Jiro Shirasu (1902-1985) was one of the cornerstones of Japan’s economic development after defeat in World War II. An Anglophile, Shirasu graduated from Cambridge University in 1928 where he had cut a dash for his good looks, height (he was six feet tall hence stood head and shoulders above many of his countrymen), his obsession with Bentleys that he would drive through Europe when down from University and his fluency in the English language and aristocratic manner.
When he returned to Tokyo in 1928, Shirasu worked as a journalist for The Japan Times. He married another overseas student Masako Kabayama, an art historian, and through his father-in-law was introduced to the political world. Before the onset of World War II in 1939, Shisaru worked as an adviser to the Japanese government who were keen to scotch the power-grabbing tactics of the Japanese military. Though not an elected politician, he was astute in reading international politics. He predicted the aerial bombing of Tokyo by the Allies and the extreme food shortages that would bring the city to its knees.
When Japan was defeated, Shirasu was appointed by Foreign Minister Shigeru Yoshida (a future Prime Minister and Henry Poole & Co customer) to work with the Central Liaison Officer to negotiate with the Occupation forces. He was the key liaison officer between US General Douglas MacArthur who was Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. His fluency in English, his honourable character and his pride in the Japanese nation made him something of a national hero. When it emerged he tore a strip off MacArthur for not giving sufficient respect to a Christmas present sent by the Emperor Hirohito (another Henry Poole & Co man), Shirasu was lauded as the ideal modern Japanese man of principal.
Shirasu was rewarded for his negotiations by being made head of the government’s Trade Ministry and he played a key role in establishing the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A letter dated 1946 from Shirasu to General Whitney gives an indication of his craft as a statesman and negotiator. It begins ‘My dear General’ and subtly points out the cultural differences between the Allies and the Japanese. ‘Your way is so American in the way that it is straight and direct. Their way must be Japanese in the way that it is round about, twisted and narrow’. He signs off with the characteristically self-depreciating sentence ‘I am afraid I have already accelerated the paper shortage by writing this mumble but I know you will forgive me for my shortcomings for which my late father is also partly responsible’.
Shisaru is first recorded in the Henry Poole & Co ledgers in March 1953. Unusually, he settles his £203 bill in cash. His orders include a midnight blue double-breasted dining jacket and trousers, a fawn and red check single-breasted jacket, a fawn dogsteeth (sic) single-breasted jacket, a chalk stripe brown worsted flannel double-breasted jacket and trousers, a chalk stripe grey worsted flannel double-breasted jacket and trousers and a chalk stripe brown flannel double-breasted jacket and trousers. The air shipping charge to Tokyo was a supplementary £10. In later life, Shisaru retained his reputation as a maverick. He was one of the first men in public life photographed wearing Western jeans and drove a Porsche well into his 80s. In 2009, a TV film starring Yusuke Iseya about Jiro Shirasu’s remarkable life was released and introduced him to a new generation of Japanese men for whom he is a sartorial and national hero.