Monday, July 6, 2009

Last One To Go

I treasure John Dower's book Embracing Defeat and I keep it at my elbow for frequent reference. For one thing, it helps remind me of the hardship days of Japan's defeat, and for another, it helps me to accept the loss of my grandmother. I still pray for my grandmother, who has been missing since August 5, 1945, the night an air raid dropped incendiary bombs on Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, my hometown in Shikoku. The A-bomb exploded on Hiroshima the following morning, but my family had no way of knowing, because we lost our home and turned adrift.

Now, thumbing through the book, it has quite a few postwar episodes; but the most unforgettable and intriguing one is about a Japanese scientist who handwrote a message in English on a piece of paper on the day the U.S. Occupation Forces showed up, and thus saved his marine biological lab.

He wrote:
"This is a marine biological station with its history of sixty plus years. If you are from the East Coast, some of you might know Woods Hole or Mt. Desert or Tortugas. If you are from the West Coast, you may know Pacific Grove or the Puget Sound Biological Station. This place is a place like one of these. Take care of this place and protect the possibility for the continuation of our peaceful research. You can destroy the weapons and the war instruments, but save the civil equipment for Japanese students. When you are through with your job here, notify the University and let us come back to our scientific home." He signed it, "The last one to go."

Perfect English. The appendix of Dower's book noted that the scientist was Katsuma Dan (1905-1996), an eminent Japanese biologist. I searched the Internet and found Katsuma Dan was an American trained biologist and had worked at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Station. No wonder he was good at English. That English note was picked up by the U.S. Squadron, and the commander sent it to the Woods Hole Marine Station in MA. The Woods Hole Station kept the paper. You can read the paper in his own handwriting at this Web site.

I found out the facility where Dr. Dan left his message is the Misaki Marine Biological Institute which belonged to the University of Tokyo. The Japanese Navy set up its submarine base there and the entire area became a hidden fort. His Institute had to live with the Navy during the war. Thanks to the quick wit of Dr. Dan, the facilities were kept intact. The institution celebrated its
100th anniversary a few years ago.
A little more history on Dr. Dan. He was the second son of Baron Takuma Dan. Takuma Dan (1858-1932) was an MIT graduate and mining major, involved in Mitsui Mining in Miike, Kyushu. In 1931, the baron was assassinated by the "Ketsumeidan" terrorist group. Ikuma Dan (1924-2001), the famous opera composer of "Yuzuru", the "Evening Crane", is Katsuma's nephew. Ikuma died on his performance trip in Beijing, China.

Katsuma Dan married his colleague Jean Clark while working at Woods Hole, and upon their return to Japan, both Jean and Katsuma worked at the Misaki Lab, leaving many papers drawn from their accomplishment in embryological fields. Misaki maintains a microscope used for discovery by Jean Dan for public display. Katsuma served Tokyo Metropolitan University as President (1965-1973), and Jean taught at Ochanomizu University. The couple founded the Jean and Katsuma Dan Fellowship Programs, which have assisted about 80 biology students to date. The Dans most likely loved the ocean wherever they were. It is recommended that this story be included in grade school textbooks.

As a youth fresh from school and a new Tokyoite, I explored the ocean around Tokyo. One summer I extended my trip to Kamakura further south to Miura Peninsula. I'm sure I passed through Misaki on the way to offshore Jogashima Island. I think the Misaki Marine Biological Station is a little south of today's famous Aburatsubo Yacht Marina. Today, a bridge connects Misaki City and Jogashima Island.

In my day, we had to take a boat to see the stone monument of Hakushu Kitahara's poem. The poem, written by Hakushu (1885-1942), is now sung by children as a sailors' song. I still remember the tasty top shell dish I enjoyed on the island, with sea food cooked in its own shell.

Here's a rough translation of the Hakushu's poem.

"It keeps drizzling.
O'er the rocky shore of Jogashima.
The rain of the Rikyu Gray (Rat).
Is the rain pearls,
or fog of dawn,
or my subdued sobbing.
A ship sails
around the tip of a Tohria.
Your ship hoisted wet sail.
I row a ship.
I pull an oar to a song,
the song - the captain's spirit.
It keeps drizzling."

As a returnee myself back from the U.S., I am fascinated with Dan's story. In the U.S. I spent 10 years on the East Coast and 20 years on the West Coast. During my stay, I had a chance to travel to Woods Hole, Cape Cod, Chesapeake Bay and Puget, Oregon shores, Pismo Beach, Morro Rock, La Jolla, etc. My memories run like revolving lanterns, just as I drove on the coastal routes, either east or west, and each memory brings back very special colorful scenes of family and/or friends.

One of my favorite passages from literature on the subject of ocean scenes is this quotation from Anne Morrow Lindberg's book, Gift from the Sea. "No man is an island, said John Donne. I (Anne Morrow Lindberg) feel we are all islands in a common sea." This is the very thought I have these days, as one who was raised living by the sea, and as a devoted ocean lover. I would wish to be engaged in the ocean related job like Drs. Dan if I were ever to be reborn.

While net surfing, I discovered the Web site of Dr. David Colman, Professor at McGill University which has pretty much the same information as reported above. (There is also a piece written in Time Magazine dated December 10, 1945, entitled, "Appeal to the Goths".) Dr. Colman adds:

"Professor Katsuma Dan went on to become the resident of Tokyo Metropolitan University from 1965-1973 and continued to publish superb science well into the 1980's, and the Misaki Marine Biological Station is a thriving research facility today. Dr. Dan inspired generations of students and scholars with his work and, as evidenced by this story, tapped into a fundamental respect for the importance of scientific research that crossed political and cultural boundaries."

Please send any comments about the Director's Corner to I contacted Dr. Colman and exchanged email a few times. He was very pleased to hear from me.


Josephine said...

It was a moving story. Katsuma Dan was great !

iomar said...

I appreciate this story. Thank you Rio