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Harumi Takeuchi, a Japanese citizen who came to Amherst in 1938 to join the Class of 1940, returned home just before Pearl Harbor, and became a distinguished diplomat in the Japanese Foreign Service, died after a long illness on August 20 at his home in Tokyo.
Harumi came to the College as a recruit in the Japanese Foreign Service which, in those prewar years, had sent a number of young men to schools in the United States, primarily for language training. He had never heard of Amherst before his assignment, his arrival coincided with the Hurricane of 1938 and when he reached his Morrow Dormitory room, discovered a bed and a desk but no sheets or blankets. But with the hurricane in full force, several dormitory mates came to his rescue by providing him with the needed bedding. As he told the story in a speech in 1972 celebrating the fortieth Anniversary of the founding of Amherst House at Doshisha Univesirty in Kyoto, tense relations between the United States and Japan had begun to be felt at that time, but “despite these situations the students were kind to me when I first went there (to Amherst) as a foreigner from Japan. I was deeply impressed with this.”
After receiving his degree in 1940, Harumi spent a year at Harvard, but in July 1941, five months before Pearl Harbor, he was ordered home. “When our ship called at Honolulu,” he wrote in his speech, “the Consul General of Japan asked me to carry home the Emperor’s portrait. At that time his portraits were handled with great reverence, and I felt the great responsibility I had been given. The Consul General himself came to my ship carrying the portrait wrapped in many folds of cloth. This shows how strained the situation became by July of 1941.”
Harumi was an army draftee in the war and at its end, he was assigned, as a lieutenant, to the Japanese surrender mission as an interpreter. The mission flew from Tokyo to Manila under tight security as there was fear of the plane being shot down by “army hardliners.” Although loss of fuel caused the plane to make a forced landing in the ocean on its return to Tokyo, the mission eventually returned safely with the surrender instruments in Harumi’s custody.
He then launched on a long career in the Foreign Ministry, serving as Ambassador to New Zealand, the Philippines and Italy and then as Chief of Protocol at the Ministry. In this post he helped prepare and accompany the Emperor and Empress on a visit to six European countries in 1971. As Harumi wrote in our 50th Reunion book, “The visit was not only a historic first, but also served as the international confirmation of a newborn, peaceful Japan.” He retired from the Foreign Ministry in 1975.
Although Harumi came to this country essentially in the interest of his country just as the war was about to break out, he became a great friend to the United States and of the College. He deplored the militarism of the Japan of the ’30’s and ’40’s and often spoke of his admiration for Americans, a feeling he attributed in part to the kind treatment he received at Amherst. He never returned to the campus, but in 1960, at our 60th Reunion, his speech at Doshisha was summarized by classmate Fred Stott at a World War II symposium sponsored by our class. Harumi also became a close friend of Otis Cary ’43, who spoke fluent Japanese when he entered Amherst and eventually taught at the College and served a term as head of Amherst House.
Harumi is survived by his wife Hisako, a son, Haruhisa, born in Washington D.C. on Washington’s Birthday, 1952 (his middle name is George), a member of the Japanese Foreign Service, and a daughter Hiroko of London.
—Frederick Byrne ’40