Reading today of the intended abdication of Akahito, the Emperor of Japan, who succeeded to the throne following the death of his brother, Emperor Hirohito in 1989, brought back to me long pleasant memories of my relationship with Japan and with a member of the Royal family.
In 1955 I had been invited by Professor Hiratsuka of Fukuoka University to come to Japan as a Lecturer in Hebrew at his university. He and I had met on several occasions and while dining together one afternoon he proposed that I permit him to submit my name and credentials for consideration of an appointment to the faculty.
As it turned out, since I was unmarried, the university apologized for being unable to consider me. The rule was that faculty members had to be married.
In the course of our conversations one day, Professor Hiratsuka mentioned something of amazing interest. He informed me that the brother of Emperor Hirohito was a scholar of Hebrew and Middle East Studies, an interest which he pursued at the end of World War II, and was a lecturer in Biblical Hebrew at Tokyo University.
I was astounded at this unusual news and I set about to make contact with Takahito, Prince of Mikasa, and fifth in line to succession to the Japanese throne.
In December 1955 I received a typewritten letter signed by the Prince. Frantically searching for it tonight through boxes of correspondence which my daughter has assembled for historic value, I found the letter from the Emperor’s brother. Below follows the content of the letter written on December 9, 1955 from his palace.
Dear Mr. Ben-Sorek,
I have received your letter, and it is very interesting to me to know all about you. I really hope that you will be able to come to Japan, and that we shall be good friends to talk about the subjects we are commonly interested in.
It would benefit me a great deal to have friends like you, since I myself am still a beginner in the studies of Hebrew.
I was appointed as a lecturer in the Tokyo Joshi Daigaku last April, and am only a new-fledged teacher who learns from his students far more than teaches them. I took the Western History course at the Tokyo University, my main interest being in the study of ancient religions and their origins.
I have known of the “Biblical Hebrew” by Mr. Nakarei, but have not yet had the good fortune to see the book. I should be very grateful, if you could get me a copy of it some time.
Hebrew is indeed a difficult language to study. Would you be good enough to tell me some of the names of Hebrew books useful to beginners, as well as those about Jewish culture and Hebrew literature?
I do not know what I can do for you, but if you want any information about Japan, I shall be only too glad to do my best to get it for you.
With kindest regards,
Prince of Mikasa
The return address on the rear of the envelope reads:
His Imperial Highness, Takahito, Prince of Mikasa
275 Chojamaru, Kami-osaki,
Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo, Japan
An interesting part of history which I had the pleasure of sharing.
Prince Takahito was born in 1915. He is now 101 years old. I wish him 19 more years to a Jewish 120. And since he is a Hebrew scholar, ad maya v’esrim.