as at the Hachiman Shrine in Kamakura, I would observe people coming in ones or twos to worship in the prescribed manner.  What I forgot to mention in speaking of the shrines at Kamakura was that in Shinto, though there are many gods, there are no idols, but the three objects venerated inside each shrine are the mirror, the sword and the jewel, all connected with the legend of the sun-goddess Amaterasu.  The “idols” to be seen in Japan are mostly those connected with Buddhism, some of them quite gigantic.  Also, while praying before the shrine one may pull a thick rope to ring a softly tinkling bell.  I found it oddly contrasting with the solemn booming bells of Buddhist temples, which have to be rung from the outside with long wooden beams.  Here one’s prayers may take visible form in pieces of white paper on which one writes a petition before attaching it to the branches of a sacred tree, such as a gingko.


   During my sojourn at Hamada, I didn’t spend all the time in that fishing town.  Thanks to the initiative of the parish priest, I received invitations to give lectures in English at many schools in the area, not only high schools such as the local Hamada High School, but also junior high schools and even elementary schools in the mountainous districts behind Hamada.  Altogether my time at Hamada was extremely busy.  But for me it was “the busier, the better.”  Needless to say, the Japanese students couldn’t understand a word I said, but one of their teachers acted as interpreter for me.  All the time he was interpreting my words, I noticed they were all looking at me with wide open eyes, as they, too, had never seen a foreigner before.  For them it was as if I had just descended from Mars on a flying saucer, or as if I had just returned from the grave.  They couldn’t believe their eyes!  The impact I made on them, without realizing it, was all the more evident in the lonely mountainous regions, where they were real country children, belong to a generation that has, alas, passed away.


  That was all merely a foretaste of Hamada.  The following year, when we completed our language course at Taura in January, I had two months ahead of me before entering on the next stage of my Jesuit formation in theology.  So I was free and welcome to return to Hamada in a very different season of the year.  Before, it had been so hot in the month of August, when our only means of refrigeration had been a fan, whether electric or manual.  Now, in the months of February and March it was so cold.  This time I made my way to Hamada directly by the Izumo Express, whose terminus wasn’t the famous shrine of Izumo but the further station of Hamada.  Again, on my arrival the Spanish priest and some of my former pupils were waiting for me on the platform.  It was all so familiar, as it had been in the good old month of August.  Only the season was so much colder, and I had fewer invitations to go and give lectures here and there, as this was the time for examinations in Japan.  It was also the time for snow to fall, and it fell in greater quantity on this side of the island facing the Japan Sea than on the Pacific side.  I have vivid memories of life at the church, sitting at the table over what was called a kotatsu, or a heated space for our feet, and another source of heat at our side called a hibachi, or a jar filled with live charcoal.  Such traditional means of heating I found far cosier and more agreeable than modern methods of steam or electricity.  As Shakespeare says, “Old customs please me best.”


   The snow was specially memorable.  I remember visiting the Shinto shrine again in the snow.  This time I felt something about it I hadn’t noticed in the summer.  Maybe it was made for the winter, or maybe some god or ghost was more disposed to visit the place during the winter months – though in Japan, unlike England, ghost stories are for the summer, not the winter.  On another occasion, I went for a couple of days to the regional capital of Matsue, which was associated with a famous Englishman who had made his home here during the Meiji period, Lafcadio Hearn.  While staying at the Catholic church there, I visited the old castle, one of the few genuinely old castles remaining in Japan, but in the season of winter, with snow all round, I was the only visitor.  I felt it eerie being all alone in that old building.  I felt as if I was back in the age of St Francis Xavier, when he, too, had visited many a warlord in such a castle.  Climbing to the topmost room, I could survey the snowscape all round and recall the dreams of warriors described by Basho in one of his famous haiku.  I could also understand the interest Lafcadio Hearn had taken in the ghost stories of old Japan.  In today’s Japan there is all too little room for such stories.


   It was also at Matsue that, without realizing it, and without intending it, I had my first comprehensible conversation in Japanese with a Buddhist monk.  I happened to be walking past a number of monasteries in a district set aside, as in many old castle towns, for such buildings, when I noticed a particularly interesting statue not of Buddha but of a very human-looking monk.  I asked one of the women working nearby who the statue was, but she didn’t know.  Unwilling, however, to leave me in my ignorance, she insisted on taking me to the entrance of the monastery and calling for the abbot himself to give me the necessary enlightenment.  He now came to the entrance and, without inviting me to come in and sit by a fire in the parlour, he simply sat there and answered my question.  In spite of the cold and the snow, I felt disposed to continue the conversation as one question of mine led to another.  My first question was soon answered.  It was the statue of the founder of that particular sect of Buddhism, Nichiren, who had been a militant monk in the Kamakura period in the thirteenth century.  From him we went on to speak about the differences and the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity.  I rather emphasized the differences, and he the similarities.  It was for me a fascinating conversation, being the first genuine conversation I had had in Japanese.  But outside it was getting colder and colder.  Or rather, I felt the cold not only outside but also deep within my bones.  So before I myself became like the statue, I had to break off the conversation after an hour or so, with the remark, “At least you must admit that for Christians our two religions are different, even if for Buddhists they are much the same!”  Soon, however, I returned to Hamada, none the worse for that conversation in the snow.  And soon I had to break off those happy two months of winter in Hamada for my return to Tokyo.

 <- Prev *** Next ->