Frank King, a Scouser in his mid-50s, can claim a connection with Emperor Akihito of Japan through Frank’s grandfather, Paddy Murphy.
It may sound like a Scouse shaggy dog story, but Paddy Murphy was the nick-name of Frank’s grandfather, Kanso Yoshida. Kanso, born in Japan in 1895, settled in Liverpool in 1938 and lived here till he died in 1973; he was a seafarer and visited Liverpool several times before deciding to make this his home.
And the connection with the Chrysanthemum Throne? It’s somewhat convoluted, but Kanso was second cousin to Princess Chichibu, who was sister-in-law to Emperor Hirohito, Akihito’s father.
Princess Chichibu, who was entertained at Buckingham Palace by the Queen on a royal visit in 1962, was born in England and Kanso believed ‘she loved this country as I love it’.
Why Kanso left Japan and why he chose Liverpool are a mystery to Frank King, who is longing to go to Japan to research his grandfather’s family. Although Frank knew Kanso all his life, it wasn’t until very recently that he discovered that Kanso was his grandfather.
‘My mother told me, just before she died seven years ago. Apparently my grandmother, Mabel Dingle, had been a barmaid at The Yacht in Duke Street, Kanso’s local pub. They had a bit of a fling, which resulted in my mother. My grand-mother later married George Puddifer; I always knew he was my step-grandfather but never knew about Kanso being my real grandad till I was in my mid-40s.’
When he was a child, Frank used to play dominoes with Kanso and knew that the old man had a bit of a soft spot for him but, of course, didn’t know why. ‘When my mother told me, of course it all fell into place.’
Frank remembers Kanso as a quiet-natured man, little more than five feet tall, with something of a Scouse sense of humour. He spoke English quite well, with a bit of a Scouse accent. ‘He was retired by the time I got to know him. Most of the time he was in his ‘office’ – otherwise known as The Yacht or The Munro, his local pubs.’
Kanso worked as a ship’s fireman and donkeyman, and was in the British Navy in both World Wars. In 1917, during World War 1, his ship Huntstrick was torpedoed and sunk off Gibraltar, injuring Kanso badly and leaving him with a big scar down one side of his face. In World War 2 his ship was twice bombed, but Kanso escaped unhurt both times.
In May 1940, Kanso finally got his naturalisation papers, making him a British citizen. Ironic, then, that he was not interned during the war like so many other foreign nationals, or aliens as they were called. It didn’t save him, after Pearl Harbor in 1941, from snide remarks and some rough treatment from people who knew he was Japanese.
Says Frank: ‘He was on board the Atlantic convoys going across to America, in the same boat (literally) as everyone else, his life as much at risk as any Englishman.’
In an interview in the Liverpool Echo in 1962, Kanso explained how he got his nickname: ‘With a name like Kanso Yoshida it was not easy for me when I went for work to the Shipping Pool. The officials and men would pretend – and sometimes they meant it, I fear – that I was enemy alien.
‘So one day I get real mad at them. And I yell out, “I’m not Japanese, I’m good Englishman as any of you. If you don’t like my name, then OK, I change it. Call me Paddy Murphy!” And they laughed and I am known as Paddy Murphy ever since.’
It was the war that made people suspicious, says Frank. No wonder, really, since the area of Liverpool where Kanso lived was badly bombed in the Blitz.
Frank continues: ‘When I was growing up, this area was a real mixture of nationalities – Spanish, Greek, Chinese, Indian, African – and it still is. We were like a little tribe in this area; there was no racial intolerance that I ever saw.’
For almost the first 30 years of Kanso’s life in Liverpool, he knew no other Japanese people; there may have been Japanese seamen in and out of the docks, but as far as Frank can discover there was no Japanese community in the city.