From our local Nozato Elementary School, I entered Koryo Junior High School. I didn't study particularly hard, but my marks were always on the high side. I also often served as class president.
One of my fond memories is of the school play. In one stage play, I got to play the role of a boy priest. It wasn't a glamorous role, but I loved theater, so I put on the white kimono and bamboo hat and threw myself into the performance.
After graduation, I chose to enter Himeji Nishi High School. It was well-known within the prefecture as a good school for getting into university. I never had trouble with my grades until then, but when I got to high school, I was completely out of my element.
I made a proposal to my older sister and younger brother: 'How about we leave home? The three of us could go live in Tokyo'
I received quite a shock at the first midterm exam. When our names were posted in order of results, mine was 160th out of 203. It would have been faster to count up from the bottom. I learned anew the harsh reality that there is always someone better than you.
Being competitive by nature, I dropped biology club and art club, which I had only just joined, and devoted as much time as possible to studying. Ultimately, I think I was able to improve to around 50th place.
This meant I inevitably spent too much time studying, but whenever I took a break I would relax by watching a lot of movies.
One brilliant one was director Keisuke Kinoshita's She Was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum, which I saw in the winter of my sophomore year. I cried hot tears over and over as the tragic love story between Tamiko and her younger cousin Masao unfolded. When Tamiko dies holding a letter from Masao, my heart seemed to clench out of pity.
I also came to admire the handsome actors who appeared in film. One of my favorites was Laurence Harvey, who appeared in Romeo and Juliet. In fact, I twice wrote him fan letters in English. When autographed photos arrived in response, I danced for joy, even though it was the exact same photo both times.
Dreams of freedom
Around this time, illness cast a shadow over my home life. My mother and eldest sister both came down with pleurisy, my oldest brother contracted tuberculosis, and my father suffered from diabetes as a result of his love of alcohol.
Moreover, due to a stronger crackdown on entertainment, it was becoming increasingly difficult to continue running our family's machiai establishment.
So I made a proposal to my second-oldest sister and my second-youngest brother, the fourth boy in the family: "How about we leave home? The three of us could go live in Tokyo." Perhaps I was unconsciously seeking to escape from a painful reality.
"In Tokyo, sister could work as a hostess at a bar to support us while we go to college," I suggested. "Then, when we graduate, we can go to work and help her. We could be bartenders, or cafe boys, or anything."
It sounded like the plot from a movie or a play, but my fantasy grew as it took on a specific outline. My sister and brother were kind enough to discuss it with me with straight faces.
In the end, we did not leave home. After all, it was nothing more than a reckless plan. Nevertheless, I started to dream about my own future.
Owing to my fondness for drawing, I initially planned to enroll at an art university. But my self-taught style, which merely mimicked the art in magazines, was in no way suited for an art university entrance exam. I then thought about enrolling at the dressmaking school my oldest sister was attending, but I was refused -- it had strong overtones of a finishing school, and men were not permitted to attend.
Perhaps for the present I should study English, I thought. Because my brother-in-law worked at a trading company in Kobe, I could pick up a job quickly. And that might lead to the foreign lifestyle for which I yearned. I thus decided to attend Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, to which I could commute from home. That was in the spring of 1957.
Kenzo Takada is a fashion designer known for his eponymous label Kenzo, which he left in 1999.