Monday, January 1, 2018

Pride of the Barber 

Happy New Year! Sorry for the long absence. Here is a fresh new post to start 2018 right.

No sun—no moon!
        No morn—no noon—
No dawn—

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

- Thomas Hood

We were in November last month, usually best season of the year in Japan. But extremely cold this year with snow reported in Hokkaido, Hokuriku, San-in Tottori, even in some areas of northern Kyushu. My wife pulled out a gas-heater to use at night.

One such blue November morning I put on a heavy coat and headed to my barber. Walking up a slope, pink flowers galore stunned me along his small front yard. A pod of the same pink flower decorated inside the shop greeted me. “Wow, what a treat”, I said to the barber.  “What’s the name of the flower?” I’ve known him for some years but it’s the first time I noticed the flower.  He said “Diamond Lily, I heard”.   I enjoyed viewing the flowers during my hair cut and felt genial warmth in the desolate month as written by Thomas Hood. 

I googled diamond lily upon my return home.  Flame Lily first came up, the national flower of African Zimbabwe, the country currently under extreme tension with aging President Mugabe being impeached and people rallying for his immediate resignation.  Flame lily represents the color of Zimbabwe flag.

Next up in the search results were nerine flowers in red as well as in white. Seemingly nerine comes in multiple colors.  Nerine belongs to the lily family, same as lycoris and spider lily, popularly known in Japan as “Manjushage” or as equinox flowers.  However, they are usually all gone well before November. 

Upon closely examining online photos, I concluded the flower I saw at the barber shop was "nerine angulalta".  Please visit this page for a glimpse.

“Til we meet again” is the floral language from one of my favorite Gospel songs.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


The world has seen a massive wave and flow of migrants and refugees, millions of people, especially in Europe. Can you define migrants and refugees?  A migrant is someone who chooses to resettle to another country. A refugee is forced to flee his or her home country. The distinction is significant because it could determine whether the migrants are subject to deportation or eligible to stay.  I spent over 20 years in San Diego, a border city and port of entry from Mexico. The major highways along the border had caution signs warning motorists to avoid immigrants darting across the road.  It pictured a man, a woman and child with pigtails, running hand in hand. Apparently they are undocumented aliens who didn’t come through U.S. Customs. I believe those signs are gone now, but my memory returns to me whenever I’m reminded of the Mediterranean migrant crisis, shipwrecks and loss of lives

Fuocoammare is the title of my speech tonight. It is an Italian word “Fire at Sea”, a documentary film that won the Golden Bear in Berlin last year and nominated for an Academy Award this year.  However, Fuocoammare did not win the Oscar. I haven’t seen the film but I understand Director Gianfranco Rosi expresses his compassion through a 12 year old boy Samuelle of a fishing family, at Isola di Lampedusa, an island halfway between Tunis and Sicilia in the Mediterranean. Samuelle loves to hunt with his slingshot. The name Lampedusa, nothing but sea oysters, hit the recent world headlines, as the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of Africans and Middle Eastern immigrants hoping to make a new life in Europe.

While Googling Lampedusa, I found a letter of appeal written by the island mayor to the EU. “If these dead are only ours, then I want to receive a telegram of condolences after every drowned person I receive, as if he were our son drowned during a holiday”.  Her call for help went unheeded. However, the Italian Government started to direct funds to rescue refugees monthly. From the fishermen to housewives, from activists to coast guards, everyone on Lampedusa has a role in making it a paradise island for newcomers. Rosi commended the islanders who said they accepted all that came from the sea.  Rose dedicated the prize and money to the people of Lampedusa. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Haru Reischauer - Part 2

In early 1990, Dr. Edwin and Haru Reischauer finally settled in La Jolla, the home they bought when they were around age 80 for retirement but used as their summer home after the purchase. The house purchase has been the culmination of their efforts to fulfill their ultimate dreams, l) to enjoy the ocean view, 2) to have a Japanese garden, 3) be in close vicinity to Edwin’s daughter. Since suffering a stroke in his 70’s, Edwin was frequently hospitalized. Sadly, he passed away in September, the year they relocated from Belton, Massachusetts. He was buried at sea using a chartered plane, conducted per his will to help and support the U.S./Japan relationship.

I met Haru-san on several occasions, including my first visit to her La Jolla House, to seek her contribution for the Minato Gakuen’s Bridge magazine (see Part 1). It is fairly close to the tall hotel building (now Hotel La Jolla), entering from Torrey Pines Road to La Jolla Shores Drive and turning to Paseo Dorado. The entrance hall is in the back with the living room, kitchen, guest dining and drawing room to the right, and garage, guest bedrooms, main bedroom to the left.  It was well designed to provide views of La Jolla Shores from every room, except from the main bedroom.  There are some level differences.  The spacious drawing room, three steps up from the kitchen, has a 180 degree ocean view including the palm-lined Torrey Pines Road slope curving toward La Jolla Cove on the left. The CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) in the hilly La Jolla retreat are very strict in regards to ocean view. The house benefits most from being on the lower part of the hill as a single story house with the hacienda style backyard for family get-togethers or a small garden party and the front courtyard is a landscaped lawn.

My son, upon getting married, was a La Jollan living in a condo near Mt. Soledad before moving to New York. He reminisces about the sunsets viewed from La Jolla as magnificent and unforgettable. On July 4th, the Cove attracts onlookers for the fireworks.

In 1986, Haru’s non-fiction book, Samurai and Silk was published by Harvard Press. I had skimmed through it in a Mission Valley Bookstore in San Diego. Recently I read the translation by Wakako Hironaka. Here’s my thoughts after reading it:

1. Ryoichiro Arai (1855-1939)

Haru-san’s maternal grandfather, Ryoichiro Arai, arrived in New York after a two-week Union Pacific train ride in March, 1876, four years after the Meiji Restoration. The Japanese residing in the U.S. then were either Government bureaucrats or scholarship students. Ryoichiro sought his lodging in Brooklyn, $5 per week with breakfast and commuted to Manhattan by ferry. His workplace was 97 Front Street and he walked to save his carriage fee. I was unable to find Front Street around Battery Park or Greenwich. In 1878, his silk business got off to a good start, so he relocated his lodging to East 55th and 9th at $7 per week including breakfast.

I was a New Yorker myself in the 1960’s, arriving in New York City close to 90 years later than Ryoichiro, and my office was also in downtown Manhattan. I also walked around in the civic center area. The difference is that I checked into the uptown Hotel Paris, a long term stay hotel, used by many transitory Japanese, at West End Avenue along the Hudson River. I commuted to downtown by subway. (The subway system in New York opened in 1904.) I don’t remember my monthly hotel rent but I recall the $100 monthly garage fee for a car. Upon the arrival of my family, I rented an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens. Settling in a foreign country requires a challenging spirit and much patience. I noted Ryoichiro was the proposer of the New York Nippon Club. I belonged to the Club for about 10 years while living there and shared the great benefits as one of its members.

2. Masayoshi Matsukata (1834-1924)

Haru-san’s paternal grandfather is Masayoshi Matsukata, one of six Genros, an elderly statesmen who served the Government since the Meiji Restoration. Masayoshi, a 7-time Treasury Minister and two-time Prime Minister, is less familiar than the other five Genro because of the missing career of his younger days. Silk & Samurai had the details of how he stood out during the tumultuous Meiji Restoration and I felt closer to him as a Kyushuan after reading his story.

Masayoshi, serving often as an usher/guard to Lord Shimazu, Satsuma Domain, faced historical incidents, such as the Richardson Case (known as Namamugi Jiken) and Boshin War, and was involved in orderly duties between Kagoshima and his travel assignments. He happened to be in Nagasaki, when Tokugawa magistrates fled there with money. He not only retrieved it, but used it for the sake of Nagasaki citizens and appeased foreigners in distress. Toshimichi Okubo, his Kagoshima clan senior who was in the Meiji Government, was impressed with Matsukata and sent him to Hita (now in Oita), another country under Tokugawa’s direct control where commotions were reported because of the vacuum formed without Tokugawa. His tenure in Hita as a governor is about tow years but he proved his governing skills, ranging from an open door policy, land and tax reforms, to promoting businesses such as wood products, brewery, citrus planting and hot springs, while popularizing Sumo as a local sport. Outstanding was his creation of orphan homes, prohibition of bribes and counterfeit notes in the neighboring countries. He extended his rein in river management to Beppu and initiated Oita Harbor construction. His contribution to the Meiji Government in the treasury field and foreign trade promotion through Paris Exhibitions became legendary. Haru-san saw another last Samurai in Masayoshi.

Both Nagasaki and Hita are in northern Kyushu. Hita, in particular, is very close to Kitakyushu, where I live. However, there’s no direct highway for vehicles because of mountains. If you walk the direct route of 75 kilometers, it takes 16 hours. By vehicle, you have to travel 130 kilometers, which will take one hour and 45 minutes. Last year I took a highway bus via Fukuoka City. My 9 am departure from Hikino bus stop brought me to Hita before lunch time. I didn’t know that Hita, a tiny country, was an independent prefecture when the Meiji era got started.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Cicadas and Floods

On his trip to the Deep North of Japan in summer of 1689, Haiku Master Basho (1644-1694) visited Tendai sect Temple “Risshakuji” in Yamagata and sang a
 landmark verse:

Ah, such stillness
Cicadas cries
Piercing into the rocks

Could Basho ever imagine his Haiku would incite fierce arguments 300 years later among the literary critics as to which kind of cicada Basho heard?  It was kicked off by Mokichi Saito, the famous poet as well as psychiatrist, who broached that Basho at that site heard the “abura-zemi”(Graptopsaltria nigrofuscata). Toyotaka Komiya, who lived then in Sendai close to Yamagata, strongly opposed it.  Komiya said it couldn’t be the Abura-zemi. It should be “ni-ni-zemi”(Platypleura kaempferi).  Mokichi, reportedly a bad loser (per his son Morio Kita, who followed in his father’s footsteps and was an equally famous writer having won the Akutagawa Prize) challenged Komiya, trying to substantiate his claims. He went back a couple of times in different years but didn’t get the desired answer, due to rain and other causes. After a few attempts, Mokichi himself seemed to have conceded his view at last. Scientists also made similar tries, in vain, after 2000, with the help of Basho’s well kept diary and Haiku, suggesting another kind of cicada, the “higurashi” (Tanna japonensis) adding to the confusion. The dispute is still raging on.

Kevin Short, the Daily Yomiuri columnist “Nature in Short”, whom I admire,  wrote that Japan is a cicada paradise and there are five common species in the lowlands of Japan. The three species above referred to in the Basho controversy are all included.

Today we expect the weather bureau’s declaration of the end of rainy season any moment and the hot summer is due with the arrival of the cicada season in Fukuoka, Kyushu where we live.

Recently, we Fukuokans suffered from the historical torrential rain down south in the mountain valley zones, like Asakura City (Akatani River basin - see Youtube video below), Toho Village and neighboring Hita City (Oita Pref) side-lining people from west to east, causing hundreds of mountain landslides and flooded homes and fields.  The death toll went up to over 30. A real tragic devastation and utter grief beyond description.

Thousands of army forces mobilized immediately to search for the missing using helicopters.

Once the rescue army forces left the flooded sites, volunteers in the thousands arrived daily to help home owners and farmers remove mud, driftwood and debris.

Awful amounts of wood were gouged out from the mountains and it’s probable cicada larvae most likely met with unfortunate disaster. However, I’m sure grief stricken villagers still hear cicadas, same as previous years and may soothe and encourage the survivors that life goes on.

I have a Japanese friend who usually spends his summers in Cameron Highland, Malaysia, 1800 m above sea level. Cameron Highland was discovered late in the 18th Century by an early British colonial and the area was developed as a tea plantation.  It is 200 km north of the capital Kuala Lumpur and 90 km from Ipoh.

Jim Thompson (1906-1967), Thai silk king, had his cottage there, and it’s a mystery how/why he went missing during his stay.  A friend told me Cameron Highland is a mecca for insect hunting, cicadas in particular. It is famous for the world largest cicada, “Tacua speciosa” aka Emperor Cicada!   I found a photo.  The Emperor Cicada covers almost from your elbow to the heel of your hand. Fantastic. What do they sound like?  The sound of a trumpet! Can you believe that?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Haru Reischauer - Part 1

Bridge was the name of the early 1990’s official publication of the San Diego Nihongo Kyoiku Shinkokai (San Diego Association for Japanese Language Promotion), which operated “Minato Gakuen”, a Saturday Japanese School primarily for the Japanese expatriates’ children. Minato Gakuen got jump started in 1979 with less than 40 students and grew to 400 in 10 years after the school's opening. The growth necessitated a search for a larger school facility that can accommodate two dozen classrooms for use on Saturday only. I served as President of the Association when Minato celebrated the 10th Anniversary and acted as Chairman of the School Site Search Commission. I thought of publishing a booklet to reach and communicate with local American schools and was able to distribute it to schools that teach Japanese as a second language. To my surprise, there were more than a dozen American schools teaching Japanese, including La Jolla Country Day School.

As editor, I asked Haru Reischauer, living in La Jolla, to write an introduction for the very first Bridge issue, which she accepted graciously. I edited the second issue but retired from work and left San Diego in 1994 before the issue was published. I received Bridge #2 in Japan by mail. It turned out to be the last issue published since nobody succeeded me as editor. Haru Reischauer passed away in 1998, four years later. The following is her contribution in its entirety.

“As we rapidly approach the 21st Century, we are poised at the threshold of a new international world order. Because Japan and America are presently the two economic superpowers, the relations between OUR two countries will play an essential role in the peaceful development of this new order. This places great responsibilities on Americans and Japanese to strengthen our relationship. We must become more knowledgeable and more appreciative of each others’ language, because through it we cannot help but learn our culture and background.

My family experiences have shown me the importance of language learning. My maternal grandfather, Rioichiro Arai, as a young boy in the early Meiji period, wanted to establish trade with America to sell Japanese silk from our family business. Soon after Japan opened its ports to foreign trade in 1860, learning English came into vogue because it was considered the ‘intellectual currency of the commercial world.’ My grandfather learned English and it enabled him to come to America in 1876, when he was twenty. With diligence and hard work, he succeeded in establishing trade between Japan and America. This trade was not only profitable for Japan’s economy, but it was also the start of the close relationship we have today between our countries.

In the early 1930s in America, just a few years before WWII, my late husband, Edwin O. Reischauer started the Japanese language program at Harvard University. The war accelerated language training for American officers as the future need for communication with the Japanese was realized. Since the war, as relations advanced at a rapid pace, Japanese studies and language courses in colleges and universities have increased throughout America. The large number of students in Japanese studies have formed a reservoir of good will toward Japan, which is the grass roots basis of the relations we have today.

Relations between San Diego and Japan, our closest Pacific neighbor, are rapidly developing. This will play an essential role in the development of the Pacific Rim. In recognition of the importance of this relationship and the urgency to build a bridge of communication across the Pacific, universities, community colleges and even city schools now have programs for the Japanese language in San Diego. The writers of the articles in this pamphlet testify to the benefits that they realized through their studies of Japanese. I am gratified to learn that the members of the Japanese Language Education and Promotion Program Society of San Diego are now endorsing and supporting the advancement of Japanese language training in this community. Let us all work together in advancing this educational opportunity in San Diego.”

- Haru M. Reischauer

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

“Ground Spider” -  Special Summer Evening Noh by Torch Light

Invited by a friend recently, I had a chance to see one of the centuries-old creations of Noh drama, “Ground Spider” (Tarantula de Tierra) in Fukuoka, Kyushu. The venue was at the Across Symphony Hall which can accommodate thousands. It has no English subtitling amenity but it has an authentic Noh stage setup with a pine tree painted on the back wall.  The artificial torch lit apologetically but was unable to reproduce the mythic outdoor shrine/temple ritual ambiance. Summer should be the best season to enjoy supernatural horrors in darkness, under shadows of trees, branches and leaves, and by flickering fires in the cool wind blowing in the evening - all elements that would add intensity to the Noh drama. Alas, indoor theater was not the best of venues for the horrors and suspenses of the fifth Noh category, dealing with demons.

Ground Spider is a visually entertaining and spectacular piece of Noh repertoire similar to the Kabuki version.  Familiarly called Raiko, Yorimitsu Minamoto (918-1021) is based on a historic figure.  He was the chief of the Seiwa Genji Clan who served for the aristocratic Fujiwara Clans as guardsman, the forerunner of Samurais.  Raiko, together with his four Great Entourage Warriors (Watanabe no Tsuna, Sakata no Kintoki, Usui no Sadamitsu, Urabe no Suetake) vanquished two scary demons, l) Ground Spider at Mt. Katsuraki in Yamato, near Nara and 2) Shuten Doji, Drunkard Lad, at Mt. Oe, Tanba Country, north of Kyoto, both of which were featured in Noh plays, fifth category.  The Shuten-Doji Devil lived during the days of Rasho-Mon, committing all evil crimes in Kyoto, retreating and hiding underground near Mt. Oe, always inebriated, thus named drunkard.

The Ground Spider monster image is said to have originated from a disparaging term for the downtrodden indigenous people of Japan. So, on various levels the play is making a commentary about how Raiko may have treated the indigenous people, their anger over the treatment, and - with the killing of the spider - who the play’s writers felt would win the struggle.  Despite its fearsome look, ancient people were awed by the ground spider and revered it as God incarnate. The highlight of Ground Spider is the scene in which the ato-shite throws spider threads made of Japanese paper.  It is said that the current performance which throws a number of threads is created by the grand master of the Kongo School in the early Meiji Period. The parabolic arch of the spider threads flying in the air should greatly appeal to novice Noh spectators. I heard from my friend indirectly that  even the Noh professional who experienced Shite, that timing of throwing both in preparation and execution is breath-taking, just like counting down the seconds, with an expectation similar to a parachute opening in skydiving.

Ground spider, to me, means fearsome tarantula, a tea cup size spider, which I have seen while living in the U.S. They live in the deserts of Arizona, Texas and other southern states.  I had wanted to buy a stuffed brown specimen but never did. Those tarantulas in the U.S. don’t use a web to ensnare prey, and are harmless to humans.  By Googling I discovered the 2017 Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan wrote his first novel "Tarantula" (unofficially available in 1966). I read it for free after downloading. I was disappointed, however, there was no mention of the Spider Tarantula. He likened himself to a Tarantula setting out on his desert trip to wander the badlands of New York. It’s just interesting he wrote his one and only novel 50 years ago, reputedly hard to interpret.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dr. Alvin Coox - Part 3

Part 3 is my requiem to two Nomonhan Battle survivors, l) Yasushi Fukushima and 2) Masujiro Takata, whom I found among 60 contributors of a tribute to Dr. Coox, under the title “The Road Taken by Dr. Alvin D. Coox”, the book compiled and edited by Hisashi Takahashi in 2005.  This 230 page-book written both in English and Japanese was not for sale.  Tachibana Sensei, friend of Hisako Coox, sent me the book via express, as a loaner, and became the source of Dr. Coox’s photo used in the blog.

1) Yasushi Fukushima

My contacts got started with Dr. Coox’s inquiry to me as the editor/(private) publisher of “Nomonhan - Records of the Nine-Zero (90) Field Artillery Soldiers”, (National Diet Library registration -OPAC GB521-217) , published in 1980. His inquiry was “did I recognize the Russian tank troop deployment accompanied with their infantry around the River Holstein near the so-called Izumi Bend?"  I don’t remember how I answered him, but our artillery encamped at the south of Holstein Lake was in a frenzy facing numerous Russian tank deployments. At dusk on August 24th we succeeded in repositioning ourselves at around the 752 Height in the eastern battle front. I wasn’t familiar with Holstein River nor the Izumi Bend. The commander’s commendation given to us was for our contribution on the left bank of Holstein River. However, this location was not in my recollection either. 

Things cleared up only recently. I received in my possession a staff diary of the 3rd Artillery Battalion. A Godsend! The Miyao Unit I belonged to was under the lst Battalion. The said diary showed the 3rd Battalion joined the lst Battalion at some point, and definitely on August 24th, the 3rd Battalion was at Izumi Bend of the Holstein River and did produce curtain fire for our infantry, as Dr. Coox asked me when he first contacted me in 1980.

Few people knew the existence of Type Nine Zero Field Guns in the Nomonhan Battles. On our way back from Noro Height to Baru West Height, our artillery battalions were held while waiting at the pontoon bridge constructed by our engineering support troops. Fondly remembered were the “cool and smart” looking Nine Zero guns, which attracted the eyes of soldiers passing-by, and, unexpected crowds of curious rubbernecks. As Dr. Coox pointed out, these guns, high-tech pieces of the day, demonstrated magnificent power in the melee battle grounds and consummate tactics against Russian tanks. I am thankful for Dr. Coox's special and sympathetic reference to us Artillery Soldiers throughout his master book. May Dr. Coox rest in peace.

2) Masujiro Takada

Your esteemed name was familiar to me through a mutual friend, Yasushi Fukushima, as the author of “Nomonhan, Japan against Russia 1939", who tried to discover and report the facts and truth of the battles as they were, and I looked forward to an opportunity to meeting you some day.  Same as Fukushima, I too belonged to the former Kwangtung Army Field Artillery lst Battalion, Miyao Unit.

Then, out of the blue, the Asahi Newspaper dated Nov. 18, 1999 reported your obituary; we alerted our mutual friends, once belonged to the Artillery, as well as all  Nomonhan Society members. Then, after a while, we were notified that volunteers would be planning a memorial book for Dr. Coox and we all thought it was a great way to immortalize your life's work of truth-finding endeavors.

1945, the year Japan surrendered, I was held as a Russian captive in Shenyang and sent to Chita Retention, Baicalia Province, Siberia, about 650km east of Irkutsk and served at the hard labor camp for 4 years. Returned to Japan around 1950 but I had lost everything; had to start my life over from scratch. It took more than 10 years before I had time to gradually contact the Nomonhan artillery friends such as Fukushima and Sugawara, and again some more years later that I joined the Nomonhan Society. I began to attend annual Nomonhan memorial services, where I mingled with survivors, but didn’t converse much, feeling dispirited, due to the prevailing air of lost wars, despite our pride as artillerymen.

I remember it was at the 1989 Joint WW2 Memorial Service that your Nomonhan book translation in 2 volumes reached us at the service venue.  I bought it right there and stayed up many nights, read it over again and again, until I fully memorized it. I jumped for joy to have encountered your book,  with your detailed research and precise descriptions.   Your book opened my eyes about the whole Nomonhan picture in stages and by hour how the Nomonhan wars were fought, between Russians and Japanese. I was saved by your special reference to the Miyao Artillery Unit, as the reliable artillery force which won the trust and confidence of all the infantry soldiers. I never felt prouder to be a member of the Miyao Unit.

I’m really happy and glad to have read your book, containing important historical data and hope this book will remain remembered by future generations.  The book shines a light on the Japan that renounced war as a sovereign right of the nation. I thank you sincerely for your selfless and unbiased Nomonhan research of Japan and Russia as I was one of the soldiers who fought in the war.  We have lost a great benefactor.

Note: Photos & map of the battleground as they are today.