Two British journalists chronicle an affecting, bittersweet romance that began during the Russo-Japanese War.
The long relationship between Arthur Hart-Synnot, a British career officer, and Masa Suzuki, a Tokyo barber’s daughter, finally came to light after a cache of letters between the lovers was discovered in 1982. (A book delineating their romance was published in Japanese in 1998.) They met in Tokyo in 1904. Fresh from the Boer War, 32-year-old Arthur, eldest son of Irish landowners, had been sent to Japan to learn the language and attempt to forge a new alliance with this mysterious little nation that had dared to stand up to mighty Russia. Arthur met 25-year-old Masa at the Officers’ Club, where she worked as a clerk; he was immediately smitten, and she was pleased to be listened to and treated as an equal. (Japanese society expected women to be submissive and obedient.) Masa helped Arthur with his Japanese, and when he offered to hire her as a housekeeper, she managed to gain her brothers’ permission, even though it was clear that “there would be more to this role than housekeeping and language practice.” They had two sons and maintained loyal relations over many years, writing copious letters during Arthur’s postings to Manchuria, Hong Kong and Burma. Though he asked Masa to marry him and come to England, she would not. Sent into the thick of fighting in France at the outbreak of WWI, Arthur lost both legs. He gave up the idea of returning to Japan and married an English nurse who had cared for him. Masa felt furious and betrayed, but Arthur continued to write and send money until WWII made it impossible. Their surviving son, Kiyoshi, had a poignant reunion with his elderly father in 1939. Arthur died in 1942, Kiyoshi in a Soviet prison camp in 1945; Masa lived until 1965.
A polished account that segues elegantly from a personal saga to a larger cultural history.