Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ximen (West Gate) Hong Lou, A Surviving Theater

When you surface from the Taiwan subway at Ximen Station, you catch a glimpse across the busy intersection of people and car traffic of a chic and stodgy brick building. Modestly illuminated at night, it invited our inquisitive attention and we walked in to see what was inside.

Ximen is compared and likened to Shinjuku or Harajuku in Tokyo where young people visit boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. It's a place I felt nostalgia and I see why. It was a Japanese town before World War II. The historic temple Lonshanshi is close, where the area named Ban-kah, the name of the dugout canoes still kept, but in different Chinese characters "Wanhua" (pronounced Manka in Japanese).

Michelle Chen, our guide of the night, told us that this Hong Lou Theater was occupied by Guomindang soldiers. The building, decayed and neglected for a long time was restored recently as one of the historic buildings designated by the country. The brochure we picked up explained that it was built originally as a public health station, but later became the Taipei City Market, which thrived as an abundant commodity supply center. It became a show window of Taipei commerce and distribution, and the Japanese government officials used to pay a visit to observe how things were going down there.

Aptly nicknamed Octagon Hall because of its shape, the concept was reportedly from the art of divination, I Ching (Book Of Changes). The area was a kind of marsh where dead bodies were found on the roads. So, many prayers are placed in the octagonal design.

The architect was a man named Jyuro Kondo, one of the famous Japanese quartet, who worked at the Building and Repair Section of the Colonial Government. The four architects were Nagano, Moriyama, Ide and Kondo. Nagano was responsible for today's Presidential Office, Moriyama for today's Audit Office, and Ide for the Judicial Office and Educational Hall, the latter is still being used for all kinds of Musical events near the Ximen subway station as Zhongshan Hall. Kondo was responsible also for the old hospital of Taipei Imperial University. The Taiwanese probably had mixed feelings when they dealt with the Japanese architecture from the colonial days. It was just during the past 10 years that the Taiwan Government authorized the designation of those building as historical buildings and funded their restoration efforts.

Zhongshan Hall designed by Ide

A common style shared between the four architects are Gothic or baroque design, accents of grandeur and combined use of red bricks and white stones for horizontal belts. All these elements of style were apparently influenced by an architect named Kingo Tatsuno, their teacher at the University of Tokyo, whose representative work is the Tokyo Station Building.

Currently, the first floor of the Hong Lou Theater houses not only a cafe but also a place where traditional toys, artifacts, and photographs are exhibited and sold. The second floor is an open theater with a big stage / screen, used for small concerts, operas, and perhaps movies. We dropped into the theater a couple of times on the way to and from Heroes Hotel where we stayed. The hotel is within walking distance from this Ximen Market.

I searched the Internet for more information about Jyuro Kondo. He returned to Japan from Taiwan and opened an architectural firm. He built one hospital, called Do-Ai Hospital, in Sumida Ward. However, it was demolished 15 years ago. He must have consumed all his energy in Taiwan and had little left upon his return.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Akatonbo Revisited

Lead by Sherry Li's baton, I had the honor to sing the “Akatonbo” song in Japanese and Chinese with the two dozen members of the Taiwan Toastmasters Chorus group at the welcoming reception of the D67 Fall Convention Dinner before an audience of one thousand. Sherry wrote that she chose “Akatonbo” simply because of its beautiful melody. “Akatonbo” is also a song about a dear childhood relationship. It can be seen as a metaphor to describe the connections between Taiwan and Japan. “Akatonbo” has many versions of translations in Chinese, but I like the one picked by Sherry. It was equally beautiful even in Chinese to wonder which came first as the original.

It goes as follows:

xiang xie zhao hong qingting zai shuibien wufei
yin wo xiangqi duoshao nianqian nanwang de tongnian

This drove me to look into the history about how the song came to be written - researching further on what I wrote in a previous entry that referred to the poet Rofu Miki (1889-1964) and composer Kosaku Yamada (1886-1965).

Yamada composed 76 songs for Miki, of which, “Nobara” (wild rose) came in the 1910s and “Akatonbo” came in the l920s. Yamada was in Germany from 1910 to 1913 and his “Butterfly" song melody was from a Spanish ballad. Yamada composed for another famous poet, Hakushu Kitahara (1885-1942) after Miki, producing beautiful “Karatachi no Hana” (trifoliate orange tree) and “Konomichi” (I remember this road ). Yamada composed also many school songs for universities and high schools. I noticed he composed one for Taipei Third Junior High.

Yamada's life was under a cloud upon his return from Germany. He went to the Shonan (near Kamakura) area, and commuted to Tokyo by train. It is reported that he composed "Akatonbo" while commuting between Shonan and Tokyo. As Franz Shubert (1797-1828) said, "Grief and misforturne is the mother of fine music." Common between Yamada and Miki was the influence of Christianity. Yamada's father was a minister and his brother-in-law was Edward Gauntlet (1868-1965), also a minister and educator. Yamada was raised at home listening to hymns. Miki became an ardent Christian as a teacher in the Trappist Monastery in Hokkaido. His “Akatonbo” poem was composed there in 1921.

Rofu was an ill-fated person separated from his mother at the age of seven. According to his autobiography, one morning he went to school after being sent off by his mother, but when he returned home, she was gone. He was not told in detail why his mother had left. But she was apparently grieving about her separation from her son. It is easy to imagine how deep Rofu's grief was. Since that day, Rofu was brought up by his grandfather.

The name of the poem is “Akatonbo”, but the poem is filled with his deep affection directed toward his mother. Noriko Wada, author of the "Akatonbo Scenery" analyzes the poem by sections and the poet's age. Rofu was 1-2 years old as he was on the back of mother (first paragraph). 3-5 year old Rofu is picking mulberries in the backyard (second paragraph). Around 10 years old Rofu's maid (nanny) left the house to marry (third paragraph). Another abandonment. Of course, he loved his maid but it did not compare to his affection for his mother. Rofu had to be mentally strong and independent.

Rofu in Hokkaido watching an Akatonbo at the end of the pole and reminiscing his hometown. Noriko Wada pointed out that there was a minute change between the first version and the second and final version of “Akatonbo” within a period of 3-4 months. The word Akatonbo appeared in the first paragraph, instead of the mountain, a very delicate change, but important, as per Noriko Wada.

In Taiwan, “Akatonbo” was immediately followed by “Amazing Grace” by coincidence, but to me, it was the most wonderful pairing that Sherry picked out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Taiwan Toastmasters Choir

This entry is dedicated to the D67 Toastmasters choir, especially to the wonderful women singer group.

Taiwan Toastmasters Choir (Sherry Li - back row, far right)

The Taiwan (District 67) Toastmasters established their choir group in mid-2009. I saw the names of Jorie Wu, George Yen, Marian Hsiao, Athena Lien, previous District Governors, my friend Dr. Erick Suen, all outstanding DTMs. Sherry is an excellent organizer and motivator. It was at the Japan Toastmasters (District 76) Hiroshima Spring Convention 2008 that Jorie Wu, George Yen and Sherry Li attended from Taiwan and ad-hoc Japanese/Taiwanese chorus group sang "Hsiaocheng Gushi" in Chinese, with the Chinese flute player (Emily Yiu, President of Success Toastmasters Club).

I heard the D67 chorus repertoire which included "Ode to Joy", "O Sole Mio", "Do You Hear Me", "Fireflies", etc. We just envied their enthusiasm and dedication. It reflected the success of the 2008 Joint Anniversary Party of Kumamoto Toastmasters Club’s 20th and Success Toastmasters Club’s 10th anniversary in October, which featured a three part "Ode to Joy" sung in German, Taiwanese, and Japanese (alto by Lydia and Sherry, and tenor Masaki Oshiumi - my fellow Toastmaster of Kitakyushu). Last year I was unable to make it.

It was my adventitious challenge to jump into the chorus without proper rehearsal and training. It was one of the entertainment programs for the dinner show for fellow Taiwan Toastmasters and I had belittled thinking that all the performers were amateurs. I had to admit that my mind set was all wrong. They were all well trained for the day and they had met, I'm sure, a number of times for intense rehearsals. I committed an intrusion as an enthusiastic amateur.

I knew I had to sing "Akatombo" (red dragonfly) in Japanese and Chinese. Sherry sent me and Masaki Chinese songs in MP3 to practice. Then another song was added: "Amazing Grace" - a hymn in English, Chinese and Japanese. I am not a Christian. Why should I have to sing it? Listening to the MP3 sent along by Sherry, I almost gave up. It was so high toned that I could not reach the required voice range. A good excuse. I e-mailed Sherry that I would pass on the "Amazing Grace" song. Sherry, however, assured me that I would go into the bass group and I should love singing in the male section. I tried desperately to convince her, but I knew her answer beforehand. I found later that Masaki visited a Baptist church in Kitakyushu and the pastor strongly recommended "Amazing Grace". It was not Sherry's selection.

Masaki and I were invited to Sherry's home the night we arrived in Taipei. Sherry's brother, Jimmy, cooked a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for the male chorus group which gathered that evening for practice. It was a great Taiwan Thanksgiving dinner. (Thinking to myself, I enjoyed my friend Adele's annual Dutch Thanksgiving dinner for almost 20 years in Los Angeles while I was in the U.S. and miss it since her death about three years ago.)

Admiringly, Sherry has a special knack to train singers hard but never offensively. I like her rigorous way and style of production. I forgot about time passing and it was almost 11 o'clock when we returned to the hotel. I slept like a log.

The following day was our first stage performance. We were taken to the southern mountain range of Taipei, close to Wulai resort and we sang Akatombo and Amazing Grace for the Birthday Party of centenarians at the Northern Nursing Home in Shintien City. We had a few men on this occasion and it was a good dry run for the official choir on the following day's ritual performance. Sherry was busy with another dancing program. We neglected to ask how we did. I'm still not sure if I like "Amazing Grace". It was after the second performance of singing "Amazing Grace" among the 10 men Toastmasters singers at Yanmingshan, including George Yen, Erick Suen, Ron Chen, Bill Wan, Frank Yeh and Edward Chen that I finally decided that I love it! Thank you, Sherry, for your patience and thank you, to our great accompanists, DTM Helen Chen and Yi-hua Li, for playing violin and piano respectively at Yanmingshan.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jan Letzel, Hiroshima Atomic Dome Architect

Lowland corridors were my first impressions of the Czech Republic as I traveled by train from Sachsen, Germany to Bratislava, then on to Budapest, Hungary with stopovers in Prague and Pardubice. The northern border of Czech shares the Krkonose Mountains with Poland and is as high as 1,600 meters above sea level. The mountain ridges curb south to the right and comes down to an elevation of 1,000 meters, where part of Poland is surrounded by the Czech Republic. Nachod, the gateway to Poland and noted for Primator beer brand, is situated there and has a population of 22,000. In 2005, I visited the city, with the help of my Czech friend Jiri Psenicka, a Pardubice Toastmaster.

Jan Letzel (1880-1925) had been recognized by the Japanese as the designer/architect of the "Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall" (built in 1915) and the postwar "Hiroshima Atomic Dome" , with UNESCO designation. When Hiroshima celebrated Letzel's 100th birthday, Czech writer Olga Stolskova participated. Pavel Hayslore, Letzel's great great nephew was invited to Hiroshima on August 6. 2000. Thanks to the excellent pre-arrangements of my friend Jiri, I had a chance to visit Nachod's two year College of Architecture, which was named after Letzel in 2000, the same year Hiroshima celebrated Letzel's 100th birth year; the city of Nachod honored the architect as "Letzel Year".

Jiri drove his Czech car "Skoda" that day for me. We left Pardubice, where Jiri worked and lived with his family, early in the morning and headed for Nachod, about 80 kilometers northeast of Pardubice. It was a smooth, scenic country drive, after hitting a little morning traffic in the Industrial Hradec Kralove. Prinicpal Ing. Chraska met us in his room in the company of Vera Vlckova, the Englsih teacher in charge. They treated us to breakfast before we went to Vera's English class.In my address to the English class, I gave a brief talk on the "island" Japan, rich in marine and farm products, but exposed constantly to the threats of nature, such as seasonal typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis. I told them about the earthquakes that just hit Fukuoka after my departure and about northern Kyushu where I live, and the telephone conversation I had with my wife about the earthquake. I told the students that Jan Letzel himself experienced the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1925 that made him build the dome sturdy, which withstood even the atomic bomb. I emphasized that the Japanese people were determined not to be engaged in any war again so as not to repeat the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After my speech, I presented Japanese souvenirs that included fans, picture postcards, chopsticks. During the Q&A session, I was requested to demonstrate how to use chopsticks, and sing some typical Japanese songs. I sang the "Sukiyaki" song, a Japanese pop tune and "Sakura", the cherry blossom song.

After class, Ms. Vlckova took us to the grave site of Jan Letzel, then to the nearby castle on the hill. We had lunch at Masaryk Square (named after the first President and founder of Czechoslovakia, 1850-1937). She bit her lip when she spoke of the poor student exchange offers, despite her willingness to deepen ties with Japanese counterpart colleges. On our way back, Jiri drove me to Ceska Skalice, not far from Nachod. There is a national park and forest called Ratiborice and a summer palace a Bohemian lord built in the 18th century. It was off-season so we met no one while visiting. The brimming river was running through a scenic area with a water mill, cottages and dams.

Jiri pointed to the stone statue of a stooped grandma and children looking up to the sky, which depicted a scene from the book written by Bozena Nemcova (1820-1862). Bozena‘s two best known books are The Village under Mountains and The Grandmother (1855). The latter is about a young girl named Barunka (name is a pet form of Barbora) and her childhood with her grandmother in the countryside. Both books were inspired by Nemcova's own childhood in the village of Ratiborice, where she lived with her parents, siblings and maternal grandmother, Magdalena Novotna. Grandma, on her deathbed, asked the children to tell the bees her message. A couple of mock-up beehives can be seen on the slope of the river banks. The sprouting bare branches of poplar trees along the River Upa shone brilliantly in the sun.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Australian Connection Part 2

"The year was 1951. Yes, we were fighting the Korean War, but President Harry Truman called it a police action. We were fighting the Chinese communists on the central front, on the famous 38th parallel*, I was part of the 40th Division, 143rd Field Artillery Battalion 'B' Battery. My part in this war was to feed 150 men in the 'B' Battery three times a day."
- from the 143rd Field Artillery Korean War Web site (“Chow")

* 248 kilometers in length from northern Kosong down to southern Kanghwa Island with Chorwon in the middle; all hard-fought areas


Dick fought in the Korean War, joining the U.S. Army in 1947. First he was an infantry sergeant, someone on the ground seeing the reality of battle. His family recounted how he told the story of the time when over a million Chinese men attacked their forces, and they were fought off by brave U.S. defense forces. Dick saw the good and the bad of war, and was honored several times with a Purple Heart and Silver Star for Gallantry during his service. Shirley recalled Dick saying he lived on peanut butter alone for a number of days - that was the only food he could find then. After the war, he never went near the brown stuff for the next thirty years.

Then he became a supply sergeant, and he continued to develop skills of being meticulous, detailed, particular and precise about everything in his charge. In fact, when his superiors could find no fault with his work during an inspection (in the army at that time, you could not be shown as perfect because it meant you were as good as the general), he was marked down one point because the soles of his shoes were dirty!

My perception of the distant Korean War is:

1) It was the coldest war when Jack Frost invaded (I read veteran Daniel Wolfe’s Cold Ground’s Been My Bed), traveling frozen rivers in the ceaseless rain and/or snow; I saw at the Korean War Memorial in Washington DC a squad of 38 (representing 38 degrees dividing line borders) fully armed soldiers in patrol all clad in ponchos protecting and warming themselves from the cold and rain.2) There were long foot journeys that could easily wear down the sturdiest shoes. One marine from Camp Pendleton wrote that "all of the traveling around, worn out a pair of my boondockers and had holes in the shoe, I was glad to trade in mine when I found a pile of shoes and gear stacked around, probably somebody who was just shipped over was the previous owner". The roads were rugged and muddy.

3) There were fierce battles fought. When I was a student, there were rumors that many young students were drawn to U.S. base airports such as Yokohama, Itazuke (Fukuoka) because of highly paid jobs dealing with dead soldiers coming back from Korea.

The author of the Korean War story quotation at the top was a cook of a battalion. After his infantry duty, Dick became an A.S.C. (Army Service Corps) sergeant of a similar battalion, taking care of supplies. He returned to Fort Eustis, Virginia and met Sam Levin there. (Shirley told me that Sam attended Dick's funeral in Arlington.) I contacted Sam, with Shirley's permission, and asked him to describe Dick as his buddy. He didn't go to Korea, but worked for Dick in Fort Eustis right after Dick's homecoming.

He wrote me the following:

After Basic Training, I went to special supply training at Fort Lee, Virginia and then to a newly formed unit. As I had training in supply, I was assigned to the supply room as a clerk, to a Sgt. Thompson who (perhaps no fault of his own as the whole company was in a topsy-turvy mess from the top down) was relieved and replaced with a Sgt. Crawford, who after a few weeks, went AWOL. During this period I remained. It was during this early formation of a permanent unit that there was an arrival of returning overseas personnel from Korea which included Sgt. (Dick) Ettinger. This was my first contact with him. Immediately he went to work to put the supply room in order. In a matter of a month or so it was the envy of the battalion. We worked hand in hand for the unit and with other supply rooms on base. One incident that remains in my mind is the day Sgt. Ettinger was called to the orderly room by First Sgt. McNeely (with whom he did not always get along) for a conference. Well, when Sgt. Ettinger came back he was storming, slammed the door, threw the clipboard down, cussing in a dialect he must have picked up in Korea followed by name calling of the First Sgt., screaming “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I know the regulations better than him, I forgot more of these rules than he ever knew!” It was quite a funny sight to see Sgt. Ettinger so animated as he was very small and thin back then.

Later in my Army term I was sent to the Arctic Circle and Sarge was a short-termer (meaning he was due to be discharged soon, and therefore was not sent on long-term projects) and stayed behind. Upon my return I found that he had re-upped with the army and I was discharged a few months later. Sarge was evidently quite humble. Even though we knew each other for decades, I did not know of his decorations (Silver Star and Purple Heart) until his funeral.

While Dick was stationed in Fort Eustis, he was blessed to meet his better-half Shirley by strange but marvelous fortune. On his home leave to Harrisburg (all I know is that the city runs through Suskehanna and Republican Newt Gingrich is from there), Dick met two girls from Washsington D.C., Jean and Shirley who shared an apartment. Jean knew Dick as a family friend. Jean had her car fixed in Harrisburg on her previous trip home and asked Shirley, her roommate for a ride to pick up the repaired car. On their drive back to Washington, Dick hitched a ride to Eustis. Dick frequented Washington to visit the two girls but his real objective was to date Shirley.

Shirley recounted her visit to Eustis, "When I went down to Ft. Eustis, Va. for Thanksgiving Dinner, Dick showed me where his room was. It was a room all to himself and situated at the end of a long barracks building. His room had curtains at the windows, which I thought was unusual for a man in general and a soldier in particular. Dick must have impressed Shirley. I drove from Washington D.C. to Norfolk, Virginia recently and I remember passing Fort Eustis in Newport News and realized how close it was to Washington - ideal for dating!

After their marriage, the couple spent about five years in various U.S. bases in West Germany in the late 60s - Erlengen, Stutgart, Ulm, Heidelberg, ...etc. They chose to immigrate to Australia, not returning to the U.S. Shirley recalled her visit to her mother's home when racial tensions were flaring up in the streets of Washington, D.C. Based on experience living abroad, the couple felt better to explore family life in a new world such as Australia. They thought it would be better for Robert, their son, to grow up in an environment where there was little social inequities, no drug problems and low crime. The U.S. Consulate showed some concerns, but their decision was final.

Working for a local aluminum window and door frame company, Dick secured his home near Albany Creek and raised Robert until his retirement. Then the couple traveled a lot together every year to see different countries, including Japan. I heard, however, they did not go near the borders of communist countries. I know Dick's strong stance against the communists. I wrote previously that the couple had been visiting the U.S. almost every year and I thought it was for Ham(Radio)Fest and Conventions, but he had other duties to perform as Master Mason and as an American Legion veteran (joined both organizations in ‘60s). I have heard that they often headed for Dayton, Indianapolis or Columbia, South Carolina.

This year, Dick made his last visit to the U.S., accompanied by Shirley and Robert. The urn that contained Dick ashes was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. Shirley wrote that the chaplain in charge surprised her by giving an excellent eulogy for Dick, after a little chat with Shirley about Dick, prior to proceeding.Back in Albany Creek, Brisbane, Shirley started to go through the files Dick had left. She wrote "I'm still going through Dick's papers. Dick really kept things in very neat order. Each folder was titled as to its contents, but there was so much and so many folders." I have to admire his filing skills compared to my messy study.

He is buried in Arlington as a decorated veteran, but I wonder if he was happier as a civilian. There is a saying, “You know you are Australian when you understand a group of Aussie's women wearing black thongs refers to footwear and is less alluring than it sounds." Dick said thongs when referring to the Japanese Tabi socks. He was an Australian.

Let me quote Joy Wornes' poem, "Wattle Blooms After Rain", to conclude my tribute to Dick.

"This land we call Australia, is home sweet home to me,
Wherever I may wander sweet is the memory of silver sands,
the ocean roam, tall trees and wide sparse plains,
But of all the lasting images, it's wattle blooms after rain."

Dick, thank you for the Summit Sunday brunch on Mt. Coot-Tha. I enjoyed my brunch with a great view of Brisbane in the distance, the highlight of my Australian trip.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Australian Connection

"Shirley, my heartfelt condolence to you in the passing of Dick. I know he was a fighter and persevered through adversity. I admired his courage. My sympathy to you, Shirley, who took care of him 'til the last. We lived during the same war days and shared moments of joys after the war. Our life paths met in Nagasaki in the l980s. We were good friends ever since. Praying peace in his soul." - Rio (sent March 6, 2009)


Encountering people when traveling sometimes brings you a life-time friend and lots of joy. I met Dick and Shirley in Nagasaki, Japan in the mid '80s. I was then visiting my sister-in-law in Kyushu from the U.S. Usually, I made quick U-turns, but I had one free day to spare alone and decided to visit Nagasaki, the second city hit by an A-Bomb. I've been to Hiroshima but not to Nagasaki.

Upon arriving at the Nagasaki Station, I jumped on the sightseeing bus that was already moving. I stumbled into the rear seat. I felt at ease to see a foreign couple there and we exchanged nods. We were the only foreign visitors on the bus. The woman bus guide spoke in Japanese. I served as a translator for the couple as we cruised Nagasaki. I found that Nagasaki is the No. 1 city in Kyushu visited by foreign visitors today, so plenty of translators should be serving these days, I'm sure.

I remember our bus first visited Nagasaki's Hypocenter Park, where we saw a 10 meter tall (30 ft) young man's bronze statue, surrounded by an orderly gallery of peace monuments given as gifts from numerous foreign countries and sister cities of Nagasaki, including St. Paul, Minnesota, Middleburg, Netherlands, and Santos, Brazil. The central bronze statue took 10 years to build by the city of Nagasaki at a cost of 30 million yen (donation came from Japanese citizens) for the statue and another 20 million yen (budgeted by Nagasaki) for the statue foundation.
Sculptor Seibo Kitamura was quoted as saying, "I wanted to create a sage, towering like a mountain, seen as god or as Buddha as the case may be, I wanted him healthy and brawny." His right hand points towards the heaven, signifying the continuing threat of nuclear weapons, his left hand is extended outward symbolizing the continuous quest for peace.

The bus then took us to see a bit of Temple Row and China Town and the last stop was the former residence and garden of Thomas Glover* (1838-1911). We walked together inside the garden, and to the "Oura" Catholic Church nearby. During this day trip, I found out husband Dick was raised in Pennsylvania, went to the Korean War, and moved to Australia after retiring from the U.S. Army. We exchanged names and addresses.

We started writing to each other, but my letters were answered always by Shirley. I found out she was a court reporter. Answering my handwritten letters, she typed her letters always on "air-mailers." They were very professionally typed and I showed them to my American secretaries as a great example of a speed-written memo.

Topics of our casual exchanges started with the trees native or quasi-native to Australia. The Jacaranda is one, Moreton Bay Fig is another. I saw Jacarandas in Southern California for the first time. Jacarandas served as a substitute tree to cherry blossoms for us Japanese. I learned Jacaranda is native to Brazil but we also can find it in South Africa, Australia, Okinawa, Taiwan, etc. Shirley told me there is a Jacaranda festival in Queensland.

Moreton Bay Fig is a big tree, like the Banyan tree in the Lahaina Court House Square in Hawaii, and became a landmark tree in South California, namely Santa Barbara and San Diego. Shirley wrote back there is a beach actually named "Moreton Bay," in northern Brisbane, where they live. I dreamed that some day I would visit there.

My dream came true in the late '90s. My first visit to the country Down Under. I flew into Brisbane and flew out of Melbourne. I took the train between the two airports, stopping over at Grafton for the Jacaranda Festival and toured Sydney with the help of Dick and Shirley. In Brisbane, they offered me their son's room. They drove me to Moreton Bay, where Brisbane River drains into, and to Manly and Scarborough, both noted for their boat harbors, facing the off-shore Moreton Island National Park. The island is shaped like a battledore or a Chinese broadsword, about 20 kilometers in length from north to south, featuring the world's tallest sand dunes. Captain Matthew Flinders (1799-1802) explored the area on his Norfolk ship and left an accurate bay chart. Brisbane celebrated a Bicentennial Anniversary in 2002 for Flinders. I had an opportunity to attend their son Robert's commencement from college before leaving.

Dick showed me his authentic DX equipment in his den, his QSL (Quebec Sign Language) VK4DIC calling card and a towering antenna he erected by himself in his backyard. He had requested certain replacement parts and magazines from the U.S. specialty stores while I was in the U.S., so I knew about his life hobby and introduced him to some of my Japanese DXing friends. Shirley wrote that he continued to call "Greetings from Queensland, Australia" until his dying day, maintaining good friendship with his many "airwave" friends.

Dick liked to wear Japanese split toe "Tabi Socks" in the house. Once he got used to it, he was unable to do without it. About two years ago, Shirley sent me an email as follows:

Dick and I brought back lots of the slippers from Japan years ago. At long last Dick has run out of them. He wears them in the house, so I call them “slippers.” He calls them “thongs” because he says they can be worn outside the house. They are black for men and white for women. The material that they are made of is cotton with slightly tougher material on the bottom. They have four small metal tabs at the back of the part of the slipper that is over the ankle. On these small metal tabs Dick found the number “10” which may have indicated size. They are made in such a way that the big toe is individually covered and the other four toes are covered together.

I remembered Dick was quite agile in the Tabi socks. I sent them spare Tabis quickly as my personal gifts, confirming the size. It's the same size that I use.

After retiring as the court reporter, Shirley became active in the Shirley Club organization not only for Australia but also New Zealand. This organization consists of ladies all named Shirley and they get together every two years for a convention. Shirley said, as per Guinness Book of World Records, the Maria Club is No. 1 with about 500 members followed by the Shirley Club with about 300 members. At one convention Shirley had the biggest attendance of 230. Shirley, serving as secretary, has been busy in sending out birthday cards, membership newsletters, etc.

Shirley and Dick were visiting the U.S. almost every year. My wife and I were doing the same so I wanted to have a special reunion maybe in California or Hawaii. One time we were close to realizing our plan but it did not happen. I also looked forward to seeing them this summer because Toastmasters was planning to meet in Sydney but canceled suddenly. It would have been the first convention in Toastmasters history taking place outside of North America. One of the reasons for cancellation may have been the worldwide depression.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

DMZ Korean River called "Imjingan"

The newspaper reported sad news recently that music producer and composer Kazuhiko Kato, 62 years old, was found dead at the Karuizawa hotel in Nagano. The cause appeared to be premeditated suicide. I vaguely remember him as a member of the popular Folk Crusaders group in the late '60s that hit Japan, first with the best selling record "I Only Lived Twice", a parody of James Bond’s "You Only Live Twice". The group's second song "Imjin River" impressed the fans but because the song originated in North Korea, sales and performances were voluntarily suspended because Japan had no diplomatic relations with North Korea or DPPR. My whole family moved to the U.S. in the early '70s so I lost touch with the Japanese music scene.

Stuck in my memory, however, is the name "Imjin", the name of the river flowing in the DMZ between the two Koreas and the name of the fierce battleground of the Korean War (1950-1953). While in the U.S., I befriended a number of Japanese Americans who fought in Korea, including some Japanese who obtained U.S. citizenship and U.S. education as veterans of the Korean War. One of the photos I obtained from one of them shows a Korean father in "paggi" and his son in trousers, carrying hay, towering above them on their backs, crossing the frozen Imjin River. The photo was somewhat poetic, reflecting the postwar respite, and very symbolic of the country, burdened with recovery after the war.

When I read about composer Kato, my memory of Imjin River returned and I wanted to explore what happened after the song came out during the years I was away from Japan (1970-2000).

There was not a whole lot of information. Nothing had changed much between Japan and DPPR. The diplomatic relations actually got worse when the issue over Japanese abductions got so contentious, talks essentially came to a halt. Exploring on Google, some facts were revealed and changed my preconceptions. Another Folk Crusade member, Takeshi Matsuyama, grew up in Kyoto in the neighborhood of Korean Town, playing soccer with Korean children. One day Takeshi heard a pretty song coming from the nearby pro-Pyongyang Chongryong school (there are a little over 200 such schools throughout Japan, getting subsidies from DPPR) and asked his friend to translate it into Japanese. Takeshi Matsuyama, together with the late Kaz Kato made it part of their repertoire. After the song was banned, Takeshi Matsuyama wrote a novel inspired by the song.

Amazingly Takeshi Matsuyama’s story was adapted into a movie called Pacchigi! (Korean title meaning "We shall overcome some day") with "Imjin River" as the theme music, directed by Kazuyuki Izutsu. The movie picked up many accolades in 2007, including Best Film at the Japanese Blue Ribbon Awards. It is a serio-comic Romeo and Juliet romance set in Kyoto in the '60s, starring Shun Shioya as a naive high school boy and Erika Sawajiri as the cute-but-tough "zainichi" (ethnic Korean living in Japan) girl with whom he falls in love. This year, a stage version with the same director and music opened and it is being well received. The play has a new set of actors and actresses, both Japanese and Korean, at the New National Theater in Tokyo.

To conclude, let me introduce Pak Se-yeong (1902-1989), songwriter of "Imjingan", born in Kyeonggi-do, the most populous province in South Korea which includes Seoul, who became famous as the writer of DPPR's national anthem. (Ko Jonghang's name is given as the composer of Imjingan)

Pak sang:

Birds come and go and freely commute
But I can't follow birds to my own town despite my yearning wish

Birds sadly sing in the reed marsh 'cross the river
People suffering lean crop and digging grass roots

Kolkhoz blessing us with golden rice crop and dances o'er the river
Nobody can block the river flow and surge

The second verse is interpreted as Pak's glorification of DPPR. It just so happens that not long ago the Imjin overflowed and flooded towns downstream. Half a dozen Southern Koreans died. Countering a South Korean claim that the cause was a dam water release, DPPR reportedly stated that it was unintentional.

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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Manhattan Project and Oak Ridge

My favorite non-fiction author Bill Bryson, while trekking the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods, 2007) from Georgia to Tennessee with his pal, hit on the idea to hop over to Virginia's Blue Ridge mountains. He rented a car in Knoxville and drove to Gatlinburg, the main entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. They could not just skip the Trail of Tears that saw the exodus of the Cherokees.

Knoxville is the 3rd largest city of Tennessee and the home of TVA Headquarters to where the Manhattan Project was lured. Oak Ridge, nicknamed "Secret City" during WWII, is just half an hour drive from Knoxville. It went from empty woods in l941 to a city of 70,000 in 1945. On a snowy March in the 1980s, I hurried onto Interstate 40 to Asheville, North Carolina, and I'm sure I was driving very close to Oak Ridge. Recently I found one of my friends living in Oak Ridge. I obtained information and photos* from this friend to update my knowledge and curiosity about the famous Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), now operating under the Department of Energy (DOE).

Originally called the Manhattan Engineer District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it became known later, as the "Manhattan Project"; formed in 1939 by President Franklin Roosevelt who was alerted by exiled German scientists headed by Nobel Prize Winner Albert Einstein that Nazi Germany had started studies on a new bomb using uranium, secured at an uranium mine in German occupied Czech.

President Roosevelt, not so impressed at first, agreed to embark on the project and named General Leslie Groves (1896-1970) as Military Director and the eminent Berkeley physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) as Scientific Director. Please note this formation precedes Pearl Harbor and Japan was doomed to an atomic attack before its declaration of war. Nazi Germany was intended to be the target, but the bombing of Pearl Harbor changed all that. President Truman, who succeeded President Roosevelt, knew he had to justify the huge expenditure of 2 billion dollars.

The Manhattan Project was largely carried out at four secret laboratories established by the power of eminent domain in four cities: Los Alamos, New Mexico (27,000 acres/11,000 hectares); Oak Ridge, Tennessee (59,000 acres/24,000 hectares); Richland, Washington (500,000 acres/202,000 hectares - see Bonneville Power Authority); and Chalk River, Ontario, Canada. There were eight (8) signature facilities spread over the above 4 cities, three (3) of which were built in Oak Ridge.

The facilities in Oak Ridge were:

1) K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Process Building
U-shaped building measures half a mile by 1000 feet. (The original building covered more than 1500 acres and was described as the Empire State Building laid flat on its side. Must have been a gargantuan building! ) It housed the gaseous diffusion process, one of three isotope separations processes, that produced U235 for the Hiroshima Little Boy.

2) X-10 Graphite Reactor
Designed as a pilot for the Hanford (Richmond) production reactors. Produced first significant amounts of plutonium.

3) Y-12 Electromagnetic Separation Plant or Calutron Plant or Beta-3 Racetracks
Produced U235 for the Hiroshima bomb. Only surviving production-level electromagnetic isotope separation facility in the U.S. (Treasured silver - 6000 tons - was borrowed from Fort Knox for use in the fabrication of equipment as a copper substitute with less electrical resistance)

In the hidden outlying secret posts, thousands of class A scientists and engineers, including Nobel Prize winners, participated in the Manhattan Project under Oppenheimer who orchestrated open communication, stimulated exchange and debate of ideas, broke down barriers of compartmentalization, and solved many quandaries. These scientists were consciously or unconsciously aware that they were opening Pandora's box. I'm guessing that they were caught up in the excitement of the technological breakthrough or perhaps had the hubris syndrome.

I became aware that Pearl Buck (1892-1973) wrote a novel entitled Command the Morning in l959. Key scientists of the Manhattan Project all appear under fictitious names, traveling all over Berkeley, Chicago, Oak Ridge, New Mexico, Washington. The author added one young woman scientist, educated in India, among the group of bomb makers, and at a later stage, she desperately tries to block the bombing. One interesting scene was Dr. Burton Hall returning to New Mexico, then driving casually to Arizona to meet his Japanese American friend, Yasuo Matsugi, in the concentration camp. Yasuo is an artist who had been to Paris and came back to the U.S. when the war started. Dr. Hall is returning a courtesy visit to Yasuo who came to meet him prior to encampment. Yasuo showed a small heron wood sculpture made of a sage tree. Being asked why he wasn't painting, Yasuo replied he just did not feel like painting anymore. After the war, Yasuo settled in Chicago, met Burton there and accompanied him to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "Command the Morning" derives from Job 38.12. The Lord questions Job: Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place."

Both Germany and Japan lost the competitive edge in the war of technology. Records show that over 70 German engineers had built a reactor but were forced to engage in more pressing works as the war atmosphere grew tense. Japan's Army prototype reactor, built with a fewer number of engineers including Prof. Nishina from Universities of Tokyo and Tohoku, and in cooperation with Riken Laboratory, used a thermal diffusion method. It seems that high school students were mobilized to dig uranium ores in Fukushima. The Navy project, tied with Kyoto University, used a centrifugation method. The Navy solicited help from Germany in getting uranium dioxide. In March 1944, 560kg uranium dioxide was transported to Japan by No. 234 U-Boat but never reached Japan as it surrendered on the way and was captured by the U.S. The Imperial Navy and Army took two separate research paths and failed to share information with each other. No joint research efforts were made despite the limited number of scientists. Another bad example of the lack of cooperation between the two was the unshared technology of the Naval Fighter "Zero." It is well known that the U.S. secured uranium from the Congo.

*Now the following info is from my friend:

1) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
ORNL, originally known as Clinton Works after the nearby town of Clinton, played major roles in the Manhattan Project. It evolved into the DOE organization, addressing important national and global energy and environmental issues. Today, ORNL, working with the University of Tennessee (UT)-Battelle Memorial Institution, is opening the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), the world's foremost facility for the study of materials. The venue covers 150 square miles (38,850 hectares) with a total staff of 3,800, including 1500 scientists and engineers. They are visited by 3000 guest researchers and 30,000 visitors each year.

2) K-25
Demolition is in progress. The hastily erected K-25 had been idle for so many years with little or no maintenance and had caved in roofs, unsafe floors and cracked columns. The entire K-25 is scheduled to be demolished by the end of 2011. DOE says it is one of the most complex decommissioning projects because of its size, the contamination from operations and structural problems. After the cleanup, the site will be the East Tennessee Technology Park, available for commercial enterprises set amid spacious green and wooded areas. Visitors at this time can take the Scenic Excursion Train (operated by Southern Appalachia Railway Museum) to the site.

3) X-10
Designated as a National Historic Landmark.

4) Y-12
Eligible for Landmark status and being studied under the Integrated Facility Disposition Program (IFDP).

My friend sent me a photograph of peace bell installed in 1996 in the central city park called A. K. Bissel Park that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the city Oak Ridge. I thought maybe it was a gift from its Japanese sister city Hitachi Naka, but it was not. I'm amazed to find out that it took more than 20 years of arguing to have the bell accepted and dedicated in the "Atomic City" as a symbol of peace.

In 1972, the Federal Court of Greenville, NC endowed U.S. Citizenship to a group of Asian immigrants. Among them were Indiana University graduates Ram Uppuluri and Shigeko Yoshino. They got married and lived in Knoxville where Ram worked as a mathematician.

After the war and as the news of Hiroshima/Nagasaki tragedies came, Oak Ridge community was impatient to show its peace initiative. It reviewed a proposal by Sigeko Uppuluri, which introduced the bell concept. Some agreed but most opposed, reasoning the bell to be too much of a religious symbol. After some passage of time, however, the bell idea gained support and a funds were raised. The Uppuluris visited Japan with a bell design by artist Suzzane Harris. It was 1993 when the bell was cast in Kyoto by bell maker Sotetsu Iwazawa.

The bell cost approximately $100,000, even with the maker's concession. The sister city Hitachi-Naka and the Atomic Energy Society of Japan respectively contributed $14,000 and $23,000. The bell was transported by Honda Motors. Another objection arose on the erection of the bell pavilion in the public park and it took another three years until it was finally in place. The bell pavilion adopted the vernacular cantilevered barn structure found around the eastern Tennessee region. It was designed by Jon Coddington, a U-T professor. The city motto campaigned for the Peace Bell was "Born of War, Living the Peace, Growing through Science."

What's inscribed on the striker of the Friendship Bell per my friend is:

"In honor of the long and excellent working relations and friendship which developed in the collaboration in the first reactor fuel cycle between Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Corporation (scratched, cannot read) during the period 1981-1994."
- Anonymous

Oak Ridge is ranked No. l Best City to live in the medium sized city category. It is a haven now for retirees. Many elderly volunteers are working for such organizations as American Museum of Science & Energy" (AMSE), etc.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Who Is Shig Imamura? - Part II

The naval battles of Midway Atoll and Guadalcanal, often seen as a turning point, reversed the balance of power in the war in the pacific. In l942: U.S. had one and half a million soldiers versus over 2 million for Japan. In l943, the Allied Forces had over 3 million versus 2.4 million for Japan. The Japanese loss of pilots and sailors from the above naval battles needed immediate reinforcements, particularly to replenish vulnerable pilots. Students from colleges and universities were recruited and mobilized.

In October, 1943, the deferred conscription allowed for college students suddenly ended. The semesters were shortened for immediate graduation and enrollment into the army and the navy. Choices were given, but those who passed physical and eye exams were to join the airmen corps. The navy was regarded as more refined than the army and was considered free of bullying. However, in reality, the navy had more rampant bullying in the name of reformative baptism.

About 99,000 young men, not only from Japan but also from colonial Korea and Taiwan, were drafted (first time for Koreans and Taiwanese), of which 81,000 went to the army and 18,000 to the navy. Finally, 5,000 were sent to the naval air corps - about half to Tsuchiura Naval Air Station, northeast of Tokyo and the other half to Mie Naval Air Station on Ise Bay. The assignments were probably made based on their places of birth.

Two pilots-to-be Shig Imamura (1922-1981) of Matsuyama, and Norimitsu Takushima (1922-1945) of Fukuoka, reported to Mie. After finishing training, they were both sent to Izumi Naval Air Corps in Kagoshima according to their respective records. Shig was dispatched to Wonsan, (North) Korea and Takushima to Matsuura. I carefully read their April journals. Takushima took a vacation trip to Kagoshima on Sunday, April 23, 1944. Shig wrote that he went to Amakusa one Sunday in the same month to sightsee. It seems they were not in the same group. Why so much detail for these two? The information came from (1) Shig's autobiography - Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze, and (2) from the book Kuchinashi-no-Hana** - The Diary of a Young Japanese Man Caught in World War II, and edited letters by Takushima's brother-in-law translated by Kichiyo Ishigaki and Paul Whitney (2002).

Takushima (Keio University graduate) did not return from his reconnaissance flight in early 1945, while Shig survived the war. They were both born in 1922, and might have met each other, but no mention was made in their respective memoirs. Takushima wrote an inspirational poem which touched readers' hearts and inspired the popular song "Kuchinashi-no-Hana." Sung by a professional singer, it took post-war Japan by storm along with the book.

These young men were not Kamikaze pilots right from the beginning. Suicidal methods were not originally permitted under Admiral Yamamoto. The midget submarines used in the Pearl Harbor attack were definitely not for suicide attacks. They were supposed to return and were promised rescue. However, after following several fatal defeats and retreats, Japan lost command both in air and sea. As it became clear that the resources to wage war were diminishing, a predicament prevailed in all aspects of war. The Japanese Imperial Navy kicked off their offenses in the Philippines with l) the piloted rocket powered gliders (O-ka), 2) manned torpedoes (Kaiten submarines), 3) explosive motorboats (Shinyo), ...etc. The development of these weapons, however, were slow and the delays ended up saving many lives.

Kamikaze Squadron (Tokkotai) was said to have begun on October 25, 1944 with Captain Tsurao Seki, the first pilot, based at Mabarakat Air Base. The practice ended with Captain Tatsuo Nakatsuru, the last pilot who left Oita Air Base in the late afternoon of August l5, l945. These two captains were classmates coincidentally at the Edajima Naval Academy. (It was said that the two names were chosen to glorify the Academy.)

Captain Seki's true feelings was confided to his friend prior to the mission.

"I could drop a 500kg bomb on the flight deck of a carrier without going in for body-crashing and still make my way back. Japan's future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots. I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire... I am going because I was ordered to. It is better to die, rather than to live as a coward!"

His mission was to deter landing of the U.S. forces at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Shig Imamura wrote about Captain Seki in his autobiography.

Captain Nakatsuru became the last Kamikaze pilot on a controversial mission, personally requested by Admiral Ugaki, once Chief-of-Staff under Admiral Yamamoto. Nakatsuru was not promoted posthumously because the flight was unauthorized. His departure, along with others, from Oita Air Base was late in the afternoon of August 15. The surrender and cease fire announcement had already been made at noon, but Admiral Ugaki insisted he had not received an official order. There were two dozen pilots who volunteered to die for the Admiral.

After many years of silence, Captain Nakatsuru's father, spoke up during a local memorial day. "Why did the Admiral have to take young lives including my son?" Two-thirds of those student-turned pilots died as Kamikazes.

Upon learning their fate, the young pilots, as well as other soldiers who were asked to sacrifice themselves, made heart-rending groans and expressed grief for unacceptable death in the name of war. Writings of those who lost their lives were published after the war. The "spiritual road" of student soldiers became quite a sensation, and became the target of studies by researchers both at home and abroad. The above mentioned "Kuchinashi" was quoted in many war books, including Kike Watatsumi no Koe, translated as Listen to the Voices from The Sea - Writings of the Fallen Japanese Students by Midori Yamanouchi and Joseph L. Quinn is available from the University of Scranton Press (2000).

On February 11, l944, Japanese Empire Day, Shig Imamura, his colleagues and subordinates, all stepped forward and asked their superiors if they could accept a Kamikaze mission. Shig disregarded possible exemptions given to eldest sons. As Captain, he was put in charge of one of two Kamikaze squadrons. On July 29, he was set to fly a mission to attack an invasion fleet off Tokyo Coast. His mission was canceled when radar reports of the invasion fleet proved inaccurate. He was stationed in Chitose, Hokkaido when the the news of surrender reached him.

Here's Lieutenant Takushima's poem that brought river of tears among the Japanese.

There is only one who sheds tears at my words
There is only one who thinks so ill of me
And through all of this, there is only one
who will always love me, never forget me.
After I'm dead, there is only one
who will bring gardenia flowers.
Amongst them all, there is only just one.

Kamikaze pilots were not fanatics as was generally thought. They had no desire for glory or fame. Pure as the arctic snow in heart, they were human. They moped, cried, and ranted. However, they accepted and faced death courageously for loved ones and country, believing their actions would bring a conclusion to the war in a better way. Let their deaths not be wasted. The mission, our mission is clear: to have peace prevail with no more wars and no more nuclear bombs.


** Kuchinashi-no-Hana are gardenias. The Japanese word literally means "flowers without mouths."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Who is Shig Imamura? - Part I

I have received a lot of personal questions ever since my Japanese translation of the book Dear Miss Breed was published last year.

My daughter in Santa Barbara forwarded me this one:

I was born in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. I do not have memory of being in camp as I left when I was a year and half old. My husband was at Gila Bend, AZ. He had some memory of camp as he was older (about five) when he left camp. Are you related to the Imamuras of Berkeley? I think that there was a Buddhist minister, Rev. Imamura, who was there in the 60's and his daughter who was a very accomplished pianist. Just wondering.

Phew! Reverend Imamura!

I received another question, this time from Mrs. U, who helped me a great deal (without Mrs. U, I wouldn't have even ventured) with my translation of Dear Miss Breed written by Joanne Oppenheim. She asked me if I was related to Professor Shigeo (Shig) Imamura, whom she met when she studied at the English Center of Michigan State University. She said Professor Imamura was born in California but went to Japan a few years before WWII broke. He spent his boyhood in Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture and she knew I was from the same area.

Well, the name Imamura is not rare and can be found on many Japanese Web sites. There are about a dozen Imamuras using the same Japanese Kanji character as my first name even if pronounced differently. These people were in a variety of professions: musician, Chinese medicine specialist, soccer umpire, animation artist, turbine engineer, ...etc. While traveling in the U.S. on business, I used to open the phone directory at hotels to find people named Imamura and I found a few in large cities, like Denver and Los Angeles.

Back to Shig Imamura. Mrs. U sent me a memoir written by Prof. Imamura. The title Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze and the cover photo of Imamura clad in a flight uniform really surprised me. I read it immediately. The book was published in 2001, after his death in 1998, thanks to the efforts by his disciples both in the U.S. and Japan for editing Shig's manuscripts. The Japanese translation was made available from the publisher Soshisha in 2003. The translator, Ken Oshiba, is the first businessman turned principal of Mie Prefectural senior high school.

To my happy surprise, I found two familiar names in the book. One is Prof. Yamauchi who taught me English at Matsuyama College of Commerce (abbreviated as Matsuyama Kosho), now known as Matsuyama University. Prof. Yamauchi played an important role as Shig's mentor when Shig came from the U.S. He was an English and music instructor then at Matsuyama Chugaku (middle school) in the old education system. He heard about Shig and arranged Shig to continue his English education by introducing him to an American missionary. As his music teacher, Yamauchi Sensei let Shig play the cornet in his band which led to Shig blowing the bugle in the military drill event at school. When the war was over, Yamauchi Sensei took woolgathering Shig to the Occupation Force depot and got him a job as an interpreter.

I left Matsuyama for Osaka to concentrate on English studies and didn't finish at Matsuyama Kosho. I do, however, remember faculty names, especially of the English department, including Yamauchi Sensei. Prof. Futagami was my mentor there. Years later, when I mentioned quitting my Tokyo job, he tipped me off that I might be able to succeed him at Kosho. Another Kosho teacher, Prof. Komoda asked me if I was a returnee from the U.S. I didn't understand why he asked me but probably he knew or heard of Prof. Imamura and wanted to see if I was related to him. Shig also wrote about Takahashi Sensei who composed Haiku in English and I think he also taught me. I also remember Prof. Hoshino who taught the Japanese Constitution. He became President of Kosho later.

Another mention is the late Principal Suzuki of Kinmon (Golden Gate) Japanese School where Shig Imamura learned Japanese. Shig was born in San Jose, but moved to San Francisco when his father got a job there.

Kinmon Gakuen (Golden Gate Academy)
est. 1911 with 133 students
2031 Bush Street, San Franciso
A historical landmark for the Japanese American community

My first trip to the U.S. was in l957 on a prop-jet airplane. It stopped first at Wake island for breakfast, second in Honolulu for dinner; two stops and two nights before arriving in San Francisco. I know Princinpal Suzuki's niece in Tokyo and she introduced me to her uncle. Suzuki Kocho Sensei served as our guide for a party of three first-time visitors to the U.S. Our party consisted of my two bosses and me and we went to Fishermen's Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge and Park, and University of California, Berkeley Campus. I never imagined that my son would graduate from Berkeley. I wasn't yet married. I was very thankful for Principal Suzuki's kindness. I could have contacted him while I was stationed in New York in the '60s. I regretted that I missed the chance. Over 50 years later, I found all these nearly forgotten names in this book.

I faced quite a reverse culture shock when I returned to Japan. It is easy to wet your feet in foreign waters but the converse is not always true. Shig returned to Japan as a 4th grader and the book says that no one could find any differences with the other boys after his hair was cropped at the barber shop. He spoke Japanese well, thanks to Kinmon Gakuen and Suzuki Sensei. My son temporarily returned to Japan about the same age and slid into the same grade without difficulties, also thanks to the Saturday Japanese language school in New York.

As Shig grew in Japan, he noted himself that he "grew 110% more Japanese-like" than the regular Japanese boys. I read about a case of another returnee student from the U.S. This person was at the college level, older than Shig, when he returned. He reacted to the draft matter-of-factly (no influence from the U.S. education), didn't show any mortification and died in the war in the Philippines. Unfortunately, it was true that everyone was deeply dyed in war time colors without exception. I will describe the Kamikaze mental state in detail in the next blog entry.

More than three-fourths of the book is about how Shig became a Kamikaze pilot and the remainder is about his brief career as an educator both in the U.S. and Japan. With a GARIOA scholarship, he went and got his degree at Michigan State University (MSU). He then taught in Japan and back at MSU as an ESL teacher. Shig wrote in the preface that ever since he stood on the classroom podium at MSU as a teacher, he had been pursued for press interviews as a miraculous survivor, especially because he wrote in the MSU student paper "Kamikaze now a U-teacher". He had been eagerly sought wherever he went and he responded to all the interest. Persuaded by friends, he finally decided to write it down.

Shig spent about 30 years in the U.S. including his childhood of 10 years in California, and about 40 years in Japan. I shared similar life experiences and I can definitely identify with Shig.