Shunsuke Tsurumi (b. 1922) is a prolific writer, philosopher and citizen activist with an interesting Harvard connection. He was born and raised in Tokyo, the son of a prominent politician. As a youth he was expelled from three different schools, and attempted suicide more than once. His father sent him to America in 1938, as a last resort. Tsurumi entered Harvard, where he studied philosophy, in 1939.
He brought with him to America a small personal library. He loved Russian literature. Peter Kropotkin’s guide to Russian literature led him to Turgenev, Pushkin, and others. He read Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Times twice. Like many contemporary Japanese he loved Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. On November 11, 1939 he finished reading Jules Renard’s Journal. He read Nietzsche and Kierkegaard with enthusiasm. Tsurumi’s excitement is apparent in his energetic red and blue pencil markings.
Things changed with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the outbreak of war. The Harvard Crimson interviewed Tsurumi and two other Japanese students, and reported Tsurumi to have “expected a war,” and “adopted the philosophic attitude” about his fate.
In March 1942 he was arrested by the FBI for self-identifying as an anarchist. He completed his honors thesis on the pragmatism of William James while an inmate in the Charles Street Jail in Boston. Harvard granted him a degree, and he left for Japan in June 1942, in a prisoner exchange. His books, which were seized by the FBI, eventually found their way into Harvard-Yenching Library.
Tsurumi, who has never returned to the United States, now lives in Kyoto.