Monday, April 23, 2012

Okinawa and the Flame Tree

As area governor of Toastmasters, I have visited Okinawa a few times. There were two clubs, Kadena and Pacific Pearls, both on U.S. Marine Corps bases, around the turn of the century during the calm before Desert Storm, George Bush's Iraq War.

My first visit to Kadena coincided with a helicopter accident which was quite a tumultuous time. Having been stationed in the naval town of San Diego, close to Miramar and Montgomery (civil) airports, I encountered a few airplane accidents. One time, a navy jet fighter plunged into my plant's backyard. The pilot tried to maneuver out to the ocean in vain. He bailed out and landed safely and I heard he helped the plant crew extinguish the fire. The jet grazed a part of the plant roof, but luckily there were no loss of life.

On my return flight to Kyushu, I saw local papers denouncing the U.S. base helicopter accident, dangerous to off base citizens. Pacific Pearls used Camp Foster chapel for their meetings, but the chartering ceremony was held at Kadena Officer’s Club. Receiving an invitation, I flew to Okinawa for the first time. At the airport, I was given transportation by an air traffic control officer who wanted to join Toastmasters. At Kadena, I met a Marine Corps Colonel, the Club founder of Pacific Pearls (name sounded beautiful) who inducted the chartering with his excellent speech. Quite different from the Japanese way, families were also invited and it was fun to observe the very joyous celebration. The Colonel handed out candy to children first and then to all the participants. It was a very enjoyable Friday night.

Luckily, my friend from San Diego days was stationed in Naha, and he arranged for me to stay at the JT club in the guest house near the Fuzhou Chinese Garden. My stay in the historical heartland of Kumemura helped deepen my understanding of Okinawa.

The following morning, the matron of the house suggested that I walk to the nearby Matsuyama Park and the Chinese Garden before my San Diego friend showed up to visit northern Nago. Matsuyama Park was a big park, located in central Naha, which was a venue for recreational sports, particularly tennis courts. I rambled around the entrance area with water fountain and shady trees of Chinese or Indian banyans. There were statues and epitaphs mourning for high school girls who died in the Okinawa wars.

My attention, however, was drawn to the burning red flame trees (poinciana regis) along Matsuyama Street, against the white walls of Fuzhou Garden. I saw the same trees in Mexico and Hawaii and it was quite a surprise to see them in the islands of Okinawa. The name came from a sacred bird of Chinese mythology, as the flower is shaped like a phoenix spreading its wings. According to mythology, the world has no wars, no storms, no floods, no earthquakes, when the phoenix flies.

Very recently, my Taiwan friend referred me to the book Flame Flowers Have All Fallen, written in 2011 by Sakuo Imabayashi (1923-), a Fukuoka citizen, a returnee from Tainan, Taiwan. Imabayashi was born and raised in Tainan and repatriated to Fukuoka at the end of World War II. He revisited Tainan in 1990 after almost half a century and said he was sorry that the Tainan of his youth all vanished, including the giant Chinese Banyan trees and burning red flame trees that shaded the streets from the Tainan RR Station to Tainan Downtown Circle. He analyzed the causes - exploding population, influx of cars, roads widened for increased traffic, vermin damages, street cleanup nuisance, etc.

I remembered immediately my Okinawa visit 10 years ago. I learned that the area was used for location of the recent movie Tempest (see Notes 1), depicting the declining period of the Ryukyu Kingdom and the woman-disguised eunuch's rendezvous with a Satsuma Samurai under a flame tree. I didn't know the floral language of the flame tree is melancholic love.

The two sister cities Naha and Fuzhou jointly created the Fuzhou Garden in 1992 to commemorate the 10th year anniversary of their relations. The garden was based on the basic design of Fuzhou architect. Most of the materials came from Fuzhou, and was completed with Fuzhou technicians' help and service. The area is 8,500 square meters (2.l acres), at the former location of the above mentioned girl’s high school, and destroyed during the war. Three famous mountains of Fuzhou are reflected in the miniature landscape and there is a statue of poet Li Pai holding a Sake cup. It is a very authentic garden in a quiet corner of a busy capital.


1. This Kumemura area is where Fujian immigrants settled and their descendents kept tributes to the Ming Dynasty. The Confucius Temple exists nearby. Naha was the commercial center while the Shuri Castle was the political center of hereditary King Sho, who had bitter experiences with Commodore Perry's contacts. King Sho became a Buddhist and a peace seeker. The Kingdom surrendered to the Satsuma clan in Kagoshima and finally yielded to Tokugawa Shogunate.

2. Both Kadena and Pacific Pearls were disbanded when the Iraq War re-erupted. Soldiers were sent to the Middle East. My current contacts with the previous club members are all women. In 2011, the Oki-Orators was newly established as a new Okinawa community Toastmasters. Good luck, Oki-Orators!

3. Joanne Oppenheim, author of Dear Miss Breed, wrote that it was the first time she saw what the poinciana flower looked like in my blog. She was familiar with the flower name from the old song sung by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ahmad Jamal Trio, etc. I didn't know the song, so I checked it out. It goes like this:

"Poinciana, your branches speak to me of love,
Pale moon is casting shadows from above.
Poinciana, somehow I feel the jungle heat,
Within me there grows a rhythmic savage beat."

The music is by Nat Simon, lyrics by Buddy Bernier.

I found also the city named Poinciana in central Florida, near Orlando - an area that is growing rapidly.

4. According to Wikipedia, the flowering season differs in different countries.

* South Florida: May–June
* Vietnam: May–July
* Caribbean: May–September
* India, Pakistan, Bangladesh: April–June
* Australia: December–February
* Northern Mariana Islands: March–June
* United Arab
* Brazil: November–February
* Southern Sudan: March–May
* Thailand: April–May
* Zimbabwe: October–December"

5. The flame tree I saw in Mexico was in Cuernavaca. My friend in Morelia, Michoacan told me there were no flame trees there. Poinciana is also the name in Spanish. Morelia, Michoacan is 214 km or 150 miles from Cuernavaca, Morelos.

1 comment:

CTaira said...

Oh I thought that plant is called Mimosa:D Same trees along Gate 2 street but with white flowers? Enjoyed reading the blog. Thanks for the share...