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Mihoko Horiguchi says that her life is “a great muddle.” By that she means she has not followed accepted paths, but has found her own way. She says she was always searching for something. “So when an opportunity came, I didn’t hesitate to take it,” she said.

Mihoko Horiguchi

Her open-minded attitude paid off in allowing her to lead an unusual life, that she has packed with treasured experiences.

She belongs to a long line of well-bred and well-connected Nara personalities. Her own family is established in Tokyo, where Mihoko was born “sandwiched between two brothers.” She is the third in a final count of seven accomplished siblings.

After her graduation in Tokyo, Mihoko continued for three years her study of English “which gave me a certain amount of confidence,” she said. She worked as secretary to the head of mission at the South African Embassy “interpreting for state and distinguished visitors, translating newspapers and articles, acting as liaison for the ambassador with the Japanese government. That was the main area, but day to day I did almost everything, and met so many interesting people,” she said. She went traveling with her mother and her sisters. “The boys were very good to us girls, and let us go first,” she said. Mihoko has traveled widely, to the U.S. and Canada, Europe and Asia as well as several African countries.

“I wanted to live somewhere abroad; the English-speaking world was my first choice,” Mihoko said. “When I got my first chance, I just accepted it.” That was to work with the BBC in its external department at Bush House, London. “I was translating and researching. But I didn’t like the job there,” Mihoko said. “I decided to study again.”

She enrolled at a college that was the only one with a center for women who had work experience. “Before me there had been just two Japanese ladies. One came back to Japan to be a member of the Upper House,” Mihoko said. Mihoko studied English literature, western art history, history and political thought. Then she embarked on a full degree course in English literature at London University.

“I supported myself. I worked and saved so I could manage,” she said. She followed up her bachelor’s degree with a master’s in 18th-century English literature. She continued taking nondegree post-graduate studies in different subjects until finally she took a certificate in teaching English as a foreign language. “That was very handy to have, my one practical qualification,” Mihoko said. She put it to use in teaching at colleges in Tokyo.

She lived in the U.K. from 1976 to 1992. Earlier in the ’70s she visited South Africa. During her U.K. residence she went twice to Cape Town to stay for long periods each time.

On one memorable occasion, she drove in a hunting party from Eastern Transvaal to Namibia. At their farm destination, the men in the group slept in caravans, and Mihoko had a bed made for her in a barn. She had an absorbing interest in the different life she observed on that remote farm, in a nearby village and in the surrounding bush. She helped the farmer’s wife make sausages from earlier hunting catches, and came under the spell of long African evenings when, around log fires, the group sat and talked under the stars. “It was a time of uncertainty for many people in South Africa, but it seemed on those evenings that the world was perfectly peaceful,” Mihoko said.

Nowadays she is a freelance lecturer on the history of gardens and garden appreciation. She holds membership in the British Garden History Society and the Japanese Garden Society. She is also a member of the London University Convocation. She is governor of Queen Mary Alumni of London University and, representing the Japan Chapter, tries to attend meetings held in London. In Tokyo she belongs to and actively supports the Asiatic Society of Japan, Tokyo International Players and the Japan-British Society. Since last year she has attended meetings of the South African Ladies Club.

“People say I have been lucky, but they know that I earned my way. I have been doing any job that came to me, mainly through people I knew, some academic, some business. I went this way and that way, and my work was usually coming to an end just when I wanted to study. It so happened that my timing was good,” Mihoko said.