Tuesday, August 9, 2022

A Marvelous Journey and Lifetime of Memories

Woo-Hoo! Tamiko made Mt. Fuji at her “Beiju” celebration by publishing her 47-page long life story or portfolio titled: “Tamiko Imamura”.

About a year and half ago, I had collected speeches Tamiko made at Kitakyushu Toastmasters and sent them to our daughter, Yukina Warner, in Santa Barbara, California for editing. I did not hear back from her until this Spring. I received a tiny USB drive from Yukina, saying she consolidated Mom’s speeches into a near 50-page worth of text. Our daughter Yukina had shuffled and edited and made a stunning masterpiece for her mother, Tamiko. Thank you, Yukina, for the wonderful job you did.

It was the greatest of timing since Tamiko was to celebrate her Beiju Anniversary and she did so with fanfare by publishing her life story. “Beiju” or “Yoneju” in Japan comes from the fact that the character “rice” can be broken down into the characters “88”.

She received many positive reactions from her many friends.

Jody Dulin, our friend from San Diego wrote:

"Absolutely beautiful. Such an adventurous life you have led. I have learned throughout the years how very important it was for you to return to Japan. It is incredible that your family has stayed very bonded in spite of distances. Your entire family exudes love. What an example for the world. Sending lots of love and admiration"

Another review came from our Taiwanese friend, Paul Lee who lives in Taichung.

“Thank you very much for showing me your journey and education through Toastmasters 1997-2016. You have enjoyed a diverse and fruitful life.”

The beautiful Rose Bud at the bottom of the post came from Tamiko's friends in Kitakyushu.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

My Pen Pal in China

It was during the mid-90s, right after I retired and returned from the US (after a 40-year stay) to Japan and started thinking about visiting China next. I was searching for a pen pal to exchange letters and I found one. I wrote to him in Chinese and he wrote back in Japanese, both of us benefiting from writing in our second or third language to brush up.

I became acquainted with Zhu Guanshan, a college student of Jilin University, through the courtesy of a Japanese language teacher heading to the university. Zhu-San and I exchanged letters often, Zhu-San expressing his wish to visit Japan as an exchange student while in college (I believe he made it but I did not get a chance to meet him when he did).

Zhu-san, was hired by a company in Shanghai after graduating from Jilin University. Our correspondence continued as before. I visited Beijing, Kunming, and other places in China, each for over a month in 1996. I also started visiting Taiwan as a Toastmaster around 2000. As a side-note, 2003 was my busiest year, starting with visits to Berlin and the rest of Europe in the spring, followed by the Toastmaster Convention in Atlanta, Georgia and then attending the 20th Anniversary of Minato Japanese Language School in San Diego in November.

Zhu-san luckily found my October calendar clear with his invitation to his wedding. I accepted it thinking the ceremony would take place in Shanghai, an easy location to fly into from Kitakyushu. The ceremony happened to be in Jilin in Northeast China, formerly known as Manchuria. Jilin borders the Heilongjiang Province to the northeast, Russia to the east, North Korea to the southeast, Liaoning to the southwest and Inner Mongolia to the northwest, a most fascinating destination for a tourist.

I politely declined his request. Then he promised to send his friend to meet me at Shenyang Airport and accompany me to Jilin for a 400 km railroad trip. How can I refuse such an offer? I accepted.

To make a long story short, I enjoyed the trip to Jilin and the wedding ceremony with more than a hundred people. I still remember the hard drill of memorizing my congratulatory message in Chinese (text attached).

I am happy to post the latest Zhu San’s family photos he sent me here.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

August 5, 1945: The Day I lost my loving grandparents

Today, May 15, Okinawa marks 50 years since reversion from U.S. rule, inviting Prime Minister Kishida, despite its long-stated hope of becoming a peaceful island free of military bases. It is 87 years after Japan’s unconditional surrender of war by the calamitous two atomic bombs felled on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9).

I was 14-years old in 1945, living in “Imabari”, 2nd largest city - facing Seto Inland Sea in Ehime Prefecture. My town is known for quality towel producing mills. My father was just over 40-years old and was drafted into the army. My younger brothers and sister evacuated to an off-shore island where my mother was born. I lived with my grandparents and my mother. I was a student worker and started to work at one of the mills converted into an airplane wing manufacturing plant.

On August 5 around 11PM, 64 Boeing 29 Bombers came (US Op #316, 58th US Squadron) carrying 500-pound M19 incendiary cluster bombs (2,449 pcs) and 56 T4E4 and 32 AR-M64 regular cluster bombs. Incendiary cluster was set to release at 160m and regular at 900m height.

The raids started with 4 parachute flares to defy blackout enforcement kept by Imabari citizens with numberless showers of incendiary bombs. A total of 66 B-29 Bombers took turns dropping incendiary bombs for another two hours. Reported 80% of the city houses perished and was reduced to ashes. 454 persons were dead, including my grandparents, and 150 were heavily injured. Total house loss by fire was 8199. Victims numbered 34,200, including us.

Prior to the heavy air-raids, Imabari had a few minor bomb attacks by Boeing B-29s, including time bombs and rare low flying Grumman fighter machine gun attacks in 1944 and 1945.

My grandparents used to seek shelter at the nearest forested park. We searched for them in vain. They did not return. We concluded that the bomb hit them. Mom and I fled out of the burning streets to the rice paddies, found an irrigation gutter and crouched there breathless until dawn.

All we had were padded hoods. We lost everything. We did not know how to continue living. We were eventually assigned to a barn in a nearby village farm until the end of war.

We heard rumors about a new bomb dropped in Hiroshima but there were no details.

Recently I obtained a copy of the newspaper and saw a photo of an incendiary bomb for the first time. My recollection of the bomb was a metallic sheathed bomb, about less than a meter, uncovered from the ruins after the fire.

In regards to the Boeing B-29 bomber, I learned that my son-in-law’s father Raymond, a Carnegie Tech graduate, was a navigator during World War II. He told me his first assignment was to take a brand-new B-29 to Manila from Texas. It took three stops to the Philippines, including Hawaii. Japan could be reached from Manila. Panhu Islands or Pescadores are the boundaries.

He once took me to one of the old bombers to show where he sat, among the crew of 10 to 12. We became good friends since the wedding ceremony of my daughter and his son. He lived in Riverdale, California. We share our great grandchildren. RIP.

In June 1943, US defeated Japan at the battle of Saipan in the Mariana Islands, leaving Japanese archipelago within reach of the B-29 bombers. We used to look up high 10,000 meters to see them in formation, shining in the blue sky without being challenged. I heard a dozen stories of Japanese fighter planes ramming into them, especially in Kitakyushu and wondered how the small fighter planes could climb so high.

I learned that San Diego, where I spent 20 years, was heavily involved in airplane manufacturing, particularly the Boeing 29s, under Lockheed Martin. Americans produced a total of 18,482 B-29s, possibly in Nebraska, Kansas, Florida, Texas or California. Montgomery Airport in Kearny Mesa may have been a possible production site, the backyard of 3611 Balboa Avenue. My salute to all involved, regardless of enemy or ally.

Monday, March 14, 2022

March 4

"Ladies/Gentlemen, yesterday (March 4), I completed my 91st year and today started my 92nd calendar year. The best birthday message I received was from a woman friend, a Japanese lady and a great skier from Hokkaido, now living in Yokohama. Was it from Yokohama? Nope! It came from the famous Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains Ski Resorts, the 2010 Vancouver Olympic site, via Facebook Messenger. Never thought she would travel across the Pacific and remember my birthday. Messages were coming in from my children in the US as usual but this skier's message was UNEXPECTED and SPECIAL and made my day. I danced with joy with wavering emotion."

I received another half dozen messages from overseas, a number of Taiwan friends, and Facebook friends.

During the New Year this year, Toshiki Kaifu, the 76th and 77th Prime Minister passed away. He was born in January, 1931, and I thought he was the most successful of our generation. During boyhood, he and I shared the same experiences working as mobilized students at the airplane manufacturing plants. Kaifu was at MHI Nagoya and I at Toray-turned MHI near Hiroshima. I learned that he passed a test to become a boyhood pilot, same as I. I regarded him as a fellow comrade who survived the tumultuous Showa war-time era. Kaifu went to Waseda University, majoring in politics and refining his natural gift of oratory eloquence, but immediately took a job as disciple/secretary of Kensho Kono (1910-1958), a Liberal Democrat politician with free three-meal benefits. Kaifu also helped Mrs. Kono win the election (for one term) upon the death of her husband, which helped him cultivate his own political constituency after this endeavor. Kaifu got elected in 1960 as the youngest Dietman in 1960; then during the scandalous 1980s Recruit's Insiders Trading affairs, he was miraculously chosen as the “cleanest” politician to head the Liberal Democratic Party. Kaifu was 58 years old then.

Now here is my story! What I craved for in my teen years, in reflection, was adventure of other worlds. I was born by the sea – exploring the ocean while growing up! - wherever! - you have to work to live! - then, must learn a foreign language and appreciate different cultures - as well as to increase your sales value - chose (major in) English - first got a hard translation job - studied technology commuting to a two-year college on electricity at night. Was "lucky" enough to go on a first overseas trip in 1957 before the official foreign exchange - then a stable job in NYC in the ‘60s, then on to San Diego, California in ‘70s and ‘80s with family - returned to Japan in 1995. Would have stayed living in California except for an agreement with my spouse - my Californian Dreams shattered and broken.

What have I achieved in California? Work life as compared with my comrade Kaifu? In 1989, I was promoted to Corporate Officer of a US Subsidiary of a Japanese company. That's only two years later than Kaifu becoming the Transportation Minister in Prime Minister Takeshita’s cabinet. Not bad, right? I regularly spoke to over 100 plant employees before they started work.

My speech experience helped when I started working on my Toastmaster speeches upon returning to Japan. DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster) Award was consigned to me in 2002, about 5 years after joining the worldwide TM Organization. What I like about TM is that it is a non-profit organization and members are the top tier of the organization, followed by clubs, areas, divisions, districts, regions, headquarters and board of directors (at very bottom) in an inverted organizational chart. You can make as many friends as you like without involving anybody and members are all supportive in achieving excellence, particularly in communication and friendship. TM became my social backbone after retirement. I was reborn and re-established as an ardent TM, traveling all over Japan, Kyushu in particular, in helping TM clubs grow from cradle to being chartered. TM activities became my sense of life fulfillment.

On family life - I am proud my son graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a Master's degree in mechanical engineering and completing the Executive Masters of Business Administration from San Diego State University. He was honored to speak at graduation as valedictorian. My daughter graduated from San Diego State University with a Master's degree in music and she married her classmate who pursued and got his Doctorate. My daughter has given me grandchildren - a granddaughter, now a quality engineer with a chemical engineering degree, and a grandson who is now a freshman at University of California, San Diego. My California Dreams reborn.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

US-Canadian Borders: My Connection

This morning paper surprised me as I was familiar with all the names and locations in the article. It read as follows:

It was about the Canadian borders with the U.S (truckers freedom convoy) in Canada.

The three border crossings are:

  1. Coutts, Alberta, to Sweet Grass, Montana
  2. Emerson, Manitoba, to Pembina, North Dakota
  3. The Ambassador Bridge at Detroit and Windsor, Ontario

First, about the Coutts border. In August 2008, my son-in-law Raymond Warner III (the 3rd) and I attended the Calgary Toastmasters International Convention. On the way to Calgary, I was scheduled to do a presentation at the Japanese Canadian Museum in Burnaby, neighboring Vancouver City, British Columbia, about my Japanese translation of Joanne Oppenheim’s “Dear Miss Breed”. In fact, I was to deliver a dozen translated books to the museum signed by me for the readers gathering there. I thought I had enough time to travel in a rented car, from Vancouver Airport to Burnaby, but an unusual delay at the Canadian customs clearance made my arrival at the museum half an hour late.

I apologized to my audience of 30 people waiting for my arrival. Thankfully, the event went off well.

Raymond and I then drove to Banff (probably my 3rd visit) to the Calgary Toastmasters Convention where TM Kiminari Azuma was representing Japan as a D76 speaker and I wanted to cheer him on.

Raymond's Google direction in 2008 read as follows:

From Calgary, drive down 180 miles south, about 3 miles, take Blackfoot & Deerfoot Trails SE, take Crowsnest Hwy E, Hwy-2 S, Hwy-3E/Red Coat Trail E toward Lethbridge, Card-stone/Fort Macleod, turn right at Hwy 2, now entering US-89.

Coutts is 60 miles southwest of Lethbridge. I was close to Coutts but Raymond and I didn't go through I-15. Raymond wanted to take me on a tour of Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton-Mormon Row, Jackson, Idaho Falls, Craters of the Moon, (almost all are National Parks) before returning the rental car in Boise, Idaho.

I read that Coutts was a town of 250 mostly senior citizens, expanded further at Milk River, previously the site of an RCMP checkpoint. Now Coutts is the busiest port of entry for Alberta and Montana, seeing 800-1200 trucks pass through daily, and is critical to Alberta’s beef and meatpacking industry. The 'truckers freedom convoy' otherwise known as the anti-vaccine mandate protest has prevented hundreds of truckers from transporting their cargo across the Canadian-US border.

Next, about Emerson, Alberta. I visited my Toastmaster friend Rob Duncan in Winnipeg, Manitoba after attending the Toastmaster Chicago Convention in 2000. Rob was stationed in Iizuka City hospital, Fukuoka for a few years (near Kitakyushu). While in Iizuka, he installed Iizuka Toastmasters ahead of Kitakyushu. I wanted to listen to his motivation as well as background.

While in Winnipeg, I extended my trip to Regina to visit Verna Mitura, a Canadian friend I met at the Hino English Club. She represented the Canadian Government in agriculture, a career woman. First, I drove from Winnipeg to Regina straight and just saw nothing but wheat fields. So, when returning to Winnipeg, I took the border routes. I recognized Emerson on my return route. There was a huge International Peace Garden, located on the Canadian/American border near Boissevain, Manitoba/Dunseith, N, Dakota, where I spent a lovely afternoon. I traced border routes through Turtle Mountain, etc. and at Emerson/Pembina, drove straight up north back to Winnipeg.

Lastly, about the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit. I didn't see the Ambassador Bridge, but the name sounded familiar. It was Spring 1957. I was a lucky greenhorn fresh from college to accompany two 'big bosses' as their interpreter traveling almost all major US cities. Detroit then was a must-visit city for businessmen and that's where my Fulbright Professor McCormick taught - Wayne U! The doctor marked my English essay 99! When I telephoned, he was so glad to hear from me and invited me to his home for dinner. He told me that Detroit is the only city south of Canada at that crossing.

The article brought forth fond memories of my travels in the US and Canada and the border crossings, particularly with Raymond in particular. I kept Montana travel routings and diaries printed and bound in a booklet formatted by Raymond in my bookshelf.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

A Gift to Wife - A Trip to El Morro, Puerto Rico

“Imagine the refreshment of finding water after days of dusty travel. A reliable waterhole hidden at the base of a sandstone bluff made El Morro (the headland) a popular campsite for hundreds of years. Here, Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish and American travelers carved over 2,000 signatures, dates, messages, and petroglyphs. Make El Morro National Monument a stopping point on your travels.“

This is the 'catchphrase' of the National Monument of Pueblo, New Mexico. Beside El Morro I introduced in my post on the Pacific Coast, there are quite a few El Morro sites in the US. The one I know well is in the Caribbean, formally called Castillo San Felipe del Morro - the fortification on the corner of the islet of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is celebrating the 500th anniversary of the city's founding as the oldest city in the United States.

Spain ruled the island for about 500 years. England and the Netherlands were two countries to first challenge Spain. England tried three times (1595, 1598, 1797), all in vain, the Netherlands once in 1625. Then the US challenged in 1898 in the Spanish-American War and won.

I was sent to New York City by my employer in March 1963, when my daughter Yukina was only a few weeks old. My family joined me in June of that year.

I worked at 40 Worth Street, downtown, near West Broadway, renting two desks inside a medium-sized (70 employees) trading company dealing primarily in iron and steel chains. Two desks were for me and my partner - Guy Karaki, younger and a dynamic character, an excellent electrical engineer who graduated from Tokyo Denki University in Kanda, Tokyo. Both of us had to walk to the nearby deserted Hudson River warehouse to ship measuring instruments after the “Ima-Ima” (now-now) calibration to fulfill the occasional customer orders. We already knew that Americans use the so-called “all-in-one” multi-purpose testers, disregarding standalone ammeters, voltmeters, wattmeters, or ohm-meters. So, Karaki and I had tactics to sell, with some success, more sophisticated hysteresis tracers (priced at $5,000) to some higher-level institutions.

As the year-end approached, I mentioned to Karaki that we owe everything to our wives who took care of our children in an unfamiliar environment. Can we offer them a trip during the New Year? First, he looked puzzled, but consented. I finally suggested a weeklong trip to San Juan, PR.

I cautioned him the deal was between us. Do not tell anybody about our plans, not even our employers in Tokyo.

We purchased the tickets and provided detailed instructions on where to visit. Off they went. The El Morro in Old San Juan was included in the plan. We babysat the kids. We thanked them in an unorthodox way then and we loved listening to them talk about their trip.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Karaki passed away after returning to Japan and Karaki himself passed away about 10 years ago. RIP to both. Amen.

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.