It was a pleasure to hear Mrs Ushioda reminisce on her five decades in Dublin. Having grown up in somewhat similar circumstances, it brought back personal memories of Japanese life in Denmark and Germany in my own childhood in the 1970s and 1980s. To listen to her, in her own word, please follow this link to “Caring for Japanese Art at the Chester Beatty Museum”.
Mrs Ushioda recently published an English translation of her memoirs recounting the story of her move to Dublin from Tokyo in 1960 and her subsequent work as curator of Sir Chester Beatty’s collection. Among her many other achievements during more than five decades in Dublin, she founded the Japanese Saturday School that my children attend, and which is a highlight of their week.
It was particularly poignant to hear Mrs Ushioda’s recollections of her and her husband’s role as unofficial ambassadors and the excitement of receiving Japanese reading materials and food in the post, which parallels the experience of my own family. Unlike Ireland, Japan did have an embassy in Denmark in my early childhood, and some foodstuffs could be bought in Hamburg and Copenhagen. So, while it was less of an outpost than Dublin in the 1960s, in the 1970s my family also became a port of call for visiting Japanese businesspeople, students and academics yearning for familiar home cooking, advice and conversation.
Listening to Mrs Ushioda also brought back a more recent memory of Miki-sensei, my children’s judo coach in Tokyo. Having been one of the “invisible allies” (Morris-Suzuki 2012) of unofficial Japanese combatants in the Korean War, Miki-sensei is of a similar age to Mrs Ushioda. In the 1960s, he spent a year teaching judo in Dublin, but she had no recollection of him.
In addition to the fascinating tales of her curatorial work and the motivation and urgency behind it (a spate of art thefts across Europe), the story of her Japanese-speaking neighbour in Monkstown, the former Anglican missionary William Gray, was an interesting reminder of a much earlier age of Japanese-Irish interaction. A summary of it is available from the Irish Times. What was also personally interesting to note is that Mrs Gray attended the Catholic Sacred Heart School, which is next to my children’s school in Tokyo. Many of the teachers at Sacred Heart in those days were Irish nuns, and to this day there is a Celtic cross on the rooftop, which was visible from our balcony in Shirokanedai. The school will celebrate its 110th anniversary on 1st April this year.