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24 Jan 2012

A short biography of my father

filed under: journal  :: personal

As I've already mentioned online somewhere, my father died in late November. His memorial service will be held in February, at the church he attended. I wrote up a short biography for the pastors at the church to refer to in their eulogy (or whatever it is called that is read out at a memorial service) and I thought I'd post it here too, as a sort of closure. It is admittedly the 'good' version of my father's life, and leaves out a lot, but it is what I think is most fitting.

Masamichi Itoh was born in 1936 in Tokyo. His parents were Salvation Army officers working at a Salvation Army hospital. They were Christians, which was very unusual for Japanese people at that time. While he was evacuated to the countryside during the war, he spent most of his youth in Tokyo. Years later he remembered always being hungry as a child, especially in the postwar period, and his mother struggling to feed six children. He was the oldest.

From an early age he was very interested in America and learning English. In his teens he had more than 25 penpals in America, all but one of whom were girls, most of them blonde. His favorite American actress was June Allyson. When he entered college in the '50s, he grew his hair into a "regent" - a big fluffy pompadour at front, like James Dean - and frequented the dance halls of Tokyo, dancing the boogie woogie.

At the age of 26 he married Michiko Munemura, a 21 year old girl with big eyes. It was an arranged marriage, the usual way young people got married in Japan at the time. They eventually had three daughters - Makiko, Mayumi and Megumi. Makiko lives in France, Mayumi in Japan, and Megumi in Florida. He also has two grandchildren, Lyoh and Lena.

His English ability and his interest in travelling abroad finally came together in his early 30s, when he was sent to England by his company to cultivate business there. He was their sole representative in Europe for 5 years. After six months he was joined by his wife and two older daughters (daughter no. 3 was born later in the United States). Life was tough sometimes, but looking back later he said he really enjoyed his time in England.

After several years in England and a year in New York, he and his family returned to Tokyo. But back in Japan, he did not feel like he fit into his company anymore. Unhappy, he took the drastic step of resigning - a very unusual thing to do for a Japanese salaryman in the 1970s. He found another job back in New York and the family moved once more.

Perhaps because of so many moves, the marriage became too strained, and he divorced from his wife a few years later. He eventually found friendship and a purpose in life again when he joined the Universal Church, which became the center of his spiritual and social life. He found it very fulfilling to serve on the church's board, especially after retirement. That and his friends here [in New York] were the main reasons why he decided to live out his retirement in New York rather than going back to Japan.

Masamichi had a lifelong love of good food, movies, and travel. He used to keep file folders full of the business cards of restaurants he visited around the world. When he was in his 60s, he went back to dance class again to boogie woogie once more.

(See also: Doing business as a Japanese businessman in the '60s and '70s')

Comments on this post:

Thank you for sharing

Did you parents decide to keep the M name going or is that something that Japanese families do traditionally? We almost did that with our son. But I decided I didn't want tradition and his name is so strange to most people anyway that I just like it. Even though it's a really old English name. Your Father really lived a vibrant life, or at least it sounds that way! Thank you so much for sharing!

The M thing is just a

The M thing is just a coincidence, definitely not any kind of tradition. Though when it came time to name my youngest sister my parents may have looked for an M-name on purpose.

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