Toshi Takamiya interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 19th October 2009


0:05:07 Born in Tokyo in 1944; my family lived in Hokkaido since the Meiji Restoration; my ancestors were encouraged by the Meiji Emperor to move from Nara Prefecture to the middle part of Hokkaido because of their ancestors' contribution to the Imperial family in the sixteenth century; my father's grandfather was a Shinto priest in Hokkaido, and my father was also given a university education to become a Shinto priest; he was a priest before the Second World War, but after that become a businessman; I knew my paternal grandmother and both maternal grandparents; the latter had also gone to Hokkaido and lived in Otaru, a flourishing port thanks to Japano-Russian trade; my grandfather ran a flourishing trading company importing timber from Siberia; after the War, all the ships and aircraft were confiscated and he became very poor; he decided to send my father to Osaka to start a new business selling seaweed to the Osaka merchants; because of the War there was virtually no food in the Osaka area; salted seaweed was a speciality of Osaka but depended on it coming from Hokkaido; my grandfather could supply my father, and he sold the seaweed to merchants; my father admitted that it was difficult as he was a beginner and not known to the merchants; in Japan it is important to be known; he was once spotted by the Occupation Army using a cryptogram to alter a telegram, and my first recollection of my father was him using a telephone to send a telegram in code which was very curious to me; I went to Osaka with my family at the age of three; we took a fishing boat from Hakodate (Hokkaido) going across to Aomori, where we landed, and took a train from there to Osaka; my father continued with the seaweed business for only five years; at that point he was summoned to Tokyo by his father, so we all went; he continued to work in my grandfather's trading company; he ran a pawn shop and a tea room among other things; some time later he decided to launch a crammer school in which he succeeded to a certain extent as an educationalist; he launched the school in his early forties and he died as Managing Director at the age of ninety-two; he was a family man and I did not know much about his business attitude; he must have been strong-willed and austere in business matters, and his model was the Japanese Army in which he fought; he was sent to a top school for military officials in which he excelled in every possible discipline; on graduation he was selected to be a top member of headquarters and was not sent abroad; his motto was study hard which he insisted my younger brother and I should do; in his scolding of us he was a terrible father, a great disciplinarian; my mother was brought up in a well-off family as her father had a successful trading company in Otaru; their house had No performance stage in it so that every summer No actors and musicians came from Tokyo, staying in the house as guests for a month or so; she learned much and both she and my father used to chant No songs and play No instruments; I think my mother must have had a very happy girlhood; my parents married just before the War and I was their first son; she was, and still is, very punctual, particularly for meal-times when she insists that lunch is at noon and the evening meal at six o'clock


11:23:06 My interest in Arthurian legends, magic etc. was not something that developed in childhood; after the War we had no time to enjoy No performances so I don't think I was influenced by my parents' interest in No; I was not given any lessons in Japanese musical instruments; once they invited my father's old mentor from school who was very good at chanting, after which they started chanting No songs endlessly which was really terrible for us; we were forced into a bedroom and had to endure what was for us a huge noise; I was appalled on one or two occasions so I was definitely not influenced by my parents' interest in music or Japanese art; soon after re-entering Keio University for my second B.A. I was asked to accompany the Honshu No troupe to the United States for fifty days as an interpreter, during which we did thirty-five performances; although I did not know anything about No, it was a wonderful experience to learn something about Japanese Mediaeval drama, costume, singing etc.; Donald Keene, the great Japanologist, was the organizer and host; it was the first visit of any No performers to go to the United States and Mexico City; it was a splendid occasion for me to learn, thus my interest in things Mediaeval and Japanese started then


14:47:08 At the age of three when we went from Hokkaido to Osaka there was virtually no ferry service between Hokkaido and the mainland; my father managed to find a small fishing boat on which there was a cat, and I think that I remember it; that was my first memory; I went to my first school in Osaka aged seven; I was not given a chance to go to kindergarten; after two years in that primary school we moved to Tokyo where I was put into another school, and my first difficulty was the problem of my Osaka accent; my pronunciation of 'sensei' caused the whole class to burst into laughter which hurt me for my first month; also they used a different kind of vocabulary with which I was not familiar; it made me aware of the varieties even within Japanese and I became kind of bilingual; even now when going to Osaka I can speak the dialect; I think this realization of different regional dialects has given me a good sense of language; at that stage I was interested in baseball; my father kindly gave me a proper bat etc., and a uniform with New York Yankees logo of which I was very proud; I think I played almost every day with neighbouring kids, and I still enjoy watching it; at Keio University I became interested in rugby; we beat Oxford in the presence of the Crown Prince when I first went with the team as interpreter, but were beaten by Cambridge; we had a wonderful time; in my high school days I used to play badminton; our school was very successful and is still famous for it; in my time we were top of the Tokyo area in an inter-high school championship; I was the player-manager of the team; the school was Azabu High School, one of the most prestigious, but with pleasant, lenient school rules, so we had lots of pranks; it is a day school; I think every member of the school loved Japanese painting; there was a recent graduate from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts, whose father and grandfather were also famous painters, who would joke and laugh in our classes; in other serious subject, like English and maths, we were really supposed to be serious, but the painting class was wonderfully relaxed; he himself became very famous later in life; I didn't paint much myself but loved drawing, sadly I had no artistic talent which I regret very much; my mother was very skilful at painting and embroidery, and also cooking; I had to learn Japanese calligraphy in school but was not good at it, but going to England at thirty-one, I was fascinated by Western calligraphy; I never studied it but learnt to copy, so my Cambridge friends were amazed by a Japanese writing italics


24:52:14 In primary school I was very good at Japanese language and also social subjects like geography and history, but not science; I was the first to remember all the names of prefectures in Japan, also I was very good at reciting text books; I probably have quite a good photographic memory; when I entered Azabu High School I remember in the first music lesson the teacher asked me to read from the text book; he was impressed by my voice and suggested I should be a TV announcer, which pleased me, as I really wanted to be a broadcaster at that time; I wanted to learn an instrument but was prohibited by my father from indulging in such a popular pastime - sport was alright, but not music; he refused to buy me a guitar; only after I entered Keio did I start to learn the piano, but by that time my hands could not follow my more sophisticated ear for music; I had to abandon playing but listen to a lot of music; I was not influenced by my family at all, although my mother had learned the piano and listened to classical music, we had no time to listen; for my twelfth birthday I asked my mother to buy me Beethoven's fifth symphony, which she kindly did, and I still have it somewhere; it was a very good recording done by Toscanini but our record player couldn't play LP so it broke; I still keep it for sentimental reasons; since then I have been very fond of classical music; my interest in mediaeval music came much later; I loved resounding stuff like Berlioz and Wagner; I would spend hours listening to live broadcasts from Bayreuth; I think my high school days were divided into three parts, studying for the entrance exam, playing badminton and listening to music; I was not influenced by any members of my family but had a natural interest in classical music which I am still very fond of


30:37:17 There was a link between Wagnerian themes and later interests; I graduated from the faculty of economics at Keio, and then went to the English department for my second B.A.; already, when studying economics, I was very interested in Wagner; I was given chances to go to the United States as an exchange student, and each time bought complete sets of Wagner which were just coming out under the directorship of Solti; I got to learn the background of the music, his theatrical ideas, and the heroes of his works; with the second B.A. I really wanted to do something on the mediaeval and discovered Sir Thomas Malory's 'Morte d'Arthur'; my supervisor, Professor Kuriyagawa, was the first Japanese translator of 'Morte d'Arthur' which had just been published; I read the Japanese translation first, and chose it as my B.A. subject; I shared with my supervisor a deep interest in Arthurian paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites, though at that time there were no good colour illustrations in art books; reading the text of 'Morte d'Arthur' I encountered feelings that are reminiscent of the Japanese Samurai; reading the obituaries on the death of Lancelot or Gawain moved me almost to tears, with a Japanese-like emotion which is shared with the English feudalistic society; I did not make any deliberate comparative study between the Japanese and Western chivalric romances, but I think deep in my heart was the basic concept that we can share some sentiment of Samurai and chivalry, the sense of honour and dishonour, shame, is very strong in Japanese Samurai writings, as much as in Malory, and much more than in any French or other Arthurian legends; this kind of sentiment attracted my attention; I also like Tennyson, Swinburne, T.H. White; read Nitobe's 'Bushido' after I started reading Arthurian legends seriously


37:28:19 One of my earliest publications on Malory was on the origin and role of Morgan le Fay on which all sorts of interesting discussion has been done, seeing her as a kind of Celtic goddess; this was picked up in the fantasy called 'The Mists of Avalon'; in the same sense, in the present age of fantasies, following Tolkien; many young Japanese who are pessimistic about the future appreciate the romantic world of the medieval past; I don't know how much shamanism is pertinent in the minds of younger people, but I think that psychologically they go back to the medieval world; I enjoy children's fantasies of Ursula le Guin and C.S. Lewis; my students have read these in translation at an early age and would retain their interest to university; one of my former students who is now a professor of English at Keio was thrilled by Tolkien, and coming to Keio she read Beowulf for the first time seriously; she told me that all of a sudden she realized how bits of Tolkien were taken from Beowulf; this sort of discovery could only happen at Keio where the medieval tradition is very strong


42:27:19 On leaving school, I decided to read economics because, at that period, if you were good at human sciences you were supposed to study economics; thus I chose it but was not interested in it at all; back in the 1960s there was still some influence of 'Das Capital', which I found boring and soon abandoned; modern economic theories, such as Keynesianism, did not attract me either; for my B.A. thesis I wrote something about post-war agricultural problems in Hokkaido where I went to do some field study; I was not very good at theoretical economic analysis so decided to do field research; my shift to literature I find difficult to justify, only that there was no good job possibility available in economics at the time, I wanted to remain in the university; we had a very successful Olympics in 1964 after which all the economic opportunities slumped, which was still the case two years later when I graduated; I did go to see some companies run by Keio graduates and was told frankly that unless I was very keen I would end up as a small cog in a big company machine; I then thought about what subject I could do better than economics; I was very interested in the English language and found I had a good ear for the sound and could speak it well compared to other Japanese students; I really wanted to study English phonetics and do a scientific analysis of the English language, but there was no such course in the faculty; then I happened to attend Professor Kuriyagawa's lectures on medieval English literature which were fascinating; at that time in Keio there was no system for taking a PhD, but I was invited to be an assistant lecturer in the English department; three years later I was given the chance of going to Cambridge, thanks to Derek Brewer; I went as a Fukuzawa scholar


48:20:12 I felt lucky to come to Cambridge for real academic research on Arthurian literature; I came in 1975; Derek Brewer was giving lectures on Malory as was Jill Man, a young scholar from Oxford; Professor Brewer once told me that he was the first person to introduce Malory's 'Morte d'Arthur' into the English syllabus as it had been criticised and renounced by Roger Ascham in Cambridge, since when no one took it up for serious study; Derek Brewer was a man of ideas and generosity, particularly to young students; he listened carefully and gave good advice; he was a man of practicalities; his launching of a publishing firm was one example; he wanted to be able to publish young PhD's theses which even the University Press would decline; I remember him as a man who liked sophisticated, mature, young people; a Danish student at my college, Darwin, who had been studying Lancelot in all European languages, couldn't get on with him; I now realize that he considered her to be immature; he was a great scholar; there was some criticism that he had not published a magnum opus, but his work on Chaucer had never been done; in the 1950s the philological tradition was very strong, so his literary, social, historical interest, placing Chaucer within his context was novel; his first book on Chaucer was republished and revised extensively over time; I was very much attached to his notion of "Gothic" Malory and Chaucer; there has been a strong controversy between the two schools of Malory scholars on the unity in 'Morte d'Arthur', whether he wrote a unified story from the birth to death of King Arthur, or whether he wrote eight separate romances loosely connected at different times; you can detect all sorts of discrepancies, but Brewer's analogy with Gothic cathedrals, with  Anglo-Saxon, Norman, and Romanesque elements as well as a Gothic spire, which appears as a total unity; since he introduced this interpretation there has been no further discussion on unity; even in Tolkien’s trilogy one can find discrepancies as he did not think in terms of making a unified story


57:12:03 I didn't see any Western old books bound in leather until the age of twenty-four; Yoshida opened a small pilot shop in Shinjuku where I saw lots of leather-bound antiquarian books, and was fascinated; on my first visit I bought a Robinson Brothers' antiquarian book catalogue of wonderful books and manuscripts which came from Sir Thomas Phillips; last September I celebrated the forty-first year of my Western rare book collecting although I started collecting Japanese books at the age of twelve; I have collected particularly medieval literature and early English books; I have been interested in things medieval and also in the later reception of the Middle Ages in English literature - medievalism - even before the word was used; one of the aims of my collecting these books was to use them for teaching; with real books for my students to see and touch they could learn more about old literature and culture; so I started buying books for my own collection as well as for recommending to Keio University Library; now Keio has got a very good collection of reference books as well as some real manuscripts, even Caxton's; we should not remain just the guardians but must make them easily available to students if they are interested, so I would always encourage them to go to the rare book room to study them; before that you ought to be well-disciplined so I have been giving classes in paleography, historical bibliography, so I am very pleased to see some of my former students are very well trained; I learnt paleography from Professor Kuriyagawa, and also medieval Latin; during my stay in Cambridge I learnt paleography first from David Dumville; as well as Professor Brewer, I was supervised by Ian Doyle, a Downing man who happens to be the rare books Librarian at Durham; he was wonderful at historical bibliography and I learnt a great deal; I also got on well with Richard Beadle a young Fellow at St John's; Malcolm Parkes from Oxford came to Cambridge quite often; I went to see Neil Ker in Oxford and even went to Pitlochry to stay with him; I was very fortunate in having this kind of network which I brought back to Keio


1:03:23:03 Soon after I started frequenting the Yoshida bookshop I think they brought my attention to a thirteenth century Parisian bible; I was fascinated by it and bought it, or rather twisted my father's arm; although he was very strict about my buying anything for entertainment he was very understanding of my serious academic interests, and has been very supportive; roughly at that time there had been many Keio professors who had been to Cambridge or Oxford for sabbatical leave and on their return had started talking about the importance of manuscripts for research; I therefore found it a good thing to collect manuscripts for my own pleasure as well as for teaching; I started letting my PhD students use my collection for their PhD work; my collection was bought with family money but I think it was wisely spent; I don't claim to be very good at making money, that is why I am an academic now, but I was fortunate enough to have the means to buy the library; also I started collecting medieval and middle English manuscripts much earlier than anyone else; manuscripts are usually associated with Books of Hours and lavishly painted pictures which I couldn't afford to buy and am also not interested in them, but collected plain-looking, shabby manuscripts; it was becoming more expensive, but managed to buy with expertise and knowledge - by far the most important element in collecting; I got on very well with David McKitterick, now the Librarian at Trinity, and David Hall who used to be at the University Library; every now and then we got together at weekends for book-hunting expeditions; I would drive to Oxford or Hay on Wye, and they were very knowledgeable at choosing the right kind of books; by watching them rummaging through the shelves I learnt a great deal; their emphasis was always on association copies; I absorbed the atmosphere of libraries such as the Parker Library, and it would be wonderful to have that atmosphere in my own but we suffer from the problems of space; there was an occasion more than twenty years ago when I moved out of this place and bought land and a house with an underground library; the designer's estimate for work was such that I thought it could be better spent on manuscripts so decided to stay here; visitors from abroad - Hans Kraus and others - are rather shocked to see how small my house and library are, but by Japanese standards this is huge


1:10:43:00 On teaching, my students always complain that I only give hints at what to do for research and don't give them answers, but send them to the Library; if you give a good question and then explain the answer there is no room for them to do research; in a Japanese university, I think that no one has done that kind of teaching; all Japanese professors in Western subjects would read assiduously, translate into Japanese, and make it deliberately difficult for their students to understand; I don't like that idea; I think my teaching style changed drastically after my three year stay in Cambridge, and my aim became to make students think; in order to enhance this teaching style I invited lots of distinguished academics, particularly from Britain and the United States for lectures; the tradition of such lectures in Japan is to give virtually no feedback from the students; I don't like that idea, so in my own seminar, I would let the keynote speaker talk to a text already read by the students in advance, so that they could make critical observations; even in medieval English literature or bibliographical studies I would hold a small seminar with three or four speakers, one a distinguished visitor, but the others, my PhD students who would read their own papers;  the visitor would often be very impressed by the quality of the students’ analysis that even British students would not touch on; they kindly call my method the 'Toshi School' which is unique; I think I learnt this side of the discipline from Patrick Boyde the Italian scholar at St John's, the Dante expert; he emphasised the importance of choosing the right kind of topic on Dante that no Italian scholar would dream of, and put it into a wonderful presentation in which you have to use Italian more fluently and eloquently than an Italian scholar; I would make every attempt to read a paper on Caxton and Malory with minute dissection of the bibliographical matter that no British scholar would dream of; did this at the International Medieval Congress so that many Americans were surprised to see a Japanese talking in a very British way on the subject


1:18:17:06 I have been worried about the lack of interest among undergraduate students in real books; they are content with surfing digital media for information which they then put into their own papers, without seeing the real books; in the last five years before my retirement I started giving my undergraduate students the library guide and also the guide to antiquarian books; all of a sudden some of them got interested in old books and some of them would go to bookshops, finding wonderful books with ascriptions that the shopkeeper was not aware of the significance of; that is a good way to start becoming a bibliophile; I have launched Keio University Society of Bibliophiles by organizing a lecture and a book auction on a very humble scale, because we professors have duplicate copies which the students would bid for; probably one of the future urgent desiderata is to launch the Keio University Book Collecting Prize as has been started in Cambridge; I would like to keep a good book collecting tradition going at Keio; Keio has produced very good collectors in classical Japanese and Chinese literature, and also Western literature, but need to continue this drive; at Darwin I was wrongly charged a fee which Derek Brewer got rescinded, and gave the money to the Tim Munby Memorial fund; the next day I was seen as a hero; even after retirement I shall teach at Keio once a week, but no meetings which is wonderful; very soon we are going to launch a new photo site called on the internet; this site will encourage young people to see the books in libraries and bookshops, touch them and smell them, and get pleasure from owning them; this is meant to be for young librarians, booksellers and even laymen; I would like to make my last mission to encourage people to get more interested in real books, as well as digital media