Friday, March 20, 2015

Friendship through Block Prints

Friendship sometimes happens one day out of the blue. I think I met him on my round of customer calls as a newly assigned sales manager while I was temporarily in Tokyo in the late 1960s, but I can’t recall his face or where and when I met him exactly. Then, I changed jobs and restarted my career in the U.S. for a new employer. I think I left all the business cards of customers I received with the old employer, as per the way of good business ethics - “on leaving, one should see that all is in good order.”

When I received his New Year’s block print greeting card in the U.S., I was quite thrilled and excited. I loved it. Perhaps I was yearning for a taste of Japan I seldom encountered after settling in San Diego in Southern California. For quite a while, I did not exchange letters with even close friends from the previous workplace, but I reciprocated with this innocent stranger, although it was just an annual exchange of New Year's cards over the Pacific Ocean. For some decades, time drifted by so quickly, now that I look back.

The motif of his block prints were mostly in the rich local colors of Tokushima culture, except for a few exceptions. I lost quite a few prints during my relocation within the United States and return to Japan. The exceptions included cards with full print Chinese characters to celebrate the year of his 77th birthday, and a few animals - horse and tiger, from the 12 horary signs. In regards to his association with Tokushima, I thought he was sent back to the local branch of his employer, but perhaps in a few years he was recalled back to Tokyo.

I have a special attachment to Tokushima. Tokushima is where my mother-in-law was born. She belonged to the Taira Clan fugitive Samurai tribal village. Their surnames, like Baba (horse riding ground) and Iba (archery ground) sound intimidating (I had to deal with them after getting married). After facing defeat at the Battle of Yashima (now Takamatsu) in 1185 at the hands of the Genji Clans, the Babas and Ibas fled and lived hidden in the deep mountain valley close to the Iyadani Gorge, far, far away from any town.

Today, Iyadani is a famous hot spring resort and there's a rare suspension bridge made of vines (replaced with a new one every three years). It is a gateway to Mt. Tsurugi (Sword Mountain, elev. 1995 m), one of the highest mountains in Shikoku, along with Mt. Ishizuchi (Stone Hammer, elev. 1982 m) in Ehime Prefecture, both regarded as holy mountains and for asceticism. I climbed Mt. Ishizuchi when I was in junior high school. The Iya River flows into the mighty Yoshino River and into Tokushima City where my Tokushima friend (of block prints) worked.

Displayed here are a few of his block prints:

Tokushima Awa Dancers; Heads of Awa Puppet Dolls (one Naozane Kumagai, Genji Clan warrior, who slew a teenaged Taira Clan commander Atsumori Taira, a nephew of Kiyomori Taira in the battle, and entered into priesthood to mourn for the victim, and the other, Otsuru, a girl pilgrim looking for her parents); Mt. Bizan (shaped like an eyebrow from any angle, elev. 280 m) in the center of Tokushima City; Gokurakuji-Temple, second of the 88 Shikoku temples for the Henro pilgrimage; Mt. Tsurugi already mentioned as above, and last, but not least, a German Bridge. I have visited WW1 German POW Bando Camp and wrote a blog entry about it. I wish to add that German prisoners built this small memorial stone bridge inside the yard of a nearby shrine to show their appreciation to the Bando community as a token of gratitude for the warm reception before leaving. I heard a total of 3,000 stones, weighing 200 tons were used. For more information, you can visit the excellent Facebook Guide “Discover Tokushima.”

When I tried to contact him upon my visit at Tokushima Toastmasters, he had already left. Late last year I received an obituary notice from his wife. I sent my condolences and told her how I loved his block prints. She sent me his photograph and told me that the block printing was his hobby. He always carried his sketch book and engraved wood blocks based on his sketches.

The block print friend’s name was Dr. Toshio Shoman, Professor Emeritus, former faculty member of Engineering at Tokushima University. The pen name Dr. Shoman engraved in red on the block prints was 峯 “Hou” or Feng in Chinese. When I asked about it, Mrs. Shoman wrote back that his pen name was 雄峯 but used only one character for abbreviation. He was born in Toyama and his favorite home town memory was of the snow capped 雄山 Yusan (Xiongshan), elevation 3,000 meters.

A further note regarding Tokushima University - In February 2015, the media reported on Tokushima University receiving a donation from Dr. Shuji Nakamura, now a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, for half of the Nobel Prize money he received for his LED invention. Dr. Namamura was quoted as saying, "I owe my initial basic research to my alma mater university equipment and I hope my donation will serve for future Nobel worthy inventions." Tokushima University suddenly rose up in fame.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Yonagunijima, Westernmost Island of Japan

In writing the blog entry “Suao Carbonated Water Saga”, I wondered if Nanfan-Ao, the fishing port flourishing today, had existed back then. I guessed not. In researching its history, I suspected the possibility was high that the port was named by Yonagunijima (Yona) fishermen around a century ago.

The Japanese bonito fishermen using Port Kubura and Yona as their base ports, wouldn’t have missed a warm ocean current that flowed upward from south of Taiwan into the Northern Pacific. Records have it that Yona fishermen sold part of their catches at Suao and bought food and daily articles. Furthermore, when they faced wild weather during their fishing voyages, they sought a port of shelter and found one God-send, south of Guishandao, with the wind-breaking squat hills. They called the area South of Suao, Nanfan-Ao.

I’m guessing some of them probably settled there in the early 1900s. The colonizing by the Japanese Government might have accelerated relocation of Yona fishermen to Nanfanao. Keelung was the gateway port to Taiwan from Japan. Smart Yona Fishermen and other Okinawans soon had access to Xialiao Island at the mouth of the Keelung River and opened up fish markets for the Japanese coming in, skipping Nanfanao.

Xialiaodao is famous for having an odd rock formation beach. Yona fishermen found Xialiaodao sharing some similarities with Yona. Quite conveniently, the island is connected with a bridge to Keelung. Islanders, not just fishermen, had to take the boat to seek more job opportunities since they were scarce in small Yona. Actually the Japanese official in Taipei was sent to Yona to study how Keelung, Yilan and Yona could help each other build a fishery industry together. Over 500 Okinawans resided in Xialiaodao.

Being interested in Yona, I researched online when and how it was inhabited. Here is what I found. Yonaguni Island was shaped like a sweet potato lain horizontally. The airport is located just about at the center of the north side. In 4 km east of the airport is the scenic spot called Fort Tindabana, a huge block of rock 100 meters tall. This is where the legendary rangatira named San-ai Iriba dwelled in the 16th century.

A boat carrying tributes to the Ryukyu Kingdom from Kumejima Island met with a storm and became shipwrecked. On board were half a dozen men, one woman, and a dog. They landed on uninhabited Yona. As days went by, men disappeared one by one and the only ones left were the woman and the Dog (with unusual power). One day, the woman met a young fisherman from Kohamajima, shipwrecked on the sea.

The woman warned him about the dog and asked him to leave right away. But the fisherman was so charmed with the woman that he didn’t leave the island. Eventually the fisherman was attacked by the dog in a deadly battle. His last weapon was a pole spear for marlin fishing. The woman asked the fisherman where he buried the dog but he would not tell her. The fisherman and the woman became husband and wife and they had seven children.

Eventually the fisherman thought it was about time to disclose where he buried the dog. Since the woman didn’t return to the fort, he went to the site where he buried the dog. The woman had dug up the remains of the dog and killed herself.

The legend says that Yona island people are supposedly descendants of the 7 children. All were skilled in fishing and full of progressive spirit. After the Meiji era, Kubula Port, was a port of call for Kagoshima and Miyazaki and sometimes for Kochi bonito fishing boats. The number of pelagic fishing boats increased as well.

Seemingly Okinawans (inclusive of Yona) did not hurry to leave Taiwan even after the end of the war. Probably they wanted to stay if possible, rather than abandoning their homes and belongings. Their advantage was they had boats to travel and could transport household staffs. Possibly they just waited to see how things ended up.

In 1947, however, the unease and havoc caused by the 228 Taipei massacre triggered Yona’s exodus. Over 30 Okinawans were victims during the turmoil. Some Okinawa fishermen sold boats and left Taiwan via Nanfanao with their families and many stories are retold about how some Taiwanese helped in their evacuation.

In 2012, those unfortunate Okinawan victims were memorialized and a stone monument was erected by the joint efforts of Taiwan and Japan, attended by the Keelung Mayor and Miyakojima Mayor, while the Head Monk of Miyakojima recited mantras. The name Xialiaodao was changed to Hepingdao (Peace Island) to commemorate them.

Monday, March 2, 2015

“敬天愛人” (Jingtien Airen) in Taiwan

Never thought that I would see the meticulous Chinese calligraphy tablet “Jingtien Airen” in Yilan, Taiwan, the teaching of Takamori Nanshu Saigo, often allegorized as the last Samurai. I noticed that his son Kikujiro (1861-1928) was in Yilan County during the Japanese colonial days. When I researched how he wound up in Yilan, I found he had a bizarre life, like his father. He was born in Tatsugo, Okinawa where Takamori was exiled. He was taken to Kagoshima away from his real mother when Takamori was pardoned from exile. As a teenager he was sent to the US to study for a year. Upon his return he fought the Seinan Rebellion War for his father and was wounded in his right knee with a bullet from a gun. He might have been dead without the wound. He was treated at the Government hospital in Kumamoto and Judo Saigo, Takamori’s brother, fighting against Takamori, helped nephew Kikujiro get proper care and operation. Kikujiro lost his right foot below his knee. It was Uncle Judo again who arranged Kikujiro to enter the Meiji Foreign Ministry and was sent to the US again for study and work for the consulate. Upon his return, he was sent to Taiwan, and became the first Yilan County Governor for 5 years (1897-1902).

Arrived coincidentally in Taipei were Shinpei Goto, Administrative Governor and Dr. Inazo Nitobe, in charge of Industrial and Agricultural Development, both aiming at the public stabilization and building of infrastructure. Kikujiro’s plans in Yilan were to deal with river conservation works, expansion of farm lands, road improvements, development of the camphor industry, crop increase,…, etc. so it just happened to match and fit in well.

Yilan County, located (110km) closest to Yaegakijima, Okinawa, boasts today of Suao, one of the best three fishing ports; Mt. Taipin, one (once) of the three best woodlands (shipped cypress and cryptomeria to Japan during colonial days); rich farmland because of frequent rain to produce rice; plenty of great natural scenery; and museums, including one for National traditional culture and arts.

Now back to the story of Kikujiro. One summer, rain started in the morning and gained in strength until it poured in torrents and turned into a sizable storm. One Yilan citizen ran into the County Office. He reported the Yilan River was flooding. Kikujiro opened the local map and ordered his subordinates to inspect various locations and report back immediately. A typhoon approached northern Taiwan and hit Yilan, Keelung, Taipei. The damages were heavier from the floods rather than the wind. Yilan has steep mountains (Mt. Dajiaoxi, ranges of Mt. Xue) and raging muddy runoff poured into the river and broke the Yilan lower river bank, flooding farms and villages. After the typhoon, Kikujiro toured on boat to examine the height of the river bank and concluded that there were no other remedies than to further heighten the dikes. He prioritized work to shore up a 1700m long dike and petitioned Goto with his budget for close to 40,000 yen, an improbable amount at the time of “security first” agenda under the military occupation. The construction took from April 1900 to Sept 1901. The legend has it that Kikujiro was often seen at the construction site limping around. Since he lost his right foot, he was fitted with a custom-made artificial leg from Kyoto and people seldom noticed his handicap.

The Yilan villagers called the completed works the Saigo Dike and Saigo Bridge (the wooden bridge had been replaced with the current Zhongshan Bridge). The monument to praise Kikujiro’s accomplishment was erected by village volunteers some years after Kikujiro left Yilan.

Although many of the Japanese monuments or relics had been destroyed by Kuo Ming Tang but this Saigo monument survived. My Taiwan friend wrote to me - “Why you may ask? Because the dike and the monument were used as supporting structure for shanty houses for refugees after the war and hid it's presence until 1990 when the Dike was rebuilt again. By then the political atmosphere had changed.” This monument was established more than twenty years after Saigo left Yilan. It indicates that people were truly thankful. It was not put up to flatter him while he was a Yilan district magistrate.

Yilan River flows south and meets the Dongshan River where both empty into the Pacific Ocean. Port Suao is south of this confluence.

Additional Information:

Blog page about Saigo Monument

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Taiwan Carbonated Water Saga: Nobukage Takenaka in Suao, Yilan County

Okinawa is close to Taiwan. How close? Well, Naha and Jilong or Keelung are about 600 kilometers (400 miles) apart. However, Yonagunijima, the westernmost of the Yaegakijima islands is only 110 kilometers from Suao and Yilan County. I wrote a post three years ago about a team of six Japanese swimmers swam across the ocean to thank the Taiwan people for the generous donations to the 311 Japanese Tohoku Tsunami/Earthquake victims.

I found two wonderful stories, one each from Suao and Yilan, that I will post. The first story takes place in Suao.

In 1895, S. S. Sendai-Maru carried Japanese soldiers to Suao, including our protagonist Nobukage Takenaka (1862 - 1942), serving as a transportation captain. He, however, was in fact a civilian commissariat, sailing as soon as the Treaty of Shimonoseki was concluded between Qing and Japan.

Born in Wakayama, Nobukage succeeded the famous Daimyo Takenaka, comparable to Kuroda Clans; both clans had served Taiko Hideyoshi (1537-1598). Takenaka was in Manchuria first, but enlisted himself to disembark in Taiwan. In quenching his thirst upon disembarkation, he tried Suao water and was happily jolted. It was the carbonated water as per the rumors floating among the soldiers. He had to march on as the taste of Suao water lingered in his memory, along with scenery of great beaches and fishing port.

Nobukage must have found Taiwan the country of his destiny after traveling as a civilian roundsman and after relocating from Manchuria. He was 50 years old around the turn of the new century. He became the most well known Japanese settler in Taiwan, remarrying (lost his first wife) and inviting his kin from Japan. He chose to settle in Suao without hesitation and engaged himself in the carbonated water business.

It had ion values of 68 ppm carbonate, 14.3 ppm sodium, 10.7 ppm calcium respectively. The water originated from the foot of the nearby Qixingshan spring. In addition to help building the railroad, he also built a small research shop named “Takenaka Natural Carbonated Water Plant”, thus was called the Father and Developer of Suao Cold Spring. He knew about "Hiranosui", the water of Hirano in Hyogo, Japan, sold later as Mitsuya brand Soda. To compete, he worked out his production dispensing with tap water. “Natural” was his magic word.

His son Shuzo was born in 1904, during his trial and error period, which gave him unyielding courage to pursue his dream.

The year 1919, the plant sold 224,280 codd-necked bottles. In 1922, he succeeded in winning the Silver Prize at the Tokyo Industrial Products Fair.

Pending his happy retirement, Nobukage faced a major headache. His son Shuzo didn’t show any interest in succeeding his father’s profession and announced his engagement to a girl he was in love with. (Shuzo and Haruko were grade school classmates but lived very different lives until an accidental reunion in a Taipei Japanese bookstore. Haruko was looking for piano sheet music while Shuzo for Dostoevsky novels.) There were many family complications because Haruko was an Okinawan, often a victim of discrimination. It was Nobukage who gave in because he lost his second wife and his sisters left him to get married. Upon returning to Suao, Shuzo and Haruko gave him four grandchildren. But alas, he lost Shuzo in 1935.

Please take a look at the photo of the surviving Takenaka family - Nobukage, Haruko and four grandchildren. Let me introduce Nobuko (Nakamura) and Mitsuko (Nishimura), second and third granddaughters of Nobukage. Nobukage passed away in 1942 and was buried in the Qixingshan hillside. In 1946, Haruko and her four children returned to Japan without any relatives to rely on. They settled in Moji, Kitakyushu, following an ex-soldier’s advice (who came to work at the Takenaka Plant after the V-J Day).

I’m glad to discover the family history of Mitsuko Nishimura, who is cofounder of the Kitakyushu Toastmasters. Attached please read 1) Mitsuko's speeh "My Message to 21st Century" (English) recorded at the Fukuoka Toastmasters 50th Anniversary (shown at the bottom of the post); and 2) Nobuko’s memoir (Japanese) of her mother Haruko, who struggled for the family's survival as the main breadwinner. I hardly read them without tears.

In 2002, the Suao municipal government celebrated the reopening of Suao Cold Spring Park with a stone monument, and invited relatives of Nobbukage Takenaka from Japan. Introduced as the main guest by Suao Town Mayor was Nobuko Takenaka (Nakamura), as the author of "Woman History in Japanese Colonial Periods - Meiji, Taisho and Showa” (in 4 volumes) - all translated into Taiwanese.

Nobuko was accompanied by Sachiko Nagano, daughter of Mitsuko Nishimura and others. Per Nobuko and Sachiko, red bricks used for the park were originally Takenaka's. A toast to Nobukage Takenaka and his family!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Memories from World War II

2015 marks the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II, the year Imperial Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Forces. The aging generation who survived the war consisted of children growing up during the war (1930 - 1945) wherever they were at the time - Japan proper, neighboring Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria. The children in Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria had to return to Japan, the land of their parents. We knew we had to live with a moral obligation to earn redemption on behalf of our parents in dealing with such close neighbors, but lost contact 70 years ago.

My wife was born in Nampo, North Korea, and her family, after a few years under Russian occupation, voluntarily attempted border crossing at the 38th parallel to reach Seoul and Pusan and boated down to Sasebo (See reunion photos of Nampo returnees, mostly from the second generation. They have a motto "Our home is where we meet".) My Fukuoka friend TM (Toastmaster) Oishi was born in Rason, formerly Rajin-Sonbong, northeastern tip of North Korea, bordering Vladiostok. He took the Jirin land route, China, and back to Dandong to cross the Yalu River. He re-entered in North Korea and headed south to Japan. TM Oshiumi residing in Wakamatsu, Kitakyushu was born in Daegu, South Korea. Both Oishi and Oshiumi told me they have attended Korean school reunions. I know they were both studying Korean Hangl.

TM Mitsuko Nishimura, cofounder of Kitakyushu Toastmasters and her two sisters, born in Taiwan, were boated north from Keelung to Kagoshima. I read that Mitsuko tried to talk to local Japanese women farmers in Kagoshima but was baffled with an answer she couldn’t understand. This was the first of many reverse culture shock she experienced. It was the Kagoshima dialect! I remembered TM Oishi similarly was baffled with the Saga dialect.

My Kumamoto friend TM Uemura was born near Taichung. We traveled together to Taichung when we attended the Taiwan Toastmasters Conference. She took time to visit where she was born during the conference. I accompanied my Tokyo workmate Shimada to Taipei on his first-time return to Taipei where he was born. I introduced him to Taiwan Toastmaster Mrs. Quo who had taught at Ximen Elementary School. Shimada’s Nanmen school was close to Ximen Elementary. Mrs. Quo talked to the principal of Nanmen Elementary School and Shimada received a graduation certificate when he visited his mother school. I was very impressed with Mrs. Quo’s arrangements.

I found out that in 2002, Mrs. Quo organized a reunion of Ximen school classmates, Taiwanese and Japanese, to commemorate the 90th year since school opening and published an awesome book titled “Old Dreams-Deep Compassion” with collected essays from some of the participants. Now she is preparing a belated 100th reunion in March 2015.

The following is a quote from this book:

On board the repatriation boat - We were loaded into the vessel hold in a huddle, no free room to move and slept over rush-mat rug. Once out on the open ocean, the rolling of the vessel became intense and most passengers got seasick. They started vomiting and the bad smell filled the hold. They withdrew and grew lethargic, made no conversations and had lost their appetite. There were few semi-invalid passengers who died in such awful circumstances. Only those who could afford it went up to the deck and attended their burial at sea. The voyage took about a week. Upon disembarking, we all went through quarantine, being sprayed DDT from head to the sole of our feet.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hocus Pocus Medicine from Kitakyushu Folklore

This story dates back to when humans were close to Kappa, mythical water creatures. It takes place in Koyanose, one of the Nagasaki Kaido Stations between Iizuka and Kurosaki. The mighty River Onga flows through Koyanose.

Children Kappa were hanging out at the river all day, bathing, and rollicking with each other. They particularly liked Sumo wrestling and would practice until the top of their saucer-like heads were almost dry and had to jump back into the water.

One day, a Kappa, imitating human children, pulled a hair from a horse tail for a fishing line. He approached the grazing horse from behind and the surprised horse kicked the Kappa with his hind leg.

"Ouch! It hurts!" He cried out in pain and his arm hung limp. An elder Kappa passing by examined the sobbing Kappa. The elder wrote a 'prescription' and told him to take it quickly to a human doctor. The prescription read:

“Half a snail shell, one whisker from a stray cat, two pieces of yam, and three seeds from a Mt. Hobashira cedar tree. Stir until all mixed together and apply it to the affected limb. Last but not least, make sure to place four cucumbers on top of head.”

Lo, the child Kappa was healed from his wounds. All Kappa kin flocked to visit the doctor, claiming it was an old remedy handed down from ancestors. The doctor prospered, and his patients exited the hospital with cucumbers placed on the top of their heads.

The following is why and how the English version of "Kitakyushu Folklore" was created.

1. Bamboo Press started the trend

In the mid 1990s (just about the time I returned from the U.S. and relocated from Tokyo to Kitakyushu), the Newsletter Bamboo Press (now defunct, see photo) published quarterly issues edited by the Kitakyushu International Association (KIA), introduced translations of "Kitakyushu Folklore" stories, originally published by the "Kitakyushu Urban Association". Translators were successive editors, pairs of Japanese and Americans, including my friend Jesse Rude; I found them interesting and a boost to local pride and history. Upon discontinuation, I counted about a dozen stories, not enough material to warrant a book.

2. Kitakyushu Toastmasters (TMs) bridges the gap

In 2013, Kitakyushu City celebrated its 50th anniversary. The city with a population of one million was established in 1963 by the equal-basis amalgamation of five cities: Moji, Kokura, Wakamatsu, Yahata and Tobata. Many celebrations participated in the celebration in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNIDO and OECD. Multiple events took place, such as the International Conference on Future of Cities, Promotion of Eco-Cities Network in South East Asia and Mayors Forum "Urban Green Growth in Dynamic Asia, along with citizen sporting events, a marathon and Nagasaki Kaido Walks.

To commemorate the 15th anniversary, I proposed my Kitakyushu TMs to donate at least 10 translations of Kitakyushu folklore to match up with the dozen translations of the above Bamboo Press Newsletters and the proposal was accepted. The Kitakyushu TMs started working immediately, but finished late. It was March in 2014 that we submitted it in the form of a CD Master to Kitakyushu City Foundation for Promoting Arts and Culture, the NPO body, successor to the Kitakyushu Urban Association.

3. Promotional Endeavors

I felt responsible for Kitakyushu TMs who donated their time to translate. So, I tried my best to advertise the English version "Kitakyushu Folklore" my own way thinking it would be helpful for studying English at the elementary and junior high school levels. I selected three stories and presented each of them as a monologue "story-telling" at TM meetings. The stories were:

  • Sugao Fall - summer 2014, Kitakyushu TM meeting
  • Yakara-sama - summer 2014, Shimonoseki TM meeting
  • Hocus-pocus Medicine - Dec 2014, Joint TM (Fukuoka, Iizuka, Kitakyushu, Shimonoseki) meeting

I favored Yakara-sama, the story of Heike refugees and Genji pursuers - a matter of life or death situation which transcends time. "Imagine that killers have invaded your neighborhood. They're in your house, and you and your neighbors are hiding in the cellar. Your baby starts to cry. If you had to press your hand over the baby’s face until the fighting stopped - if you had to smother the baby to save everyone else - would you do it?"

4. Some thoughts on Copyright

I know folklore would be hard to dispute copyright, because it is too old and is considered communal knowledge. But I have heard UNESCO WIPO pondering exceptions such as Peru's "Condor Passa." I believe Kitakyushu can claim Kitayushu Folklore copyright on the contemporary versions in both Japanese and English. However, it is my understanding that theatrical performance for educational purposes is always free of copyright fees.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Amazing Singapore Part 3 – Country Standards

Here in Japan, the year-end snap election brought Prime Minister Abe his victory after touting his “Abenomix” mandate, but the voter turnout was low. It was 52.66%, the lowest rate since the end of World War II. Almost half of the Japanese population did not vote. In Singapore, non-voting is illegal, so you have to pay a fine if you do not vote.

Singapore is notorious as a ‘fine bound’ country, but I find it rather affirming and motivating. They are designed for good causes and help enhance morals of the general public. For instance, smoking is banned (only three locations are designated for smoking in the state). As a non-smoker, I like the strictness of the law. I understand they have come a long way to become acknowledged as a non-smoking country. Their smoking population should be less than that of Japan (one out of six Japanese smokes). Japan Tobacco has advocated that smokers use designated areas only or vapor break rooms to little or no avail. I give a big applause to the Singapore Government, especially for reducing risks from despicable secondhand smoke (SHS). Japanese roads would be much cleaner without cigarette butts.

Regarding other laws, I can appreciate Singapore laws on gum. I heartily agree on Jay walking. I had some trouble with taxi stands. I’m one of the Japanese spoiled with the ease and convenience of hailing or by finger snapping on the street, inviting risks in traffic flow. In Singapore, you definitely need a smartphone and a location map of taxi stands. Singapore traffic flow is greatly controlled by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) with an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) scheme used throughout the entire island. The LTA overhead gantries collect tolls and parking fees from all the cars equipped with electronic tags (IU) on the roads. The pay-when-you-use principle helps make motorist more aware of the true cost of driving. Thus the road usage can be optimized. They are one of the few traffic gridlock-less countries in Asia!

My stay in Singapore was just one week, and my island destinations were limited to areas where I could travel by bus and MRT. But as I previously mentioned, my Singapore host kindly drove me to the old Ford Motor Factory (the historic surrender site of the British to Imperial Japan) and Lim Chukan Jetty, where you view Malaysia across the Johore Strait. This Lim Chukan Jetty seems to be one of the last few surviving wooden jetties used as docks for the offshore kelongs (seafarers' villages built on stilts) and aqua-farms. We drove through an intricate maze and rows of cemeteries to reach the jetty and narrowly exited out of the tangled waterways and the army training camp. I was reminded that Singapore has a draft mandate.

On this trip, I picked up a new word “Kiasu", which I thought was antiquated as in Singlish, if not anachronistic. Kiasu comes from Chinese “Pah Shu” (Mandarin) and “Kia Su (Hokkien), meaning “fear of losing” or "hate to lose." The competitive spirit beyond the fear factor is referred to as one of the top values and behavioral traits of Singaporeans. No wonder economic prosperity and political stability are associated with this national mindset. This philosophy has helped guide them in competition and negotiations, and led to success in getting the most out of every transaction. The per capita GNP exceeded Japan’s long ago. Perhaps it also made them immune to criticism. I would like to see their Kiasu curbed slightly and shift their focus toward altruism for their neighbors.

I started to read Catherine Lim’s novel “Rice Bowl” (first edition "Times London" in 1984), the winner of the first Singapore literature prize. The story is about politics, imperialism and race, set at the time of the Vietnam War. I found her book equally exciting as reading Lee Kuan Yew's autobiography. The names of venues are all very familiar to me now. 'Rice Bowl' per Singlish dictionary is a lifesaver, the source of man’s survival.