Ted (Theo) Mittet’s Letters from Japan Part 3: Inspiring Japanese to Go Abroad

White House Invitation Card 2
Official Invitation to the White House for American Olympic medalists

He was invited by the Mayor to a celebration for Seattle Olympians on November 2, 1964. He was also invited to the White House by President Lyndon Johnson for a luncheon honoring American Olympic medalists on December 1, 1964.

But Ted (Theo) Mittet, in his mind, had bigger and better things to do – like travel throughout Japan: Yokohama, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Beppu, Nagasaki, Niihama and Nara. The 22-year-old American rower from Seattle, Washington had helped a crew of four take the bronze medal in the rowing fours-without (which means four rowers without a coxswain). And while most of his teammates returned to the United States for parades and celebratory dinners, Mittet decided that hitchhiking and taking the train through Japan would be more fun. And based on the numerous letters exchanged between young Mittet and the Japanese he met along the way, all parties were better for that decision.

Thank you ever so much for your nice letter. It is more than you could imagine how happy I was to read your letter. I am glad to know that you stayed and travelled in Japan for two months after the Olympic Games were over. It is a wonderful and happy experience for me to have worked for the Tokyo Olympics, and we talk very often about the pleasant days during the Games. Since that time I have become much more interested in English, and I attend the English conversation classes once a week. Though I try my best it is still very hard for me to master it. Is there any idea or suggestion to learn it faster? – Hiroko Sho, a volunteer from Tokyo stationed at the offices of the US Olympic Team.

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Ted Mittet surrendering his American team’s cowboy hat, gifted by President Johnson to the male Olympians

But more significantly, Mittet inspired people to dream of being a part of a bigger world.

When Mittet went to Matsuyama City in Ehime Prefecture, a place not many foreigners ventured to in the 1960s, he was invited to a high school to meet the students, three of whom screwed up the courage and effort to write to him. One was Kayoko Kurita, who wrote to Mittet of her dream.

You may be surprised to receive this letter from me but I met you in Matsuyama and spoke in English with you. Do you remember me? You gave me your name and address I was happy to receive it. You said you attend WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in Seattle. I would like to be your pen pal, and would enjoy corresponding with you if you don’t mind. I hope we will become good pen pals.

And my dream is, ……………, but it isn’t come true, but I’ll tell you. I would like to study abroad in your country especially WASHINGTON or Indiana or Kentucky or there is no Japanese there. Your university is very good and very big excellent university, but I would like to go to High School or Junior in America, so I’m looking for a sponsor for me. But it’s very difficult to find. I wish I will.

Mittet met a university student from Osaka in Kyoto named Takanao Dojima, who volunteered to take Mittet on a tour of Kyoto’s most famous temples, Kinkakuji and Ryuanji. Dojima wrote Mittet in a letter the following year, saying “Probably nothing is more enjoyable than travelling. I want to go to America as well as you visited to Japan. But I haven’t money, I can’t to visit America.”

A Sophia University student and interpreter for the BBC during the Olympics, Masako Kajiki, possessed more advanced English skills than the average Japanese, and appeared to have the financial means to travel abroad. She wrote in mid-November, 1964 to Mittet of her role as Shylock’s daughter in an upcoming production of The Merchant of Venice, and her plans to travel to the United States.

Listening to various talks from my parents who have just come back from the States after three months’ travel in Europe and the States, I have long wanted to go to your country next summer session. I’m looking forward to visiting your country, though it’ll be only for 10 weeks. Seeing is believing.

Three months later, Kajiki was approaching her departure date for the United States. Kajiki had already sent her entire, very detailed itinerary that would take her from Haneda to Honolulu, and throughout the mainland – LA, Las Vegas, Dallas, Knoxville, DC, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, New York, just to name a few in her nearly three-month cross-country adventure. In her letter, she is clearly conscious of her own accountability as teacher of things Japanese. For a young Japanese woman in the Sixties, she has a stronger and clearer point of view on America and Japan than the average Japanese. But in the end, she cannot contain the excitement of her ultimate goal – to see America for the first time, and Mr. Theodore Mittet again.

 

Mayor's Invitation
Official Invitation to a celebration for Olympians in Seattle, Washington, also turned down by Mittet.

 

I’m afraid, however, that after you have made the railway journey from Osaka to Tokyo, you’ll remember not only the ugliness of those cities, as seen from the train, but also the succession of advertisement billboards that so often interfered with your view of the enchanting countryside along the route. As you know Japan is surely losing our own tradition that our ancestors made unique one after they assimilated Oriental civilization and digested it. We have been, however, striving to keep up with American and European country and rebuild Japan what it is from a heap of ashes.

Without your country’s support, our country – indeed like many other countries such as Great Britain and France – would not have been able to regain the present strength in such a brief span of time. You can imagine then how anxiously I’m waiting for visiting the States. May 29th seems the longer in coming, because you are waiting for me!!

And then there was Hirokazu Okugawa, a student at the Department of Architecture at Kyoto University. Mittet was also a student of architecture at the University of Washington, and was introduced to a professor at Kyoto University named Dr. Nakamura. Okugawa was a student of Nakamura’s and they both sought a way to get Okugawa to the United States. In an initial letter to Mittet in mid-December 1964, Okugawa writes, “I would like to go to University of Washington next September, and I would like to study architecture more there. And Dr. Nakamura hopes that I study it there, and that I shall become an eminent architect. Would you introduce to your professor?”

So full of hope, Okugawa would realize that it wouldn’t be so easy to become a student in the US. Two months later, Okugawa has the name of the dean of the school of architecture at the University of Washington, and intends to state his case. But soon after, he received a letter from Mittet – now his unofficial career advisor at U of W, that dampens his spirits:

According to your letter, there is no probability of my admission for the degree to the master. My ability of English conversation is not enough to understand the lecture in the University. I am going to study hard English conversation this year.

But Okugawa has a dream. He can see himself going to the States, studying English hard, taking on any task to show he’s worthy of being a student in the United States, and continues to explore ways forward with Mittet. By the end of February, he and Mittet have decided that Okugawa should still officially apply to the University of Washington, and Mittet has sent the application form and information on all required documentation. Okugawa acts on the instructions, presumably to extreme exactitude, only to be disappointed again:

As mentioned in my previous letter, I received an application form for an admission. And I completed its form and my works in Kyoto University, and these letters were sent to the chairman Architectural Graduate Program. And also, my report in Kyoto University and three letters of recommendation were sent there.

But I received the letter from Director of Admission in which he said “It is too late for autumn 1965”.

HOW SHALL I DO? WHAT SHALL I DO?

CAN YOU HELP ME?

I BEG FAVOURITE ATTENTION.

If I can, I would like to work in architecture office, and then I would like to study in University of Washington the next year. How shall I do in order to do so? How shall I get working visa? I will be given about $1000 and the expense of transportation.

Would you please consult with the dean about my admission? I would like to know your professor, professor Nakamura’ friend. What is his name?

Looking forward your kind letter.

There is a tinge of desperation in young Okugawa’s typewritten letter. And only a week later in early May, Okugawa seems resigned to not getting into his dream school in 1965. Mittet, who has apparently responded quickly to Okugawa’s letters, when necessary by express mail, was encouraging and understanding. And indeed, hope was not lost because Okugawa informed Mittet that an official of University of Washington’s admissions stated that Okugawa could apply for enrollment in the Fall of 1966, with the condition that he take an English certification course that November.

I have received the beautiful picture of U. W. from you. The mountain covered with snows resembles Mr. Fujki in Japan. I was so glad that I showed it to many friends of mine, and I put it on the wall of my lodging house.

By the way, I took English proficiency examination on the 1st of May at A. C. C. (American Cultural Center). Fortunately I could do excellent, and the director kindly recommended me to your University. But Mr. Johnston has written to me, and said that I must not be expecting to enroll U. W. until autumn 1966, and I must take the English Examination (TEFL) on November.

When I heard these things, I was disappointed. But, I think I can study more English and architecture at Kyoto University (master courses) until autumn 1966. And I hope we discuss architecture in letters.

Did Okugawa eventually make it to Seattle, study at the University of Washington, and become an “eminent architect”? Who knows. Dreams are not goals of certitude – although they could be glowing embers of aspiration. In the case of 1964, the Olympics fanned those embers of the Japanese. In certain cases, a spark named Ted Mittet set the fire.