Sunday, January 16, 2022

New Year Post - Climbing

I am not a climber, as previously stated. However, I am hoping that I could try an easy mountain on a happy occasion such as New Year’s Day or my birthday; taking-it-slow and easy, forgetting how old I am.

I cannot tell when I noticed it, but I was definitely trying to avoid ascending roads, choosing gentle slopes, or even going on a long detour. Before you know it, climbing seems a bit awkward.

Suddenly you are uncertain if you can even climb a smaller mountain - about 500 meters.

Celebrating my 90th Birthday, I wish to put on record my past mountain treks (Scotland and Taiwan) which I partook coming back to Japan from the US in 1994.

I settled down back in Hino City, Tokyo in the house I had newly built with Nippon Homes in 1970 (living room, 3 bedrooms, kitchen, central heating). The house was rented to my employer while I was in the US. I eventually sold it and moved from Tokyo to Kitakyushu in the late 1990’s.

While living in Tokyo, I had a number of chances to climb Mt. Takao (about 500 meters) either on foot or by cable car. Mt. Takao is a very popular mountain in Tokyo.

While also in Tokyo, I started to travel to Taiwan and made many Toastmaster friends, with whom I traveled often to Mt. Yanminshan, Taipei’s suburban national park. Mt. Yanmin and Mt. Takao are very comparable promenades.

I traveled to Scotland alone and trotted two places - one was Ben Navis, the other Glencoe Valley, both in the Highlands, near Port Williams. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain (1300 meters) and I just looked up in awe. Glencoe is the most beautiful glen I've ever seen, and sadly famous for the Glencoe Massacre. Glen is named after the River Coe. I hummed Danny Boy to myself, "from glen to glen and down the mountain side".

In Kitakyushu, about a 500-meter Mt. Sarakura welcomed me. There at Sarakura, meaning "dish warehouse", you can enjoy a Million Dollar view of Yahata City from the summit, in daytime or at night. You can make it to the top either on foot or by cable car.

Sarakura of Kitakyushi reminded me of Mt. Sara-ga-Mine (1,271 meter) in Ehime, my birth prefecture. As a teenager, I was sent there for 3 months for intensive training to learn how to fly a glider. After hundred-days of training, I received an official certification of finishing secondary class glider pilot. During training, the secondary class pilot candidates climbed Mt. Sara-ga-Mine to watch our Primary Class glider instructor take off from the top of Sara-ga-Mine.

Alina, my grand-daughter, married a 'mountain man' two years ago. I was unable to attend her wedding nor have I had a chance to meet him yet because of COVID pandemic. I'll send this blog to him for comment.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Kamishibai (Paper Theater)

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The World Kamishibai Day Celebrated its 20th Anniversary on Dec 7, 2021.

My daughter in Santa Barbara, California was surprised to hear about the celebration, claiming Kamishibai a lost art of storytelling. She should remember them from her preschool days in Japan, even though she did not spend much time there. She says she remembers seeing live theatrical performances called “Fairly Tales in the Park”. With a cast of 4-5 actors, this troop performed short plays for children at different parks. They were quite entertaining, dressing up as different characters and using props. It was much different from watching a movie or TV. I believe this performing group surprisingly still exists. I don’t recall ever taking my kids to see Kamishibai. When they were young, I took them to library programs and bookstore events before bookstores disappeared.

Kamishibai, the Japanese paper theater or picture story card show, once flourished during the depression years in the 1930’s that saved many unemployed adults, but disappeared at the advent of World War II. I sensed its revival while living overseas.

What I recollect about Kamishibai was how it demonstrated its power to communicate when the new Japanese Constitution was promulgated in 1948, using the old medium of popular entertainment to educate. An attentive street crowd was informed about important impending changes. The banner and sign advertised the new constitution coming into effect. The photo attached was taken from the famous book, Embracing Defeat by John Dower. Tokujiro Kanamori (1886-1959), State Minister under Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida was strongly involved.

The latest World Kamishibai Day initiative promotes the idea that Kamishibai lessons can imprint unforgettable memories in children, invoking the same level of curiosity and enthusiasm from rivaling content on smartphones and tablets.

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The San Diego Library “Rebellious Miss Breed” retrospective purportedly continues ‘from Sept 2021 to Jan 2022' and its Kamishibai special program was scheduled at the Rancho Bernardo public library on November 19. I asked my friends, the Kaneko family, living nearby, to attend if possible and report back. Kaneko-san attended with her son’s family, including grandchildren aged 8 and 6. To my and their disappointment, no Kamishibai plays related to Miss Breed were performed that day. However, the grandchildren seemed to have enjoyed them all. The following three Kamishibai were performed by Mr. Walter Ritter, the narrator/performer, surrounded by 10 adults and a dozen children that made up the audience.

  1. Taberareta Yamanba, The Mountain Witch that was Eaten
  2. Chinese folk tale
  3. American tale

According to Mr. Ritter, two Kamishibai stories related to Miss Breed are available. I tried looking for a performance date, but could not find any. They are Boy Tetsuzo, about whom I know and talked to person, and Fusa Tsumagari.

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One of the most well-known original stories that was first performed using Kamishibai was Ogon Bat (The Golden Bat), a Japanese superhero created in 1931. The popular character eventually made the transition to manga and anime adaptations.

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Tango as Therapy

Few visitors to Boca Raton, Florida, known for its affluence, imagined the area means literally 'the rat’s mouth'. This same Boca in Buenos Aires was named to its port by European immigrants. Today "Boca" thrives as "Junior Boca", young soccer teams adorned by local kids. La Boca, however, wears another face there. It is a popular destination for tourists, like me, to visit colorful houses and pedestrian street “Caminito”, where Buenos Aires tango dancers graciously and sensuously perform.

In 2001, I extended my trip to Brazil-Uruguay-Argentine (bordering Iguaz Falls) to Buenos Aires for two reasons: 1) to attend Buenos Aires Toastmasters meeting and; 2) to visit La Boca.

I took special social dancing lessons in my late teen days until I changed my major from economics to English. My favorite lessons were the waltz and the tango. When I heard music like La Cumparcita ("The Carnival", 1917) or Yira-Yira ("Go Round and Round", 1931), I was so exhilarated. I kept my dancing shoes separate from the family show rack. Lo, I haven't danced the Tango for a long time now.

In tango, steps, or rather leg glides, "Caminando" in Spanish, meaning "walking" is non-stereotype. The couple synchronize with the music, you and your partner and the environment. You follow no single specific rhythm. Because the dance is led and followed at the level of individual steps, the variations can occur from one step to another. This allows dancers from one step to the next, to vary the dance from moment to moment to match the music and the mood. I like the tango flexibility.

Another thing, tango lines your two kneecaps close, corrects your carriage, keeping your posture straight. I felt very refreshed, blowing off my stress after Tango dancing. Tango may be good for physical fitness, akin to Judo or Aikido. Strange that Tango has a therapeutic effect, blasting away daily stress. People in La Boca gathered to free themselves from nitty-gritty lives of poverty.

Tango music sprouted around the turn of the century (1900) in Boca neighborhoods. Most well-known was Carlos Gardel, a French-born Argentine singer, songwriter, composer and actor. Initially it seemed he had a tough time initially, even unable to buy Mate tea to drink, but gradually overcame the challenges. He succeeded in performing in New York and was a huge success.

Alas, he met a tragic death when his plane crashed in Medellin, Bogota in 1935.

P.S.
I participated one night in Buenos Aires Toastmasters gathering named Morris Gellman and was welcomed as a speaker from the Orient. I remember I talked about Japan as volcanic islands archipelago. I am happy to report the Club is sound and going strong. Big cheers! I befriended Lidia Cobo, with whom I exchange emails. Below is a photo of the Cobo sisters.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

4215 Trias

I read the obituary of Miss Clara Breed when I was visiting San Diego as a traveler after retiring from Kyocera. I met Clara several times in the late ‘70s at a fundraising board meeting of the San Diego Balboa Park Friendship Garden project, with the Honorable Japanese Consulate General Will Happen Jr. as President, Clara as secretary (requested perhaps by Joe and Liz Yamada) sitting on the Board, and me, representing my employer - Kyocera.

The obituary opened my eyes to her career as the ex-President of San Diego Public Library, and her close associations with the Japanese community, especially with children during the very dark period when they spent their days in concentration camps during World War II.

I wrote "4215" with my felt-tipped pen, followed by "Trias" on the notebook I carried then and it became my Breed notebook ever since. Trias in Mission Hills, San Diego is located a bit north of Fashion Valley on the slope. The neighboring Hillcrest has UCSD Medical Center Complex on the plateau. I frequented the above mentioned Honorable Japanese Consul General Wil Hippen Jr.’s residence close to Presidio Park for various projects which included the Japanese Naval Force band reception on Ports Call.

Losing husband Ruden, a pastor, Clara’s mother Estella arrived in San Diego in the 1920s, invited by Estella’s sister and her husband. Clara graduated from San Diego High as an honor student. Her school activities were diverse - art, horseback riding, tennis and making graduation albums. She made her own miniature house zoo, feeding foxes, raccoons and possums. I assumed early San Diegans enjoyed a life close to nature.

In the obituary, I read Clara kept a boxful of letters from children and when I called Liz Yamada, she already donated them to the Japanese-American National Library (JANL). She introduced me to Tetsuzo Hirasaki for a meeting and I had a valuable conversation with Tetsu (he passed away shortly after we met).

I visited JANL and copied a few letters from children reading “Dear Miss Breed” as samples. I was told the library was in the process of sorting through them and would take at least six months to finish. Joanne Oppenheim, the author of the Dear Miss Breed (Scholastics), miraculously found out about Miss Breed by inquiring at JANL about her Japanese classmate and started interviewing 'Miss Breed's children'. I heard about Joanne’s interviews through Liz and waited until her book came out in 2006.

The Japanese edition of Joanne Oppenheim's book came out in July 2008. Not bad! The translation took me two years (I wish to thank Eisho-no-Kai members for partial translation) and only had to count days needed to find a publisher. Luckily, Kashiwa Shobo in Tokyo came to my rescue.

I have to thank Teiko Uemura as my great self-sacrificing partner. She helped organize the manuscript into a fine, neatly typed Japanese version. I met her at Kumamoto Toastmasters Club and we bonded over sharing a cordial spirit. She later moved to Hachioji, Tokyo but we remain tied in the same spirit.

Latest Honors bestowed upon Clara Breed:

2014: California Library Hall of Fame by California Library Association

2007: San Diego Women Hall of Fame in the Cultural Bridge Builder category

2006: Smithsonian Institute incorporated four of the Dear Miss Breed letters into lesson plans to be used in Business School documents

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

One Hundred-Towered Prague

One Hundred-Towered Prague
by Czech Republic poet Nezval (1900-1958)

One hundred-towered Prague
City with fingers of all the saints
With fingers made for sweating falsely
With fingers from the fire and hail
with a musician’s fingers
with shining fingers of a woman lying on her back.

With fingers of asparagus
with fingers with fevers of 105 degrees
with fingers of frozen forest and with fingers without gloves
with fingers on which a bee has landed
with fingers of blue spruces
With fingers disturbed by arthritis
With fingers of strawberries
With spring water fingers and with finger of bamboo

Reflecting on my limited global travel experience, I wish to strongly recommend to friends - be sure to include Prague if you are planning to go to Europe.

Prague can offer unusually deeper cultural / historical insights than any other European city. I shall say better than Vienna, London, Paris, etc. You can witness old and new architecture; Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, Rococo, even Art Nouveau and contemporary - castles, churches, monasteries, libraries, museums, gardens and parks. I read and heard comments by visitors to Prague saying that it was as if they were visiting a fairyland.

The above quoted Czech poet Nezval also wrote about the River Vltava running through Prague:

‘Bon voyage, Vltava!' Your bubbly string playing string for us glorious tunes along with harp while the Vysehrad* soaring up in the bright moonlight as if straining its ears to listen to Vltava".
(*Vysehrad - the name of the hill where the Prague castles or fortresses are)

Nobel Laureate poet Jaroslav Seifert also referred to Vltava as his river of hope and faith. And Bedrich Smetana dedicated his first symphonic poem “My Fatherland” (in Japanese) to Prague. The Czech name of this symphony is “The Moldau”, meaning Vltava in German. I enjoyed the Vltava riverboat cruise when I was there.

My favorite Mucha’s artwork are St.Vitus Cathedral’s stained glass windows. I remember there is a colorful area called Golden Lane where it was rumored alchemists transformed lead into gold. In reality, the area was home to the castle’s gunners and goldsmiths, where Franz Kafka once lived. The strangely named “Powder Tower” enchanted me.

I returned often to Wenceslas Square recalling the so-called Prague Spring or Velvet Revolutionary demonstrations. In the Old Town Square, I marveled at the old but still operating astronomical clock and bustling flea market.

My visit to Czech was in the spring of 2005 when I visited the Architectural College named after Jan Leztel (1880-1925), the architect who built the Hiroshima Prefecture Business Exhibition Hall Building. The building itself was destroyed by the Atomic Bomb in 1945 but the dome skeleton has been famously kept as a war memorial, now designated as a UN Heritage site. The college is in Nachod, East Bohemia, a border town to Poland through Krkonose Mountains (see riosloggers 2009).

Monday, October 18, 2021

8611 Balboa Ave, San Diego

A godsend found among my many yellow tinged papers is a checkout receipt dated May 1, 1957 from the Lafayette Hotel and Club, 2223 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, together with the paper clipped article about the hotel’s renovation. A quote from the newspaper reads, “Built in 1946, Lafayette offers deluxe guest rooms, including one- and two-bedroom suites with fireplaces, libraries, mini-bars and large terraces. The complex surrounds the original 25-meter swimming pool and patio courtyard”. My receipt was for $8 per night.

I don’t know why this Lafayette Hotel, far from downtown San Diego, was chosen by our travel agent. Surely there were many other hotels located closer to San Diego’s Lindbergh Airport. Perhaps their austere choice was influenced by the fact that our trip was sponsored by a Boston company to conclude a technology assistance agreement, and the Japanese Government had yet to liberalize the yen — so Japanese citizens had no access to purchase U.S. dollars.

I had a free Sunday morning to walk around the Lafayette grounds on El Cajon Blvd. Amusingly, the cross-streets on the left were named Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, Arizona on the right. Jacaranda trees along the streets were in full bloom with purple flowers. They looked so beautiful like the Japanese cherry blossoms.

Never had I dreamed that I would live in San Diego for 20 years. When I had a chance to revisit the Lafayette, I was surprised that the hotel had become the local Immigration Bureau. I had to accompany our family there when they arrived.

Another surprise was the Honeywell Building on Balboa Ave., in Kearny Mesa. In 1957, my boss informed me that Honeywell had agreed, in writing, to show us their plant. We went there only to be detained by their on-site security. Why? They show the plant only to customers. Period. Yes, my employer produced some competitive products, but Honeywell also made many products that were not in competition with goods made by my employer. The misunderstanding was cleared up and we walked through the plant only in the areas for non-competitive products.

In 1973, I joined Kyocera at the Kearny Villa Plant in Kearny Mesa, within walking distance of that Honeywell facility. My primary job, in addition to being the plant controller, was to build a new bigger ceramic plant at a 17-acre site, obtained through the San Diego Economic Development Corp, with the help of construction consultants such as Frank Hope & Associates and Nielsen. Critical was solving the high-tension power transmission line issues involving SDG&E professionals, but we got past them and had final blueprints ready for local bidders. The construction teams were elated.

Then out of blue, the 21-acre land, 288,000 square foot plant facility Honeywell Plant I had walked through 15 years ago, went up for sale! Unbelievable! The dilemma now was either to stick to the construction plan or to make a windfall deal? Kyocera’s decision was a wise one – to buy rather than build. “The greater embraces the less” goes the proverb. In short, Kyocera's diversification requirements and Honeywell's cash requirements matched up perfectly. The address of 8611 Balboa Avenue became the US headquarters for Kyocera International.

Kyocera's purchase included taking over the lease for a number of big tenants, including General Dynamics, Rohr, and San Diego County Office, which assisted with Kyocera’s gradual and flexible future expansion. Added to my job was the impossibly “lucky” role of ‘tenant relations.’ I worked for almost 20 years at 8611 Balboa until my retirement.

P.S. I found out that the Lafayette Hotel is still going strong as per Jay Scovie, Kyocera's Corporate Director for Communication & Education. I owe him the link to the hotel website below:
Lafayette Hotel Website

Thursday, September 23, 2021

El Morro

Spaniard sailors called it "El Morro".
A landmark for their navigation,
An awesome rock mound, about 600 ft. tall
Edged on a Pacific Coast beach.

Traveling from the inland San Luis Obispo
It's the last stack bolted in the bay,
One of a linear series of volcanic knobs
Hollister Peak, the closest in the line.

El Morro was exploited as a quarry for some time
by heartless miners
Though disfigured with scars and weather beaten,
It added more dignity and reverence.

Today it is a State and National Estuary
covering the bordering sand dunes and spits,
salt marshes and mudflats.
A sanctuary for birds, plants and sea animals.

I had returned to El Morro a dozen times
Whenever I headed to upper Calif
Whenever I had problems and soothed myself
turning to my favorite destination

I flew over the Pacific Coast
from San Diego to Seattle.
I recognized El Morro from the air
It became a landmark of my life and my careers there.