Globally known for his masterpieces such as An Artist of the Floating World (1986) and The Remains of the Day (1989), Kazuo Ishiguro received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature. Although he was born in Nagasaki in 1954, he moved to England in 1960. Therefore, he has long been considered to be a British writer. Nonetheless, the Swedish Academy seems to have been conscious of each Nobel laureate’s birthplace. Thus, it is highly plausible that they classified Ishiguro as a Japanese man of letters writing novels in London. If so, Ishiguro deserves the name of the third Nobel laureate in literature, with Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972) and Oe Kenzaburo (1935-) as his predecessors.
To be exact, however, Ishiguro is not the one and only Japanese British writing works in London. Enter Keiko Itoh. Her first novel MY SHANGHAI, 1942-1946 written in English and published from Renaissance in 2015 narrates what happened to her family during and after the World War II, in the form of the diary written by Viscount Hisaakira Kanō's second daughter HIdeko nicknamed Rosa, the mother of the author herself. The heroine Eiko Kishimoto and her husband Hiroshi, who is modeled after the author's father Eikichi Itoh, the president of ITOCHU Cooperation (http://keikoitoh.com/). Note that this novel begins a month after Pearl Harbor, featuring a twenty-year-old, London-educated woman Eiko and her family members and multicultural friends. Although Eiko's family first came to Shanghai and settled into a privileged existence in the French Concession, the tides of war gradually and radically transformed her life, depriving the family of all the privileges. While a major speculative fictionist J. G. Ballard semi-autobiographically described the same period in Shanghai in Empire of the Sun (1987) shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Itoh's novel uncovers one of the lost worlds of good old days filled with high-society activities cherished by the high-class young Japanese housewife.
What intrigued me most is that while the novel includes the entries for "Monday, 6 August 1945," the author never mentions Hiroshima at all. Indeed, the heroine very naturally finds the tide of war changing. Nonetheless, her landscape still seems very serene. All she hopes for is a peaceful life: "High above the blue skies float strips of clouds that look like fish scales, and I can already feel an early autumn breeze. ... And I overheard Japanese neighbors in the building saying that radio broadcasts from military headquarters report important Japanese victories against the encroaching Americans. I wonder if this means that we are close to war's end, that a settlement for peace can finally be worked out" (pp.310-311). Her silent meditation will convince us of the reality of the war, without mentioning the effect of Little Boy. Given that the heroine calls this diary "my friend" (p.4), you must feel like comparing this novel with Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl (1947), the very text nicknamed as "Kitty."
It is in the summer of 2014 that I had a casual but dramatic encounter with the author Keiko Itoh in London. As I was conducting research on my paternal grandfather Kōnojo Tatsumi (1864-1931), the general manager of the London Branch of the Yokohama Specie Bank, the archetype of Mitsubishi UFJ, who spent nearly three decades in London from the mid-1890s through 1920, I happened to read her first book The Japanese Community in Prewar Britain (Routledge, 2001) based upon her Ph.D. dissertation approved by the London School of Economics, where she covered the history of the very bank. Thus, while I was attending the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention held in London (August 14-18, 2014), I visited her at home near Parsons Green station. Discussing a variety of historical topics, both of us are amazed that my grandfather and her own grandfather Viscount Hisaakira Kanō (1886-1963), the last manager of the very bank, were colleagues from the 1910s through 1920 at the same London branch of the Yokohama Specie Bank. In his recollection, Viscount Kanō represented Kōnojo Tatsumi as “a role model for many of the élite of London's small Japanese community:” “He believed that a bank prospered when its sporting spirits were high, and so leased, as many English banks did, a sports ground with a cricket field and six tennis courts in Lower Sydenham. By the time Tatsumi left London in 1920, Japan's position in the world had risen and the bank's business had expanded. The Japanese community had also become much bigger and more established. Tatsumi had done much to instill confidence and pride in the younger generation of community leaders” (Kanō Hisaakira, “Rondon Seikatsu Dangi” in Shōkin-jin, last edition 1947). While my grandfather passed away six years before the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), Viscount Kano, the last manager of the bank, survived the World War II, which caused him to endure the hardship of internment on the Isle of Man.
Thus, on March 9th, 2016, with the help of Keio University's Society for Arts and Letters and my own grants-in-Aid for scientific research (Kakenhi) from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, I invited her to give a lecture on MY SHANGHAI, 1942-1946 (Note: later its Japanese version was published by Takanashi Shobou Publishers in December 24th, 2021, with Prof. Erika Aso as a translator: https://www.tkns-shobou.co.jp/books/view/383). It is after the lecture that another dramatic encounter occurred. Keiko Itoh introduced me to some of the participants including not only her friends but also her elder brother Mr. Koichi Itoh I mentioned in my last blog and his son Prof. Kohei Itoh of Keio University’s Faculty of Science and Technology, who was to be elected as the 20th president of Keio University itself in April 2022.
Although I first met Prof. Kohei Itoh after the 2015 symposium held at North Building’s Hall of Mita campus, which was intended to criticize our government’s “New Security Bill” nicknamed “War Bill” and their repression of the humanities and education, at that point I did not associate him with Keiko Itoh I had met a year ago in London; the name “Itoh” is quite common in Japan. And yet, once their kinship was revealed, I was induced to meditate upon one hundred years of solidarity between the families; while Vicount Kano, Keiko Itoh’s grandfather and Kohei Itoh’s great grandfather was my own grandfather’s colleague a century ago, I and President Itoh are working together now to make Keio Academy of New York much better, trying to develop the partnership between our school and Hackley in Tarrytown (https://www.hackleyschool.org/newsdetail?pk=1497410&nc=11310&fromId=254399). Without these dramatic and even historical encounters, I would not have published my latest book Keio Gijuku and its Trans-Pacific Imagination: Following in the Footsteps of Fukuzawa Yukichi (Tokyo: Takanashi Shobou Publishers, August 19, 2022: http://www.tatsumizemi.com/2022/09/newyork.html).