Article by Matthew Lindsay
The challenges of language and cultural differences that accompany everyday life for foreigners here in Japan can sometimes seem overwhelming. At such times it’s usually possible to find some solace in the companionship of a fellow expatriate. Next time you’re feeling lonely spare a thought for Tokushima’s most famous foreign resident, Wenceslau de Moraes, a Portuguese writer who lived here in the early 20th century. Some people regarded him as a ‘hairy barbarian’ (admittedly he was hairy) and children sometimes would even hiss at him as he walked by. He lived a life of virtual solitude with only his pets for company.
A statue of Moraes with his dog at the summit of Mount Bizan.
These days Moraes is Tokushima’s adopted son. At the summit of Mount Bizan in a building adorned with picturesque azulejos tiles from Portugal is a museum dedicated to this unique character and his fascinating life. Admission is free if you take the ropeway or 200yen if you make your own way to the top. Here follows a rough translation of the brochure included with entry.
Moraes and Mount Bizan
Wenceslau de Moraes was born in Lisbon, Portugal on May 30th, 1854. He was attracted to the ocean from an early age and after completing Naval Academy served as a Naval Officer in the Portuguese Navy in Portuguese colonies such as Mozambique. After becoming Deputy Harbour Master in Chinese Macao he visited Japan a number of times and developed a strong interest in Japanese scenery and customs. After coming to Kobe in 1898 he served as consul then consul-general at the Portuguese consulate.
Upon retiring in July, 1913 Moraes came to live in Tokushima, the hometown of his deceased wife, Yone Fujimoto. While plagued by homesickness, Moraes could only correspond with his family and friends and didn’t return to his homeland for the remainder of his life.
From the time he was in Kobe, Moraes sent information about Japan to newspapers in Portugal through a column titled ‘Japan Correspondence’. After coming to Tokushima he pursued a career in writing while living with Yone’s niece, Koharu Saitou. Moraes lived in a terraced house on Iga Street (now commonly known as Moraes Street), where enveloped by the vast greenery of Mount Bizan he wrote many works that he sent out to the world such as Tokushima’s Bon Odori (徳島の盆踊り), Yone and Koharu (おヨネとコハル), and Japan’s Spirit (日本精神).
After Koharu’s death in 1916, Moraes remained in contact with her mother, Yuki Saitou and her family. Although he received care from them with the onset of old age, troubled by chronic rheumatism, kidney disease and strokes he died in solitude on July 1st, 1929 aged 75. Moraes, Yone and Koharu’s graves are located in Chou-on-ji, a temple adjacent to the Awa Odori Kaikan at the foot of Mount Bizan.
Following his death Moraes’ many writings were translated into Japanese and through the efforts of translator, Tomizo Hanano, his complete works were published.
A bust of Moraes at the site of his former home.
Moraes – Equal of Koizumi Yakumo
As Moraes spent 17 of the 33 years that he lived in Japan in Tokushima, he has become known as the “Koizumi Yakumo” of Tokushima. (Koizumi Yakumo, otherwise known as Lafcadio Hearn, was a renowned foreign writer/ translator of Japanese stories.)
The Moraes Museum was opened on July 1st, 1976 at the summit of Mount Bizan to commemorate Moraes. The second floor display room is a recreation of Moraes’ living room and study with a focus on the paintings, desk and armrest that he loved. The complete collection of his works in Portuguese such as Far East Travel Journal (極東遊記), Great Japan (大日本), Water For Tea (茶の湯), Tokushima’s Bon Dance, Yone and Koharu and Japan’s Spirit along with their translations, biographies and research papers are arranged to serve as a backdrop to introduce the atmosphere of Tokushima during the Meiji, Taisho and beginning of the Showa periods. Also hundreds of handwritten postcards he sent to his elder sister, a record of Moraes’ lifetime explained on panels and Portuguese handcrafts are displayed.
Moraes the Loner
“Moraes spent much time in lonely contemplation, (a sentiment used specifically for Portuguese known as ‘Saudade’). Abandoning his homeland, living in continual poverty in remote Japan, dreaming of his hometown from afar and yearning for the deceased – in this melancholy he contemplated in solitude day by day. Tokushima’s green mountains and blue rivers resembled his birthplace of Lisbon and Moraes the foreigner lived as though consumed by Tokushima’s blessed nature and beautiful humanity. You could say he was a loner that loved Tokushima,” says Jiro Nita, a writer who is very knowledgeable of Moraes.
Monuments to Moraes
There are a number of well-maintained monuments to Moraes within Tokushima City:
- A bust marking the site of Moraes’ former residence is on Moraes Street (Iga Town’s 3rd Avenue) at the foot of Mount Bizan
- A monument marking the 100th anniversary of Moraes’ birth can be found in front of the Awa-Odori Kaikan building at the foot of Mount Bizan.
- A statue at the summit of Mount Bizan to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth, titled ‘Nostalgia’
- The Lisbon Moraes Square alongside Portugal Leiria Boulevarde near the Tokushima Zoo and Botannical Gardens in Katanokami.
Furthermore, an annual memorial service is held for Moraes on July 1st at Anju Temple (安住寺) in the Teramachi (temple) area.