Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dr. Morohashi Tetsuji, the Kanji Master

I had an opportunity to visit “The Dr. Morohashi Tetsuji Museum,” also called “Kangaku No Sato” (Home of Chinese Studies) in Niwatsuki, Shitada Village (which recently merged into Sanjo City). Dr. Morohashi Tetsuji (1883-1982) is best known as Chief Editor of “Dai Kan-Wa Jiten,” the world’s most comprehensive dictionary of Kanji (a 13-volume set with more than 50,000 character entries and 530,000 compound words), published by Taishukan Publishing Co., Ltd.

The Sanjoites are proud of Dr. Morohashi, who became a laureate of the Order of Culture in 1965, and the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1976, for his unprecedentedly great dictionaries and contributions to Japanese language studies, sinology and lexicography. He was, as a professor of several universities and, later, as the President of Tsuru University, well-known for offering lecturers on his work to the Imperial family, and for helping to choose the names of Imperial princes and princesses.

I visited the museum because they held a special seminar on Dr. Morohasi and, much to my delight, even showed a DVD-recorded speech by his son, Mr. Morohashi Shinroku, a well-noted former president of Mitsubishi Corporation. The speech, given in 2009 at a Sanjo public hall, was about his father.

According to his son, Dr Morhashi was a modest man who was so diligent that he made it a rule always to work after dinner, and placed a high priority on matters of propriety. While he was never a person to display his emotions easily, he was nevertheless delighted when he was made an “Honorary Villager of Shitada.”

He also told of how, at the age of 63 in 1945, his father became discouraged when many of the typesets for his great dictionary were destroyed during a bombing raid on Tokyo during the World War just before it was to have been published. However, he proved himself to be very resilient, and soon resumed working on compiling the dictionary. As luck would have it, part of the galley was found undamaged in another location, but it still took him another 15 years, when he became 73 years old, to publish the first part of the dictionary in 1955. The last part was published in 1960 when he was 78.

His work seemingly got better as he aged (although he was suffering from eye diseases), and he continued to publish more dictionaries even into his 90s. At the party for commemorating his receiving the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1976, Dr. Morohashi, at the age of 94, told his audience that he wanted to become “genuine,” but he felt unsure as to “how he could.”

His son mentioned that, during his last years, Dr. Morohashi often dreamed of his native Shitada and the great nature found in its surroundings. After one such dream, it was reported that the Dr. comically said, “In a dream, I was a school teacher, and my father was the principal of the neighborhood school, Arasawa Elementary.”

He often came back to his home in the summer months because he so loved Mt. Yagigahana and the people in the village. I still remember how, on one hot summer day, my elementary school classmate and I chased the large black cars that carried him to his small house he kept there, and watched the people entering the house. A thin old man got out of the car, came toward us and said, “What school do you attend?” We shouted “Morisho!” (Morimachi Elementary School), and ran away from his place.