Thursday, August 22, 2013

japan: all in the family

I was flipping through the channels a few days ago and happened upon a show called Who Do You Think You Are (which never fails to remind me of this song). The show chronicles celebrities' searches for their family histories and some find really interesting documents from over a century ago, if their family line extends back for ten or more generations. I joked with my mom that if I was on the show my investigations would end at my grandfather, since my family is Japanese and my grandfather was the first of us to come to the United States; he only came over for work and moved back before I was born, so even that line of inquiry would have made for a very short episode. That quip led to a lengthy conversation about my family history that fleshed out a story already knew a bit about.

As I became more interested in pursuing a graduate degree and more specifically, a degree in English Literature, my grandfather told me that I was following in the footsteps of my grandmother's family. It turns out that my great-grandfather (whose name, quite pleasingly is 八鳥 which literally translates as '8 Birds'), was a professor of English Literature. He taught at a prestigious university and published a few works that are unfortunately very hard to come by, especially being overseas. One year when I was visiting my family back in Nagoya, my grandfather gave me a few of my great-grandfather's worn books that were marked up with his own notes written in the margins and all over the page. It was an incredible feeling to know that my family has a history of scholarship that aligns with what deeply fascinates me some ninety years later.

I plan on uncovering more information about my great-grandfather since he died in 1952 before my mother was born, so even she doesn't know much about him. The time period in which he lived, taught, and loved literature is an inconceivably complex time for Japan as a country and I can't help but wonder how he was treated at the height of WWII, since he spent his life studying the language of "the enemy".

There are many questions I still have but it is wonderful knowing that the love of literature has long been ingrained in my family - hopefully I can do their memories justice in my own work!

.wp-caption { background: transparent; }.image-attachment .entry-content .entry-attachment { background: transparent; }