Hisaaki Yamanouchi CBE is Professor Emeritus of English, Tokyo University. (Hon) CBE. He was born in Hiroshima in 1934 and studied at Tokyo, Columbia and Cambridge Universities. He was the first Japanese to receive a PhD in English from Cambridge. He has taught at a number of universities in Japan as well as at Cambridge and the Open University of Japan. His many publications include The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature (CUP).
My first encounter with Britain was in my father’s library in Hiroshima. I wondered as a child what was written in those English books gilt-lettered on their spine. The books, their owner, and everything else—the whole city was wiped out instantaneously by the Bomb on 6th August 1945. At the secondary school I entered a couple of years afterwards I made friends with a grandson of the renowned founding father of English Studies in Hiroshima. At his house I saw rows and rows of shelves filled with standard English authors from the medieval to the present, which evoked in me aspirations that one day I should be reading them.
Years later I decided to read ‘British Studies’ at Tokyo University. This was a new course of studies inaugurated in 1951 which aimed at cross-disciplinary studies of British culture and society with a view to attaining the perception of ‘a whole way of life’ concerning Britain. It ran along with the traditional ‘English Department’ dating from the late nineteenth century and had during its long history a host of dedicated English scholars/writers like Edmund Blunden (1896-1974). Fortune favoured me with the poet Anthony Thwaite (1930- ), who came with his wife Ann (1930- ) to teach in Tokyo during 1955-57. They represented the living British culture embodied in them. It was an exceedingly fresh and inspiring experience for us to have English literature taught in English by a living poet and without Japanese as a medium. Anthony introduced us to the British Council in Tokyo (established in 1953), the use of its library, and the frequently organised series of lectures given by the resident British writers/scholars.
While pursuing my postgraduate studies in English, an opportunity arose for me to spend a year at Columbia University and another at the University of Toronto (with the rare privilege of being supervised by the great Coleridgean Professor Kathleen Coburn [1905-91]). In 1967 I was among the fortunate dozen of British Council Scholars (the Council ‘Representative’ then was E. W. F. Tomlin [1913-88]). That was the genesis of my extended years (1967-76) at Peterhouse (doing research in the English Faculty and teaching Japanese as Lector in the Faculty of Oriental Studies), my later revisit (1984-85) as Visiting Fellow-Commoner at Trinity College, Cambridge, and my frequent journeys between Britain and Japan. What I learnt and gained in Britain is too invaluably rich a nourishment for my subsequent career to be summed up just in a few words.