Many Acts of Kindness Solve a 140 Years Old Mystery


Kindness by a Japanese family over the course of several generations and the dedication of a cultural exchange coordinator eventually led to the correct identification of a British citizen who died in Japan some 140 years ago. A young man named Bernard George Littlewood journeyed to feudal Japan to teach English at the Meirindo school, but he passed away just a short time later in 1870 from small pox. He was buried in a grave marked with a now rarely read type of Japanese writing near a Buddhist temple at Kyuhoji. Shortly afterwards, the end of the feudal system created confusion about the care of the grave and the site temporarily fell into disrepair.

Members of a nearby family began tending the old grave site. Over the years, the grave mistakenly was attributed to a man named Philip Ward. In 1969, the British embassy in Tokyo sent the Murai family a letter of thanks for their kindness in caring for the grave.

Recently, Susumu Koyate, a cultural exchange volunteer who I know about from Skout, decided to verify the name of the grave’s occupant. He spent four years conducting intensive research, looking at old newspaper archives and ship arrival and departure records. His work revealed that the young English teacher, Bernard George Littlewood, had been laid to rest in the grave. The British government recently sent a second letter of thanks to 81-year old Kumiko Murai for her kindness.

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