Saturday, December 26, 2015

Maizuru Repatriation Museum Part 1

The North Shore and Tango Peninsula of Kyoto shares the west end of a designated quasi-national park of Wakasa Bay, well known as a deeply indented rias coastline, clear water and white sands, embracing its Maizuru Bay and Miyazu Inlet Aso Sea. Maizuru, "dancing crane" in Japanese, is a graceful name. The name originated from two possible sources. There was a (Tanabe) castle built by Yusai Hosokawa during feudal times that is no longer there. The Tenshukaku (The Tanabe Castle Tower) of the castle was said to have looked like the dancing crane. The other is from how the bay is shaped like a wing span of a crane. I prefer the latter explanation.

Maizuru Port, bordering with Fukui Prefecture at Oura Peninsula, once thrived as a Japanese Imperial Naval Port and after the war, served as one of the main ports to disembark 70% of homecoming Japanese, particularly from Nakhodka, Russia. They were there for years, sent to hundreds of Russian Gulag Camps as war prisoners for forced labor and survivors of bleak diets and harsh conditions.

The Repatriation Support Bureau, together with citizen volunteers, received them with a hearty welcome at the pier and boarding quarters. Many emotional reunion scenes and episodes were recounted on multimedia by their kin. The pier was the haven where mothers awaited sons of war

Maizuru Port was the only port which continued to be opened for 13 years between 1945 and 1958, even after other repatriation ports closed, reflecting the long time detainees remained in Siberia. Maizuru Port has recorded 664,000 returnees and 16,000 departed souls who never made it back. It follows Hakata and Sasebo Ports of Kyushu, both of which recorded more than 1.4 million returnees from China (Huludao, Liaoning) and Korea.

Maizuru City and Port have been taking the lead to build the Repatriation Museum. The initial site was housed in the old redbrick quarters once owned by the former Navy until the end of 2014. It was later relocated to Taira Bay, consolidating all the facilities, pier, parks (62,000m2 or 15 acres), monuments, epitaph posts, and the newly refurbished museum (1000m2 or 11,000 sq.ft) into one area, close to where the boats actually anchored and returnees landed on barges in groups. Thus the reason the site was located far from downtown Maizuru.

The returnees have been contributing their mementos to the Maizuru Repatriation Museum as exhibits, including diaries, artwork and artifacts, which total 12,000. The Museum has submitted selected items for UNESCO memory heritage application. Now they are successfully registered “documents related to the internment and repatriation experiences of the Japanese 1945-1956” as of October 2015. About 1000 items are shown as permanent exhibits.

The highlight attraction is the diaries written on birch tree barks. The idea was very reminiscent of the narrow strips of wood used in the Nara Period (710-794) for message and other writings among court nobles. Necessity is indeed, the mother of invention.

I visited the Museum, extending my Kyoto visit in December. I was aware there are no buses from December to March to and from Maizuru Station. I bargained with a taxi driver to go to the museum. After first circling around the Naval brick building. I was at the museum a little after 9am, an hour earlier than when the museum opens.

However, I had plenty of time to go up the hill where I could view the modern bridge crossing Taira Bay and look down on the small wooden pier where the repatriates landed. The bridge across Taira Bay is called Maizuru Crane Bridge. On the top of the hill are a number of commemorative stone monuments. Also along the paved walkway on the slope are hundreds of epitaph posts, standardized in size and height, each representing groups they belonged to, such as battalions and gulags. One of the docents confided that each post cost 30,000 yen to erect.

Just before leaving the museum, I noticed a tall foreigner, alone by himself. I guessed he might be Russian. We were in a room with a large Russian Federation map depicted on the floor, which showed the various locations of gulags where the Japanese were imprisoned. I started a conversation with him to test my theory, while standing on the City of Almaty, Kazakhstan. I asked, “"Do you know where apples originated?” He said he didn’t know. I told him Almaty. When asked where he was from, he pointed in the direction of Europe. I wanted to talk some more but time was approaching for me to leave.

I had to catch a noon bus to return to JR Maizuru. I stood alone at the bus station and the volunteer docent I talked to saw me and offered me a free ride. He was on his way home. It was a lucky and unforgettable day.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain

In completing my El Camino Real posts, I remembered the Royal Monastery of El Escorial, which I visited in the early 1970s, accompanied by a staff member of the Ataio Ingenieros, the Spanish sales agency of electronic instruments in Madrid. I believe I was told that El Escorial tells us more about Spain than any of the others. I think he was right.

El Escorial was built by King Philip II (1527-1598), who ruled one of the world’s largest empire, yet had to live in disgrace after the Spanish Armada lost the decisive fleet battle trying to invade England in 1588.

He was the champion of the Roman Catholic counter reformation backed by the Pope, and promoted the interests of Catholicism well beyond Spain’s borders, the Philippines (country named after him) and Espana Nueva. The King sent missionaries to all.

El Escorial is 30 miles (45km) northwest of Madrid, easily reachable by train. The UNESCO World Heritage designation came in 1984. Half a million people visited the Monastery in 2005. I found this colossal building description written by Carlos Fuentes, (1928-2012):

“Philip II built El Escorial as an imposing medieval, Renaissance, and neoclassical monument with a basic structure typical of medieval monasteries and hospitals. The edifice itself consists of a 101-by 261-meter granite rectangular building constructed in a shape of a grill, located 1,000 meters above sea level in the foothills of Guadarrama Mountains. The walls rise six stories on the exterior, with towers at each of the four corners reaching above these walls; the towers have spires bearing crosses at the top. A basilica near the center of the structure also towers high above the walls. The enormous dimensions and complexity of the building can be appreciated by taking into account its 2600 windows, 1200 doors, 459 towers, 88 fountains, 86 staircases, 16 patios, 15 cloisters and 9 towers.”

Please see the ground plan below. There is a King’s palace, pantheon, basilica, mausoleum, schools, libraries and courtyards. One of the most elegant pieces are the crypts of the kings. Their families are entombed separately. The monastery serves also as a great museum with 1600 paintings and 500 frescos.

Construction took about 20 years, while King Philip occupied a sparse apartment where he worked hard, and was nicknamed the Crowned Missionary. He had a penchant for detail. Almost every document of state passed through his hands, as he did not trust his subordinates with them; however he treated servants and nobles with equal courtesy. He was good at Latin, but seemed weak in English as evidenced in his early days in England married to Queen Mary I who died at the age of 42.

I might just add about an Englishman, William Adams (1564-1620), well-known in Japan as Anjin Miura, the blue-eyed Samurai, who landed in Kyushu on one of the shipwrecked Dutch East Indian boats which was among the Royal Navy of England that defeated the Spanish Armada. It is important to note that British-made canons salvaged from his boat were used by Tokugawas in the fight against Toyotomis in the decisive civil war of feudal Japan at Sekigahara. The British canons on 4-wheeled trestles worked far better than what the Spaniards used on clumsy 2-wheels. They were quicker and had more aim. Anjin helped Tokugawas in boat making as well as gunnery practice.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

El Camino Real Part 5

As I was finishing up my El Camino Real series, a TV news segment popped up. “One of the 450 hundred year old colonial missions surfaced from the Nezahualcoyotl Dam in the southernmost Mexican border town of Guatemala.” It’s all because of the summer drought of this year that caused a drop in water level, both in the dam and the River Grijalva, known as the Chiapas’ Grande River. I found another El Camino Real stretch, connecting the colonial cities of Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico with Antigua Guatemala.

The church was related to Dominican Friar Bartolome de Las Casas (1474-1566), whose name is seen in San Cristobal de Las Casas. Fr. Las Casas was named Bishop of Chiapas in Guatemala to enforce the “New Laws” of Emperor Charles V, which prohibited slavery and limited ownership of Indians to a single generation. The settlers objected to anything limited, and many clergy would not follow the new bishop’s lead. After the King rescinded the prohibition on inheritance, Fr. Las Casas resigned from his office in 1547 and returned to Spain.

I found the Las Casas name in many locations; Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Peru. While he was young, perhaps he followed his father and uncle who voyaged with Columbus representing Spain. Then he entered the priesthood and tried to advocate and correct misdeeds as Christians (Catholics).

I wrote to my San Diego friend Mary Lu Brandwein who was my Spanish teacher and lived in San Cristobal for a long time. She wrote back that I would have to cross the River Grijalva to get to the lush highlands because the dam is close to the Chiapas/Veracruz State border.

Per Mary Lu, the early Camino Real followed the ancient Mayan trade route south along the banks of the Grijalva River, through the Central Depression of Chiapas from Chiapa de Corzo to Guatemala. In later years, with the establishment of the Spanish colonial city of San Cristobal de Las Casas, a secondary road was added which follows the present route of the Pan American Highway through the highlands from San Cristobal south to Comitan, then heads back down into Tierra Caliente to join the original route.

Aside from the big city missions, numerous missions were founded by the Dominicans, including the one submerged in the dam at strategic points, but most of them were abandoned because of depopulation.

Monday, December 7, 2015

El Camino Real Part 4: Seven Missions on National Landmarks

"The missionaries had brought many new varieties of plants with them. Seeds of barley and oats began replacing native grasses that were being grazed by cattle and sheep. These hitch-hikers are responsible for our “golden California."
- from Cerritos Library Archives

Back in the 1960s, I had a business privilege to frequent southern California from New York, though on red-eye flights. San Juan Capistrano is just about midway between LAX and San Diego to stop for a coffee break. The Mission is right off the highway ramp. That was my first visit to a historical mission, nicknamed “mission of swallows”, and I was overwhelmed. It was the only remaining chapel Padre Serra held mass in, and there were some adobes surviving earthquake country. Then I moved with my family to San Diego and lived there for over 20 years after the mid 70s. I often brought visitors there from Japan when going to and from LAX.

There are no questions all 21 missions are on the list of California Historical Landmarks; Seven of the 21 are specifically on the list of National Landmarks. Let me introduce the seven missions, together with their respective nicknames.

1. San Diego, Mother of the Missions
The present church was constructed in early 1800 is the fourth one with renovations continuing thereafter. The site was chosen by Fr. Serra because of a reliable source of water, fertile land and its proximity to indigenous Kumeyaay Indians. Incredible was the uprising story of the Indians that brought loss of the original mission and Martyr Luis Jayme. The dazzlingly white wall shines with colorful bougainvillea like butterflies under a blue sky. It is always nice to return to the park with visitors.

2. San Luis Rey, King of the Missions
This is home to California’s first pepper tree and my most favorite mission as it is fairly close to San Diego where we lived. Named for Louis IX, crusading King of France, the cross-shaped mission is the most graceful one, built by architecturally oriented Fr. Fermin Lasuen. The grounds are huge and gorgeous and well kept, picture perfect everywhere you look. Time stands still for just a bit when you are here. No wonder it still belongs to the Franciscans.

3. Santa Barbara, Queen of the Missions
My wife and I became routine commuters to Santa Barbara when my daughter’s family had an apartment at the UC Santa Barbara graduates campus complex. The hospital where my granddaughter was born was close to the Mission. Eventually this granddaughter graduated from UCSB. We are unable to think of their family affairs without picturing the mission on the hill. We immediately visualize the Greco-Roman styled front, the unique two matching bell towers, the fountain and the lavadero. It was the most successful mission which had rapprochement (a place of harmonious meetings; detente) with the indigenous Chumash Indians.

4. Carmel, Father of the Missions
Basilica Carmel is literally the crown jewel of all California missions, the most beautiful and the most favorite of its founder Fr. Serra. Impressive and unique are the asymmetrical bell tower, star-shaped window, and Gothic arch ceiling. The recent $5.5 million restoration won the prestigious award endowed to religious/cultural endeavors. In his austere cell, Fr. Serra kept a modest desk and chair, and a pitiful wooden sheet bed.

5. Santa Ines, Mission of the Passes
This mission is smaller than the other missions and has bucolic scenes with the long stretch of hills in the background. The mission experienced hard times and overcame Indian rebellions and upheavals. The Danish town of Solvang was built up around the Santa Ines Mission in the early 1900s.

6. La Purisima (no nick name)
This is the biggest mission of all and is located about 2 miles northeast of Lompoc. La Purísima Mission State Historic Park is considered the most completely restored mission in California, with ten of the original buildings fully restored and furnished, including the church, shops, living quarters, and blacksmith shop. The mission gardens and livestock represent what would have been found at the mission during the 1820's. Special living history events are scheduled throughout the year.

7. San Juan Batista, Mission of the Music
This mission is closer to Hollister, California and adjacent to the San Andreas Fault. I haven’t visited this famous mission, where Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Vertigo” was shot on location in 1958. It was built by Fr. Estevan Tapis, with a special talent for music, who taught singing to Indians. The Mission had been rescued by the Hearst Foundation.