In Memory: Tsujita Kyoji

Victor Borge famously said that ‘the shortest distance between two people is a smile’. Tsujita Kyoji, or Kyoji sensei as he was commonly known at the East Asia department of the Hebrew University, taught me that a smile is also the shortest distance between two people who may not necessarily have linguistic symmetry.

Kyoji sensei was my Japanese teacher for four years, during which I, like the rest of his students, quickly grew to love and respect him. He was an incredibly kind individual and a generous and patient teacher. And he was a true mensch, with his gentle sense of humour, his wide smile and that twinkle in his eyes. As a linguist himself, I remember his great enthusiasm and support when he found out that I’m studying Japanese as part of a structural linguistics course. I remember his gentle encouragement to learn Turkish for comparative purposes, and my complete awe at his understanding of Hebrew which of course far surpassed mine.

Kyoji, together with his wife Mariko, who taught Japanese politics at the Hebrew University, opened their home and heart to us on many occasions. It seems to me incomprehensible that he is now gone forever. Whenever I think of or use what I sill remember of my Japanese, my thoughts often go back to him, and to the more profound and subtle lesson that he taught us; that is, that kindness and benevolence can transform even seemingly insurmountable tasks, including the learning of his seemingly impenetrably complex native language, into a gradually and safely realisable process. And that a smile is indeed the shortest distance between two people, in any language and outside it.

Kyoji sensei passed away early in the New Year. May he rest in peace.