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.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

A Most Unexpected Visit to Cuba

One of my favorite Spanish songs is “Guantanamera”, a Cuban song. The composer is Jose Fernandez Dias (1908-1979) and the lyrics, nobly dignified, is dedicated to Jose Marti (1853-1895) to honor his life and efforts to liberate Cuba from Spain.


Guajira Guantanamera
Yo soy un hombre sincero (I am a truthful man)
De no me crecen los palma (from the land of palm)
Yo soy un hombre sincero (I am a truthful man)
De no me crece los palma (from the land of palm)
Y antes de morir yo quiero (Before dying, I want to)
Echar mis versos del alma (share these poems of my soul)

Probably I was one of the rare Japanese who got to visit Havana, Cuba in December of 1961, soon after the Cuban Revolution. Cuba was not originally in my travel plans. I delegated the task to a Japanese measurement instrument manufacturer to visit Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela, where area sales to governments and industries were gradually increasing through local representation. While in Mexico, I came to learn that the Cuban Government was interested in the so-called AC Network Analyzer, an analog electrical distribution analyzer such as the one my employer made.

Luckily, Mexico was then the only country where I could obtain a Cuban visa. With the help of Mitsui Trading Company in Mexico, I submitted my visa request and commuted daily to the Cuban Consulate there. My visa was granted for 4 days, from December 4th to the 8th. I reserved flight tickets right away on Cubana de Aviacion.

Capri was the Havana Hotel where I stayed, (6 Dollars a night, less than one Dollar but more than one Peso at the time), guarded by a soldier with a machine gun.

In Havana, I visited Campana Cubana de Electricidad. The engineers I met there were Stanford University graduates.

They seemed to be conducted a comparative analysis of our product against counterparts of GE, Westinghouse and others. They showed me a room where the instruments were to be installed. The power requirements were 120/240V, 60Hz. I made the rounds to the various Ministries accompanied by Mitsui Trading. The talks, however, did not pan out even with the option to barter with sugar as far as I know. My gut observation was that Cuban people were short of daily necessities and medicines in particular. How do you value an instrument or an engineers’ toy versus food?

The highlight of my Cuban visit was a drive out to Ernest Hemingway’s "Old Man and the Sea" beach and a dinner reception hosted by the Japanese Ambassador Tsumura. Besides me, two other Shosha men stationed there were also invited. Ambassador Tsumura (who was stationed there without his family) welcomed me to his empty official residence. I learned that most Japanese expatriates and families were evacuated earlier, leaving only the Ambassador and two Shosha men there in Havana.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Reflections On Yumeji Takehisa’s Art

“I waited long and patiently for you
like a primrose waiting for the moon,
Yet still ‘am unsure of being betrayed?'

(Song composed by Tadasuke Ono)

This poem was written by the famous painter Yumeji Takehisa, 1884-1934, sung by Mieko Takamine whose song once dominated the airwaves in Japan. I do not follow this type of art, but I remember the song. Yumeji’s Bijinga (portraits of beautiful women in wood print, which predate photography) has been applauded as the second most visited of Hiroshige in Taisho.

Yumeji was born near Okayama, spent his boyhood there, and moved to Yahata (where I live) when his father was employed by Yahata Iron Works in 1901. There are records that indicate Yumeji worked at the same steel mill as a draftsman. It probably was a short stint since he headed for Tokyo shortly thereafter. I found evidence of the journey he took in a dedicated park named after him with a couple of Bijingas in his honor. I found a couple of art museums associated with him in two different locations in Okayama - one in Setouchi where he was born, and the other in Okayama City, Tokyo (Yayoi Museum). There are a number of other museums and galleries associated with him in Ikaho, Kanazawa, and other locations. Yumeji’s path to success came when his entry won the “Junior High School World” contest in a magazine. Then came the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 which delayed his rise to fame temporarily, but he inevitably established his name as Bijinga Master. Yumeji spent some time in the US and Europe before he died in his 50’s. See Yumeji's Haiku on his trip below.

About a month ago, the newspaper carried one of the unknown Yumeji’s painting (in black and white) owned by Yabeya Teahouse (owned by the Konomi Hon-Ke Family) in Yame City where I took my Japanese-American friend to bury a part of his father’s ashes at Yame’s ancestor’s temple. Yame is about 100 kilometer south of Kitakyushu. The paper stated that Yumeji traveled to Kyushu for a few weeks during which the Konomi’s personally bought the painting from Yumeji.

I wrote to Yabeya Teahouse to find out if the Yumeji’s painting in color was available, and if so, can I post the image for my blog. Mr. Kenichi Konomi, 14th generation master, wrote back, enclosing the requested color postcard and the Yabeya’s business pamphlet. The title of the painting is “Embracing A Doll.”

Here’s a brief history of Yabeya. It started about the same time that the Edo period began (1704) under the Tokugawa Shogunate. Yabeya was a general merchandise supplier and vendor to the Kurume Domain. They settled down in Yame in 1865, gradually specializing in tea making. The Yabeya’s house, factory and warehouse they built has been designated as Yame’s Cultural Property. "Gyokuro" cha is their top premium specialty product described as the 'golden jewel or jade jewel' that uses their signature washi-wrapped charcoal roasting furnace. My family was lucky enough to live near the Sayama-cha site in Tokyo, and now Yame-cha site, fairly close to where I live now in Kitakyushu. While in the US, we shopped at the import shops, such as Marukai, LAX. Sencha, Hoji-cha,Genmai-chai are readily available. My daughter in Ventura County says tea bags are sold at their nearby Costco these days. I myself cannot live without good tea in my life.

Sampling of Yumeji’s haikus:

Night chatting
expanded in deepening night
in desolate Monterrey

Intermittent rain
held Belgium parent and child
immovable and crouched down

Slanting rain
revealed German girl's
heel to calf

Money is short
wherever you are,
in Japan or else at the end of the year

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Hiraodai Karst Plateau and a Folktale

Hiraodai Karst Plateau, equally famous as Yamaguchi Akiyoshidai, is southernmost Kitakyushu City bordering Kawaracho and Kandacho. Mt. Hiko, the sacred mountain where many aesthetics have spent time there, towers over the prefectural boundary between Fukuoka and Oita. The deep-blue Masubuchi dam is not too far. Boasting 3,000 acres (12 square kilometers), the elevation is between 310 - 710 meters. It is uncertain when people settled in Hiraodai because of the cold and snowfall in the winter. During the war, Kokura had the Imperial Army arsenal and the ammunition chambers in Kitagata. They probably thought of Hiraodai Karst Plateau as their ideal shooting range, however, there is no historical evidence of that. After the war the Japanese returnees from Taiwan and Korea, found their paradise in Hiraodai if they became farmers.

First, here are a few basic karst terms:

Soline: Sinkhole. Closed depression draining underground, meaning 'valley' (Slavic)
Polie: A large flat karstic plain (Slavic). Liable to become intermittent or perennial stream or lake.
Uvala: A complex closed depression with several lesser depressions within its rim (Slavic)

In the spring, Hiraodai is famous for its controlled burs of its fields. It was not to slay ogres as in the old folklore, but to burn dry and withered grass in the 'soline, polie and uvala' areas, to prevent wildfires. Field burning should be a common practice throughout Japan to renew grassy zones, prevent forestation, and maintain the green every year.

Upon returning from the U.S. in the mid-1990’s, I joined the local trekking group and visited this Hiraodai Karst Plateau, strolling up and down karst and exploring a few caves. About the same time I had a chance to visit Yunnan Province, China and the Shilin (石林 ) Stone Forest, the UNESCO World Heritage site that covers over 180 square miles. The tall rocks seem to rise from the ground in a manner somewhat reminiscent of stalagmites or with many looking like petrified trees, thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone. Limestone creates these otherworldly landscapes. However, the Shilin landscape is over millions of years old and spans thousands of miles. Once you step in, you may get lost in a maze of geology and paleontology. It was very different from Hiraodai.


The local legend has it that there lived two demons in Hiraodai Karst Plateau, one named “See-demon”, the other “Smell-demon.” One day they took conferred about what offering to bring to their boss in the nearby Mt. Hikosan*. “Hmmm! How about bringing a concrete straw stone inside the famous limestone cave for his sword or a sheep shaped stone as an ornament? They talked quite a while but they finally decided upon offering a human child. In the past, they knew the boss demon raised human children as his retainers and extended his influence. When reared since childhood with the boss demon, these children eventually turned into demons.

These demons descended from Ryugahana to Satonotsuji through Fukiage Pass. The village people panicked with the sudden appearance of the demons and scattered in confusion. The demons caught one child on the first day. The returned to the village on the second day as well.

“See-demon”, "Can you smell it?" asked Smell-demon as they approached the village. “There is a scent of something nice coming from the village! Let’s find out!” As they descended, one village guard alerted the villagers with the temple bell. With the bell ringing, all the villagers hung rotten sardines at their doors. Two demons with sharp and keen eyes and noses got queasy, felt sick and hurried back to their dwelling. Despite the deterrence, the two demons came back on the third day well prepared with clothes pins to plug their noses and went on a rampage. After the onslaught, the villagers gathered to discuss how to slay the ogres and came up with a plan. The following night, the demons returned with their pins and found the village deathly quiet. The inquisitive demons reached the village square where a fire was burning. “There they are!” As they attacked the villagers, flames broke out all around all at once. Burning bamboos spilt with loud snaps and cracks. Pillars of flames shot up everywhere. The surprised demons panicked and retreated at full speed. The kidnapped child was rescued by the villagers during the turmoil. The crackling sound of burning bamboo scared them and the demons never returned to Hiraodai.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

A 100th Birthday Celebration

1. Arthur Jonish’s White Age celebration on Sept 20, 2020

I took an overnight trip to Kyoto to attend a special event. Arthur Jonishi's "White Age" celebration was to start from 6:00 pm but was delayed to 6:30pm, as the turnout of over 500 guests was slow. The venue was the Reaga Royal Hotel in Kyoto, close to Kyoto Central Station. Perhaps the majority of guests were Kyocera people but an ex-Sanyo person was at my table for six. Arthur is a Kyoto University graduate, and a long time Rotarian; has many hobbies, like golfing and playing Go, so his friends should be quite diversified.

He entered the venue riding a motored "senior car", a gift from his Rotary Club, clad in a purple Sanga Soccer team jacket and donning a pandemic face shield. He needed helping hands to stand before the microphone. After the champagne toast, he spoke for half an hour. The rest of the hours were chats and meals. The nests of boxes were distributed to each table in paper bags. The hotel service was just to open the champagne bottle. This is the new “normal” these days because of the Corona virus. Each guest received a 50-page booklet "Footprints of A. Jonishi".

Arthur was drafted into the army during World War II in Dec 1943 in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture. On board the SS Teifumaru, an aging wooden ship, his troop headed alone for the Solomon Islands away from the main fleet. At midnight, he saw a US submarine surface without noticing his ship in the dark. Arthur saw some sailors lighting up for a smoke. When they saw the Japanese boat’s shadow, it immediately submerged and started discharging torpedos. Some said they saw a dozen streaming towards their ship. Arthur counted at least 7 or 8, which whizzed passed without incident. Good thing the boat didn’t carry heavy loads, like tanks and cannons, which would have kept its keel low. He feels very fortunate to have been aboard the SS Teifumaru, otherwise he would never ever have reached white age.

I noticed printed handouts in English on my way out. It's a collection of 'Arthur’s year end letters' to overseas friends and relatives over the past 10 years. Very interesting.

2. A Centenarian

Arthur Jonishi celebrated his 100th Birthday on April 25, 2021.

Mike Okuno, representing all ex-Kyocera employees visited Arthur in Kurama, Kyoto to hand deliver a bouquet of flowers to celebrate his 100th birthday - a new centenarian. Meanwhile, KII, San Diego Headquarters responded with an issuance of the San Diego Country of Board of Supervisors’ Proclamation honoring AJ’s birthday.

3. Brief Bio

1921 Born in Vancouver Canada
1948 BA in Economics, Kyoto University
1948 Shofu Co Ltd Kyoto
1963 Kyocera Corp
1969 Founded Kyocera Intl Inc
1974 KII President
1978 Director, Minato Gakuen
1979/87 EVP Kyocera Corp
1982 Return to Japan
1989 Advisor Kyocera Corp
1995 Director, Inamori Foundation


1988 Kyoto Pref Distinguished Industrial Service Award
2002 JSSDT Business Leader Award