Annual Newsletter of the Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University
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English News  No.5 , December 1997
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From the Director
Foreign Visiting Fellows
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A day under the colorfol autumn trees in Takino Park ,Sapporo.
Essays by Foreign Fellows
Mordechai Altshuler
Boris N. Mironov
Volodymr A. Potulnytskyj
Vilmos Agoston
Oleg T. Bogomolov
Alfred F. Majewicz

My Hokkaido Affection: From My Personal Pillow Book

by Alfred F. Majewicz
(Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland, COE-Foreign Visiting Fellow, SRC, 1997-98)

As if a little unexpectedly - but the calendar excludes any unexpectedness - Hokkaido has evidently entered the period of its beautiful yet far too short autumn and what is only to be regretted is that I am not in the position to be roaming the enchanting and spectacular, really breathtaking natural recesses of the Island's northeastern Shiretoko Peninsula.
Soon, however, all will be over: the colorfulness of autumn will inevitably surrender to the overwhelming whiteness of Hokkaido's long and heavy-snow-abundant winter - which most probably I shall not witness this year having already left for my academic duties in Europe and my quiet seclusion in Steszew, a tiny sleepy township some 25 kms from my Poznan Alma Mater, where winter is expected to be much more severe than in Hokkaido, with temperatures falling for long periods below -30�Ž, but usually with little snow.
For Hokkaido inhabitants, the dosanko, and for the Ainu, a prolonged and very snowy winter is just a normal yearly occurrence; they have mastered coping with it and take it matterfactedly. I also had a chance to learn to live with it having experienced its hardships at least four times. It may, nevertheless, turn quite challenging for another current visitor at the SRC, Professor Mordechai Altshuler from the mild Mediterranean climate of Israel...
My relation to Hokkaido appears to be very special, very emotional, although, to be frank, the source of this virtual passion remains unclear and hidden also from myself. The fact is, however, that this kind of attitude is deeply rooted, it sits somewhere inside me.
This is my sixth or seventh visit to Japan, and although I have been to quite a number of countries, some revisited more frequently than Japan, it is Japan where I seem to have spent more of my time abroad than anywhere else. And as far as I can recall, every time I visited Japan I also set my foot on the soil of this ancient homeland of the Ainu. Every time I came to Japan it was either with the premeditated purpose to stay in Hokkaido or even if the destination of my visit was far away from this northernmost major island, some internal imperative directed me here.
As many people have frequently asked me about the origins of my ties with Japan and my persistence in revisiting Hokkaido, about my interests related to Japan, where I learned the language from, and the like, I found this little essay which Ms. Mika Osuga had commissioned from me for the Slavic Research Center News an ideal opportunity to try, at least in part, to approach these questions and share this rare confession of mine with any potential reader of this text.
As with most of the events and undertakings in my quite adventurous scholarly career, my first contacts with Japan were quite incidental. As early as in my secondary school years (my education consisted of seven years of primary school followed by four years of secondary school before starting university - the standard in Poland in my era, surviving with little change till these days) I started actively manifesting interest in languages by collecting dictionaries, grammars, and handbooks of as many of what are now euphemistically labeled "lesser-used languages" as possible in addition to all major languages from beyond Europe. This collection, nota bene, has been growing for years to become now one of the richest and renowned collections in private hands globally. In my university years I was also relatively well known for being fluent in well over a dozen of European tongues, and although my university studies initially focused on pre-English (Anglo-Saxon) and Early and Middle English literature, and I still today cherish the memory of my academic teacher of these subjects (were it not for him exposing to me in the dull years of socialism to the very essence of "Academicness" I would have almost surely dropped out of university altogether), my MA thesis turned out to be in linguistics, examining the verb-phrase structure in English,... Japanese, Chinese, Swahili, Eskimo, and some 75 other languages of varying genetic affiliation, at times drastically different from one another.
Precisely at the time of my graduation in 1973, a new Institute of Linguistics was created at Adam Mickiewicz University and I was persuaded to undertake a position there. Thus, I became associated with the University for years to come, till the present, assuming all consecutive positions in the said Institute to become its first director elected in a popular vote. I turned out also to be its last director, as the Institute split into two institutions, one specializing in linguistics, the other in Oriental studies. I became director of the latter and by that time my interests in Japan and, more generally, in the East had of course become professional.
It was not, however, so at the start of my academic involvement. Nevertheless, the first task I was assigned was nothing less than writing a monograph of the phonological system of... Japanese. Although not enthusiastic with the subject, I dutifully completed the job: I received my PhD for the book around 1978 and it has since been published.
While preparing for the above task I intensively inspected Japanological bibliographies to find to my astonishment that a number of Polish names had been recorded as being associated with the study of the Ainu. At that time I knew little of the Ainu aside from the fact that such a people existed, so I became intrigued with my discovery only to learn about the existence of Bronislaw Pilsudski's old records on wax cylinders of Ainu folklore made in 1902-1903. I found the collection in an extremely miserable state of preservation but examined it scrupulously and made extensive notes.
In 1976 I was very unexpectedly sent to Japan - without any solid preparation and without any plan for studying. I landed at Kyoto Sangyo University where nobody seemed to expect or need me, with very meager means of self-support. From any point of view, there was anything but responsibility in the very decision to have sent me there but, fortunately for me, of JapanÕs three leading linguists at that time two were working at Kyoto Sangyo - the late Professors Hisanosuke Izui and Shichiro Murayama. As I look back now, I was not only too stupid, but above all too immature and too unprepared to fully realize the opportunities of contact with these two eminent scholars. Nevertheless, I shall never forget how kindly the two expressed their interest in my humble person. It was Professor Murayama who persuaded me to put my notes on Pilsudski's cylinders into some orderly article and send the latter to... Hokkaido University, to the Hoppo Bunka Kenkyu Shisetsu. I did so but for a long time there was no response and finally what I received was "Mr. Majewicz, actually, who are you ?." It sounded terrifying but I learned they wished to publish my paper and simply wanted to identify a prospective author for an appropriate citation. This was probably the moment that triggered my affection towards Hokkaido. I secured enough money to undertake my first ever trip to Hokkaido in March 1977 prior to my departure from Japan. I remember that when I announced my decision to travel to Hokkaido to my acquaintances in Kyoto and my bar companions in Osaka, it met with their utmost astonishment and disbelief: to go to Hokkaido where "there is nothing" proved to be beyond their comprehension. This recollection as well as the abundance of others from my extensive travels all over Japan show how little people south of Aomori know about Hokkaido.
The purpose of my later consecutive stays in Hokkaido, including the present one with the SRC, is related to my preparation of the manuscripts of the Collected Works of Bronislaw Pilsudski. Volumes One and Two are expected to be released in the near-future - the first proof-reading in its entirety and most of the second proofs together with the compilation of numerous indices have been finished with the enormous help of my wife Elzbieta during this stay at the Center. I hope to be able to say soon that we all performed a wonderful job.
As for the rest of Japan - I have visited many places of greater or lesser interest, touching the westernmost point at Yonagunijima, southernmost inhabited spot at Haterumajima, easternmost cape Nosappu, climbed up the tower there to photograph Habomai, and the northernmost Benten islet a few dozen meters north from Cape Soya inhabited by birds only. I have seen the three most renowned magnificent views of Miyajima, Matsu-shima (to repeat, after Basho, "Matsushima, Matsu-shima, ah, Matsushima,") and Amanohashidate (this disappointed me a bit, frankly). I failed to cover the entire south-north stretch of the Shinkansen, traveling from Hakata "only" to Sendai, but reaching Hakata from Nishi-Kagoshima by train well compensates the doubtlessly shorter Sendai-Morioka stretch.
As for Hokkaido - I have managed to travel almost everywhere. During the present stay with the SRC, this field-study inspection was enriched by visits to Teuri, Yagishiri and Okushiri islands and to Matsumae and Hiyama.
Almost none of these trips was undertaken exclusively for tourist purposes - all of them turned out to be well-planned and necessary study tours well-documented with thousands of photographs, notes, and an abundance of other material locally collected and preserved in my Steszew archives. It will be solely on those collections that Japanese studies at Poznan may for years be based upon.
I have never been to Shikoku, Daito, and Ogasawara, and in Hokkaido what remains to be visited is the seashore between Setana and Iwanai, and between Soya and Lake Saroma. Thus, at least one more visit to Japan - and to Hokkaido - seems indispensable to fully mature to write a long-since planned book on Japan, my Japan, as I experienced it, throughout the period of over twenty years, covering - hopefully - its entire territory.
What I have been interested in since my first contact with Japan, and still pursuing today, is a large project labeled Hokkaido and Ryukyu - two poles of the Japanese ethnosphere. When I started proposing it to different institutions in Japan over twenty years ago, the response was utterly negative. Now, one only has to visit large bookstores to see how hot the issue has become.
The last question to approach here is that of the language. Frankly, I never learned Japanese. I never had a single minute of regular instruction in the language with a teacher correcting my (horrible at times Ñ theoretically I often realize my mistakes immediately upon committing them, as theoretically I am much better acquainted with the language) mistakes. Simply, I had to deal with Japanese-language sources, I had to survive far from big cities in villages where nobody could communicate in any other language than Japanese. Besides, it is my personal policy to at least try, out of respect and courtesy for the people hosting me, to communicate with them in their own vernacular if they wish so. The results vary: there are days when I perform better and days of failure. There are individuals with whom I can find almost complete mutual understanding and persons immune to any communicative cooperation. There are subjects that I can discuss with little constraint and subjects totally incomprehensible to me Ñ be it in life, or in mass media. Generally, I can easily survive with my abilities and I shall always appreciate and be grateful to the Japanese for their readiness to try to understand me and for their appreciation of the very fact that I do try. Although my communicative abilities in other languages are far better than those in Japanese, most Japanese prefer to communicate with me in their own language which puts me in a somewhat disadvantaged position when compared with my foreign colleagues in Japan but I appreciate it as long as my efforts are noticed and also appreciated.
As for the beauty of the Japanese autumn, this year I appreciated it in full bloom in the Jozankei area on my way from Okushiri, where I had been trapped for some days by rough seas, to Sapporo to pick up my plane ticket for a survival trial in southern Sakhalin. There - I did survive.

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