Friday, March 20, 2015

Friendship through Block Prints

Friendship sometimes happens one day out of the blue. I think I met him on my round of customer calls as a newly assigned sales manager while I was temporarily in Tokyo in the late 1960s, but I can’t recall his face or where and when I met him exactly. Then, I changed jobs and restarted my career in the U.S. for a new employer. I think I left all the business cards of customers I received with the old employer, as per the way of good business ethics - “on leaving, one should see that all is in good order.”

When I received his New Year’s block print greeting card in the U.S., I was quite thrilled and excited. I loved it. Perhaps I was yearning for a taste of Japan I seldom encountered after settling in San Diego in Southern California. For quite a while, I did not exchange letters with even close friends from the previous workplace, but I reciprocated with this innocent stranger, although it was just an annual exchange of New Year's cards over the Pacific Ocean. For some decades, time drifted by so quickly, now that I look back.

The motif of his block prints were mostly in the rich local colors of Tokushima culture, except for a few exceptions. I lost quite a few prints during my relocation within the United States and return to Japan. The exceptions included cards with full print Chinese characters to celebrate the year of his 77th birthday, and a few animals - horse and tiger, from the 12 horary signs. In regards to his association with Tokushima, I thought he was sent back to the local branch of his employer, but perhaps in a few years he was recalled back to Tokyo.

I have a special attachment to Tokushima. Tokushima is where my mother-in-law was born. She belonged to the Taira Clan fugitive Samurai tribal village. Their surnames, like Baba (horse riding ground) and Iba (archery ground) sound intimidating (I had to deal with them after getting married). After facing defeat at the Battle of Yashima (now Takamatsu) in 1185 at the hands of the Genji Clans, the Babas and Ibas fled and lived hidden in the deep mountain valley close to the Iyadani Gorge, far, far away from any town.

Today, Iyadani is a famous hot spring resort and there's a rare suspension bridge made of vines (replaced with a new one every three years). It is a gateway to Mt. Tsurugi (Sword Mountain, elev. 1995 m), one of the highest mountains in Shikoku, along with Mt. Ishizuchi (Stone Hammer, elev. 1982 m) in Ehime Prefecture, both regarded as holy mountains and for asceticism. I climbed Mt. Ishizuchi when I was in junior high school. The Iya River flows into the mighty Yoshino River and into Tokushima City where my Tokushima friend (of block prints) worked.

Displayed here are a few of his block prints:

Tokushima Awa Dancers; Heads of Awa Puppet Dolls (one Naozane Kumagai, Genji Clan warrior, who slew a teenaged Taira Clan commander Atsumori Taira, a nephew of Kiyomori Taira in the battle, and entered into priesthood to mourn for the victim, and the other, Otsuru, a girl pilgrim looking for her parents); Mt. Bizan (shaped like an eyebrow from any angle, elev. 280 m) in the center of Tokushima City; Gokurakuji-Temple, second of the 88 Shikoku temples for the Henro pilgrimage; Mt. Tsurugi already mentioned as above, and last, but not least, a German Bridge. I have visited WW1 German POW Bando Camp and wrote a blog entry about it. I wish to add that German prisoners built this small memorial stone bridge inside the yard of a nearby shrine to show their appreciation to the Bando community as a token of gratitude for the warm reception before leaving. I heard a total of 3,000 stones, weighing 200 tons were used. For more information, you can visit the excellent Facebook Guide “Discover Tokushima.”

When I tried to contact him upon my visit at Tokushima Toastmasters, he had already left. Late last year I received an obituary notice from his wife. I sent my condolences and told her how I loved his block prints. She sent me his photograph and told me that the block printing was his hobby. He always carried his sketch book and engraved wood blocks based on his sketches.

The block print friend’s name was Dr. Toshio Shoman, Professor Emeritus, former faculty member of Engineering at Tokushima University. The pen name Dr. Shoman engraved in red on the block prints was 峯 “Hou” or Feng in Chinese. When I asked about it, Mrs. Shoman wrote back that his pen name was 雄峯 but used only one character for abbreviation. He was born in Toyama and his favorite home town memory was of the snow capped 雄山 Yusan (Xiongshan), elevation 3,000 meters.

A further note regarding Tokushima University - In February 2015, the media reported on Tokushima University receiving a donation from Dr. Shuji Nakamura, now a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, for half of the Nobel Prize money he received for his LED invention. Dr. Namamura was quoted as saying, "I owe my initial basic research to my alma mater university equipment and I hope my donation will serve for future Nobel worthy inventions." Tokushima University suddenly rose up in fame.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Yonagunijima, Westernmost Island of Japan

In writing the blog entry “Suao Carbonated Water Saga”, I wondered if Nanfan-Ao, the fishing port flourishing today, had existed back then. I guessed not. In researching its history, I suspected the possibility was high that the port was named by Yonagunijima (Yona) fishermen around a century ago.

The Japanese bonito fishermen using Port Kubura and Yona as their base ports, wouldn’t have missed a warm ocean current that flowed upward from south of Taiwan into the Northern Pacific. Records have it that Yona fishermen sold part of their catches at Suao and bought food and daily articles. Furthermore, when they faced wild weather during their fishing voyages, they sought a port of shelter and found one God-send, south of Guishandao, with the wind-breaking squat hills. They called the area South of Suao, Nanfan-Ao.

I’m guessing some of them probably settled there in the early 1900s. The colonizing by the Japanese Government might have accelerated relocation of Yona fishermen to Nanfanao. Keelung was the gateway port to Taiwan from Japan. Smart Yona Fishermen and other Okinawans soon had access to Xialiao Island at the mouth of the Keelung River and opened up fish markets for the Japanese coming in, skipping Nanfanao.

Xialiaodao is famous for having an odd rock formation beach. Yona fishermen found Xialiaodao sharing some similarities with Yona. Quite conveniently, the island is connected with a bridge to Keelung. Islanders, not just fishermen, had to take the boat to seek more job opportunities since they were scarce in small Yona. Actually the Japanese official in Taipei was sent to Yona to study how Keelung, Yilan and Yona could help each other build a fishery industry together. Over 500 Okinawans resided in Xialiaodao.

Being interested in Yona, I researched online when and how it was inhabited. Here is what I found. Yonaguni Island was shaped like a sweet potato lain horizontally. The airport is located just about at the center of the north side. In 4 km east of the airport is the scenic spot called Fort Tindabana, a huge block of rock 100 meters tall. This is where the legendary rangatira named San-ai Iriba dwelled in the 16th century.

A boat carrying tributes to the Ryukyu Kingdom from Kumejima Island met with a storm and became shipwrecked. On board were half a dozen men, one woman, and a dog. They landed on uninhabited Yona. As days went by, men disappeared one by one and the only ones left were the woman and the Dog (with unusual power). One day, the woman met a young fisherman from Kohamajima, shipwrecked on the sea.

The woman warned him about the dog and asked him to leave right away. But the fisherman was so charmed with the woman that he didn’t leave the island. Eventually the fisherman was attacked by the dog in a deadly battle. His last weapon was a pole spear for marlin fishing. The woman asked the fisherman where he buried the dog but he would not tell her. The fisherman and the woman became husband and wife and they had seven children.

Eventually the fisherman thought it was about time to disclose where he buried the dog. Since the woman didn’t return to the fort, he went to the site where he buried the dog. The woman had dug up the remains of the dog and killed herself.

The legend says that Yona island people are supposedly descendants of the 7 children. All were skilled in fishing and full of progressive spirit. After the Meiji era, Kubula Port, was a port of call for Kagoshima and Miyazaki and sometimes for Kochi bonito fishing boats. The number of pelagic fishing boats increased as well.

Seemingly Okinawans (inclusive of Yona) did not hurry to leave Taiwan even after the end of the war. Probably they wanted to stay if possible, rather than abandoning their homes and belongings. Their advantage was they had boats to travel and could transport household staffs. Possibly they just waited to see how things ended up.

In 1947, however, the unease and havoc caused by the 228 Taipei massacre triggered Yona’s exodus. Over 30 Okinawans were victims during the turmoil. Some Okinawa fishermen sold boats and left Taiwan via Nanfanao with their families and many stories are retold about how some Taiwanese helped in their evacuation.

In 2012, those unfortunate Okinawan victims were memorialized and a stone monument was erected by the joint efforts of Taiwan and Japan, attended by the Keelung Mayor and Miyakojima Mayor, while the Head Monk of Miyakojima recited mantras. The name Xialiaodao was changed to Hepingdao (Peace Island) to commemorate them.

Monday, March 2, 2015

“敬天愛人” (Jingtien Airen) in Taiwan

Never thought that I would see the meticulous Chinese calligraphy tablet “Jingtien Airen” in Yilan, Taiwan, the teaching of Takamori Nanshu Saigo, often allegorized as the last Samurai. I noticed that his son Kikujiro (1861-1928) was in Yilan County during the Japanese colonial days. When I researched how he wound up in Yilan, I found he had a bizarre life, like his father. He was born in Tatsugo, Okinawa where Takamori was exiled. He was taken to Kagoshima away from his real mother when Takamori was pardoned from exile. As a teenager he was sent to the US to study for a year. Upon his return he fought the Seinan Rebellion War for his father and was wounded in his right knee with a bullet from a gun. He might have been dead without the wound. He was treated at the Government hospital in Kumamoto and Judo Saigo, Takamori’s brother, fighting against Takamori, helped nephew Kikujiro get proper care and operation. Kikujiro lost his right foot below his knee. It was Uncle Judo again who arranged Kikujiro to enter the Meiji Foreign Ministry and was sent to the US again for study and work for the consulate. Upon his return, he was sent to Taiwan, and became the first Yilan County Governor for 5 years (1897-1902).

Arrived coincidentally in Taipei were Shinpei Goto, Administrative Governor and Dr. Inazo Nitobe, in charge of Industrial and Agricultural Development, both aiming at the public stabilization and building of infrastructure. Kikujiro’s plans in Yilan were to deal with river conservation works, expansion of farm lands, road improvements, development of the camphor industry, crop increase,…, etc. so it just happened to match and fit in well.

Yilan County, located (110km) closest to Yaegakijima, Okinawa, boasts today of Suao, one of the best three fishing ports; Mt. Taipin, one (once) of the three best woodlands (shipped cypress and cryptomeria to Japan during colonial days); rich farmland because of frequent rain to produce rice; plenty of great natural scenery; and museums, including one for National traditional culture and arts.

Now back to the story of Kikujiro. One summer, rain started in the morning and gained in strength until it poured in torrents and turned into a sizable storm. One Yilan citizen ran into the County Office. He reported the Yilan River was flooding. Kikujiro opened the local map and ordered his subordinates to inspect various locations and report back immediately. A typhoon approached northern Taiwan and hit Yilan, Keelung, Taipei. The damages were heavier from the floods rather than the wind. Yilan has steep mountains (Mt. Dajiaoxi, ranges of Mt. Xue) and raging muddy runoff poured into the river and broke the Yilan lower river bank, flooding farms and villages. After the typhoon, Kikujiro toured on boat to examine the height of the river bank and concluded that there were no other remedies than to further heighten the dikes. He prioritized work to shore up a 1700m long dike and petitioned Goto with his budget for close to 40,000 yen, an improbable amount at the time of “security first” agenda under the military occupation. The construction took from April 1900 to Sept 1901. The legend has it that Kikujiro was often seen at the construction site limping around. Since he lost his right foot, he was fitted with a custom-made artificial leg from Kyoto and people seldom noticed his handicap.

The Yilan villagers called the completed works the Saigo Dike and Saigo Bridge (the wooden bridge had been replaced with the current Zhongshan Bridge). The monument to praise Kikujiro’s accomplishment was erected by village volunteers some years after Kikujiro left Yilan.

Although many of the Japanese monuments or relics had been destroyed by Kuo Ming Tang but this Saigo monument survived. My Taiwan friend wrote to me - “Why you may ask? Because the dike and the monument were used as supporting structure for shanty houses for refugees after the war and hid it's presence until 1990 when the Dike was rebuilt again. By then the political atmosphere had changed.” This monument was established more than twenty years after Saigo left Yilan. It indicates that people were truly thankful. It was not put up to flatter him while he was a Yilan district magistrate.

Yilan River flows south and meets the Dongshan River where both empty into the Pacific Ocean. Port Suao is south of this confluence.

Additional Information:

Blog page about Saigo Monument