Monday, June 4, 2018

Matsura Sayohime

Japan and Korea face each other across the Tsushima Strait with only 200 kilometers of distance between them. Their relationship goes back to prehistoric days. Japan was close to the Kingdom Baekje, through Buddhism, between royal families.  During the 6th Century, Baekje was invaded by the neighboring Silla Kingdom, allied with the Tang Dynasty of China. Despite the sign of impending downfall, Japan sent reinforcements upon Baekje’s desperate request according to Nihon Shoki, the second oldest history book of ancient Japan. Tang’s ships waiting at Baekgang inlet dispatched Japan’s ships in no time, leading to the demise of the Baekje Kingdom.

The defeat brought panic to Japan.  The thinking was that Korea and China allies might invade Japan soon. Japan garrisoned soldiers at strategic posts in northern Kyushu, and named Dazaifu the key fortress.  Many men were conscripted to the remote bordering posts. Sad poems were written of those garrisoned soldiers away from their homes in a Manyoshu Anthology, the first written form dossiers compiled by our ancestors.

Manyoshu has also featured poems sung for Matsura Sayohime, a local maiden who fell in love with Satehiko Otomo, destined for Baekje from Karatsu beach. Satehiko gave a beautiful mirror to Sayohime, saying “Please hold this as if this is me”. When his boat was leaving, Sayohime climbed up Kagamiyama Mountain, shouted his name, waved her Kimono sleeves. She chased after the boat, crossed over the Matsura River, reached Kabeshima Island. She eventually became paralysed due to her deep sadness.

Two Manyo poets who sung for Sayohime were Tabito Otomo, related to Satehiko and Dazaifu Governor General, and Okura Yamanoue, Chikuzen Governor.  Okura reportedly immigrated to Japan from Baekje accompanied by his father when Baekje perished. He is one of my favorite Manyo poets. This Sayohime story became popular through Manyoshu. About 500 years later, Noh Master Zeami wrote a Noh play based on it. However, it was forgotten until recently to be rediscovered and I’m happy to report that I recently saw the Sayohime Noh play in Fukuoka.

The month of April also saw the historic breakthrough of hostility between two Koreas, South and North and declaration of peace and denuclearization. We, the Japanese, wish to see the kidnapped Japanese by North Korea soon returned for long awaited family reunions. 

Learning:  Sorrow, at any age, is immutable, today just as in the olden days.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Kitakyushu Guide in English

In mid January, one of the local papers to which I subscribe to carried a line that any citizen was entitled to a free city guidebook in English at the City Hall, first come, first serve.  I dropped in the City Hall to pick it up on my way home from the downtown Kinko Store. Boy oh boy!  I claim the 50-page  booklet I saw is the best Kitakyushu Guidebook I’ve ever seen. The name Kitakyushu High School is printed as you flipped past the cover, “an English version of Kitakyushu Heritage, Oct. 2017”. 

I called the City to ask which Kitakyushu High, as I saw there were two different addresses on the telephone directory. The answer: there are 2 schools with the same name, one ‘Prefectural’ and the other ‘Municipal’.  The booklet was made by Kitakyushu High Pref. 

I had some questions to ask and wanted to compare the English booklet with the original Japanese version.  I wrote to the Principal requesting if and when we could have a meeting.  He appreciated my interest and I met with him a month later, at the end of February.  The last school semester is the busiest season for new students’ entrance examination, and graduation ceremony for the graduating seniors. The principal arranged our meeting with a few students, all on the student council and two teachers in charge, an English teacher and an adviser to the student council. I carried to school my Japanese translation of Dear Miss Breed and a CD "Kitakyushu Old Folklore",  English translations by Kitakyushu Toastmasters Club.

I learned that the original “Kitakyushu Heritage” had 128 pages, almost two times longer than the English version, was printed in Oct 2016, one year ahead of the English version.  This is the milestone book they had long cherished to publish to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their alma mater which took almost three years from planning to completion.   In the postscript, editors congratulated and thanked all students engaged in the field trips to collect information, perhaps burned the midnight oil to shuffle photos and drafts. The English translation idea came when the students planned a Taiwan trip as a communication tool with Taiwanese students.  It took a dozen students six months to work intensely with the help of the English teacher and an Assistant Language Teacher.  Students reminisced how hard it was to shorten the originals at their discretion. 

As I reviewed, a three page story on each theme in Japanese was shortened to two pages in the English version.  Some of the content that was cut were generally of negative city images because of the negative legacy from WWII, such as the Imperial Japanese Army Arsenal in Kokura, etc. “Very well done!" I congratulated the staff and the students.

Both Japanese and English books were quite a surprise to me and I wish to thank and salute the Kitakyushu High School students’ enthusiasm and voluntary contribution to Kitakyushu society.  They set a great example to us grown citizens, especially to us seniors. The tourist industry circles should learn from this project and be inspired. 

Lastly the English booklet was distributed as follows:

500 copies to the Kitakyushu International Airport
300 copies carried and handed out in Taiwan as the students traveled from Taipei to Tainan
300 copies to Kitakyushu City Government

Monday, February 19, 2018


Last Friday (Jan 12, 2018) I traveled from Kitakyushu to Kobe and visited Hyogo Art Museum to see a special Hermitage exhibit 3 days before the closing day. This special exhibit is titled "Old Masters from the State Hermitage Museum", the personal collection of Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796), which contributed to the history of the formation of Hermitage itself; had journeyed to 3 cities throughout 2017, Tokyo, Nagoya and Kobe since March last year.  Luckily the day I visited Kobe had a sunny sky, although Kitakyushu had some snow, causing partial train delays. 

The location of the Hyogo Art Museum is close to the HAT (learned "Happy Active Town") Kobe at the waterfront and easily commutable by city bus from Sannomiya Station. I was at the museum by11AM and spent almost three full hours without lunch, swept along in the crowds of attentive spectators.  I read the paper reporting Prime Minister of Japan Abe spared 40 minutes of his busy time for Hermitage Exhibits before visiting Vladivostik to meet President Putin of the Russian Federation in September.

I had visited the famous "Hermitage" in Sankt Petersburg (SPB) in 2000, envied by many old San Diego friends of mine.  One of them is Karl, born in Lithuania, whom I met at the San Diego Senior Net Society. He introduced me to his SPB friend Val who speaks English. I emailed Val my itinerary but got no answer. I was prepared to just commute to the Hermitage every day of my 10-day visit.  Val eased my apprehension when he met me at the airport accompanied by his friends, apologizing for his delayed response. His whole family was at Penza Oblast vacationing and fishing, 600 km southeast of Moscow near Volga. Val gave me a basic orientation on how to ride Metros, which helped greatly on my solo SPB trip. He called me every night at my hotel to hear how I fared that day. He took me to Peterhof one day (separate blog coming soon). 

In SPB, Hermitage boasts a collection of 3 million items (of which artwork makes up 15 thousand) including the Winter Palace building, the former residence of Russian emperors. A one-day visit is not enough time to see them all and you should pace yourself with your time and energy.

The 85 pieces of art that comprise this Old Masters exhibit brought over to Japan was just the right bite-sized piece to savor. You can concentrate exclusively on 85 pieces, listening to audio taped guide explanation. You don’t have the luxury to waste this rare chance to see even a small portion of this magnificent collection.

The exhibits were arranged under 6 themes: 1) Italy - Renaissance to Baroque, 2) Flanders - The Age of Baroque Abundance, 3) The Netherlands - The Golden Age of Painting for Citizens, 4) Spain - The Century of God and Saints, 5) France - Baroque Classicism to Rococo, and 6) Germany and England - between Artistic Powers.  Featured Old Masters included Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, Brueghal, Cranach, Fragonard, Zurbaran, Murillo, etc. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Canadian Whistler Challenge after French Mont Blanc

Winter Olympics 2018 is in progress right now.  The eyes of the world are focused on PyeonChang, South Korea until February 25. Now is the right time to post about winter sports - Alpine and Nordic ski competitions, ski jumps and cross country games. PyeonChang will surely appeal with the newly constructed facilities they have been preparing since their successful bid in 2009. Entering into the second week of January, South & North Korea representatives suddenly met at Panmunjom, the border town along the demilitarized zone and agreed to form one unified Olympic team, the women’s ice hockey team, in particular. One surprising news item is to utilize Masikryong Ski Resort built in 2013 by Kim Jong-un for skier training.  Could it be disguised as a peace gesture by the North?   

My friend Kim in Yokohama. who traveled to ski at the Les Arc near Mont Blanc in 2000, sent me her postcard last year from Mt. Whistler in Canada, the Vancouver Winter Olympic venue site of 2010. She wrote her ski companions chose the destination to be the American Continent and their consensus was Mt. Whistler, rather than Denver, Colorado. There is a direct flight from Tokyo to Vancouver, and easy access to Whistler from Vancouver, thanks to renovated amenities.  Fifty years ago I was thrilled to have taken the fast track route via Canadian Pacific from Tokyo to Vancouver, then straight down to Mexico City. I hadn't heard the name Whistler then. Whistler came as a latecomer, bidding on the Olympics since 1968 and succeeded finally in 2010.

I was amazed looking at their daily ski activity schedule for the group from February 24 to March 4, 2017.  Excluding flight time over the Pacific, they had 9 days in Whistler, 8 days of full skiing from morning until twilight, enjoying lunch and breathers in between, one day for rest and souvenir shopping.  There seems to be a total of 37 ski lifts or gondolas and a few hundred ski trails, each depending on skills at Whistler & Blackcomb and Kim wrote she had conquered one third of all the trails in 8 days. That's a marvelous accomplishment. I asked how she compared it to a European ski resort. Her comment was that Whistler-Blackcomb exceeds Europe in public amenities. European entries to facilities were somewhat prohibitive.  But Europe compensates the difference with history and traditions. What caught my curiosity on their activity table is “P2P” appearing often.  Googling P2P on Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Resort trail Map, I found it to be the world’s first and highest lift to connect two side-by-side mountains, length 4.4 km, altitude 436 m built in 2013, coming a little too late for the 2010 Olympics. Must be a stunning ride that makes you feel you are on top of the world.  

She wrote also about the new Audain Art Museum at Whistler Village on their day of rest, a happy-surprise encounter which never crossed their minds to visit before the trip. She might have missed it without the advice of their local travel agent.  The museum just opened in March 2016 attended by the local philanthropist Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa. This museum had fifty thousand visitors in a year already. Kim sent me some photos of the museum and I saw the spectacular wood terraced entrance and design of the structure. Many Japanese Toastmasters visited Vancouver last August to attend its International Conference there. I wonder how many people dropped into Whistler?  I had been invited personally by the BC division Toastmasters. I wish I could've joined them in Whistler.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Pride of the Barber 

Happy New Year! Sorry for the long absence. Here is a fresh new post to start 2018 right.

No sun—no moon!
        No morn—no noon—
No dawn—

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

- Thomas Hood

We were in November last month, usually best season of the year in Japan. But extremely cold this year with snow reported in Hokkaido, Hokuriku, San-in Tottori, even in some areas of northern Kyushu. My wife pulled out a gas-heater to use at night.

One such blue November morning I put on a heavy coat and headed to my barber. Walking up a slope, pink flowers galore stunned me along his small front yard. A pod of the same pink flower decorated inside the shop greeted me. “Wow, what a treat”, I said to the barber.  “What’s the name of the flower?” I’ve known him for some years but it’s the first time I noticed the flower.  He said “Diamond Lily, I heard”.   I enjoyed viewing the flowers during my hair cut and felt genial warmth in the desolate month as written by Thomas Hood. 

I googled diamond lily upon my return home.  Flame Lily first came up, the national flower of African Zimbabwe, the country currently under extreme tension with aging President Mugabe being impeached and people rallying for his immediate resignation.  Flame lily represents the color of Zimbabwe flag.

Next up in the search results were nerine flowers in red as well as in white. Seemingly nerine comes in multiple colors.  Nerine belongs to the lily family, same as lycoris and spider lily, popularly known in Japan as “Manjushage” or as equinox flowers.  However, they are usually all gone well before November. 

Upon closely examining online photos, I concluded the flower I saw at the barber shop was "nerine angulalta".  Please visit this page for a glimpse.

“Til we meet again” is the floral language from one of my favorite Gospel songs.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


The world has seen a massive wave and flow of migrants and refugees, millions of people, especially in Europe. Can you define migrants and refugees?  A migrant is someone who chooses to resettle to another country. A refugee is forced to flee his or her home country. The distinction is significant because it could determine whether the migrants are subject to deportation or eligible to stay.  I spent over 20 years in San Diego, a border city and port of entry from Mexico. The major highways along the border had caution signs warning motorists to avoid immigrants darting across the road.  It pictured a man, a woman and child with pigtails, running hand in hand. Apparently they are undocumented aliens who didn’t come through U.S. Customs. I believe those signs are gone now, but my memory returns to me whenever I’m reminded of the Mediterranean migrant crisis, shipwrecks and loss of lives

Fuocoammare is the title of my speech tonight. It is an Italian word “Fire at Sea”, a documentary film that won the Golden Bear in Berlin last year and nominated for an Academy Award this year.  However, Fuocoammare did not win the Oscar. I haven’t seen the film but I understand Director Gianfranco Rosi expresses his compassion through a 12 year old boy Samuelle of a fishing family, at Isola di Lampedusa, an island halfway between Tunis and Sicilia in the Mediterranean. Samuelle loves to hunt with his slingshot. The name Lampedusa, nothing but sea oysters, hit the recent world headlines, as the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of Africans and Middle Eastern immigrants hoping to make a new life in Europe.

While Googling Lampedusa, I found a letter of appeal written by the island mayor to the EU. “If these dead are only ours, then I want to receive a telegram of condolences after every drowned person I receive, as if he were our son drowned during a holiday”.  Her call for help went unheeded. However, the Italian Government started to direct funds to rescue refugees monthly. From the fishermen to housewives, from activists to coast guards, everyone on Lampedusa has a role in making it a paradise island for newcomers. Rosi commended the islanders who said they accepted all that came from the sea.  Rose dedicated the prize and money to the people of Lampedusa. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Haru Reischauer - Part 2

In early 1990, Dr. Edwin and Haru Reischauer finally settled in La Jolla, the home they bought when they were around age 80 for retirement but used as their summer home after the purchase. The house purchase has been the culmination of their efforts to fulfill their ultimate dreams, l) to enjoy the ocean view, 2) to have a Japanese garden, 3) be in close vicinity to Edwin’s daughter. Since suffering a stroke in his 70’s, Edwin was frequently hospitalized. Sadly, he passed away in September, the year they relocated from Belton, Massachusetts. He was buried at sea using a chartered plane, conducted per his will to help and support the U.S./Japan relationship.

I met Haru-san on several occasions, including my first visit to her La Jolla House, to seek her contribution for the Minato Gakuen’s Bridge magazine (see Part 1). It is fairly close to the tall hotel building (now Hotel La Jolla), entering from Torrey Pines Road to La Jolla Shores Drive and turning to Paseo Dorado. The entrance hall is in the back with the living room, kitchen, guest dining and drawing room to the right, and garage, guest bedrooms, main bedroom to the left.  It was well designed to provide views of La Jolla Shores from every room, except from the main bedroom.  There are some level differences.  The spacious drawing room, three steps up from the kitchen, has a 180 degree ocean view including the palm-lined Torrey Pines Road slope curving toward La Jolla Cove on the left. The CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) in the hilly La Jolla retreat are very strict in regards to ocean view. The house benefits most from being on the lower part of the hill as a single story house with the hacienda style backyard for family get-togethers or a small garden party and the front courtyard is a landscaped lawn.

My son, upon getting married, was a La Jollan living in a condo near Mt. Soledad before moving to New York. He reminisces about the sunsets viewed from La Jolla as magnificent and unforgettable. On July 4th, the Cove attracts onlookers for the fireworks.

In 1986, Haru’s non-fiction book, Samurai and Silk was published by Harvard Press. I had skimmed through it in a Mission Valley Bookstore in San Diego. Recently I read the translation by Wakako Hironaka. Here’s my thoughts after reading it:

1. Ryoichiro Arai (1855-1939)

Haru-san’s maternal grandfather, Ryoichiro Arai, arrived in New York after a two-week Union Pacific train ride in March, 1876, four years after the Meiji Restoration. The Japanese residing in the U.S. then were either Government bureaucrats or scholarship students. Ryoichiro sought his lodging in Brooklyn, $5 per week with breakfast and commuted to Manhattan by ferry. His workplace was 97 Front Street and he walked to save his carriage fee. I was unable to find Front Street around Battery Park or Greenwich. In 1878, his silk business got off to a good start, so he relocated his lodging to East 55th and 9th at $7 per week including breakfast.

I was a New Yorker myself in the 1960’s, arriving in New York City close to 90 years later than Ryoichiro, and my office was also in downtown Manhattan. I also walked around in the civic center area. The difference is that I checked into the uptown Hotel Paris, a long term stay hotel, used by many transitory Japanese, at West End Avenue along the Hudson River. I commuted to downtown by subway. (The subway system in New York opened in 1904.) I don’t remember my monthly hotel rent but I recall the $100 monthly garage fee for a car. Upon the arrival of my family, I rented an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens. Settling in a foreign country requires a challenging spirit and much patience. I noted Ryoichiro was the proposer of the New York Nippon Club. I belonged to the Club for about 10 years while living there and shared the great benefits as one of its members.

2. Masayoshi Matsukata (1834-1924)

Haru-san’s paternal grandfather is Masayoshi Matsukata, one of six Genros, an elderly statesmen who served the Government since the Meiji Restoration. Masayoshi, a 7-time Treasury Minister and two-time Prime Minister, is less familiar than the other five Genro because of the missing career of his younger days. Silk & Samurai had the details of how he stood out during the tumultuous Meiji Restoration and I felt closer to him as a Kyushuan after reading his story.

Masayoshi, serving often as an usher/guard to Lord Shimazu, Satsuma Domain, faced historical incidents, such as the Richardson Case (known as Namamugi Jiken) and Boshin War, and was involved in orderly duties between Kagoshima and his travel assignments. He happened to be in Nagasaki, when Tokugawa magistrates fled there with money. He not only retrieved it, but used it for the sake of Nagasaki citizens and appeased foreigners in distress. Toshimichi Okubo, his Kagoshima clan senior who was in the Meiji Government, was impressed with Matsukata and sent him to Hita (now in Oita), another country under Tokugawa’s direct control where commotions were reported because of the vacuum formed without Tokugawa. His tenure in Hita as a governor is about tow years but he proved his governing skills, ranging from an open door policy, land and tax reforms, to promoting businesses such as wood products, brewery, citrus planting and hot springs, while popularizing Sumo as a local sport. Outstanding was his creation of orphan homes, prohibition of bribes and counterfeit notes in the neighboring countries. He extended his rein in river management to Beppu and initiated Oita Harbor construction. His contribution to the Meiji Government in the treasury field and foreign trade promotion through Paris Exhibitions became legendary. Haru-san saw another last Samurai in Masayoshi.

Both Nagasaki and Hita are in northern Kyushu. Hita, in particular, is very close to Kitakyushu, where I live. However, there’s no direct highway for vehicles because of mountains. If you walk the direct route of 75 kilometers, it takes 16 hours. By vehicle, you have to travel 130 kilometers, which will take one hour and 45 minutes. Last year I took a highway bus via Fukuoka City. My 9 am departure from Hikino bus stop brought me to Hita before lunch time. I didn’t know that Hita, a tiny country, was an independent prefecture when the Meiji era got started.