Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tragedy at The Great Wall - Part 2


Olha o muro e edificio nunca crido,
Que entro um imperio e o outro se edfica
Certissimo sinal, e conhecido,
Da potencia real, soberba e rica;

Behold the Great Wall built beyond human imagination
against the uncivilized
Showing the impressive power and strength of King
full of pride and wealth

- from Os Lusiadas by Luis de Camoes (1524-1580) -

As is well known, China (Japan or Cipangu as an addition) was first introduced to Europe by Marco Polo (1254-1324), a Venetian merchant who made a Silk Road trek from 1271 to 1295 with his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo. On their return, the family settled in Venice where they became a sensation and attracted crowds of listeners who had difficulty believing their reports of distant China. Since they did not believe him, Marco invited them all to dinner one night during which the three Polos dressed in the simple clothes of peasants in China. Shortly before the crowds ate, the Polos opened their pockets to reveal hundreds of rubies and other jewels which they had received in Asia. Though they were much impressed, the people of Venice still doubted the Polos. Marco Polo was later captured in a minor clash in the war between Venice and Genoa, or during the naval battle of Curzola, according to a dubious legend. He spent a few months of his imprisonment in 1298, dictating to a fellow inmate, Rustichello da Pisa, a fortuitous meeting with a romance writer, who detailed accounts of his travels. This "travelog of Marco Polo", first appeared in French and then in many languages with illustrations by Italian artists, shocked all of Europe.

Did he mention the Great Wall? No, he did not. Absent were important cultural traditions of China such as tea drinking, calligraphy, binding of woman's feet, etc., and quite a few people today wonder if he had ever set foot in China.

Arguments regarding no mention of the Great Wall by Polo are that reinforcements to the structure came after the Yuan Dynasty since the Mongolians as invaders didn't take the Wall too seriously.

In any case, a Portuguese poet, Luis de Camoes, praised the wonders of the Great Wall in his Os Lusiadas, a Homeric epic of the Lusiadas quoted above; proof that the Great Wall was already widely known among Europeans by the 16th century.

Marco claimed he served Kublai Khan (1214-1294) for a decade, his detailed accounts of Xhandu, Khan's palace and celebration programs, paper currency, ocean expeditions to invade Japan, are very graphic, inspiring many Europeans to look toward Asia.


Was Temujin (meaning blacksmith), later Genghis Kahn (1214-1294), the first Mongol Emperor, the World Destroyer or the Green Savior? Following are the most famous GK quotes contrary to each other:

"My greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to drive them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathe in tears, to clasp your bosom their wives and daughters."

"Keep your grasslands and rivers always clean."

I read a theory that the cyclical climate change in Ural-Altaic forced Mongols, Huns, Uyghur's, to head south for food and survival. China had been invaded and threatened constantly for this reason. Grasslands in Mongolia helped raise and breed great horses that provided strength of speedy troopers with archery skills for the Mongolian Empire to reach Eastern Europe. Mongols hate harsh winters, especially the "Zud" condition, a Mongol term for an extremely snowy winter in which livestock are unable to find fodder through the snow cover and large numbers of animals die due to starvation and the cold. The term is used for other meteorological conditions, for instance, the desertification that makes livestock grazing impossible. "Keep your grasslands and rivers always clean" has been remembered and revered by Mongolians as Genghis Kahn's admonition.

Genghis Kahn's bloody conquests scrubbed 700 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere as depopulated land returned to forest. This is equivalent to the world’s total annual demand for gasoline today. So GK has been branded the greenest invader in history.


It is Qin Shi Huang (259BC-210BC), the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, who first linked a number of smaller walls, built separately by six rival lords (Chu, Qi, Wei, Han, Zhao, Yan) after conquering them, and combined them into one wall, a first clear boundary of unified China. Initially, defensive fortresses were made of hardened dirt, but later when more sophisticated materials became available such as bricks, mortar adobe, etc., the walls gradually shaped into the Great Wall that we see today. It took over 2000 years, spanning from the Qin Dynasty to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), excluding the Yuan Dynasty period when work on the wall was totally ceased. When the Yuan Dynasty collapsed, the Chinese Han once again took control under the command of rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang, who became the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. China flourished during the Ming Dynasty and its military might swelled. The GREAT WALL was rebuilt in a 100 year project to prevent further northern invasions. The walls close to Beijing, like the Bataling and Mutianyu sections, were built during the Ming Dynasty.

The manpower mostly came from frontier guards, peasants, disgraced noblemen, convicts and war prisoners. During the construction, Great Wall was called the longest cemetery on earth because so many people died. Reportedly it cost the lives of more than one million people.

There are two popular legends about the Great Wall.

One is the story of Meng Jiang Nu, a wife of a farmer who was forced to work on the wall during the Qin Dynasty. When she heard her husband had died while working the wall, she wept until the wall collapsed, revealing his bones so she could bury them.

Another is a story of a tall monster (maoren in Chinese, thick-haired man), haunting the Great Wall villages in Fangshan (known as cave mountain) in Hubei Province. The villagers were often annoyed with his appearances to look for food and hunt chicken and dogs. The monster ran away when they shouted, "Here come the drafters (meaning Qin's guard to draft GW workers).” Apparently he was a deserter and had hidden in a cave. (Source: from the "Zibuyu" written by Yuan Mei).


I read "Joint China/Japan Academic Investigators Reports of the Great Wall", written by Hiroko Uchiumi (Kusanone Publishing 2001) in two volumes, a most labored work. The group trekked an accumulative 6000 kilometers from Yumenguan, the western frontier near Dunhuang, to Shanhaiguan, Hebei, close to Qinhuan Island, a famous summer resort, from 1992 to 2001. The author was secretary of the group keeping records and facilitating communications between group members of Japan and China. It was reported that, in most of the areas, weathering progressed where little or no attention was paid for upkeep. I'm still in the middle of reading the book.

Researching the Academic Investigation group on the Internet, I found the comment of the Japanese group leader, Hisakatsu Fukuda, on a recent tragedy at the Great Wall. The average temperature in Beijing from October to November goes down sharply. The average low of October is 8 degrees C. Snow may come at 3 or 4 degrees. Now most of the Great Wall north of Beijing is 1000 meters tall, the difference of temperature could be plus or minus 5 degrees C. You have to consider the difference in temperature as you ascend the mountain. The tour must be guided by a veteran. Amateur trekkers should not go unless accompanied by a veteran. The site of the accident was far away from the village. Even veterans try to make it in a day, even in the summer, at 3PM at the mountain. Besides, he said he was sorry that none of them thought of snow caves or snow shelters in that situation.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tragedy at The Great Wall - Part 1


In mid-October, 2012, my American friend from Ohio emailed me that he had arrived in Jinan, Shandong, China, to teach English at the Shandong University of Science and Technology. He wrote that he took a trip to Beijing, taking his days off in early October and extended his visit to the Jinshanling. It was a typical Beijing clear sky of autumn to visit a relatively uncrowded section of the Great Wall. He sent a couple of excellent photos from Jinshanling, including German visitors he met on the bus. The Jinshanling Great Wall where my Ohio American visited is located northeast of Beijing, beyond the Miyun Reservoir, and further away than the Badaling section of the Great Wall which is always crowded with tourists.


My personal trip to the Great Wall was in the summer of 1996. It was on my way back from Yunnan Province, where I joined the Vermont University Summer Program of China Studies for Teachers. The State of Vermont has sister state relations with Yunnan Province as both have mountainous geography. The summer program was specifically set up for Vermont High School teachers but accepted a few applicants from other states. I applied from California when I was still a resident. There were 18 participants including myself - 14 women and four men. I was paired with a male teacher from Connecticut. The program ran for one month, hosted by Yunnan Normal College (now Yunnan Normal University) in Kunming. We spent mornings in class taking lessons ranging from Beginning Chinese and History to Calligraphy and more. In the afternoon we visited local schools of children, temples, scenic parks, etc. Three weekends were for long distance travels to Shilin, Dali, etc. We all flew back to Beijing after Yunnan and the Chinese International Exchange Bureau gave us a trip to the Great Wall while we were there.

We went to Badaling, due north of Beijing, the most popular and most visited site of the Great Wall. Xiao Song, an interpreter/guide from the Bureau accompanied us. She was a wonderful woman with whom I corresponded for a number of years afterwards. We took a cable to the North Eighth Tower (just about 1000 meters tall) and walked down. Xiao Song emphasized that Badaling was the most heavily guarded military outpost, reflecting the location's (Juyongguan Pass) strategic importance. Back then, Badalin was less crowded, even in summer.


The morning of November 6 brought devastating news: four elderly Japanese tourists became trapped in a snowstorm on the Great Wall of China. Then around noontime, sad news followed. Two women had died of hypothermia. One woman survived and was rescued followed by another. A missing man had been found, but was pronounced dead. The president of the travel agency was on his way to Beijing. Amuse Travel was the same agent that lost 7 elderly trekkers and a guide in a central Hokkaido mountain called Tomrausi (2.141m) in 2009. News media wondered if the "punitive 50 day business closure" didn't give enough of a message for the agency to improve safety precautions.

We learned that the tour was for nine days -- 100 kilometer trek of the Great Wall in a particular area reinforced by the Ming Dynasty, and the first trial project for Amuse Travel Agency. The Japanese trekkers were accompanied by a Chinese guide named Ming Pingming, 25 years old.

On Nov. 11, the remains of three seniors were flown back. One was flown to Fukuoka and transported to Kitakyushu, where I live. I learned he was 76 years old and an ex-city official, who served as Chief Librarian, financial manager as well as auditor. Upon his retirement in 2008, he took up mountain trekking as his hobby, often accompanied by his wife. I might have been on that excursion if I had known about it.

I had to dig deep to find out what happened in Huailai County, in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province. My Google search led to the Huiali County website where the Chinese Guide Pingming spoke in Chinese, which was translated into Japanese.

"On Nov. 3, we started climbing at 8 AM and at noon we were at the Great Wall near Mt. Hengling. Snow started falling fast and heavily at about 1 p.m. and soon we were snowed in, white everywhere. We knew about the snow forecast, but thought we could finish our trek before the snow came. Falling snow deepened and we had no shelter around as the temperature quickly went down. Everyone had worn special winter clothes but not enough to protect ourselves from mountain chills. Especially, Mr. Y, 76 years old, was unable to bear it and his condition gradually deteriorated. In view of the crisis, I asked a young Chinese named Gong, who voluntarily joined the trek group through the Internet, to go down and get immediate help. While waiting for help, we shouldered together to warm up. While so doing, we saw that Mr. Y's breath became stifled. Women encouraged him by rubbing his face and hands. I gave him semi-AED treatment without a machine but to no avail. As night approached, he closed his eyes. I couldn't tell the exact time he passed away. Snow continued without mercy. Three women were also getting weaker. We shared the last piece of chocolate we carried. Since there was no sign of rescue, I myself decided to seek help. Mountain roads which usually took one hour, took more than 4 hours. It was around noon when l finally climbed down, falling and tumbling as I approached a village and saw a group of rescuers. I was near exhaustion and taken to a hospital. Rescuers, however, searched for a long time for the three women left behind. I'm sorry that I was unable to assist in locating those left behind."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Samurai Missionary

”I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

- John 12:24


It was close to my retirement when browsing the UCSB Library, I found the book titled Samurai Missionary published in 1985. While perusing the book, the name "Imabari" jumped out at me and caught me by surprise.

This is the city in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku Island where I was born and raised. I never imagined Imabari as a stage for international drama for the scriptures. The book was written by Rev. Jiro Nakano, an MD and Hawaiian pastor, in memory of Rev. Shiro Sokabe (1865-1949), the Samurai Missionary himself.

As a new Doshisha University graduate, Rev. Sokabe answered the call from the Hawaiian Board of Missions to work with struggling immigrant Japanese plantation workers and their families on the Big Island. This was not exactly a trip to paradise. He overcame poverty, prejudice and rigid social class systems to raise hundreds of plantation children, teach them about Jesus, and show them how to fit into the community. His inner strength and his countenance made him an effective communicator in the Japanese community and to plantation managers. Not only did he educate and raise hundreds of children, but he helped the immigrants make the transition to their new country of residence. His ministry here began only a few short years after Hawaii was annexed by the United States. Meanwhile, a woman named Shika Nakagawa, an acquaintance of Shiro, who had been trained as a nurse at Doshisha University, was courted, and brought over for marriage to work together with him. Shika became a mother figure for many of the children, especially the girls.


By now you are probably wondering how Imabari figures into the story. Kenjiro, aka author Roka Tokutomi (1968-1927), was a friend of Rev. Sokabe – a friendship fostered during their Imabari days in 1885. Both were disciples of Rev. Tokio Yokoi, the first pastor of the Imabari church, which was the very first church which opened in 1880 in Shikoku. Rev. Yokoi is the son of Shonan Yokoi, a scholar and political reformer of the Meiji Government, who was unfortunately assassinated in Kyoto. Kenjiro, who was just baptized in his native city of Kumamoto, wanted to work under his cousin Rev. Yokoi in Imabari.

Shiro Sokabe had been with Rev. Yokoi since 1883, as an active and devoted minister. He was popular in the church as a good singer. Nicknamed "Koya", Shiro was described as a high-cheeked boned and a peach-complexioned young man with downcast eyes. These were the distinct features of the Samurai Missionary as per the author Rev. Nakano.

The book details their youthful daily routines they took together along with another disciple Hayashi. The three of them went out preaching (neighbors called them "the three fanatics") to the area that had a thriving towel manufacturing industry as well as poor fishing villages. They often met with disappointment, going back to their commissioned off-school building upstairs room they shared to sleep. They made their beds on a big table and slept with kaya (mosquito net) over the beds. Even with three square meals a day, they had big appetites and energy, and used to pawn their belongings to buy more food, fruits - watermelons in particular, and cheap sweets. One night, they bought plenty of beef, ate it all and slept. When Kenjiro woke up in the morning, he found Shiro was missing and he didn't come back until the next day.

Shiro, upon returning, told friends that he fasted all day, spent the night in meditation and prayer, on top of Mt. Chikami. I, as an Imabarian, cannot count the number of times I climbed Mt. Chikami (244 meters) in my childhood. Now, a park today, the mountain was my backyard. That's how Shiro was nicknamed Koya. While three quarreled and grappled, their friendship grew and Kenjiro gave advice and even pawned his silk Kimono for Shiro to travel to Kumamoto to join the Oe Gijuku (School) built by Soho Tokutomi, Kenjiro's brother. Via Matsuyama, Shiro walked all the way to Sata Point, crossed the Inland Sea by fisherman's boat to Kyushu and walked again to Kumamoto.


Thus, reading such detailed descriptions of Imabari in the Samurai Missionary, I suspected the author Rev. Nakano may have been influenced by the work of novelist Kenjiro Tokutomi, who left many tales of his youth, such as "My Memoirs", "Shadow of Death", "Fuji" (the incomplete posthumous work) etc. because Rev. Shiro Sokabe wanted everything he had written destroyed upon his death. He was a man of integrity who desired no fame.

During the past 10 years, I searched in vain for Kenjiro Tokutomi's writing where he might have mentioned Shiro Sokabe. When I did a search on his name on the Internet upon my return to Japan, all that came up was: "Shiro Sokabe, born in Fukuoka Prefecture, descendent of Sokabe clans in Tosa Province".

A few weeks ago, I Googled Shiro Sokabe and found his digitized book online in the National Diet Library in 2002, since his copyright expired. The book title was $3000 Short! I was finally able to discover Kenjiro Tokutomi's preface, which was his "Imabari Memoir" I had been looking for. $3000 Short! was written in 1926 by Rev. Shiro Sokabe to raise funds to build a new church and school called Honomu Gijuku (after Oe Gijuku in Kumamoto) in Hawaii, in memory of the past Shika Sokabe. He wrote in the book that $6000 had been raised but the project required $3000 more. Apparently Rev. Sokabe sent a letter to ask Kenjiro Tokutomi for financial assistance. Inasmuch as Kenjiro wished to help his lifelong friend (he had not seen Shiro for 30 or more years), he was not in a position to pawn all his belonging as he did in his younger days.

He saluted, however, the Sokabe couple’s lifework to help and educate 1500 Japanese American children in Hawaii and thanked Honomu Gijuku for modeling themselves after Oe-Gijuku. Kenjiro wrote about all the episodes that took place in Imabari. Rev. Nakano quoted Kenjiro’s reply in an English translation in his book Samurai Missionary. $3000 Short! is roughly 100 pages long, consisting mainly of Rev. Sokabe's sermons, including "Addressing all the youths, boys and girls, born in Hawaii" (Chapter 1). The book, written in Japanese, was originally printed in Tokyo.


Hilo Coast United Church of Christ is the name given to Sokabe's chapel. Headstones of most Japanese Americans at the Melany Cemetery nearby face Mauna Kea, but Shika and Shiro Sokabe's headstone face the Pacific Ocean (see photo). Honomu's current population is 600 as of 2007, of which Japanese Americans make up approximately 100, less than 20%. The scholarship foundation started by Sokabe's good will is still going strong. Some of the Nisei children disciplined by Rev. Sokabe went on to enlist and fight in the 442nd Battalion.

The homepage of Hilo Coast United Church of Christ shows in its heritage page l) Imabari Church where Rev. Sokabe was baptized; and 2) Doshisha University Church, known as the first church in Japan funded by American money, where the reverend was educated.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kim’s Mont Blanc Ski Trek

There’s a million skiers, but one skier who comes to my mind is one of my old friends in Yokohama. Her name is Kim, a Hokkaido native. She responded to me immediately when I wrote about my Czech friend and fellow Toastmaster, Jiri Psenicka, a cross-country skier and silver iron winner.

She had done significant traveling in the U.S. after losing her husband and we had talks of common interests of touring the U.S. Then her son, a medical student, studied at Purdue and she joined him for a while in West Lafayette, Indiana. She talked also of skiing in Hokkaido and Tohoku and I remember she sent me a card from the Zao Ski Resort. However, skiing was a one-sided topic, as I am no skier. I told her I am a swimmer and she said she also swims to keep physically fit for skiing. Apparently my silver man story attracted her attention, and she shared with me that she was planning her first ski trip to Europe with a group of friends.

A month ago I received her photo story of her trip to Bourg Saint Maurice. I found therein a sparkling shot of Mont Blanc. I live in a seven-story apartment called Mont Blanc 2. I didn’t particularly choose it. It’s just a coincidence.

I Googled "Travelog Mont Blanc” out of curiosity, and I found many Japanese mountaineers, more men than women, have attempted the climb, some gave up half-way because of weather, but many were successful with the help of local guides. Another surprise was 70% of the summer Chamonix visitors and 30% of the average annualized visitors were Japanese. I asked Kim if she extended her trip to Chamonix, 30 km north on the opposite side of Mont Blanc from Bourg Saint Maurice. Her answer was “no”. Her party consisted of all skiers, no climbers.

Her French destination had a number of fascinating historical names when I looked at a map: Bourg Saint Maurice and the Great San Bernard Pass, and Geneva and the Rhone Alps. Saint Maurice is the most blessed and honorable patron Saint in Western Europe who valiantly fought and died for Christianity around the 3rd century. The Great San Bernard Pass was where Napoleon Bonaparte invaded into Italy in 1798.

Geneva, the cosmopolitan metropolis of Switzerland - few people know that it was an independent republic for at least until the 16th century when it became a Swiss Canton. Jean Jacques Rousseau blessed, “May a Republic, so wisely and happily constituted, last forever, for an example to other nations, and for the felicity of it own citizen.” Geneva is home to the European Union Headquarters and UNO, CERN, Red Cross, and accommodates 160 States representing their respective Government with its Swiss-hearted hospitality. I’ve been to Zurich on business, but not to Geneva. The 812 kilometer River Rhone flowing into the Mediterranean originates from the watershed Rhone Alps. The Jura Mountains, sub-alpine mountain range, separates the Rhine and Rhone Rivers and forms part of the watershed for each.

Switzerland is another country of language and cultural diversity and I have studied its historical complexities and agonies with great interest and respect. Kim said English was spoken with a French accent, but she found no problems.

Well, so much for a somewhat of a long introduction. Let’s see what her two photo album shows. The first album is immersed in daily skiing and great regimen. The second is about shopping. All of the travelers must be good skiers taking precautions that anything could happen in a foreign land. They carried their shoes and rented their skis. They planned well and everything went as planned, never over-strained, enjoying lunches and taking photos during breaks. Once off the Mountain Railway, they waited turns for the lift, climbed up the slope and skied down.

Years ago, I had taken Kenny, my Japanese skier friend, to New Hampshire. Our mutual American friends took Kenny and me to his weather station on Mt. Washington. Kenny, the skier, went up alone to the Tuckerman Ravine snow walls while we watched him laboring upward for an hour or so, but skiing down in minutes. I wonder if the ravine has gotten a lift by now.

As the direction guide board shows, they skied Paradisky which had quite a lift network; Kim said wherever they skied down, they were connected back to the departure point. That way they could concentrate on their skiing and the skier’s bliss. One day they skied down to the Italian side and tried Italian dishes for a change. Kim cited differences of trail lengths between Japan and France. Japanese trails are rather short averaging around five kilometers or so, while in the French Alps, it is more than double. The affordable lift pass tickets for seniors are terrific, although senior classification comes in 3 brackets, 65-72, 72-75, and 75 and up (no charge if you are over 75 years of age). They were thankful to be able to take advantage.

When airfare is disregarded, their daily out-of-pocket expenses are about the same between Japan and France. The high valued Japanese Yen was an advantage in France. Kim felt they found an all-around bargain spot by following the rule “don’t go where people throng”. The other album is about their weekend shopping experience in Bourg Saint Maurice. Kim’s group enjoyed this trip so much, they may go back next spring, when they can get lower apartment rates.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Washugyu Dream Venture

Ever heard of Washoku? It’s a culinary and cultural tradition of Japanese dishes now quietly prevailing worldwide. If you know Washoku, then Wagyu may not sound peculiar.

“Wagyu” is defined by Larry Olsmed, who wrote “Kobe Beef Scam” in the Forbes magazine (4/13/12) as follows : “Wagyu literary means the Japanese cows”. "Beyond that, its definition gets vaguer depending on who you ask and what country you are in. It could be taken to refer to all cows in Japan, including the Western and European breeds with which we are familiar with, but it is most commonly used to refer collectively to all historically Japanese breeds, of which there are four major ones.

Many U.S. ranchers, and the Executive Director of the American Wagyu Association, wrote in to insist that Wagyu is a breed, but I have found zero evidence to support that argument, and lots to refute it. Nonetheless, many farmers and waiting staffs, insist on calling it a breed.

Furthermore, many claim emphatically that it is the same breed as Kobe beef. This is not true. The cattle used for Kobe beef are a form of Wagyu yes, just as Cabernet Sauvignon is a form of grapes. But, not all grapes are Cabernet, and not all Wagyu is Kobe. However, as I said before, Kobe is not necessarily the best, and in Japan, other forms of beef, and other breeds of Wagyu, are sometimes considered superior. All of the four major Japanese breeds generally lumped under the Wagyu umbrella are considered high quality.”

San Diego, where I spent 20 plus years, had a Black Angus Restaurant near the Kearny Mesa plant of my ex-employer. However, Kobe Misono Restaurant opened up its branch also in the same area. I frequented Kobe Misono both for business and personal use. I was told Kobe Misono is headquartered in Sannomiya Kobe, founded by Shigeji Fujioka (1909-1999) back in 1945 and he coined the word “Teppanyaki”, grilling on an iron plate, combining cooking technique with stylish performance to create a feast both culinary and visually entertaining. At its Kobe headquarters, Tajima-gyu beef was served. In San Diego I was told Wagyu beef from Colorado was being served. It was the first time that I heard the name Wagyu.

I thought Wagyu denotes Japanese cows. That was not the case. A decade later, I heard the name Wagyu from the man I sat besides at a local Toastmasters meeting in Kitakyushu. He temporarily returned from eastern Oregon. I asked “Is it near Wala Wala, Washington.” He stared back at me with surprise. “You know Wala Wala?” I told him “My friend moved from San Diego to Wala Wala, famous for jumbo onions right!” Our conversation got lively. He introduced himself as Hurry Yano, a Kyushu native who worked at the Hermiston Ranch, where 2000 Wagyu are raised, about 7 miles south of the Columbia River.

At the next meeting, Hurry brought photographs of his ranch. However, the brochure featured “Washugyu” instead of Wagyu, so I aksed why? He explained “Washugyu” is the premium American Wagyu Beef he named, the topmost Wagyu. As a breeder specialist from Japan, Hurry is responsible for formulating a variety of proprietary feed that includes hay, wheat, crushed soy beans, corns, and rice straws, which is the most important and probably most mythical part of raising cattle. He confided he had special contracts to obtain rice straws from Sacramento Nisei farmers. Wagyu breeding in the U.S. is not for the weak-willed.

He was close to tears when he heard that the former President of the American Wagyu Association praised Washugyu as one of the best U.S. beef at a national ranchers gathering; proof that Washugyu was recognized as the best branded Wagyu of the Wagyu in the U.S. Responding to my question, "How many Wagyu in the U.S.?", Hurry answered 30,000 to 40,000. This was contrary to my ball park estimate of a million in view of Larry Olsmed’s contention mentioned above, and based on the 2002 USDA statistics of 73 million beef cows. Because of the severe drought, this year’s prices of all feed rose dramatically. Hurry is afraid his ranch will be hit hard.

I recall my visits to three cattle ranches while I stayed in the U.S. One was in Lubbock Texas. The Kearny Mesa plant my ex-employer leased was owned by a Lubbock rancher. When the plant went through a routine safety checkup, the examiner found a crack in the main roof beam that required expensive repairs. We needed the owner’s approval and acceptance of payment. I carried repair drawings and flew to Lubbock. The owner had quite a cattle ranch as well as oil fields. He drove me around his big ranch after our meeting, before I left for the airport. His ranchers served both as cowboys and oil riggers.

The second ranch I visited was when I accompanied the president of my ex-employer to a huge ranch near Lick Observatory located east of San Jose, which was jointly owned by Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett, the founders of Hewlett-Packard. My boss and I were given a chance to accompany a deer hunt on a jeep, chasing horned deer all day until we got one at twilight and had venison dinner that night. The cows there were called red-white face.

The third one was near Taos, New Mexico. It was called CS Ranch with 130,000 acres of land at the foot of Sangre de Cristo Mountain. It was founded by Frank Springer in 1873. There was no business connection to this visit. It was part of an extended pleasure trip I took to imagine how life was out in the “west.” The numbers and acreage of American ranches are dwindling steadily each year.

In highest cattle production worldwide, U.S. has lost its place to China, Brazil and India, but U.S. is still tops in terms of safety and consumption. I salute Hurry and wish him success in his dream venture.

Notes & References

1) American Wagyu Association

2) Oregon Washugyu

3) Wagyu-Japan Beef, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries

4) Raising Wagyu Cattle in Japan

Monday, August 20, 2012

San Diego and the English Channel Connection

San Diego, California, where I spent more than 20 years of my prime life, is famous for two open water swimming events held annually. One is a mile/ half a mile open sea on Coronado Island on July 4th, thanks to the NASNI Coronado Navy Swim Association. The other is a one mile/two mile/three mile La Jolla Rough Water Swim (LJRWS) on Sept 9, between Scripps Institute (known previously Biological) Pier and La Jolla Cove. Both have shorter courses for younger and master (elderly) competitors. The former celebrates its 54th and the latter celebrate the 82nd this year.

The LJRWS was first held in 1916 in commemoration of the World's Fair Pan American Exposition in Balboa Park and the 2nd in l923 and the 3rd in 1931 and became an annual event after the 4th time in 1948, sponsored by the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce and Town Council. The course for the LJRWS has finally been settled after a number of variations throughout the years. The Gatorman 3 mile championship, swimming "cove to the pier and back" is similar to the "grueling" original endurance route of 1916, as per the LJRWS. The number of swimmers for LJRWS zoomed year after year from 7 men in 1916 to today's estimate of more than 2,000.

As a swimmer myself, I was interested in the above events and wanted to very much participate. However, I was stung severely by a jellyfish while swimming in one of the southern Los Angeles beaches and quit ocean swimming and thereafter engaged in pool swimming only.

While in San Diego, I followed the swimming career of Point Loma's native daughter, Florence Chadwick (1918-1995), who has a record of crossing the English Channel (aka: Dover Channel) a number of times. San Diego Union newspaperman Arthur Ribbel wrote in his "Yesterday in the West" that it was in 1950 that "San Diegans almost to the household, hung excitedly before their radios when their own Florence Chadwick was stroking her arduous way to world fame as an English Channel Swimmer. Some of those hometowners wondered if, during some of her grueling hours in the water, she didn't think back to the carefree times when she negotiated the Silvergate as a girl."

Florence began her swimming career at the age of five and entered swimming competitions at ten. Reportedly she never won a U.S. National Championship, but she won all the major west coast rough water swims, including the Silvergate and the La Jolla Rough Water Swim.

Florence, inspired by Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, sought a way as to how she could accomplish her little girl dreams. She grabbed a chance to work for ARAMCO as a comptometer operator at a desert installation. After a year she got a transfer to the Trans-Arabian Pipeline Company office near the Persian Gulf where she began pre-channel training. She said "After two years I picked up the pay I have saved to sponsor myself and left for France to complete my training". What motivation and wonderful planning. When she finally swam in Dover, she broke the record time set by Gertrude Ederle 24 years earlier by more than one hour. She swam the 21 mile wide channel in thirteen hours twenty minutes. One year later, she became the first woman to swim from England to France, against the flow of the channel's strong currents. She swam 4 times, three times against the current.

My June 1982 diary noted the day Florence Chadwick was inducted into the Hall of Champions and, it was at this ceremony that she met Mayor Pete Wilson and Police Chief Bill Kolender. I also scribbled down Florence's reminiscence in my diary. "The successful swims are recalled in details, the unsuccessful ones are slipping from memory."


l. July 4th Coronado Rough Water Swim

2. La Jolla Cove Rough Water Swim

3. Florence Chadwick Record (1950-1955) at Dover Museum

Florence was a typist and swimming coach from California. 4 successes in 10 attempts. 32 years old when she became the first woman to swim from England to France in 1951, St. Margaret's Bay to Sangatte. This also made her the first woman to do the double as she had swam France to England in 1950 (Cap Gris Nez to South Foreland). Her three England to France swims each took the record for the fastest time, going from 16 hours 22 mins in 1951 to 13 hours 55 mins in 1955. On her last 3 successful swims she also attempted to swim there-and-back but gave up on the return leg.

England to France: 9/10/1951 (success), 8/2/1953 (failed), 8/15/1953 (failed), 9/4/1953 (success), 8/15/1955 (failed), 9/23/1955 (failed), 9/26/1955 (failed), 10/12/1955 (success)

France to England: 7/26/1950 (failed), 8/8/1950 (success)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Incredible Lady

Quiet Land
by Aun San Suu Kyi (ASSK)

In the Quiet Land, no one can tell
if there's someone who's listening
for secrets they can sell.
The informers are paid in the blood of the land
and no one dares speak what the tyrants won't stand.

In the quiet land of Burma,
no one laughs and no one thinks out loud.
In the quiet land of Burma,
you can hear it in the silence of the crowd

In the Quiet Land, no one can say
when the soldiers are coming
to carry them away.
The Chinese want a road; the French want the oil;
the Thais take the timber; and SLORC takes the spoils...

In the Quiet Land....
In the Quiet Land, no one can hear
what is silenced by murder
and covered up with fear.
But, despite what is forced, freedom's a sound
that liars can't fake and no shouting can drown.

"But coolest of all is the shade of the Buddha's teachings"
Dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi by Karen Ethelsdattar, Union City, NJ

The shade of a tree is cool indeed
The shade of parents is cooler
The shade of teachers is cooler still
The shade of the ruler is yet more cool
But coolest of all is the shade of the Buddha’s teachings

On July 19, 2012, Burma celebrated its 65th and its first state-level Martyr's Day for "Bogyoke" (General) Aun San (1915- 1937) in Yangon. Her daughter Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Laureate (1991), was the one laying a flower wreath. Announced recently was a Bogyoke movie under planning to commemorate the hero Bogyoke’s 100th Birthday Anniversary due in three years, with Daw Suu Kyi serving as honorary Chairman, and the funding campaign for the movie has started.

Daw Suu Kyi just returned from her high profile European trip, addressing the UN ILO assembly in Switzerland, speaking as Nobel Prize Laureate in Norway, giving thanks at an Amnesty International Event in Ireland, receiving honorary doctorate at her alma mater Oxford, and meeting with Dalai Lama. Family-wise, she celebrated her 65th birthday with children she hasn't seen for years. Yes, she wouldn't have thought that taking care of her mother would keep her this long in Burma, missing her dying British husband in U.K. It was rumored she was a scapegoat for the should-be-returnee Aun San Oo, her brother, from San Diego, California. She was a housewife, mother, and hoping to study Burmese literature.

I've heard about Daw Suu Kyi's famous speech "Freedom from Fear" which started with memorable phrase "It's not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power...". Her intelligence and eloquence appealed to Burmese and brought the National League for Democracy (NLD) a landslide victory in 1990 over the National Unity Party (NUP), which is the military Junta. The Military Junta hastened to put her under house arrest and ever since she has been resisting bullying generals with the power of the powerless, fighting bravely to achieve democracy, protecting human rights through nonviolent means. She should be encouraged with the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 199l. In l992 she was awarded with the Jawaharal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the government of India and the International Simon Bolivar Prize from the government of Venezuela.

Now she is an icon, a fighter of Burma, and her movie about her was made in Thailand ahead of her father Aun San, which was just released in Japan very recently. The government has finally ceded, inching toward democracy, allowing her to travel and attend parliament.

Upon returning from Europe, she stood for the first time from her NLD seat toward the back of Naypyitaw parliament to call for an end to discrimination against ethnic minorities as part of the "emergence of a genuine democratic country." "Based on the spirit of equality, mutual respect and understanding," she said, "I would like to urge all lawmakers to enact necessary laws or amend laws to protect the rights of ethnic nationalities." Suu Kyi's comments came in support of a motion by a ruling-party lawmaker from the ethnic Shan state to uphold ethnic minority rights. Prior to her European trip, she had traveled Mae Sot, Thailand to visit ethnic Kachin and Karen refugees who fled war at home. I'm glad she highlighted basic ethnic issues, requiring urgent debates.

Daw Suu Kyi has been touching on Buddhism in her speeches including the recent Nobel speech. Her favorite word is "Metta" or compassion and she translates it as "loving kindness". Another one is "Mudita" - sympathetic joy. She seems to be practicing 14th Dalai Lama's teaching "Without love, human society is in a very difficult state: without love, in the future, we will face tremendous problems - Love is the center of human life". Another is "nyien chan" She explains it literally as a beneficial coolness that comes when a fire is extinguished. I was amazed that such short words have a profound connotation. The Australian National University listed the word in its language list of security as coolness - the state of ease.

The paper reported her travel plans for 2013, which includes USA and Japan. She had worked at the United Nations Building in New York and in Japan to study at the University of Kyoto during 1985-86, so she will be happy to reunite with many of her friends, I'm sure.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Burma aka Myanmar

I had a gut feeling that I was less than 200 miles (280 km) east of Myitkyina, Burma when I traveled to Dali, Yunnan, China. Yes, that's on the Allied Forces supply road to rescue Chiang Kai-Shek in Chongqing, Sichuan, during WWII. The reason I remember these foreign names is because of the map we used to draw at school with the rising sun flag where the Japanese Imperial armies occupied: Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, etc. However, in order to shut the above Burma Supply Road, the Japanese Army dared an impossible invasion into Assam, India, through the steep Arakan Mountains, with heavy guns, munitions, and limited supplies of medicines and miscellaneous necessary needs. A mere ideological tactic (Allied called it a folly), dismissing oppositions and negative factors such as the rainy season, and malaria. The Allied named it the Battle of Kohima and the Japanese coded it Imphal Operations. The battle ended in a death toll of 85,600 * Japanese soldiers; almost a total defeat, succumbing to thirst and hunger, terrible sickness, appalling dysentery (per battle records) and bones laying along the retreat road.

Myitkyina, capital of Katin, northernmost province of Burma, occupied by the Japanese, was retaken by General Stilwell, (1883-1946), a West Point graduate, the Allied Commander, more well known as Vinegar Joe.

Very few records of the war exist because most of the soldiers at the front perished. One best selling fiction Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama released right after the war became a movie and I had to see it. It was a tearjerker all throughout. One defected Japanese soldier became a monk to bury and mourn for dead friends. Takeyama, who had no war experience, claimed he wrote a children's story, fantasizing the battleground as a "Home Sweet Home" chorus competition between British and Japanese armies.

Mr. Koichi Tsukamoto (1920-1998), the founder and manufacturer of Wacol, Kyoto women’s apparel, was one of three survivors out of a 55 man platoon.

I recently read a sad story that one Japanese soldier sought shelter at his Burmese friend's house as he had no family in Japan. While he was taken care of by his friend's daughter, the two got on well. Everything seemed to be going alright, until one day he ventured out to see a dentist (he claimed he couldn't stand his toothache) and was caught by the police and sent to a concentration camp. Eventually he was sent back to Japan. He tried to recontact his Burmese family, but was out of luck.

Decades later, he learned through the news media that his son in Burma was looking for him. The reason he got no response from Burma was because the family was ostracized from the village for hiding a Japanese defector.

I was about to move on to another story when I saw a book titled: And I survived in Burma by Kojima Shoichi (1920-), published in 2011 in Fukuoka, which led me to pursue the war aftermath a bit more. Kojima lives in Fukuoka; actually his parents lived in Kitakyushu, where I now live. He fought in two wars, Guadalcanal and Kohima, both losing battles. I could tell that he was born under an unlucky star.

The 124th Battalion was from Fukuoka. At the Guadalcanal landing (Aug 1942), he wrote: the carrying boat was shipwrecked on the coral reef while fleeing from the Allied Air night raids, 300 meters away from the seashore. Soldiers had to swim to shore. On landing alone, one third of the battalion was lost. On the island during fighting, he injured his leg and was unable to walk. His Hancho advised him that they had to move on without him. He made a wooden stick for a cane in order to follow, limping. The retreat order came and they left Guadalcanal on January 1943. The 4,000 Fukuoka Battalion had only 200 soldiers left, all with injuries and health issues of some kind.

I had read that former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (1941-) listed Guadalcanal Diary written by Richard William Tregaskis (1916-1973), as one of his favorite books. I wonder why he specifically mentioned it. I'll read it when I finish reading Kojima's story.

The 200 Fukuoka survivors were then sent to Saigon on June 1943 to be incorporated into 34th Army Division for the Impahl Operations, but he redeveloped malaria which he suffered in Guadalcanal. He was sent to a Hong Kong Hospital from Saigon for special treatment. When he recuperated, he traveled alone to catch up with his troop via railroad, and random rides available, which led through retreating routes.

I was impressed with his way of thinking that you can't walk the ocean back from Guadalcanal, but once you were on the continent, the road led to Japan. Even limping, he had the fortitude to continue walking. He and two friends walked over 1,000 kilometers to Chiangmai, Thailand. He was very thankful for all the help and alms from local Burmese along the way.


*This figure was taken as the most reliable number from the "Museum of Kohima" of York (UK) Website - "85,600 Japanese soldiers participated in the Imphal Mission, 30,000 died in action, of starvation and illness and 20,000 were injured or succumbed to malnutrition and illness. The road between Kohima and Imphal was called ‘White Bone Road’ on which lay the remains of many corpses in military uniform who have never been taken back to their home."

A monument was built at the Kohima site with the script: "When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today", a British soldier inspired by the Greek poet Simonides' (556-468 BC) epitaph "Oh, stranger, tell the Spartans that we live here obedient to the world." See the photos of Kohima Bridge (battle zero ground), and the Monument.

The same website has a link to Sato Memorial, posted on Feb 13, 2012, by Akiko MacDonald, Honorary Secretary of Burma Campaign Society, related with the Anglo-Japan Alliance.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Czech Compassion

I am writing about 26 Japanese children (all in 8th grade) from l) Rikuzen-Takata and 2) Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, who were chosen to travel to the Czech Republic, sponsored by many charity organizations, corporations and donors, in late March this year for a week or so. The name of Rikuzen-Takata became famous for the lone pine tree that survived the Tsunami.

These 26 children (20 from Ofunato and 6 from Rikuzen-Takata) are among those who lost parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and homes during the 311 Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami disaster of last year. Transportation was donated by Korean Airlines and travel and lodging in Czech Republic co-sponsored by the Czech-Japan Association, Praha Zoo, Charles University (Karlova Universita in Czech), local municipal cities and citizen volunteers, including short home stays.

The Czech side president of the Czech-Japan Association is Věra Čáslavská, the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympic gold medalist and the Japan side president is Setsuko Otaka, author and daughter of a military attache to the Japanese Embassy in Sweden who strongly opposed war. Otaka served as the head chaperon of the 26 children.

The trip itinerary was reported to be entirely tailored and different from those routinely offered by travel agencies. The itinerary was filled with dream-filled and heart warming events by welcoming Czechs to encourage the children.

Day one was spent in Praha. Lead to the Vysehrad Hill overlooking the River Vltava, children saw a play in which a pretty white-robed Princess Libuse of the Czech legend gave her prophecy "I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars. And you shall give it the name Praha". Translation was provided by a Charles University student interpreter majoring in Japanese. They then traveled to downtown Praha, where the medieval atmosphere is still maintained with hundreds of spires and towers and a mysterious Kafkaesque maze.

On day two, they went to the Praha Zoo for entertainment and for another surprise. One lucky child christened the a baby Rothschild Giraffe by winning the game of Janken.. A girl named Saya won and her name was immediately placed on a calligraphy paper with brush and Chinese ink prepared by the above mentioned Charles University volunteer.

On day three, children clad in colorful souvenir T-shirts with their individual names printed on them, visited schools, enjoyed plays, games, puppet shows, and singing with Czech children. First, they were welcomed by kindergarten children singing the song "Kimigayo", the Japanese national anthem. Then a jump rope contest followed on how long one can continue to skip. Three winners were all Japanese and they received medals from the Czech Olympic medalists, a real honor.

The second half of the itinerary consisted of trips outside of Praha. One was the trip to the city of Panenske Brezany, 50 kilometers north of Praha. This city sent 90,000 yen to Rikuzen-Takata collected by various city charities. A big applause came from the citizens gathered when the chaperon reported the money was used for transporting victims from temporary shelters to the nearby playgrounds for physical exercise. I cannot find the city by that name but found a very close phonetic name near the German-Czech border superhighway. Another one was to the Japanese Panasonic (another Czech donor) plant, which was to be around Pizen, 90 kilometers or 50 miles southwest of Praha.

I read in the paper report that one girl commented before leaving the Czech Republic that it was an unbelievable and "Mottainai" ("unable to express how grateful I was") experience, their kindness sank deep in my soul. I found a Praha blog post about hosting "Daichan" from Ofunato. The host happened to be a Japanese woman who has children of about the same age and I thought Daichan was lucky to have stayed with a host family where he was able to express himself freely, with no language barriers. Daichan talked about his experience on 3/11 with some humor, but it was clear to listeners that the tragedy had left great scars on his young mind.

Lastly, I wish to thank all our Czech friends, on their interest and concerns, through Pardubice Toastmasters networks for giving children food for thought and endless dreams for tomorrow. Glory and hallelujah to their bright futures!


Excerpt from Praha Radio news:

A group of 26 children from the tsunami-devastated region of north-east Japan are to spend a week-long wellness stay in the Czech Republic. The visit has been arranged by the Czech-Japanese society which set up an aid fund for the victims of the natural disaster which struck Japan a year ago. The event was organized with the aid of the Czech Olympics Committee and gymnastics queen Věra Čáslavská who won three gold medals in the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo and is extremely popular in Japan. In 2010, Japan honoured Věra Čáslavská with the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun for her contribution to cultural understanding between the two countries.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Holocaust Connections

I Never Saw Another Butterfly
- Pavel Friedman, June 1942

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing against a stone ...
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high
It went away, I'm sure, because it wished to kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this Ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
The butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here.
In the Ghetto.

A happy surprise! Jiri Psenicka, a Czech Silver Iron man, emailed the following day I uploaded my "Panama Hotel" blog entry.

He wrote:

What a coincidence! I got the book The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet as a Christmas present from my Canadian friend! Well, my book was not autographed by its author, but I liked it very much too. And, another coincidence! I watched a documentary film "Inside Hana Brady's Suitcase" (2011) by Larry Weinstein* on Czech TV a couple of days ago. It was a moving story too. Both Hana and her brother Jiri (George) came from Nove Mesto na Morave*, which is a place where I took part in my first 50K cross-country skiing race in the 1984 or may be even earlier. The town is in the Czech-Moravian highlands and about ten years ago there held cross-country skiing race which included the World Cup series.

I recently emailed to Jiri that I had read Hana Brady's Suitcase written by Karen Levin*. The book preceded by Canadian Jewish News and Karen's radio documentary on CBC Radio One that stirred worldwide sensation. As Karen penned in the introduction, the story took place on three continents over a period of 70 years - Czechoslovakia, Japan and Canada. Jiri and Hana, brother and sister, born and raised in Nove Mesto, were among thousands of Jewish children detained at Terezin* (Theresienstadt) Concentration Camp, eventually sent to Auschwitz* in the 1940s. Jiri, survived the incarceration and war, and immigrated to Toronto.

A Tokyo woman named Fumiko Ishioka*, working at a small Holocaust museum, after visiting Terezin and Auschwitz, solicited certain mementos with which she could easily demonstrate history to children. She got Hana Brady's Trunk. She found Hana and her brother after examining papers and photos and her intense pursuit started. Fumiko's close-to-obsessive chase hit the bull's eye. She succeeded in locating where Jiri lives. Fumiko sent her letter to which Jiri responded. Two parties met in March 2001, and surprised the world media.

How was this miracle possible?

Enter Friedl Dicker-Brandeis* (1898-1944), an Austrian artist and educator, once student as well as lecturer at the famed Weimar Bauhaus.* She spent two years in Terezin Camp, along with her husband Pavel before being railroaded to Auschwitz. She gave art lessons to the children there, as a way for children to understand their emotions and environment. In her limited capacity, she was giving art therapy. She asked them to put their names on the drawings before submitting them. Apparently she stored the drawings and entrusted them to a friend. The Director of Girls House, who returned after the war, found them, so he put them into 2 suitcases and carried them to Pinkas Synagogue in the Prague. It took 10 years to have those suitcases opened and children's names were individually recognized on 4000 drawings with a dozen poems. Hana Brady's drawings were among them. The poem quoted on the top came from the same source.

Per Emma Furman, pediatrician, taught by Friedl, survived the war, "the times spent drawing with Friedl, are among the fondest memory of my life. The fact that it was Terezin made it more poignant, but it would be the same anywhere in the world. Terezin had many world specialists in every field who taught me. But I think Friedl was the only one who taught without ever asking for anything in return. She just gave of herself".

Perhaps I may be overdrawing, but my image of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis very much resembled that of Clara Breed (Dear Miss Breed)! Both women gave children strength to live, dream and hope for tomorrow in spite of adversity. They blended into one in my world of idealization.

* Notes:

1) Larry Weinstein
Director of the 93-minute documentary Inside Hana Brady's Suitcase, based on Karen Levin's Hana's Suitcase. The film won audience awards in many cities worldwide. Weinstein lives in Toronto, Canada.

2) Nove Mesto na Morave
A town in South Moravia, 70 km (43 miles) northwest of Brno. Pop. 10,000. Hana Brady's house is on the tour map in downtown Nove Mesto.

3) Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levin, Canadian
First published in UK in 2003 by Evans Brothers Ltd.

4) Terezin (Theresienstadt in German)
65 km north of the Prague. The fortress built by Hapsburg was named after Maria Theresa. The Nazis transformed the fortress town into a transit camp through where 150,000 European Jews passed en route to extermination camps.

5) Auschwitz-Birkenau
Built as extermination camp by the Nazis. The Auschwitz State Museum displays 4 million death toll. I didn't visit Terezin nor Auschwitz on my trip to the Czech Republic. My Malaysian friend visited both and sent me the Penguin Book Auschwitz - A History by Sybille Steinbacher, 2004.

Excerpt from page 108:
A transit camp to mass extermination was the ghetto of Terezin, Jews from the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. What was unusual - at least temporarily - was their treatment: they were neither separated according to sex nor subjected to any selection process, and they did not have to give up their luggage; they were allowed to keep their civilian clothes, and the children were allowed to stay with the adults. They received all kinds of privileges, and only some of them were assigned to the work units. There was a school and kindergarten, housed in the barracks, and the children were allowed to paint.

6) Fumiko Ishioka
Received a Masters degree from University of Leeds, UK. Author, Director of the Holocaust Center in Tokyo and President of Anne Frank Fan Club. Received Honorary PhD in education in 2011 from York University in Toronto, Canada. Lectures in Japan and abroad on Hana Brady.

7) Bauhaus
Bauhaus was the first model of the modern art school. Founding place of the Bauhaus movement is UNESCO World Heritage city Weimar, 220 km (138 miles) southwest of Berlin. I visited the unique Bauhaus-Archiv Museum in Berlin.

8) Anne Frank (1929 -1945)
Anne's diary ended on Aug l, 1944. The family was sent to Westerbork Transit in the Netherlands and then to Auschwitz. In October 1944, Anne and her sister Margo became separated from their parents, Otto and Edith. They were all put on the last transport from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen (near Hanover), where both girls died of typhus, about two weeks before the camp was liberated. Edith died but Otto survived Auschwitz.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Panama Hotel

New York Times Best Seller Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was a Christmas gift from my daughter. The author Jamie Ford autographed and wrote: "Rio, inspiration comes from life and good books. Keep writing" and an actual size "Do Not Disturb (reading)" book marker attached, jutting half an inch out of the book. My daughter wrote, "I met Jamie Ford in person at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. He signed the book for you and for me." About the time I finished reading it, the Japanese translation came out with the title Panama Hotel, with a picture of the hotel on the book cover. This historic hotel was built in 1910 and was the first home to most of the early immigrant Japanese.
It has been said that the Japanese arrival and formation of J-town in Seattle and Tacoma, around the early 1900s, was due to 1) The Great Northern Railway (job placement) and 2) two Pacific Ocean passenger liners, NYK (Seattle) and OSK (Tacoma). Kafu Nagai (1879-1959), a writer who landed there in 1903 on the way to the east coast, wrote that he saw the same old Japanese shops from bean-curds, bean-soup to Sushi, buckwheat noodle shops in Seattle, not much different from Tokyo. However, the day the 1942 Executive or Civilian Exclusion Order took effect, there were 8000 Japanese American evacuees detained at the Puyallup Detention Center (Camp Harmony), and the thriving J-town collapsed and was gone, except for the Panama Hotel.
It is currently owned by Jan Johnson (see photo). Johnson renovated the hotel and made it a B&B (bed and breakfast) and a tea & coffee house. She was honored in 2009 by the Japanese Seattle Consul General for her endeavor to restore the century old building for historical and educational purposes.

Jamie Ford's book is fiction. The story is about Henry Lee, an immigrant Chinese who met Keiko Okabe, an immigrant Japanese, living in the same neighborhood (now called the International District). They were also fellow classmates at Rainier School among the dominating white students. They worked as school kitchen helpers and fostered a friendship and platonic love.

A major problem was that Henry's father literally hated Imperial Japan and Japanese as Chiang Kai Shek's foe and there was no way he was going to meet Keiko and her family. Keiko's family photos, entrusted with Henry, was found by Henry's father and thrown outside. Father even planned to send Henry back to China to sever relations with Keiko. He soon suffered from a cerebral stroke, which rendered him unable to talk. He never accepted anything pro-Japanese and impeded the exchange of letters that eventually resulted in separation soon after Henry's visit to Minidoka Camp in Idaho.

What could teenager Henry do without his family's understanding of Keiko's departure? Mrs. Beatty, Rainier school teacher, came to his rescue. Just like the school kitchen, Mrs. Beatty offered Henry a temporary summer job and transportation, to work for her as kitchen help at Puyallup. Henry succeeded in a reunion with not only Keiko, but Keiko's family, too.

Next, what is the significance of Minidoka, Idaho? Henry asked their mutual friend and sax player Sheldon Thomas to accompany him as a chaperone. Sheldon's jazz recordings bound Henry and Keiko. Sheldon and Henry first took a Greyhound bus to Wala Wala, Washington, then another bus to Jerome, Idaho through Twin Falls. They were surprised upon arrival by a giant sign "18 miles (29km)" to War Relocation Center Minidoka, and luckily were offered a truck ride by the local Adventists, among the religious volunteers. Hurray!

Personally speaking, Raymond, my son-in-law and I drove, in the summer of 2009, over 300 miles (700km) through the state of Idaho, from the Continental Divide Targhee Pass (the northeastern corner of the state, over 2000 meters above sea level) to Boise. We were returning from Yellowstone National Park to Boise Airport to return our rented car. We dropped by on the way to visit Moon Crater National Park, located in central Idaho and my wild fancy was that Minidoka would be as barren as Crater Park.

I was relieved somewhat, reading Jamie Ford's book, that the actual camp was closer to Twin Falls, further south of Idaho Falls, about 140 miles (220km) along the Snake River Plain. I saw a photo of the old Minidoka visitation building, and I recognized water that was called a canal.

There was the building where Henry waited for almost half a day to meet Keiko. Henry finally accomplished this difficult trip at a tender age of 13! The story comes to an end when widower Henry and widowed Keiko meet in New York in 1986 all afresh, when Henry's son Marty and his fiancee Samantha made arrangements after the couple discovered Keiko's sketchbook among the unclaimed boxes, crates, and trunks of the 1942 evacuees' personal effects, buried and forgotten in the basement of the Panama Hotel. Keiko's sketchbook contained a portrait of young Henry. Hurray, again!

NOTE: This book won the 2009-2010 Asian / Pacific American Literature Award (APALA) for adult fiction.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Okinawa and the Flame Tree

As area governor of Toastmasters, I have visited Okinawa a few times. There were two clubs, Kadena and Pacific Pearls, both on U.S. Marine Corps bases, around the turn of the century during the calm before Desert Storm, George Bush's Iraq War.

My first visit to Kadena coincided with a helicopter accident which was quite a tumultuous time. Having been stationed in the naval town of San Diego, close to Miramar and Montgomery (civil) airports, I encountered a few airplane accidents. One time, a navy jet fighter plunged into my plant's backyard. The pilot tried to maneuver out to the ocean in vain. He bailed out and landed safely and I heard he helped the plant crew extinguish the fire. The jet grazed a part of the plant roof, but luckily there were no loss of life.

On my return flight to Kyushu, I saw local papers denouncing the U.S. base helicopter accident, dangerous to off base citizens. Pacific Pearls used Camp Foster chapel for their meetings, but the chartering ceremony was held at Kadena Officer’s Club. Receiving an invitation, I flew to Okinawa for the first time. At the airport, I was given transportation by an air traffic control officer who wanted to join Toastmasters. At Kadena, I met a Marine Corps Colonel, the Club founder of Pacific Pearls (name sounded beautiful) who inducted the chartering with his excellent speech. Quite different from the Japanese way, families were also invited and it was fun to observe the very joyous celebration. The Colonel handed out candy to children first and then to all the participants. It was a very enjoyable Friday night.

Luckily, my friend from San Diego days was stationed in Naha, and he arranged for me to stay at the JT club in the guest house near the Fuzhou Chinese Garden. My stay in the historical heartland of Kumemura helped deepen my understanding of Okinawa.

The following morning, the matron of the house suggested that I walk to the nearby Matsuyama Park and the Chinese Garden before my San Diego friend showed up to visit northern Nago. Matsuyama Park was a big park, located in central Naha, which was a venue for recreational sports, particularly tennis courts. I rambled around the entrance area with water fountain and shady trees of Chinese or Indian banyans. There were statues and epitaphs mourning for high school girls who died in the Okinawa wars.

My attention, however, was drawn to the burning red flame trees (poinciana regis) along Matsuyama Street, against the white walls of Fuzhou Garden. I saw the same trees in Mexico and Hawaii and it was quite a surprise to see them in the islands of Okinawa. The name came from a sacred bird of Chinese mythology, as the flower is shaped like a phoenix spreading its wings. According to mythology, the world has no wars, no storms, no floods, no earthquakes, when the phoenix flies.

Very recently, my Taiwan friend referred me to the book Flame Flowers Have All Fallen, written in 2011 by Sakuo Imabayashi (1923-), a Fukuoka citizen, a returnee from Tainan, Taiwan. Imabayashi was born and raised in Tainan and repatriated to Fukuoka at the end of World War II. He revisited Tainan in 1990 after almost half a century and said he was sorry that the Tainan of his youth all vanished, including the giant Chinese Banyan trees and burning red flame trees that shaded the streets from the Tainan RR Station to Tainan Downtown Circle. He analyzed the causes - exploding population, influx of cars, roads widened for increased traffic, vermin damages, street cleanup nuisance, etc.

I remembered immediately my Okinawa visit 10 years ago. I learned that the area was used for location of the recent movie Tempest (see Notes 1), depicting the declining period of the Ryukyu Kingdom and the woman-disguised eunuch's rendezvous with a Satsuma Samurai under a flame tree. I didn't know the floral language of the flame tree is melancholic love.

The two sister cities Naha and Fuzhou jointly created the Fuzhou Garden in 1992 to commemorate the 10th year anniversary of their relations. The garden was based on the basic design of Fuzhou architect. Most of the materials came from Fuzhou, and was completed with Fuzhou technicians' help and service. The area is 8,500 square meters (2.l acres), at the former location of the above mentioned girl’s high school, and destroyed during the war. Three famous mountains of Fuzhou are reflected in the miniature landscape and there is a statue of poet Li Pai holding a Sake cup. It is a very authentic garden in a quiet corner of a busy capital.


1. This Kumemura area is where Fujian immigrants settled and their descendents kept tributes to the Ming Dynasty. The Confucius Temple exists nearby. Naha was the commercial center while the Shuri Castle was the political center of hereditary King Sho, who had bitter experiences with Commodore Perry's contacts. King Sho became a Buddhist and a peace seeker. The Kingdom surrendered to the Satsuma clan in Kagoshima and finally yielded to Tokugawa Shogunate.

2. Both Kadena and Pacific Pearls were disbanded when the Iraq War re-erupted. Soldiers were sent to the Middle East. My current contacts with the previous club members are all women. In 2011, the Oki-Orators was newly established as a new Okinawa community Toastmasters. Good luck, Oki-Orators!

3. Joanne Oppenheim, author of Dear Miss Breed, wrote that it was the first time she saw what the poinciana flower looked like in my blog. She was familiar with the flower name from the old song sung by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ahmad Jamal Trio, etc. I didn't know the song, so I checked it out. It goes like this:

"Poinciana, your branches speak to me of love,
Pale moon is casting shadows from above.
Poinciana, somehow I feel the jungle heat,
Within me there grows a rhythmic savage beat."

The music is by Nat Simon, lyrics by Buddy Bernier.

I found also the city named Poinciana in central Florida, near Orlando - an area that is growing rapidly.

4. According to Wikipedia, the flowering season differs in different countries.

* South Florida: May–June
* Vietnam: May–July
* Caribbean: May–September
* India, Pakistan, Bangladesh: April–June
* Australia: December–February
* Northern Mariana Islands: March–June
* United Arab
* Brazil: November–February
* Southern Sudan: March–May
* Thailand: April–May
* Zimbabwe: October–December"

5. The flame tree I saw in Mexico was in Cuernavaca. My friend in Morelia, Michoacan told me there were no flame trees there. Poinciana is also the name in Spanish. Morelia, Michoacan is 214 km or 150 miles from Cuernavaca, Morelos.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Revisiting Little Tokyo / Japanese American National Museum

On my recent trip to Little Tokyo branch library in Los Angeles, notices for two fund-raising campaigns were posted - one to build a Ryoma Sakamoto statute and the other to save Bunichi Kagawa's poem epitaph.

Ryoma Sakamoto (1836-1867), a legendary Meiji Restoration icon, who attempted to organize a peaceful revolution, but instead was assassinated, is one of the best loved historical figures of Japan today. Ryoma, a visionary Samurai, who deserted Tosa-Clan, conceived the first trading company and ocean support fleet, and believed all men are created equal (he was most likely familiar with the U.S. Declaration of Independence). Some people may think Ryoma's statue in Little Tokyo is not necessary. However, the planning committee sent its mission to Japan and toured cities where Ryoma's statues currently stand, including Sapporo, Kyoto, Nagasaki, and, of course, Kochi, where Ryoma was born. The mission returned with the tour report and had a meeting in late February. My guess is that the Association of Immigrants from Kochi Prefecture is deeply involved.

Bunichi Kagawa (1904 -1981) was a poet, essayist, and critic who started concentration camp magazines in the Japanese language during World War II. His friends, supporters, and Nanka Bungei (Southern California literature publishers) collectively, raised $20,000 and built the poem epitaph on his behalf in one corner of Honda Plaza in January 2006, but is now in danger of removal by the death of the land owner, leading to a possible title transfer. On March 11, a multi-faceted meeting was held, which included Bunichi's poem recitation, local Japanese American children's poems encouraging 311 Tohoku Quake/Tsunami victims, lecture by Prof. Kumei of Shirayuri University in Chofu, Tokyo who stressed the pioneering role of Kagawa in Japanese immigrant's literature.

Little Tokyo has another rare statue we Japanese can no longer see in Japan, of Kinjiro Ninomiya as a teen, carrying firewood on this back and reading a book, symbolizing the virtue of diligence. Ninomiya later became a prominent 19th century agricultural leader. There are also World War ll and Korean War Memorials in the San Pedro street Memorial Court.

I read that the Community Redevelopment Agency and the CC&R requires developers to assign and fulfill 1.25% for public art and statues like Kinjiro, Isamu Noguchi's stone sculpture, Friendship Knot, Astrononaut Onizuka's Memorial, which should fall within the guidelines and they should include maintenance costs. I heard Bunichi Kagawa's poem epitaph costs $100 per month for maintenance.

My daughter accompanied me to the Japanese American National Museum. We walked to Honda Plaza to see the Bunichi Kagawa's poem epitaph.

We found Kagawa's poem "The Sea Shines" printed on both sides – Japanese in front and the English translation by Masayuki Arai in the back.

The translation reads:

"My poverty saddens me at times
but at home they increase in number,
bit by bit.

(sung by Shizu Aida, aka Mrs. Kagawa)

Seen from the Hills, the sea is green
A color like the cucumbers we grew in the summer
Running so bitterness
All day long, the sea stabs
At my dry pupils
I have lived here for four years already.
Poverty, too, belongs to me
I have come to tell myself
Facing straight toward the bitter sea

My wife!
The sea shines today also
Embracing the land in which man lives
The sea shines keenly"

Bunichi arrived at Palo Alto in 1918 to join his father from Eastern Yamaguchi facing the Seto Inland Sea. He studied English and poetry on his own while living and working at Stanford University dorm. By age 25, he published his first anthology "Hidden Flame" with the foreword by Yvor Winters (poet, critic and scholar at Stanford University). Apparently this anthology was lost and possibly no longer exists. While thumbing through another Kagawa anthology republished in Japanese in 2006 in Oakland, I found Bunichi poems which were sung at the camp in Manzanar and at Tule Lake. Seemingly he spent time in both camps.

I have visited JANM many times, but it was my daughter’s first visit and she was enthused to see the exhibits. While touring the library camp exhibits, we were lucky to encounter Roy Kakuda, a volunteer docent. Roy had spent his youth at Poston Camp 1 in Arizona. Camp Poston, at its fullest, imprisoned a population of 17,814. The internees who corresponded with Miss Breed were in Camp 111. Roy Kakuda gave us a true-to-life graphic story using his brand new iPad. We intently listened to him, totally mesmerized.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Van Nuys Japanese Garden

"It seemed like a step down. Back then, the Valley was a big oven with nothing in it, a great sea of nothing, an ocean with no ships and at night, if you went out there, were very few lights."

- Robert Redford on moving to Van Nuys as a teenager in a 1998 New Yorker interview.

Sepulveda (taken from the family name of the early Angelinos) Basin is where San Diego Freeway 405 and Ventura Freeway 101 cross and you can catch a glimpse of the Sepulveda Dam. The positive legacy of the Sepulveda Dam is the huge undeveloped area used for wildlife and urban park. But the negative legacy is the river-turned hot dry concrete lined creeks, contrived to control floods. Unbelievable, but a 10 mile by 20 mile rectangle at the northwest corner of Los Angeles was once a lake fed by 4 rivers. As it is well known, the disheartened Los Angeles River story dates back to the California water wars fought in the 1920s.

William Mulholland (1855-1935), whose name we see in one of the
Santa Monica Mountain drives, was the Director of the L.A. Department of Water & Power. He sought water from the Owens Valley and built the famous 400 mile-aqueduct that helped L.A. emerge as a metropolis but met staunch resistance by Owen's farmers as common water users (river and rival etimologically related). The famous Roman Polanski's movie Chinatown dealt with this subject. Mulholland had to resign in disgrace when the dam he built in Santa Clarita collapsed and flooded downstream killing hundreds of people. While water was secured, local rivers of L.A. were lost in the name of flood control.

Back to the Sepulveda Basin - as if to redeem the past defamation of rivers lost, there is a gorgeous, spacious 80-acre land with multiple parks, golf courses, bike paths and one of the few soft-bottom sections of the river hidden behind the dam. The centerpiece of the park is the 27-acre Anthony C. Beilenson Park, known previously as Balboa Park and a wildlife refuge. Recreational activities include fishing, boating, jogging/walking. Woodley Avenue Park has a children's play area, picnic tables, barbecue pits, baseball diamonds, archery range, cricket fields, etc.

Then there is the new and very innovative concept of a combination waste-water treatment plant and Japanese garden "Suihoen" (Garden of Water & Fragrance) on a 6.5 acre land with 2.75 acre lake, which I visited recently accompanied by my daughter on the way back from Little Tokyo to her Thousand Oaks home. We drove back and forth on Woodley Avenue, finding it difficult to find the entrance. There is no sign of a Japanese Garden at all from outside. The reason for that is the tall wall surrounding the garden, hiding everything within. Security probably is another good reason, as the garden incorporates the reclamation plant. We went through a well guarded house, then onto the garden shop to get a tour map.

Usually, I do some homework before visiting any place of interest. I confess that I didn't know Van Nuys had a Japanese Garden until my daughter suggested that we drop in.

Frankly I didn't expect much, but I was totally enthused once I stepped into the garden. I was involved in the planning of a 5-acre San Diego (Balboa Park) Japanese Garden as a representative of a major donor company, sitting on the Board of Directors in the l980s. The Van Nuys Japanese Garden was in progress a decade earlier than the one in San Diego. The Van Nuys garden had some very powerful and illustrious supporters including Donald Tillman, City Engineer of Los Angeles from 1972 to 1980 and Dr. Koichi Kawana (1930-1990), a Hokkaido native, garden designer & architect, professor and mentor of Donald Tillman at UCLA. I read that Donald C. Tillman was responsible for the original concept of a combination waste-water treatment plant and garden, and he continued to lobby for federal funds to build the garden, even visiting President Richard Nixon, accompanied by the then maverick L.A. Mayor Sam Yorty (1909-1998).

President Nixon from California was reportedly moved with the unique concept. The garden was dedicated in 1984 and the reclamation plant was named after Tillman. The facility, since the dedication, received many awards for design – at least one every year, two in some, until 2010. My immediate impression was that it resembled Korakuen Garden in Okayama. Perhaps Dr. Kawana was influenced by it during the conceptual phase.

I've never seen a Japanese garden with so much water outside of Japan. Usually water is the critical element for building a Japanese garden and major part of the building expense. Tillman reclamation plant supplies reclaimed water to the entire Sepulveda Basin and the Japanese garden in particular is the showcase.

I don't hesitate to say that the Suihoen is one of the best gardens in the U.S., definitely among the top five. You certainly enter into another world with lambent sky, sweet air, a view facing Tortoise Island, both dry and wet gardens with blocks of rocks and stones, well combed pebble and sand surfaces. You get a serene retreat from the snarled traffic, therapeutic comfort in seeing well-trimmed pines and bamboo thickets, water fowl, colorful Koi carp, and relaxing in Zen style meditation. Mini stone lanterns, gifts from the sister city Nagoya, are well positioned throughout the garden. Just inside the tall walls is the oblong moat, or reflection pond, brimmed with water, connected with intricate garden lakes. You reach the Shoin Building through the Heavenly Bridge (make-believe Amano-Hashidate), on the opposite end of the garden which incorporates a tea-room with tatami.

The tiled building is available to host events with catering tables. It has half-Shoji and half-glass window to view the lakes. The Sukiya style arbor has a California Redwood table top. You walk by the waterfall and Crane Island (paired with Tortoise Island) floating on the lake and enter into the modern and futuristic Administration Building of the Reclamation Plant with the national flags of the U.S. and Japan hanging from the ceiling. There are video displays that explain how the reclamation plant functions, which is also viewable on their Web site (see Notes).

I read that Star Trek shot episodes there and the facilities were used by a number of scientific conferences with nothing but positive comments from all the attendees. I hope the local Japanese-American community actively participates in supporting the garden in the spirit of this magnificent trailblazing landmark.

Additional Notes:

1. Aerial view of the Suihoen and Tillman Reclamation Plant

2. Tillman Reclamation Plant - History, How it works, etc.

3. Plant Mission, Motto and Creed Statements

Mission: "Protect public health and the environment"
Motto: "Working hard everyday for a sustainable LA"
Creed: "An organization that sets the benchmark for outstanding service and responsible to the challenge of tomorrow"