JAPAN: TWO CROOKS IN MY FAMILY, 1955

CROOKS OF MY FAMILY

I Uncle Masuo Maruyama (Back thord from the right in the photograph)

I think it was in my last year of university in 1955. One day I received a big check from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture. I don’t quite remember the amount. In the hundreds of thousands perhaps. It was extraordinarily huge at any rate. I had no idea how I got such a big fat reward from the government. It said that it was a payment for the service I rendered in translation. I never did any such thing. I didn’t cash it, because I was convinced that there was a mistake somewhere somehow. I had nevertheless a warm and fuzzy feeling that by some slim chance I may have made a fortune and became a rich man.

A few days later, uncle Masuo Maruyama, husband of my mother’s next oldest sister, showed up in my house and asked me if I got a check from the ministry. “Yes.” I said and asked, “What is that for?” Uncle said, “It was a mistake. You have to give it to me.” He worked for the Ministry of Agriculture. It made sense; so I gave it to him and didn’t think too much about it.

A few months later, a news about a big scandal in the Ministry of Agriculture broke in the media. Many big shots in the ministry, including the minister, were involved in stealing billions of yens from the government. Several of them went to prison. Nowhere appeared the name of my uncle. He must have been a small fish. I don’t remember the exact nature of scandal, but I had surmised that somehow my uncle was involved in it because he lost his job at the same time. It was too embarrassing for me to ask questions about such a scandal in the family.

That was not the only time he got into trouble. After he lost the government job, he was employed by King Record, a huge music label in Japan. A cousin of mine was working there as a producer and he needed a person fluent in languages. My uncle had a few languages, fluent in English and French. He used to be in diplomatic service during the WW II, but lost the job when Japan surrendered to the Allies. I think it was because of a purge ordered by the occupation authorities prohibiting all civil servants , military personnel, and politicians to engage a certain number of areas of the society. I remember seeing pictures of my uncle in some tropical countries, all in white and a pith helmet – a dashing figure. He was involved in establishing the Japanese colonial authorities in Southeast Asian countries, which were occupied briefly by Japanese Imperial Military. He worked mainly in French Indo-China because of his proficiency in French language.

When he was being considered for a job at the record company, he came to my office to use my type-writer to produce a sample of his language proficiency. Obviously he lost his type-writer somehow. He didn’t last very long at King Record. I heard that he defrauded the company and stole hundreds of thousands of yens and was fired. But he didn’t go to prison. He settled out of court and paid the money back. The youngest uncle of mine mortgaged the house belonging to the remaining Mitsui estate and lent it to him. He never was employed again and died in poverty. My uncle who had lived in the house lost his place to live, and I lost the last bit of my inheritance. That’s how the last remnant of the Mitsui fortune finally vanished. I was already in Canada and didn’t hear about it for a long time. Everybody was too embarrassed to tell me about it. Maybe, they were afraid that I might sue them.

This uncle, Masuo Maruyama, was a brother of my mother’s best friend at a ritzy private Aoyama Girls’ School, which was founded by American Methodists. Mom’s friend married a naval officer. Once when I was a child, my father took me to see the battle ship, Nagato. Mr. Tamura, mom’s friend’s husband, was Captain. At the time, Battleship Nagato was the biggest in the Imperial Japanese navy. He looked so dashing on the bridge in his captain’s uniform. When he had lunch with us, he had the ship’s brass band playing music for us. I was mightily impressed. The point is that my uncle who was married to my mom’s sister came from a well connected family with the Japanese military. This also explains why he rose high in the diplomatic service quickly during the war. And how fast he fell. The captain went down with his ship in the sea of the Philippines.

 

II Grandfather, Yukichi Takeda – mother’s father (Second row second from the right in the photograph))

When I was in grade five, a strange thing happened in my mother’s family, which nobody bothered to explain to me. I used to think until then I was the oldest among cousins. But one day, a year older boy, a big muscular guy, appeared in my maternal grandparents house and was introduced to us as a cousin from a country , who came to Tokyo for a better school. I had never heard of him until then. In the meantime, Grandma disappeared. We were told that she was visiting her home, the Mitsui’s in a country of Nagano. Nobody told us what exactly was happening. Neither were we interested in finding out the meaning of those events.

I found out after I grew up that my maternal grandfather had had a common-law wife and a child in a back country mountain village called Ambata in Yamanashi Prefecture on the northside of the Mt. Fuji. Grandfather Yukichi was born and grew up there. As soon as his parents passed away, he sold the family property, abandoned his wife and the child, and went to Tokyo. He wanted to get a higher education. In the meantime, she with the help from her family, moved to the next village worked hard and raised the boy alone. As soon as the son became an adult, he started to work in the bush, hunting bears, deers, pheasants, and the like. He was a hunting guide also, and in the end managed to buy a hunting lodge.

In the meantime, grandfather, Yulkichi Takeda, went to a university and was qualified as a veterinarian, joined the army and became a horse doctor. He fought in China against Tsarist Russian Empire. He met a woman from a rich family and married her. That was my maternal grandmother, nee Takeko Mitsui. Takeko was a sole custodian of the Mitsui property, because her two male siblings died in the Japan-Russo war of the early twentieth century. She was supposed to hand it over to her first daughter, Natsuno – my mother after marriage. My mother was adopted by her grandmother to inherit the Mitsui name and the fortune. During those days, women had no right to own property. So grandfather Yukichi ended up being a custodian of the Mitsui property.

No one who are still alive could tell me the size of Mitsui fortune. All I remember is that there was a large property in Sinsen section of Shibuya district in downtown Tokyo. It is now a very much a metropolitan commercial center in one of the densely built-up sky scraper areas of Tokyo. There was, at the time, a large house on a hill surrounded by bushes and trees. On the bottom of the hill, there were several two story tenement houses. They were rented by business people and professors. (One of the professors was my father’s teacher at Aoyama Gakuin Methodist Seminary, Dr. Takeshi Muto, through whom my father met my mother’s family.)

After he retired from the Army, Grandfather Yukichi never had any job until he died in the early sixties. I remember him always sitting in his study reading, chanting old Chinese poetry, practicing or teaching martial art. His room always smelt like rubbing alcohol. I now suspect that he was on some drugs and/or suffering difficult disease. From time to time, I saw him dressed up in a three piece suit looking like he was going to work, but at odd hours, like early afternoon. Nobody told me what kind of work he did, neither was I interested in a grown-up’s work. He definitely showed all signs that he never like Christianity, even though the Mitsui’s were a very old Christian household, rare in Japan, and his every other member of the family was a baptized Christian.

By the time, my father was transferred to Ginza Church in the middle of downtown Tokyo, my grandparents and my mother’s unmarried siblings moved out of the old Mitsui estate, built a new but much smaller house in the suburb of Tokyo, Setagaya district. There was no more tenament houses. Setagaya, at that time, was still very much undeveloped fringe of a city, and looked like a country-side. There were many farmers’ fields around. Rice paddies, trees and forests surrounded our houses. There was no services. We had our own well, hand pumps, and no plumbing in the house. There was an old feudal sheriff’s estate next door; a huge property with impressive gate and gate house. Many tall trees grew in the property, and there was an archery.

As soon as they settled in Setagaya, we also left the manse, which was an apartment in the church building in Ginza, and moved into a rented house near the grandparents’. It was at that time, a country cousin, Shizuo, appeared in my life. Shizuo and I became good friends, and spent many happy summers at his home in the mountains. I loved it there: there were tall green mountains, a roaring river with white water rapids, and delicious wild fruits everywhere. We fished, swam, did all sorts of things in the mountains. It was a real back country. Two hours from Tokyo by train, transferred to a branch line – a milk run, two more hours by bus, and a few more hours on foot. My grandfather’s family comes from a well known feudal clan, which was defeated in a long feud with another powerful family. The remnants of the clan who survived the massacre went into a back country to hide. That’s where grandfather grew up.

At Setagaya, I began to see my father going out with Grandfather often. It was a bit strange sight to me in the beginning, because I used to have the feeling that Grandfather didn’t like Dad. For one thing, he was a Christian minister. Secondly, my mother fell in love with a pennyless theology student, who became my father in place of a long standing fiancé arranged by the family. Why did they suddenly become close? An aunt was heard as saying that it was a court case. What I gathered only recently was: my grandfather gambled everything in an ambitious enterprise and lost it all. I don’t understand why my father didn’t sue grandfather.

It was when all this was happening, my country cousin appeared and grandmother left for her home. She eventually invited all her unmarried children to her unmarried home and spent war years there away from grandfather. Uncle Maruyama and my aunt moved into the newly built house in Setagaya in order too cook for him and Cousin Shizuo. That means my grandmother didn’t know that her husband had had another wife and a child. On top of that, by then he had wasted all her family fortune. No wonder she left him.

Before I was going to Canada in 1957, I went to Grandmother to say good-bye. She kept saying by showing my then wife Chieko things around the house, “All this should belong to you.” I had no clue what she meant, because nobody had told me anything about the Mitsui fortune and what happened to it. In 1955, grandfather died. However, before he died he sent for my father and asked him to show him the way. That was exactly how he asked him to be baptized. So Dad baptized him. His ashes are buried in two places. One part is buried in Ginza Church mausoleum. Also another part is buried in a Buddhist cemetery in the mountains in Yamanashi. Evidently, his first son forgave him and allowed that to happen. So he remains a half Buddhist and a half Christian. All for conveniences. What a crook!

It is interesting to notice that both crooks of my family were connected to the Imperial Japanese military. I often wonder what kind of culture they lived in. Pride and vanity of the Samurai, but they were without honor and integrity?

 

 

 

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