Dr Yuriko Kamae: Anthropologist, Academic, UN Bureaucrat and Humanitarian Coordinator

January 4, 2008 at 11:56 pm (Fiction) ()

Bill Clayton thought to impress Yuriko Kamae with his knowledge of Japan and he was voicing ideas he had got from reading Ruth Benedict’s Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. Yuriko was not impressed and said to Bill: “Ruth Benedict does not speak Japanese and she did no field work in Japan. Her book is full of circumstantial evidence.” Yuriko’s highly intellectual approach did not quite fit Bill’s ideas of female oriental submissiveness and her attraction for him somewhat diminished.

This gave James a chance to charm the fair Yuriko but he proved equally unable to attract her or so he thought. After a month in the bush, collecting and researching, the group returned to Angoram. They arranged a “thank you” celebration on board the houseboat they had hired from Bill Clayton, and the drink flowed. James Ward managed to arrange a very intimate tête-à-tête with Yuriko and they were getting on famously. Unfortunately, James was too far gone, alcoholically speaking, to realise how well he was doing and when one of the local maidens arrived, he switched his attention to her, and dropped Yuriko.

The next morning, Bill Clayton told James what an idiot he had been. “James, a trip to Japan sounds like a good idea,” he said.  “How about coming with me? Don’t worry about the money. If you are short, I can lend it to you. We wouldn’t spend too much time with the old Professor. But Masanori Sato intimated that there was a good time to be had in Kyoto and other places. He said he has his contacts, and you never know your luck. Yuriko might be pleased to see you again. Jun Kato told us that Kyoto would be our city if we came. Anyhow, think about it.”

 The lure of the East was a compelling attraction for our two travellers. One would not go so far as to describe them as amateur anthropologists, but Dr Yuriko Kamae had certainly aroused their interest. Masanori Sato’s description of the Pontocho District in Kyoto with the cafes, pubs and love hotels was certainly of anthropological interest and a motivating factor in their decision to go to Japan. 

The dinner went off very well and all the group who had been in Angoram was there except for Yuriko. She was feeling unwell and sent her apologies with a message that she hoped to meet up with James and Bill as soon as she was better. 

While Bill was meeting the bank official, James called into the university in the hope of seeing Yuriko. At the university desk, he was told that Dr Yuriko Kamae was in her office and would be pleased to see him. He was directed to her office on the door of which he saw written: Dr Y. Kamae, Department of Anthropology, in English and Japanese. James knocked on the door and Yuriko opened it. She held James’s hands and said: “Oh, James, it’s nice to see you again.” James enquired about her health and she informed him that she was now quite well. “Come in, James, and sit down. First I want to say how happy we are all to see you and Bill again. Professor Akagi is most grateful for the help you gave our party in New Guinea.” “Yuriko, it was our pleasure,” replied James. “We were only sorry you could not stay longer.” Yuriko was dressed in western clothes. She wore a miniskirt. The miniskirt was very popular in Japan after the model Twiggy visited Japan in 1967. James could not help thinking how self-assured and confident Yuriko looked. She went on to talk about the New Guinea trip.

“The university is most happy with the collection we made on the Sepik River. Professor Akagi mentioned you and Bill to the Vice-Chancellor and how helpful you both were.” James said this was very kind of him. Yuriko went on to say:

“We were very fortunate to have Akira as the leader of our group. I don’t know if you know, but as well as his Japanese qualifications, he has degrees from Oxford and Yale. At the outbreak of war, he was conscripted into the army and eventually attained the rank of colonel serving in infantry and intelligence units. He was with the Japanese army in China and the Philippines. He is one of the most liberal-minded and intelligent men I have ever met. He has told me privately that right from the start of the war, he was against it. Apart from seeing little justification for it, he realised that Japan would have no chance of winning. 

“The trouble was, he said, that most Japanese leaders did not understand the British and American people. Even at the very start, he did not believe that the Germans could defeat the British. Japanese people misjudged the British and criticised them as empire builders who were all hated by their subjugated peoples. They often talked of Gandhi and how he was supposed to hate the British. To Akira the survival of Gandhi said a lot for the magnanimity of British rule. He wondered how someone like Gandhi would have fared in our colony of Korea. “There’s something else I want to tell you about Akira. He is, in many ways, a very sad man and unlike many Japanese, he is conscience stricken by many things he was forced to do during the war. You know what happened in Timbunki during the war. Well, when we got there, he asked to see the village officials. I don’t know exactly what was said, as he had a private meeting with them, but from what I heard, he apologised for the unforgivable part the Japanese army took in the massacre. He said his apology was as a human being and he regretted that he could not make an official apology. Out of his own private funds, he arranged to purchase an outboard motor for the village.” James said that he always knew that the Professor was a gentleman. Yuriko then said: “James, there’s something more personal I want to talk to you about. Early in our stay in Angoram, I told Akira that I liked you. He was not worried about this but he did advise me to be cautious and discreet. He considered that we were visitors in New Guinea and we should be careful not to upset anyone, but on the other hand, he intimated that he was happy to see nature take its course. With you, James, I must say it’s very hard to read the signs of nature. Every time I sent out messages that I liked you, you seemed to step back, so I could only conclude that you did not want to develop a relationship with me.” 

James was quite abashed by what Yuriko had said. He could only offer a weak explanation. “I’m sorry Yuriko, but I’m basically shy and sometimes I fail to act when I really want to.” 

“James, there is a saying in English, to strike while the iron is hot, but that’s all in the past.” Yuriko was charming and delightful but naturally, she was still somewhat aggrieved at what she perceived as a rejection by James. He was now to experience something of the reaction of a woman scorned.

“James, I hear that you paid a visit to the Pontocho District. I hope you enjoyed yourself, and I’m sure you’re not always shy.”

Yuriko achieved what she wanted as James was now totally embarrassed. But she softened the blow by pointing out to him that Japanese women knew the ways of men. James wondered how she knew about the Pontocho visit. He was thinking: “Masanori must have told her. Maybe he fancies her himself and he wants to ruin my chances.”

They parted on good terms with Yuriko promising to attend a farewell dinner that Professor Akagi had arranged next week for Bill and James.

Bill and James left Japan not long after Professor Akagi’s farewell dinner for them, with everyone swearing undying friendship for each other and promising to meet up again.

Yuriko said goodbye to James with a plaintive look in her eyes.  Both concluded that the trip had been enjoyable and worthwhile. Bill had some assurances from potential investors but his greatest joy was the prospect of Rie coming to Angoram. James was sad that things had not worked out with Yuriko but he realised that she required high standards of the men in her life. He suspected that her admiration for Professor Akagi’s qualities was a measure she used in evaluating other men.

 “After our experience with Yuriko, you should have known that not all Japanese women are like that,” James told Bill. .

Dr Yuriko Kamae joined the United Nations, eventually becoming the special assistant to the Under-Secretary-General in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). She was the author of a report presented to the General Assembly on gender-based violence in Africa. At the time of writing she was serving as the Chief Humanitarian Coordinator for Africa, stationed in Khartoum, Sudan. Yuriko dedicated her life to her work and to date had not married.

Bill Clayton treasured a letter he received from Yuriko shortly after James disappeared. Yuriko wrote that she had fond memories of the time she spent in New Guinea and that she would never forget James. “Dear James’s loss has left me quite heartbroken.”  Bill was to wonder years after if there was more than a dedication to work that had prevented Yuriko from marrying. 

Excerpts from Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk


1 Comment

  1. Dr. Kotô Shinryôjo said,

    I would like to formally acknowledge that Dr Yuriko Kamae is entirely a character of Fiction and bears no resemblance to any member of The Department of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Tokyo. Any perceived connection to names, locations visited or activities of any member of my staff or the University as a whole is purely a matter of coincidence. The writer, David Wall has amicably agreed to various amendments of this article and similar, while preserving fiction structure to avoid any future cases of mistaken identity.

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