People | PERSONALITY PROFILE

Keiichi Kurosawa

by Vivienne Kenrick

“English music in its most primitive form was essentially group music. The old divisions were church, secular and concert music. . . . The madrigal flourished best in the Tudor period. Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I composed madrigals.”

This introduction was given in a talk on the origin and early development of English music. The occasion was the new year’s meeting of the Tokyo Women’s Club. The date was 1930. The speaker was Keiichi Kurosawa, who had just founded the Tokyo Madrigal Club.

Hiroshi Kurosawa, Keiichi’s son, has an inexhaustible stock of family stories going back to Teijiro, his grandfather. Teijiro was the innovator and pioneer who produced the first Japanese typewriter and founded the Ginza firm Kurosawa and Co.

Present head of the Kurosawa family, Hiroshi is proud of his father and grandfather. He said: “My grandfather, who was born in 1875, went to Seattle in 1890 and stayed for several years. In 1899 he built the first typewriter having ‘hiragana’ symbols, and followed on with another having ‘katakana’ symbols. When he returned to Japan, he brought back a dozen American typewriters, and opened a shop in the Ginza area.

“The Foreign Ministry was the first to buy a machine from him. He decided a typewriter was no good without a typist, so he looked for a girl who could speak English and who could learn to type. He found such a girl in Yokohama, and married her. My grandmother was the first typist in Japan.”

In 1909 the Kurosawa grandfather designed and built, without the aid of a professional architect, “the first three-storied, reinforced concrete building in Japan,” on the Chuo-dori site still occupied by the shop and office. The building survived the 1923 earthquake and World War II. Its wired glass contributed to the protection of the treasures of ancient typewriters, old clocks, documents and photographs that Kurosawa prizes today. One special typewriter, returned to the Kurosawas to keep, was made for the Emperor Showa in 1931. A 1909 document is the company’s catalog featuring “labor-saving office devices.” It was put out in two languages, the English text supplied by The Japan Times.

Kurosawa’s father studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was drawn to early English music and music for the recorder. In Tokyo he devoted himself to the family business, and to the group he founded of madrigal singers. He arranged the group’s first concert in the British Embassy compound at Christmas in 1929. “The group has met to sing once a week ever since then, even during the war,” said Kurosawa. “These evening hours have become a very important part of my life. Elizabethan madrigals are marvelous music — marvelous words, so old, hard to believe.”

Kurosawa said that during his childhood, madrigals were often sung at home when his father and his musical friends met. “I picked them up as naturally as lullabies. When my father and I were in the bath together, he taught me the words of our group’s special song that I memorized — not understanding them, of course. I could sing the tune while my father sang the bass, and the music was complete. I became an aspiring member of the Tokyo Madrigal Club while I was still at primary school.” He became also an instrumentalist. Keiichi was appointed an honorary member of the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to Anglo-Japanese relations and especially to British music in Japan.

Kurosawa is sure that his grandfather would be pleased with the way he continued the Kurosawa business. After graduation from Keio University, he worked in the Kurosawa typewriter factory in Tokyo. He went to the U.S. to learn more about typewriter production and mechanical engineering. As the age of the typewriter ended, he guided the company into diversification. He is retired now from the presidency of Kurosawa and Co., serving still as chairman of the board. He is vice president of the Tokyo Rotary Club.

He is sure that his father also would be pleased with the way he continued the Tokyo Madrigal Club. He does not call the weekly sessions practices. “We simply meet once a week to enjoy singing together,” he said. He observes milestones. He has arranged for Nov. 18, at 7 p.m. in Reinanzaka Church, the 75th anniversary concert of madrigals and instrumental music presented by the Tokyo Madrigal Club. The first part of the program will be a repeat of the 1930 program of the club that was then a fledgling.