To commemorate his having lived for 50 years in Japan, Chris McDonald produced an engaging book of memories. In it he wrote: “If I were asked to single out one aspect of Japan that I have found more rewarding and enjoyable than any other, I would not hesitate to answer quite simply: ‘Its people.’ From business executives to young sumo wrestlers; from colleagues at the office to simple country folk; and from members of the Imperial family to the ordinary ‘man in the street.’ All of them have contributed to my understanding and enjoyment of Japan, and greatly enriched my life here.”
He has always been a people person, friendly and at ease. A tall, distinguished presence now, at 18 he was the likely lad in his first job, offered the opportunity to come to Japan. “After a chance interview, I had been taken on as a junior clerk in NCR London,” Chris said. “George Haynes, who had started up NCR in Japan postwar, was visiting London, and asked how would I like to come out here. I had to decide by the following day. My mother practically had a heart attack.”
He came, on an old BOAC propeller Argonaut that carried about 35 passengers and took four days to reach Japan. For his first three months he lived in the Hotel Teito, today’s Palace Hotel, then one of only three hotels where foreign traders were permitted to stay. His was the Tokyo of the U.S. Army of Occupation, of willow trees and street cars in the center of the city, of famous Ginza cabarets, night clubs and dance halls long since disappeared, when Roppongi was a quiet backwater and Shinjuku the site of a city reservoir.
He says he picked up Japanese as he went along. “I was thrown in at the deep end, and it was sink or swim,” he said. “Early on I was told to go up to Hokkaido for a couple of weeks and survey the situation. Few foreigners had been there, and I didn’t meet a single other foreigner while I was there. I was determined not to sink.”
Chris joined the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club and regularly played goalkeeper for the club’s soccer 11. He has photos of himself kitted out in a sweater, long striped socks and a cap, making flying saves for his side.
He also joined a Japanese club side that in those days was without dressing-room facilities. “We usually changed in a nearby bathhouse, returned there for a bath after the game, all going on together for dinner and a few beers for the rest of the evening.”
Later on, Chris helped the Japan Football Association when foreign teams visited Japan. He was the English announcer in the stadium during the Asian Games in 1958 in Tokyo. He was asked to join the Organizing Committee for the Olympic Soccer Tournament in 1964, and again handled the English announcements. He is still an adviser to the Football Association of Japan, is on the World Cup Committee and is representative in Japan of the New Zealand Football Association.
His other main sporting interest here has been sumo. He made friends in the 1950s and ’60s with many young wrestlers, and kept his friendships with them long after they retired. He regularly attends meetings and parties, and has taken part in at least 15 retirement occasions that entail the ceremonial cutting of hair.
Just before Christmas in 1959, Chris with a group of NCR friends visited an old people’s home in Tokyo. That first visit became a regular annual event. After Chris, married in 1968, took his two small sons on the annual visits, “they were treated as grandchildren by the residents,” he said. Since 1990 Chris has been a board member of Hakujinkai, which cares for the home. He has received a citation from the governor of Tokyo for his contribution to social welfare work.
In the Queen’s Birthday Honors List of June 1978, Chris was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for “contributions to Anglo-Japanese relations, and to the British community in Japan.” On leaving NCR in 1980, he assumed the presidency of Rolex (Japan) Ltd.
With great good humor and reliability, and without stint of time, Chris continues to belong to a variety of clubs and associations, a director and council member of several of them. He has made himself an authority on Scottish single malts, and in collecting them has “an enjoyable, fascinating and abiding hobby.”
“I consider myself extremely fortunate to have lived here for 50 years,” Chris wrote in his book. “I should like to say thank you to the hundreds — nay thousands — of individuals with whom I have crossed paths since 1950s, who have taught me so much, thereby enriching my whole life and making it all so much fun.”