Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dr. Alvin Coox - Part 3

Part 3 is my requiem to two Nomonhan Battle survivors, l) Yasushi Fukushima and 2) Masujiro Takata, whom I found among 60 contributors of a tribute to Dr. Coox, under the title “The Road Taken by Dr. Alvin D. Coox”, the book compiled and edited by Hisashi Takahashi in 2005.  This 230 page-book written both in English and Japanese was not for sale.  Tachibana Sensei, friend of Hisako Coox, sent me the book via express, as a loaner, and became the source of Dr. Coox’s photo used in the blog.

1) Yasushi Fukushima

My contacts got started with Dr. Coox’s inquiry to me as the editor/(private) publisher of “Nomonhan - Records of the Nine-Zero (90) Field Artillery Soldiers”, (National Diet Library registration -OPAC GB521-217) , published in 1980. His inquiry was “did I recognize the Russian tank troop deployment accompanied with their infantry around the River Holstein near the so-called Izumi Bend?"  I don’t remember how I answered him, but our artillery encamped at the south of Holstein Lake was in a frenzy facing numerous Russian tank deployments. At dusk on August 24th we succeeded in repositioning ourselves at around the 752 Height in the eastern battle front. I wasn’t familiar with Holstein River nor the Izumi Bend. The commander’s commendation given to us was for our contribution on the left bank of Holstein River. However, this location was not in my recollection either. 

Things cleared up only recently. I received in my possession a staff diary of the 3rd Artillery Battalion. A Godsend! The Miyao Unit I belonged to was under the lst Battalion. The said diary showed the 3rd Battalion joined the lst Battalion at some point, and definitely on August 24th, the 3rd Battalion was at Izumi Bend of the Holstein River and did produce curtain fire for our infantry, as Dr. Coox asked me when he first contacted me in 1980.

Few people knew the existence of Type Nine Zero Field Guns in the Nomonhan Battles. On our way back from Noro Height to Baru West Height, our artillery battalions were held while waiting at the pontoon bridge constructed by our engineering support troops. Fondly remembered were the “cool and smart” looking Nine Zero guns, which attracted the eyes of soldiers passing-by, and, unexpected crowds of curious rubbernecks. As Dr. Coox pointed out, these guns, high-tech pieces of the day, demonstrated magnificent power in the melee battle grounds and consummate tactics against Russian tanks. I am thankful for Dr. Coox's special and sympathetic reference to us Artillery Soldiers throughout his master book. May Dr. Coox rest in peace.

2) Masujiro Takada

Your esteemed name was familiar to me through a mutual friend, Yasushi Fukushima, as the author of “Nomonhan, Japan against Russia 1939", who tried to discover and report the facts and truth of the battles as they were, and I looked forward to an opportunity to meeting you some day.  Same as Fukushima, I too belonged to the former Kwangtung Army Field Artillery lst Battalion, Miyao Unit.

Then, out of the blue, the Asahi Newspaper dated Nov. 18, 1999 reported your obituary; we alerted our mutual friends, once belonged to the Artillery, as well as all  Nomonhan Society members. Then, after a while, we were notified that volunteers would be planning a memorial book for Dr. Coox and we all thought it was a great way to immortalize your life's work of truth-finding endeavors.

1945, the year Japan surrendered, I was held as a Russian captive in Shenyang and sent to Chita Retention, Baicalia Province, Siberia, about 650km east of Irkutsk and served at the hard labor camp for 4 years. Returned to Japan around 1950 but I had lost everything; had to start my life over from scratch. It took more than 10 years before I had time to gradually contact the Nomonhan artillery friends such as Fukushima and Sugawara, and again some more years later that I joined the Nomonhan Society. I began to attend annual Nomonhan memorial services, where I mingled with survivors, but didn’t converse much, feeling dispirited, due to the prevailing air of lost wars, despite our pride as artillerymen.

I remember it was at the 1989 Joint WW2 Memorial Service that your Nomonhan book translation in 2 volumes reached us at the service venue.  I bought it right there and stayed up many nights, read it over again and again, until I fully memorized it. I jumped for joy to have encountered your book,  with your detailed research and precise descriptions.   Your book opened my eyes about the whole Nomonhan picture in stages and by hour how the Nomonhan wars were fought, between Russians and Japanese. I was saved by your special reference to the Miyao Artillery Unit, as the reliable artillery force which won the trust and confidence of all the infantry soldiers. I never felt prouder to be a member of the Miyao Unit.

I’m really happy and glad to have read your book, containing important historical data and hope this book will remain remembered by future generations.  The book shines a light on the Japan that renounced war as a sovereign right of the nation. I thank you sincerely for your selfless and unbiased Nomonhan research of Japan and Russia as I was one of the soldiers who fought in the war.  We have lost a great benefactor.

Note: Photos & map of the battleground as they are today.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dr. Alvin Coox - Part 2

At the local library I picked up the requested "Coox’s Nomonhan" in 4 volumes (Pocketbook edition), published in 1994. These are books I saw at the bookstores upon my return from San Diego. The library books were stamped “donated.”

Young Dr. Coox had worked since the 1960s at the Allied GHQ in Tokyo, as a strategy analyst/researcher and military historian of WW2. He published many books, Japan - the Final Agony (1970), Tojo (1975), The Pacific War Revisited (1983), just to name a few. The book he must be proud of should be Nomonhan, Japan against Russia (Stamford U) which won the Samuel E. Morrison Prize, whose name I knew as an author of the famous “Struggle for Guadalcanal”.  Rear Admiral Morrison (1887-1976) won the Pulitzer Prize and received an honorable doctorate.  Dr. Coox, during his 15 year stay in Japan, interviewed 400 Japanese Nomonhan survivors on the list obtained from the Japanese Bureau of Veteran Affairs. He got in touch with the Nomonhan Society, consisting of survivors and bereaved family members. In the book preface, Dr. Coox expressed appreciation for all the help/cooperation received to compile the book. I’m sure Hisako Coox aided in smooth communication. The preface was written at the end of 1993, the time I was contemplating my retirement to return to Japan.

Dr. Coox was aware that the Russian casualty figures he used in his study were censured by the Russian Government and did not necessarily reflect the true figures as compared to the Japanese counterpart figures.  Under the 1990s Gorbachevian Glasnost, corrected figures first appeared, if not completely transparent, at the International Academic Study Symposiums of the Nomonhan/Khalkha River Battles held in Tokyo in 1991 by a Russian participant Colonel Valtanov and Gen. Lt. Krivosheyev in 1993 and 2010 (See the table below).  In anticipation, Dr. Coox had asked his friend Professor Hata to audit his figures in the Japanese translation (per Prof. Hata’s postscript dated, Sept. 1989 - 50th anniversary year of the Battle as the managing editor).

I’m glad to find the name of Nomonhan in the Lonely Planet Mongolia Travel Guide across the Khalkhgol.  It is where the east-most Mongolian Aimag (province) named “Dormod” penetrates into Hulun Lake, China, the largest lake in the inner Mongolia Autonomous region. Khalkhgol had existed as a vague border since Qin Dynasty/Russia days, causing skirmishes between the Japanese Kwantung Army and Russian Guards in the mid 1930s. The region is nothing but an open spread of grassland and shrubs as huge as Kyushu Island. Choibalsan, the capital of the region, is over 300 km west, which is 600 km east of Ulaanbaatar, the state capital.

Russian Commander Zhukov, obtaining Stalin’s approval for reinforcement, prepared against a possible Japanese invasion.  He faithfully followed Chinese Master Sun Tzu’s Art of War to seek revenge for the defeated Battles of Tsushima Strait and the disgraced Baltic Fleet. He drew all-out logistics, sending thousands of trucks, hundreds of tanks, soldiers, food and ammunition swiftly, on the Trans-Siberian Railway and hauling them down to no-man’s land named Nomonhan. It is the Japanse Kwantung Army opportunistic and overconfident staff who didn’t even try to know their enemy, and lacked essential reconnaissance.  Russians took geographic advantage, snipers targeted water supplies, used tactics such as piano wires to tangle Japanese tanks. The Japanese soldiers were given no time to rest and sleep after a long trek.  I can painfully visualize the battle scenes where the Japanese were encircled with nowhere to hide in the grasslands by hundreds of Russian tanks and annihilated by flamethrowers. I read that the front retreat requests were rejected by Kwangtung headquarters and the front commanders were ordered to “take their tonsils out”, i.e. commit harakiri.

I wonder what made Dr. Coox so interested in Nomonhan. I suspect he tried to determine the cause of the Japanese turning their reckless march southward as a direct result of the disastrous and not well publicized Nomonhan battles. Interviewing Japanese Nomonhan survivors, Dr. Coox had to be full of compassion. He may have been disappointed that the Nomonhan defeat didn’t ring the alarm for the Japanese at large. I heard that the Nomonhan Society contributed Dr. Coox’s books to the Yasukuni Shrine Museum and Library where the souls of all war heroes are enshrined, their sacrifices never to be forgotten.

Lastly, I also read a book Nomonhan Has Not Been Forgotten written by an elderly Oita, Kyushu writer named Noriko Koyama.  She voluntarily joined a small party of the 2006 Government sponsored dispatch to Mongolia to recover remains of soldiers and conduct memorial services in Nomonhan. Due to limited manpower and time available, the excavated  were just a fraction of remains.  Thousands still remain uncovered. The book was written in 2006 and she subtitled it for the “67th Memorial". This year is “77th” Memorial.  I’ll join her in her echo of “Nomonhan must not been forgotten”.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dr. Alvin Coox - Part 1

"Eye witness to history” is one of my favorite running columns in the Yomiuri Newspaper in Japanese. I enjoyed Mari Matsunaga’s account of DoCoMo’s mobile phone developments as its i-mode editor-in-chief, which ran from early February  to mid-March. Then Ikuhiko Hata, an octogenarian historian, took over, beginning with the Tokyo Tribunal of War Criminals.

He wrote that after Tokyo University, he studied at Harvard in 1963 and at Columbia in 1964, and showed the photo of President Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade. I was in NYC in the1960s.  He and I witnessed the assassination of the President in the U.S.   He referred to a friend, Dr. Alvin Coox, who helped him secure the Asian Foundation scholarship in addition to the Rockefeller Foundation.  Dr. Coox!  My Goodness! I served as an initial Advisory Board member for his SDSU Japan Studies Institute in the 1980s. However, he passed away right after I left San Diego. I remember his spouse Hisako. I emailed my friend who knows Hisako. I received an answer and she is hale and hearty.  Hisako Coox has sponsored my friend’s life work of Japanese language promotion and annual speech contest in San Diego for the past 10 years.

I first met the Coox’s at an LA reception celebration at the Japanese Consulate General. The reception invitees were mostly from the Japanese American business circles. The Coox's humbly sat apart. I introduced myself and my wife. I didn’t really know about him until I returned to Japan in mid-90s. His best selling and award winning “Nomonhan: Japan against Russia 1939” (Stamford Press) was translated into Japanese in 1994 and hit the bookstore shelves in 4 volumes.

Then I read in a weekly magazine that Dr. Coox had a conversation with Ryotaro Shiba (now deceased), a famous writer and my alma mater senior.  Ryotaro was drafted to Manchuria when when he was a student and assigned to a tank battalion. He didn’t engage in war but got trained as a tank trooper and was knowledgeable enough to discuss differences between Japanese and Russian tanks. The Nomonhan (battles of Khalkhin Gol) survivors would have told him how miserably they were defeated. The BT-5 Soviet tanks, copied from an American designer, featured track fitted transportation, high-speed mobility, overpowering anti-tank machine guns, and equipped with a flame-thrower.  One weakness of the Soviet tanks were that they were fire-prone. The overheated gasoline engine easily caught fire - alas - the Japanese infantrymen, without tank or artillery support, found that they could knock out gasoline-powered tanks and armored cars with Molotov cocktails and mines. About 120 vehicles were destroyed in this manner, but the Japanese soldiers, who had to get up close to deliver a satchel hurling attack, took heavy casualties.

Ryotaro did in fact interview Nomonhan survivors like Dr. Coox, apparently with ardent hope of writing about them, but stopped pursuing it. Many people wondered why. Most plausible to me was that he heard, with shock, that there was a similar attempt as depicted in the US movie “Saving Private Ryan” to force the war to an abrupt end.

I’m surprised a younger writer Haruki Murakami (1949- ), Kafka and Jerusalem Prizes winner, touched upon Nomonhan battles in his 600-page “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” (the Chronicle hereafter) as a story within a story. I got wind that his father once conscripted in Manchuria during WW2.  I read the English translation by Jay Rubin.  There is a couple of places that is relevant in Book l Thieving Magpie – in Chapter 4, High Towers & Deep Wells - O, Far Away from Nomonhan and Chapters 12 and 13, Lt. Mamiya’s Long Story Parts 1 and 2. The Chronicle has 3 Books and seems still unfinished.

Briefly, at the pre-battle stage, a horse-riding party of 4 Japanese secretly crossed the River Khalkhin, the controversial Outer Mongolia/Manchuria border, a violation by itself.  A self-proclaimed civilian named Yamamoto had a top secret mission to plot probable pro-Japanese Mongolian agents (undisclosed to the escort). To escort him safely, 3 soldiers were chosen. They were Lt. Mamiya, Sgt. Hamano, Cp. Honda. An injured Yamamoto, back from an errand, ordered the immediate departure. They had to wait for night to cross the Khalkhin Gol as they spotted Mongolian security. So, the party slept with Cp. Honda taking watch. Lt. Mamiya woke to find Sgt. Hamano killed lying on the floor and he and Yamamoto were captives. After Russian interrogations, Yamamoto was sentenced to an ugly slow death by knife flaying alive. Lt. Mamiya had to run naked for his life and jump into the dry well or be shot. Death came to Lt. Mamiya in the barren tundra fields buried deep in the well unknown by anybody.  He was overwhelmed with loneliness and despair waiting for his death. It was Cp. Honda,  by intuition on foot, who found and saved Lt.Mamiya. The existence of the well incident has a profound meaning in the Chronicle, as WW2 ruin and redemption.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Catalpa Part 2: A letter to Sayaka Komata in Oakridge, Tennessee

Sayaka-San, it will be the third spring since you helped me get information regarding “Catalpa”, a tree native to the Midwest (see previous “Catalpa’s Spread in Japan, Grown from Seeds” post). The post was about the lovely friendship between Jo (Joseph) Neesima, the founder of Doshisha University in Kyoto and returnee from the U.S., the seed sender and Tokutomi brothers in Kumamoto, the seed receivers.

Kumamoto had a tough 2016. The magnitude 7.3 earthquake hit the region causing widespread damage and resulting in 50,000 evacuees. Kumamoto Castle, the symbol of the city, will require costly refurbishments. Last year I wanted to take my daughter and granddaughter (from California) to Kumamoto in May, but we had to cancel. The first anniversary of the disastrous event just came to pass.

The reason I’m writing to you is that I discovered the most impressive American Haiku related to catalpa, the tree of our mutual interest. Here’s briefly how and where I found it and whose Haiku it is.

Recently, while at the Central Kitakyushu library, I picked up a book How Haiku is accepted in England and in the U.S. (ISBN4-8302-2315-4-C) written by Akira Kawano, a Kitakyusuan (1962- ), who taught at Fukuoka University of Education, majored in English poetry during the 1960’s at Wyoming University and Purdue University.  This book was divided into two parts; an introduction of the so-called imaginist poets, such as T. E. Hulme, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, followed by Haikuists, such as Helen S. Chenoweth, Ann Atwood, Truth Mary Fowler, Jinna Johnson, Richard Wright and Annette S. Morrow.

"Popcorn flowers of catalpa
on the Spring lawn -
    Children confused."


This Haiku was sung by Helen S. Chenoweth from Los Altos Writers Roundtable and originally published in Borrowed Water (Charles Tuttle).

The popcorn imagery is pleasant and entertaining, describing the flower beautifully. It reminds me of the crape flower (crape myrtle) if it were white. Children would be surely confuse it with popcorn on the ground.  I salute  Helen’s flash of wit and gaiety.  A great Haiku originated from California, my second home! 

I will tell the Society of Roka Tokutomi in Kumamoto about this haiku.  I would be very happy if this haiku could help boost the number of attendance, even a little bit, for this year’s catalpa viewing and brighten the day of the people there.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

My Friend “Ace” Sang in Trieste

I call a friend of mine 'Ace' Ikeda, as he doesn’t mind being called by a nickname. He is multi-lingual and a multi-talented person. I have questioned him as to why he is so erudite in ancient European history, the Mediterranean in particular. He just modestly told me he was very fortunate in his younger days to travel Greece, Italy and Turkey a little longer than the average traveler. I know he has belonged to a chorus group for some time, singing “An die Freude” at each year-end from Beethoven’s No. 9 for Kyushu Symphony Orchestra.

Last summer, he told me he is singing for Italian operas, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, to commemorate the 150th year of diplomatic relations between Japan and Italy. Wow, that’s quite a relationship! It traces back to the Meiji Restoration! Alei-a-lei! I bought a ticket for the special occasion and enjoyed a competitive and harmonized opera production by an Italian/Japanese combination.

His New Year’s card read that he would be in Trieste, Italy in mid February and singing at the Verdi Theater. Wait a minute! The privileged Verdi Theater in Trieste? I can’t be indifferent to the glorious undertaking he is trying to accomplish. I congratulated him on a great opportunity to be at a rare destination, where Hapsburg Kingdom once reigned. I asked him to bring back as many photos as possible.

Trieste sounded close and friendly, first, because of Atsuko Suga’s famous essay “Upward Slope of Trieste”. I didn’t meet Atsuko in person but T. Suga, her uncle, was the boss at my freshman work. He often spoke of her proudly, promising to introduce her to me. I changed jobs and lost the chance. Second, the Irish James Joyce connection - I know Joyce wrote his “Dubliners” while he was an English teacher at Berlitz school in Trieste.

The NPO “Kitakyushu City Opera (KCO)” has existed since 1990, including years under its nascent Kitakyushu Music Association. The troupe launched its first production “La Traviata” by Verdi in 1993 and grew to win a Group Citizen Culture Award of Kitakyushu in 2013, thanks to Gudo Hasui, KCO Chief Director, as well as Sakuyo University visiting professor, well-known baritone singer, who had won a number of competitions not only in his soloist days in Italy but in other European countries; and thanks to the local fans, contributors, and business supporters. In 2015, the troupe performed Madama Butterfly in Lecce, southern Italy. The above mentioned 2016 operas I attended in Kitakyushu were jointly performed under an Italian conductor with major Italian singers.

I met with Ace Ikeda yesterday, who just returned from Italy and I learned that the KCO’s Trieste performance was a big success. The participating party consisted of about 40 members, including tea ceremony performers, and he is already looking forward to the next collaborative performance to be held either in Japan or Italy, which continues for the next three years.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Danny Boy

Oh, Danny Boy,
The pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountain side ….
But come ye back to summers in the meadow ….

This impassioned Danny Boy song I loved to sing often in my younger days. However, I had not questioned how the song originated, as I have presumed that it was one of the indigenous/traditional songs that had existed for a long, long time in Ireland. Recently I found a surprising story with a twist, which I want to share with you tonight.

In 1851, Jane Ross, a Londonderry woman, while listening to a traveling fiddler named Blind Jimmy McCurry, heard a beautiful ballad, noted it down in a hurry.  Jane was known as a keen Irish folk song collector.  She submitted the tune to Dr. George Petrie, an artist and musician in Dublin and it was then registered and published as “Londonderry Air”.  It was said many lyricists tried to make a song to match up to it, but none stood out.

At the turn of the 20th century, an unimaginable thing happened. Margaret Weathery in Colorado, US, happened to hear this Londonderry song played by an Irish immigrant band and sent it to her husband ’s brother Frederic in Somerset, UK.  The US Gold Rush to the West attracted immigrants, including the Irish, so the songs spread across the new continent.  

Danny Boy wasn’t born without a flash of wit.  Frederic Weathery was a lawyer, as well as a songwriter. As a matter of fact, he composed his version of Danny Boy but it never became popular. He placed the title Danny Boy to the song that came from the U.S. and it hit big with the arrival of the Irish tenor singer John McCormack.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Takahime (Hawk Princess) Part 2

With gradually rising tweets and faster wing fluttering movements, Takahime, the guardian of the well, starts wriggling and transforms into a goshawk, along with the heightened tempo of Noh ensemble of bamboo flute, hand drum and stick drum beats and chorus of ‘rock’ symbolizing grey colored masked Noh singers, as well as, Celtic Anuna singers.  Glittering long-sleeved robe of Takahime represents the gorgeous hawk’s two wing-mimicry.  Hypnotized by the guardian's terrible power, the old man is in trance state. Cuchulain must pass the guardian to the well for the miraculous water, but is hindered. He pulled his sword to fight. Takahime and Cuchulain sword fight intensifies to a climax. However, he is lured away from the well, which bubbles up. In his frenzy, he follows Takahime in her ascending flight, apparently forgotten that the water that would bring him immortality. When he recovers himself, the well water is gone and the old man is hopeless. He laments and begs the guardian to stay with him.

In Yeats’ “Hawk’s Well”, Cuchnulainn’s weapon is a spear. In “Takahime, the weapon is a sword. Yeats admired with awe the Japanese “Bizen Osafune” sword presented to him as surprise a gift from Junzo Sato when he traveled to Portland, Oregon in the US in 1920 for a lecture. He sang:

Is Sato's ancient blade, still as it was
Still razor-keen, 
still like a looking-glass
Unspotted by the centuries;
That flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn
From some court-lady's dress and round
The wooden scabbard bound and wound
Can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn.

Junzo Sato just happened to live then in Portland (on business) and saw a poster about Yeat’s lecture. He brought the sword to the U.S. It was probably his family treasure. Yeats' eulogy for Cuchulain is found in his plays “Death of Cuchulain” and “Cuchulain comforted”.

Upon my return home in Kyushu, I searched the YouTube site. A number of Hawk’s Well came up, beginning with the Nara performance where the same Gensho Umewaka, a living National Treasure, played Takahime in Shibuya. I watched Hawk Well in musical /opera formats, and experimental modern drama as well as Kabuki formats. Some of them were performed internationally – in Europe, U.S. and South America.  I know Yugen Theater, in San Francisco, specialized in its effort to promulgate Noh in California.  I remembered The Japan Foundation periodically sponsored traditional art performances like Noh and Kabuki. My  ex-employer in San Diego sponsored a couple, including the Kodo Drum troupe from Sado Island. Noh related associations in Tokyo are reportedly planning special Noh events for the participants from abroad with English subtitles in preparation for the year 2020 Tokyo Olympics. A nice incentive and gesture of welcome!

Anuna Choral singers stayed on stage from the beginning to the end, singing together with the Noh “rock” masked singers. I first thought their collaboration would come to an end sooner, so it was quite a surprise.  Reading an article by Michael McGlynn after the show, I understood what Anuna singers were trying to accomplish. Michael said they dare not compete with the Noh singers, nor try to harmonize at all. No room for competition like in opera, Michael wrote. They keep their chorus aloof and independent. It could be the breaths of humans, mythic sounds of the breeze and whisper, rustling of tree leaves, or lapping waves, created by plural voices of Anuna singers, each in different tone and scale, over and above the composite Noh ensemble including instruments, to be culminated as result in creating a piece of great artwork.  I was impressed.  Looking up the historical career, the Anuna Choral group was founded in 1987 to recreate and give a new life to medieval Irish  in the present era. Anuna singers have visited Japan often. They sang on the 1997 Japan Academy Award winning film “Princess Mononoke”, an epic historical fantasy anime directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

My Hino friend told me that the Anuna reminded her of “Holy Mother in Nagasaki”, a modern Noh written by Tomio Tada, in which a Psalm was sung by local high school girls.  I’ve heard that this Noh play was performed in New York and Boston some years ago and I’m putting it on my wish list to see it this year.