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Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2000

Meiji era portraits put a human face on history

ANGLO-JAPANESE CONNECTIONS: Britain and Japan: Biographical Portraits III, edited by J.E. Hoare. Richmond, Surrey, England: Japan Library, Curzon Press Ltd., 1999, 397 pp., 45 British pounds.

Most of the 27 portraits in this volume are of 19th-century characters. They are interesting, nonetheless; they tell the reader much about Japan shortly before and after the Meiji Restoration.

The first portrait is of Capt. Broughton of the Royal Navy, who surveyed Hokkaido and the Kurile Islands in the 1790s. He was impressed by the cordiality of the Ainu.

The turbulent times of the beginnings of the Meiji era are described in the portrait of Hirobumi Ito. He was one of the first Japanese to study in Britain and was prime minister of Japan four times.

John Simmons (1828-91), whose arrogance annoyed many, was an English teacher, lexicographer and newspaper editor in Tokyo and the founder of the Summers School, which Junichiro Tanizaki attended.

The naval surgeon Frederick Dickins (1838-1915) led the field in scholarly translations from Japanese to English. He was the first foreigner to study Hokusai's 100 views of Mount Fuji.

James Ewing (1835-1935), a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, taught engineering and physics at Tokyo University. He was much impressed by the patriotism of the Japanese and their feeling of personal duty, and he was a great admirer of Japanese art.

Capt. Francis Brinkley (1841-1912) spent 40 years in Japan. He ran The Japan Weekly Mail and the Yokohama newspaper The Japan Mail. He had a Japanese mistress, whom he married, and was often accused of being biased toward Japan.

He translated a number of noh and kyogen plays, and published a history of Japan, a Japanese-English dictionary and a 12-volume account of "Japan and China: Their History Arts and Literature." Only the dictionary is considered of any value today.

It is well-known that Soseki Natsume did not enjoy his two student years in London, but the biographer suggests that Soseki's writing was influenced by his English sojourn.

Viscount Hisakiro Kano (1886-1963) was the general manager of the Yokohama Specie Bank in London and a great friend of Britain. He liked to hold forth at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park.

Described as a "slightly sinister figure," Arthur Edwardes (1885-1951) became adviser to the Manchukuo government in the 1930s and to the Japanese Embassy in London. The British Foreign Office suspected him of duplicity. He was in the invidious position of being in the pay of Japan and at the same time claiming loyalty to Britain.

The account of the harsh imprisonment in England of Takayuki Eguchi (1895-1967), written by the daughter of his English wife, is disturbing. He was a student in England from 1914 and stayed throughout World War I working for the Bank of Taiwan and writing articles for Japanese newspapers until his arrest in 1940.

Because of his friendships with rightwing elements in England and Europe, he was interned without charge or trial from 1940 until 1943, when he was transferred to India for further detention; he was repatriated in 1946. It was an unjust incarceration of a staunch Anglophile.

John Morris (1895-1980), after a career in the Gurkha Rifles, became a lecturer at Keio University in 1938. He was not arrested at the outbreak of the Pacific War as he was employed by a Japanese university; most of his foreign friends, however, were interned. His Japanese friends remained loyal and helpful.

His book "Traveller from Tokyo" gives an account of his time in Japan from 1938 until he was repatriated in 1942.

He wrote "The Phoenix Cup" after his return to Japan in 1946. The title comes from a sake cup he found in the ruins of his house in Shibuya, Tokyo. The book describes the devastation that Morris saw on his return.

These portraits are valuable because they tell stories about individuals whose lives, though not outstanding, help to make up the story of Anglo-Japanese relations. The book is well-edited and well-produced. It is a pity it has to be so expensive.

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