In the old days, it was common practice among our overseas customers to send their sons to Japan to “learn the business.” They would come over for about two or three weeks in which they would visit Ezra Choueke in his office each day, and also go out to visit various factories with the office staff in order to expand their understanding of how business was done in Japan. These young men usually stayed in one of the guest bedrooms in the house. Another reason why some were sent over to Japan was if they were romantically involved with someone whom their parents disapproved of. Sending them to Kobe was a pretext, with the hope that they would end their current, romantic relationships.
We had a very wealthy Italian customer who was also involved in the import and export business in addition to other businesses and large land holding in Europe. He had three sons. The middle one, Rafaelo, was sent by his father to Japan, to learn the business, but his father was more interested that he break-off a relationship with a lovely, albeit older, opera singer. Rafaelo was young, handsome and educated in the best schools of Europe. He was fluent in four or five languages and was an amateur singer and guitar player. When he arrived to Kobe, we nicknamed him, “the Italian Prince,” because he was from an aristocratic family and because he behaved so much like a prince charming. All his clothes including his shoes were tailor made in London or in Firenze. He was athletic and loved music and the arts. He was greatly in demand at various dinner parties that were commonplace in Kobe of the 1950s.
At that time, we had an attractive, young housekeeper from Kyushu. Her name was Kisako, and we called her Kisako-san. She was pretty, energetic and had a wonderful, spirited personality. She was one of the children of the house and she was well loved by everyone.
Rafaelo, who was supposed to return to Milano after one month, kept on extending his stay in Kobe. When, asked by his father, when he expected to return, he answered him by saying that he had still much to learn about the business and had, in fact, began studying the Japanese language. This was all well and good, except after another month or so, Rafaelo came to Mr. Choueke with the following confession:
“Mr. Choueke, I am in love with Kisako-san and I would like to marry her.”
“Would you like me to speak with your father about this?” Mr. Choueke answered.
“No. It’s no use.” Rafaelo wept into his handkerchief. (For us, in Japan, it was very unusual for us to see a man weep, but, among Italians, we learned, this was common practice.)
“Why not?” Mr. Choueke asked him.
“She will not have me. She refuses to marry a foreigner.”
“Well, you do have red hair and you are quite hairy all over your body.”
“Is that so bad?”
“It is, as you would say, not so far removed from our ancient ancestors.”
“What shall I do?”
“Well, Rafaelo, you may very well have to look for someone else to marry.” Said Mr. Choueke.
Apparently this is what happened: After dinner, Rafaelo would go out on the town as many young men would do. This was normal behavior and did not arouse any suspicion in the house. Kisako-san would steal out of the house and meet him. Together they would walk, hand in hand, through the many, narrow lanes of the town, visit the parks where other romantic couples met or go to coffee shop to talk. On Kisako-San’s one day off during the week, they would secretly meet in Kyoto and other close by places, to visit the temples, gardens and museums. It was quite a romance. It was also true that Kisako-San’s knowledge of Italian improved relative to Rafaelo’s mastery of Japanese. No one knew about this, until Rafaelo’s confession.
Rafaelo’s heart was broken. He returned to Italy to a life of luxury and splendor. When he received no response to his many letters to Kisako-san, he would write Mrs. Choueke to ask about her. The news was not good. Not long after Rafaelo’s departure, Kisako-san left us and went back to Kyushu where her parents had arranged a marriage for her to a young man from the village. A year and a half later, Kisako-san gave birth to a daughter whom she called Haruko because she was born in springtime. Another two years went by before Kisako-san had a son, his name was Osamu. By the time she had her third child, Rafaelo knew he had no chance and had to give up. He ended by marrying a beautiful, young lady whom his parents did, in fact, approve of. But his heart was always with Kisako-san in Kobe.
This is a true story. Rafaelo has since passed on. His family continues to live in Italy. We have no news from Kisako-san. It was a long time ago and it is probably best to leave bygones as bygones. We have changed the names of the people in the interest of discretion. You should not think of life in Kobe as being boring in the least.