Sunday, September 17, 2017


The world has seen a massive wave and flow of migrants and refugees, millions of people, especially in Europe. Can you define migrants and refugees?  A migrant is someone who chooses to resettle to another country. A refugee is forced to flee his or her home country. The distinction is significant because it could determine whether the migrants are subject to deportation or eligible to stay.  I spent over 20 years in San Diego, a border city and port of entry from Mexico. The major highways along the border had caution signs warning motorists to avoid immigrants darting across the road.  It pictured a man, a woman and child with pigtails, running hand in hand. Apparently they are undocumented aliens who didn’t come through U.S. Customs. I believe those signs are gone now, but my memory returns to me whenever I’m reminded of the Mediterranean migrant crisis, shipwrecks and loss of lives

Fuocoammare is the title of my speech tonight. It is an Italian word “Fire at Sea”, a documentary film that won the Golden Bear in Berlin last year and nominated for an Academy Award this year.  However, Fuocoammare did not win the Oscar. I haven’t seen the film but I understand Director Gianfranco Rosi expresses his compassion through a 12 year old boy Samuelle of a fishing family, at Isola di Lampedusa, an island halfway between Tunis and Sicilia in the Mediterranean. Samuelle loves to hunt with his slingshot. The name Lampedusa, nothing but sea oysters, hit the recent world headlines, as the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of Africans and Middle Eastern immigrants hoping to make a new life in Europe.

While Googling Lampedusa, I found a letter of appeal written by the island mayor to the EU. “If these dead are only ours, then I want to receive a telegram of condolences after every drowned person I receive, as if he were our son drowned during a holiday”.  Her call for help went unheeded. However, the Italian Government started to direct funds to rescue refugees monthly. From the fishermen to housewives, from activists to coast guards, everyone on Lampedusa has a role in making it a paradise island for newcomers. Rosi commended the islanders who said they accepted all that came from the sea.  Rose dedicated the prize and money to the people of Lampedusa. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Haru Reischauer - Part 2

In early 1990, Dr. Edwin and Haru Reischauer finally settled in La Jolla, the home they bought when they were around age 80 for retirement but used as their summer home after the purchase. The house purchase has been the culmination of their efforts to fulfill their ultimate dreams, l) to enjoy the ocean view, 2) to have a Japanese garden, 3) be in close vicinity to Edwin’s daughter. Since suffering a stroke in his 70’s, Edwin was frequently hospitalized. Sadly, he passed away in September, the year they relocated from Belton, Massachusetts. He was buried at sea using a chartered plane, conducted per his will to help and support the U.S./Japan relationship.

I met Haru-san on several occasions, including my first visit to her La Jolla House, to seek her contribution for the Minato Gakuen’s Bridge magazine (see Part 1). It is fairly close to the tall hotel building (now Hotel La Jolla), entering from Torrey Pines Road to La Jolla Shores Drive and turning to Paseo Dorado. The entrance hall is in the back with the living room, kitchen, guest dining and drawing room to the right, and garage, guest bedrooms, main bedroom to the left.  It was well designed to provide views of La Jolla Shores from every room, except from the main bedroom.  There are some level differences.  The spacious drawing room, three steps up from the kitchen, has a 180 degree ocean view including the palm-lined Torrey Pines Road slope curving toward La Jolla Cove on the left. The CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) in the hilly La Jolla retreat are very strict in regards to ocean view. The house benefits most from being on the lower part of the hill as a single story house with the hacienda style backyard for family get-togethers or a small garden party and the front courtyard is a landscaped lawn.

My son, upon getting married, was a La Jollan living in a condo near Mt. Soledad before moving to New York. He reminisces about the sunsets viewed from La Jolla as magnificent and unforgettable. On July 4th, the Cove attracts onlookers for the fireworks.

In 1986, Haru’s non-fiction book, Samurai and Silk was published by Harvard Press. I had skimmed through it in a Mission Valley Bookstore in San Diego. Recently I read the translation by Wakako Hironaka. Here’s my thoughts after reading it:

1. Ryoichiro Arai (1855-1939)

Haru-san’s maternal grandfather, Ryoichiro Arai, arrived in New York after a two-week Union Pacific train ride in March, 1876, four years after the Meiji Restoration. The Japanese residing in the U.S. then were either Government bureaucrats or scholarship students. Ryoichiro sought his lodging in Brooklyn, $5 per week with breakfast and commuted to Manhattan by ferry. His workplace was 97 Front Street and he walked to save his carriage fee. I was unable to find Front Street around Battery Park or Greenwich. In 1878, his silk business got off to a good start, so he relocated his lodging to East 55th and 9th at $7 per week including breakfast.

I was a New Yorker myself in the 1960’s, arriving in New York City close to 90 years later than Ryoichiro, and my office was also in downtown Manhattan. I also walked around in the civic center area. The difference is that I checked into the uptown Hotel Paris, a long term stay hotel, used by many transitory Japanese, at West End Avenue along the Hudson River. I commuted to downtown by subway. (The subway system in New York opened in 1904.) I don’t remember my monthly hotel rent but I recall the $100 monthly garage fee for a car. Upon the arrival of my family, I rented an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens. Settling in a foreign country requires a challenging spirit and much patience. I noted Ryoichiro was the proposer of the New York Nippon Club. I belonged to the Club for about 10 years while living there and shared the great benefits as one of its members.

2. Masayoshi Matsukata (1834-1924)

Haru-san’s paternal grandfather is Masayoshi Matsukata, one of six Genros, an elderly statesmen who served the Government since the Meiji Restoration. Masayoshi, a 7-time Treasury Minister and two-time Prime Minister, is less familiar than the other five Genro because of the missing career of his younger days. Silk & Samurai had the details of how he stood out during the tumultuous Meiji Restoration and I felt closer to him as a Kyushuan after reading his story.

Masayoshi, serving often as an usher/guard to Lord Shimazu, Satsuma Domain, faced historical incidents, such as the Richardson Case (known as Namamugi Jiken) and Boshin War, and was involved in orderly duties between Kagoshima and his travel assignments. He happened to be in Nagasaki, when Tokugawa magistrates fled there with money. He not only retrieved it, but used it for the sake of Nagasaki citizens and appeased foreigners in distress. Toshimichi Okubo, his Kagoshima clan senior who was in the Meiji Government, was impressed with Matsukata and sent him to Hita (now in Oita), another country under Tokugawa’s direct control where commotions were reported because of the vacuum formed without Tokugawa. His tenure in Hita as a governor is about tow years but he proved his governing skills, ranging from an open door policy, land and tax reforms, to promoting businesses such as wood products, brewery, citrus planting and hot springs, while popularizing Sumo as a local sport. Outstanding was his creation of orphan homes, prohibition of bribes and counterfeit notes in the neighboring countries. He extended his rein in river management to Beppu and initiated Oita Harbor construction. His contribution to the Meiji Government in the treasury field and foreign trade promotion through Paris Exhibitions became legendary. Haru-san saw another last Samurai in Masayoshi.

Both Nagasaki and Hita are in northern Kyushu. Hita, in particular, is very close to Kitakyushu, where I live. However, there’s no direct highway for vehicles because of mountains. If you walk the direct route of 75 kilometers, it takes 16 hours. By vehicle, you have to travel 130 kilometers, which will take one hour and 45 minutes. Last year I took a highway bus via Fukuoka City. My 9 am departure from Hikino bus stop brought me to Hita before lunch time. I didn’t know that Hita, a tiny country, was an independent prefecture when the Meiji era got started.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Cicadas and Floods

On his trip to the Deep North of Japan in summer of 1689, Haiku Master Basho (1644-1694) visited Tendai sect Temple “Risshakuji” in Yamagata and sang a
 landmark verse:

Ah, such stillness
Cicadas cries
Piercing into the rocks

Could Basho ever imagine his Haiku would incite fierce arguments 300 years later among the literary critics as to which kind of cicada Basho heard?  It was kicked off by Mokichi Saito, the famous poet as well as psychiatrist, who broached that Basho at that site heard the “abura-zemi”(Graptopsaltria nigrofuscata). Toyotaka Komiya, who lived then in Sendai close to Yamagata, strongly opposed it.  Komiya said it couldn’t be the Abura-zemi. It should be “ni-ni-zemi”(Platypleura kaempferi).  Mokichi, reportedly a bad loser (per his son Morio Kita, who followed in his father’s footsteps and was an equally famous writer having won the Akutagawa Prize) challenged Komiya, trying to substantiate his claims. He went back a couple of times in different years but didn’t get the desired answer, due to rain and other causes. After a few attempts, Mokichi himself seemed to have conceded his view at last. Scientists also made similar tries, in vain, after 2000, with the help of Basho’s well kept diary and Haiku, suggesting another kind of cicada, the “higurashi” (Tanna japonensis) adding to the confusion. The dispute is still raging on.

Kevin Short, the Daily Yomiuri columnist “Nature in Short”, whom I admire,  wrote that Japan is a cicada paradise and there are five common species in the lowlands of Japan. The three species above referred to in the Basho controversy are all included.

Today we expect the weather bureau’s declaration of the end of rainy season any moment and the hot summer is due with the arrival of the cicada season in Fukuoka, Kyushu where we live.

Recently, we Fukuokans suffered from the historical torrential rain down south in the mountain valley zones, like Asakura City (Akatani River basin - see Youtube video below), Toho Village and neighboring Hita City (Oita Pref) side-lining people from west to east, causing hundreds of mountain landslides and flooded homes and fields.  The death toll went up to over 30. A real tragic devastation and utter grief beyond description.

Thousands of army forces mobilized immediately to search for the missing using helicopters.

Once the rescue army forces left the flooded sites, volunteers in the thousands arrived daily to help home owners and farmers remove mud, driftwood and debris.

Awful amounts of wood were gouged out from the mountains and it’s probable cicada larvae most likely met with unfortunate disaster. However, I’m sure grief stricken villagers still hear cicadas, same as previous years and may soothe and encourage the survivors that life goes on.

I have a Japanese friend who usually spends his summers in Cameron Highland, Malaysia, 1800 m above sea level. Cameron Highland was discovered late in the 18th Century by an early British colonial and the area was developed as a tea plantation.  It is 200 km north of the capital Kuala Lumpur and 90 km from Ipoh.

Jim Thompson (1906-1967), Thai silk king, had his cottage there, and it’s a mystery how/why he went missing during his stay.  A friend told me Cameron Highland is a mecca for insect hunting, cicadas in particular. It is famous for the world largest cicada, “Tacua speciosa” aka Emperor Cicada!   I found a photo.  The Emperor Cicada covers almost from your elbow to the heel of your hand. Fantastic. What do they sound like?  The sound of a trumpet! Can you believe that?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Haru Reischauer - Part 1

Bridge was the name of the early 1990’s official publication of the San Diego Nihongo Kyoiku Shinkokai (San Diego Association for Japanese Language Promotion), which operated “Minato Gakuen”, a Saturday Japanese School primarily for the Japanese expatriates’ children. Minato Gakuen got jump started in 1979 with less than 40 students and grew to 400 in 10 years after the school's opening. The growth necessitated a search for a larger school facility that can accommodate two dozen classrooms for use on Saturday only. I served as President of the Association when Minato celebrated the 10th Anniversary and acted as Chairman of the School Site Search Commission. I thought of publishing a booklet to reach and communicate with local American schools and was able to distribute it to schools that teach Japanese as a second language. To my surprise, there were more than a dozen American schools teaching Japanese, including La Jolla Country Day School.

As editor, I asked Haru Reischauer, living in La Jolla, to write an introduction for the very first Bridge issue, which she accepted graciously. I edited the second issue but retired from work and left San Diego in 1994 before the issue was published. I received Bridge #2 in Japan by mail. It turned out to be the last issue published since nobody succeeded me as editor. Haru Reischauer passed away in 1998, four years later. The following is her contribution in its entirety.

“As we rapidly approach the 21st Century, we are poised at the threshold of a new international world order. Because Japan and America are presently the two economic superpowers, the relations between OUR two countries will play an essential role in the peaceful development of this new order. This places great responsibilities on Americans and Japanese to strengthen our relationship. We must become more knowledgeable and more appreciative of each others’ language, because through it we cannot help but learn our culture and background.

My family experiences have shown me the importance of language learning. My maternal grandfather, Rioichiro Arai, as a young boy in the early Meiji period, wanted to establish trade with America to sell Japanese silk from our family business. Soon after Japan opened its ports to foreign trade in 1860, learning English came into vogue because it was considered the ‘intellectual currency of the commercial world.’ My grandfather learned English and it enabled him to come to America in 1876, when he was twenty. With diligence and hard work, he succeeded in establishing trade between Japan and America. This trade was not only profitable for Japan’s economy, but it was also the start of the close relationship we have today between our countries.

In the early 1930s in America, just a few years before WWII, my late husband, Edwin O. Reischauer started the Japanese language program at Harvard University. The war accelerated language training for American officers as the future need for communication with the Japanese was realized. Since the war, as relations advanced at a rapid pace, Japanese studies and language courses in colleges and universities have increased throughout America. The large number of students in Japanese studies have formed a reservoir of good will toward Japan, which is the grass roots basis of the relations we have today.

Relations between San Diego and Japan, our closest Pacific neighbor, are rapidly developing. This will play an essential role in the development of the Pacific Rim. In recognition of the importance of this relationship and the urgency to build a bridge of communication across the Pacific, universities, community colleges and even city schools now have programs for the Japanese language in San Diego. The writers of the articles in this pamphlet testify to the benefits that they realized through their studies of Japanese. I am gratified to learn that the members of the Japanese Language Education and Promotion Program Society of San Diego are now endorsing and supporting the advancement of Japanese language training in this community. Let us all work together in advancing this educational opportunity in San Diego.”

- Haru M. Reischauer

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

“Ground Spider” -  Special Summer Evening Noh by Torch Light

Invited by a friend recently, I had a chance to see one of the centuries-old creations of Noh drama, “Ground Spider” (Tarantula de Tierra) in Fukuoka, Kyushu. The venue was at the Across Symphony Hall which can accommodate thousands. It has no English subtitling amenity but it has an authentic Noh stage setup with a pine tree painted on the back wall.  The artificial torch lit apologetically but was unable to reproduce the mythic outdoor shrine/temple ritual ambiance. Summer should be the best season to enjoy supernatural horrors in darkness, under shadows of trees, branches and leaves, and by flickering fires in the cool wind blowing in the evening - all elements that would add intensity to the Noh drama. Alas, indoor theater was not the best of venues for the horrors and suspenses of the fifth Noh category, dealing with demons.

Ground Spider is a visually entertaining and spectacular piece of Noh repertoire similar to the Kabuki version.  Familiarly called Raiko, Yorimitsu Minamoto (918-1021) is based on a historic figure.  He was the chief of the Seiwa Genji Clan who served for the aristocratic Fujiwara Clans as guardsman, the forerunner of Samurais.  Raiko, together with his four Great Entourage Warriors (Watanabe no Tsuna, Sakata no Kintoki, Usui no Sadamitsu, Urabe no Suetake) vanquished two scary demons, l) Ground Spider at Mt. Katsuraki in Yamato, near Nara and 2) Shuten Doji, Drunkard Lad, at Mt. Oe, Tanba Country, north of Kyoto, both of which were featured in Noh plays, fifth category.  The Shuten-Doji Devil lived during the days of Rasho-Mon, committing all evil crimes in Kyoto, retreating and hiding underground near Mt. Oe, always inebriated, thus named drunkard.

The Ground Spider monster image is said to have originated from a disparaging term for the downtrodden indigenous people of Japan. So, on various levels the play is making a commentary about how Raiko may have treated the indigenous people, their anger over the treatment, and - with the killing of the spider - who the play’s writers felt would win the struggle.  Despite its fearsome look, ancient people were awed by the ground spider and revered it as God incarnate. The highlight of Ground Spider is the scene in which the ato-shite throws spider threads made of Japanese paper.  It is said that the current performance which throws a number of threads is created by the grand master of the Kongo School in the early Meiji Period. The parabolic arch of the spider threads flying in the air should greatly appeal to novice Noh spectators. I heard from my friend indirectly that  even the Noh professional who experienced Shite, that timing of throwing both in preparation and execution is breath-taking, just like counting down the seconds, with an expectation similar to a parachute opening in skydiving.

Ground spider, to me, means fearsome tarantula, a tea cup size spider, which I have seen while living in the U.S. They live in the deserts of Arizona, Texas and other southern states.  I had wanted to buy a stuffed brown specimen but never did. Those tarantulas in the U.S. don’t use a web to ensnare prey, and are harmless to humans.  By Googling I discovered the 2017 Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan wrote his first novel "Tarantula" (unofficially available in 1966). I read it for free after downloading. I was disappointed, however, there was no mention of the Spider Tarantula. He likened himself to a Tarantula setting out on his desert trip to wander the badlands of New York. It’s just interesting he wrote his one and only novel 50 years ago, reputedly hard to interpret.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dr. Alvin Coox - Part 3

Part 3 is my requiem to two Nomonhan Battle survivors, l) Yasushi Fukushima and 2) Masujiro Takata, whom I found among 60 contributors of a tribute to Dr. Coox, under the title “The Road Taken by Dr. Alvin D. Coox”, the book compiled and edited by Hisashi Takahashi in 2005.  This 230 page-book written both in English and Japanese was not for sale.  Tachibana Sensei, friend of Hisako Coox, sent me the book via express, as a loaner, and became the source of Dr. Coox’s photo used in the blog.

1) Yasushi Fukushima

My contacts got started with Dr. Coox’s inquiry to me as the editor/(private) publisher of “Nomonhan - Records of the Nine-Zero (90) Field Artillery Soldiers”, (National Diet Library registration -OPAC GB521-217) , published in 1980. His inquiry was “did I recognize the Russian tank troop deployment accompanied with their infantry around the River Holstein near the so-called Izumi Bend?"  I don’t remember how I answered him, but our artillery encamped at the south of Holstein Lake was in a frenzy facing numerous Russian tank deployments. At dusk on August 24th we succeeded in repositioning ourselves at around the 752 Height in the eastern battle front. I wasn’t familiar with Holstein River nor the Izumi Bend. The commander’s commendation given to us was for our contribution on the left bank of Holstein River. However, this location was not in my recollection either. 

Things cleared up only recently. I received in my possession a staff diary of the 3rd Artillery Battalion. A Godsend! The Miyao Unit I belonged to was under the lst Battalion. The said diary showed the 3rd Battalion joined the lst Battalion at some point, and definitely on August 24th, the 3rd Battalion was at Izumi Bend of the Holstein River and did produce curtain fire for our infantry, as Dr. Coox asked me when he first contacted me in 1980.

Few people knew the existence of Type Nine Zero Field Guns in the Nomonhan Battles. On our way back from Noro Height to Baru West Height, our artillery battalions were held while waiting at the pontoon bridge constructed by our engineering support troops. Fondly remembered were the “cool and smart” looking Nine Zero guns, which attracted the eyes of soldiers passing-by, and, unexpected crowds of curious rubbernecks. As Dr. Coox pointed out, these guns, high-tech pieces of the day, demonstrated magnificent power in the melee battle grounds and consummate tactics against Russian tanks. I am thankful for Dr. Coox's special and sympathetic reference to us Artillery Soldiers throughout his master book. May Dr. Coox rest in peace.

2) Masujiro Takada

Your esteemed name was familiar to me through a mutual friend, Yasushi Fukushima, as the author of “Nomonhan, Japan against Russia 1939", who tried to discover and report the facts and truth of the battles as they were, and I looked forward to an opportunity to meeting you some day.  Same as Fukushima, I too belonged to the former Kwangtung Army Field Artillery lst Battalion, Miyao Unit.

Then, out of the blue, the Asahi Newspaper dated Nov. 18, 1999 reported your obituary; we alerted our mutual friends, once belonged to the Artillery, as well as all  Nomonhan Society members. Then, after a while, we were notified that volunteers would be planning a memorial book for Dr. Coox and we all thought it was a great way to immortalize your life's work of truth-finding endeavors.

1945, the year Japan surrendered, I was held as a Russian captive in Shenyang and sent to Chita Retention, Baicalia Province, Siberia, about 650km east of Irkutsk and served at the hard labor camp for 4 years. Returned to Japan around 1950 but I had lost everything; had to start my life over from scratch. It took more than 10 years before I had time to gradually contact the Nomonhan artillery friends such as Fukushima and Sugawara, and again some more years later that I joined the Nomonhan Society. I began to attend annual Nomonhan memorial services, where I mingled with survivors, but didn’t converse much, feeling dispirited, due to the prevailing air of lost wars, despite our pride as artillerymen.

I remember it was at the 1989 Joint WW2 Memorial Service that your Nomonhan book translation in 2 volumes reached us at the service venue.  I bought it right there and stayed up many nights, read it over again and again, until I fully memorized it. I jumped for joy to have encountered your book,  with your detailed research and precise descriptions.   Your book opened my eyes about the whole Nomonhan picture in stages and by hour how the Nomonhan wars were fought, between Russians and Japanese. I was saved by your special reference to the Miyao Artillery Unit, as the reliable artillery force which won the trust and confidence of all the infantry soldiers. I never felt prouder to be a member of the Miyao Unit.

I’m really happy and glad to have read your book, containing important historical data and hope this book will remain remembered by future generations.  The book shines a light on the Japan that renounced war as a sovereign right of the nation. I thank you sincerely for your selfless and unbiased Nomonhan research of Japan and Russia as I was one of the soldiers who fought in the war.  We have lost a great benefactor.

Note: Photos & map of the battleground as they are today.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dr. Alvin Coox - Part 2

At the local library I picked up the requested "Coox’s Nomonhan" in 4 volumes (Pocketbook edition), published in 1994. These are books I saw at the bookstores upon my return from San Diego. The library books were stamped “donated.”

Young Dr. Coox had worked since the 1960s at the Allied GHQ in Tokyo, as a strategy analyst/researcher and military historian of WW2. He published many books, Japan - the Final Agony (1970), Tojo (1975), The Pacific War Revisited (1983), just to name a few. The book he must be proud of should be Nomonhan, Japan against Russia (Stamford U) which won the Samuel E. Morrison Prize, whose name I knew as an author of the famous “Struggle for Guadalcanal”.  Rear Admiral Morrison (1887-1976) won the Pulitzer Prize and received an honorable doctorate.  Dr. Coox, during his 15 year stay in Japan, interviewed 400 Japanese Nomonhan survivors on the list obtained from the Japanese Bureau of Veteran Affairs. He got in touch with the Nomonhan Society, consisting of survivors and bereaved family members. In the book preface, Dr. Coox expressed appreciation for all the help/cooperation received to compile the book. I’m sure Hisako Coox aided in smooth communication. The preface was written at the end of 1993, the time I was contemplating my retirement to return to Japan.

Dr. Coox was aware that the Russian casualty figures he used in his study were censured by the Russian Government and did not necessarily reflect the true figures as compared to the Japanese counterpart figures.  Under the 1990s Gorbachevian Glasnost, corrected figures first appeared, if not completely transparent, at the International Academic Study Symposiums of the Nomonhan/Khalkha River Battles held in Tokyo in 1991 by a Russian participant Colonel Valtanov and Gen. Lt. Krivosheyev in 1993 and 2010 (See the table below).  In anticipation, Dr. Coox had asked his friend Professor Hata to audit his figures in the Japanese translation (per Prof. Hata’s postscript dated, Sept. 1989 - 50th anniversary year of the Battle as the managing editor).

I’m glad to find the name of Nomonhan in the Lonely Planet Mongolia Travel Guide across the Khalkhgol.  It is where the east-most Mongolian Aimag (province) named “Dormod” penetrates into Hulun Lake, China, the largest lake in the inner Mongolia Autonomous region. Khalkhgol had existed as a vague border since Qin Dynasty/Russia days, causing skirmishes between the Japanese Kwantung Army and Russian Guards in the mid 1930s. The region is nothing but an open spread of grassland and shrubs as huge as Kyushu Island. Choibalsan, the capital of the region, is over 300 km west, which is 600 km east of Ulaanbaatar, the state capital.

Russian Commander Zhukov, obtaining Stalin’s approval for reinforcement, prepared against a possible Japanese invasion.  He faithfully followed Chinese Master Sun Tzu’s Art of War to seek revenge for the defeated Battles of Tsushima Strait and the disgraced Baltic Fleet. He drew all-out logistics, sending thousands of trucks, hundreds of tanks, soldiers, food and ammunition swiftly, on the Trans-Siberian Railway and hauling them down to no-man’s land named Nomonhan. It is the Japanse Kwantung Army opportunistic and overconfident staff who didn’t even try to know their enemy, and lacked essential reconnaissance.  Russians took geographic advantage, snipers targeted water supplies, used tactics such as piano wires to tangle Japanese tanks. The Japanese soldiers were given no time to rest and sleep after a long trek.  I can painfully visualize the battle scenes where the Japanese were encircled with nowhere to hide in the grasslands by hundreds of Russian tanks and annihilated by flamethrowers. I read that the front retreat requests were rejected by Kwangtung headquarters and the front commanders were ordered to “take their tonsils out”, i.e. commit harakiri.

I wonder what made Dr. Coox so interested in Nomonhan. I suspect he tried to determine the cause of the Japanese turning their reckless march southward as a direct result of the disastrous and not well publicized Nomonhan battles. Interviewing Japanese Nomonhan survivors, Dr. Coox had to be full of compassion. He may have been disappointed that the Nomonhan defeat didn’t ring the alarm for the Japanese at large. I heard that the Nomonhan Society contributed Dr. Coox’s books to the Yasukuni Shrine Museum and Library where the souls of all war heroes are enshrined, their sacrifices never to be forgotten.

Lastly, I also read a book Nomonhan Has Not Been Forgotten written by an elderly Oita, Kyushu writer named Noriko Koyama.  She voluntarily joined a small party of the 2006 Government sponsored dispatch to Mongolia to recover remains of soldiers and conduct memorial services in Nomonhan. Due to limited manpower and time available, the excavated  were just a fraction of remains.  Thousands still remain uncovered. The book was written in 2006 and she subtitled it for the “67th Memorial". This year is “77th” Memorial.  I’ll join her in her echo of “Nomonhan must not been forgotten”.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dr. Alvin Coox - Part 1

"Eye witness to history” is one of my favorite running columns in the Yomiuri Newspaper in Japanese. I enjoyed Mari Matsunaga’s account of DoCoMo’s mobile phone developments as its i-mode editor-in-chief, which ran from early February  to mid-March. Then Ikuhiko Hata, an octogenarian historian, took over, beginning with the Tokyo Tribunal of War Criminals.

He wrote that after Tokyo University, he studied at Harvard in 1963 and at Columbia in 1964, and showed the photo of President Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade. I was in NYC in the1960s.  He and I witnessed the assassination of the President in the U.S.   He referred to a friend, Dr. Alvin Coox, who helped him secure the Asian Foundation scholarship in addition to the Rockefeller Foundation.  Dr. Coox!  My Goodness! I served as an initial Advisory Board member for his SDSU Japan Studies Institute in the 1980s. However, he passed away right after I left San Diego. I remember his spouse Hisako. I emailed my friend who knows Hisako. I received an answer and she is hale and hearty.  Hisako Coox has sponsored my friend’s life work of Japanese language promotion and annual speech contest in San Diego for the past 10 years.

I first met the Coox’s at an LA reception celebration at the Japanese Consulate General. The reception invitees were mostly from the Japanese American business circles. The Coox's humbly sat apart. I introduced myself and my wife. I didn’t really know about him until I returned to Japan in mid-90s. His best selling and award winning “Nomonhan: Japan against Russia 1939” (Stamford Press) was translated into Japanese in 1994 and hit the bookstore shelves in 4 volumes.

Then I read in a weekly magazine that Dr. Coox had a conversation with Ryotaro Shiba (now deceased), a famous writer and my alma mater senior.  Ryotaro was drafted to Manchuria when when he was a student and assigned to a tank battalion. He didn’t engage in war but got trained as a tank trooper and was knowledgeable enough to discuss differences between Japanese and Russian tanks. The Nomonhan (battles of Khalkhin Gol) survivors would have told him how miserably they were defeated. The BT-5 Soviet tanks, copied from an American designer, featured track fitted transportation, high-speed mobility, overpowering anti-tank machine guns, and equipped with a flame-thrower.  One weakness of the Soviet tanks were that they were fire-prone. The overheated gasoline engine easily caught fire - alas - the Japanese infantrymen, without tank or artillery support, found that they could knock out gasoline-powered tanks and armored cars with Molotov cocktails and mines. About 120 vehicles were destroyed in this manner, but the Japanese soldiers, who had to get up close to deliver a satchel hurling attack, took heavy casualties.

Ryotaro did in fact interview Nomonhan survivors like Dr. Coox, apparently with ardent hope of writing about them, but stopped pursuing it. Many people wondered why. Most plausible to me was that he heard, with shock, that there was a similar attempt as depicted in the US movie “Saving Private Ryan” to force the war to an abrupt end.

I’m surprised a younger writer Haruki Murakami (1949- ), Kafka and Jerusalem Prizes winner, touched upon Nomonhan battles in his 600-page “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” (the Chronicle hereafter) as a story within a story. I got wind that his father once conscripted in Manchuria during WW2.  I read the English translation by Jay Rubin.  There is a couple of places that is relevant in Book l Thieving Magpie – in Chapter 4, High Towers & Deep Wells - O, Far Away from Nomonhan and Chapters 12 and 13, Lt. Mamiya’s Long Story Parts 1 and 2. The Chronicle has 3 Books and seems still unfinished.

Briefly, at the pre-battle stage, a horse-riding party of 4 Japanese secretly crossed the River Khalkhin, the controversial Outer Mongolia/Manchuria border, a violation by itself.  A self-proclaimed civilian named Yamamoto had a top secret mission to plot probable pro-Japanese Mongolian agents (undisclosed to the escort). To escort him safely, 3 soldiers were chosen. They were Lt. Mamiya, Sgt. Hamano, Cp. Honda. An injured Yamamoto, back from an errand, ordered the immediate departure. They had to wait for night to cross the Khalkhin Gol as they spotted Mongolian security. So, the party slept with Cp. Honda taking watch. Lt. Mamiya woke to find Sgt. Hamano killed lying on the floor and he and Yamamoto were captives. After Russian interrogations, Yamamoto was sentenced to an ugly slow death by knife flaying alive. Lt. Mamiya had to run naked for his life and jump into the dry well or be shot. Death came to Lt. Mamiya in the barren tundra fields buried deep in the well unknown by anybody.  He was overwhelmed with loneliness and despair waiting for his death. It was Cp. Honda,  by intuition on foot, who found and saved Lt.Mamiya. The existence of the well incident has a profound meaning in the Chronicle, as WW2 ruin and redemption.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Catalpa Part 2: A letter to Sayaka Komata in Oakridge, Tennessee

Sayaka-San, it will be the third spring since you helped me get information regarding “Catalpa”, a tree native to the Midwest (see previous “Catalpa’s Spread in Japan, Grown from Seeds” post). The post was about the lovely friendship between Jo (Joseph) Neesima, the founder of Doshisha University in Kyoto and returnee from the U.S., the seed sender and Tokutomi brothers in Kumamoto, the seed receivers.

Kumamoto had a tough 2016. The magnitude 7.3 earthquake hit the region causing widespread damage and resulting in 50,000 evacuees. Kumamoto Castle, the symbol of the city, will require costly refurbishments. Last year I wanted to take my daughter and granddaughter (from California) to Kumamoto in May, but we had to cancel. The first anniversary of the disastrous event just came to pass.

The reason I’m writing to you is that I discovered the most impressive American Haiku related to catalpa, the tree of our mutual interest. Here’s briefly how and where I found it and whose Haiku it is.

Recently, while at the Central Kitakyushu library, I picked up a book How Haiku is accepted in England and in the U.S. (ISBN4-8302-2315-4-C) written by Akira Kawano, a Kitakyusuan (1962- ), who taught at Fukuoka University of Education, majored in English poetry during the 1960’s at Wyoming University and Purdue University.  This book was divided into two parts; an introduction of the so-called imaginist poets, such as T. E. Hulme, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, followed by Haikuists, such as Helen S. Chenoweth, Ann Atwood, Truth Mary Fowler, Jinna Johnson, Richard Wright and Annette S. Morrow.

"Popcorn flowers of catalpa
on the Spring lawn -
    Children confused."


This Haiku was sung by Helen S. Chenoweth from Los Altos Writers Roundtable and originally published in Borrowed Water (Charles Tuttle).

The popcorn imagery is pleasant and entertaining, describing the flower beautifully. It reminds me of the crape flower (crape myrtle) if it were white. Children would be surely confuse it with popcorn on the ground.  I salute  Helen’s flash of wit and gaiety.  A great Haiku originated from California, my second home! 

I will tell the Society of Roka Tokutomi in Kumamoto about this haiku.  I would be very happy if this haiku could help boost the number of attendance, even a little bit, for this year’s catalpa viewing and brighten the day of the people there.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

My Friend “Ace” Sang in Trieste

I call a friend of mine 'Ace' Ikeda, as he doesn’t mind being called by a nickname. He is multi-lingual and a multi-talented person. I have questioned him as to why he is so erudite in ancient European history, the Mediterranean in particular. He just modestly told me he was very fortunate in his younger days to travel Greece, Italy and Turkey a little longer than the average traveler. I know he has belonged to a chorus group for some time, singing “An die Freude” at each year-end from Beethoven’s No. 9 for Kyushu Symphony Orchestra.

Last summer, he told me he is singing for Italian operas, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, to commemorate the 150th year of diplomatic relations between Japan and Italy. Wow, that’s quite a relationship! It traces back to the Meiji Restoration! Alei-a-lei! I bought a ticket for the special occasion and enjoyed a competitive and harmonized opera production by an Italian/Japanese combination.

His New Year’s card read that he would be in Trieste, Italy in mid February and singing at the Verdi Theater. Wait a minute! The privileged Verdi Theater in Trieste? I can’t be indifferent to the glorious undertaking he is trying to accomplish. I congratulated him on a great opportunity to be at a rare destination, where Hapsburg Kingdom once reigned. I asked him to bring back as many photos as possible.

Trieste sounded close and friendly, first, because of Atsuko Suga’s famous essay “Upward Slope of Trieste”. I didn’t meet Atsuko in person but T. Suga, her uncle, was the boss at my freshman work. He often spoke of her proudly, promising to introduce her to me. I changed jobs and lost the chance. Second, the Irish James Joyce connection - I know Joyce wrote his “Dubliners” while he was an English teacher at Berlitz school in Trieste.

The NPO “Kitakyushu City Opera (KCO)” has existed since 1990, including years under its nascent Kitakyushu Music Association. The troupe launched its first production “La Traviata” by Verdi in 1993 and grew to win a Group Citizen Culture Award of Kitakyushu in 2013, thanks to Gudo Hasui, KCO Chief Director, as well as Sakuyo University visiting professor, well-known baritone singer, who had won a number of competitions not only in his soloist days in Italy but in other European countries; and thanks to the local fans, contributors, and business supporters. In 2015, the troupe performed Madama Butterfly in Lecce, southern Italy. The above mentioned 2016 operas I attended in Kitakyushu were jointly performed under an Italian conductor with major Italian singers.

I met with Ace Ikeda yesterday, who just returned from Italy and I learned that the KCO’s Trieste performance was a big success. The participating party consisted of about 40 members, including tea ceremony performers, and he is already looking forward to the next collaborative performance to be held either in Japan or Italy, which continues for the next three years.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Danny Boy

Oh, Danny Boy,
The pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountain side ….
But come ye back to summers in the meadow ….

This impassioned Danny Boy song I loved to sing often in my younger days. However, I had not questioned how the song originated, as I have presumed that it was one of the indigenous/traditional songs that had existed for a long, long time in Ireland. Recently I found a surprising story with a twist, which I want to share with you tonight.

In 1851, Jane Ross, a Londonderry woman, while listening to a traveling fiddler named Blind Jimmy McCurry, heard a beautiful ballad, noted it down in a hurry.  Jane was known as a keen Irish folk song collector.  She submitted the tune to Dr. George Petrie, an artist and musician in Dublin and it was then registered and published as “Londonderry Air”.  It was said many lyricists tried to make a song to match up to it, but none stood out.

At the turn of the 20th century, an unimaginable thing happened. Margaret Weathery in Colorado, US, happened to hear this Londonderry song played by an Irish immigrant band and sent it to her husband ’s brother Frederic in Somerset, UK.  The US Gold Rush to the West attracted immigrants, including the Irish, so the songs spread across the new continent.  

Danny Boy wasn’t born without a flash of wit.  Frederic Weathery was a lawyer, as well as a songwriter. As a matter of fact, he composed his version of Danny Boy but it never became popular. He placed the title Danny Boy to the song that came from the U.S. and it hit big with the arrival of the Irish tenor singer John McCormack.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Takahime (Hawk Princess) Part 2

With gradually rising tweets and faster wing fluttering movements, Takahime, the guardian of the well, starts wriggling and transforms into a goshawk, along with the heightened tempo of Noh ensemble of bamboo flute, hand drum and stick drum beats and chorus of ‘rock’ symbolizing grey colored masked Noh singers, as well as, Celtic Anuna singers.  Glittering long-sleeved robe of Takahime represents the gorgeous hawk’s two wing-mimicry.  Hypnotized by the guardian's terrible power, the old man is in trance state. Cuchulain must pass the guardian to the well for the miraculous water, but is hindered. He pulled his sword to fight. Takahime and Cuchulain sword fight intensifies to a climax. However, he is lured away from the well, which bubbles up. In his frenzy, he follows Takahime in her ascending flight, apparently forgotten that the water that would bring him immortality. When he recovers himself, the well water is gone and the old man is hopeless. He laments and begs the guardian to stay with him.

In Yeats’ “Hawk’s Well”, Cuchnulainn’s weapon is a spear. In “Takahime, the weapon is a sword. Yeats admired with awe the Japanese “Bizen Osafune” sword presented to him as surprise a gift from Junzo Sato when he traveled to Portland, Oregon in the US in 1920 for a lecture. He sang:

Is Sato's ancient blade, still as it was
Still razor-keen, 
still like a looking-glass
Unspotted by the centuries;
That flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn
From some court-lady's dress and round
The wooden scabbard bound and wound
Can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn.

Junzo Sato just happened to live then in Portland (on business) and saw a poster about Yeat’s lecture. He brought the sword to the U.S. It was probably his family treasure. Yeats' eulogy for Cuchulain is found in his plays “Death of Cuchulain” and “Cuchulain comforted”.

Upon my return home in Kyushu, I searched the YouTube site. A number of Hawk’s Well came up, beginning with the Nara performance where the same Gensho Umewaka, a living National Treasure, played Takahime in Shibuya. I watched Hawk Well in musical /opera formats, and experimental modern drama as well as Kabuki formats. Some of them were performed internationally – in Europe, U.S. and South America.  I know Yugen Theater, in San Francisco, specialized in its effort to promulgate Noh in California.  I remembered The Japan Foundation periodically sponsored traditional art performances like Noh and Kabuki. My  ex-employer in San Diego sponsored a couple, including the Kodo Drum troupe from Sado Island. Noh related associations in Tokyo are reportedly planning special Noh events for the participants from abroad with English subtitles in preparation for the year 2020 Tokyo Olympics. A nice incentive and gesture of welcome!

Anuna Choral singers stayed on stage from the beginning to the end, singing together with the Noh “rock” masked singers. I first thought their collaboration would come to an end sooner, so it was quite a surprise.  Reading an article by Michael McGlynn after the show, I understood what Anuna singers were trying to accomplish. Michael said they dare not compete with the Noh singers, nor try to harmonize at all. No room for competition like in opera, Michael wrote. They keep their chorus aloof and independent. It could be the breaths of humans, mythic sounds of the breeze and whisper, rustling of tree leaves, or lapping waves, created by plural voices of Anuna singers, each in different tone and scale, over and above the composite Noh ensemble including instruments, to be culminated as result in creating a piece of great artwork.  I was impressed.  Looking up the historical career, the Anuna Choral group was founded in 1987 to recreate and give a new life to medieval Irish  in the present era. Anuna singers have visited Japan often. They sang on the 1997 Japan Academy Award winning film “Princess Mononoke”, an epic historical fantasy anime directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

My Hino friend told me that the Anuna reminded her of “Holy Mother in Nagasaki”, a modern Noh written by Tomio Tada, in which a Psalm was sung by local high school girls.  I’ve heard that this Noh play was performed in New York and Boston some years ago and I’m putting it on my wish list to see it this year.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Takahime (Hawk Princess) Part 1

Thursday Feb 16, I was on board the Super Express Nozomi #4 bound for Tokyo from Kitakyushu. The dignified snow-covered Mt. Fuji showed up in a wintry landscape in 4 hours (see photo). I was in Shibuya by noon, witnessing the world's  busiest scramble intersection in front of Hachiko statue - Tokyoites’ popular rendezvous site.

My objective - meet old Hino friends, receive my reserved ticket, exchange accumulated info over a bite, watch together Celtic Noh at Orchard Hall, Bunkamura. Hino friends chose my favorite Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich which I have missed for so many years. Bunkamura offers great gourmet dining for theatergoers.

Photo courtesy of Masataka Ishida

Celtic Noh? Yes, Noh was brought to Ireland by poet Ezra Pound to the 1923 Nobel Laureate W.B. Yeats (WBY: 1865-1932) who produced a number of Noh plays, including “At Hawk’s Well”.  The Hawk’s Well was performed in London in 1916 with Michio Ito as the Hawk dancer. I saw a paper advertisement of “Takahime”, a Japanese version, or Hawk Princess last year performed in Nara to commemorate the centennial performance. At about the same time my friend in Hino, who knew I was a Celtic Noh fan, purchased an advance ticket for me for another Takahime; this performance a collaborative work with the Celtic “Anuna” Chorus.

The WBY’s Noh plays were all based on the Irish mythological and folk hero Cuchulain whom I willfully compare with Susanoo, a Japanese gigantic humanoid in the Kojiki Story.  To WBY, Cuchulain was an inspiration at the time Ireland strode forcibly toward independence since the 1916 Easter Rising, along with the Celtic Revival Drive.

Cuchulain means ‘hound’ of Culann in Irish. Legend has it that a boy Setanta, at a tender age, arrived alone late for a feast at the residence of the smithy named Culann who wasn’t advised about Setanta's coming. The fierce hound was set free for intruders while the feast was going on.  Setanta was attacked by the guard hound. He fought with the dog; grabbing it by the neck, smashed it against a tree, and killed it, as per “Cuchulain of Mag Muirthemni”, written (translated from Gaelic) by Lady Gregory, mentor, financial supporter, Abbey Theatre cofounder of WBY.

The most famous story of Cuchulain is “Tain Bo Cuailinge” (Cattle Raid of Cooley) that takes place during the prolonged war between two countries, Ulster (North) and Connacht (West), caused by bluster and greed of the King and Queen of Connacht.  Competing against the white bull owned and boasted by the King, the Queen wanted to acquire an equally powerful brown bull from neighboring Ulster. War started when Ulster refused to part with its brown bull. When the Ulster troops were cursed immovable under a spell, Cuchulain, off on the spell alone defended Ulster as the sole protector until there was a truce. My favorite Cuchulain’s escapade is his salmon leap, being chased all over Ireland by the formidable witch, around the Loop Head, the rocky seashore in Clare County, just like the famous cliff of Moher.

WBY"s thorough study of the Japanese Noh was impressive. He apprehended Jo-Ha-Kyu, philosophy of Noh, roughly translated to intro, break or develop, and acceleration, all actions or efforts should start slowly, speed up, then end swiftly rising to climax. His keen interests shown in the Noh masks reverberated in his London premier.

The play At Hawk’s Well is set by a dried up well on a desolate mountainside which is guarded by a hawk-like woman. An old man has kept camp there for fifty years, waiting to drink the miraculous waters from the well which occasionally rise up.

A call to the eye of the mind
A well long choked up and dry
And boughs long stripped by the wind
And I call a mind's eye
Pallor of an ivory face,
If lofty dissolute air,
A man climbing up to a place

心の眼もて見よ 泉は古く嗄れ果てて 樹枝は長く風にさらさるるを 心の眼もて見よ 象牙の如き青き面 すさみてもけだかき姿 ひとり登り来るを

Here arrives Cuchulain, knowing by hearsay that the waters bring immortality. The Old Man urges Cuchulain to leave, telling of his wasted lifetime there and how, even when the waters did rise up, he was thwarted by a sudden urge to sleep. Cuchulain, definitely in need, is determined to stay.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Choshu Samurai Aspiring to See Dawn of Meiji

"Trying to reverse a world of boredom and tediousness"

"What allows us to savor life is the richness of human spirit"

(Linked Poem by two, first stanza by Shinsaku Takasugi, second by Buddhist nun Motoni Nomura)

Shinsaku Takasugi (1839-1867) stood out among Meiji Restoration Loyalist Samurais as a theatrical performer, comparable to Ryoma Sakamoto, who mediated the Choshu/Satsuma Clans coalition to demolish Tokugawa Shogunate. Shinsaku, in appreciation, reportedly gave his prized pistol to Ryoma for self-defense later in Kyoto.

However, Shinsaku seemed a man of precise and nimble planning, shying away and keeping skillfully out of trouble, keeping to himself for possible contingency. He didn’t join the so-called Boshin War in Kyoto nor was involved in attacking foreign ships passing through the strait of Shimonoseki. He left his own clan four times without the clan's permission - worthy of crime and punishment - and was recalled instead whenever the weight of his presence was needed; a proof that his talent was highly valued by the clan, as Shoin Yoshida’s favorite disciple.

Takasugi had four enemies to combat: 1) against Tokugawa Shogunate; 2) against the “Deference Party” (faithful to the Shogunate) of his own Choshu Clan; 3) Naval Powers of the U.S., British, French and Netherlands, winners of the Battle of the Straits of Shimoseki; and 4) His own health affected by neglected cold and chronic tuberculosis.

1) and 2) were external and internal (civil) wars to Shinsaku. First he vigorously lead the militia comprising of Samurais, merchants and farmers of just 80, attacked the Deference Party at the Shimonoseki Station and won the internal battle decisively. If 1) and 2) were like a tiger at the front gate, 3) was the wolf at the back gate. Fortunately he had settled it as a clan peace negotiator before cases 1) and 2), disguised under an alias to represent his clan lord. Shinsaku claimed that Choshu bombarded foreign vessels just following the Shogunate directives and Shogunate should be responsible for the repatriations, while Choshu was exempt. Shinsaku stubbornly refused to lease an adjacent island to Shimonoseki to the foreign powers, as he knew how miserable Colonial Shanghai looked during his younger days on a trip to Shanghai. A British Ernest Satow, the translator of the Allied Powers, seemed very impressed with Shinsaku.

The Shogunate forces invaded Choshu at four corner's fronts. Shinsaku tactics were superb. He himself was engaged in two battle fronts, 1)Suwa Oshima in Seto Inland Sea and 2) Shogunate’s watchdog Ogasawara Clan in Kitakyushu. Shinsaku on board the steamship turned battleship (bought in Nagasaki) made a surprise night attack and sank a couple of Shogunate anchored vessels. 2) Shinsaku landed at Moji and spearheaded in front. The Choshu militia, equipped with modern weapons, surpassed mostly Ogasawara soldiers but met stronger Kumamoto soldiers, and seesawed for days. The news that Iemochi Tokugawa died changed the whole picture. All the Kyushu clans supporting Ogasawara retreated. Ogasawara clan who had to fight alone gave up and lit the castle on fire.

Shinsaku was heavily sick in bed fighting the flu linked with worsening TB. He was attended by his wife and a Buddhist nun, Motoni Nomura (1808-1867). Shinsaku hid in Fukuoka care of Motoni when he faced danger from the Deference Party above mentioned. He had to flee Choshu and sought refuge in Fukuoka. It was Motoni who rendered help. Motoni was a Fukuoka poetess but entered into Buddhist nunhood when her husband died. She had traveled to Osaka and Kyoto with her plan to publish her book. During her travel, she observed a new wave among the merchants and publishers to sympathize with loyalist samurai and she herself followed suit, assisting them secretly in her capacity. She was imprisoned by the Fukuoka clan and was exiled to an off-shore island of northern Kyushu. Shinsaku rescued Motoni, sending his friends, and brought her to Choshu, close to his home.

The poem cited at the top was sung between them while Shinsaku was bedridden. Motoni was honored as grandmother (or aunt) of Meiji Revolution along with hero Shinsaku. Her book was published soon after her death by her ardent followers in Choshu and Kyoto. The 150th anniversary of her death was celebrated on November 2016 both in Yamaguchi (Choshu, the site of her death) and in Villa Hirao, Fukuoka, where she sheltered Shinsaku.

Hawaii / Japan Connection

My old friend Hawaiian-Japanese Richard Miyao sent me the latest Hawaiian Newspapers reporting how Izumo Taisha in Honolulu celebrated its 110th Anniversary in October and November. Richard is a Korean War veteran who studied law and commenced practice first in San Diego. He deals with issues regarding immigration and offers other legal counseling. He also helped Japanese expatriates to charter San Diego Minato Gakuen, a Saturday school for our children.

He relocated to Hawaii when his father, Shigemaru Miyao, the Bishop of the Izumo Taisha was at an advanced age. I was amazed and surprised to read about the history of Izumo Taisha in Hawaii - the bishop performed marriages of 6,900 couples, during the early days - girls landed ashore from Japan were all picture brides! Shigemaru’s brother was the first Bishop. Sjhigemaru succeeded him after his brother's death. Izumo Taisha certainly was responsible for a lot of family beginnings.

Hawaii, the U.S. stopover for the Japanese, had ceased its function a long time ago when trans-Pacific flights refueling became no longer necessary. I’m not alone in grieving for opportunities lost to visit. Hawaii used to be the place for a businessman’s breather, particularly on our return trip to Japan, even for an overnight stay.

Today visiting Hawaii is regarded with envy. 
I had more than a dozen visits to Hawaii; my latest one  was 20 years ago.  Before my retirement and return to Japan, (my wife and) I took our last one-week vacation in Hawaii to meet and chauffeur my wife’s sister and her friends. We circled around the Big Island of Hawaii and drove to Lahaina in Maui. The Big Island is half  the size of Shikoku (where I was born). We departed Kailua Kona in the morning, then south to Captain Cook and circled round the southern end of Mauna Loa in a counter-clockwise circle.   We drove to Volcano National Park for an hour's stop and then to Hilo.  After lunch in Hilo,  we headed north to the Kohala mountains, via Honomu, Honokaa and Waipio Valley. It was close to sunset when we rounded the north point to Kohala Coast where the sacred open-air Puukohola Heiau is located. Finally, we  hurried back to our hotel in Kailua Kona before it got dark. 

Yes, “sacred” Puukohola Heiau! The name I almost forgot came back to me when, a month ago, I visited Izumo Taisha, the oldest shrine in Japan.  Annually in October, Izumo Taisha celebrates reunions of thousands of gods from all over Japan as the God Okuninushi (Great Land Master) acts as the presiding god. October, therefore, has been called the month of no gods in Japan, as all gods are congregated in Izumo.  Okuninushi secured this presiding privilege in lieu of his land transfer to Yamato Kingdom as per the “Kojiki”, one of the oldest chronicles of Japan. 

Thousands of gods arrive at Inasa Sacred Beach lit under bonfires and travel to the shrine Izumo Taisha.  I remembered Hawaiian gods gathered at sacred beach venues called “Heiau”.  Gods, either Hawaiian or Japanese, gather to create/renew the connections among them, thus to induce humans to bond together and love one another. Okuninushi is revered as the deity of happiness, good fortune and matchmaking. Izumo Taisha was adopted in Honolulu during the Japanese migration in the early 1900s, and despite WWII hardships, has long been dedicated to Japanese Hawaiian parishioners.  This is their 110th anniversary. 

I visited Izumo Taisha Honolulu perhaps about 30 years ago. It is located on Kukui Street close to the Foster Botanical Garden, and China Town across from  Nuuanu Stream.  Kukui is a Hawaiian word meaning “tree of light” and has a spiritual meaning. It was designated as the Hawaiian State Tree in 1959.  First and foremost, kukui was a canoe plant, whose seeds, roots and cuttings arrived with Polynesian immigrants.  They knew how valuable the tree was as it turned  the kukui into a virtual botanical factory; roast, bake, grind the kukui nut for medicine, dye, food, per the wisdom of their culture.  But, nothing beat the use as  a “torch” or “light”, when an oil-rich kernel of the kukui nut provided them with their primary source of night-time light. Kukui nuts were threaded onto the stiff midribs of coconut leaflets and burned as candles, hence their English name “candlenut”.  Today the main use is for making lie, necklaces, bracelets for Hawaiian custom and ceremonies, and occasionally for children’s spinning tops; also votive offerings of “kukui” wood-carved-pigheads to their Fire-Goddess "Pele" residing on Mt. Kilauea. Seems like Hawaii and Japan are bonded in the mythic connections of gods.