The Early History of the Hiroi Family

On May 19th, 2014, we sat down with Hiroi Michiaki in Akiu, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, to begin our oral history interview. We began with Hiroi’s early life as a child in Tokyo. In this audio clip Hiroi describes his childhood days, family members, and the historical origins of the Hiroi family.

This clip has been slightly edited from the original interview for clarity. A transcript of this clip can be found below. And a full transcript of our interview with Hiroi can be found here [forthcoming].


Paula Curtis: Sensei, when and where were you born? Where are you from?

Hiroi Michiaki:  Tokyo.

PC:     Which part of Tokyo?

HM:    Ah. In Tokyo, um, today it’s a place called Kōtō.

PC:     Could you talk a little bit about your life as a child and your family?

HM:    Mm when I was a child. It was fun, when I was a child. Ha ha ha.

PC:     Why is that?

HM:     It was that I had a lot of friends, and there were a lot of places to play in my neighborhood. Because it was Tokyo’s shitamachi. *

[Tokyo’s shitamachi was known in the Edo period (1600-1868) as an area in which commoners lived, full of business districts, known for a kind of “downtown” atmosphere, and which was in popular imagination the originating place of “true” Edo culture.]


PC:      Could you explain a bit about your family’s history?

HM:   Ah, family. The Hiroi family?

PC:     Yes.

HM:    The family of the Hiroi… Family… Well, if it’s family, I have parents and siblings, but… [do you mean] the history of the Hiroi?

PC:     Yes.

HM:     Or…

PC:      Well, is okay [to talk about] both?

HM:     Well, my family was my father, my mother, and also I had two brothers and a younger sister. My mother and my sister,* in the war, they went missing in air raids. Even today their whereabouts are unknown. Right now my younger brother is in Yokohama, and my sister went to Osaka to get married, but she died, died of illness. Now, my younger brother is running around the world… In America… he’s an honorary citizen of Seattle, and it seems he has his own corners in museums in France and Germany. And also in Finland… it seems my younger brother has made it in museums and art museums. But I haven’t gone so I don’t know.

[* Here Hiroi mistakenly says ‘sister,’ and later corrects himself to say “younger brother” in another part of the interview.]


PC:      And the Hiroi family [line]?

HM:    The Hiroi family, it was something. Edo… err… it was the Sengoku period. Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Battle of Sekigahara… Tokugawa Ieyasu won, and when he moved to Edo, on the way from Sekigahara returning to Edo, the descendants of the Hiroi family… Mmm. I’ve forgotten where the place was, but in the old days there was a family called “Watanabe,” and they lived in a village called “Hiroi,” and there they were doctors. And Tokugawa Ieyasu won and returned to his castle, or I should say he was returning to Edo and on the way [Hiroi] made his acquaintance. I don’t know why he made his acquaintance, but [the Hiroi descendant] was invited to come with him to Edo, and it’s said that because he was from that Hiroi village he was called Hiroi and not Watanabe. And he was employed by Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grandson… was it Iemitsu? And for generations he was, what should I call him, the private doctor of the bakufu, in the private residence, he held the highest rank of a doctor. That’s the story. There’s a book published, but, shall I show you the book?

PC:     Ahh, that’s right. Is it alright to look at it later?

HM:   Yeah.

PC:     Okay. Thank you very much.

HM:    Umm records… there’s a book of them. It’s the Kan’ei or Kansei period… a reference book. In there [the history] of my family is written. Yeah.


PC:     Well then, about your family now—are you married? Do you have children?

HM:    I’m married, but for some reason we couldn’t have children. Mm.

PC:     And your time as a child. What school did you go to? Could you [talk a bit] about your academic background…

HM:      School, hm… We were dragged into the war, so I didn’t go properly.

PC:     Where was it?

HM:     Umm. The last [school I went to was] Ooshima daini elementary school, wasn’t it. Before that… in Yonezawa there were mass evacuations and school evacuations, so I was in Yonezawa for half a year. I think it was half a year. And I returned to Tokyo and at that time when I returned immediately there were air raids, and families were scattered, and people across the country and walked about from place to place, and I couldn’t go to school properly. Mm.

PC:     Well, when you were in school, did you have a course or subject you were particularly interested in?

HM:    Ahh, I hated studying. Ha ha ha. I only liked gym.

PC:      Well, work, about work, before you became an Edo-style top artisan, what kind of work had you done?

HM:    Ahh… come to think of it, I did a lot of different kinds, but not for long. What did I do? I did many things. That is, rather than “doing” them, it’s better to say I helped. I worked but I didn’t receive any money.

PC:     Was there, umm, a work that you particularly liked to do? You did a lot, but was there one you really liked?

HM:    Ahh, in the end the work my family was doing was the best. I didn’t really have another that I liked. Mm.

Photograph of Monzen-nakacho, in 1935 from the”Archives for the Tokyo downtown area 100 years” published by Life Information Center and is under public domain license, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.


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