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.

Monday, April 18, 2016

My 2016 New Year’s Adventure

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to visit the so-called Kogo-Ishi (神籠石), the mysterious earthen works or stone rampart discovered in the Meiji era (1868 - 1912), about a dozen of them concentrated in Northern Kyushu, including that of Goshoyama (御所山) and Yukuhashi-City ( 行橋市 ), about 30 km southeast of Kitakyushu City. The debate has been whether these sites were fortresses or religious sites?

Last summer, my friend in Munakata City invited me to join his continuing group trips to visit a mecca of mid-Kyushu burial grounds around the Kikuchi River Valley, Yamaga City in Kumamoto. He mentioned the next trip in September includes “Chibusan, Obusan, and Tonkararin" I asked him 'are they Japanese?'. He answered, half chuckling, “Yes, they’re just like ‘Obasan, Sanbasan.’” They are famous ancient barrels, some ranking as national treasure”.

Tonkararin is a combination of a natural cave, ditch and/or drained culvert like an underground tunnel along the hilly slope 450 meters long where man can wiggle through in the dark. It is unknown why it was made. Named after perhaps the clinking sounds of a stone thrown in. You have to bring your own light and attire you don’t mind getting dirty in.

I joined them for a full day microbus tour, venturing into the Tonkararin tunnel, peeking into old tombs and mounds, side caves, expansive excavation sites and remains, to examine earthenwares, iron works, etc. One of the tumulus,”Eta Funayama”, was famous for a treasure class sword with an inscription inlaid in silver with the oldest characters ever found in Japan. The Korean style octagonal drum tower and the archaic commissariat complex, including a set of barracks for garrisons and storage house of rice, reproduced on the Kikuchi Castle Site Park was the highlight of the trip. I've heard a speech made by one of my Toastmasters' friends living in Yamaga, of a century old legend but I was unable to connect it with the AD 663 'Battle of Baekje' between the allied Tang Dynasty / Silla Kingdom forces and allied Baekje / Yamato forces, which resulted in the demise of Baekje and the defeat of Yamato trying to save Baekje.

Panicked Yamato, in fear of Tang and Silla's invasion, guarded Dazaifu and homeland, building castles at Mizuki, Onojyo and Kizan with the help of exiled Baekje generals and artisans. That much I knew, but didn't know Yamato also built another castle in Yamaga, 80km south of Dazaifu. The Kikuchi Castle was supposedly the last backup depot for the worst scenario, serving combat support and military logistics.

At the Kikuchi castle information desk, I learned also that 20 semi-castles or ramparts were built, a dozen of them heavily concentrated in northern Kyushu. These dozen have held annual Summit meetings for the past 10 years to discuss mutually common findings and subjects. The Goshoyama Kogoishi I mentioned above is one of them and quite close to Kitakyushu, where I live. I added it to my bucket list for 2016 if I could tolerate the climb.

I first targeted it on my birthday, March 4. The family had some plans for me, so I waited a week for a fine warm day. Climbing was hard and tough for this octogenarian. I recalled El Teposteco, the sacred mountain, near Cuernava, Mexico (2000m above sea level, but 800m above Tepostlan land level) was one of my last climbing experiences. That was 15 years ago. Goshoyama is 250m high. But Kogoishi is at the Middle Gate, about 150m high. I climbed over and above the Middle Gate to Keiko Shrine close to the top and had my lunch. While on the trail, I came across a dozen group climbers in decent mountaineering clothes. I celebrated my belated birthday with a tea cup toasting. Now I proudly declare that the photos in the blog are all mine. I truly enjoy these adventures.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Christian Samurai: A Piece of Japan's History on Christianity

Ukon, stared at his own death, in a mortal combat with swords.
So dark to discern friends or foes. He felt he won the battle but was
struck down unconscious. He was saved miraculously and told the blow was
his friend’s. Ukon was touched as an act of God to punish him yet He
saved him. (the moment Ukon turned to real Justo)

“Anybody who holds swords will be ruined by swords.” by Justo Takayama

Photo Courtesy of Takashi Suzuki
In 2003, the Japanese bishops' conference submitted a lengthy application for the beatification of Ukon Takayama (1552-1615), who was dubbed as Christian Samurai. When and after Tokugawa Shogunate banned Christianity, Ukon refused to disavow his faith, even losing his de facto status as a feudal lord. Eventually he was expelled from Japan and died in Manila, Philippines. His baptismal name was Justo.

Ukon set up a semenario in Takatsuki and baptized thousands people each year until he was transferred to Akashi from Takatsuki by Taiko Hideyoshi. ‘Settsu’ Takatsuki, where Ukon’s castle was, is about midpoint between Kyoto and Osaka and an important strategic location during the Age of War Lords.

I spent my early 20s here in Takatsuki. It was during the early 1950s. The school inherited the campus and old wooden buildings of the Imperial Japan’s artillery regiment. I revisited there in the mid 1990s to find the campus had been replaced with Takatsuki City ‘Castle-site Park’ where the statue of Ukon was erected.

Born into a family of local baron, Ukon converted to Christianity at the age of 12 after encountering some Jesuit missionaries, following in the footsteps of his father ‘Dario’. The Gospel message reached Japan thanks to a Jesuit, Francis Xavier, in 1549, which spread quickly. Perhaps Samurai needed a mental cure, similar to Zen or tea culture to dispel fears and unrest, amidst the rampant fierce rivalry among the local War Lords. The friend today may become the enemy of tomorrow. When Taiko Hideyoshi rose to power, his advisors encouraged him to ban the practice of the Christian faith. All the great feudal lords agreed, except Ukon.

Because of his stance, he lost his property, his position, his social status, his honor and respectability. He essentially became a vagabond and was forced into exile. He and his family, and a few followers sought refuge from Shodo Island to Southern Kyushu but to no avail. They were sent to Kanazawa as semi-captives under the care of Lord Toshiie Maeda. Ukon reportedly participated in the Kanto expedition on behalf of Maeda Clans. Finally, as warning to other Christian Samurais, Shogun Ieyasu arrested him, together with the missionaries, and sent him down to Nagasaki.

During the treacherous typhoon season, Justo was forced to sail on the overage vessel to Manila, along with 300 other Christians. What awaited them in Manila was an unexpected gun salute and welcome greetings by the delegate of Juan de Silva, the Spanish Governor of the Philippines. They were taken to his Official Residence for a reception. Jesuits there arranged quarters for them. Justo finally found a place to live a peaceful life, but fell ill and died 40 days after his arrival. "Ukon in Manila, the Blessed Lord", was performed in a joint Japan/Philippines Opera in 2003. It is based on work of Japanese writer Otohiko Kagawa. Here’s the website for details. The opera went around Tokyo, Kanazawa, Takatsuki, Okinawa and Osaka as well as Manila, Cebu, and other cities in the Philippines.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Turkey Now

A few decades ago, the Foreign Ministry of Japan conducted national exams for university students completing their junior year and aspiring to pursue a career in foreign diplomatic services. Four of my classmates passed the exams and bid us farewell as we applauded them with our admiration and envy. About the time we graduated, we learned two were sent to the middle-east, one to Brazil, one to the U.S. Soon news came that Mr. K was killed in an automobile accident in Turkey. Legend has it, the Turkish hit song “Usuku dara” sung by Eri Chiemi in Japanese was translated by K. RIP, K!

The world today keeps a vigilant watch on Syrian truce plans left unresolved. I am glad to see that the agreement reached this week by the U.S. and Russia may put an end to the many years of bloodshed and violence inside Syria.

Turkey, the crossroads since well before the ancient Crusaders between Europe and Asia, has seen quite the flow of history. The latest number of Syrian refugees going to neighboring Turkey since 2011 has surpassed 2 million. Majority of them moved on to EU, either via land or by sea, but Turkey accepted quite a few with its “Misafire” (literally meaning guest) hospitable policy, putting up shelter camps along the Syrian border. The so-called Turkish AFAD (the Disaster & Emergency Management Authority) Cards entitle refugee children with free health care and education. I was very impressed as I read UNHCR’s humanitarian reports.

I received a surprise 2016 New Years greetings from my Taiwanese friend who is an avid photographer. She wrote that she just returned from Turkey after a two week stay, where it was pretty cold, but luckily she saw little rain during the normally wet December. Isn’t Turkey a hot spot at the moment? I asked her if she had faced any signs of danger. She answered ‘No,’ but shortly after she returned, a suicide bomber attack killed 13 at Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmet Square near the Blue Mosque on January 12, 2016.

As usual, she sent me a well-sorted photo album (totaling almost 1000 photos). The cities in her itinerary and visiting order were as follows:

Well-preserved Ottoman city, Black Sea region, UNESCO Wold Heritage sites

Capital with 5 Million population, Anitkabir or Ataturk’s Mausoleum

Historical region in central Anatolia, Fairly Chimney Rocks

Capital of Seljuk Empire, Whirling Dervishes (Mevlevi)

Turkish Riviera city facing the Mediterranean with population one million. Antalya Museum for a notable archaeology collection.

Inner Aegean region, hot springs, travertine terrace formations

Known as Constantinople and Byzantium before and largest European city with 15 million population. Turkey’s economic, cultural and historic center, straddling the Bosphorus Strait. Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya, Suley Maniye Mosque.

With her permission, I am happy to give you access to her two albums.

2015 Turkey Impression 1

2015 Turkey Impression 2

Her name is 李繼瑛 (I call her Virginia) who lives in Taipei. She has quite a photo collection of Taiwan’s natural beauty as she traveled around the entire country. My favorite is her Yangmingshan National Park's album. I know she also traveled to mainland China, sometimes far out to Gansu and Xinjiang, Tarim and Junggar Basins bordering Kazakhstan and Kirgiztan.

She writes: "I love to see the world by traveling and capturing sights through my lenses. Being there, seeing with my own eyes, smelling the fragrance, and hearing the sound is the driving force that keeps me moving forward. I am passionate about foreign languages and cultures, for they not only widen my horizons but also keep me humble and calm.”

When she is not traveling, she says she is a music teacher for parent-baby (toddler) classes with 16 years of experience. Remarkable! I learned much from her travels. Enjoy!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Shipwreck, the Movie

In 1889, Sultan Abdulhamid II dispatched the Imperial frigate Ertuğrul with 600 crew members to Japan under his Admiral Osman Pasha. The voyage was a goodwill mission signaling growing friendship between the Ottoman Empire and the new rising power in the East, but it ended in tragedy.

The jointly produced Japan-Turkey movie Shipwreck (aka Kainan 1890) went on general release in early December 2015 to great fanfare. I was able to see it in a Kitakyushu movie theater in early January 2016. It is comprised of two parts: one the 1890 Ertuğrul shipwreck and the Japanese rescue; the other the last minute Japanese expatriates escaping out of Teheran Airport on Turkish airplanes during the 1985 Iran-Iraq War crisis. The movie was over two hours long and here’s why.

The impetus to make the film started 10 years ago with Katsumasa Tajima, the town mayor of Kushimoto, the southernmost coastal point of Japan proper, where the Ertuğrul hit the reefs of Oshima Isle and fell apart in stormy weather. The Oshima Isle fishing villagers, alerted by the Kashinozaki Light House keepers, made their frantic efforts to save 69 members from the sea, carried them to the temple and schools, and offered medical help, clothes, supplies and food. Some were seriously injured but once rescued, no one lost their lives. Town Mayor Tajima, while engaged in the recent Turkey/Japan anniversary events at the Shipwreck Monument, and sister town exchanges of student programs, felt the dire urge to produce a movie, consulted with his friend Mitsuoshi Tanaka, movie director. Director Tanaka, half in doubt at first, broached the subject repeatedly on his trips to Turkey, which gradually led to an agreement of Tanaka’s proposal.

In 2013, Tanaka’s proposal was included in the topics of conversation between PM Abe and President Erdogan and the production finally launched as a joint country project with a 15 million dollar budget, the location to start in December 2014 in Japan and July 2015 in Turkey. PM Abe agreed to assume being the Supreme Film Adviser.

Before I saw the movie, I read the Shogakkan book “Shipwreck of Ertuğrul - Story of Bounding Heart between Turkey and Japan”, by Michiko Ryo (author) and Ryoichi Iso (illustrator). Michiko Ryo had worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before becoming a writer. The narrator of the book is Ertuğrul, the shipwrecked boat itself, built in 1863.

It’s interesting to learn that the voyage from Istanbul wasn’t accident free, because it did not go through full refurbishing because of a short notice to set sail. Just patch repairs were not enough for the long voyage. It took almost one year to sail from Istanbul to Yokohama. Repair docking was needed at Suez Canal for two months and at Singapore for 6 months. As per Ertuğrul's self confession, shipwreck was definitely a man-made disaster.

While still in Yokohama, about a dozen sailors suffered from cholera and one sailor died. The Turks requested burial at sea but Japan, being afraid of further infection, was rejected. Ertuğrul went through quarantine at the Nagara disinfecting station in Yokosuka.

The majority of shipwrecked survivors were transferred to Kobe through the good offices of German SMS Wolf, four days after the shipwreck and at the good discretion of then Kushimoto Town Mayor Oki. The Japanese Government dispatched medical specialists and nurses to Kobe.

In Part 2, the leading Turkish actor and Japanese actress of Part l reappears, saying “Have we met before?” The actor plays a Turkish Embassy diplomat and the Japanese actress plays a Japanese language school teacher in Teheran. The actress in Part l played a voiceless role, as she in utter sorrow who lost her fiancé at sea, as well as her voice. The actress this time brought a breath of fresh air, as she spoke beautiful English. (I learned the background of the actress - born and raised in Australia).

The Teheran escape of the Japanese at the eleventh hour was not made without the heart-touching and bold Turkish actions for which all the Japanese showed great appreciation.

Turkey and Japan are both under earthquake zones and have been helping each other whenever tragedies hit us. The historical 1890 Ertuğrul Shipwreck case leads the true, friendly and reciprocal relations between the two countries.

Monday, February 15, 2016


(Originally presented as a 2015 Christmas Party Speech on Dec 11, 2015)

Ever been to Tango Land or Tango Country? I do not mean that fancy Tango for two. Tango Province located north of Kyoto. This Tango is paired with Tamba. You have heard about Tamba Kingdom rivaling Yamato Kingdom. Tango branched out of Tamba in later years retains the same legendary traditions of Tamba.

My topic tonight is Amanohashidate, Bridge to Heaven. I'll call it AHD hereafter, Okay?

AHD, one of the Japan's three scenic views is in Tango.

(#60 of the Ogura Anthology of One Hundred Tanka Poems by One Hundred Poets)

"Oeyama Ikunono-michiwa Tokeredo
mada Fumimo-sezu Amano-Hashidate"

(How could my mother help me write this poem?
I have neither been to Oe Mountain nor Ikuno
nor have any letters come from her in a place so
far away it's called— The Bridge to Heaven.)

Beautiful Tanka! This Tanka has got quite a story. The poetess is Koshikibu no Naishi. She sang the poem when she was fifteen years old. She is the daughter of the famous poetess Izumi Shikibu, the author of great women’s journal ‘Pillow Book’.

The daughter was often the target of envy by the community, gossiping that perhaps her mother was privately helping her daughter. One day, Koshikibu was the guest of Fujiwara’s Tanka party and she was bullied by one of the Fujiwara’s princes “Don’t you need mother’s help?” Koshikibu answered "mother had been away in Tango Land and hadn’t corresponded lately. The steep mountain paths of Mt. Oe blocking my trip and I haven’t set my foot in AHD.

Alas, this poetess passed away young and left us with only a few songs. Her name, however, is eternally remembered with the Tanka.

I personally was at AHD last Monday. I cleared Mt. Oe by rapid express through the tunnel. I rented a bicycle and made a round cycling trip, one way, three kilometers each. As you know, it’s a unique narrow stretch of sandbars inside Aso Sea, no automobiles or motorcycles allowed. It’s December, during off-season. I enjoyed my cycling along the shore and was rewarded with great views and a great exercise.

I found a small museum near JR AHD Station. I got fully educated. The present-day sandbar was formed around 1500. The formation of the unique sandbars was the result of two colliding currents - the coastal current of Aso Sea and the Noda River flowing out into the Aso Sea. Gravel was carried in and deposited on the seabed.

The local government and volunteer groups are coping now with how to keep the beauty for the future, including measures against wilt disease, typhoon risks and damages. I saw a display of fallen pines caused by typhoons. Some hundreds of pine fell a few years ago.

If you haven’t been to Tango, I encourage you to go. Besides AHD, Tango country has many more exciting things including the Legendary Demons subdued by Minamoto Yorimitsu and his four lieutenants, the sad orphan slave story of brother and sister Anju and Zushio, the year 1600 Sekigahara War time siege, the story of Tanabe Castle involving Yusai Hosokawa and Hosokawa Garacia.

The main objective of my trip was to visit the newly refurbished Maizuru Repatriation Memorial Museum for my blog post. Thank you for listening.