Friday, July 30, 2010

Den-emon, Rescuer of the Ryoanji Treasures

"The Ryōan-ji garden is famous for its simplicity. The longer you sit, the more the garden fascinates. The fifteen rocks are placed so that, when looking at the garden from any angle (other than from above), only fourteen of the boulders are visible at one time. It is traditionally said that only through attaining enlightenment would one be able to view the fifteenth boulder." (Source)

With the 1994 UNESCO designation, Ryoanji should have been one of the most visited temples in Kyoto. I worry that visitors cannot find space to sit and meditate among the crowds. I heard it is one of the few temples that accommodates blind visitors, allowing them to touch the rocks and stones.

Can any visitor imagine that this same temple went through a dark period lingering on the brink of collapse? Probably not. The slogan of the Meiji Restoration (1868) was "Restore the Monarchy" and anything related to the cultural habits and institutions from the Tokugawa era was either neglected and/or destroyed. Buddhism did not escape. There was a rage unchecked and many temples were demolished or left to decay.

Ryoanji apparently did everything to survive, selling a hoard of treasures, including 71 slide door paintings of the abbott from the 17th century, which overlooks the dry garden of 15 rocks.

The rescuer of the paintings was Den-emon Itoh (1861-1947), the coal mining king of Chikuho, now the city of Iizuka in Fukuoka Prefecture. Den-emon, helped his father Den-roku succeed in developing a coal mining enterprise and used that as a foothold to serve as a congressman in the early 1900's.

Portrait of Den-emon Itoh
from the old Iizuka Chamber of Commerce magazine

The arranged marriage to Akiko Yanagiwara (1885-1967), later known by her pen name Byakuren, came in l911, for political reasons, after Den-emon lost his first wife. In 1933, Den-emon, in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the construction of Osaka Castle, exhibited the 71 slide door paintings of Ryoanji at the so-called Kii Palace, inside the Osaka Castle compound (destroyed by fire in 1947 during the GHQ occupation). It was known publicly that the Ryoanji treasure was the possession of Den-emon.

It was the last showing of the Ryoanji treasures as a complete unit. The death of Den-emon Ito and the misfortunes as a consequence of the arranged marriage scattered the collection.

The Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAM) toured Tokyo, Kobe, Yamanashi, Shizuoka and Fukuoka since Sept 2009 with its "Luminous Jewels Masterpieces". I attended the exhibit at the Fukuoka Art Museum on the last day (July 19, 2010) to see a Kano School "A Game of Go", from the Four Elegant Accomplishments, once owned by Den-emon and now part of the SAM collection. They were originally inside Ryoanji Temple’s abbot's room, directly facing the zen garden.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York reportedly owns the "Flying Liezi”, from the Chinese immortals, which was in the central room of the abbot also directly facing the Ryoanji zen garden.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Presenting Dear Miss Breed

On July 15, I had a serendipitous chance to talk about the book I translated Dear Miss Breed to the English Department students of Seinan Jogakuin University, a Baptist Women’s University in Kitakyushu, where I live.

I spent some weeks to prepare for an hour speech, visual presentation materials and table displays, as well as the questionnaire to see how my talk would be received by the students.

I’m glad to report today how the talk went through the analysis of the collected questionnaires.

There were a total of 100 attendees consisting of 80 students, 10 faculty members and 10 participating Kitakyushu citizens. 70 questionnaires were collected from the students.

Here are the results.

Q: Were you aware that the U.S. Gov. had imprisoned its Nikkei citizens
during WWII?
24% replied YES and 76% NO.

Q: Have you heard or read about the book "Dear Miss Breed"?
All answered NO.

Q: Was the pace of the talk too fast, too slow or about right?
3% replied too slow, 9% too fast and 87% about right.

Other questions were:
Q: What was your overall response to today's talk?
Q: How might the talk be improved?
Q: Any additional comments or questions?

Some people answered in Japanese as I told them it was okay beforehand. I have combined the responses to these three questions. They are as follows in no particular order.

1. Visual presentation was helpful to understand the talk.
2. Pictures shown were beautiful.
3. The short DVD presentation with music was wonderful.
4. Letters were too small. Unable to read.
5. Good speech. Learned things I wasn't aware of.
6. Enjoyed the whole show, talk and presentation.
7. Difficult to hear sometimes.
8. Partially unable to understand.
9. It was an interesting talk.
10. Good talk, easy to understand
11. I'd like to listen in Japanese as well
12. Did not know anything about what happened with the Japanese-Americans during the WWII.
13. Great chance to learn new experience
14. Wishing the world no more wars – War is horrible, full of sorrow.
15. War shall never re-occur.
16. War is a heavy theme. Need more time to delve into.
17. The talk opened a new road to explore.
18. We shall not forget WWII.
19. Given a good chance to learn history never taught.
20. Learned importance of learning history.
21. Surprised about the internment camp of the Japanese-Americans.
22. Internment camp scenes were touching.
23. I'm surprised there are Japanese gardens in foreign countries.
24. Learned U.S. through the history of Japanese-Americans.
25. Miss Breed is a humane person.
26. Saw a movie about Japanese-Americans but heard a real story of Japanese-Americans for the first time.
27. Now I know there are people like Miss Breed even in the country we were fighting against.
28. Feel more people should know about Miss Breed.
29. I was very surprised about the history of Nikkei citizens in the U.S.
30. It's great to see foreigners can appreciate Japanese culture.
31. I'll go buy a book of "Dear Miss Breed" to read and recommend it to others.
32. I think foreigners in Japan can get along each other.
33. Enjoyed understandable English
34. Impressed with the speaker's sincere way of English talking.
35. Not much body gestures.

It is great feedback to have, which will help me improve my next presentation. Thanks to all attendees!

NOTE: A lecture report is available from the SeiJo English Web site.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hawthorne Marathon on July 4th

Summer time! People should be on vacation. Today, Sunday, July 4th, in rain forecasted Kitakyushu, we celebrated U.S. Independence Day and the 206th birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) in a most unique way. While living in New York City, I visited the House of the Seven Gables, in Salem, Massachusetts which inspired Hawthorne to write his masterpiece, bearing the same name.

About 80 plus English speaking volunteers participated in the reading marathon of another of Hawthorne’s masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter. The reading started at 9:00 AM and went on until late at night, close to 11:00 PM. The 230 page book was read by 80 people in turns. On the average, each person read 2-3 pages. I read four pages during my turn.

As an annual event of the Kyushu Salon, serving the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society of Japan, the program was designed jointly by Professor Emeritus Shinichiro Noriguchi of Kitakyushu City University and the marathon chair Mariko Takashima, professor of the Kagoshima Women's Junior College. Most of the volunteers, including scholars, teachers, young students, businessmen, and retirees like myself, were Kitakyushu residents. There were also visitors from Hiroshima, Kagoshima and Fukuoka.

Reading Marathon Chair Mariko Takashima &
Vice Chair Kimiko Murata

Reading marathons in the U.S. are mostly practiced in churches and universities for special occasions. Popular readings are for the Bible, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Mark Twain’s stories, etc. I’m happy to see Japan is following suit and Kitakyushu blazing the trail.

Professor Noriguchi was quoted in the Asahi Newspaper saying, "Hawthorne voice-rehearsed his writing more than 30 times before he put it in black and white". It was a surprise to me because I do my voice reading rehearsals, but less than 30 times.

My turn in reading started like this:

“It may seem marvellous that, with the world before her - kept by no restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits of the Puritan settlement, so remote obscure – free to return to her birthplace or any other European land, and there hide her character and identity under a new exterior, as completely as if emerging into another state of being - and having also the passes of the dark, inscrutable forest open to her, where the wildness of her nature might assimilate itself with a people whose customs and life were alien from the law that had condemned her - it may seem marvelous that this woman should still call that place her home, where, and where only, she must needs to be the type of shame.”

This is one sentence. First time I read it, I counted 4 hyphens and had to weigh which hyphenated clauses are heaviest, then heavier and which is lighter. The three hyphenated clauses (between the repetition of "It may seem marvellous") are syntactically equivalent but are not equal ideas. The first ("kept by no . . . Puritan settlement") is a condition of her liberty, the second and third ("free to return to her birthplace . . ." and having also . . . the forest open to her") are liberty's possible destinations. The syntax hides that relationship between the three places (Puritan settlement, Europe, and forest), instead of clarifying or amplifying it.

After repeated training, I thought I understood what Hawthorne wanted to say and even found sophisticated beauty in rehearsing.

Let me quote Hawthorne on where his writing came from:

1) Easy reading is damn hard writing.
2) Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a Dictionary, how potent the good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.

I brought my umbrella to the venue of the marathon reading. Fortunately I missed the rain but wondered if the rain spoiled the evening of the late night participants.