Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

THE 5th(2018) – Recipients of Kokkiken Japan Study Award

Kokkiken Japan Study Award

Japan Study Award
Robert Morton(Professor at Chuo University)

“A.B. Mitford and the Birth of Japan As a Modern State: Letters Home” (Renaissance Books, 2017)

Recipient’s remark

Robert Morton

I am deeply honoured and grateful to be receiving the Japan Study Award, as well as being absolutely amazed. When I look at the list of the other recipients of the award, not to mention think of all the other outstanding books on Japan that were published last year, I simply cannot believe that I was even considered, much less won it. As Ernest Hemingway said when he won the Nobel Prize, ‘No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the prize can accept it other than with humility.’ So, it is in a thrilled, surprised, grateful, humble and slightly bewildered frame of mind that I write a little about how the book was written and how I feel about it.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I’m particularly pleased to be receiving the award in 2018, with this year marking the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration. This is the central event in my book, and probably in Japanese history. We can’t study it too much I think – there are so many points from which to view it, each of them revealing new insights. A.B. Mitford, the subject of my book, was incredibly fortunate that he was in Japan at just the right time, arriving in 1866 and leaving in 1870. Had he been in the country a few years earlier, his experience would have been one of deep frustration, mingled with danger, because Japan was not yet ready to meaningfully interact with the West. On the other hand, if he had been there a few years later, he would have been safer and more comfortable, but he would have found it dull.

I think that Japan would not have engaged him nearly as much as it did had he been there in quieter times. His stay provided him with remarkable opportunities: he stood face-to-face with the teenage Emperor Meiji when almost everybody else, including the Shogun, could only talk to him from behind a screen; he watched as the last Shogun’s power slipped away; he was in the first group of Westerners to witness a hara-kiri, his atmospheric account of which is now a classic. Without these sorts of experiences, he may very well have remained of the view that he had at the start of his stay in Japan that China, for all its chaos and its squalor, was a much more inspiring country.

The anniversary of the Meiji Restoration is an opportunity to reflect on the progress that Japan has made in the 150 years. I think Mitford himself would have been basically pleased. He would not have liked the technology and modernity: he was happier with Japan being backwards, because it was more distinctive that way. Soldiers wearing traditional armour or the enormously long Daimyō processions could not possibly survive in a modern state but he adored these traditions, because they were part of what made Japan so special. Once Japan started to lose them, it became more like other countries and consequently less interesting. He would have absolutely hated the ease with which visitors can now reach Japan and the huge numbers of tourists from overseas now coming. He much preferred it when he was the only one. But, having made all these objections, he would have greatly admired the peaceful prosperity he saw and been happy to see the Japanese people doing so well.

When you start working on a biography, you don’t know how you’re going to feel about your subject at the end. It is easy to lose your faith in them and sometimes you end up not liking them very much. When I started the project I had terrible doubts about whether there was anything really worthwhile to say about Mitford at all. As it turned out, I came to like him so much that when I finished the book, I felt worried that I would never again find a subject as engaging or interesting. But you really don’t know if it will work out until you’re so committed that there’s no turning back.

One of the best things about writing a biography is travelling to the places your subject went to. Some biographers in their introductions make it sound like this is a terrible chore, but this kind of research should be fun I think. Admittedly, I was particularly fortunate in the places I got to visit – Mitford never lived in a dull or ugly place. His house in the Cotswolds, Batsford, is in a particularly lovely setting, in one of the most beautiful parts of England. He was able to build it following a very lucky inheritance, and it was a joy to visit. The present owner, Lord Dulverton, kindly showed me around, eager to talk about his house’s illustrious first occupant. The house is not open to the public, but Mitford’s garden that he created there is, with its maple trees and cherry blossoms – the two quintessential natural markers of the Japanese seasons. He planted the most comprehensive collection of bamboo in Britain and some of it is still there. There is a tea house, Japanese-style bridges and little waterfalls. It sounds as if he created a Japanese garden but he consciously avoided doing this, believing it was impossible outside Japan: ‘We must not imitate them, for if we do, we shall merely parody them. Bamboos and stones and lanterns will not make a Japanese garden.’

I was less lucky with his father’s house, Exbury, which is in another lovely part of England, on the south coast, looking across from the mainland to the Isle of Wight. As with Batsford, the garden is open to the public, while the house is not. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get into this one, the present owners making the very reasonable point that the house is completely different now from the one that Mitford knew so there was no point in my visiting. I wanted to say that they should understand a biographer’s obsession with visiting every place associated with their subject. You can’t really know a place enough to write about it in a book from other people’s descriptions – you must experience what your subject experienced. And even if the place is gone, you can get hints from what is left. Mitford’s birthplace, in Mayfair, London, is no longer standing, but if you visit the site, you will notice that opposite it is still standing a mansion where the King’s brother lived, which tells you that it must have been an extremely prestigious address. When you combine this with the knowledge that his family was short of money, you can start to draw a picture of people who were struggling hard to keep up appearances. This kind of extrapolation has its dangers though. When I visited the place that Mitford used to spend his summers, Trouville, on the Normandy coast in France, I was impressed by the opulence of the place. It is next to Deauville, which hosts a glamorous film festival and was the site of the 2011 G8 summit. However, Mitford’s family used to go there before the railway to Paris was built, when it was nothing more than a fishing village. Had I based my impressions on the place as it now looks, I would have been making a big mistake. You have to find as much information as you can, try to experience the same things as your subject and then attempt to form the most honest and complete picture that you can. In the introduction to the book, I wrote: ‘with a biography, about 90% of what you discover does not go into it; the trouble is that you do not know until you have been to the places and read the sources what the magic 10% will be’. However, I have changed my mind. It actually all goes in. Anything that contributes to giving you a fuller, truer picture of your subject, even if you do not include it, is important.

Essentially biography is an acceptable form of nosiness. You trawl through a subject’s most personal papers, desperately trying to find the things that they tried to hide. It is hard for biographical subjects to hold on to many secrets from beyond the grave if they are being pursued by a determined researcher. Mitford was very good at keeping his and, who knows? – there may be some very big things that I have missed. But we do know that he had a Japanese mistress and child through two chance letters in Japanese in his archive. It is an important aspect of his stay in Japan which he obviously worked very hard to keep secret, and it could easily have remained so. Unfortunately, finding out these tantalizing pieces of information simply throws up more questions. What became of Tomi, the woman, and their child, Omitsu? Did Mitford find a way of supporting them financially? Did he see them when he returned to Japan in 1906 (by which time Omitsu would have been in his or her late 30s)? The best a biographer can do when faced with all these unanswerable questions is speculate based on the stories of others in similar situations. We can be fairly sure that Omitsu’s life would not have been easy – the product of, at the time, an illegal union. Tomi had no rights over the child whom Mitford could legally have taken away from her. Many women in her situation killed themselves and the child to avoid the shame and stigma of being in such a position.

In other ways, Mitford was very kind to his biographer. He wrote remarkable letters to his father from Japan. No line in them was dull or commonplace. He had his own distinctive view of events – often based on misconceptions and misunderstandings – but always interesting. His view of Japan was, of course, greatly coloured by his background. In certain ways he was typical of his age and class – and when it came to British politics he was very conservative. But Japan brought out his compassion for the downtrodden. It also made him realise that Western influence was not necessarily good for a culture as tradition-bound and sophisticated as Japan’s. He had the freshness of an outsider but quickly learned that it was fatally easy to make foolish observations about Japan based on ignorance of its ways. It is fortunate that he had colleagues who were also great recorders and observers so that we can compare his accounts with theirs. Foremost among them was Ernest Satow, who while Mitford’s junior in both age and status had learned Japanese, both spoken and written, to an astounding degree, and through his tireless efforts to cultivate useful contacts, had a deep knowledge and understanding of Japan. I think without Satow’s example before him, Mitford may not have made such an effort to learn Japanese. More importantly, without Satow, he would not have achieved such a quick understanding of the people and culture. At the same time, he held tight to his own opinions. It took time before he came to respect Japan and accept it on its own terms.

I originally set out to write a biography of Mitford’s entire life. He was after all the grandfather of one of the most famous families in Britain: the ‘Mitford sisters’, four of whom were bestselling writers and two of whom became notorious through their friendships with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany. Their father, Mitford’s son, dreaded opening the newspapers for fear of what they would be saying about one or other of them. Many books have been written about them, covering their exploits from every angle. Yet, A.B. Mitford, who in some ways was the most remarkable member of the family, had no biography. The trouble is that his life apart from Japan is not well documented. As with his granddaughters, there are hints of scandal behind the respectable Victorian mask, but unlike them, his archive is unrevealing. It feels like someone had gone through it taking out anything that might be interesting (very likely this is what happened). So what remains is a pile of fairly random papers, hardly any of which have any real value.

Particularly after winning this prize, I feel extremely glad about this, because it made me focus on the most exciting time in his life – the Japan experience – compared to which, if we are honest, everything else he did was fairly ordinary. It was just part of the lucky series of events – in this case, unlucky-seeming good luck – that has led to this wonderful conclusion.

I can honestly say that while it was a rollercoaster experience (as I suppose most things worth doing are), I learned so much by writing this book and it gave me so much pleasure and fulfilment. I hope that it brings some attention to my hero and allows people to see the Meiji Restoration in a fresh light. I cannot tell you how happy I am that others have read the book and seen fit to confer this great honour on me.

Recipient’s biography

I have been a professor at Chuo University since 2000 and prior to that was a visiting professor at Keio University. I have a BA in history from Sussex University, an MA in Applied Linguistics from York University, both in the UK; and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Queensland in Australia. If this sounds a slightly scattered CV, it is. My path has been far from straightforward. As Misora Hibari used to sing, it’s been a 凸凹道や曲がりくねった道 – full of twists and turns. But thanks to the support of Chuo University, I have been able to find a calling: pursuing my original goal of history, albeit in Japan, and my interest in researching lives through biography. I have been editor-in-chief of the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan since 2001, the oldest scholarly journal in Japan and was president of the Society from 2010 to 2011. I gave the 24th Princess Chichibu Memorial Lecture on the links between Emperor Meiji and Queen Victoria. I have written a biography of a monk, which involved entering the remarkable world of a Benedictine Monastery, ‘The Six Lives of Father Neal Lawrence.’ (Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, fourth series, volume 21, 2007, Supplement, Tokyo: 2008.) I have also done considerable work in British nineteenth-century history, publishing articles on the Duke of Wellington, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. I was particularly interested in how they interacted with the monarch, Queen Victoria. In addition, I’ve contributed three short biographies to the amazing Britain and Japan: Biographical Portraits series, one of A.B. Mitford (of course), one of his ultimate boss for the first half of his stay in Japan, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Stanley, and one of his friend Henry Keppel. I have also contributed a chapter to a forthcoming book, on Lord Clarendon (Mitford’s ultimate boss for the other half of his stay in Japan), British Foreign Secretaries and Japan, 1850-1990: Aspects of the Evolution of British Foreign Policy, published by the Japan Society. With Ian Ruxton, who is the great specialist on Ernest Satow, I published an annotated and edited volume of Satow’s diaries covering the period of Mitford’s stay in Japan (Robert Morton and Ian Ruxton, eds. The Diaries of Sir Ernest Mason Satow, 1861-1869. Kyoto: Eureka, 2013). Satow was Mitford’s close companion in Japan, and immersing myself in Satow’s accounts turned out to be one of the most useful things for writing my book. Inspired by this, I have recently completed a similar book: This interesting period of Japan’s history: Private letters from Sir Harry Parkes to Edmund Hammond, 1865-1868, which will be published later this year, also by Eureka. Parkes’ letters are not nearly as fun to read as Mitford’s – he had no sense of humour – but he was the man who actually had the power to direct events, so was undeniably more important. I hope it is of use to scholars of the period and I also hope that it will help me write a biography of Parkes. As with the Mitford book, I have no idea how this will turn out. I have largely done the research so now, essentially, I have a huge pile of bricks, from which I somehow have to construct a, hopefully, reasonable-looking house. Receiving this wonderful award has helped to boost my confidence and made me feel that I just might succeed.

Japan Study Special Award
Choe Kilsung(Professor Emeritus,Hirosima University
Professor University of East Asia)

““Chosen Syussin no Chobanin ga Mita Ianhu no Shinjitsu – Bunka Jinrui Gakusya ga Yomitoku ‘Ianjo Nikki’”- English translation: “The Truth of Comfort Women: As Seen by a Brothel Receptionist from Korea / ‘Comfort Staion Diaries’ Scrutinized by a Cultural Anthoropologist”(Heart Syuppan, 2017)

Recipient’s remarks

Choe Kilsung

The 2018 Kokkiken Japan Study Special Award is a surprise for me beccause I have had no experience of receiving any “award” before.

After studyig in Japan, I returned to South Korea to become a teacher of Japanology. In the 1980s, Korean people harbored strong anti-Japanese sentiment. I was accused as a pro-Japanese scholar. Such a situation stimulated me to embark on research on anti-Japanese feelings in my country. I also chose to challenge studies on the Japanese colonial rule of Korea. Thus, I remain involved in research in a way of confronting anti-Japanese Koreans. Yet, I am neither an absolute pro-Japanese nor an absolute anti-Japanese. It is true that I have been acknowledged as a neutral and objective scholar.

As a researcher, I do not stand up for or against anyone. Korean nationals can naturally enjoy a Japan-South Korea sport competition shown live on TV when they support the Korean team. However, researchers should avoid such a behavior. It may be unbearable for Korean researchers to do so. You may think that staying neutral is smart enough and that such a stance can make you less prone to criticism. But, in reality, the opposite happenns — I have often been disliked and denounced by both sides.

I was born in a location near the 38th parallel and experienced the Korean War that raged across the Korean Peninsula. Shortly after South Korea became independent, North Korean troops invaded the South. When my area came under the rule of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we chanted “Kim Il-Sung chang gun nim” (General Mr. Kim Il-Sung). When the United Nations forces were in my area, we witnessed revenge murders. When Chinese troops backing the North controlled the area, we were confined to air raid shelters. When the United Nations forces came back and fierce battles took place, my village became full of tragic events with sexual violence rampant and the area turning into a village of prostitution. Amid such tragedy and chaos, my father died. I eventually moved to Seoul and graudated from a university before teaching at the South Korean military academy. Then, I studied in Japan.

After finishing my obligation to serve as a reserve army officer in South Korea at the age of 50, I transferred my residence to Japan. I feel angry with those South Koreans who call me a pro-Japanese Korean who does not love South Korea. Against such a background, you may think that it might have been better for me to refrain from touching on the issue of comfort women. Particularly for that reason, I am grateful to the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals for correctly evaluating “The Truth of Comfort Women” and honoring me with an award.

Recipient’s biography

Choe Kilsung, born in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, in 1940, graduated from the Normal School at Seoul National University and received a mater’s degree in folklore from Korea University. Then, he taught at the Korea Miliary Academy before becoming a standing expert member of the board of cultural properties in the South Korean Ministry of Culture and Information.
In 1972, Choe began studying in Japan, completing a University of Tokyo doctoral course in cultural anthropology and a Seijo University doctoral course in folk culture and folklore. In 1985, he acquired a doctorate in social anthropological studies of Korean Shamanism from the Uninversity of Tsukuba.
Choe became a professor at South Korea’s Keimyung University and headed the university’s Institute of Studies on Japanese Culture. He then came to Japan, teaching at Chubu University and Hiroshima University. Currently, Choe is a professor at the University of East Asia in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, concurrently serving as the head of the university’s Research Institute of East Asan Cultures. He is also a professor emeritus of Hiroshima University. He majors in cultural anthropology.
Professor Choe has written many books, including “Han no Jinruigaku [Anthropology of Vengeance]” (Hirakawa Shuppan); “Naki no Bunka Jinruigaku [Cultural Anthropologial Comparison of Korean and Japanese Ways of Crying]” (Bensei Publishers); and “Kankoku no Shamanism [Korean Shamanism]” (Koubundou Publishers) — all of which focus on shamanism.
His books about Japan’s colonial expansion include “Shinnichi to Hannichi no Bunka Jinruigaku [Cultural Anthropology: Pro-Japan and Anti-Japan Sentiment]” (Akashi Shoten); “Nihon Shokuminchi to Bunka Henyo [Japanese Colonies and Cultural Changes]” (Ochanomizu Shobo); “Kankoku no Beigun Ianfu wa Naze Umaretanoka [Why Did Comfort Women Emerge for the U.S. forces in South Korea]” (Heart Shuppann); and “Chosen Shusshin no Chobanin ga Mita Ianfu no Shinjitsu [The Truth of Comfort Women: As Seen by a Brothel Receptionist from Korea]” (Heart Shuppan).
In South Korea, he published Korean-language books whose titles can be translated into Japanese as follows: “Nihongaku Nyumonn [An Introduction to Japanology]” (Keimyung University Press); “Shinnichi to Hannichi [Pro-Japan and Anti-Japan Koreans]” (Darakwon); “Shokuminchi Rekishi wo Tadashiku Miru [A Correct Review of the History of Japan-colonized Korea] (Minsokwon); and “Eizo ga Kataru Shokuminchi Chosen [Films Show Scenes of Colonized Korea]” (Minsokwon).
In 1999 he was naturalized in Japan.