In the first hundred years or so after the end of the Tokugawa Period there were strong objections against interracial marriages in Japan, especially among the new elite. Yet there were still a number of well-known and successful interracial marriages as well as some failures.
One outstanding example of a successful Anglo-Japanese match was that of Mutsu Hirokichi, son of Mutsu Munemitsu, the Japanese foreign minister, and Ethel (later known as Countess Iso Mutsu). Ethel was the daughter of Hirokichi’s landlord in Cambridge.
Although his father forbade the marriage, when Hirokichi was appointed Japanese Consul in San Francisco, he persuaded Ethel to join him. (They had not seen each other for some years.) They eventually married, and Hirokichi became Counselor in London responsible for Japanese participation in the Anglo-Japanese exhibition at Shepherds Bush in 1910.
Some other matches, as Koyama Noboru explains in an essay in “Britain and Japan: Biographical Portraits Volume IV” (Japan Library, 2002), ended in failure. Some British diplomats, officials and others in the Meiji Era, such as the outstanding diplomat Sir Ernest Satow, had Japanese mistresses or common-law wives, which they hid from the prudish eyes of Victorians in Britain. Some others, who made their home in Japan such as Captain Frank Brinkley, insisted on marrying their Japanese mistresses. Lady Arnold, the Japanese widow of Sir Edwin Arnold, became a pillar of the Japan Society in London in the early decades of the 20th century.
There were, sadly, a number of cases of real love and affection on both sides that ended in unhappiness, if not tragedy. These books tell two such stories, based on letters that were fortunately preserved. Both are moving accounts of tragic love affairs — some might call them tear-jerkers. It is tempting in these days when we rightly attach importance to the equality of the sexes to condemn the men involved in both cases for, at the very least, insensitivity, but we cannot know all the circumstances and should perhaps reserve judgment.
“Jeannie Eadie’s Samurai,” Kawada Ryokichi, was born in 1856 in the province of Tosa in Shikoku. He was the son of a lower-ranking samurai much involved in farming. Although this was the basis of his later commitment to agricultural development, he was a keen student and was sent to Osaka to study English. His father, Kawada Koichiro, worked with Iwasaki Yataro, who established the Mitsubishi trading company that eventually became Nippon Yusen Kaisha. Koichiro became a very successful businessman, and when the peerage was established, he was made a baron.
Ryokichi went to Tokyo in 1874. As a result of his father’s interest in Japan’s first shipbuilding yard, Mitsubishi Engine Work [sic], he was sent in 1877 to study shipbuilding as an apprentice engineer at the Lobnitz, Coulbourn & Co. shipyard in Glasgow. It must have been a lonely and tough life for Ryokichi, but he was a conscientious and hardworking apprentice who earned the commendations of his superiors.
One day in January 1883 he went into a bookshop near Glasgow Central Station where he sought help from a young female assistant, Jeannie Eadie. This chance meeting led to a growing friendship. Jeannie lived with her mother in a tiny house on Pollok Street Glasgow. She was a devout Christian and regular churchgoer.
When they could not meet, Jeannie would write simple letters to him. The friendship developed from affection to love, but there is no indication that this led to their sleeping together. Indeed this seems most unlikely in view of Jeannie’s religious beliefs.
But Ryokichi hoped to marry her and to persuade her to come back with him to Japan. Jeannie clearly had doubts about whether this would be feasible and she was worried about what would happen to her mother. When they finally parted on Ryokichi’s return to Japan in 1884, he promised to try to persuade his father to agree to their marriage. But his father adamantly refused and forced Koichiro to marry a suitable Japanese bride. There were children, but the marriage was not a happy one.
Jeannie eventually married a man considerably older than herself.
The account of the love affair is largely based on the 89 letters (only discovered in 1979) that Ryokichi preserved. The authors, through meticulous research, have provided a full account of Ryokichi’s life and give an interesting picture of the societies of Japan and Scotland in which Ryokichi and Jeannie lived.
“Falling Blossom” covers a later period. It traces the story of Captain Arthur Hart-Synnot, a tall mustachioed veteran of the Boer War and scion of a distinguished military family from County Armagh, who was posted in Tokyo as an army language student in 1904. There he fell in love with Masa Suzuki, 26, who was working in the Japanese officers’ club. Masa whom Arthur called Dolly, was pretty and mature, the daughter of a barber from shitamachi who had had a brief and unsuccessful marriage. The authors describe her as having “a gentle smile, a rather modest downcast look and a delicate almost childlike complexion.”
Arthur asked Masa to become his housekeeper and she helped him with his language studies. Quite soon after, Arthur was sent to Manchuria where he was part of the British observer mission with the Japanese Army fighting the Russians. He kept in touch with Masa, writing to her on Japanese paper in his elementary Japanese. Masa kept all his letters, and these provided the basis for the story of a love affair that lasted until 1918.
Arthur asked her to marry him and come with him to Ireland, but she was reluctant, fearing that she would not fit in or be accepted by his family. She did, however, agree to spend some time with Arthur when, after being posted away from Japan, he managed to get a staff appointment in Hong Kong. Later he had to return to his regiment and served in Burma where he was unhappy and Masa could not join him.
When World War I broke out, Arthur was serving in India where Masa would have had a difficult time with the memsahibs. Arthur perhaps inevitably felt that he should be with the army in France, and in due course he found himself in the trenches. He was awarded a Distinguished Order of Service bar and eventually promoted to brigadier general. He had tried on a number of occasions to get himself appointed as military attache in the British Embassy in Tokyo, but perhaps because the authorities were aware of his attachment to Masa, he was never successful. He looked forward instead to leaving the army when the war ended and joining Masa back in Japan, but this was not to be.
In 1918 Arthur lost both of his legs in one of the final battles of the war. He managed to pull through and learn to get around on artificial limbs, but he was clearly daunted by the prospect of a long sea journey and wondered how in his state he could cope with life in Japan. So perhaps it was understandable that he decided to marry the nurse who had looked after him and who would more easily fit into his family. Masa, who had had two sons by him and who had been supported by Arthur’s modest remittances, reacted furiously to Arthur’s marriage. Eventually she accepted the inevitable and they continued to correspond. Their younger son died early; the elder son, Kiyoshi Suzuki, who deeply resented his father’s behavior, died in Manchuria in 1947 in Russian captivity.
Arthur died during World War II, while Masa lived into the 1960s. She kept all the letters Arthur had sent her. He had learned to write elegantly formed characters and had kept up his knowledge of the language despite his long periods away from Japan. The authors have carefully researched the background of the lives of the two lovers and draw an interesting picture of life as it would have been experienced by Arthur and Masa.
Both these tales, love stories each with sad endings for the women, are absorbing and well worth reading. Both shed much interesting light on social history.