Monday, May 31, 2010

A Portuguese Hero starring in a Tokushima Puppet Show

I was planning to attend the Toastmasters Spring Conference and Speech Contest sponsored by Tokushima Toastmasters Club. From Kitakyushu, where I live, to Tokushima by rail is about 500 kilometers (310 miles), which includes the Great Seto Bridge that spans the Seto Inland Sea built in 1988. It is the world’s longest (13 km) two-tiered bridge serving both railroad and automobile traffic.

After you take the bullet train to Okayama, you have to change local trains twice making the trip wearisome. I settled for a slower ferry boat ride on the way there and multiple train rides back. Luckily, I found a ferry service from Kitakyushu to Tokyo with a stop at Tokushima. My idea was to get a good night’s sleep in the ferry to be ready for a full schedule the next day.

There were about 40-50 passengers, mostly with their automobiles on the ferry. We left Kitakyushu’s New Moji Port at 7 PM and arrived at Tokushima Port at 9:30 AM. Despite my best laid plans, I had some trouble sleeping because of the beat of the Diesel engine. I woke up early at 5:30 AM and was able to watch the ferry go around Muroto Cape, the southernmost tip of Shikoku as the sun came up.

Immediately after hotel check-in, I went up Mt. Bizan by ropeway. I’ve been there on a previous visit, but without a camera. The altitude of this eyebrow shaped mountain is 350 meters (ll40 ft) and is a symbol of the city, densely forested. Along the ropeway slope exit stands the white Moraes Museum. The museum building was built in 1972 in honor of Wenceslaus Jose Moraes de Sousa (1854-1929) recreating his tatami living room on the second floor. Moraes' house used to be at the foot of Mt. Bizan.

Moraes was a Portuguese naval officer turned Consul General in Kobe, and after retiring, he came to live in Tokushima during his autumn years, as a writer / reporter for Portuguese papers, including Comercio de Porto of Portugal, for over 15 years. They were all written in Portuguese, a language most Japanese cannot read. Tokushma people likened him to Lafcadio Hearn of Izumo.

It was a 15 minute trek down from the top to find Moraes Square with the guide map where the sky gazing bronze statue of Moraes with chin whiskers and his dog stood. The stone epitaph read “Saudade” (homesick). Here I was told that visitors from the Portuguese Sister City Leiria (near Lisbon) came and exchanged gifts and had a ceremony in front of the statue. I saw a photo of the planting of Jacaranda trees by the same group at the botanical garden of Tokushima.

Back at the foot of the Bizan, I found Moraes Street where Moraes house originally stood. There was another statue at one of the street corners. The area has many small temples and shrines, which Moraes most likely dropped in while strolling. At the authentic looking Zen Temple called Zuiganji, people were bottling water. The women hollered "Tastes good. Drink it!" I was thirsty after walking so scooped up a cup and drank.

Why did Moraes decided to settle down here and die? A Tokushima native Jakucho Setouchi (1922-), a Buddhist nun and writer, who won the Kan Kikuchi Award, a prestigious literary honor, published Moraes’ Love Pilgrimage a few years ago. Seemingly the book was written to be dramatized by the local ballad drama troupe using life-size puppets, called Bunraku or Ningyo-Joruri accompanied by Shamisen music. The first performance took place in Tokushima in 2007. Tokushima is famous for the traditional classic love and hate shows since the Edo period.

Moraes had sired two sons while stationed in Macao with a Chinese lover. In Japan, Moraes married two women, first with Yone (1900-1912) in Kobe and after her death, with Koharu (1913-1918), a niece of Yone, in Tokushima. Moraes visited Tokushima, hometown of Yone, to bury her there. The place must have had some appeal for him to settle down there, instead of his plan to live in Izumo with another girl friend. Koharu perhaps reminded him of Yone.

Koharu delivered a still born baby after marriage. She gave another birth of questionable fatherhood, when Moraes angrily let her return home to Yone’s sister. These incidents are dealt with in the “Moraes' Love Pilgrimage” by Setouchi through the eyes of the local temple priest, whom Moraes befriended from his frequent visits to Yone’s grave. Koharu also passed away soon afterward in spite of Moraes’ effort to save her at the hospital. Moraes’ book Yone and Koharu is reportedly a hit in Portugal.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wisteria Follows Cherry Blossoms

“How graceful is the wisteria as its branches bend down covered
with whorls of delicately colored petals!”
from The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (966-1017)
(translated and edited by Ivan Morris, Penguin Classics)

“Fatigued, time to beg
for night lodging
Blooming Wisteria”
Basho (1644-1694)

“Wisteria in bloom
Voices of pilgrims
Voices of birds”
Issa ( 1763-1828)

Byoudoin Temple in Uji, Kyoto, is a conversion of the glorious villa owned by the Fujiwara Clan. The Amidado, commonly known as Hoo-oo-do (Fenghuang in Chinese or Phoenix in English, the mythical bird revered and meant to protect Buddha) Hall was built in 1053. It is a real wonder how the beautiful Heian Period building survived wars and fires throughout history. I was lucky enough to see wisteria in full bloom when I visited this past April.

I also visited Kisshoji Temple decorated with a famous local (Kitakyushu) wisteria garden, founded by the Reverend Chinzei as his ancestral Katsuki Clan Botai temple.

Wisteria in Japanese is Fuji. The Chinese characters for the flower Fuji is not the one used for Mt. Fuji. Instead, the character is the one used in the Fujiwara Clan. Yes, that's right. The family crest of Fujiwara uses wisteria as its symbol. The dominant Fujiwara names split and spread as descendents with such derivative names as Ito, Kato, Kondo, Goto, Sato, ..., etc. Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything says Caspar Wister gained a certain unexpected immortality when the botanist Thomas Nuttall named a delightful climbing shrub after him (1818). Belonging to the pea family, wisteria vines entwine around any available support, usually a trellis.

Now, I’d like to offer a bit of intro to the Kabuki Play “Fuji Musume" for blog readers overseas. It is a visual climax of a Kabuki show, in which the dancer performing the role of a wisteria maiden. She changes her Kimonos four times and dances against the gorgeous backdrop of clusters of mauve and purple wisteria flowers, as well as giant trunk of green pine tree. Pine stands for man, wisteria for woman. Accompanied by Nagauta chanting “Wisteria whorls colored delicately purple and extended longer”, the dancer expresses feelings and emotions related to love in the manner of the Edo period by holding a wisteria twig with her coquettish and adorable gestures, twirling around the pine tree. Eventually, sadness and despair take over the maiden. Heartbroken and drunk on Sake, she does a most beautifully frenzied and tortured dance of unrequited love.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Trip to Rediscover History

I was elated with my recent Fushimi/Kyoto trip which indulged my appetite as a history buff. It was for the reunion of an expatriate group I joined while assigned in and around the vicinities of San Diego/Tijuana, Southern California. The group consists of businessmen, lawyers, bankers, scientists, engineers including a few spouses. They are mostly retired. The reunion was a success, getting the highest attendance ever recorded. We took a sightseeing boat cruise on a flat boat with a roof, used and flourished during the Edo period. The boat cruised along the vintage Sake Brewers and cellars. We had a luncheon in the brewery turned Izakaya style restaurant. Then we visited the famous Teradaya Riverside Inn, where sword fighting and bloodshed occurred frequently before the Meiji Restoration.

Historical remnants were visible everywhere we went. You could see the influence of Taiko Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Shogunate on city urbanization and their promotion of industry and trade. The areas were designated to groups by trade and businesses competed in producing quality goods. Both Hideyoshi and Iyeyasu encouraged river navigation to transport farm produce and constructed the necessary embankment to protect them from the flooding rivers. The area included Biwa Lake down to Kyoto and Osaka, and there used to be a lake in Fuhsimi called Ogura (about an 800 hectare lake now totally gone). No wonder there is still a railroad station called "Chushojima", the island of "Chusho" (name of the ancient government post) where our reunion took place.

It is said that the lake had over 20 small islands in all and Fushimi had a port. I can't believe that there were at one time about 1500 boats (700 Kasho bune, 500 Yodo bune, 200 Fushimi bune, and 100 Takasebune) criss-crossing the connecting rivers, Yodo, Uji, and canals loaded with bales of rice and passengers. Our boat modeled after 30 "Koku" Bune (see Note below) accommodated our 30 member party comfortably. Apparently, Fushimi prospered as a port town, Sake town, and castle town, under Taiko Hideyoshi who built Fushimi Momoyama Castle. Even after defeating Hideyoshi's son and winning a fateful war, Iyesasu Tokugawa used the castle until his reign was cemented, then retreated to his home Sunpu castle in 1623 and the original Fuhsimi Momoyama castle was demolished.

While group trekking in Fushimi, we came upon another historical remnant, a statue of Ryoi Suminokura (1554-1614) who helped develop the Takase River, a man-made canal running along the Kamo River of Kyoto. Ogai Mori (1862-1922), a physician/writer, wrote a short novel Takasebune, a milestone book which became a school text book. It is about a criminal exiled on an island on a night sailing Takasebune.

I Googled Ryoi and found he was quite a man. Ryoi made 18 voyages to Vietnam (e.g. Cochinchina) on the Taiko licensed trade vessels. After foreign trade was banned, he busied himself in promoting river navigation, Takasegawa was one and Hozu River was another, working for Kyoto, entrusted by Iyesasu Tokugawa. Hozu is famous for the rapids and Ryoi contrived to widen narrow gorges, pouring in his own money. I have sailed along the Hozu one summer, so I can appreciate what he did. What impressed me was the extent of his contribution, from eastern to western Japan, probably in an advisory position. I suspect his expertise came from the Mekong or Red River Delta, where life there revolves much around the rivers and canals.

A "Koku" is a unit of volume. One "koku" is about 280 liters.
A koku of rice is enough to feed one person for one year.
It weighs about 150 kilograms or 330 pounds.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

UK Travels Part 3


If you go visit Edinburgh, make sure to include Forth Bridges Visitor Center Trust along with Edinburgh Castle, Carton Hill and Holyrood Palace. At the Visitor Center Trust, you will see two bridges: 1) Victorian Firth of Forth Rail Bridge (UNESCO Heritage) and 2) a modern Firth of Forth toll road bridge, which is longer than the rail bridge and a much lighter suspension bridge, running close to each other almost in parallel. I was struck by the beauty of the old and new bridges. The water underneath and in between became the playground for wind surfers with their flapping colorful sails in the afternoon. I was just lucky to stay at a hotel overlooking all this. Honestly, however, I searched for a hotel with a competitive rate without realizing the venue was far away from central Edinburgh. I spent a restful day, sketching what I saw.

The rail bridge has quite a history. Sir Thomas Bouch (1822- 1880), who built the Tay River Bridge, was sought again, but he died worrying over the previously collapsed bridge and its victims. The new design team had to build it stronger. The cantilever system was adopted to allow vessels to sail underneath. The British National Museum of Science and Industry brought mobile exhibits to various cities in Japan, including Kitakyushu, I saw an old photo of three men sitting and experimenting on the cantilever models, next to the miniature Firth Bridge. The man in the center was Kaichi Watanabe (1858-1932) whom I found afterward, was a foreman of the construction site, a job he took right after his graduation from Glasgow University, and later became the first president of Toyo Electric Company.

Royal Crescent

Surprisingly Bath, Somerset, around 1800 was one of the larger cities in Britain. It was once the wool and cloth commercial and fashion center around the 1500's and known for the off and on again operations of baths (geothermal) that the Romans loved and left. Bath prospered as a resort for wealthy British with great examples of Georgian architecture such as the Royal Crescent. It is comprised of 30 houses like a half Colosseum, with Ionic columns on high bases. The whole city was designated as the UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is well compared to Italian Florence (Firenze) and I’m glad that I dropped by, attracted there by the Canterbury Tales.

Stratford von Avon

Stratford von Avon, Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) birthplace, the world mecca for literary pilgrims. After hotel check-in, I hurried to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to secure my seat of any play currently being performed. Measure for Measure, probably not ranking at the top, but not at the bottom either, was the one I got.

I vaguely remembered that the play was about power harassment, which dealth with gender concerns of the audience. Justice, truth, and hypocrisy are the issues and their relationship to pride and humanity. The finale was the revelation of tricks by the overriding Duke of Vienna that was seen both as comedy and tragedy. Amazingly Shakespeare’s birthplace built by his father was intact, almost the same as it was 400 years ago. However, the “New Place” house Shakespeare himself had built was gone.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

UK Travels Part 2


Glencoe is infamous as a massacre site. Sounds bloody and awful! On the contrary, it’s a designated scenic area of Ben Nevis (highest mountain in UK, 1344 meters or 4,400 ft, simply known as the “Ben”) and Glencoe, owned by the National Trust of Scotland. Loch Leven, along which I walked from Glencoe to Ballachulish*, is a salt water loch connected to the sea via Loch Linhe, a sea loch. Fort William, known as a garrison as well as gateway town to the isles, is 14 miles north. The glen, a U-shaped valley, was formed by Ice Age glaciation. It is about 16 km (10 miles) long with the valley floor less than 700m (0.4 miles) wide with towering mountains rising sharply from the valley floor to heights of around 900m (3,000 ft). Awesome scenery! I’m surprised we can enjoy the Glencoe car drive on YouTube. The brunch I had at the Glencoe Hotel cost 6.50 Pounds.

Oh, the massacre in February 1692! MacDonald’s clan belated allegiance to the king brought the Campbell clans to the MacDonald’s village with the King’s order to “put all the swords under 70 years of age”. Thirty-seven MacDonalds out of 200 were murdered during the morning raid and the village was destroyed by fire. Sir Walter Scott’s “Rob Roy” dealt and romanticized the similar historic battles and I know the filming took place in Glencoe. Likewise, part of the Harry Potter “the Prisoner of Azkaban” was filmed on location in Glencoe.

*Ballachulish -- an old slate quarry town. I saw gorse flowers in Inteverness and here again in Ballachulish.


Two words, aber, meaning confluence and deen, two rivers don and dee , describe Aberdeen; today’s oil capital of the North, or granite city, because it quarried grey granite, or silver city, because the granite mica sparkles like silver. It is the third most populous (over 200,000) city with a commercial center and sea port. I woke up around 5AM and walked from the hotel all the way to the fish market through the Aberdeen Station, following the map drawn by a pub server on the previous night. I was at the Fish Market at 6:00 AM. The market officially opens at 7:30 AM but I was allowed in to take photos of haddocks and halibuts in thousand of boxes. I was taught the name of longer ones is coley. UK fought fierce cod wars against Iceland from 1958 until 1976 with EEC intervention after Iceland threatened to close a major NATO base in retaliation for Britain’s deployment of naval vessels within the disputed 200 nautical mile (370km) limit. UK conceded and agreed that the British vessels would not fish within the previously disputed area. The UK annual cod fishing was reduced to 50,000 tons. The result was 1500 jobless people in the fishing industry.