Tuesday, December 28, 2010

World War I POW Camp in Japan

I never thought I'd be researching World War I prisoners sent from Qindao, China to Japan during that war to write a blog about Hungary. Because of the German alliance with Austria, and Hungary, these 4,700 prisoners from Qindao consisted of not only soldiers from these three nations, but also Czechs, Slovakians, Poles, Yugoslavians, some northern Italians and even Russians. Initially, they were divided into 16 camps throughout Japan, but were gradually consolidated to those from allied countries. Russians prisoners who falsified their nationality as Swedes working for the German Qindao were released earlier than the other prisoners.

The German Navy was trying to establish a naval base in the East in the late 1890’s as did the Russians when they secured Vlasdivostok. They thought Qindao would be an ideal location and saw an opportunity to colonize it when their missionaries sent there were killed by the Chinese.

Despite internal opposition, Japan honored a 1902 treaty with Britain and declared war on Imperial Germany in 1914. Japan sent troops to Qindao and a siege ensued culminating in an attack in October. The German troops surrendered a week later.

The German East-Asian Fleet had a fleet of ships such as the SMS Emden, Nurnberg, Leipzig, Kaiserin Elizabeth, Sharnhorst, Gneisenau. Most of them were light cruisers that patrolled the Pacific to guard the Marshall Islands, Samoa, etc. then under German control. The captured crews must have been sent to Japan as well, if they survived the sea battles and the Spanish flu.

After the end of the war, it was reported that 230 Austrian-Hungarian soldiers were being held in Aonogahara Camp near Ono in Hyogo Prefecture, along with about 250 German soldiers, and there were constant disputes between the two groups to justify their eventual separation.

The German solders were sent to Bando Prisoner Camp in Naruto, Tokushima and to Matsuyama Camp. The Bando Camp became one of the largest of these camps with up to 1,000 prisoners of war. The camp also became famous as the site of the very first performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony "Ode an die Freude" in Japan, which was played and sung by a chorus of prisoners in 1918.

A movie was made in 2006 to show how camp life was under Lieutenant Colonel Matsue, a humanitarian who ran the camp. Matsue secured 2,300 square meters of land for the prisoners. The land became farms to raise vegetables and pigs, as well as a multi-purpose sporting complex with tennis courts, fields for soccer, schlagball, faustball and turnen training. The prisoners had matches with local school students, and demonstrated turnen to them. Some prisoners were experts in ham and sausage making. Others tried to build stone bridges for the village. They had active exchanges with local residents, performing musical concerts, Shakespearean plays and selling ham, breads and cakes, handmade crafts,… etc. The weekly paper "Die Baracke" (in German) was printed continuously for two years inside Bando camp.

When the camp closed around 1920, over 500 prisoners did not want to return to Europe, which was in chaos at the time. Approximately 150 left for Qindao, 250 for Indonesia, and 170 stayed in Japan. I was amazed that these reports were available from a research group made up of volunteers.

I visited the original Bando Camp recently, on the weekend of Decebmer 21, 2010 accompanied by my Tokushima friend M. Ogata, a returnee from Brazil and a business executive. Ogata-san invited his Naruto friend K. Hayashi who wrote the book “the Japanese Town where the Beethoven No. 9 played for the first time in Japan” (Heimat der 9 Sinfonie). To commemorate the German prisoners' activities, the first German House was opened in 1972. The new German House opened in October 1993. Anja Hankel, a German docent joined us during the German House Museum tour. She spoke fluent Japanese.

Young bo-trees or linden-trees donated by the Studientwerk für Deutsch-Japanischen Kulturaustausch in NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen) e.V. grew deep roots here in the hills of German Village Park next to the cherry orchard, overlooking the lakes the prisoners reportedly swam in the summer.

For more information:
Article about Bando POW Camp in Japan Times

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pat Johnson, Toastmasters International President, visits Kumamoto, Kyushu

Japan, District 76 was honored with a visit from Pat Johnson, a few months after she assumed her position as International President. This is unprecedented in my 15 year Toastmasters career to see and listen to such a high level Toastmaster's official in Japan in person and, in particular, just a few hours travel from where I live. It was a once in a lifetime experience and it was most rewarding.

Pat's speech was adeptly titled "You Raise Me Up" and she beautifully sang and charmed the hearts of all the participants, right from the beginning:

“You raise me up as I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up ... to more than I can be.”

The song, I remembered, was sung at the Super Bowl in 2004 in Houston Texas, to honor the one year anniversary of the NASA Shuttle Columbia disaster. The Japanese, in particular, can mostly remember the song as it was used by their native daughter skater Shizuka Arakawa as the background music in her relentless road to Olympic championship. Why Shizuka chose it? I surmise she sensed an inspiration and compassion in its Irish rhythm and tunes quite intimate and familiar to her and all the Japanese people.

The lyricist is Brendan Graham (1945 - ) born in the County of Tipperary. He is also the author of The Whitest Flower (1998), The Element of Fire (2001) and The Brightest Day, The Darkest Night (2004). I haven't read any of them yet, but a search on Google reveals they are Irish epics that document the stories of surviving women since the days of the great famine in Ireland, leaving Ireland for Australia, Canada and the U.S. for a better life. Brendan admitted that the song embodied the feeling of all the novels.

I learned also from the official web site for "You Raise Me Up" that the song persisted, had a life of its own. It was composed by Rolf Lovland of northern Norway and performed by Fionnuala Sherry, an Irish violinist - the duo that make up the Secret Garden. It was a miracle similar to that of the beautiful song Amazing Grace. It's now sung and played everywhere throughout the world from the London Community Gospel to an African children choir.

Economically and geopolitically, Japan has been in a downward trend for two decades among the neighboring powers. Like Ireland, we desperately need decisive turnaround with positive will power and encouragement and help from worldwide friends.

Pat Johnson inspired Japanese Toastmasters with a magic to go all out
for it. Thank you, President, for sharing your wonderful message with us, bringing much pride in ourselves for our practice of being dedicated Toastmasters.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beautiful Jacaranda Tree

One of three tropical/subtropical tree flowers is the jacaranda, which should be in full bloom right now in the southern hemisphere. I visited Grafton, Queensland, Australia, a little above south latitude of 30 degrees during the hilarious Jacaranda Week. Rows of jacaranda trees, specifically on Pound Street, has an imposing grandeur. The jacaranda float procession lasts over a few hours, smaller but quite beautiful than what I've seen in the U.S., like the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City, New Year's Rose Parade in Pasadena, or the Cinco de Mayo Parade in San Diego. The festival starts with the jacaranda queen, followed by the princess beauty competitions and ending with the crowning ceremony.

The various local arts and crafts group exhibitions are held throughout the week. I traveled down the Mighty Clarence River to the Pacific Ocean and the beach. Thanks to the foresight of the city founders well over a century ago, Grafton is blessed with more than 6500 trees providing shade and 24 carefully maintained, beautiful parks, which is adjacent to the Clock Tower ornament, a great spot for lunch and the focus of many jacaranda activities.

Back in Japan in the mid 1990s, I met my neighboring couple who returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. They were in the mining business and spent some years in Lubumbashi, formerly called Elizabethville, a town bordering Zambia. I found the location is a little below south latitude of 10 degrees but the couple mentioned how they miss the purple hills veiled in purple mist of jacaranda flowers. I learned the city of Lubumbashi is a highland between 1000 to 2000 meters and that explains the tree acclimatization.

Now another friend of mine, after his visit with his son who had been stationed in Pretoria, South Africa, told me that the city of Pretoria is familiarly known as Jacaranda City. I found Pretoria is just in between south latitude of 20 and 30 degrees, about the same latitude as Grafton, Australia. However, the jacaranda was not native to Pretoria; several horticulturalists, since the late 1800s, imported the trees from Brazil and Australia to Cape Town, Sunnyside, Groenkloof and Pretoria and in due course, jacaranda became so popular and were extensively planted that Pretoria, in particular, became known as the jacaranda city. As a matter of fact, about 50,000 jacaranda trees were reported lined inside the 250 miles of streets in and around Pretoria in the official guidebook. Probably a similar thing happened with jacarandas in Lumumbashi. The tree is regarded as an invader tree, as it grows in poor soil, and is drought tolerant.

Nelson Mandela, Nobel Laureate and ex-President of South Africa, referred to the jacaranda tree in his inaugural speech:

"To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld. Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change. We are moved by a sense of joy and exhilaration when the grass turns green and the flowers bloom..."

My Brazilian friend sent me his jacaranda photos from the famous Ibirapuera City Park of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the jacaranda tree originated. In the northern hemisphere, I'm pleased to list many places of jacaranda cities along the north 30 degree latitude, starting with Mexico, California, Florida, Mediterranean coast cities, Egypt, India, Bhutan, …, etc. It is in the month of May they blossom, instead of November. My memories of Cuernavaca, Mexico and Okinawa, Japan are still vivid with jacaranda purple and the burning flam trees and spathodea, two other great tropical trees.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Update on "Love of 99 Years"

TBS reinvigorated its 50 year commemorative TV program campaign of "Love of 99 Years - Japanese Americans" on Wednesday night, Nov 3. It opened with a write-in forum for those people showing interest and I saw 40 pages of write-ins in a day or two by the impatient fans saying they couldn't wait to see the star "Tsuyoshi Kusanagi" who takes on the dual roles of Issei immigrant Chokichi and his son Ichiro.

Kusangai, 36 years old, is an actor, singer and a member of the popular Japanese idol group, SMAP. He had a foolish act last year under the influence of alcohol that lead to a police arrest and showed his penitence for a short time. Probably it was a good opportunity to show who he is, as the part was written specifically with him in mind by Sugako Hashida, the screen writer.

Here's what Kusanagi told an interviewer that appeared in the paper.

"Chokichi, the father, picks up and holds his newly born baby Ichiro in his arms. I had a strange and mixed feeling that I have to play gown-up Ichiro."

The shooting location was in the U.S. He said it was a tight and hard itinerary, starting work as the sun rose and filming as much as possible during daylight.

"One time, a hurricane was approaching. We had to run to a shelter as soon as the director yelled 'cut'. I actually engaged in farm labor and participated in military drills when in the story, I was drafted into the army. I gained a lot of muscle by the time I returned to Japan. I think I learned about the relentless spirit of immigrants, their strong family bond and their aspiration for peace. It really changed the way I look at life.”

Monday, October 11, 2010

Land of Thermal Baths

“According to a Colgate-Palmolive survey, Americans average about 11 minutes in the shower and spend about 20 minutes in a typical bath, hardly time for an in-depth cleaning. The Japanese, who take much longer baths, are certainly far more fastidious than the Americans. But Americans and Japanese are all barbarians by the standards of the Romans, who sweated, soaked and were rubbed, scrubbed and strigiled clean.” (Jay Stuller, quoted from Smithsonian Magazine 1991)

It was Romans who, in the first century, built the Aquincum in the current Budapest area. The Latin expression "aqua quinque" was the origin of the Aquincum, which means “five waters”. Budapest apparently followed a similar path as the British city Bath, but with much more turbulence because of frequent changes by occupants Romans, Turks, King Matthias Corvinus, Habsburgs, etc. Budapest had over 50 such facilities. Best known are Gellert, Lukacs, Rudas, Szechenyi, with the gorgeous buildings. I read that the geological features of the Carpathian Basin are such that the Earth’s crust is very thin, so water rises easily to the surface. It is not an exaggeration when one says that you could push a stick into the ground anywhere and up would come thermal water.

Hungary is a land of more than 1,000 hot springs and has enough spa facilities to accommodate 300,000 people at the same time. These spas are located in big cities, Eger, Gyor, Harkány Mako, and Szeged as well as smaller towns throughout the country. Even smaller places like Hévíz, Hajdúszoboszló, Bükkfürdö, and Zalakaros are the destination of not just European tourists but also the locals.

Lately, I was surprised to see a super modern resort hotel with a huge swimming pool, sauna and spa at Salt Hill Spawil at Egerszalok, northeastern Hungary, 80 kilometers from Budapest near the Slovakian border. A fancy ad is on the Internet written in Japanese. The wellness / fitness spa tourism seems to be booming in Hungary.

In Japan, there are about 3,000 hot springs and hotels and inns associated with them number over 20,000. However, bathing culture and customs are quite different between Hungary and Japan, so comparison is not easy. For instance, hot springs in Japan is not meant primarily for swimming. But, we certainly share the benefits of medicinal and healing properties the earth made available for us.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Love of 99 Years - Japanese Americans

TBS, one of the prestigious TV broadcasters in Tokyo, plans a new program titled “Love of 99 Years – Japanese Americans” as its 60th year anniversary project, for a series of 5 consecutive nights, November 3 through November 7 at 9-10 PM. Based on Sugako Hashida's (1925 - ) screenplay, Katsuaki Setoguchi and Katsuo Fukuzawa are Producer and Director respectively. It is rumored that this is the last script by Sugako Hashida so she has done it with her heart and soul. The gorgeous cast includes Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Yukie Nakama, Pinko Izumi, Keiko Kishi, Kaoru Yachigusa, Tsunehiko Kamijyo and others.

The story follows a family of Japanese immigrants who relocated to America 99 years ago. Kusanagi plays both the young Hiramatsu Chokichi (later taken over by Nakai) and his son, Ichiro. When the war breaks out, Japanese immigrants face racism and segregation. Chokichi is sent to prison, and all family members are sent to concentration camps. Ichiro pledges his alliance to America and gets sent to Europe. Second son Jiro stays back with Ichiro's beloved Shinobu (who he is in love with) and tries to protect his parent's farm. Their two sisters, Shizu and Sachie, are sent back to Japan and have to experience the horrors of war, one in Hiroshima, the atomic bomb, and the other in Okinawa, the bloodiest battleground of the Pacific.

It’s a great opportunity for all of us to reflect on what happened to Japanese Americans for the past 99 years, along with the great read of “Dear Miss Breed” book, where you find Miss Breed's affection, assurance and love for the captive Japanese children in concentration camps.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Dear Miss Breed Extra

Dear Readers,

I need your help. I am reaching out to people to see if they know someone who could use a copy or two of the Japanese (i.e. translated) version of Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim.

With great support from a few of my friends in California, I am starting a campaign to save the Japanese version of Dear Miss Breed from the shredders on October l that will run through October 31.

The company in Tokyo that published the translated book approached me, since I was the translator, to get me to agree to destroy the remaining inventory of the book. The initial print was 6,000 copies and after three years of sales, the book sold a little shy of 5,000.

Because book sales have slowed, they were concerned about the financial burden of carrying the inventory considering the publishers' cash flow and the interests and taxes that would continue to incur.

Regardless of what I think about the amount of marketing that was spent promoting the book, I understand their predicament. However, I am horrified at the thought of shredding all these books. When I mentioned the situation to my friends in the U.S., they came to the rescue by saying they would ask their friends who can read Japanese to purchase the books. I am deeply grateful to all who provided support and took action toward this campaign.

I tried to research what the norm was for Japanese book publishing. How many they print initially seems to be a big trade secret. The general practice has been to print a few thousand copies for unknown works, unless it was the latest from proven, well-known authors.

The book reviews that come out after publication often determine the amount of sales. The publisher will do a second print only when sales soar. I got the impression that five thousand copies was generally the first target. The next level up is 10,000. If the book sells over that amount, the project is deemed to be a real success.

I would appreciate it very much if you could help spread the word about this campaign. Attached is a copy of the advertisement that will run in the October 1st issue of San Diego YuYu newspaper. The book publisher is offering the book at a special discounted price during the month of October. Please click on the ad for a larger view.

Thank you very much for your kind support and help.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Millennium Subway

A subway is much easier to ride than a bus when foreigners try to scramble around an unfamiliar country. Taipei became friendlier to me when its MRT System opened in the late 1990s. I could go north or south, east or west as I pleased without any help from local friends. I look forward to doing the same in Kaohsiung on my next visit as a new KMRT System opened in late 2008. I happened to be in Montreal and was honored with a free ride when it opened its French rubber tire metro system in 1966.

I was excited when Edit, my Hungarian friend, told me that Budapest has one of the oldest subway systems in the world - the Millennium Subway. The decision to have a subway was made when three cities, Buda, Obuda and Pest merged into one in 1873 in commemoration of the 1,000th anniversary of Magyarok by Emperor Franz Joseph. It seemed Budapest was then competing with its rival city Vienna. Coincidentally, cities like London, New York and Chicago were all planning underground railways, but using steam locomotives. The change from locomotives to electric vehicles came after 1900, London in 1902, and New York 1904 (Interborough Rapid Transit – 9th Ave line).

For Hungarian metro, two local firms and German Siemens & Halske AG worked together to build the line entirely from the surface using a cut and cover method. Called Franz Joseph Line, the length of line is 3.68 kilometers of which 3.22 kiloneters ran underground. The service started on May 2, 1896. Therefore this line subway is petty shallow, just about 5 meters deep. You can jump into a car in under 10 seconds if you so desire.

Today, the subway system has 3 lines totaling 32 kilometers, color coded in yellow (Millennium line), blue (opened 1976, north to south), red (opened in 1970, east to west) and one line under construction scheduled to open in 2012. Daily users total 1.3 million people.

In 2002, this Millennium line, along with the Andrassy ut running on top of the subway got the World Heritage designation. Andrassy ut is an iconic boulevard, compared with Paris’ Chanselise, linked with notable spots like Opera House, the House of Terror, Memorial Houses of Franz Liszt and Lolton Kadraly, Heroe’s and Elizabeth Squares.

There's a subway museum you can visit near the Deak Frerenc Station where you can view some of the original cars.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"It's not only enough to be Hungarian. One must also have talent"

The name Bartok struck me when I was listening to the music tape sent from my New York friend. I loved his Violin Concertos which are unique and different and wondered where he was born. He was a Hungarian, although he immigrated to the U.S.

I saw photographs of Robert Capa. His real name was Friedmann, a Hungarian. Then one day I saw Andrew Grove, President of Intel in San Diego. I read his memoir Swimming Across and found he was Grof Andras Istvan, a Hungarian. Upon returning to Japan, I had a chance to listen to Peter Frankl, a genius mathematician and a professional road juggler, a Hungarian now residing in Japan. He wrote many books in Japanese, including his autobiography Why I speak 11 languages.

Over a dozen Hungarian scientists are listed as Nobel Laureates, including Eugene Wigner, who was involved in the Manhattan Project; Rubik Erno, who established the International Rubik Foundation; George Soros, CEO of Soros Fund Management; Biro Laszlo, an inventor of ball point pens; and Neumann Janos, mathematician / physicist best known for his game theory. In 2002, Imre Kertesz joined as the first Hungarian writer to win the Nobel prize for literature. He wrote his semi-autobiographical novel Fateless dealing with the Holocaust.

According to Peter Frankl, who serves on the Hungarian Academy of Science as an adviser, research conducted on the Hungarian genes did not reveal any uniqueness compared to neighboring nationalities of Serbians, Romanians, ...,etc. Hence the teaching "not only to be Hungarian, he has to have a talent." The same applies to the Japanese as well, all the more.

I had a friend in Budapest, who studied Japanese in Kitakyushu. Her Japanese is excellent. To speak Japanese that fluently, one would have had to spend at least a couple of years in Japan. Her English is also superb, as she had studied in Australia. During my trip there, her boyfriend, who was also a friend of mine, visited Budapest from Mexico. We got together for a little reunion. What a combination between Hungarian and Mexican! They met in Kitakyushu. She was applying for a job with a Japanese manufacturer and she was told her interview went well. In a cafe, we toasted to her success.

I stayed in a Buda side hotel, by the Deli Station for 5 days because of its proximity to the Gellert and Castle Hills and the hotel where the Hungarian Toastmasters met. I moved to the Pest side hotel one day before leaving for Vienna from Keleti Station. I took a day trip by train to rustic Szentendre on the Danube Bend, and a boat ride coming back. It was a wonderful sunny afternoon to view the Chain Bridge and the Royal Palace. The waltz "Blue Danube" was written by Johann Strauss for his Hungarian friend / writer Carl Beck.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Regina Lantern Fest

It was a strange parade!

Halloween? No, a little too early. Chinese Dragon Festival? No. No snake dragons and no drums. Japanese Bon Festival? No. No dancing and no drums.

The twilight veil crept in over the Wascana Lake in Regina, Saskatchewan one summer night in 2001. Autos arrived and unloaded people from everywhere. They flocked together along the lake and divided into two groups. The first group carried lanterns and formed a line. The second group joined the onlookers, away from the formed lines.

Verna, my Regina friend, her two children, and I waited for her husband, Ramon, who went to park the car. We waited under the well-lit park lights. The children needed to use the porta-potties, which were neatly set up along the edge of the park. Ramon soon joined us and we sat on the shore rocks, along with the other onlookers. This man-made lake has white sands on the beach.

The parade started moving as darkness fell. No music. No announcement. Silent, slow, but a steady parade. It moved clockwise along the lake. Lanterns waved between the trees. Across the lake, two boats sailed counterclockwise with three lanterns hung on each side of the boats as they circled the lake. As they sailed in front of us, I recognized that they were the dragon boats that I had seen the other day on the lake. Rowers paddled in silhouette without sounds.

The parade came to a stop when it made a half circle of the lake. The onlookers dispersed in twos and threes. Everyone remained silent.

What kind of parade is this? I went to the library before leaving Regina. After searching for half an hour, I found a microfilmed local paper dated May 2000. "Based on the success of last year's Lanterns on the Lake, we expect about 10,000 people to show up, enjoy the cool summer night and kick off the Art Festival in the fall. Kits of star-shaped lanterns are on sale for $5.00 each

Regina has more parks and greenspace per capita than any major city in Canada. Wascana Centre is a huge 9.3 square kilometre (2300 acre) park that is built around the shores of Wascana Lake, a man made lake in the heart of Regina. It is one of North America's largest urban parks, and has several attractions such as several walking and bicycle paths, the Saskatchewan Science Centre, an outdoor pool, a marina with boat rentals, the Saskatchewan Legislative building, and the Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Visit to Curitiba Part II

In the 2006 book titled Revolutionary Wealth written by the futurists/writers Alvin & Heidi Toffler, there is a passage about a street in Curitiba.

“One midnight we accompanied its former mayor, Jaime Lerner, an urban planner by training, on a visit to its ‘24 Hour Street’, a block glistening with new coffee shops and restaurants jammed with young couples who smile, wave and call out ‘Jaime!’ The next street was designed to house twenty-four-hour professional services – doctors, dentists and lawyers. The next one was planned to hold twenty-four-municipal offices where individuals can get permits or licenses and take care of other city business at any hour.”

I was sorry that I didn’t visit the area described on my 2001 Curitiba trip and only saw the photographs. I read that the ex-mayor got the hint for the 24 Hour Street when he visited Sannomiya, Kobe. I recently asked my Facebook friend in Curitiba how is the street now and the answer was not something I expected. Currently the street is closed until further notice. It seems the plan highly acclaimed as futuristic by Tofflers encountered some glitches. However, my friend emphasized that Curitiba was the first Brazilian city where trucks started picking up house garbage for recycling at least twice a week. I read in a book the initial incentive used by the city was aimed at students. In exchange for bringing in house recyclables, they were offered either stationary or lunch coupons. When the roads were open only for pedestrian traffic, shop owners were against the city ordinance. When business picked up from foot traffic, they hailed the ordinance.

According to history, Jaime Lerner, a Curitiba native and student civil engineer, won the city master plan contest in 1964, in which he was deeply involved. Upon his graduation, he lead the Instituto de Pesquisa e Planejamento Urbano de Curitiba (IPPUC), the official organization to promote city master plans, including zoning, traffic controls, road management, public services,…, etc. Lerner served as Mayor for three terms before being elected to State Governor of Parana. Lerner was succeeded by a number of Japanese Nisei Brazilians who served as mayor, as well as IPPUC director, like Lerner, including Cassio Taniguchi. Their continuous and cumulative endeavors for the past 40 years made Curitiba a vanguard of modern city urbanization.

Lerner was honored as a keynote speaker at the world’s architect UIA Conference in Chicago in 1992. What made the mayor/governor and his followers achieve so much success? I believe their fresh foresight, relentless entrepreneurship and follow-through as a team were the reasons and I salute them.

While in Curitba, I visited, as a plant lover, most of the urban and suburban parks, Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden, 240 square kilometers), Opera de Arame (Wire Opera House built on two former quarries, 235 square kilometers), Parque Tangua, Bosque Alemano, the German woods and Parque Tingui, the Ukranian Immigration memorial and of course, Praca do Japao. This is why I missed visiting the 24 hour street downtown.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Visit to Curitiba Part I



So goes my favorite song, “Garota de Ipanema”. It’s a whisper to a passing girl by a shy and naïve garoto on the beach. The Bossa Nova born in Rio de Janeiro set New York on fire in the ‘60s until the Beatles took over later. I arrived in NY in 1961, one year after the Brazilian capital moved from Rio to Brazilia.

After 50 years of geopolitical power deprivation, Rio de Janeiro was crowned to host the world’s lst Olympiad del Sur. In 2016, thousands of Olympic visitors and athletes will invade breathtaking Rio of much urban diversity, with beaches, mountains, skyscrapers, and the omnipresent favelas all woven into the fabric of dream landscapes. Most likely everyone will not fail to trek and see the splendor of Iguacu Falls in Parana. What wonderful news!

I missed seeing Rio de Janeiro following a friend's advice to skip it on my solo trip in 2001. I had no intention to visit the favelas, but was warned nevertheless that they are outside the control of the police and neither tour company nor the city police can guarantee safety when entering favelas. It was a hard choice not to include Rio on my itinerary. Thus the last travel week after Buenos Aires and Iguacu was split into Sao Paulo and Curitiba equally. Curitiba was highly recommended by the same friend who had spent years in Sao Paulo.

Curitiba, "Pine Nut Land", however, was a happy surprise, thanks to the excellent advice from my friend. I was awarded with the winning choice. Kitakyushu, the city where I live, and Curitiba, have one thing in common. Both cities were recognized for the “UN Local Government Honors” in the “Earth Summit”, of the UN Conference on Environment & Development held in RJ in 1992. Yes, remember that? That's the Summit where a Canadian Japanese teenager Severn Suzuki delivered a legendary speech that embarrassed all grownups.

Kitakyushu had spearheaded and succeeded in regaining the beauty of water and set to help Asian nations with its anti-pollution control technology through training and exchange of engineers. Curitiba enjoyed international recognition for its excellent urban planning, now followed by cities like Bogota, Seoul, Portland, San Jose, Obihiro and others. I’ll write about my Curitiba visit next time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Taste of Summer

Banana Yoshimoto coined the phrase, “watermelon, the synonym of summer as the summer without watermelon is improbable” in her novel Thrush. Many are the number of Haikus I found which dealt with watermelons. Listed below are five of my translations, randomly picked.

"Summer lassitude! Bananas and watermelons are so tasty"

"Tapped and patted watermelon head that replied with ok sounds "

"'Monopoly', the fridge complaining of space occupied by watermelon"

"Watermelon “split”! Strange my arms and limbs benumbed and frozen"

"Watermelon “split” is a summer feat with shouts of joys and chuckles"

Yes, watermelon is the king of summer fruits, though some people might object that it is a veggie and not a fruit. No other fruit is like the subtly crunchy, throat quenching watermelon. It is originally from southern Africa. In Egypt, the cultivation was as early as the 2nd millennium BC, as evidenced by wall paintings and the discovery of numerous watermelon seeds recovered from the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Greeks and Romans had it 2000 years ago. In the 11th century, it went to China through Turkey and the Silk Road. Moorish invaders introduced it to Europe. In the 17th century, European immigrants carried it to North America.

Here are a few assumptions about watermelon in Japan:
1) Watermelon seeds were found in the prehistoric Yayoi remains in the Okayama area.
2) Chinese Rev. Yinyuan (1592-1673) brought it from China.
3) In 1579, the Portuguese brought it to Nagasaki, together with pumpkins.

Is watermelon good for health? “What an insult!,” a watermelon would protest if it could speak. A Japanese agronomist, Yasusada Miyazaki (1623-1697), who served the Fukuoka Clan, wrote almost 300 years ago in his Compendium of Agriculture that the watermelon not only can beat the summer heat and curb thirst but cures various kinds of illness, including diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Let me list the virtues, in view of the calories, vitamins, antioxidants, diuretic features of watermelons.

1. Slows down aging
2. Prevents heart attack and stroke
3. Reduces the risk of cancer
4. Boosts energy production

It is definitely a summer delight for everyone, young and old, family get-togethers or outdoor group events; with minimal costs.

After a quick search on Google, I found the world's first Watermelon Museum (4,000 square meter building on 22,000 square meter property) built in China in 2008. It's in sourthern suburban Beijing just inside the Beijing boundary, called Daxing District, reachable in an hour by a minivan tour. I read the visitors' reports that the museum exhibits include 900 illustrated panels, 140 watermelon displays, and a collection of 200 seed samples. After an hour tour of the museum, they were taken to nearby fields to choose a watermelon of their choice, then to a nearby restaurant that features watermelon dishes.
Watermelon Museum in China

Friday, August 6, 2010

Den-emon Itoh, a Chikuho Hero

Iizuka, Tagawa, and Nogata are the three major cities inside Chikuho, which once thrived as coal mining zones with heaps of slag. They produced a number of coal tycoon families, including Aso, Kaijima, Yaskawa, Itoh, etc.

The Onga River runs through Chikuho. It once carried coal-filled barges out to Kitakyushu, a blue collar town with giant steel mills, and fed the entire town. With the shutdown of the coal mines in the ‘60s, the cities of Chikuho were thrust into a pitiful plight for survival.

Iizuka aggressively wooed the information technology industry, inviting research and educational institutions; developed 50 hectare (370 acres) of leisure and recreational parks; and promoted local sightseeing. One of them was a traditional theatrical venture. The traditional wooden theater, Kaho Theater, built in 1921 had mats rather than seats to sit in - perhaps the last of its kind found in Japan. This theater was underwater when Onga River flooded a few years ago. They refurbished it all with help from citizen volunteers. Iizuka is trying to maintain it for continuous shows.

Another heavily promoted local attraction was the palatial home of coal tycoon Den-emon Itoh (see the photo above). The history of this home is mixed with romance and scandal. The site is 7,570 square meters in size (2,300 tsubo, or about 2 acres) and the building itself has an area of 1,020 square meters (300 tsubo or 11,000 square feet).

The highlights of the tour are the three western rooms of the house: a drawing room, a study, and a dining room. The drawing room boasts a Victorian and Art Nouveau style usually seen in the opulent mansions of the Meiji / Taisho era, and has a mantle fireplace made of Italian marble. There are wide crossbeams on the ceiling, diamond-design stained glass in the upper windows, and a chandelier. Built-in benches nestle in one corner - a novel concept at the time. The dining room is of modest size, accommodating a dozen guests at most, and overlooks a garden and atrium.

Den-emon Itoh was born in 1860, during the time of Lord Naosuke Ii, the Chief Minister of the Tokugawa Shogunate who was assassinated 7 years prior to the Meiji Restoration. Den-roku, Den-emon's father was a boatman and fish peddler. While traversing Chikuho, peddling his fish, Denroku may well have spotted traces of gleaming coal that had surfaced from beneath the ground. Later on, his keen eye for glittering coal may have contributed much to the success of his business ventures with his son Den-emon.

Father and son started their coal venture together and had the good fortune to hit the jackpot, a high quality coal lode. Den-emon's business expanded to include machinery, a foundry, a power company and banking operations. At one time Kobukuro Works, the main electric machine plant, had over a thousand employees, plus a vocational school. He also endowed a county girl’s school as a service to the community.

Den-emon lost his father in 1899 and his wife Haruko in 1910. He served as a congressman from 1903 to 1908. His accomplishments include the enactment of the Mining Industry Law, and the completion of flood control and irrigation projects along 60 kilometers of the Onga River. You can observe these works today as you drive along the river banks.

Eventually a marriage proposal came to Den-emon from among the peerage, based on political convenience. The son of Count Yanagiwara wanted to run for the House of Peers, which is now the Upper House. He needed campaign funds, and sought money from Den-emon in exchange for marriage with his sister Akiko, cousin to the Emperor Taisho. Akiko was reputed to be one of the three great beauties from the Taisho days, and had been married to a Viscount's son, but was now divorced and back at the home of the Count. Because her mother was a geisha, Akiko had not been treated with much respect.

Den-emon must have been stunned by the marriage proposal from the peerage and the opportunity to wed the fairest of the fair. To welcome his bride to Chikuho, Den-emon rebuilt his house to accommodate her with every luxury. When Akiko moved in, she was assigned to the newly added 2nd floor suite. Her quarters overlooked an enormous rock garden with an arching stone bridge and a man-made hill topped with a gazebo. The elaborate wedding lasted for three full days. Den-emon was 50 and his bride was 25. The house, now encroached upon by the surrounding neighborhood, probably had quite view of the Onga River back in 1911.

Although Den-emon allowed Akiko to live her own life, she found the Chikuho dialect and traditions unbearable, and she retreated to a fantasy world where she sang plaintive poems that sprang from her unsatisfied heart. However, Den-emon lavishly provided Akiko with a second and a third house, equally gorgeous, in Fukuoka and Oita, and even a fourth home in Tokyo. These residences became literary salons run by Akiko. To top it off, Den-emon helped Akiko publish many of her poems.

One day, Akiko met Ryusuke Miyazaki, a young graduate of Tokyo University, who majored in law. He was a magazine editor who had come to interview her. When Akiko and Ryusuke fell in love, their romance startled the entire country because Akiko declared separation on paper, similar to Ibsen's character Nora in "A Doll's House". This public declaration appears to have been a scheme devised by Ryusuke's friends as a last resort to escape conviction for the crime of adultery. According to Mariko Hayashi, the author of Akiko's biography (see Note 2 below), the declaration was not in Akiko's original handwriting.

Den-emon could have punished Akiko for adultery, but he did not. He calmed his angry followers and let the issue drop. Akiko was not financially well off in her life with Ryusuke, and Den-emon offered help from time to time. People wondered if Den-emon was an unusually generous elder, or simply a cuckold and a damn fool.

The following children's song is said to have been written in reference to Akiko, but the allusion to Akiko is no longer generally recognized today.

"Why tears? The bride born in purple. She is clad in the world's best gold brocade kimono with a silk sash belt."

1. Den-emon's house was opened to the public on April 28, 2007. During the first year, there were reportedly 250,000 visitors.

2. Akiko suffered from cataracts in 1961, and lost her sight in both eyes. Under Ryusuke's tender care, she continued to sing poems until her death in 1967, according to her biography "Byakuren Ren-Ren" (1994) by Mariko Hayashi.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Den-emon, Rescuer of the Ryoanji Treasures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 19, 2010

Presenting Dear Miss Breed

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

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

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

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

Here are the results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hawthorne Marathon on July 4th

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

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

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

Reading Marathon Chair Mariko Takashima &
Vice Chair Kimiko Murata

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

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

My turn in reading started like this:

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

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

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

Let me quote Hawthorne on where his writing came from:

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

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

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hydrangea, Solace During The Rainy Season

The languor of the rainy season is offset by the barrage of hydrangea in the neighborhood, the native plant of Japan. It is now adored worldwide with new fancy specimens created through crossbreeding.

I was a long time absentee house/landowner in Hino, Tokyo, because of my work assignment abroad. However, after returning to Japan, I have frequented, by bicycle, the Takahata City library where the local English book reading club members met twice a month, including exchange English professors at a nearby university. On my way to the library is the Takahata Fudo-son Temple, counted among Tokyo region’s three major temples dedicated to Fudo Myoo (Acala Vidyaraja). The temple contains a lot of cultural assets, some of which are designated as "Important Cultural Assets", including the five-story pagoda. I used to drop in to pray for my family, as the temple deity is a guardian of fire defense and traffic safety (see hydrangea by the Takahata Pagoda).

Many Temple festivals such as Bean Throwing and Dharma Marketing, the Hydrangea Festival attracts thousands of visitors from June to July, featuring 7,500 Ajisai flowers blooming peacefully under the rainy season sky. The English book reading club members often visited there, finishing the class early. We sometimes had bus trips to Kamakura to see hydrangea at Tookeiji, Myogetsuin, etc., known as the hydranga temples.

Regarding Japanese/Chinese characters of hydrangea, I found some controversial legends. One is Bai Juyi (772-846), the mid Tang Dynasty poet, who had influenced the Japanese, once sang this poem when he was stationed in Hang Zhou as an administrator.

"Since when and where this cute plant came
to this remote temple hermitage flower bed
Nobody could tell me and its name either.
So I am privileged to name you
Purple Sun-shining flower"

Some people say that the plant was brought by a Japanese Mission to Tang. Some people claim that the plant he saw was not the hydrangea, but the lilac. It was Minamotono Shitagou who wrongly interpreted and applied Bai Juyi’s naming to the Japanese Ajisai. There’s no photos or pictures to prove what Bai Juyi saw, so I say just let people believe what they believe.

Bai Juyi’s poems are my favorite, particularly “Everlasting Sorrow", a longer narrative ballad he sang for Yang Guifei and the pond she loved.
I visited the pond in Xian a few years ago.

Another controversy is the hydrangea species named “Otaksa” by Dr. Phillip Franz von Siebolt(1796-1866) and rejected by Dr. Tomitaro Makino (1862-1957), father of Japanese botany. Otaksa by Siebolt was named after his mistress “Otaku-san”. Dr. Makino preferred the more conventional Hydrangea Macrophylla used by the famous Carl von Linne (1707-1778), father of modern taxonomy and founder of binominal nomenclature, and Carl Peter Thunberg(1743-1828), author of Flora Japonica. Thunberg (50 years ahead of Siebolt) and Siebolt visited secluded Japan through Nagasaki, both as doctors sent from the Dutch East India Company, and found hydrangea impressively strange and marvelous, changing into multi-colors. It is puzzling why we do not see paintings of hydrangeas by Cezanne or Renoir.

*Top photo courtesy of Haruo Toda, Hachioji
*2nd photo courtesy of Joanne Oppenheim, West Hampton

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mexico Memoirs: Part 2

Morelia is a very well preserved colonial city and the capital of the state of Michoacan where the famous Monarch butterfly Mariposa Sanctuary had been established close to the State of Mexico, east of Morelia. The mountains there are covered with coniferous forests, mainly of pines and oaks, making a perfect place for the butterflies to live during winter. The monarch butterfly migration, which covers more than 3000 miles north, is an amazing feat. I know I was close to the Reserve but I headed west as my travel destinations were all to the west. I was told by my friend in Morelia that Monarch is the name of the Morelia football team.

About 50 kilometers southwest of Moleria is Lake Patzcuaro (1,000 square kilometers), where powerful Tarascan Indians settled and had rivaled the Azteca Indians. Tzintzuntan, the ancient capital, now a quiescent little village on the lake, boasts itself as the home of hummingbirds as well as the comic indigenous dancing "Danza de Los Viejitos," literally meaning dance of the old men, with masks and canes. This lake is Mexico’s highest lake.

Another 50 kilometers southwest of Patzcuaro is Uruapan, the city I enjoyed the most on this second trip. Uruapan (pronounced ooh-ru-AH-pan), meaning "a river that sings," was founded by the Franciscans in the early days of Spanish exploration. It served as an administrative center for the area's sugar cane haciendas. In the late-20th century sugar cane dwindled in importance. Today, the avocado is king. So now, Uruapan is known as the avocado capital of Mexico. The coolest thing was the Parque Nacional Barranca de Cuptatizio, formerly (when I visited) Parque Nacional Eduardo Ruiz. In this serene park of 20 hectares (50 acres) with the tropical lushness, I spent a full day together watching the local children playing and splashing in the gushing water. At the northern tip of the park was the legendary fountain where a pool of clear water was burbling out, called "El Rodillo del Diablo," Devil's Knees.

The night train left Uruapan with few passengers in the evening, arriving at Toluca in the morning fully packed with passengers and chickens in cages and all kinds of Mexican merchandise for the Toluca open air market. I changed trains going south to Taxco, a colonial silver mining town. I learned a lot about silver. "Real silver, defined as 0.925 pure, must be stamped on the item with the number 925."

The Aztecs called it Cuauhnahuac, the edge of the forest; Spaniards called it Cow Horns for some reason. But Cuernavaca has been known for the famed eternal spring, thus an ideal weekend exodus for Mexico City residents. I had known Japanese florists there after WWII. Actually, Conqueror Cortez built his castle here, and Emperor Maximilian and Muralist Siquieros their second homes. I enjoyed a week stay here visiting historical buildings and gardens. The trees were all in bloom in various colors and with fragrance. Jardin Borda, built by the Silver Magnate Borda family, became the summer residence of Maximilian. I visited the garden twice, as it was a great place to relax.

Close to Jardin Borda stands the Cathedral protected by large high-walls. The Templo de la Asuncion de Maria inside originally served as the church for a Franciscan monastery founded in 1526. It then became the Cathedral for Cuernavaca in 1891.

In 1959, when a crew was refurbishing the church, a fresco was found. The narrative fresco showed Missionary San Felipe de Jesus, originally from Mexico, martyred in Nagasaki together with 20 Japanese converts to Christianity by the order of Hideyoshi. I read the name "Taiko Hideyoshi" on the darkened Fresco and I couldn't believe my eyes.

About 25 kilometers northeast of Cuernavaca, Tepoztlan has the ex-Convent of Dominico de la Navidad as the UNESCO World Heritage building. It is a picturesque sleepy village, at the foot of spectacular El Tepozteco National Park (2,100 meters) and another retreat of Emperor Maximilian. "The climb to the top is just about an hour" I was told, but I had to quit near the top, as I was exhausted and breathless. Tepoztlan means "a copper axe above the hill."

Mexico Memoirs

I split my trips to Central Mexico into two parts - l) Bajio area, relative lowlands and plains, known as the breadbasket country, including Leon, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro and, 2) primarily Michiocan State cities, such as Morelia, the state capital, Patzcuaro, Uruapan, then Taxco, Cuernavaca and Tepoztlan. I've been to Mexico City many times in my younger days. One time I stayed for over a month for trade shows in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City. I chose Guadalajara for the last city to visit on my first trip and Mexico City on the second trip, both times arriving back at the Tijuana International Airport, via the convenient U.S.-Mexico border cross-walk to San Diego, where I once lived. These trips were made after my retirement but before returning to Japan, almost 10 years ago. I want to record these adventures before my memories fade away.

Part 1

As sister city of San Diego, Leon is a growing industrial city. I saw a GM plant near the airport. It's famous for leather goods, as the world's shoe center. I remember a striking municipal palace and a street arch with a bronze Lion atop, the proud symbol of Club Leon, the city's football team.

Guanajuato, nicknamed Kyoto of Mexico and designated UNESCO's World Heritage Zone, is the most beautiful city in Mexico. It is a former silver mining boom town that has transformed itself into a college town and living museum. I visited the university, recommended by my friend who taught English there. The birth place of Diego Rivera, one of a trio of great mural artists, is now a museum. I walked up to El Pipila for the panoramic view over the city and saw the monument of Hidalgo heroes who won the first victory of Mexican independence (1810). Unless accompanied by a guide, it is easy to get lost among the maze of serpentine alleys. Downtown, the car traffic goes underground, using tunnels that were dug for mining or diverted water ways.
San Miguel de Allende is a mini Santa Fe, New Mexico minus the snow. With the mild climate all year round, it is a charming colonial town, another Mecca for artists and writers, galleries, boutiques, art schools. San Miguel was founded in mid 1500’s and the name Allende was added in honor of the independence patriot born there. His statue riding on a horse stands in the Plaza Civica.

Although less spectacular than Guanajuato in monumental and colonial buildings, Queretaro shines as a cradle of Mexican Independence and the site where the Constitution was signed and the city where Emperor Maximilian was executed. The city serves as a very important hub, being situated in the navel position of Mexico, 200 kilometers away from Mexico City.

The No. 2 megalopolis of Mexico, with impressive spacious plazas and squares in central Guadalajara, including the massive UNESCO World Heritage Cabanas Orphanage, now called "Institute Cultural Cabanas". Facing Cabanas stands a sculpture of the State of Jalisco's symbol of two bronze lions supporting a tree, the state coat of arms. Some Mexicans say that Jalisco is both the heart and soul of Mexico. Many things that are considered as typically Mexican, such as mariachi music, charreadas (rodeos), the Mexican Hat Dance, tequila, and the broad-rimmed sombrero hat, originated from this area, which had been the site of many civil wars and many battles in the past. In spite of these ongoing conflicts, the spirit of the people of Jalisco has endured. I saw many modern shopping malls. I also learned Guadalajara has the most competitive football team, called Chivas, the goats.