Too Good To Be True

Baylor's first Japanese instructor, Brazos crocodiles and a stolen wedding dress: Dr. and Mrs. Yoshihiko Mukoyama have a Baylor story unlike any other.

August 31, 2009

At the end of World War II, Yoshihiko Mukoyama's country lay in shambles. In the midst of confusion and miserable living conditions in war-scarred Japan, the young man's optimism for his nation stemmed from his ability to read in English. This rare skill in his native country eventually led Mukoyama halfway around the world to Baylor.

Too Good to be True - Fall 2009

"I was sure of [Japan's future prosperity] because General [Douglas] MacArthur was giving out his democratic ideas every time he discussed his program of democratization of the country," says Mukoyama. "[Although] the people had to read the Memorandum from the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Japanese-translated newspapers, I could truly believe in it because I was able to read the Pacific Stars and Stripes, the official U.S. Army newspaper for the servicemen in Japan, in the original English."

Mukoyama's interest in the English language was sparked by a relative, Dr. Kisaku Kitsuta, who studied and researched in the U.S. before having to return to Japan prior to the outbreak of WWII. To the young Mukoyama, who received many American books from his relative, Kitsuta was a "godsend."

The young Mukoyama was fascinated by Kitsuta's tales from Texas, in which he described hunting and fishing in wide open spaces.

"As a foreign national he was not permitted to carry a gun, so he hired someone to carry it," says Mukoyama. "Dr. Kitsuta said he especially enjoyed hunting crocodiles."

However, it was Kitsuta's advice for studying English that proved most fruitful, as it became Mukoyama's impetus for a career teaching English.

"He said not to get too interested in the simple sentences of conversational English, but to get into the depth of ideas to be found in the long, highly complex sentences, to drink more deeply from the fountain of knowledge, and he emphasized the ability to present speech, not to talk," says Mukoyama. "I owe so much to Dr. Kitsuta for what I am today as a teacher of English."

Mukoyama entered Keio University in Tokyo in 1948. He was able to work at the GHQ with full pay while completing his degree, a blessing he calls "too good to be true to me."

"I learned English, the great extent of the idiomatic expressions, along with much GI slang, as you can imagine," recalls Mukoyama. "I was happy immersing myself in the democratic way of active life of the U.S. Army organization in Japan."

The Baylor years

After working at Keio University upon graduation, in 1958, Mukoyama had the chance to pursue graduate study in the U.S. through the Fulbright Program. Established in 1946 by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Program is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries.

Mukoyama chose Baylor--for the opportunity to study the Armstrong Browning Library's extensive collection of Robert Browning materials, and because of Kitsuta's stories of Texas.

"When I came to Waco, I wanted to see the crocodiles, but I could find none in the Brazos River," he says.

Mukoyama's studies proved to be challenging, but as he delved into the Victorian prose of Carlyle and Ruskin, Kitsuta's advice to focus on discovering deeper meanings of the English language proved to be invaluable to Mukoyama's academic success.

Mukoyama so enjoyed Baylor that he decided to stay for Ph.D. work instead of returning to Japan, as his interest in English was growing. English department chair Dr. E. Hudson Long provided Mukoyama a full tuition fellowship and an additional $100 per month stipend.

"It was, for the second time, a thing too good to be true to me," says Mukoyama. "One hundred dollars was a lot of money when gas was 17 cents a gallon."

In exchange, Mukoyama began teaching Baylor's first Japanese courses in 1961.

Mukoyama briefly returned to Japan that same year. While there, one of his students at Baylor, Lillian Milam, a counselor at University High School, visited Tokyo on her trip around the world. Mukoyama and Atsuko Suzuki, a Keio University student who was majoring in English, gave Milam and her mother a tour of Tokyo.

Mukoyama was smitten with Suzuki, and the very next year, the two married in Baylor's Armstrong Browning Library--a story all its own.

Mukoyama greeted his newly-arrived fiancé in Los Angeles, and the two hopped on a Greyhound bus for the long trip back to Waco. The couple checked two bags, but when they arrived to campus, they had only one. Of course, the missing bag contained some fairly important items.

"In the luggage was packed the set of newly tailored Kimono [the wedding dress made by Suzuki herself] and some other expensive things for the ceremony," says Mukoyama, who had five days until rites were to be held. Four days later, even after a nationwide search via telegraph system, Greyhound hadn't located the luggage.

One day before the wedding, a letter arrived from Mukoyama's relative in Los Angeles--Kitsuta's daughter.

"She had read in the newspaper that the Los Angeles police has caught a man with luggage containing a set of Japanese Kimono, which he had confessed to taking from the bus depot," says Mukoyama. "She remembered the name of my bride-to-be, Atsuko Suzuki, which was the name announced on the luggage handle."

The deadline to claim the baggage had passed, but with the help of Baylor's foreign student advisor, arrangements were made, and the stolen luggage arrived on the wedding day, just in time for the ceremony. The story was covered on the local evening news and by Waco and Los Angeles newspapers.

"It was, for the third time, a thing too good to be true to me," says Mukoyama.

The newlyweds moved into an apartment at 7th and Bagby, and Atsuko began pursuing a master's degree in English and working in the Student Union Building, eventually becoming the telephone receptionist.

"It must have been a precariously hard job for a girl fresh from Japan to receive callers' questions and answer in English, but she did it," says Mukoyama.

Atsuko graduated in 1969, and the couple had their two children while at Baylor: Takahiko (Teddy) in 1970, and Dorothy in 1976. Some of the Mukoyamas' fondest memories come from time spent with friends from Baylor and from Calvary Baptist Church, and they even made studying a family affair.

At Baylor, Mukoyama studied Dr. J.A. Armstrong's collection of more than 500 Robert Browning-related items penned in Japanese. In 1933, Armstrong, the founder of the Armstrong Browning Library, wrote in the Baylor Bulletin that he hoped a Japanese professor could make the time to read and digest all the items in order to communicate the ideas contained within them. That request waited 35 years until 1968, when Mukoyama tackled the project in his dissertation.

Subsequently, Mukoyama's son began his own sort of study.

"When Teddy was 3 or 4, we were spending most of our time at libraries; I read in my carrel of Moody Library, and my wife worked at Armstrong Browning Library. Teddy was permitted to read the books for children, and because of this, his strong habit of reading was initiated early in childhood."

The Mukoyamas hoped to stay in the U.S., but in addition to missing family back in Japan, Dr. Mukoyama found more opportunity to teach English literature on the university level there. He also was named the head of the International Browning Society in Japan. "At the same time, I could do something more for my purpose for the furtherance of the international understanding between America and Japan."

Once a Bear, always a Bear

Even after the Mukoyamas moved back to Japan in 1977, they stayed thoroughly connected to Baylor, where they had spent 18 years. When the family returned to Waco each summer, Teddy honed his writing skills at Vanguard School in Waco in a summer program. Teddy completed his higher education at Keio University, his parents' alma mater, and coincidentally, he met his wife there while taking an English course, much like his parents had done.

Today, Teddy is an accomplished author, both in English and Japanese, largely due to his parents' emphasis on bilingual education. His 1999 work "The Tale of the Juvenile Stories" is scheduled to be made into an animated movie, and he and his mother, Atsuko, co-authored a best-selling text book for studying English, Big Fat Cat's World's Easiest English Textbook, which was Japan's best seller of 2002, second only to the Japanese translation of Harry Potter for that year. The book has sold more than two million copies to date.

Dr. Mukoyama also started an exchange program in which more than 90 Japanese students were able to study at Baylor in the 1980s, which he says was made possible with the help of Baylor professors Dr. John S. Belew, Dr. Clement T. Goode, Dr. Jack Herring and Dr. Mary Lynn Klingman. At the same time, Mukoyama also recruited English teachers to Japan from Baylor's English graduate student pool to teach for two-year periods. Over the years, more than 100 Baylor graduates participated in the program with the assistance of Goode, who served as director of graduate studies in English. The Mukoyamas are hoping to renew a similar exchange program soon.

More than 50 years later, the Mukoyamas' love for Baylor has not wavered.

"We are now in Japan, but our hearts still remain in Waco, for the love bestowed upon us from the Church, from Baylor University, and from the community of Waco," says Mukoyama. They still visit Baylor nearly every year, in addition to participating in Baylor-related gatherings in Japan.