Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Avenues of Flowers Galore

by Mitsuko Nakachi (1928-2016)
, translated by Rio Imamura

The city of Lubumbashi where I moved to from Musoshi thoroughly got rid of my prejudice that Africa is a dark continent. Lubumbashi is the "city of flowers".  Blooming flowers in various colors are all over in fine displays on fences, along roads, inside gardens, one after another, producing a grandiose paradise.  The prudent planning of city streets just surprised me.

The flower season in Lubumbashi starts in September, the month of blooming jacaranda trees.  The streets I stroll innocently everyday turn suddenly into tunnels of purple mist.  Jacaranda on both sides of the streets are in full bloom, blended and crisscrossed. African roads are wide and long and jacaranda trees continue far and farther away. Purple color tunnels spread until eyes become dim and hazy.  Jacaranda, unlike the fast scattering Japanese cherry blossoms, keep their flowers for a little over three months.  When I walk alone under the quiet purple tunnels, the words "Land of Happiness" pop into my mind.

Jacaranda, however, succumbs and starts scattering by the end of October.  Then, as if waiting, comes the next street of flowers, and the baton is being passed.  This time fire-like crimson color Flamboyer contrast their red against the blue sky horizon. Flamboyer is translated into Japanese as the tree of flame.  Flamboyer trees, after purple Jacaranda, make avenues painted by crayon into a red dye-color.  The large sized Flamboyer flowers bloom in full boughs; the scenes look gaudy, ostentatious perhaps.  Only in Africa is it possible to walk the avenue and have the feeling of being engulfed in fire.

Soon after the celebration of New Years by the Japanese colony, red avenues turn next into yellow avenues, when acacias come into full bloom.  The front of our house is all acacias.  One night I smelled a sweet fragrance around our salon window and in the morning I found the Avenue "Kapenda" in the front of our house covered and buried in yellow color.  Acacia flowers are small, but they cluster.  So it is quite a sight when big trees are fully loaded and when the chrome-yellow avenues join the evening glow at sunset.  The fragrance of acacia is strong as compared to other trees; so the night stroll gave me a special pleasure.

When the acacia is gone, the next bloomers are the tulip tree de gabon.  It's the last of four 'avenue trees'.  The massive pedals on the flower are as thick as a human palm and very heavy.  The color is fresh orange.  The tulip flowers kerflop, just like the Japanese camellia.  Thickly covered and postured trees offer nests for many species of birds.  I drove almost daily to the nearest lake along the tulip tree avenue, glancing at the dotted orange flowers in the deep green mass.  No one was on the lakeside, but waiting for me were numerous unfamiliar flowers in the garden which was well taken care of by the gardener.

The dry season starts in April in the Congo Highlands, when tree tulip flowers are gone.  It signals that the four-relay flower season will enter into a recess until the voluptuous Jacaranda comes back.  Meanwhile, green avenues in Lubumbashi remain rustled and insipid with dry winds. I heard that the city planning and tree planting in Lubumbashi was devised and carried out by Belgian colonists who settled in and started copper mining in the early 1900s.

The above translation is my belated tribute to the late Mitsuko Nakachi, who passed away some months ago.  She was among the coterie magazine members of Hino City, Tokyo.  I once also belonged to that group upon my return from the U.S. in the late 1990s.  I never met her, but I wrote a fan letter after reading her Lubumbashi stories. I wanted to learn more about her African life and asked my Hino friend in her neighborhood (and her junior at Tsuda University) if a meeting could be arranged. It was then that I learned that she had passed away, soon after her husband's death.

The following is what I could piece together after studying the advance and retreat of the Japanese mining consortium in the Republic of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) from the 1970s to the 1980s. At one time the Japanese Consortium had hired about 10,000 local people, including copper miners, built a town for the miners and their families, with markets, hospital, schools, post office, plus 500 Japanese expats, engineering and administrative staffs accompanied with 100 families.  It must have been a bold and huge investment for Japan trying to import copper ore.  Apparently after a few years of operations, the Consortium faced a myriad of unexpected fatal management problems including devaluation of the U.S. dollar (Nixon shock), power and food shortages, changes of railroad routes and shipping ports, worsening political situation (Kolwezi tragedy); all of which contributed to their decision to withdraw. A wise decision considering it was before the collapse of the Mobutu Government culminating in the Congo internal disputes and violence.

Mitsuko Nakachi, joining her husband with the Consortium, must have spent a few years, about 5 years in Musoshi and Lubumbasi. Mososhi is one of the copper mining towns, 150 km southeast of Lubumbashi and close to the border with Zambia.

I regret that I lost a chance to meet her.  Searching her name on the Internet, I found her poem, which was selected as the best of 2015 by a Tokyo Newspaper:

“Informed I have but one year to live
Befriending cockscombs ablaze with autumn tints”

Thursday, October 13, 2016

San Diego Memories

Having seen real okapis with my own eyes
My long time dream accomplished
It's certainly my day!

                            - Hirohito

Found among my old storage is a 100 page booklet "Collection of memories of Imachu Classmates", published around the early 1990's in commemoration of the 40th year graduation. As I read the book acknowledgment, the book was actually published a few years after the 40th year, which was 1988 when 80 classmates met for the reunion in Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture and resolved to issue the booklet in minimum time and at as little cost as possible.  There were 200 graduates, but I counted 63 contributors (excluding teachers), corresponding to 30% of total graduates.  Here is my contribution translated into English.

San Diego Report

I'm surprised to receive your request to report how I'm faring after leaving 40 years from Imachu (abbreviation of Imabari Middle School).  I must apologize to all for not writing for so long. Let me redeem myself by reporting on and from San Diego, in Southern California where I currently live and work.  These days of globalization, you may abhor or be tired of hearing rampant accounts of overseas trips of travelers.  However, there are some places that should be seen by globetrotting travelers.  I'll try to focus on such places that would be of interest.

After hectic trans-Pacific re-locations, Tokyo to New York back to Tokyo, I've now settled in San Diego.  This is my 15th year.  I could soon become a native San Diegan. I will most likely remain here until my retirement, barring any unforeseen developments.  San Diego is hometown to our children, just as Imabari is my hometown.  They were educated here and all their friends are San Diegans.

San Diego used to be overshadowed by Los Angeles, a more popular gateway to Southern California.  However, thanks to the Maquiladoras, San Diego stood in the spotlight of trilateral trade (U.S., Mexico, and Japan).  San Diego is located between Los Angeles and Tijuana.  L.A. is reachable by air in 30 minutes and 2 - 3 hours by car.  Tijuana is a 30 minute drive away.  San Diego is a Navy town and tourist spot. It is now also the TV capital of the U.S. with the arrival of Sony, Sanyo, Matsushita, Fujitsu and Samsung.  Kyocera, my employer, came in 1969 as a pioneering manufacturer from Japan.  I joined Kyocera in 1973.  There were only a few Japanese restaurants then but today many Sushi and Karaoke bars have opened as the number of Japanese expatriates and their families increased.

Kyocera has taken initiatives to contribute to San Diego.  Every summer we send two dozen boys and girls to Japan for home-stay experience;  sponsor a local women's pro golf tournament, donate part of the proceeds to a local hospital and non-profit organizations; participate in planning and building activities of the Japanese Friendship Garden; and help introduce Japanese music and artworks as well as theatrical plays.

I personally have been involved in building "Hoshuko" Minato Gakuen, a Japanese Language school for expatriate children since 1978.  This year I'm serving as representative director to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the school.  It originally started as a self-governed entity, but is now approved and authorized by the Japanese Ministry of Education.  Currently Minato Gakuen has a total of 290 students consisting of 220 elementary, 50 junior high and 20 senior high school students.  The teachers number 20, including a principal sent from Japan.  These students are referred to as "returnees" (returning to Japan).

San Diego is situated at the same latitude as Kagoshima in Kyushu.  The weather is nice and mild and not much rain falls throughout the year.  We are south of hot L.A, but no air-conditioning is needed because of the off-shore wind.  We sometimes go fishing and my friend caught a salmon.  There are many ocean activities and sports.  Whale watching is popular around the New Year.  Scuba diving flourishes along La Jolla Shores.  Dennis Connor of the San Diego Yacht Club just won the America's Cup from Australia.  OTL (over the line) is a popular  beach ball game with 3 players, particularly women's teams with colorful swimsuits.  You may have heard about Sea World in Mission Bay and about the famous splash of Killer Whales.  The Victorian styled Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1888, is one of the largest wooden buildings here that was cherished starting in the 19th Century by Prince of Wales Edward and Wallis Simpson.

San Diego boasts the largest naval population and base in the U.S.  I once boarded the Carrier "Enterprise" and the nuclear submarine "Ranger".  Miramar Naval Base (of Top Gun fame) has the Blue Angel Air Show every summer.  Another thing - I had a chance to see the grunion run at night which is unique to Southern and Baja California. Grunion is a sardine sized fish of the silversides family.  They swarm ashore on sandy beaches to lay their eggs at night after the high tide around a full moon -similar to a Crab Run in the Seto Inland Sea near Imabari.  Bonfires are allowed on the beaches.  I saw them light up the ocean late at night.

Lastly, let me tell you my favorite story.  In 1975 Emperor and Empress Showa visited San Diego on the last leg of their official U.S. visit.  It was a hasty day trip.  Emperor Showa visited two places - the San Diego Zoo to see "Koala, Okapi and Humming Birds" and then to Scripps Institute of Oceanography.  As a biologist, his visit to Scripps (and Woods Hole, Massachusetts),  was on his bucket list.  The imperial request reached Kyocera for the service of one person to assist the entourage.  I was chosen and accompanied the men and women chamberlain from the airport to the Sea Lodge in La Jolla, close to Scripps Marine Lab, and the Zoo visit.  When the Emperor left for Scripps, the Empress had short walks along the beach.  All the press corp followed and snapped pictures.  When I was at the poolside, I noticed Vice Premier Takeo Fukuda (1905-1995) who then headed the imperial mission and was sitting alone.  I asked him if he would mind me sitting besides him to talk.  He agreed and we had a pleasant chat about San Diego.

All photos with the exception of the photo of the Emperor at the SD Zoo were provided courtesy of Haruo Toda, my friend in Hachioji.  He visits SD often to visit his daughter's family.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Biwa Lake and Tahoe Lake

My past job involvement with Lake Tahoe in the U.S. led to my interest in Lake Biwa. My studies started with the vital lake data comparison as follows:

Comparisons of the two lakes, Biwa and Tahoe are just for my personal information. However, as I proceeded, I'm pleased to find evidence of some resemblance and commonality between the two.  Tahoe was inhabited by the native Indian tribe Washo.  Legend has it that the tribe was led by a coyote (guide) to Lake Tahoe by a divine oracle; that the plants, medicines and animals of this area grow strong in order to provide nourishment for the Washo tribe whose responsibility was to take care of it.  Summers were mild, but in harsh winters, the tribe had to travel down to the lower valleys, gathering pine nuts and acorns.  I've read that the people of Jomon and Yaiyoi periods (Iron Age) in ancient Biwa Lake spent summers fishing the lake, but seemed to prefer living in the rural landscape for gathering nuts/acorns, as evidenced in the archeological excavations from the shell mounds in the Biwa Lake basin.  The silts of nuts and acorns were discovered along with shell heap. Biwa Lake occupied my concerns as one young Osakan who shared the benefits of Biwako water.   I spent the 1950s in Osaka as a student.  It was a real shock to read an interview of Masayoshi Takemura, who served as the Governor of Shiga Prefecture (1974-1982), and later on as the Hosokawa Cabinet Secretary and Finance Minister.  He was questioned by the press around 1990: how long will Biwa Lake hold out after its first eutrophication was reported in the 1980s.  His reply was "about 30 years more or less".  I returned to Japan in the mid-1990s after my retirement and 20 years has elapsed since.  If I literally believe his prediction, only 10 years is left.  Is there any way that the lake could outlive his prediction?  I felt impatient.

I decided to go see Biwa Lake.  Biwa Lake Museum is located in Karasuma Peninsula in Kusatsu City, closer to Biwa Lake Toll Bridge connecting Otsu and Moriyama, a bit inconvenient to be dependent on the Kusatsu bus to and from Kusatsu JR station.  I took a taxi (6.6 km) from the station.  I had about an hour before the Museum opened.  It was Sunday morning and quiet.  I headed for the lake front and saw a tremendous number of parked cars and men fishing in silence at intervals around the lake.  Also saw a few inflatable rubber boats afloat on the lake.  A good sign that the lake is alive!  I felt happy. Biwa Lake was designated as a quasi National Park in 1950 and Ramsar Site in 1993.  It was in 1996 that Shiga Prefecture built the Biwa Lake Museum for environmental education of the lake that occupies 16% of the prefectural land.  More than  100 rivers from the surrounding prefectures flow into the lake, but only one river flows out - Seta River in Shiga, then Uji River (Kyoto) and finally Yodo River (Osaka), which discharges into Osaka Bay.  Kyoto has been connected to Biwa Lke through Lake Biwa Canal built for multiple purposes in the late 1800s.  Kyoto and Osaka are two megalopolis' sharing the water supply from Biwa Lake.  Today Biwa Lake management is under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport & Tourism called 'Water Resources Agency' (WRA) whose mission is stated as "to provide safe, good-quality water stably and reasonably for the people".

At the Museum.  I was dumbfounded at the exhibition concerning natural history.  Human life - 100 years at most, Civilization - 1,000 years to formulate, Human Evolution, Evolution of Life, Geological timescales - beyond 100,000 years -!  Felt like seeing the Cosmological Calendar - HOW INSIGNIFICANT WE HUMANS ARE!  There were great displays of excavated sediments from the ground where the museum stands.  Among the sedimentary strata were deposits of volcanic ash from Kyushu, corresponding to 1.8 million years ago. Going back to Jurassic Days!

My visit to Biwa Lake alleviated my immediate concerns.  I felt a little at ease and renewed my conviction along the religious philosophy advocated by Rev. Chodo Mitsunaga of Temple Isaki, Omi-Hachiman, Shiga, who had completed harsh ascetic training at Mt. Hiei, requiring a 7-year mountain circuit.  He states, "Talking about Biwako is meaningless.  Mountains and rivers set their own rules.  You have to start from there."  Rich oceans and lakes come from the rich mountains and forests.  My thoughts are that this is related to the Washo Indian teachings at Lake Tahoe.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

New York Memories

One of the images that is branded in my memory is the dawn of ‘High Rise’ Manhattan becoming more distinctive as I drove the Brooklyn Bridge into the downtown area early in the morning.  New York City had not fully awakened. There were no 24-hour operated eateries and convenience stores then, and I had the freedom to circle the City Hall area and park in a garage, then walk to my office near West Broadway. I had no idea that I was working in the most privileged and most expensive business environment in the world. The World Twin Trade Center was being planned but no details were announced as yet.

I had commuted from Forest Hills, Queens for three years. A bit of notorious Highway 495 Long Island Expressway, then down I-278, and finally over the Brooklyn Bridge, the wonder and the engineering feat of the 17th Century. It was just about a 30-minute drive during the off traffic time. Each year, however, I had to leave my home earlier and earlier to beat the traffic.

I moved out of Manhattan to Long Island Sound as I nurtured a friendship with two American businessmen experienced in lines of business like mine.  My company desperately aimed at breaking into the U.S. market. Their office was in Mamaroneck, New York.  I set up a small office in Larchmont, a part of Mamaroneck.

Larchmont, like Beechmont nearby, was a village full of trees. Old Larchmont Water Works started as saw and grist mills and had a connection with Larchmont Manor, the oldest local building that served as a hotel for a long time.  I sometimes had to go to New York. The morning New Haven train was fully packed with commuters. All had his/her seat to Grand Central Station.

The town was probably an ideal place for my family to live, who missed me all the time. We found our apartment ‘Larchmont Acres’, which still exists today and the nearby ‘Walter’s’ hot dog stand still operating. In the summer we had fireflies surrounding us. I learned about the beautiful forthysia bushes while living there.

Come Springtime, I drove families around the famous golf courses, Winged Foot, Wykagyl, Bonnie Briar and to the pretty Hutchinson Parkway. We missed the cherry blossoms of Japan, but New York flowers were all very beautiful. I took my children to the swimming pool in Saxon Woods, and a skating rink in Rye.  Extended trips to upstate New York were fairly easy, reaching out to the Catskill Mountains, Thousand Islands, Lake George, Tappan Zee and Poughkeepsie.

I feel we were lucky to have lived in both New York among the hustle and bustle of the City, and then pretty suburbia, sometimes fighting blizzards in the cold, cold winter, then sleepless nights in the hot, hot summer.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Notable Japanese Americans

The 46th Elementary School opening early next year in Chula Vista with a 47.5 million dollar budget will bear Saburo Muraoka's name. I thought the case might be the first public school built in honor of a Japanese American immigrant, unprecedented for Japanese Americans.

I looked up the late Hawaiian War Hero, 442nd Combat Vet, U.S. Senator Daniel Inoue (1924-2012), the first Japanese American Congressman.  Yes, DKI Institute was built in 2013, inside the University of Hawaii, Manoa Campus to honor his legacy.  The Institute will support middle and high school STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and civic programs to inspire the next generation of leaders.

Another Hawaiian Hero is astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka.  His name is on the International Astronomy Visitor Information Center on Maunakea, and is on Onizuka Street in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles with a scale replica of the Challenger as a memorial.  Also, his name appears on the street surrounding Whitcomb Elementary School in Clear Lake City, Houston, TX where Onizuka’s daughter attended.

Inoue and Onizuka should be an exceptional example!  Could there be any comparable state or local story counterpart?   I concentrated in California.  Yes, what about Kanae Nagasawa (1875-1934), not as widely known now but he was once known as the Grape King in Santa Rosa? His name was referred to by former President Donald Reagan as he spoke on Japan-U.S. relationship.

Well, my finding is that his name is on the 33-acre Nagasawa Community Park on the Fountaingrove Lake, City of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County.  However, it’s probable Nagasawa’s name may bear one of Sonoma County public schools in years to come. Who could deny it?  He was originally a Satsuma (Kagoshima) clan student sent to Britain, then taken to California via New York, culminating successfully as a viticulturist.

Saburo Muraoka, was born in Yokohama in 1900 when His father Fukutaro, was in San Diego gaining foothold both in fish related and farming businesses. Fukutaro was credited with starting farming of winter celery in Chula Vista, and Sauburo, joining his father there since 1915 and succeeding in the celery production method 'Celery' with the “tents” or “caps” concept first used in Chula Vista.

I brought back a little booklet from San Diego titled “The Japanese in San Diego before the War”,  written by Donald H. Estes, published by the San Diego Historical Society courtesy of Sumitomo Bank of California in 1978.  Don wrote: “Saburo Muraoka, a younger Issei, had bought twenty acres of land and was growing celery and cucumbers.  In the process he introduced a method of increasing the productivity of cucumbers by planting them on a ridged slope and covering them with a tent. The technique was soon in wide use throughout the South Bay.”

The Muraokas were sent to Crystal City, Texas detention camp during the War, losing their American dream, land and everything, eventually thinking they had to go back to Japan.  However,  after returning to Chula Vista, they vigorously resumed farming, not only to again grow celery and cucumbers that would be shipped nationwide, but to plant the seeds of change. Their resilience to bounce back is laudable.

One of the business seeds he planted was Mobil home park. After turning 50, Saburo sold the farmlands and became a real estate developer. The project first put a tremendous strain on the family’s finances while the park got off the ground and filled with tenants.

As the business stabilized he became involved in community activities including San Diego-Yokohama Sister City Society, Buddhist Temple, and others. I remember I sent him an invitation to attend the opening ceremony of Minato Gakuen, San Diego and I saw him on the panorama photo of the opening commemoration.  Later, I sent him an invitation to the field day of Minato Gakuen and he responded by sitting with other participants on the field with his grandson.  No photo exists of the event, but I can visualize their presence as if it was only yesterday.

Saburo Muraoka Elementary School!  Sounds great and awesome. His name will surely be remembered forever, right along with the footprints of all Japanese Americans who settled in Southern California and San Diego and inspiring future Japanese American children. Cheers, everyone!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Minato Gakuen, 1985 to 2001

by Teiko Kaneko (translation by Rio Imamura)

We are excited to ride the train whenever a new route is opened, but often don't consider the history of the railways and the effort that went into building them.

I learned about Minato Gakuen when Japanese classes were still held at Miramar College so it must have been in the early phase of development for Minato. My husband and I relocated to San Diego from Kentucky in 1977. When we settled down in Mira Mesa, we found a Japanese neighbor five doors away – Takendo Arii, a landscape architect. We quickly became friends. Arii-san's children were enrolled at Minato Gakuen. One Saturday, Arii-san was unable to take his children to school, and I volunteered to take them to Minato.

In 1983, I first stood at Minato school platform as a substitute teacher. I later became a full-fledged teacher in 1985 and taught until 1990. After a five year interval, I returned to school in 1996 and served until 2001, the year I retired. I served at Minato a total of 12 years.

Every day at Minato Gakuen opens with the morning meeting, where the principal addresses the teaching faculty and all of the students lined up outside on the school grounds. The morning meeting is followed by radio calisthenics, the physical exercise nationally popular for years throughout Japan, set to music and rhythm nostalgic to adults raised in Japan.

There was one exception to this morning routine in January 1989. Principal Satomi, clad in a black suit and black tie, reported that Emperor Showa had passed away. There would be no radio calisthenics that day. Lead by somber looking teachers, the students returned to their classrooms.

One of the school events the Minato students impatiently awaited was Field Day. The Wangenheim School field, which was nothing but a wild plain field, became enlivened with a congregation of students, teachers, parents and families, all surrounding a circular track of playground carefully drawn by lime powder. When races started, fathers competed to occupy the best locations for filming the event, equipped with movie cameras on their shoulders (all much heavier than those available today).

I was the event convener almost every year. I would call out the names of students per the program, line them up in order of the program, and give the start signals. For relay racing in the red and white color competition, I divided racers into two groups by grade and color. There were restless children who were unable to wait and disappeared when they were needed. In retrospect, it was a responsibility that I fully enjoyed.

Picnic outing sponsored by the PTA were also delightful events. One year we took an apple picking trip to Julian, the gate of Cuyamaca Mountains. Another year we had a very organized Dixon Lake Park picnic in Escondido. I have very fond memories of the picnics.

Minato Gakuen Office used to be on Miramar Road. Mrs. Kusano was always working diligently therein. There was a conference room that could contain 20 people if we packed ourselves in like sardines. Teachers treasured and shared one copying machine in that office. We teachers had to take turns making copies of teaching materials and were often accompanied by our children.

Eugene, my son, entered Minato Gakuen Elementary in 1985 and finished Junior High in 1994. He went to a local senior high school, graduated from a university, and got a job at an IT-related company headquartered in Texas. He was sent to the Tokyo branch office, where he found the Japanese language skills developed at Minato immediately helpful. He came back to the U.S. after two years and opened his own business in San Diego. His experience in Japan deepened his appreciation for Minato, and relationships with Minato classmates increased their chances of a reunion.

Aya, my daughter, entered Minato Elementary in 1986, and studied until she finished her second year of junior high. She graduated from a local senior high school, as well as a university. While studying at the university, she had a chance to study at Tokyo International Christian University for one year. After graduating from the university, she traveled to China for a year and a half as an English teacher. She returned to the U.S. and got married in Florida. Her husband is a pastor. The two of them are among both the Chinese and Japanese communities.

Minato graduates share a special feeling of fellowship as in "misery loves company." As they advance to higher grades, many students experience conflicts of interest. Since they commit to studies at Minato on Saturdays, students are unable to participate in weekend sports events or activities with their peers, which can lead to frustration. However, the shared frustration of Minato graduates builds a strong feeling of camaraderie between classmates.

The primary mission of Minato Gakuen is to help students preserve Japanese cultural values while they attend American schools, and to keep them on track with the Japanese studies, should they return to Japan. Even children who do not return to Japan benefit from Minato. Of the classrooms I was in charge of, two-thirds of the students were returnee students, children of corporate expatriates and of university faculty or researchers. The remaining third were children such as my own and children of international marriage between Japanese and Americans. In addition, Minato's mission has expanded beyond its primary objective by sharing Japanese cultural values with local Japanese-sympathizing Americans.

My grandson, my son's son, turned 3 years old this year. He started to learn Japanese equivalent of ABCs. I hope that my son will enter him into Minato in due time. I heard Minato Gakuen, a small school that started with 39 students 38 years ago, now ranks within the top 10 Hoshuko in the U.S. The efforts of the pioneers who founded Minato came to fruition, as Minato has become a valuable and intangible asset to the San Diego Japanese community.

I hope that the next generation continues to maintain and further develop the Minato tradition, while honoring its founders, their spirit, and their effort to create this special place.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Minato Gakuen Now

The Class of 2016 graduating from Minato Gakuen was congratulated once in San Diego in mid-March and again in Kyoto in early April. Here’s chapter and verse of the life spanning story and the fruits of the concerted service and dedication of all those parties involved.

Minato Gakuen was established in 1978 as a Nihongo Hoshuko (Saturday Japanese Supplementary Language School) in San Diego primarily for the Japanese expatriate children. Most expatriate’s term of assignment range from 3 - 4 years and during that time, the parent’s biggest headache was that their children could face hardship upon their return. The mission of Hoshuko is to help students preserve Japanese cultural values while attending American schools and to keep from falling behind in their Japanese studies. Before Minato Gakuen, some expats had enrolled their children at Asahi Gakuen in Los Angeles, despite their 4-hour round-trip drive. Arthur Jonishi, first President of Minato Gakuen, one of the founders, felt the dire need for a Hoshuko from his boyhood experience in Canada.

Under his leadership, with advice from volunteer lawyer Richard Miyao, a preparation committee was formed, composed of expats and their wives, and they petitioned the office of the LA Consulate General of Japan for obtaining assurances of Monbusho support. I myself served as the committee representative and collected signatures of San Diego Japanese Americans to cope with the rally of the pre-existing private Japanese school. Compared to Los Angeles, there were just a handful of beneficiary Japanese companies with limited financial resources. We had to initially ask expat spouses to serve as teachers without pay. PTA members served as sergeants at arms for annual events such as field day and picnics, and act as consultants to manage the school, again all without pay. Mr. Kouichi Kuwahara, representing Tanabe Pharmaceuticals San Diego, preferred to have Mrs. Kuwahara serve as the first Principal of Minato without pay.

I contacted the San Diego Economic Development Corp (EDC) to secure free school rooms. My contention was that this school, once launched, would add impetus and incentives for more Japanese investment in San Diego. The wave of Maquiladora trade expansion was just beginning across the US-Mexican border. This trend was unmistakable as second year enrollment at Minato jumped from 39 to almost 100 students. With more beneficiary companies arriving, the school was able to pay for teachers and offices combined with tuition income.

Miramar College (EDC) mediated for Minato, which has been providing facilities for the police academy and its field firing ranges, in addition to pursuit drive training on the college ground. The classrooms were scattered and the desk and chairs were too tall for Minato children. We knew Miramar College was not a perfect fit, but we were happy to endure the inconveniences. In 1981, Minato moved to Wangenheim Middle School in Mira Mesa. It is a quonset hut, but the classrooms were in one location all together. Mrs. Yasuko Okai served as acting Principal when Mrs. Kuwahara returned to Japan. In 1982, Minato welcomed Mr. Shoichi Nagase, the first Principal sent by the Japanese Ministry of Education. In the first changing of the guards, Masayoshi Morimoto replaced Arthur Jonishi. The spirit of service was maintained, even ramped up, by faculty members, the PTA and the mother body, San Diego Nihongo Kyoiku Shinkokai (San Diego Association of Japanese Language Promotion).

In 1988, Minato Gakuen celebrated its 10th Anniversary, the year I happened to serve as the 5th President for the mother body. I worked closely with the 3rd Principal, Satomi, from the Ministry of Education. It was Satomi-Sensei who composed the Minato School Song based on the lyrics by Takahashi Sensei. Kazuo Takada (deceased), Satomi, and I endeavored to develop Minato-based community relations, inviting local school teachers (for the Japanese children) once a year, printing the English magazine “Bridge”. The efforts did not last long as all three left San Diego for individual reasons. My reason was my retirement, in 1995.

In 2003, Minato invited me back to their 25th Anniversary and concurrent graduation ceremony. Minato Gakuen was then moving to Sweetwater High School in Chula Vista as the majority of parents were in southern San Diego. It was the year a brush fires hit north San Diego, Scripps Ranch in particular. I visited a couple of friends, including Mas Nakano, then Minato President, who was affected by the fire. I had the pleasure of meeting with Minato legal adviser Richard Forsyth, an old friend, and the then Honorary Japanese Consul General Dr. Randolph Philip.

About two years ago, I was contacted by Akiko Vogel from Minato trying to open its kindergarten. Her question was about the original school bylaws. Since then, we have been keeping tabs on Minato’s progress and I reported it to the annual San Diego OB Reunion in Kansai area. Last year (2015), I reported that Minato moved back to Clairemont, renting Madison High School’s facilities. Our house was close to Madison High and my two children graduated from Madison. The news pleased the Reunion members. This year I reported the total graduates from Minato was over two thousand (see the breakdown table by elementary, junior and senior high schools), and Minato ranks among the 10 largest Hoshuko in the entire U.S.

Kyoto Reunion members included Haruo Nishimura and Mikio Ando, who served as Minato President before and after I served. Special participant this year was Arthur Jonishi, the founding President, and Masako Kuwahara, the first Principal, and Mr. & Mrs. Hosoe, Tijuana resident, who enrolled their two children in Minato right from the start. I learned that their two sons went to Marian Catholic High School in Chula Vista. Their eldest son graduated from Jochi University, worked at an IT related company and then established his own company before merging with a larger company. The younger son graduated from Keio University then worked at Accenture Tokyo and Singapore. In a few months, he was to be relocated to Accenture San Diego.

We all toasted the 53 graduates of 2016 and the endless future success of Minato Gakuen. We are sure Minato can overcome any obstacles as we remembered our journey beginning from square one.

1 Chronological Minato Gakuen School History in Japanese (e-mail me if you are interested)
2 Yearly Numbers of graduates since 1979 (e-mail me if you are interested)
3 Mrs. Kuwahara published her book "Minato Gakuen in Orbit" in 2001 under her pen name Shisa Yoshida.