Klaus Pringsheim died of cancer on February 6, 2001, at the age of 77. His last illness was brief, and he was attended by his family.
As he wrote in his autobiography, he was indeed a Man of the World. (1)
Klaus was born in Germany to a highly cultured family, which was taken away in the 1930ís by an alert and wise father, who went to teach music in the highest circles in Japan. Klaus grew up there as an adolescent, learning fluent Japanese, which later guaranteed his career as an interpreter of Japanese politics. The war years in Japan were unhappy, however, as he was imprisoned as a suspected spy, though never charged.
In 1945 a thin and raggedy young Klaus, released from prison, dressed in terrible wartime Japanese clothing, met the Allied Occupation forces as they entered Japan. That experience supplied the original title of his autobiography. The American commander, startled by this strange bedraggled Westerner in Japanese dress, standing among the Japanese, asked, Who the hell are you? He was later persuaded to change the title of his autobiography from Who the Hell Are You? to the more reassuring Man of the World.
Klaus spoke perfect English, as well as perfect German and perfect Japanese. The Occupations forces swiftly employed him in the Civil Censorship Detachment, working on censorship of Japanese publications. He seems to have enjoyed life in postwar Japan, as did many American servicemen. Indiscreet occurrences took place, for which the reader is referred to Man of the World.
After the Occupation, Klaus went to the United States for higher education in Political Science at Berkeley and Columbia, specializing on Japan. Life was not easy for a long time, and he drove taxis to make a living. He had fallen in love with a Chinese beauty Hsiuping, who became his devoted wife, and eventually they had three daughters, Erika, Tanya, and Tamara. To the end of his life he worshipped Hsiuping, and loved his daughters equally and without reserve. He worked even when he was not expected to do so, until the age of 76, for his family.
Klaus was appointed to the Political Science Department of McMaster University, where he taught successfully for 23 years. Upon retirement, he became President of the Canada Japan Trade Council in Ottawa, until 2000. For lifelong service to Japan, he was decorated by the Japanese government with the Third Order of Merit of the Sacred Treasures.
He was a hearty expansive man, a wonderful impromptu speaker, filled with detailed knowledge and entertaining anecdotes. In that capacity Klaus was a popular person to be interviewed on Canada AM whenever the subject of Japan came up. Frequently he floored the interviewers, with his knowledge, wisdom, and great humour. He had more than 20 Canada AM coffee mugs as souvenirs of these interviews, which they gave away instead of money.
To the end he continued his passionate study of contemporary Japanese politics, and published much to make sense of it for the rest of us. To the end, he skewered the politicians for ineptitude and corruption, amid loud uproarious laughter over the common frailties of mankind.
Klaus Pringsheim was an excellent man and a wonderful friend, and we shall miss him.
Man of the
Europe, Asia and North America
Mosaic Press, 1995).
John S. Brownlee
Professor of Japanese History
Department of History
University of Toronto