Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Hiraodai Karst Plateau and a Folktale

Hiraodai Karst Plateau, equally famous as Yamaguchi Akiyoshidai, is southernmost Kitakyushu City bordering Kawaracho and Kandacho. Mt. Hiko, the sacred mountain where many aesthetics have spent time there, towers over the prefectural boundary between Fukuoka and Oita. The deep-blue Masubuchi dam is not too far. Boasting 3,000 acres (12 square kilometers), the elevation is between 310 - 710 meters. It is uncertain when people settled in Hiraodai because of the cold and snowfall in the winter. During the war, Kokura had the Imperial Army arsenal and the ammunition chambers in Kitagata. They probably thought of Hiraodai Karst Plateau as their ideal shooting range, however, there is no historical evidence of that. After the war the Japanese returnees from Taiwan and Korea, found their paradise in Hiraodai if they became farmers.

First, here are a few basic karst terms:

Soline: Sinkhole. Closed depression draining underground, meaning 'valley' (Slavic)
Polie: A large flat karstic plain (Slavic). Liable to become intermittent or perennial stream or lake.
Uvala: A complex closed depression with several lesser depressions within its rim (Slavic)

In the spring, Hiraodai is famous for its controlled burs of its fields. It was not to slay ogres as in the old folklore, but to burn dry and withered grass in the 'soline, polie and uvala' areas, to prevent wildfires. Field burning should be a common practice throughout Japan to renew grassy zones, prevent forestation, and maintain the green every year.

Upon returning from the U.S. in the mid-1990’s, I joined the local trekking group and visited this Hiraodai Karst Plateau, strolling up and down karst and exploring a few caves. About the same time I had a chance to visit Yunnan Province, China and the Shilin (石林 ) Stone Forest, the UNESCO World Heritage site that covers over 180 square miles. The tall rocks seem to rise from the ground in a manner somewhat reminiscent of stalagmites or with many looking like petrified trees, thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone. Limestone creates these otherworldly landscapes. However, the Shilin landscape is over millions of years old and spans thousands of miles. Once you step in, you may get lost in a maze of geology and paleontology. It was very different from Hiraodai.

Folktale

The local legend has it that there lived two demons in Hiraodai Karst Plateau, one named “See-demon”, the other “Smell-demon.” One day they took conferred about what offering to bring to their boss in the nearby Mt. Hikosan*. “Hmmm! How about bringing a concrete straw stone inside the famous limestone cave for his sword or a sheep shaped stone as an ornament? They talked quite a while but they finally decided upon offering a human child. In the past, they knew the boss demon raised human children as his retainers and extended his influence. When reared since childhood with the boss demon, these children eventually turned into demons.

These demons descended from Ryugahana to Satonotsuji through Fukiage Pass. The village people panicked with the sudden appearance of the demons and scattered in confusion. The demons caught one child on the first day. The returned to the village on the second day as well.

“See-demon”, "Can you smell it?" asked Smell-demon as they approached the village. “There is a scent of something nice coming from the village! Let’s find out!” As they descended, one village guard alerted the villagers with the temple bell. With the bell ringing, all the villagers hung rotten sardines at their doors. Two demons with sharp and keen eyes and noses got queasy, felt sick and hurried back to their dwelling. Despite the deterrence, the two demons came back on the third day well prepared with clothes pins to plug their noses and went on a rampage. After the onslaught, the villagers gathered to discuss how to slay the ogres and came up with a plan. The following night, the demons returned with their pins and found the village deathly quiet. The inquisitive demons reached the village square where a fire was burning. “There they are!” As they attacked the villagers, flames broke out all around all at once. Burning bamboos spilt with loud snaps and cracks. Pillars of flames shot up everywhere. The surprised demons panicked and retreated at full speed. The kidnapped child was rescued by the villagers during the turmoil. The crackling sound of burning bamboo scared them and the demons never returned to Hiraodai.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

A 100th Birthday Celebration

1. Arthur Jonish’s White Age celebration on Sept 20, 2020

I took an overnight trip to Kyoto to attend a special event. Arthur Jonishi's "White Age" celebration was to start from 6:00 pm but was delayed to 6:30pm, as the turnout of over 500 guests was slow. The venue was the Reaga Royal Hotel in Kyoto, close to Kyoto Central Station. Perhaps the majority of guests were Kyocera people but an ex-Sanyo person was at my table for six. Arthur is a Kyoto University graduate, and a long time Rotarian; has many hobbies, like golfing and playing Go, so his friends should be quite diversified.

He entered the venue riding a motored "senior car", a gift from his Rotary Club, clad in a purple Sanga Soccer team jacket and donning a pandemic face shield. He needed helping hands to stand before the microphone. After the champagne toast, he spoke for half an hour. The rest of the hours were chats and meals. The nests of boxes were distributed to each table in paper bags. The hotel service was just to open the champagne bottle. This is the new “normal” these days because of the Corona virus. Each guest received a 50-page booklet "Footprints of A. Jonishi".

Arthur was drafted into the army during World War II in Dec 1943 in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture. On board the SS Teifumaru, an aging wooden ship, his troop headed alone for the Solomon Islands away from the main fleet. At midnight, he saw a US submarine surface without noticing his ship in the dark. Arthur saw some sailors lighting up for a smoke. When they saw the Japanese boat’s shadow, it immediately submerged and started discharging torpedos. Some said they saw a dozen streaming towards their ship. Arthur counted at least 7 or 8, which whizzed passed without incident. Good thing the boat didn’t carry heavy loads, like tanks and cannons, which would have kept its keel low. He feels very fortunate to have been aboard the SS Teifumaru, otherwise he would never ever have reached white age.

I noticed printed handouts in English on my way out. It's a collection of 'Arthur’s year end letters' to overseas friends and relatives over the past 10 years. Very interesting.

2. A Centenarian

Arthur Jonishi celebrated his 100th Birthday on April 25, 2021.

Mike Okuno, representing all ex-Kyocera employees visited Arthur in Kurama, Kyoto to hand deliver a bouquet of flowers to celebrate his 100th birthday - a new centenarian. Meanwhile, KII, San Diego Headquarters responded with an issuance of the San Diego Country of Board of Supervisors’ Proclamation honoring AJ’s birthday.

3. Brief Bio

1921 Born in Vancouver Canada
1948 BA in Economics, Kyoto University
1948 Shofu Co Ltd Kyoto
1963 Kyocera Corp
1969 Founded Kyocera Intl Inc
1974 KII President
1978 Director, Minato Gakuen
1979/87 EVP Kyocera Corp
1982 Return to Japan
1989 Advisor Kyocera Corp
1995 Director, Inamori Foundation

Awards:

1988 Kyoto Pref Distinguished Industrial Service Award
2002 JSSDT Business Leader Award

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Beat the Pandemic

This striking New Year card came from one of my San Diego friends. His name is Mike Kawamura, a superb ceramic engineer, my longtime colleague at work, stationed in Europe and Brazil, as well as in the US. He organized a San Diego WISH Society as a cofounder, and is an executive adviser. He serves as VP for the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park.

The New Year card has his simplistic artwork, one discernibly glaring evil demon, the other a merciful Buddha saint image. I took his message as “Damn the Corona Virus” inflicting the whole world into disorderly chaos and many solemn prayers for departed souls because of Covid-19.

After a few weeks later, I asked Mike if I could share his artwork in my blogs and obtained his quick approval. He revealed the same request came from one of the non-profit organizations in San Diego for its fundraising campaign poster.

I recall I saw similar evil demon figures such as King Nio or Ashura, guardians of Buddha, when I used to visit temples in Kyoto, Osaka as well as Hino, Tokyo where I once resided. The temples I visited: 2 King “Nios” guarding Daigo Temple in Kyoto, 4 King “Nios”, guarding Shiten-Oji Temple, Osaka, and Takahata 2 King Nios guarding Takahata Fudo Temple.

1 - Daigo Temple, Kyoto

An important temple of the Shingon Sect of Japanese Buddhism, designated world heritage site (“Senboin” constructed in 1115), located southeast of central Kyoto. Famous cherry blossom viewing party site of Taiko Hideyoshi.

The King Nio Gate at the entrance, rebuilt in 1605, enshrined pairs of King Nio statues (built in 1134 by Seizo and Nizo) , one called “a”, the other “hum” in Sanskrit. The term a-un is used as a figuratively harmonious relationship or non-verbal communication.

2 - Shitenoji Temple, Osaka

Prince Shotoku, Asuka period, invited Korean carpenters from the Kingdom Baekje to commission the construction. The temple celebrated its 1400 Anniversary. The building rebuilt most recently was in 1963.

The 4 King Nios guard the temple. Clockwise, they are Kings Jikoku and Zancho, who open their eyes and show anger as if they are looking at the enemy in front of them, while Kings Komoku and Tamon, are squinting with their eyebrows tightly and swelling their noses and staring into the distance. Four Kings surely vowing to keep the commandments, the eyes of four kings must be sharper and harsher.

3 Takahata Fudo Temple

Same Shingon Sect as Daigo Temple, an esoteric temple. Guarded by 2 King Nios. The benefits of faith can be seen from the special “Goma” ritual, the firewood burning. The fire symbolizes the wisdom of Fudo Myoo and firewood will burn anxieties, warding off evil, and grant the wishes of the believers as clean wishes and fulfill them.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I Love N.H. - the White Mountain State

Hey, I'm no mountain climber, but I made it to the top of Mt Hodaka (10,470 ft), one of the more known peaks in northern Japan Alps in Gifu Prefecture. It was in the summer of my mid-20’s, led by a mountaineering specialist. A party of dorm friends followed him from Tokyo in a fleet of cars. The Karasawa Ravine from Hodaka was so beautiful, the image was burnt into my memory.

I found another equally beautiful ravine called Tuckerman in New Hampshire when I accompanied Ken Toku and Sugiyama from Japan, joined by Foxboro (MA) friends - Bob Temple, Mead Bradner and Bruce Hainsworth. I forgot how we reached the area, but still remember the snowmobile ride from the foothill to the ravine, arranged by Bob. He served at the White Mountain Weather Station when he was younger and was very knowledgeable about winter traveling details.

Ken Toku was the only skier of the day. He came fully prepared and trained for his big day. He trudged up the ravine, his ski gear on his shoulders. We all watched him scurry up the snow-covered cliffs half way up and more on the ravine which took a couple of hours. Then he skied down the ravine in a flash. He did this a couple of times. He complained "the snow was too icy".

Thereupon my love affair with New Hampshire started. I tried to return often but in vain. One summer I took my family to Lake Winnipesaukee. I believe I took them to the top of Mt. Washington. I traveled 100 miles across New Hampshire from Portsmouth to Exeter to Keene in the late 1990’s to visit friends.

Teresa Volt, one of my pen pals in Vermont, lived fairly close to New Hampshire. I asked her about Tuckerman Ravine. She said she had heard of it. Some years ago, she went to Mt. Washington herself and sent me a few photos. I thanked her, but I misplaced them until recently when I came across them, including the map.

New Hampshire has some hidden, but great names to the Japanese. One is Hanover, the home of Dartmouth College, dating back to the 1760’s. Portsmouth, known for where the Treaty of Portsmouth was signed in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt to finally end the Russo-Japanese War. The Bretton Woods Conference, held in 1944 at the Mt. Washington Hotel, established a new global monetary system. The gold standard was replaced by the dollar as the global currency, establishing the World Bank and IMF concept.

Lastly, let me quote my favorite line from Nathaniel Hawthorne's “Sketches from Memory: The Notch of the White Mountains,” (1835):

"Let us forget the other names of American statesmen, that have been stamped upon these hills, but still call the loftiest - Washington. Mountains are Earth's undecaying monuments. They must stand while she endures, and never should be consecrated to the mere great men of their age and country, but to the mighty ones alone, whose glory is universal, and whom all time will render illustrious."

When I read Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was a hot topic. The total trail stretches over 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine, and required help from many volunteer hikers. I saw that Foxboro engineers, Bob Temple and Mead Bradner (RIP) contributed to the so-called Appalachian Warner Trail, about 30 miles of trails running through Sharon, Foxboro, Wrentham, and Plainville, Massachusetts.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Mataichimura NY NOW!

Excerpt from “Formula” by Joan Gordon (Alfred resident)

“Today you touched my heart
With your wise words
About a formula to ignite
The process of success:

Take passionate effort,
Mix it with ability,
And add a large measure
Of positive attitude.

As a binder to hold
The mixture together,
Pour in lot of love
Yes, a lot of love.”

As a former New Yorker, I have long known Elmira, New York as the soaring capital (i.e., motorless flight), like Torrey Pines, California. Ever since I had my glider pilot second class rides, pulled with human power, lifted by the wind, slicing through the air and skidding down to the ground a hundred times in my teen days as a future Kamikaze pilot, I have continued to yearn for the sky, and I remain attracted to glider bases whenever I see them. In fact, a motor-driven glider ride at Elmira or Torrey Pines is on my bucket list.

I know the Elmira airport is within convenient distance of Corning (15 miles) and Alfred (50 miles), in an area that became known as the Ceramic Corridor back in the old days when Silicon Valley had just started to flourish. Both Corning and Alfred have gained renown for challenging the frontiers of technology, though they remain somewhat less famous than the vibrant tech cluster to the west.

Today, Corning and Alfred are established not only as world-leading technology centers, but stand as grand cathedrals of industrial glass and ceramic innovation with technology museums sponsored by international giants Owens-Corning and Kyoto-based Kyocera Corporation. In particular, The Inamori Kyocera Fine Ceramics Museum adds international flavor to Alfred University’s cooperative research and exchange of information.

I unfortunately had no knowledge of Alfred until I joined Kyocera in San Diego in the early 1970’s. Kyocera’s arrival in San Diego was a miracle in itself. Fairchild, the forefather and pioneer of the semiconductor industry, operated twin-plants in San Diego and Tijuana at that time to manufacture electronic packages for its integrated-circuit (IC) chips. However, the Fairchild package operations were struggling. Impressed with the high-quality packages supplied by Kyocera, Fairchild asked whether Kyocera might be interested in taking over its San Diego operations. Thus, Kyocera founder Kazuo Inamori visited Fairchild in San Diego and came back, legend has it, reporting that the technology was good but “the plant has no heart.” It was 1969.

Kyocera acquired the Fairchild operations in San Diego in 1971 with Ken Miller as Plant Manager and five Japanese engineers from Kyoto to support him. Despite initial labor pains, the operations gradually came to life. When I joined I was to build a new and bigger plant of Kyocera’s own design. After the land had been purchased, blueprints finished and the site ready for construction, God sent another miracle. The nearby Honeywell plant with 21 acres of land went up for sale! It was a plant I had actually visited in late 1950’s and toured inside. What an amazing coincidence ─ and opportunity! The purchase brought us big tenants like General Dynamics and Rohr Engineering. Thus, we could start small and gradually expand as tenant leases expired.

After 50 years, Kyocera’s U.S. operations headquartered at 8611 Balboa Avenue grew from dozens of employees to a peak of nearly 2,000. The business diversified worldwide from ceramics to electronics, optics, document printers, solar power, mobile phones, lab-grown gemstones, and you name what else, producing numerous subsidiaries and allies, as a reputable and leading concern.

What surprised the world was that then President Inamori (now Chairman) was endowed in 1988 with an honorary doctorate for the first time from Alfred University in New York. Kyocera employees rejoiced with the news in a great cheer of “Hurray!”

In 1999, Dr. Inamori was invited to Alfred to speak at the annual John F. McMahon Memorial Seminar. There he shared many of his unique insights gleaned from his work in the field of ceramics, including his pioneering efforts in solar energy, which helped create a dramatic 97% reduction in the cost of solar cells, along with his daily creed for work, persevering in development efforts for years before meeting success. He believes that only relentless effort and unshakable philosophy ultimately bear fruit in the form of technological breakthroughs. Joan Gordon, poetess above and spouse of the late Prof. Ronald Gordon, Dean of the School of Ceramic Engineering and Materials Science at Alfred University, both sat among the audience and at the banquet reception, where Joan found time to hand her impromptu poem to Dr. Inamori.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

“Mataichimura, Here I Come”

An hour’s drive north along the Hudson River from Manhattan and a left turn takes you to the foot of the Catskills, where Rip Van Winkle dozed with a rumbling sound in the distance as a lullaby. The area dishonorably nicknamed the Jewish Alps is a favorite summer resort for many New Yorkers. New England comes first when talking of autumn foliage, the Catskills were closer to us as a family coming from New York. We used to go on excursions to view foliage in upstate New York during the weekends in the 1960’s.

Triggered by the assassination of President JFK and the wide East Coast area blackout chaos, New York had an uproar of labor strikes one after the other, from garage workers to garbage collectors, under Mayor Lindsay. However, one step outside the city and the New York throughways, rustic villages and alpine air awaited you.

One day we headed for Monticello. We found a big landmark with the village name “Mataichimura” written on it in Japanese. After over 50 years, I can’t say for sure if it was a garden mark with trimmed flowers. Probably I’m beautifying my memory. Daily flower trimming must be costly. Rather, it could have been a stone or wooden landmark. I just wondered why this village had a landmark with a Japanese name on it.

A while later, a group of young Japanese golfers from electronic industries in New York set out for a weekend golf trip. I joined the group and returned to “Mataichimura”, and this time I solved the riddle from my previous outing. Sanyo, an austere name, was based there, in Ellenville, New York. Toshio Iue (1902-1969), the founder and first president wrote in his book “Anticipating the Birth of Worldwide Standard Employees” (publisher: Bungei Shunju, 1967) that Sanyo entered into a business relationship with Channel Masters, an antenna manufacturer. He foresaw the importance of joint ventures to avoid the increasing US-Japan trade frictions. It was Toshio Iue who named Ellenville “Mataichimura”, a very appropriate name in the Japanese sense. The name Mataichmura, meaning, “another village” evokes images of countless visits to many counties and many villages, one after another.

The golf course belonged to Channel Masters. It has only 9 holes, all hilly ups and downs, with no on-site starters or managers. We just went in and played the same 9 holes twice and dropped in at Sanyo inside Channel Masters as a courtesy. The group was met by Toshimi Takemoto heading Sanyo there. Sanyo people were at work even though it was a Saturday. Their telex machine room operations looked very busy and reverberated with activity. We quickly headed for Sanyo’s dorm, a 4-story house with many rooms, and the group stayed overnight by sharing rooms.

My family revisited Ellenville about a year later in the summer. I called Mr. Takemoto without advanced notice. He invited my family to his home despite the suddenness of our visit. My children were happy to play outside with Takemoto’s children. My wife and I listened to the story of Mr. and Mrs. Takemoto’s weekly trip to New York to buy Japanese food. The couple had the responsibility to feed the employees from Japan. On their return trip home from New York, their station wagon was fully loaded with Japanese food for dorm dining.

I started to work for another company in San Diego in the early 1970’s and forgot all about the East Coast and Ellenville. In the early 1980’s, E&E Sanyo arrived in San Diego and became our neighbor. Our family became close to Mr. and Mrs. A in connection with the Minato Gakuen Japanese language school, primarily for the Japanese expatriates. I remembered Takemoto and inquired about his latest assignment. I found out Takemoto was in Los Angeles and I was convinced that I would meet him again soon.

That day finally came. He was named a major speaker at the annual “Focus on Japan Festival” sponsored by San Diego State University. I listened to and recorded his speech, as he was acclaimed as the best English speaker in Sanyo by Toshio Iue. I went to congratulate him after the speech. “It has been 30 years since we visited you in Ellenville.” I felt so much emotion that no words came.

I read in the trade paper that Takemoto returned to Japan and then retired after a few years of service with Sanyo. Before I retired, I was hoping to revisit Ellenville before returning to Japan.

PS
I revisited Ellenville in 2002 after visiting my son who was working in New York. Channel Masters was out of business. I dropped by the golf course I had once played. The golf course was there, but it looked shabby compared to the gated resort community. The landmark “Mataichimura” was gone.

Friday, December 25, 2020

People We Lost in 2020: Remembering the Yamadas

I learned about the sudden deaths of Joe and Elizabeth Yamada in May by reading the first digitized "Footprints", the combined Spring-Summer Quarterly issues published by the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego (JAHSSD). I contacted my San Diego friends who was close to them. After my wife and I left San Diego in the mid 1990’s, our contacts with friends in the US gradually faded. What I learned from my contacts was that Joe had been suffering from Alzheimer’s, Beth was nursing him unsparingly. I understand a very fatigued Beth succumbed a few days later after Joe. I hastened my condolatory donation through JAHSSD.

Around the same time, I was pleased to receive a complimentary children’s book from another San Diego friend Write to Me by Cynthia Grady (New Mexico), illustration by Amiko Hirano (Mass). It is a 30-page booklet, published by Charlesbridge. When my translation of Joanne Oppenheim's Dear Miss Breed was published from Kashiwa Book Publishing Tokyo, I received comments from many Japanese readers to cinematize it. The story was dramatized in San Diego by Andy Lowe in early 2000. However, it never occurred to me to make it a children’s book. It is a great idea to visualize the stories for children. I salute both the producer Cynthia and the illustrator Amiko for a job well done.

I noted Joanne Oppenheim, writer of Dear Miss Breed (Scholastic) sent her memorial writing for Joe and Elizabeth to JAHSSD.

It was about half a century ago when I met Clara Breed, a fill-in secretary at the time, and Joe and Elizabeth Yamada, at the San Diego Balboa Park Japanese Friendship Garden Preparation and Funding Committee Meeting, headed by Will Happen Jr, the Honorable Japanese General Consul in San Diego. I represented my employer in the Committee. However, I did not know the relationship between Clara Breed and the Yamadas. It was after the funeral of Clara Breed that I came to know about their beautiful correspondences during their tense incarcerated camp life. In researching the childrens’ letters myself, I learned Joanne Oppenheim had started interviewing Breed’s children. I waited for her book to be published and translated it for the sake of all the young Japanese children upon returning to Japan.