- Forty Years of the Bernard Shaw Society of Japan
[The year 2011 marks a milestone for the Bernard Shaw Society of Japan: forty years of continuous research toward a better understanding of the life and work of Bernard Shaw. Members of the BSSJ, to my knowledge the world’s oldest non-English-language Shaw society, can rightly be proud of their legacy of ongoing published essays and series of meetings. I count myself privileged to have attended those gatherings in 1995, 1996, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, where I witnessed a true dedication to advancing Shaw scholarship. It is in the spirit of gratitude and comradeship that I offer the BSSJ my warmest congratulations and, on behalf of Shavians everywhere, my very best wishes for continued exploration of the mind and art of Bernard Shaw!Michel W. Pharand]
Although fairly popular in the 1910s and 1920s, in the 1970s Bernard Shaw was not often discussed by Japanese academics and was hardly known to the public except as the writer of the play made famous by My Fair Lady. After the musical premiered in Japan in September 1963, people became familiar with “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church on Time,” but it was not bloody likely that they had seen a Shaw play onstage or read one at home.
Deploring Shaw’s unpopularity in Japan, Matahiko Ichikawa (1886–1982) called on scholars of Shaw, Shakespeare, and other British and Irish playwrights to form a Shaw society in Japan. Ichikawa, a professor emeritus at Waseda University, was a pioneering Shaw scholar who, in the 1920s, translated Widowers’ Houses, Mrs Warren’s Profession, Arms and the Man, Candida, The Man of Destiny, You Never Can Tell, The Devil’s Disciple, Man and Superman, and many of Shaw’s one-act plays. When Shaw visited [End Page 230] Japan in March 1933 during his world cruise on the Empress of Britain, it was Ichikawa who escorted him to Waseda University on the last day of his ten-day stay in Japan. 1 Legend has it that, fed up with the throng of reporters and cameramen waiting outside, Shaw refused to get off the ship, which was harboring at Yokohama. Ichikawa then went on board, met the elderly playwright in person, and successfully persuaded him to go ashore and to the university. 2
The inaugural assembly of the Shaw Society of Japan (SSJ) was held on 27 November 1971 at Ohkuma Hall of Waseda University, the campus that Shaw himself had visited nearly forty years before. Attending were approximately fifty scholars. In founding the SSJ, Ichikawa, who was its first president from 1971 through June 1980, expressed three purposes: (1) to raise the level of Bernard Shaw studies in Japan; (2) to offer young students an opportunity to present their studies on Shaw; and (3) to impart Shaw’s sophisticated laughter and humor to the desiccated mind of the public. 3 The journal of the society, GBS, was first issued in November 1972 and has been issued almost annually since then. 4
Despite the efforts of the society, however, it took time for Shaw and the SSJ to become known. One reason is that “Shaw” and “show” are pronounced and written identically in Japanese, and so the society was often misunderstood as the society of “show business”! The name was changed to the Bernard Shaw Society of Japan (BSSJ) in June 1980.
The BSSJ holds meetings twice a year, in the spring and fall. At each meeting, usually three papers are read, and sometimes outside lecturers are invited and films are viewed, notably the 1938 movie of Pygmalion, which was not shown to the public in Japan. During the last forty years, the BSSJ has invited not only Japanese writers and critics but also a number of foreign Shavians: Sidney P. Albert (1976), Stanley Weintraub (1977 and 1982), Katherine J. Worth (1987), Michael Horne (1990), Thomas Kilroy (1992), Heinz Kosok (1998), and Jay R. Tunney (2007). We also have non-Japanese members, including Michel Pharand and Nicholas Williams, both of whom have read papers at our meetings.
Under Masahiko Masumoto (1934–2006), the fourth president from...