Saturday, December 27, 2014

Archbishop Joseph Pittau, S.J.

Photo (c) Mike Milward and the Jesuits of Japan
Many persons may be saddened to hear that the former President of Sophia University Joseph Pittau passed away last night (2014 Dec. 26), at about 10:00 PM, in Loyola House, Kamishakujii, Tokyo.  Pittau was born on October 20, 1928, entered the Society of Jesus on April 18, 1945, and became a priest on March 18, 1959.  He arrived in Japan in 1952 as a Jesuit missionary, and spent most of his academic life at Sophia University.  His stature is so great that I expect there will be a couple of biographies about him soon.  Everyone at Sophia, especially senior faculty and staff, speaks so respectfully and admiringly of him that one cannot help feeling he must have been an intellectual, administrative, and spiritual giant.

I've known him since the 1970s, and he always struck me as a very unassuming, simple, open-minded and generous person.  He never put on airs or acted superior, but acted very amicably and kindly with all.  Even when he was the Rector of S. J. House (1975-1981), he would serve at table and do other menial tasks cheerfully.  He played a very important role in the development of Sophia University, for it was during his tenure as Chancellor (1968-1975) and President (1975-1981) that Sophia grew into a noteworthy university.  Pittau came to be well-recognized around Japan especially after he solved the student-revolt crisis at Sophia in the late 1960s, when all the major universities too were affected by student revolts.  I've heard it said that Pittau was the very first university Administrator to call the Police inside the campus to defuse the crisis.  Among his lasting contributions were the democratic process of electing a President (voted not only by the faculty, but also by the staff), the increase in the number of students (from about 5,000 to 10,000), the addition or re-arrangement of several departments and faculties.   Most admirable, according to many, was his foresight, arising from his dream of making Sophia a university that can significantly contribute to Japan by remaining faithful to its Jesuit/Catholic calling.   He was especially interested in making Sophia an international university, bringing in not only European, Australian, and American professors but also Asian ones from countries like India, the Philippines, South Korea, and Sri Lanka.

After serving as President of Sophia University, Pittau moved on to become the Jesuit Provincial Superior of Japan (30 October 1980), and it was in that capacity that he welcomed Pope John Paul II to Japan in February 1981.  He made sure that all the Jesuits in Japan appeared presentable as 'clerics' before the Pope (e.g., wearing a roman collar).  It is said that the Pope was so satisfied with the Jesuits in Japan that he exclaimed, "Would that the Jesuits around the world were like Jesuits in Japan!"  Whether this anecdote is true or not, there is no doubt that the Pope looked highly on Pittau, for when the hardworking and saintly Jesuit General Pedro Arrupe became incapacitated, the Pope personally requested Pittau to take over the reins of governing the Society of Jesus (together with the visually handicapped Fr. Dezza).  Thus Pittau became the Coadjutor Delegate on October 31, 1981, taking his new post in Rome. Those were hard times for the Society of Jesus, and there were wild rumors of it getting suppressed a second time.   Many would credit the Jesuit reconciliation with the Vatican bureaucracy and its resurgence to the labors of Fr. Dezza and Fr. Pittau.   After the Society was brought back to its normal working order, Pittau served the Church and the Society in several capacities, traveling to several countries and continents.  He was Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University from 1992 to 1998, and a delegate for the Civilta Cattolica.  Subsequently he became the Secretary of the Congregation for Education.   He was also bestowed the ecclesiastical rank of "Titular Archbishop of Castro di Sardegna" on July 11, 1998 and received the episcopal ordination on September 26, 1998.

After his international labors outside Japan were over, Archbishop Pittau returned to Japan in 2004, serving for one year in the Ofuna Parish, near Kamakura, and then moving to S. J. House within Sophia University in 2005.  While he stayed at S. J. House, he lectured on invitation to several honorable assemblies, and made an appearance in many ecclesiastical and academic events..  About six years or so ago, his eyesight became so weak that he needed special assistance for reading or writing.   He could not even watch TV or use a PC because of his eye-problems.  A few years ago (in 2011), he left S. J. House for Loyola House, where he was able to move about and even take part in his birthday parties--provided someone assisted him by holding his hand.  He looked always happy and cheerful.   A few weeks ago, he had to be hospitalized because of pneumonia, and for the past several days there was serious concern about his recovery.  Meanwhile two of his brothers (one of them a priest) had come to be close to him, and we may say he returned to his heavenly home as his blood brothers and Jesuit brothers bade him good-bye.

If there is one message for which Archbishop Pittau is best remembered, I think, it is "to think positive" or "to never lose hope."  Having been through various careers and having interacted with many different persons, he had a mature, non-judgmental, and grand view of persons, things, and events.   Even though he was well aware of scandals, struggles, and perhaps even deceits and deceptions,  he never lost hope and never spoke gloomily or despairingly.  He always looked upbeat and encouraged people around him to look at the brighter side and to labor to change imperfect situations with hope and confidence.   No doubt, his Christian faith and Jesuit vocation contributed much to his constant energy and cheerfulness.

["Pittau" version 2, modified 30 Dec. 2014, with the addition of several dates]

December 28.  17:40 PM.  Wake at Loyola House, Kamishakujii
                       (a short walk from Musashiseki Station on Seibu Shinjuku line). 
December 29, 7:00 AM  Funeral Mass;
                      15:00 Cremation rites
January 14, 2015:  13:30 Funeral Mass at St. Ignatius Church [close to Sophia University]. Tokyo.

PS: [20141229] See for Vatican Radio's version entitled: "Pope’s condolences for death of Archb. Giuseppe Pittau SJ".   I'm only honored that the Vatican Radio has taken lines from me, but since they have not properly acknowledged this Blog Brittonia as their source, let me assert here, just for the record, that whatever is found in this Pittau entry of Blog Brittonia and the site of Vatican Radio was originally written by me and subsequently taken by the Vatican Radio, and not the other way around!   [Previous entries of this blog too have been 'ripped' by others and that is fine, but it would be great if they acknowledge this source, as academic honesty requires some such courtesy.]

For your reference, I cite below the Vatican Radio write-up about Archbishop Pittau:

2014-12-27 Vatican Radio

Pope’s condolences for death of Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau SJ

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has expressed his sorrow and sent his condolences to his Jesuit brothers for the death of Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau, SJ, who passed away on the night of December 26 in Kamishakujii, Tokyo.

Describing Archbishop Pittau as an “exemplary minister of God,” in his telegramme addressed to Father Adolfo Nicolas Pachon, Superior General of the Jesuit Order, the Pope recalls Pittau’s “generous missionary apostleship in Japan” and thanks God for the service he rendered to the Apostolic See and for how he dedicated himself to the Company of Jesus.

Please find below the translation of the text of the telegramme:
Reverend Father, having been informed to the passing away of His Excellency Monsignor Giuseppe Pittau, I wish to express my sincere condolences to you, to all his Jesuit brothers and to all those who grieve the death of an exemplary minister of God who lived for the cause of the Gospel. Recalling his generous missionary apostleship in Japan, where he ended his earthly life, I give thanks to the Lord for the service he rendered to the Apostolic See as Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education and for his work as President of Tokyo’s Sophia University as well as Rector of the Gregorian University in Rome and for his dedication to the Society of Jesus. Entrusting his soul to the maternal intercession of Our Lady I impart my Apostolic Blessing in the light of the Resurrection of Christ.
Franciscus P.P.

Born on the Italian Island of Sardinia in 1928, Giuseppe Pittau entered the Society of Jesus in 1945 and was ordained a priest in 1959. He arrived in Japan in 1952 as a Jesuit missionary, and spent most of his academic life at Sophia University.

In the words of those who knew him and worked with him he was an “intellectual, administrative, and spiritual giant”.

He played a very important role in the development of Sophia University.  Among his lasting contributions were the democratic process of electing a President (voted not only by the faculty, but also by the staff), the increase in the number of students (from about 5,000 to 10,000), the addition or re-arrangement of several departments and faculties. Most admirable, according to many, was his foresight, arising from his dream of making Sophia a university that can significantly contribute to Japan by remaining faithful to its Jesuit/Catholic calling. He was especially interested in making Sophia an international university, bringing in not only European, Australian, and American professors but also Asian ones from countries like India, the Philippines, South Korea, and Sri Lanka.

After serving as President of Sophia University, Pittau moved on to become the Jesuit Provincial Superior of Japan, and it was in that capacity that he welcomed Saint Pope John Paul II to Japan in February 1981. When the hardworking Jesuit General Pedro Arrupe became incapacitated, the Pope personally requested Pittau to take over the reins of governing the Society of Jesus (together with the visually challenged Fr. Dezza). Pittau served the Church and the Society in several capacities, traveling to several countries and continents. He was bestowed the ecclesiastical rank of "Titular Archbishop of Castro di Sardegna" on July 11, 1998 and received the episcopal ordination on September 26, 1998.

After his international labors outside Japan were over, Archbishop Pittau returned to Sophia University and stayed at S. J. House, occasionally lecturing.
(from Vatican Radio

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Meeting Modi in Japan

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at last came to Japan in early September, 2014, after at least one postponement, and I happen to be one of the  hundreds in Japan who attended his talk, given at the Ambassador's Reception in Ascot Hall at Hotel Okura, Tokyo, on September 2.  Although the photos of his arrival in Osaka showed him wearing a dark suit, he seemed to have changed to mostly Indian-style clothes after a day or so.   At Hotel Okura, he appeared in a nice whitish 'kurta' (I believe that's what it's called:  long pyjama-like pants and a long, loose shirt, flowing to his knees), and a saffron vest.  Remarkably, the function began almost on time!  All the invitees, about a thousand, were asked to assemble before 6:30 PM, for his scheduled arrival at 7:00 PM.  All had to go through a rigorous security check inside the Hall, much like at Airports.  About ten minutes before the meeting, someone announced in English the basic procedure, and, frankly, that was the only message I understood during the whole meeting because from then on nobody spoke English or any other language intelligible to the majority!  The PM, accompanied by the Indian ambassador in Japan, Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa arrived around 7:05 and all welcomed him with a prolonged and enthusiastic applause.  There were also a few Japanese & Caucasians, men and women, but the majority were Indians from, I believe, all the Indian states.  After the usual National songs sung by the audience present, some 'Indian' children--presumably going to school in Japan--sang beautifully, accompanied by tabla and a string instrument that sounded like a piano.

Modi at Hotel Okura [Thanks to the Flickr contributor]
After being properly introduced, the Prime Minister began his speech--in Hindi or some north Indian language.  No doubt he gave an enthusiastic speech, for those who understood it laughed, clapped, nodded their head in agreement, and even shouted occasionally.  (Yes, I forgot to mention, even before Modi began, there were some from the crowd shouting short phrases in Hindi several times--something in appreciation, like "Long Live"--and every time, the whole crowd yelled back "Jai" or something like that.)  Of course, the people who didn't know Hindi--of whom, I'm sure there were nearly or more than half--simply clapped or nodded with the crowd without getting the point.

Although this PM has been quite admirable and charming, I cannot understand his insistence on speaking only Hindi without any translation.  India is NOT monolingual.   Although Hindi may have been given the status of the National Language in 1950, when the constitution was promulgated, it gave no right to any PM or government authorities to DENY the right to understand what he, as the Head of Government, was saying.  In fact, various corrections to the infamous "Hindi Only" policy have been enacted, and English STAYS as a secondary national language of India.  Surely, we can praise Modi for speaking Hindi or even Gujarati or Maratti or Punjabi, representing India--but he should have at least given out a summary or translation in English.  He seems to forget that he is the Prime Minister of the whole of India, not of only the north of India.  He is said to extemporize his speeches making them very personal and casual.  That is excellent too, but then he can have a live translator or at least pass on his basic ideas on a sheet of paper.  I think the whole language issue has caused much pain to all Indians.  Even though the Hindi pushers still try intensely to impose their will, pushing it too hard may rupture the country or stimulate the riots that were rampant in some parts of India in the 1960s.  Well, this language issue needs a longer article, so let me leave it at this.

After going specifically to hear the PM, I only 'heard' it, but 'understood' nothing but a few English words he dropped occasionally.  It was extremely disappointing.   As there was no way to ask anyone else during the meeting, I had simply to stay put and react with the crowd.   After his enthusiastic speech and even more enthusiastic applause and cheers were over, he came down from the dais and stood in front, flanked by the Ambassador and some other VIP, and greeted everyone.  Each row of about 25 persons went one by one, and shook his hands or bowed down in Indian fashion with hands folded like a lotus, or even fell down prostrate on his feet.  I went next to a Hindu priest living in Japan.  The ambassador, who remembered me, introduced me briefly to Modi, and I shook Modi's hands and passed on.  Officially, no one was allowed to bring a camera or spend more than a few seconds shaking hands.   There were many, of course, taking pictures in their iPhones and tried to carry on a conversation.  I tried to be 'rule-abiding' and so neither took any photo nor tarried to chat with the PM.

In the next room, there was a reception.  Most of the people glided over to that room, presumably catered by Hotel Okura itself rather than any of the many Indian restaurants.  The food seemed authentically Indian: rasgulla, rasmalai, curried vegetables, potato masala, chicken curry, curried fish, sandwiches, coffee, tea, etc. all served buffet style.   I was surprised to find non-veg dishes as I thought many Indians might be vegetarians.  Only the drinks were entirely non-alcoholic: orange juice, mango juice, ulon-cha, and water.

This 'casual' session of sharing a meal was very fruitful as I managed to extract the contents of Modi's speech from an Indian Swamy who seemed to have understood Hindi.  He told me that Modi's speech was down-to-earth and entertaining.  According to the Swamy, Modi encouraged Indians to be proud of their identity, and told them to invite at least five Japanese families to go with them each to India!   Modi also spoke of the economic disparities and issues of Indian filth, and promised to make India more modern and more hygienic.  Modi also spoke of giving the Bhagavad Gita to the Emperor, a typical Indian gift even though it may be religious.  Apparently Modi also cracked some jokes on his Chaiwalah (tea vendor) career and India's snake-charming reputation (which, he quipped, has now changed to the (computer) mouse-charming tradition!).  I was very greatful to the Swamiji for his summary and was delighted to know at least in brief what the PM had said.  I also met several old friends and made a few new ones.  It was great to meet the Indian Swamy, a Happy Science 'Kofuku no Kagaku' follower, and some from SriSri Ravishankar's "The Art of Living" foundation.   No doubt, the Japanese seem attracted by exotic Indian gurus like Kalki, Nithyananda, Saibaba, Amma, and so on.  The Indian community owes its thanks to the Indian Ambassador HE Wadhwa, for she was the one who made this get together and the wonderful dinner possible.  Thank you, Ambassador!

Overall, Modi seems to have had a successful visit.  The newspapers covered his visit reasonably well, though not in any 'mega-hit' fashion as sometimes they do for American or European VIP visits.  There were Indian flags in several streets around Yotsuya--e.g., in front of the detached palace, around New Otani Hotel, Akasaka Mitsuke, and so on.  It was surprising that Modi not only visited a school, but also visited the Seishin 'Sacred Heart' University, in Hiroo.   The Sacred Heart University is a well-known Catholic university, run by Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and among its illustrious alumnae are the current Empress Michiko of Japan and the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogawa.  Given the misleading news-reports that Modi is biased against non-Hindus, it was great to read that Modi visited this Catholic university and spoke to students and faculty.  The online video shows him speaking Hindi, but, fortunately, there was someone translating what he said; so it was OK I believe.   The online images of Modi also show him sipping Tea Japanese style, trying his hand at drumming a taiko 'a big Japanese drum', visiting some Japanese temples, greeting students, and so on.  His economic mission too seems to have been successful, according to reports.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gerard Barry, S.J., former President of Sophia Junior College

This afternoon (December 27, 2013), Fr. Gerard Barry, S. J., the founder of Sophia Junior College in Hadano and former Rector of S. J. House, passed away quietly away from his friends and family, in a hospital.  One of the most liked Jesuits around Sophia, he had been working as an assistant to the Parish Priest of St. Ignatius Church, Yotsuya, until about two months ago, when he took seriously ill and retired from active ministries.  He was initially hospitalized for about a week, getting treatment for leukemia, but then returned to S. J. House to be with the Jesuit Community.  Unfortunately, his sickness worsened, and he opted to move to Loyola House, the Jesuit Community for the retired persons, in Kamishakujii, Tokyo.  Within a short time, however, he had to be moved to a hospital for exclusive care, and it was there that he passed away this afternoon.

Jerry at the funeral Mass for Fr. Jack Nissel, S.J.
Fr. Barry had an impressive appearance, close to six feet tall and strikingly handsome.  As he was athletic, taking care to cycle, swim, or walk, he had a well-built body without any excess fat or protruding belly.  With his own honest humor, he used to say that when he was young, people called him ‘Charlton Heston,’ after the Hollywood actor.  Until the age of 65, he used to bicycle to or from Hadano at least one way, once a week.  Never seriously ill, he was afflicted about 20 years ago by a malicious form of skin disease on his head, which resulted in the removal of a fifth of his scalp.  Although he went through a hard time getting adjusted to his new ‘partly scalped’ head, he continued his regular work, teaching at Sophia University (Department of the English Language and Studies) until the age of 70 and then for some years as a secretary and/or translator for the Japanese Bishops, and then finally as an Assistant Pastor at St. Ignatius Church. 

A smiling Jerry on his 80th Birthday, with Fr. D. Doyle & Archbishop Pittau

Fr. Barry was born on October 2 [Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday!], 1927, and entered the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus on August 14, 1950.   Ordained a Priest on March 18, 1963, he took his final vows as a Jesuit on February 2, 19 65.  He arrived in Japan as a Missionary in 1956, serving mostly at Sophia-related institutions.  

Because of the year-end and new-year holidays,  the funeral arrangements have been made as follows:

Date: January 10, 2014
Time: 13:30
Place: St. Ignatius Church, Yotsuya, Tokyo
Stations nearby: JR Chuo Line, JR Sobu Line, Namboku Subway Line, & Marunouchi Subway Line.

[to be continued] 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sophia University To Celebrate 100th Anniversary

Sophia University in ancient times

Tomorrow (November 1, 2013) morning, at 10:00 AM, Sophia University is set to begin its long-awaited 100th anniversary celebrations with a Eucharist at St. Ignatius Church, Yotsuya, Tokyo. More than 1200 guests are expected to attend the Mass, including some non-Catholics. The RSVP invitations were sent several months ago, and only the guests who replied to them can attend, since the Church, one of the largest within Tokyo, can only accommodate around 900 persons. Foreign dignitaries, including delegates from Rome, are expected—though not the General and former Sophia University Professor Adolfo Nicolas! The Pope, another Jesuit, couldn’t attend either, but he will send a personal delegate. The Archbishop of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Hollerich, is already here as he has been a professor of Sophia and a resident Jesuit in Tokyo.  For the convenience of those unable to enter the Church, the whole Eucharistic Celebration will be televised at this URL:

 Sophia University today, with St. Ignatius Church in the foreground

The Eucharistic Celebration will be followed by a quick lunch at the Palace Hotel. Immediately after lunch, guests are expected to flood the Forum near Yurakucho, Tokyo, where another formal celebration is set to begin at 14:00. Again, admission only on invitation. Here even more guests are expected including several secular dignitaries, which, many say, will include their Imperial Majesties, the Emperor and the Empress. The climax of the festive day will, perhaps, be the celebrations at the Hotel New Otani, close to Sophia University, where the guests will gather for a sumptuous dinner and toast!

 In memory of Fr. Hoffman

The idea of Sophia University began in 1906, when Pope Pius X requested the Jesuits to serve the Japanese through higher education. Two years later, three Jesuits, from three different countries, reached Japan to explore the possibilities: a German, Fr. Joseph Dahlmann; a French, Fr. Henri Boucher, and a Briton, Fr. James Rockliff. Their exploration and fundraising resulted in the establishment of the Jochi Corporation in 1911. The Japanese word Jochi was taken from the Litany of the Virgin Mary (Sedes Sapientiae—Seat of Wisdom), and even today that is the word familiar to most Japanese. Sophia, the English equivalent, has also been used since the beginning, though some Japanese may still be unfamiliar with it. After acquiring the required property and crossing all the legal hurdles, the Jesuits opened the gates of Sophia University in 1913 with the departments of Philosophy, German literature, and Commerce, under Fr. Hoffmann as its first President. Two other Jesuits too contributed to Sophia in its infancy: Fr. Hermann Hoffmann and Fr. Yachita Tsuchihashi. You can imagine how small the university was then from the fact that there were only nine students who graduated in 1918! 

Fr. Koso, S.J. explaining Sophia's history to the Pope

Sophia University grew gradually and slowly in early stages, i.e., before the end of the two World Wars, given that it was ‘foreign,’ relatively new, and very small. After the Second World War, however, Sophia reorganized several Faculties and Departments and added a few, built numerous edifices such as dormitories and the impressive 9-storied library, and created the “International Division,” where courses were taught only in English, mostly for foreign students. Sophia came to establish itself as a respectable university, mainly excelling in foreign languages and International relations. Women, who had been denied admission earlier, were able to register for the first time as students in 1957. The reputation of Sophia women soon became so well-known that in the 1970s there were references to Sophia as “Women’s Todai” [i.e., Tokyo University for Women!] given that the Sophia women were highly fashionable, intelligent, and able to speak at least one foreign language. 

Fr. Koso, S.J., Chancellor of Sophia

Among the private universities, Sophia currently ranks as one of the top three in Japan. It is highly admired for the high standard of education it offers, and many of its students are widely known for their linguistic skills. Whether true or false, most people both in Japan and abroad believe that Sophia students speak English fluently.

  Sophia University Eagle Emblem

As regards the Faculty, there was a time, in the early 70s, when nearly 100 Jesuits from about 25 countries taught at Sophia! There was hardly any department then without a Jesuit! Unfortunately, though, the Jesuit number has substantially decreased, and currently there are only about 15 Jesuits who teach full time—most of them belonging to the Faculty of Theology. Despite the challenges, the university’s Chancellor is still a Jesuit, and the university prides itself as being a Jesuit University. Will Sophia continue to be a Jesuit University for the next 100 years?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lawrence 'Larry' McGarrell, Former President of Elizabeth Music University

This afternoon (December 29, 2012) there was an announcement within the premises of Sophia University of the death of Fr. Lawrence McGarrell, S.J., (better known as Larry McGarrell) former President and Chancellor of Elizabeth Music University in Hiroshima and an alumnus of Sophia University, Faculty of Theology.  Hearing that he was terminally ill, I had gone from Tokyo to see him in Hiroshima on December 23rd and visited the hospital twice on December 24th and had the privilege of speaking with him.  He was very feeble and unable to speak in sentences, but he was very alert and able to utter a word or two.  He seemed serene and resigned (perhaps the fruit of his years in Zen practice?). 

Larry was born in April 1947 (in Indiana, USA) and ordained a priest by Pope John Paul II in Nagasaki, Japan, in February 1981.  Joining the Society of Jesus in New England Province, USA, he lived the life of a Jesuit for a little over 47 years, about 40 of which he spent in Japan, having transferred to the Japanese Province in 1985.  He had been teaching on and off at Elizabeth Music University since April 1978, and became an Associate Professor in 1986 and full Professor in 1995.  He became a Member of the Elizabeth University Administrative Board in 1994 and Dean of the Music Faculty in 1998.  He served as the President for five years between April 2000 and March  2005, and as the Chancellor for six years between April 2005 and May 2011.   In April 2011, he was honored as Professor Emeritus.

I am personally indebted to Larry in many ways, especially early on when I had just arrived in Japan and he was a sempai "senior" by a few months.   We were together studying Japanese at the Kamakura Jesuit Language School--now defunct--together with a number of Dominicans, Divine Word Missionaries, Burgos Kai members, nuns, and Lay persons.   As I joined at least two months later than others in my class, I had a lot of catching up to do and had to get accustomed to the Japanese ways.  That is where Larry played the 'elder brother' role--very kindly, graciously, and generously.  We have been perhaps through most of the streets and hills around Kamakura, walking and talking about philosophy, religions, mysticism, music, and so on.  He was always a wonderful companion, very knowledgeable about many matters--especially concerning Japan and Japanese language.

It is my recollection that he constantly strove to be like a Japanse--adopting Japanese ways of eating, drinking, dressing, etc.  He was deeply interested in learning Zen and Tea Ceremony, and at every meal he used to have the sour umeboshi 'plum pickles,' drink green tea (which I found tasteless, and used to drink with sugar and milk--until Larry told me that was not the Japanese way of doing things!), and enjoyed the dark-green crispy leaves of  nori 'sea weed'.   What struck even the Japanese was his inordinate attachment to natto 'fermented beans'--sticky beans in a glue-like paste with an odor that can beat even the most stinky French cheese.   While there are Japanese who can't stand natto, Larry was committed to eating it every morning with great delight.  He always sat in the seiza 'straight back' posture and preferred a tatami 'Japanese mat' to a chair.  Larry was also very ascetical and self-controlled in his eating and drinking habits.  He hardly ever touched alcohol and almost never ate a full stomach.   One wonders how such an ideally behaved person can die so young...

Larry, of course, was a professional musician, playing the piano perhaps from a young age.  In Kamakura, he used to practice several hours, and later on studied music in different music schools, and did get some advanced degree in music.  Unfortunately, he was called upon to serve as an administrator even before he completed his doctorate, and he too liked doing extracurricular activities such as giving retreats and serving as a spiritual advisor.   He taught music at Elizabeth University for many years and also served as the President and Chancellor.   He continued his administrative job even after his health began to decline, and it was only last year that he was relieved of his post.  He used to sing often  in this season of Christmas his favorite Christmas song, "The Little Drummer Boy."

Larry had a remarkable talent for telling funny stories, changing his voice to that of the characters.  He was also adept at mimicking different accents.  Linguistically, he was very fluent in both spoken and written Japanese and had a working knowledge of French and a smattering of German.  He didn't seem to show much interest in abstract philosophies or arguments, but leaned towards practices and experiences. Presumably, given his administrative and spiritual commitments, he could not get too deeply involved in unrelated sciences and philosophies.   As a human being, though, Larry was a very lovable and loving person, always willing and eager to help others and always patient and non-judgmental in listening to others like Momo.

Wake: 6:00 PM, on Dec. 30, 2012, at the Catholic Cathedral, Hiroshima.
Funeral:  10:00 AM on Dec. 31, 2012, at the Catholic Cathedral, Hiroshima

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tokyo rocked by Mother of All Earthquakes

A 'fallen' woman showing her er... reaction to the quake!
Friday (March 11, 2011), afternoon around 2:50, I was in bed taking a siesta--as I went to bed last night, or this morning, only around 3:00 AM. It was time for me to get up, but I was still psyching myself to get up while listening to Narnia, the C.S.Lewis fable for children. One of the characters in the story, Eustace, was wondering who he was as he suddenly found himself changed to a dragon. Then I sensed small mild tremors. Although most of us, accustomed as we are to innumerable tremblers, tend to take them easy, today I got up, got out, closed the door, and stood in the usual 'safe' place, which is the door frame, between the room and the corridor. [It is 10:15 PM now, and I just returned after going out, as the building started shaking again.] It looked like the usual rattle, with some shakes and squeaks, but suddenly it got serious and continued on and on, with violent movements of everything around me. I could hear inside the room things crashing and books falling, and the whole building was moving in different directions. The noise was really the most frightening as it was like going on an old steam engine train over a broken down bridge in India. Or, (for those who have not been to India) it was as if the whole building was an airplane going through a turbulence over the Pacific!

Today was supposed to be the wake of Fr. George Graziano, whose lifeless body lay just about 20 meters from where I was, and no doubt I prepared interiorly to join him saying goodbye to this world. I could hear things falling in different rooms, but could hear no one crying or shouting. Neither could I see anyone running. It was as if I was the only one in the whole building, going to face this calamity. The quake seemed to continue much longer than usual, becoming extremely severe at times. I could see the door of the tiny chapel in front of my room open, and two statues (one of Mary and the other of Joseph) falling down and crashing into pieces. The decapitated head of Joseph rolled towards the exit, and moved back and forth in rhythm with the quake. I was wondering whether to get out of the building by running just a couple of meters to the exit door, but the threat of imminent doom held me strapped to my 'safe' spot. At last--some say after about three minutes, some say after about five minutes--the quakes subsided, and I rushed out of the building to the open ground between a three storied building and a five storied building.

a broken statue
There in the same area, I met a young man in his twenties, who had come to Japan just a couple of months ago. He was dressed in black for the wake of George, and he was dusting himself and pressing down his pants. As he was a foreigner, I asked him where he was during the quake and how he found the experience. Although he looked cool, his story was even more chilling than mine, Apparently he was in the adjoining building using a personal computer, when he felt the quake. He tried to get out, but in the corridor, he was not sure if he could make it safely to the exit. So he went back to the computer room and opened the window to get out. Unfortunately, outside the window there is a two-meter-wide pit going all the way down to the concrete basement, and the only solid ground is about two meter away. To add to his problems, the window too is quite small and about a meter above ground; so he could not sprint or stand near the window to jump. Still being young and perhaps scared, he just jumped and landed safely on the muddy ground with some interior scratches in his leg. So he was still tense with fear, which increased as he viewed the nearby tall buildings swaying back and forth. Luckily he had no serious injury, and he looked cheerful.

The aftershocks continued as I took a walk around the building and the garden. I could see a large number of persons standing outside in the streets of Sophia University, but there didn't seem to be any damage. Many residents I spoke with mentioned about things falling down and room in disarray, but nobody reported any human injury. The Sophia employees meanwhile came out and directed everyone to go out to the playground, which is the official 'safe'' area for people around here during a major quake. Today there were some graduate school entrance examinations, and so there were many more people than usual. I went to the Sophia crossroads, met many students and friends, and walked towards the playground. There were a few hundred people in the playground just in front of the main entrance to Sophia. I went up the dote 'embankment' where too there were many people, each one with a cellphone trying desperately to contact someone or other. Apparently cell phones didn't work for some time or they worked only partly. So some seemed frustrated. Of course, everyone seemed to be narrating to someone else how he or she escaped the quake and which things fell down or broke. As I walked towards the Yotsuya station, I could see that the cross on top of the St. Ignatius Church tower had rotated 180 degrees, hinging on a screw that held it aloft over the tower. Some bricks or concrete debris seem to have fallen down, and so there was a no entry zone around the tower.

Fracture on the wall
It was after about 15:40 that some Sophia employees announced in a megaphone that they could return to their places. [It was surprising that they didn't use the loudspeaker; they only used a simple megaphone, which could be heard only by a few people nearby!] The trains had stopped soon after the quake, and so many people had nowhere to go. According to TV, most taxis and buses too were unavailable. So many started walking back. Many students and employees returned to the university. Many persons slept yesterday in shelters as they could not return to their homes, and some walked for three to five hours to reach their home! Sophia too made its space available to those who sought shelter.

On TV, of course, the earthquake has been the only news in all channels, and even now at 12:10 AM, on March 13, they still broadcast earthquake news. When I saw the news some time ago, about 1400 were reported dead, and a large number missing or wounded. According to news, this earthquake was perhaps the most serious in anyone's living memory, and perhaps the deadliest in a millennium. This was also a mega quake that has affected almost the whole of Japan, all the way from Hokkaido to Okinawa. The center of the quake seems to have been somewhere in the sea near Miyagi, with a frightening 8.9 magnitude. Miyagi seems to have felt a quake of 7.8 magnitude, and the Tokyo area, a quake of magnitude between 5 & 6. The duration of the quake, about three to five minutes, too seems to have been quite unusual.

What seems to have done the greatest damage is the tsunami. Although the news channels warned about the tsunami soon after the quake, people seemed to have had no time to remove their belongings to a safe area. The news clips of the inundating tsunami look like Hollywood movie clips as rushing water pours into airports, homes, and highways hauling cars, trucks, boats, houses, and even buildings! There were also fires in many places. The Sendai airport seems to have practically sunk under tsunami though parts of the main building were above water. And now there is the very serious talk of chemical leaks from the atomic plant, which has made it necessary to move nearby residents to safe areas at least 30 kms away.

One point that struck me after the quake was how sturdy the modern buildings are! Really the Japanese architects have done an excellent job! Although in movies we see skyscrapers crashing and crushing people, not a single major edifice seems to have fallen during this monstrous quake. A couple of minor accidents were there, but no major collapse of any building. In Tokyo there were only very few deaths due to the structural failure of buildings--one of the saddest being the Kudan Kaikan crash that seems to have killed two and injured about 20. No doubt, the Police, SDF, Fire Service, and other service personnel too are doing a remarkable job during this critical time. Congratulations and thanks to all of them!

Although it is nearly 32 hours after the major quake, I can still feel tremors now and then. The aftershocks have continued since yesterday afternoon, and one doesn't feel relaxed enough to go to sleep. I hope we will all live through this monstrous mother of all earthquakes and learn additional lessons to protect ourselves better.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

George Graziano, Jesuit Professor of English

Fr. George Graziano, S.J.
I have to apologize for reporting the death of another Sophia University Professor, Fr. George Graziano, S.J., who passed away around 7:30 P.M. today (Ash Wednesday, March 9, 2011).

I don't think George was ever hospitalized during his long life except for the final three months. His hospitalization, towards the end of last year, proved to be not only the first, but also the last. When he reluctantly left for a checkup, he was looking forward to returning within a short time, but his situation deteriorated gradually and turned critical after a couple of falls in January.

George was born on February 2, 1930, entered the New York Province of the Society of Jesus on August 14, 1947, and was ordained a priest on June 20, 1959. He had been in Japan since 1955, mostly teaching English at Sophia University until his retirement around 2000.

With a degree in Applied Linguistics, George taught mostly oral English, presentation skills, and writing. George was a pioneer in introducing media-based English courses at Sophia, and, according to various accounts, he even had a bus with audio-visual gadgets in the 1960s and 70s. Although he belonged to the Department of English, for many years he taught in the Faculty of Law, grooming many generations of youngsters. He was a dedicated and committed teacher, willingly giving his time to students, helping them improve their oral and written English. His office door was always open, and there were always students there, often learning English while watching a movie or a Columbo episode. He kept in touch with students even after their graduation, and he officiated at the marriage of many of them.

George was much interested in audio-visual machines and computers. He had a substantial collection of audio and video tapes for teaching English, some of which he himself edited or compiled. His favorite teaching tool was the Columbo TV series, many episodes of which he knew almost by heart. He was one of the earliest users of a computer at Sophia, especially from a non-Science Faculty, going back to the days of punch cards. After the arrival of PCs, he used almost every version of Windows until Windows Vista. He was competent in handling the programming language BASIC and wrote several programs for use in class. In fact, after his retirement from Sophia, he volunteered to work in Myanmar, and there too he employed his personally developed CALL system, which consisted of a set of lessons with Columbo episodes and custom-made dialogs and questions, all controled by his own software program.

George had the knack of attracting people and was often surrounded by former students who came from different walks of life. One of the reasons for his popularity might have been his membership in a yachting club, to which he belonged for many years. Almost every year, he attended numerous functions associated with the club and was regular in giving opening or closing speeches. He was also a 'socialite' being very generous in treating friends, sometimes even cooking for them. George was a very talented cook and had very clear notions about the quality of food and the manner of serving and eating. Perhaps he came from a family of restaurateurs, educated since a very young age in food vocabulary and food criticism. He often made bread, pizza, and other dishes in his office and ate with others.

George was a memorable character. Perhaps no student is likely to forget George's sonorous voice and impressive appearance. Most notable were his hair, which he laboriously wound around to cover his bald pate, and his pants, all of which were ultra-tight. Of course, he was always dandy, paying close attention to the colors of his clothes, the design of his tie, and the choice of his jacket. Perhaps more than his voice and appearance, what made him memorable was his vocation-inspired sociability and generosity, as he always strove to be available and generous to others. R. I. P.

Funeral Details:
April 9, 2011 (Sat), 10:00 AM: There will be a Memorial Mass for Fr. Graziano at St. Ignatius Church, Yotsuya, Tokyo.

Wake and Funeral were canceled due to the calamitous Great Quake of March 11.