Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Avenues of Flowers Galore

by Mitsuko Nakachi (1928-2016)
, translated by Rio Imamura

The city of Lubumbashi where I moved to from Musoshi thoroughly got rid of my prejudice that Africa is a dark continent. Lubumbashi is the "city of flowers".  Blooming flowers in various colors are all over in fine displays on fences, along roads, inside gardens, one after another, producing a grandiose paradise.  The prudent planning of city streets just surprised me.

The flower season in Lubumbashi starts in September, the month of blooming jacaranda trees.  The streets I stroll innocently everyday turn suddenly into tunnels of purple mist.  Jacaranda on both sides of the streets are in full bloom, blended and crisscrossed. African roads are wide and long and jacaranda trees continue far and farther away. Purple color tunnels spread until eyes become dim and hazy.  Jacaranda, unlike the fast scattering Japanese cherry blossoms, keep their flowers for a little over three months.  When I walk alone under the quiet purple tunnels, the words "Land of Happiness" pop into my mind.

Jacaranda, however, succumbs and starts scattering by the end of October.  Then, as if waiting, comes the next street of flowers, and the baton is being passed.  This time fire-like crimson color Flamboyer contrast their red against the blue sky horizon. Flamboyer is translated into Japanese as the tree of flame.  Flamboyer trees, after purple Jacaranda, make avenues painted by crayon into a red dye-color.  The large sized Flamboyer flowers bloom in full boughs; the scenes look gaudy, ostentatious perhaps.  Only in Africa is it possible to walk the avenue and have the feeling of being engulfed in fire.

Soon after the celebration of New Years by the Japanese colony, red avenues turn next into yellow avenues, when acacias come into full bloom.  The front of our house is all acacias.  One night I smelled a sweet fragrance around our salon window and in the morning I found the Avenue "Kapenda" in the front of our house covered and buried in yellow color.  Acacia flowers are small, but they cluster.  So it is quite a sight when big trees are fully loaded and when the chrome-yellow avenues join the evening glow at sunset.  The fragrance of acacia is strong as compared to other trees; so the night stroll gave me a special pleasure.

When the acacia is gone, the next bloomers are the tulip tree de gabon.  It's the last of four 'avenue trees'.  The massive pedals on the flower are as thick as a human palm and very heavy.  The color is fresh orange.  The tulip flowers kerflop, just like the Japanese camellia.  Thickly covered and postured trees offer nests for many species of birds.  I drove almost daily to the nearest lake along the tulip tree avenue, glancing at the dotted orange flowers in the deep green mass.  No one was on the lakeside, but waiting for me were numerous unfamiliar flowers in the garden which was well taken care of by the gardener.

The dry season starts in April in the Congo Highlands, when tree tulip flowers are gone.  It signals that the four-relay flower season will enter into a recess until the voluptuous Jacaranda comes back.  Meanwhile, green avenues in Lubumbashi remain rustled and insipid with dry winds. I heard that the city planning and tree planting in Lubumbashi was devised and carried out by Belgian colonists who settled in and started copper mining in the early 1900s.

The above translation is my belated tribute to the late Mitsuko Nakachi, who passed away some months ago.  She was among the coterie magazine members of Hino City, Tokyo.  I once also belonged to that group upon my return from the U.S. in the late 1990s.  I never met her, but I wrote a fan letter after reading her Lubumbashi stories. I wanted to learn more about her African life and asked my Hino friend in her neighborhood (and her junior at Tsuda University) if a meeting could be arranged. It was then that I learned that she had passed away, soon after her husband's death.

The following is what I could piece together after studying the advance and retreat of the Japanese mining consortium in the Republic of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) from the 1970s to the 1980s. At one time the Japanese Consortium had hired about 10,000 local people, including copper miners, built a town for the miners and their families, with markets, hospital, schools, post office, plus 500 Japanese expats, engineering and administrative staffs accompanied with 100 families.  It must have been a bold and huge investment for Japan trying to import copper ore.  Apparently after a few years of operations, the Consortium faced a myriad of unexpected fatal management problems including devaluation of the U.S. dollar (Nixon shock), power and food shortages, changes of railroad routes and shipping ports, worsening political situation (Kolwezi tragedy); all of which contributed to their decision to withdraw. A wise decision considering it was before the collapse of the Mobutu Government culminating in the Congo internal disputes and violence.

Mitsuko Nakachi, joining her husband with the Consortium, must have spent a few years, about 5 years in Musoshi and Lubumbasi. Mososhi is one of the copper mining towns, 150 km southeast of Lubumbashi and close to the border with Zambia.

I regret that I lost a chance to meet her.  Searching her name on the Internet, I found her poem, which was selected as the best of 2015 by a Tokyo Newspaper:

“Informed I have but one year to live
Befriending cockscombs ablaze with autumn tints”

Thursday, October 13, 2016

San Diego Memories

Having seen real okapis with my own eyes
My long time dream accomplished
It's certainly my day!

                            - Hirohito

Found among my old storage is a 100 page booklet "Collection of memories of Imachu Classmates", published around the early 1990's in commemoration of the 40th year graduation. As I read the book acknowledgment, the book was actually published a few years after the 40th year, which was 1988 when 80 classmates met for the reunion in Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture and resolved to issue the booklet in minimum time and at as little cost as possible.  There were 200 graduates, but I counted 63 contributors (excluding teachers), corresponding to 30% of total graduates.  Here is my contribution translated into English.

San Diego Report

I'm surprised to receive your request to report how I'm faring after leaving 40 years from Imachu (abbreviation of Imabari Middle School).  I must apologize to all for not writing for so long. Let me redeem myself by reporting on and from San Diego, in Southern California where I currently live and work.  These days of globalization, you may abhor or be tired of hearing rampant accounts of overseas trips of travelers.  However, there are some places that should be seen by globetrotting travelers.  I'll try to focus on such places that would be of interest.

After hectic trans-Pacific re-locations, Tokyo to New York back to Tokyo, I've now settled in San Diego.  This is my 15th year.  I could soon become a native San Diegan. I will most likely remain here until my retirement, barring any unforeseen developments.  San Diego is hometown to our children, just as Imabari is my hometown.  They were educated here and all their friends are San Diegans.

San Diego used to be overshadowed by Los Angeles, a more popular gateway to Southern California.  However, thanks to the Maquiladoras, San Diego stood in the spotlight of trilateral trade (U.S., Mexico, and Japan).  San Diego is located between Los Angeles and Tijuana.  L.A. is reachable by air in 30 minutes and 2 - 3 hours by car.  Tijuana is a 30 minute drive away.  San Diego is a Navy town and tourist spot. It is now also the TV capital of the U.S. with the arrival of Sony, Sanyo, Matsushita, Fujitsu and Samsung.  Kyocera, my employer, came in 1969 as a pioneering manufacturer from Japan.  I joined Kyocera in 1973.  There were only a few Japanese restaurants then but today many Sushi and Karaoke bars have opened as the number of Japanese expatriates and their families increased.

Kyocera has taken initiatives to contribute to San Diego.  Every summer we send two dozen boys and girls to Japan for home-stay experience;  sponsor a local women's pro golf tournament, donate part of the proceeds to a local hospital and non-profit organizations; participate in planning and building activities of the Japanese Friendship Garden; and help introduce Japanese music and artworks as well as theatrical plays.

I personally have been involved in building "Hoshuko" Minato Gakuen, a Japanese Language school for expatriate children since 1978.  This year I'm serving as representative director to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the school.  It originally started as a self-governed entity, but is now approved and authorized by the Japanese Ministry of Education.  Currently Minato Gakuen has a total of 290 students consisting of 220 elementary, 50 junior high and 20 senior high school students.  The teachers number 20, including a principal sent from Japan.  These students are referred to as "returnees" (returning to Japan).

San Diego is situated at the same latitude as Kagoshima in Kyushu.  The weather is nice and mild and not much rain falls throughout the year.  We are south of hot L.A, but no air-conditioning is needed because of the off-shore wind.  We sometimes go fishing and my friend caught a salmon.  There are many ocean activities and sports.  Whale watching is popular around the New Year.  Scuba diving flourishes along La Jolla Shores.  Dennis Connor of the San Diego Yacht Club just won the America's Cup from Australia.  OTL (over the line) is a popular  beach ball game with 3 players, particularly women's teams with colorful swimsuits.  You may have heard about Sea World in Mission Bay and about the famous splash of Killer Whales.  The Victorian styled Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1888, is one of the largest wooden buildings here that was cherished starting in the 19th Century by Prince of Wales Edward and Wallis Simpson.

San Diego boasts the largest naval population and base in the U.S.  I once boarded the Carrier "Enterprise" and the nuclear submarine "Ranger".  Miramar Naval Base (of Top Gun fame) has the Blue Angel Air Show every summer.  Another thing - I had a chance to see the grunion run at night which is unique to Southern and Baja California. Grunion is a sardine sized fish of the silversides family.  They swarm ashore on sandy beaches to lay their eggs at night after the high tide around a full moon -similar to a Crab Run in the Seto Inland Sea near Imabari.  Bonfires are allowed on the beaches.  I saw them light up the ocean late at night.

Lastly, let me tell you my favorite story.  In 1975 Emperor and Empress Showa visited San Diego on the last leg of their official U.S. visit.  It was a hasty day trip.  Emperor Showa visited two places - the San Diego Zoo to see "Koala, Okapi and Humming Birds" and then to Scripps Institute of Oceanography.  As a biologist, his visit to Scripps (and Woods Hole, Massachusetts),  was on his bucket list.  The imperial request reached Kyocera for the service of one person to assist the entourage.  I was chosen and accompanied the men and women chamberlain from the airport to the Sea Lodge in La Jolla, close to Scripps Marine Lab, and the Zoo visit.  When the Emperor left for Scripps, the Empress had short walks along the beach.  All the press corp followed and snapped pictures.  When I was at the poolside, I noticed Vice Premier Takeo Fukuda (1905-1995) who then headed the imperial mission and was sitting alone.  I asked him if he would mind me sitting besides him to talk.  He agreed and we had a pleasant chat about San Diego.

All photos with the exception of the photo of the Emperor at the SD Zoo were provided courtesy of Haruo Toda, my friend in Hachioji.  He visits SD often to visit his daughter's family.