Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I Love N.H. - the White Mountain State

Hey, I'm no mountain climber, but I made it to the top of Mt Hodaka (10,470 ft), one of the more known peaks in northern Japan Alps in Gifu Prefecture. It was in the summer of my mid-20’s, led by a mountaineering specialist. A party of dorm friends followed him from Tokyo in a fleet of cars. The Karasawa Ravine from Hodaka was so beautiful, the image was burnt into my memory.

I found another equally beautiful ravine called Tuckerman in New Hampshire when I accompanied Ken Toku and Sugiyama from Japan, joined by Foxboro (MA) friends - Bob Temple, Mead Bradner and Bruce Hainsworth. I forgot how we reached the area, but still remember the snowmobile ride from the foothill to the ravine, arranged by Bob. He served at the White Mountain Weather Station when he was younger and was very knowledgeable about winter traveling details.

Ken Toku was the only skier of the day. He came fully prepared and trained for his big day. He trudged up the ravine, his ski gear on his shoulders. We all watched him scurry up the snow-covered cliffs half way up and more on the ravine which took a couple of hours. Then he skied down the ravine in a flash. He did this a couple of times. He complained "the snow was too icy".

Thereupon my love affair with New Hampshire started. I tried to return often but in vain. One summer I took my family to Lake Winnipesaukee. I believe I took them to the top of Mt. Washington. I traveled 100 miles across New Hampshire from Portsmouth to Exeter to Keene in the late 1990’s to visit friends.

Teresa Volt, one of my pen pals in Vermont, lived fairly close to New Hampshire. I asked her about Tuckerman Ravine. She said she had heard of it. Some years ago, she went to Mt. Washington herself and sent me a few photos. I thanked her, but I misplaced them until recently when I came across them, including the map.

New Hampshire has some hidden, but great names to the Japanese. One is Hanover, the home of Dartmouth College, dating back to the 1760’s. Portsmouth, known for where the Treaty of Portsmouth was signed in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt to finally end the Russo-Japanese War. The Bretton Woods Conference, held in 1944 at the Mt. Washington Hotel, established a new global monetary system. The gold standard was replaced by the dollar as the global currency, establishing the World Bank and IMF concept.

Lastly, let me quote my favorite line from Nathaniel Hawthorne's “Sketches from Memory: The Notch of the White Mountains,” (1835):

"Let us forget the other names of American statesmen, that have been stamped upon these hills, but still call the loftiest - Washington. Mountains are Earth's undecaying monuments. They must stand while she endures, and never should be consecrated to the mere great men of their age and country, but to the mighty ones alone, whose glory is universal, and whom all time will render illustrious."

When I read Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was a hot topic. The total trail stretches over 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine, and required help from many volunteer hikers. I saw that Foxboro engineers, Bob Temple and Mead Bradner (RIP) contributed to the so-called Appalachian Warner Trail, about 30 miles of trails running through Sharon, Foxboro, Wrentham, and Plainville, Massachusetts.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Mataichimura NY NOW!

Excerpt from “Formula” by Joan Gordon (Alfred resident)

“Today you touched my heart
With your wise words
About a formula to ignite
The process of success:

Take passionate effort,
Mix it with ability,
And add a large measure
Of positive attitude.

As a binder to hold
The mixture together,
Pour in lot of love
Yes, a lot of love.”

As a former New Yorker, I have long known Elmira, New York as the soaring capital (i.e., motorless flight), like Torrey Pines, California. Ever since I had my glider pilot second class rides, pulled with human power, lifted by the wind, slicing through the air and skidding down to the ground a hundred times in my teen days as a future Kamikaze pilot, I have continued to yearn for the sky, and I remain attracted to glider bases whenever I see them. In fact, a motor-driven glider ride at Elmira or Torrey Pines is on my bucket list.

I know the Elmira airport is within convenient distance of Corning (15 miles) and Alfred (50 miles), in an area that became known as the Ceramic Corridor back in the old days when Silicon Valley had just started to flourish. Both Corning and Alfred have gained renown for challenging the frontiers of technology, though they remain somewhat less famous than the vibrant tech cluster to the west.

Today, Corning and Alfred are established not only as world-leading technology centers, but stand as grand cathedrals of industrial glass and ceramic innovation with technology museums sponsored by international giants Owens-Corning and Kyoto-based Kyocera Corporation. In particular, The Inamori Kyocera Fine Ceramics Museum adds international flavor to Alfred University’s cooperative research and exchange of information.

I unfortunately had no knowledge of Alfred until I joined Kyocera in San Diego in the early 1970’s. Kyocera’s arrival in San Diego was a miracle in itself. Fairchild, the forefather and pioneer of the semiconductor industry, operated twin-plants in San Diego and Tijuana at that time to manufacture electronic packages for its integrated-circuit (IC) chips. However, the Fairchild package operations were struggling. Impressed with the high-quality packages supplied by Kyocera, Fairchild asked whether Kyocera might be interested in taking over its San Diego operations. Thus, Kyocera founder Kazuo Inamori visited Fairchild in San Diego and came back, legend has it, reporting that the technology was good but “the plant has no heart.” It was 1969.

Kyocera acquired the Fairchild operations in San Diego in 1971 with Ken Miller as Plant Manager and five Japanese engineers from Kyoto to support him. Despite initial labor pains, the operations gradually came to life. When I joined I was to build a new and bigger plant of Kyocera’s own design. After the land had been purchased, blueprints finished and the site ready for construction, God sent another miracle. The nearby Honeywell plant with 21 acres of land went up for sale! It was a plant I had actually visited in late 1950’s and toured inside. What an amazing coincidence ─ and opportunity! The purchase brought us big tenants like General Dynamics and Rohr Engineering. Thus, we could start small and gradually expand as tenant leases expired.

After 50 years, Kyocera’s U.S. operations headquartered at 8611 Balboa Avenue grew from dozens of employees to a peak of nearly 2,000. The business diversified worldwide from ceramics to electronics, optics, document printers, solar power, mobile phones, lab-grown gemstones, and you name what else, producing numerous subsidiaries and allies, as a reputable and leading concern.

What surprised the world was that then President Inamori (now Chairman) was endowed in 1988 with an honorary doctorate for the first time from Alfred University in New York. Kyocera employees rejoiced with the news in a great cheer of “Hurray!”

In 1999, Dr. Inamori was invited to Alfred to speak at the annual John F. McMahon Memorial Seminar. There he shared many of his unique insights gleaned from his work in the field of ceramics, including his pioneering efforts in solar energy, which helped create a dramatic 97% reduction in the cost of solar cells, along with his daily creed for work, persevering in development efforts for years before meeting success. He believes that only relentless effort and unshakable philosophy ultimately bear fruit in the form of technological breakthroughs. Joan Gordon, poetess above and spouse of the late Prof. Ronald Gordon, Dean of the School of Ceramic Engineering and Materials Science at Alfred University, both sat among the audience and at the banquet reception, where Joan found time to hand her impromptu poem to Dr. Inamori.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

“Mataichimura, Here I Come”

An hour’s drive north along the Hudson River from Manhattan and a left turn takes you to the foot of the Catskills, where Rip Van Winkle dozed with a rumbling sound in the distance as a lullaby. The area dishonorably nicknamed the Jewish Alps is a favorite summer resort for many New Yorkers. New England comes first when talking of autumn foliage, the Catskills were closer to us as a family coming from New York. We used to go on excursions to view foliage in upstate New York during the weekends in the 1960’s.

Triggered by the assassination of President JFK and the wide East Coast area blackout chaos, New York had an uproar of labor strikes one after the other, from garage workers to garbage collectors, under Mayor Lindsay. However, one step outside the city and the New York throughways, rustic villages and alpine air awaited you.

One day we headed for Monticello. We found a big landmark with the village name “Mataichimura” written on it in Japanese. After over 50 years, I can’t say for sure if it was a garden mark with trimmed flowers. Probably I’m beautifying my memory. Daily flower trimming must be costly. Rather, it could have been a stone or wooden landmark. I just wondered why this village had a landmark with a Japanese name on it.

A while later, a group of young Japanese golfers from electronic industries in New York set out for a weekend golf trip. I joined the group and returned to “Mataichimura”, and this time I solved the riddle from my previous outing. Sanyo, an austere name, was based there, in Ellenville, New York. Toshio Iue (1902-1969), the founder and first president wrote in his book “Anticipating the Birth of Worldwide Standard Employees” (publisher: Bungei Shunju, 1967) that Sanyo entered into a business relationship with Channel Masters, an antenna manufacturer. He foresaw the importance of joint ventures to avoid the increasing US-Japan trade frictions. It was Toshio Iue who named Ellenville “Mataichimura”, a very appropriate name in the Japanese sense. The name Mataichmura, meaning, “another village” evokes images of countless visits to many counties and many villages, one after another.

The golf course belonged to Channel Masters. It has only 9 holes, all hilly ups and downs, with no on-site starters or managers. We just went in and played the same 9 holes twice and dropped in at Sanyo inside Channel Masters as a courtesy. The group was met by Toshimi Takemoto heading Sanyo there. Sanyo people were at work even though it was a Saturday. Their telex machine room operations looked very busy and reverberated with activity. We quickly headed for Sanyo’s dorm, a 4-story house with many rooms, and the group stayed overnight by sharing rooms.

My family revisited Ellenville about a year later in the summer. I called Mr. Takemoto without advanced notice. He invited my family to his home despite the suddenness of our visit. My children were happy to play outside with Takemoto’s children. My wife and I listened to the story of Mr. and Mrs. Takemoto’s weekly trip to New York to buy Japanese food. The couple had the responsibility to feed the employees from Japan. On their return trip home from New York, their station wagon was fully loaded with Japanese food for dorm dining.

I started to work for another company in San Diego in the early 1970’s and forgot all about the East Coast and Ellenville. In the early 1980’s, E&E Sanyo arrived in San Diego and became our neighbor. Our family became close to Mr. and Mrs. A in connection with the Minato Gakuen Japanese language school, primarily for the Japanese expatriates. I remembered Takemoto and inquired about his latest assignment. I found out Takemoto was in Los Angeles and I was convinced that I would meet him again soon.

That day finally came. He was named a major speaker at the annual “Focus on Japan Festival” sponsored by San Diego State University. I listened to and recorded his speech, as he was acclaimed as the best English speaker in Sanyo by Toshio Iue. I went to congratulate him after the speech. “It has been 30 years since we visited you in Ellenville.” I felt so much emotion that no words came.

I read in the trade paper that Takemoto returned to Japan and then retired after a few years of service with Sanyo. Before I retired, I was hoping to revisit Ellenville before returning to Japan.

I revisited Ellenville in 2002 after visiting my son who was working in New York. Channel Masters was out of business. I dropped by the golf course I had once played. The golf course was there, but it looked shabby compared to the gated resort community. The landmark “Mataichimura” was gone.

Friday, December 25, 2020

People We Lost in 2020: Remembering the Yamadas

I learned about the sudden deaths of Joe and Elizabeth Yamada in May by reading the first digitized "Footprints", the combined Spring-Summer Quarterly issues published by the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego (JAHSSD). I contacted my San Diego friends who was close to them. After my wife and I left San Diego in the mid 1990’s, our contacts with friends in the US gradually faded. What I learned from my contacts was that Joe had been suffering from Alzheimer’s, Beth was nursing him unsparingly. I understand a very fatigued Beth succumbed a few days later after Joe. I hastened my condolatory donation through JAHSSD.

Around the same time, I was pleased to receive a complimentary children’s book from another San Diego friend Write to Me by Cynthia Grady (New Mexico), illustration by Amiko Hirano (Mass). It is a 30-page booklet, published by Charlesbridge. When my translation of Joanne Oppenheim's Dear Miss Breed was published from Kashiwa Book Publishing Tokyo, I received comments from many Japanese readers to cinematize it. The story was dramatized in San Diego by Andy Lowe in early 2000. However, it never occurred to me to make it a children’s book. It is a great idea to visualize the stories for children. I salute both the producer Cynthia and the illustrator Amiko for a job well done.

I noted Joanne Oppenheim, writer of Dear Miss Breed (Scholastic) sent her memorial writing for Joe and Elizabeth to JAHSSD.

It was about half a century ago when I met Clara Breed, a fill-in secretary at the time, and Joe and Elizabeth Yamada, at the San Diego Balboa Park Japanese Friendship Garden Preparation and Funding Committee Meeting, headed by Will Happen Jr, the Honorable Japanese General Consul in San Diego. I represented my employer in the Committee. However, I did not know the relationship between Clara Breed and the Yamadas. It was after the funeral of Clara Breed that I came to know about their beautiful correspondences during their tense incarcerated camp life. In researching the childrens’ letters myself, I learned Joanne Oppenheim had started interviewing Breed’s children. I waited for her book to be published and translated it for the sake of all the young Japanese children upon returning to Japan.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Yasnaya Polyana, Russia

I wish to thank first the "Roka" Society in Kumamoto for the inspiration of the article, and secondly, Mataro (Matt) Miyazaki and Koji Kanatani, my mutual friends in presenting to you the artwork of “The House of Tolstoy”. Matt Miyazaki traveled to Yasnaya Polyana in Russia in June 2019, as a member of Yasuko Tanaka’s (Honorable Professor of Osaka University) “Russian Writers Study Circle Tour”. Matt painted his artwork while visiting Yasnaya Polyana and exhibited it at his coterie circle in Kyoto.

Visit to Yasnaya Polyana

The saying goes “All roads lead to Rome" or “Once out of home, you tread numerous ways to reach your destination”. Roka Tokutomi (1868-1927), a famous writer, proved it 100 years ago when he traveled alone, with conviction, from Japan to Russia at the prime age of 38. Roka’s brother, Soho Tokutomi, and a companion, visited the same place ahead of time and Roka was well versed on how they traveled. Roka took another way, a questionable one.

In April 1906, he sailed from Yokohama onboard the ss Bingo Maru (NYK Line) around the Indian Ocean. After a month and a half, Roka landed at Port Said, Egypt and wrote to Leo Tolstoy that he safely arrived at the Mediterranean. He then rode a camel to see the Nile and Great Pyramids for a few days for a breather after his long ocean journey. Roka was surprised by an unexpected 24-hour quarantine confinement at Port Said. It reminds us of the Corona Virus quarantine of the Cruise Vessel in Yokohama early this year.

Roka then spent over a month, May to June, in Jerusalem for the primary objective of this trip. He likely would've carried a number of introductions to Christian Churches. His “Pilgrim Travelog”, published in December 1906 from the Keiseisha, detailed his Jerusalem activities. My Japanese American friends in California visited Jerusalem some years ago for about a week. They said they visited Jericho, the Wailing Wall, Dead Sea, Nazareth, Sumaria. etc.

After Jerusalem, he intended to sail from Port Said and Istanbul to the Black Sea, Odessa in particular. I am curious how he conquered various barriers like time, borders, languages, etc.

Roka was accompanied by Nakamuraya (a shop owner from Istanbul) to Bosporus Strait. In those days, the bridge was yet to come. The question was how he found Nakamuraya. I guess Roka just found the store by coincidence. I had a similar experience of bumping into a Japanese American in a Mexican village and our conversation was vivacious.

Again, Nakamuraya recommended Roka to take a train to Sofia, Bulgaria and his companion saw him off at the railroad station. On board the train, he was the focus of passengers’ attention. They called him “Togo”, apparently in reference to the Japanese admiral who beat the Baltic.

It’s not clear how Roka traveled through Romania, but he reached Galati and crossed the River Donau where it almost exits to the Black Sea. At Reny, Uklaia, closely facing the Donau, Roka succeeded in purchasing a train ticket all the way to Tula! 'Banzai'! He almost made it. The rest would be an easy train ride. He could sleep for the entire trip of 1600 km!

There was one small problem. His brother Soho repeatedly reminded him that the station of Yasnaya Polyana is one small station after Tula, where the express train will not stop. Roka came from the south and arrived in Tula around midnight. The Tula station staff tried to explain to him, in Russian, in vain. Roka spoke in French to be understood, but failed. People gathered. One woman who understood English showed up at the last minute, solved the puzzle. Roka barely caught the first southbound local train before dawn.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


My favorite flower in December is the poinsettia, with its beautiful red, star-shape. It is called "Flame Leaf" in Central America, or "Flores de Noche Buena." "Shojoboku" is a Japanese name but poinsettia is more popular. I'm glad to report that a florist in Wakamastsu Ward in Kitakyushu where we reside started marketing a palm-sized brandnew poinsettia, calling it 'coinsettia' or 'princettia'. Its leaves are round and adorable."

Around the 15th Century, the sap of the plant was used to control the fever. The flower was brought to California over a 100 years ago by Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Most of the American poinsettia today now come from California. In fact, there is a town "Poinsettia" near Carlsbad where we used to live, a little north of San Diego.

The legend of the Poinsettia comes from Mexico. It tells of a girl named Pepita and her little brother Pablo. They were very poor but always looked forward to the Christmas Festival. Each year a large manger scene was set up in the village church, and the days before Christmas were filled with parades and parties. The two children loved Christmas but were always saddened because they had no money to buy presents. They especially wished that they could give something to the church for the Baby Jesus. But they had nothing.

One Christmas Eve, Pepita and Pablo set out for church to attend the service. On their way, they picked some weeds growing along the roadside and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene. Of course, other children teased them when they arrived with their gift, but they said nothing because they knew they had given what they could.

Pepita and Pablo began placing the green leaves, which turned into bright red petals, and soon the manger was surrounded by the beautiful star-like flowers that we see today.

There's no other holiday like Christmas. Most of us, whether Christians or not, celebrate the holiday without knowing how the traditions get started or what they signify. Christmas is much more when you know some facts behind the holiday.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Retiring from Kitakyushu Toastmasters

Dear Kitakyushu Toastmasters,

After much contemplation and brooding amid the social distancing corona pandemonium world, I feel it is time for me to resign from TM. Please know that all Kitakyushu TMs will forever be in my thoughts with great admiration and deep respect.

Reflecting back, we chartered our club on August 8, 1997, the date of double infinity per the late Yasuko Nishimura, one of the cofounders. Elated in spirit, Albert Moe and I declared “let’s establish Toastmasters as a name in Japan”. Yes, we could be a club as prestigious, enjoyable, and comfortable as wearing designer blue jeans. We had four slogans. They were "1 Expand our base, 2 Put our name before the public, 3 Build new clubs from old clubs, 4 Build from youth. Club efforts surely would benefit the community."

All in a family circle, we danced and sang the YMCA song at our jovial 10th Anniversary. In the blink of an eye, the 15th Anniversary came along. We held arms and shoulders together and repeated the YMCA song and dance again. Today, the club had prospered to the level of sending a leading light in District 79, uttered Sumiko Futana, District Governor.

In addition to being a paid member, I had actively promoted activities modeled after TM for about 5 years around the 1980s at my work in California. The mission was to groom corporate personnel to better address employees. One ex-TM member in the Communication Dept. initiated semi-TM classes during off work hours. He assigned 3 speakers, 3 evaluators for the formal speeches, and selected participants randomly for impromptu speeches. We had a contest every three months or so, the winners got trophies (huge compared to those of today) apparently bought from TM HDQ in Orange County. The Club ceased to exist after he resigned from the company. That said, my TM experience easily adds up to well over 20 years.

Personally, I engaged in an around-the-world adventurous TM-trek! Chicago ‘99 was my first Toastmasters International (TMI) Conference. I enjoyed the similar experiences in Anaheim, San Antonio, Atlanta, and Washington DC in the early 2000’s. I attended sister clubs in Canada and Taiwan and then traveled to South America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Thailand. The most memorable trip was in 2014 to Kuala Lumpur, the first TMI outside of North America.

I also encountered my share of problems! I was unable to find clubs in Russia, Brazil and China in the early 2000’s. Except for Hong Kong, China had some signs of starting clubs in several major cities but it was difficult to locate them back then. Today, China has thrived with the TM movement.

At a TMI in the US, I sat with a fellow TM. We exchanged cards before exiting. It was Deepak Menom, the current International President. It is a very small world!

I THANK all Kitakyushu TMs. Thank you, Dan Rex, George Yen/Jorrie Wu, Shelly Walkers, Bob Duncan, Sara Mosher, Jiri Pscenicka, George Wagners, Petra Chorador, Lidia Covell and many other TMs, I appreciate your long friendship.