Monday, October 19, 2009

Profound Sadness

The movie Reign Over Me (2007) is a black and blue therapeutic drama, but is a comedy as well, of friendship between two dentists Alan Johnson and Charlie Fineman, roommates at college. When they encounter each other at Washington Square in New York, Charlie is a wreck of a dentist, shabby looking, and Alan failed to recognize his old chum. Later we learn that Charlie lost his entire family in 9/11, three daughters, a wife and the family dog. He was well compensated for their wrongful deaths, but so wracked with grief that he lost touch with reality, escaping into movies, music and TV games such as "Shadow of the Colossus", and riding on a two-wheeled scooter which is a metaphor for the imbalance in which he lives. Inside his condo, Charlie is remodeling his dining room by himself, conscience-stricken with the last telephone conversation he had with his wife before boarding her ill-fated hijacked flight. Remodeling was the last thing his wife wanted him to do.

Charlie showed no will to live and actually attempted to kill himself, by tricking policemen to shoot him. Despite Alan's helpful arrangements, Charlie shut himself off from the therapist's questions about his loved ones, turning up the volume on his iPod, listening to "Love, Reign O'er Me." His post traumatic stress syndrome was bottomless in spite of Alan's self-sacrificing endeavors.

Recently, as I sat in my dentist's waiting room, I reflected on the dentist movie. While waiting, I read a "Bunshun" review of the book Yasuko's Diary during WWII (2009) written by Ryusho Kadota. I bought the book on my way home.

Yasuko Kuriya (1925-1945) was a daughter of Hiroshima City Mayor Senkichi Kuriya. Senkichi served as the chief of Osaka Prefectural Police but was transferred to Hiroshima as the city mayor in l943. Senkichi had a house in southern Tokyo, so he relocated only accompanied by his wife Sachiyo, leaving all the children in Tokyo. The eldest daughter, Motoko, was already married and lived in Kobe. However, with the Allied's air raids returning again and again and getting fiercer, the young ones were sent to the mountain and farming villages away from Tokyo. However, Shinobu, eldest son, chose to join his parents in Hiroshima. The second son, Tadashi, left for Yamanashi, second daughter, Yasuko, for Niigata and third daughter, Chikako, for Nagano, thus scattering the entire family.

Before leaving for Niigata, Yasuko had almost a year's worth of experience working at the Army Arsenal in Jyujo, northern Tokyo, in the student corps. She and her friends were paired to work with three prep students from Chuo University including Jotaro "Jo" Takagi and Jing Yi Liang, a Taiwanese, who finished 5 years in Setagawa Middle School. It was the time Confucian teaching prevailed and "boys did not sit with girls after reaching 7 years old", but Yasuko was a friendly girl, not shy, but naive. Being personally consulted, Yasuko dissuaded Liang from applying to become "Tokko" (Kamikaze pilot) saying "it is the pride of the nation but disgraceful to enforce as a nation."

Yasuko once invited Takagi and Liang to her house. Liang met Mother Sachiyo and brother Shinobu, and Liang was impressed with Yasuko's piano piece "A Maiden's Prayer" (by Tekla Badarzewska). Shinobu drew his favorite cartoon and gave it to Liang.

August 6, 1945, the A-bomb killed the Mayor, Yasuko's brother, Shinobu, instantly. Mother Sachiyo was severely burned but survived. Yasuko came to know what happened in Hiroshima, but Yasuko learned of the death of her father from the newspaper after Japan's unconditional surrender. She decided to go home to Tokyo, which survived the raids. Then Takagi and Liang visited Yasuko's home unexpectedly because two friends wanted to console her for the death of the family. Yasuko was, told by Motoko that her mother was hospitalized. Yasuko decided to go care for her mother. Yasuko asked Liang to buy her a ticket to Hiroshima since Liang could use his non-Japanese privilege making it easier to buy. He complied and got it quickly. Yasuko was in Hiroshima by the end of August. Yasuko did everything she could possibly do for her dying mother. She fed her mother medicine, water and air mouth to mouth. Her mother died 10 days afterwards despite Yasuko's dedicated nursing.

Motoko and Yasuko lit fire to the mother's remains by the river. Yasuko carried mother's ashes back to Tokyo after staying some weeks at Motoko's house. While in Kobe, Yasuko showed symptons of mastitis from the secondary radiation exposure or ionizing radiation. She went through a mastitis operation in Tokyo. Chikako, Yasuko's younger sister came home in mid-October from Nagano. What Chikako saw at home were three funeral tablets of both her parents and brother, and her bed-ridden sister Yasuko.

Yasuko's news spread to Chuo University students. Liang, staying at Jo's house, came again to see Yasuko in mid November, a few days before Yasuko's death. Liang was apologetic in getting Yasuko her ticket to Hiroshima so quickly. He could have saved her life by delaying his ticket purchase. On November 24, Yasuko passed away. What a sad story!

Two sisters Motoko and Chikako, as well as his brother Tadashi, wrote their respective bereavement memoirs of Yasuko based on Yasuko's diary after the war; but the publication was limited and was buried for almost 60 years.

I had to compare the grief of the sister and brother with that of the dentist Charlie. Profound and unbearable sorrow. I can say, however, Kuriya's brother and sisters did not have the luxury of escape as did Charlie. No therapeutic consultation was available.

Author Kadota found Jingyi Liang in Taoyuan City, Taiwan, through Jo Takagi's connection, and met Liang twice, first in Taiwan and again in Tokyo, Japan. The second meeting was to to visit Kuriya's family tomb in Tama Cemetary together. Liang seems to me to be a bit like Charlie. According to Kadota, Liang's Japanese is perfect, better than the ordinary Japanese. He admitted that he adored Yasuko and losing her made him a misanthropist. Liang continued at Jo Takagi's home in post-war days but in the summer of 1956, when they walked Hiratsuka Beach together, Liang suddenly shouted "I'm going home." Jo understood him without any comment. Jo saw him off on the S.S. Taipei Maru. Seeing Mt. Fuji disappearing in the distance, Liang vowed never to return to Japan.

In Jhongli, Taoyuan, Kadota was guided to the rose beds in Liang's home backyard, where he buried Yasuko's hair. Liang requested it when Yasuko left for Niigata as he was afraid he could not see her any more upon her departure. Also at the Tokyo arsenal, Liang was once presented with a bouquet of red roses from Yasuko. Liang said red roses grew and bred surprising well there. Liang took piano lessons to play "A Maiden's Prayer."

It was his grandfather who helped Liang to regain himself upon his homecoming and arranged a marriage with Gong. Liang fared well through all the years with Gong, surviving the "228 Incident" in particular, by hiding his association with Japan. He sent all his children to the U.S. for education and he let them stay. He considered immigrating to live with them but thought better of it.
Red roses traditionally signify love, passion, respect and courage

Friday, October 16, 2009

"August 6, 1945"

Very few Japanese remember there were about 45,000 British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) occupying western Japan from 1956 to 1958 - Shimane, Tottori, Okayama, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi and four prefectures of Shikoku. I was a high school student then in Shikoku. I couldn't tell the nationality of the soldiers, BCOF or USOF, who came to my school to burn the school gliders with gasoline. I was a member of the air club, so I sadly watched it. The act was part of their demilitarizing responsibilities but I wondered why it was necessary.

During two-thirds of the occupation, the Commonwealth was represented by Australians, and throughout its existence BCOF was always commanded by an Australian officer. They were headquartered in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture. One-tenth of the BCOF were Kiwis, New Zealand contingent of an army Infantry Brigade commonly known as "Jayforce". They took over USOF in the early part 1946. They were in charge of Chofu, the westernmost of the BCOF district, which is now a part of Shimonoseki City. The main job of the troops on their patrols was to see that the munitions of the Japanese Navy, Army and Air Force were destroyed, dumped at sea or melted down.

The J-Force headquarters in Chofumachi was in the Kobe Seiko works where the planes were melted down to recycle aluminum. I have read in one of the local Shimonoseki papers that the Kiwis behaved well, showed less racial discrimination against the Japanese than any other troops and left a warm impression when they repatriated. We are both islanders, and Kiwis have Maoris, similarities stop there?

About 10 years ago, I was invited to a welcome reception of a dozen Kiwi veterans who were J-Force members. They must have all been septuagenarians with the lapse of 50 years. They were hale and hearty and we enjoyed conversation. I came to know a gentleman named Bill, a historian and a teacher by profession, who lives near Auckland. We have corresponded almost 10 years. Through the exchange of e-mails, I learned that he has made many Japanese friends and gave me the name of Shiro Nakamura for whom he helped translate and publish an article in August 11, 2001 issue of a top 10 New Zealand magazine called Listener.

I Googled the Listener back issues but I could not retrieve the article. It was probably too old to be in the online archives. Bill sent me a photostatic copy for scanning. The Listener article was greatly praised by critics as per Bill. He said the article triggered his memories of the battered Imperial Naval Port that had huge buildings with racks for "midget" submarines in Kure, and the horror of first seeing Hiroshima from the railway train from Kure to Chofu.

The title of the Listener article is "August 6. 1945". The original Japanese article was written by Rennosuke Fukuda (1923 - 2001) who was one of 100,000 victims of the A-Bomb on that ominous morning. What a real and truly graphic account by Rennosuke, a victim himself! He was unconscious at the moment of the flash! Coming back to life, he saw he was blown quite a distance away from where he was originally.

I remembered I met Shiro Nakamura when the Kiwi veterans revisited Kitakyushu 10 years ago. So I wrote to Nakamura, asking who Rennosuke Fukuda is. It turns out that Rennosuke Fukuda was his older brother. Shiro was adopted into the Nakamura family and hence his surname change. Here is a brief bio of Shiro's brother Rennosuke.

Rennosuke was born in Shimonoseki, studied at the Yamaguchi Youth Normal School and became a school teacher. He was drafted by the Army and assigned to the accounting section of the Hiroshima Engineering Battalion. After the war, he got a job at the Shimonoseki City Office and worked until his retirement. He died in 2001.

I asked Shiro if Rennosuke had written any other articles. He said it was the only paper he found, so Shiro thought he owed it to his brother to get it published with timely help from Bill, our mutual Kiwi friend. Shiro was completely surprised when he found the translated story in the Listener. He had not sent any photos, so he concluded that the Listener must have picked up photos from the archives.

Maybe it is an old article. Belated though, I want to congratulate Rennosuke from the bottom of my heart for this great article in the Listener, as the culmination of friendship and cooperation between Bill and Shiro. I pray for the soul of Rennosuke, and I want to dedicate this blog entry to my mutual friends by presenting the article to my readers.

Bill and Shiro

The Listener article:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Found : the American Samurai in Kumamoto

I asked my American friend who studied at one of the Kumamoto Universities as a foreign exchange student some years ago, "Do you miss anything in Kumamoto?" He answered, "Sure, the rich water from Mount Aso." His reply inspired me to visit the local areas close by with water, such as Hakenomiya, Lake Ezu, etc., not to mention the famous Suizenji Park (shown above). I learned that Kumamoto (population of about 670,000) is one of the rare cities which enjoy plentiful water from rich underground water resources. The underground water supplies originate from Aso Caldera, the active volcano surrounded by mountain ranges and plateaus. The vast Shirakawa River runs through the city. I observed water welling out in a number of places in Hakenomiya and Lake Ezu.

Lake Ezu

City Hall has a speical electronic board with the up-to-the-minute water levels at various locations. Lake Ezu's figures average 7.0-7.5 meters throughout the year. Kumamoto Castle had many deep wells as sources of water in case they were besieged.

A few days ago I was in Kumamoto again. It was a sunny day and unusually warm for January. I took a stroll around Suizenji Park and came upon the first western colonial style house in Kumamoto (1871), designated as an important cultural property of the prefecture. The house is known as L.L. Janes' Residence, so named because the Janes' family of four were the first occupants. The museum director briefed me on who he was and I realized this gentleman was the model for Captain Algren in the movie The Last Samurai played by Tom Cruise. Captain Leroy Lansing Janes (Jaynes) was an 1861 graduate from West Point and fought in the Battle of Fort Stevens in the Civil War. The battle was fought on July 11 and 12 in Northwest Washington, D.C. as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 between the forces under Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early and Union General Horatio Wright. The battle resulted in a Union victory.

After the Meiji Restoration, many local lords hastened to set up schools for the children of the clans. Governor Hosokawa, the ex-Kumamoto lord was no exception and he requested an American teacher through the Meiji Government. Janes was no Captain Algren and he did not drink. He was a pious, hard working Christian, born in New Philadelphia, Ohio, the son of Colonel Elisha Janes, who served as the county sheriff (1838-1841). He was 34 years old when he took the job. He taught more than a dozen curricula in English by himself, ranging from geometry, algebra, physics, chemistry, biology, to English.

The museum exhibited some of the textbooks he had handwritten. His methodology focused on group study, self-teaching rather than through lecturing, bringing out the best of the student. He selected group leaders to train their juniors. He taught the first coed school in Japan aimed to instill the ideals of the Japanese spirit with western teachings. He also ventured into farming vegetables with a horse driven plough and taught culturing fruit by grafting, dairy farming, bread-making and he imported the first print machine. The community respected his great mind and his five-year contract could have been renewed. Unfortunately, many of his students converted to ardent Protestants under his influence. Christianity had long been banned during Tokugawa Shogunate and was still frowned upon. Those who practiced were subjected to persecution. Janes left Kumamoto in 1876 in obscurity.

The bloody Seinan War broke out in 1877, just after he left, in the 10th year of Meiji. Therefore, he was not involved in the war as in the movie The Last Samurai. If he were, he would have fought against the rebel Satsuma force led by Takamori Saigo. Captain Algren sided with the rebels. Kumamoto Castle was besieged by the rebels. His residence became quarters for Prince Arisugawa-no-miya Taruhito, as well as the field hospital for the wounded soldiers. Again the museum exhibited a decayed wooden shutter on which the injured were carried. The house became the symbol of the birth of the Japanese Red Cross Hospital.

The two-story house was originally built inside the Kumamoto Castle. It was moved to the present location, outside the castle, next to the third house of author Soseki Natsume. The subdued colors of the roof and walls were green and brown and the windows and door frames all contribute to a harmony that suggests settled warmth. The museum director said that Nagasaki carpenters, who built the Glover House in 1863, were involved in the construction.

Records show that L.L. Janes returned to Japan and taught English in Osaka, Kagoshima, etc. and retired in San Jose, California. Several Kumamotoans visited him in San Jose.

Lastly, I found that Doshisha University in Kyoto, as well as the International Christian University in Musashino, Tokyo had affiliations with the Western School of Kumamoto, when the descendents of Janes' (Jaynes) students were traced. Janes, apparently tried to save lives of students in sanctuary, if they pursued their religious creeds.