Monday, May 18, 2015

Cuba Part 5: Kingdom of Health & Medicine

A few days ago, Japan's Foreign Affairs Minster Fumio Kishida visited Havana and met with Dr. Carlos Manuel Guiterrez, President of Cuba-Japan Parliamentary Friendship League. Dr. Guiterrez is President of BioCubaFarma, a company engaged in preventive vaccine research and development. The meeting agenda was future possible collaboration with Japanese industries.

When I was researching the Cuban “Grandma” website, I sighted photos of a newly opened Cuban Hospital in Qatar with 400 Cuban doctors and nurses already working in cutting edge facilities. I initially thought the hospital was in Doha, but it is located in Dukhan, located on the other side of the peninsula. It is the center of Qatar’s onshore oil industry, 80 kilometers west of Doha, inside the Dawhat Salwah Bay. I learned this Cuban Hospital operates under Hamed Medical Corporation of Qatar (see YouTube video link below). We will know more about their activities soon, but I am sure they offer their expert medical services to neighboring countries, such as Saudi Arabia and of course, Qatar.

It is little known that Cuba dispatched more than 460 health professionals to West Africa to fight Ebola since its outbreak, of which 165 are working under the direction of the World Health Organization (WHO). The above mentioned “Grandma” site noted there were 15,000 volunteers from which 460 were carefully selected based on their prior experience in treating infectious diseases under emergency situations. They all went through rigorous training, including in the correct use of protective suits and proper handling of patients and medical waste.

The project was supervised under the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine. Dr. Kouri (1900-1964) the founder, is as famous as Dr. Carlos Finlay y Barres (1833-1915), the one who discovered that mosquitoes cause yellow fever. Many American soldiers during the US-Spanish War were victims of yellow fever.

Cuba has been aggressively training and developing medical professionals. Primary care and preventive medicine are their motto and the target is to become a truly sustainable society of welfare and health. Today Cuba is listed as one of the top nation, boasting 60 doctors per 10,000 people, twice more than that of Japan.

Cuba has been involved with the ALBA program, which started about 10 years ago, primarily in Venezuela. It stands for the Alliance Bolivarian for the People of our America. Bolivarian comes from Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), the Liberator and Past President of Gran Colombia. Under ALBA, Cuba has attracted thousands of health tourists from participating Caribbean and Latin American countries, gaining precious foreign income, strengthening solidarity and trust of neighboring countries.

Their “Mision Miraglo” program has had great success, notably with ocular surgeries for cataracts and glaucoma. Cuba has been so successful with their health care system that it was featured in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary Sicko in the segment where Moore brought 911 volunteer rescuers suffering from respiratory problems to Cuba for free treatment.


YouTube Video of Hamed Medical Corporation

Cuban doctors fight Ebola

Friday, May 8, 2015

Cuba Part 4: Japanese Cubans

“Bluish waters of the adorable Antillas Mayores
The fishing boats sailing before the wind
The squaring-off procession never tired me
the occupant behind the bar”

…wrote Tomas Honma, a Nisei Japanese Cuban during WWII, inside the Presidio Modelo, on La Isla de Pina, now called Isla de la Juventud, the island of the youth. The island is 100 kilometers south of Cuba Proper across the Batabano Gulf. The notorious Presidio Modelo, consisting of two rectangular buildings and four round buildings (known as “panopticon”). Jose Marti was imprisoned in Modelo. As soon as then Cuban President Fulgencio Batista declared war against Japan, Germany and Italy, he imprisoned 350 Japanese Cubans, 114 German Cubans, and 13 Italian Cubans.

Of the 350 Japanese Cubans, 9 of them were born in Cuba, 57 were from Okinawa, 42 from Hiroshima, 38 from Niigata, 29 from Fukuoka, and the rest from other prefectures (figures from “A 100 years of Japanese Cubans ” by Rolando Alvarez and Marta Guzman - 2004).

An autonomous committee was formed among the Japanese Cubans in Modelo. Those of the second floor were represented by Jinichi Iwato, third floor by Tadao Kubota, fourth floor by Kiichi Ogawa and fifth floor by Hideichi Kato. Kato was elected Committee Chair to negotiate with prison officers. Internees all suffered greatly from acute shortages of food, illness from unsanitary conditions and endemic influenza. More than a dozen succumbed and are buried in Nueva Gerona Cemetary in the early stage of vacuation. Dr. Osawa, an internee himself, volunteered to provide medical service, training men and women as nurses.

The biggest change came half a year later when permission was granted to the prisoners to cook for themselves, along with getting minimum basic provisions. Also they were allowed to cultivate vegetables in a garden outside. Wives were allowed to work at the islanders’ homes. It should be noted that the Spanish Legation, acting and holding properties on behalf of the Japanese Consulate in Cuba, gave internees minimal financial help (3 pesos per month). Same as in the American Concentration Camps, internees handmade numerous artifacts, wood carvings, brush paintings, dolls and embroideries and musical instruments. Activities expanded to include sporting events, language lessons for children, music concerts, and on rare occasions, a one-day outing to the main island to meet relatives. German and Italian Cubans were released earlier than the Japanese Cubans. In time, the Japanese Cubans were released in groups. Some stayed on the island to live. The Surgidero de Balabano was the port of the release for the Japanese Cubans, when they were freed at the Isla de la Joventud.

I read about Francisco Miyasaka in an online article by “Discover Nikkei.” He graduated from Havana University Commercial Science after the war and was sent to Tokyo in 1965 as a young commercial attaché to the Cuban Consulate representing the Ministry of Foreign Trade. He must be about my age.

Miyasaka recalls the time when he met the Showa Emperor. The ambassador took him to present his credentials to the emperor. “Emperor Hirohito seemed surprised that a Japanese Cuban was a Cuban diplomat.”

Miyasaka also recalls the time when he was serving a Spanish- Japanese interpreter for Fidel Castro during negotiations. A surprised Castro asked, ‘Where did you learn to speak such good Spanish?’ Francisco Miyaska told him that he was born a Cuban.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Cuba Part 3: “A Message to Garcia”

"In all this Cuban business, there is one man who stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion. When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountains of Cuba - no one knew where. No mail or telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his cooperation, and quickly. What to do! Some one said to the President, "There’s a fellow by the name of Rowan who will find Garcia . . ." - Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)

Speaking of Cuba, I cannot forget the above quote from “A Message to Garcia” written a little before 1900 by Elbert Hubbard. I read it in the 1986 best seller Letters of a Businessman to His Son by G. Kingsley Ward (1932-2014). Mr. Ward was an ex-PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant turned successful entrepreneur in Canada. After having multiple heart surgeries, he felt a dire need to leave messages for his son.

Upon the publication of his paternal messages, and despite his reluctance, the book hit the market as the businessman’s bible, joining the ranks of Dale Carnegie’s and Napoleon Hill’s books. I read the Japanese translation hand-carried by the translator Saburo Shiroyama as a souvenir when he came to San Diego to interview my then employer. Apparently he was so deeply impressed with G. K. Ward that translating the book became his mandate. Shiroyama passed away in 2007.

It seems that “A Message to Garcia” by Hubbard came out originally as a pamphlet that was a little over 10 pages. It was so popular that it was distributed among the Russian soldiers sent to Siberia during the Russo-Japan War. The pamphlet became known to the Japanese through Russian captives, and it was immediately translated and distributed to top ranking Japanese officers.

To answer the call of President McKinley, Lt. Andrew Rowan acted immediately and set out to Kingston, Jamaica to take a fishing boat from St. Ann’s Bay to a Cuban beach near Sierra Maestra. He then trekked through the mountains heading for Yara and rode a horse to the general’s quarters where he succeeded to meet General Garcia and hand delivered the President’s message. I luckily found Lt. Rowan’s report online titled “How I carried the message to Garcia” (Foundation Magazine).

G.K. Ward admonished that General Garcia may be gone but there are still many General Garcias in the world to whom messages must be delivered. Could you be an Andrew Rowan? Employers need to hire a go-getter type person like Rowan who doesn't question why or how and make excuses.

I did a search online for “A Message to Garcia” in Japanese, in the hopes that I could find the Japanese translation that was actually distributed by the Meiji Government to top ranking officers during the Russo-Japan War. Instead I found the new Heisei translation advertised as an Amazon self-help book - a best selling item, teaching self-motivation on how to become a dependable person. Elbert Hubbard is still being lauded for over a century in Japan.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Havana, Cuba Part 2: Keicho Embassy of 1613

About 120 years after Cristobal Colon’s landing in Cuba, Rocuyemon Foxecura, or Hasekura (1571-1622), the chief delegate of the Keicho Embassy (as it was later referred to historically) and his troupe of 20 took to the sea from Veracruz, Mexico to Havana, Cuba on board the Spanish Armada in July 1614 on their way to Europe. Rocuyemon was a Samurai retainer serving a powerful Sendai Daimyo Date Masamune (1567-1636), who was close to Taiko Hideyoshi and the Tokugawa Shogunate. His mission was to open up trade relations with Espana and Nueva Espana (Mexico) and to ask the Vatican Pope to send missionaries to Sendai.

Rocuyemon was accompanied by Luis Tesolo, a Franciscan friar, as assistant and interpreter. Although the Embassy was cordially received in Europe, the answers they got were noncommittal both from Spain and Rome, as it happened at a time when Japan was moving toward the suppression of Christianity. What they found upon return from an eight year absence was Christian persecution and Tokugawa’s forced isolation policy. Rocuyemon died in obscurity shortly after.

The very existence of the travels of Rocuyemon was forgotten in Japan until the reopening of the country after the Meiji Restoration. In 1873, Tomomi Iwakura, head of Japanese embassy to Europe, learned about the Keicho Mission and was surprised when he was shown documents during their visit to Venice, Italy.

The rediscovery of Rocuyemon’s embassy inspired a community in Sendai and their efforts culminated in obtaining an UNESCO Memory of the World Listing designated for 1) Portrait of Rocuyemon, 2) Certificate of Roman Citizenship and 3) Portrait of Pope Paul V. Since the beginning of the new millennium, Sendai Ikuei Gakuen (Junior and Senior High school) has been exchanging students with Cuban counterparts for sports and music events. When the Ikuei Gakuen celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2001, Ikuei donated Rocuyemon’s statue to Havana City. Citizens of Sendai raised funds to send 30 students for the unveiling ceremony at Malecon on the waterfront.

The Cuban government conferred a decoration to Ikuei Gakuen Principal Kato in 2011. Despite the damage from the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami the same year, about 400 Sendai citizens took part in the celebration in Havana and prayed with Cubans for the disaster victims and the quick recovery of Sendai and areas hit hard.

2013 was the year of the 400th anniversary of Rocuyemon’s visit. Rocuyemon has surely reestablished his fame and historical significance after 400 years. His statue in Havana is positioned such that the fan he is holding points to Rome from Havana.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Havana, Cuba - Part 1

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma.

I am an honest man
From where taje palm tree grows,
And I want, before I die
to cast these verses from my soul.

- Jose Marti (1853-1895)

I welcome President Obama’s historic move to restore relations with Cuba. Seemingly, he has hit snags on issues like the return of Guantanamo Bay base, but prisoner exchanges were done, thanks to Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina. It is encouraging to note that Fidel Castro is backing the U.S.-Cuba thaw. Hope the day will come soon to overcome remaining thorny matters.

I was in Cuba under the Castro regime almost 50 years ago. Cuba is 140 km from Key West, Florida. Havana was still under curfew, guarded by armed soldiers. Ocean front Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana’s symbol built in 1930, was my hotel with an unbelievable room rate of 6 dollars a day (one dollar = one peso). Gunshots at night woke me more than once, but I wasn’t scared at all. However, I was in no mood to take a stroll out. My recollection is that Universidad de la Havana was within walking distance from the hotel.

My assignment was to see if the Cuban Government’s Union Electric would barter sugar in exchange for a power grid distribution analyzer made by my ex-employer through one of the Japanese trading firms. At the time, there was rationing going on among the Cuban citizens, and anything beyond real basic necessities like medicines, power generators, etc. were all considered luxuries. I knew the answer before the official denial was given. My visit to Cuba was a brief, intermediate stop along the way for the rest of my sales calls to meet Mexican, Colombian, Venezuelan, and Brazilian representatives.

While waiting for the Union Electric’s answer, during the weekend, my trading agent in Havana took me to see a golf course in Varadero, about 140 km east of Havana. The Varadero club house was originally the “Mansion Xanadu”, a three-story Spanish Colonial Villa, built by Irene DuPont, great granddaughter of Eleuthere in 1930.
The area was deserted and the golf course was not very well taken care of at all. I saw four Japanese golfers tee off, and they were the only golfers of the day. There were no caddies or callers. In fact, there was no one around the course. I was then taken to the Varadero beach by a Cuban chauffeur arranged by my trading agent. Hemingway was said to frequent this beach. Photos were officially banned but I got a few with my camera (see photos). I got one also of the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Moro from inside the car.

Back at the hotel, I went up to the top floor swimming pool and spent most of my time there in my private paradise until dark, swimming, sunbathing, reading, snacking, without anyone ever bothering me. The Cabaret Tropicana at the Hotel had the best show I’ve ever seen in my life. It was better than Franco Fontana’s Oba Oba, the Brazilian show I saw in Las Vegas at a much later time.

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.