Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sarusuberi (Crepe Myrtle) Flowers

"Sweltering Sky
Enduring Crepe Myrtle"
- Kyoshi Takahama

Crepe Myrtle is a summertime beauty. It's a bare tree in the winter and slow to blossom in the spring. The Japanese named the tree "Sarusuberi", a tree whereby even a monkey slips and falls because the bark is thin and peels easily. This tree is originally from China. The Chinese call it "Bai ri hong", which translates literally as "100-day red".

Kagano Chiyo (1703-1775), a famous Haiku poet from the Edo Period sang:

"Bloom and
fall over and over - Sarusuberi flowers
last for the entire summer"

The color varies from red to pink to white. I read that Crepe Myrtle gets it name from the crinkly look of crepe paper.

I have a special bond with Crepe Myrtle. Before returning to Japan after 20 years in San Diego (1994), I bought a Crepe Myrtle and donated it to the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego's Balboa Park. I dedicated it to the memory of Yukichi Ikeda (see the photo), a Japanese expatriate.

Here is his story.

Wives of Japanese expatriates typically join their husbands in the U.S. after 3 or 4 months of first arriving. The idea is for expatriates to get their feet wet in their new work environment and secure housing for their families. The day Ikeda's wife was to arrive was a Saturday. Yukichi and I were in the same foursome at an intracompany golf tournament at Admiral Baker Golf Course located in Mission Gorge. Yukichi was about 30 years old, honest, handsome, likable, hard working, and a good golfer. His golf that day was excellent, possibly because he was to pick up Miyoko at the airport after the tournament.

A few days after the tournament Yukichi left work earlier than the rest of us, saying he was taking his wife to a fine restaurant for dinner. We cheered him on; he blushed, then left quickly.

That same day, I went for my daily swim before going home and was paged over the intercom. My wife was in a panic and said that Ikeda had been shot and was taken to the hospital in Point Loma. I panicked myself and dressed quickly, then sped off to the hospital, praying all the way for him. Upon my arrival, I found him in a coma as his stretcher was being moved to another ambulance to transport him to University of California, San Diego Hospital. He was breathing, but unconscious. Miyoko was there, obviously in shock, pale and in tears.

The story was that while the couple headed toward the restaurant from the parking lot, two men blocked their way and demanded money. The robbers went to snatch Miyoko's handbag and Yukichi moved to block them to protect her. A shot was fired and the bullet entered his nose, circled inside his brain and lodged there.

The Japanese money Miyoko carried was intact in her purse. The robbers fled empty handed after shooting Ikeda.

An unfortunate confrontation; a very cruel crime!

Yukichi never regained consciousness. Upon arrival of his kin, he was taken off life support.

The police interrogated Miyoko for a description of the robbers, but she was unable to give any detailed information. She had faced black men for the very first time in her life.

The incident happened in 1980, almost 30-years ago. The case remains unresolved.

A collection was taken for Miyoko but she refused the money. We reserved the money to do something in his memory. Since I once served on the Board for the Balboa Park Japanese Garden, I knew they might accept a horticultural donation when the garden was built. I chose a Crepe Myrtle because it bears long lasting flowers in the summer to attract visitors.

Crepe Myrtle usually is not planted in the traditional Japanese Garden as it gives tropical and southern landscaping. But it just matches with temples and pagodas as I found it in the Rurikoji Temple in Yamaguchi City (see the photo above). The temple for the Ouchi Clan, through Ashikaga and Sengoku period 1180 to 1557, is known for its beautiful 5-storied pagoda (built in 1442) ranking among Japan's three most

Ikeda's father left a message that Yukichi had intended life long employment in San Diego. Saburo Shiroyama* (1927-2007), a famous writer who created a new genre of business fiction, was around us a few months afterwards and he quoted Yukichi's father's message in one of his books.

Today the Japanese Friendship Garden and Tea House is serving tea ceremony demonstrations regularly. It is an ideal wedding ceremony location.

Yukichi Ikeda in memoriam


* Saburo Shiroyama's works include
1 "War Criminal: The Life and Death of Hirota Koki" (落日燃ゆ)
2 "Man's True Dream" (男子の本懐)
3 "Love Diary" for his deceased wife (そうか、君はもう いないのか)

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