Sunday, October 13, 2019

Tokugawa's Logistic Legacy Reborn in Mizushima Bay Complex

During the Edo Period, Kurashiki prospered as an area directly controlled by the Tokugawa Shogunate as a logistic center, using Takahashi River and the Seto Inland Sea transportation. Distinctive white-walled, black-tiled warehouses were built to store rice bales and other goods. Upon the Meiji Restoration, factories were built, including the Ohara Spinning Mill, which still stands as the nostalgic tourist attraction spot in Ivy Square. Known today as Kurabo, or Kuraray, the conglomerates diversified their operations worldwide.

I recently visited Kurashiki for a reunion with two old friends of mine who grew up in Kurashiki. Let me call one friend Kawa-San (resides in Kurashiki), and the other Tani-san (from Kyoto). They were classmates at both Kurashiki junior and senior high schools. I came to know the two separately through two different employers I worked for. Very rarely did I become well acquainted with anyone that I knew when I lived in Japan. I met Kawa-san in New York and Tani-san in San Diego. My name probably came up during their conversation and developed into a triangular friendship. Late last year, Kawa-san proposed a reunion. Tani-san and I seconded but it took time to set the date. It was this summer when all three of us finally agreed to meet on a weekend in September.

The reunion took place at a hotel lobby. After lengthy chatting and a luncheon, we strolled along the Kurashiki art arcade and visited Ohara Art Museum, the nations’ first authentic art museum built by Magosaburo Ohara (1880-1943), an entrepreneur and philanthropist. We spent the rest of the day there. I have visited Okayama (about 15 minute away by train from Kurashiki) often for Toastmasters events but It was my first time visiting Kurashiki and Ohara Museum and I was excited.

On day 2, Kawa-san drove us to Mizushima Bay Industrial Complex, formed by the intricate deltas at the mouth of Takahashi River, inclusive of the reclaimed as well as refilled lands connected by bridges, upon the merger of three cities, Kurashiki, Kojima and Tamashima in 1967. The designated area, I learned, is over 2,500 hectares, including a number of small mountains, occupying about 7% of the total area of new Kurashiki City. It is huge, equivalent to 400 Tokyo Domes inside. Kurashiki Minato Bridge, built in 2017, and State Highway 430, connects Kurashiki and Tamashima near the complex.

The complex is divided into five areas (see the complex chart above), named clockwise from A to E, where Mitsubishi Auto, which settled there before the war, is designated as A. B is centered around the East Mizushima Station, now turned into an exclusively container freight train station, with its nearby port facility. Area C or Kojima Shionasu area, is occupied by Sanoyasu (shipbuilder) at the tip. D is on the delta land reclamation area with a golf course on the south end. E is southern Tamashima District, that includes the land reclamation connected with the Harbor Bridge. The man-made island at E is the hope of the entire complex as the container terminal, where ships like tankers and bulk carriers can anchor alongside the wharf. There are 30 or more companies located at each of the five zones, nearly 200 companies in total that includes chemical, gas and oil, power, steel, autos and others coexisting together in the complex. There are companies straddling multiple zones - Mitsubishi Chemical over B and C, JXTG Energy A and C, and Mitsubishi Auto A, C and E. The production output is reported to be half of that of Okayama prefecture.

Kawa-san, supervises 100 people daily serving engineering and maintenance works for industries in the complex since his father’s days. He must be awfully busy.

To conclude day 2, all three of us sat together at noon at the Washuzan lookout point in Kojima to enjoy a panoramic view of the Seto Inland Sea and the entire span of the Seto Ohashi Bridge and pledged another reunion in the near future.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Keiro Day for the Kitakyushu Einomaru District

September brings another “Keiro Day” for the old folks. It was more than 10 years ago that I began receiving invitations from our neighborhood association to attend the luncheon, which includes heart-warming and entertaining events. My wife started to attend shortly after.

I unfortunately missed some events in my early 70s, due to some selfish conflicts of overseas traveling. But I no longer have such worries, and look forward to this annual meeting with our Einomaru neighbors. We are fortunate to have a nearby hotel ballroom that easily accommodates a couple of hundred guests, and a free shuttle bus to transport us.

I will definitely recall the Sunday, 15th of September, the first year of Reiwa, under the new Emperor Naruhito which started April l, 2019. The banquet opened with the proclamation by the President of the Association. The mayor’s message was read, and the board members and crew of volunteer hostesses were introduced with big applause. The toast then proceeded to a luncheon. Served inside the wooden lunch box were delicacies of all lands and seas, and a separate bowl of thick custard soup. Delicious!

I had high expectations of listening again to the wind instrument band of the nearby “Hokuchiku Sr. High”. Yes, I had my wish come true and I nudged my wife’s elbow. Years ago, our daughter played clarinet in the SDSU Aztecs Band, a marching band with over three hundred members. As a matter of fact, she majored in music at San Diego State University in the US with a degree in music composition. I enjoyed many Aztec performances whenever they played at the SDSU football games. Occasionally, they played at special performances like when the San Diego Padres returned from the World Series (unfortunately Detroit Tigers won) and when President Ronald Reagan was running for reelection.

Hokuchiku Band is made up of only 50 members but filled up the small ballroom show stage. The music they played included:

  • “(Hikawa) Kiyoshi’s Zundoko Section - one of the Japanese Enka (ballad) masterpieces.
  • “Flowers Bloom” - lyrics by Shunji Iwai, composed by Yoko Kanno, a hit song to support the Great East Japan Earthquake Recovery.
  • Okinawa Song “Nada Soso” (Endless Flow of Tears)
  • Hibari Misora’s Great Song “Like the Flow of the Rivers”

The band played with young energy and passion. We sent them a storm of applause. Hokuchiku has recently won repeated Gold Medals at the annual Kyushu Senior High School Band Competitions. We are blessed with their high spirits and for their local community charitable contributions.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A New Human Species

My iPhone evening news bulletin alerted me. A 20-year old rookie Hinako Shibuno from Okayama, Japan won the LPGA British Open by a razor thin margin of one stroke. I was following her progress and knew she was leading the tournament on the third day.

I had to burn the midnight oil to see how she won on the final day. I saw Hinako lose the leading heat in the first 9 holes, but she still hovered in the spoiler position. In the home stretch of her last three holes, 16th through 18th, I watched 3 women Lizette Sails, Jin Young Ko and Hinako competing in a three-way tie, with no one ceding the lead. It was a nail-biting series! Lizette almost broke the tie and won except that she missed the birdy shot on the short 17th. Tension made Ko shy off on the 17th. Hinako knew she could beat Lizette if she made the 5 meter long putt on the 18th green. Even a great pro golfer might need 2 putts to finish unless a miracle happens. Then she proceeded to break the tie with Lizette who was already on the putting practice green in anticipation of the tie-breaker. A flash hit Hinako’s mind “enjoy & rejoice!” Her positive determination made the winning ball roll, crawl, lick the edge of the cup wall, and fall in with a thump as if it hammered in. Hinako made it look so matter-of-fact easy. The victory photo showed her left hand raising her Ping putter straight and high with a princess smile, ready to take her trip to Disneyland. Did Hinako's pose reflect what she pictured in her flashing mind just before her putt? You bet it did!

“A stunning victory,” said Ayako Okamoto, a veteran Hall of Fame golfer who won 17 US-based LPGA, including two Inamori Classics in which I was involved. However, Ayako missed the major tourneys such as US Open and British Open. It was Hisako or Chaco Higuchi who won the US Open in 1977, making her the first Asian champ. Okamoto heralded the arrival of new champ, Hinako Shibuno, as a “New Human Species!”

Saturday, July 13, 2019

San Diego TV Program Features Clara Breed

Hurray to the recent San Diego KGTV special program that featured Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! One of the highlights of the program was about Clara Breed, a San Diego Librarian (1906-1994). Let me applaud Rina Nakano who produced the program, having learned about hundreds of letters (she exquisitely called “letters of hope”) exchanged between the children of Japanese descent in the World War II internment camps and Clara Breed, then serving as the children’s librarian in San Diego. I hope Rina had a chance to visit the Japanese-American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles to see the original handwritten letters by the children. I went there myself in 1995, after Breed’s funeral. I had worked together with Clara Breed on the Planning Stage Committee of the Japanese Friendship Garden to be established inside Balboa Park. The committee was presided by Wil Hippen, Jr., Honorary Consul General of Japan. I represented my Japanese employer, and Clara was the voluntary substitute secretary of the committee. This was arranged by Liz Yamada, who sat on the committee along with Joe Yamada, her husband. I didn’t really know who Clara was at the time. I did notice that the minutes she wrote were superb and I voiced my appreciation.

I contacted Liz Yamada after reading Clara’s obituary, having learned about how a box full of children’s letters addressed to her have been donated to JANM. I immediately visited JANM and found the letters in the process of being scanned. I was able to copy some of them in the hope of writing about Clara Breed. I also contacted the Japanese-American Historical Society of San Diego (JAHSSD). Joyce League, then editor of JAHSSD “Footprint”, told me about a New York writer named Joanne Oppenheim who had started interviewing their members for a book. She advised me to wait for her book to be published.

To make a long story short, I read Joanne’s book, titled Dear Miss Breed, when it first came out and felt it my mission to translate it into Japanese. I wanted as many young Japanese children as possible to know that there was an American woman who gave “letters of immense help” and hope to the children who found themselves under adverse circumstances.

My translation had a print run of 6,000 copies in 2007 and I’m glad they reached all major metropolitan city libraries as well as libraries of major educational institutions in Japan.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Play named "Kesho"

"Stand if you can crawl
Walk if you can stand"
Even thus harshly reared/trained at tender age
His love grew to glimpse 'Mom', after life-separation

Komatsuza, a theatrical troupe specializing in works by playwright Hisashi Inoue, is putting on a series of his plays this year in a project called 'Memorial 10', celebrating his life works. Among them I found Inoue's signature play "Kesho" or "Make-up", a one woman show, once successfully acted by Misako Watanabe. Originally it started as a single act of 45 minutes. Then a second act of equal length was added by the witty playwright, inducing Misako to confess, "can I endure a 90-minute ordeal?"

I represented my employer in helping Misako Watanabe find theaters for her performances in Southern California in 1987. The request came a few months before her arrival, but I found it a terribly difficult task to find an open local theater where shows are usually booked a year or more in advance. On my first try, I could not find any San Diego theater available. I used friendly cultural connections to see if rigid rules could be bent. I had to meet theatrical managers or representatives in person. The language barrier was an issue as well. Throughout the play, Misako speaks close to 30,000 words in crude Japanese dialect quite rapidly. Even with English caption being shown, it was a challenge. Misako wanted to see the theater beforehand.

She was traveling with Chijinkai Troupe headed by Producer Koichi Kimura. At last, I was able to secure two theaters. One was the then Gas Lamp Theater, now reborn as the modern Lyceum at Horton Plaza. The Gas Lamp was an old, small theater with 100 seats. The other was the Carlsbad City Community Theater that had a few hundred seats. I believe she performed two nights in Carlsbad.

I read she fondly reminisced at her retirement of her cumulative 648 life performances, including those in France, Canada and US. While in Carlsbad, I took her to San Juan Capistrano for my favorite apple pie and coffee shop I used to frequent during my LAX-SD commute. I was glad she seemed so refreshed herself and enjoyed our casual drive together.

The play by Komatsuza is named Kesho and has two acts. However, there is a BIG change. Act One is performed by a female proprietor and Act 2 by a male proprietor. Good news was that Kesho was playing this weekend in Koga City, Fukuoka, just an hour away from Kitakyushu. The bad news was the tickets were all sold out.

P.S. - I recently found a book on my bookshelf – Misako Watanabe's book, "My Solo Trip, One Woman's Show". She autographed it for me as a memento of her San Diego stay. I saw that her book won the best essay prize in 1987 presented by the Japan Essayist Club.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Father's Day Weekend

My old Toastmaster friend Mr. Y called me earlier this month to remind me to attend his speech night on Father's Day weekend. He sounded elated. You'll be treated with the palm dates from my Chad friend, along with my palm date speech, he said.

He had a number of North African friends in connection with his IGES activities. I spiffed myself up with a hair-cut, put on my Father's Day gift – a persimmon colored flower-print shirt which came from my daughter in the U.S. Because I had a couple of errands to run that took a while, I was a bit late in arriving. I found the meeting room full. Usually the attendees number less than 20 with all our members attending. I saw close to 30 people there. Wow! The newspaper membership advertisement worked!

It was a night we call "Speech-a-(Mara)thon." I looked around. Mr. Y was not in. Panicked, I found his speech evaluator sitting close by. I sent her a message asking "Mr. Y"? The answer came back "he is absent tonight because of his sudden illness."

Then I noticed paper plates with palm dates on the table. Oh, my! Those are the dates he had talked about when he called me. I could not resist to beg for my 3-minute talk about the dates at the end of the Speak-marathon to thank him for the palm treats.

This was my speech:

"In place of Mr. Y, the would-be speaker #8 tonight, this is what I know about dates on the paper plates. Dates are called 'Arbor Vitae', fruits of life per the Quran, Prophet Muhammad. The palm grows in Arab countries, in the dry countries and desert under severe weather. The palm date, has served humans for a thousand years or more, and contains not only ample nutrition but minerals necessary for humans, such as iron, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus – a lot more than those found in vegetables. They should be indispensable to a woman's beauty. I know that the dates in the front were from his Chad friend for Father's Day. Let's pray for his early recovery and enjoy and thank him and his Chad friend for the delicious and nutritious treats.

And, for all the father's here tonight - , Happy Father's Day!”

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Takasegawa (Kyoto) Revisited

The May reunion of the Old Boys Japanese expats group who I befriended in San Diego CA took place in the heart of downtown Kyoto, Kiya-cho aka Pontocho. A bit early going outdoors, the Ganko-Zushi Nijoen banquet is set in the open-air deck facing Kamo River. The venue was once owned by Ryoi Suminokura (1554-1614, surname meaning "Corner Warehouse"), one of the Kyoto’s wealthy merchants, whom I introduced in my blog about 10 years ago along with the Takasegawa Canal he built and flat Takasebune boats. These boats are long gone, but reportedly hundreds of boats sailed up and down the ten kilometesr canal in the heyday between Fushimi and Kyoto. Ryoi built his Kyoto home at this diversion point of the Takase River from Kamo River.

The name Suminokura fascinated me as a forerunner of Kyoto business enterprises. The family earned their fortune from the so-called Nanban trade by the Shogunate authorized vessels. Suminokuras left registration at the Shogunate office, with a dozen applications as well as authorizations for their voyages from Nagasaki to Vinh, Vietnam. There was one shipwreck disaster incident and records showed Ryoi visited Nagasaki to comfort survivors of the shipwrecked boat. Takasegawa project seemed to be one of his smaller enterprises. Easing rapid Hotsu River to a transportable river for Tanba and Kyoto was another. With the help of his son named Soan, rivers in Kanto area, such as Oi, Tenryu were also candidates to tame, but he passed away before it was feasible. Ryoan's name is remembered as well in connection with Lake Biwa Channelling or Kyoto Channelling.

Upon our arrival at the Ganko-Zushi, we were lead to the venue deck through the magnificent Nijoen Japanese garden (see the map), as we admired a monolith waterfall, a small tea room garden made by a legendary tea master Enshu Kobori (1579-1647), huge stone lanterns (the biggest in Japan) in an Arbor style with a 250-year-old red plum tree. The site had more gardens, but was moved to the nearby Nijo Castle by Kyoto City.

We had nice sunny weather in Kyoto at the reunion, and all enjoyed the Ganko-Zushi outdoor banquet. Our coterie Grandfather Mr. Arthur Jonishi was there, received hearty greetings from all. We missed Mr. Iue greatly this year. Mrs. Kuwahara, the first Minato Gakuen principal was represented by her daughter Kasumi and her husband Norikazu. I reported Minato Gakuen celebrated 40th year anniversary in San Diego. At the end of 2018 there were 524 students enrolled at Minato Gakuen, including 38 in kindergarten, 18 in senior high, and the remainder were elementary and junior high students.

This Ganko-Zushi Nijoen Restaurant is facing Shimadzu Foundation Memorial Hall, built in 1975 to celebrate its 100th year anniversary at its original birthplace. Taking this great opportunity, I visited the Museum, arriving an hour earlier before the reunion. I had a very instructive tour. Dr. Koichi Tanaka of Shimadzu won the Nobel Prize in 2002. I read his biography in English, which seemed to impress those present. Here is Nobel Laureate Dr.Tanaka's autobiography site.

I wish to thank both Coterie Kanji Nishimura and Kawamura who chose Ganko-Zushi.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Is Paris Burning?

Photo by Maxime Naillon on Unsplash

On April 15th, the world was stunned with the fire news that toppled the Paris landmark Notre Dame Cathedral spire before the firefighters contained the blaze. I immediately thought of the excellent postwar movie "Is Paris Burning" to tell how and why Paris was saved from Hitler's order for its destruction.  In no time President Macron pledged to rebuild it at whatever cost.

The Cathedral was built in medieval days, ground breaking from 1163 to completion of 1345. It was equivalent to the Kamakura Shogunate days in Japan where temples of Zen Buddhism flourished.

Over 850 years, the Cathedral has seen coronations, French kings and Napoleon, trial of Joan of Arc, revolution, occupation, liberation, violent religious upheavals, terrorism, pollution, etc.

The aging decay of the cathedral was intolerable to Victor Hugo. He raged "As much beauty as it may retain in its old age, it is not easy to repress a sigh, to restrain our anger, when we mark the countless defacements and mutilations to which men and time have subjected our venerable monument."  His 1833 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame was his great rescue effort.

Found a poem written by Kotaro Takayama (1883-1956) who frequented while staying in Paris. I translated his poem for tonight. This is based on my “gut” translation and is not truly literal.

"Oh Nortre Dame!  Notre Dame!
Are you a  monolith?  A reigning eagle?  A crouching lion?
Or a celestial submerged rock?
Whatever you are, you are surely a grandiose Square Pillar of Paris.

Facing eye-blinding fusillades of rain drops
hand-beaten with strong wind
I"m narrowly looking up at soaring Notre Dame de Paris
with my rainy weather eyes
I'm a Japanese visitor

My mind is trembling in awe just looking up at you
Having observed your tragic but brave drama!
My foreigner's heart was shaken with beats and shivering in echo with
the pandemonium uproar!"

Friday, May 3, 2019

Essay Awards Ceremony Memories

The "Heisei" era lasted for 30 years to be replaced by "Reiwa" in a few days with Crown Prince Naruhito succeeding as Emperor. My retirement in the U.S. and homecoming to Japan was unforgettably remembered in the year 1995 of the Great Kobe Earthquake, which was the 7th year of Heisei. It means I have been back in Japan now for 23 years.

Japan surprised me with frequent earthquakes and flash floods, the impermissible crime sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by a religious cult, the sudden bankruptcy of Yamaichi Securities Trading with 200 billion Yen debts,  and the ensuing deflationary economic trend and unusually prolonged stagnation plaintively dubbed the "Lost 20 Years". I remembered my American friend's question, "Why are you heading back to Japan?"

Here I am in disaster-prone Japan, getting older each day, relearning living is getting old. Late last year, I saw Kitakyushu City inviting submission of essays for the first time from those who celebrate 88 years by the end of November, in addition to the annual novel, poem and Haiku.  I decided to apply, writing about my life after the homecoming.   Around mid-January, I was notified that my essay was selected as prize worthy by the committee with an invitation to the ceremony at Otani Keikan Hall in Yawata on March 24. The award winning writings were collected in a publication called Hibiki.

The day came.  I was accompanied by my son who happened to be visiting from New York City.  About 30 prize winners for various categories from all over Japan attended with their friends and families at the ceremony.   Of the said essay category by “eighty-eighters”, three were Kitakyushuans, two from Sendai and Nagano.  Ms. Minako Goto, President of Kitakyushu Association of Literature gave out certificates of awards to all the winners. The Chair of the ceremony was Ms. Tae Wakasugi.  A celebratory banquet followed, with various entertainment (some by the award winners), attended by Kitakyushu Mayor Kitahashi and Ms. Imagawa of Kitakyushu Museum of Literature.  I was lucky enough to thank Mayor Kitahashi in person for his gift of money for my "Beiju" celebration.

The event was held at Otani Kaikan Hall with symmetrical Art Deco style architecture, built in 1927.  The building was then owned by Yawata Steel Works, but it is now open to the public.   It received the Kitakyushu City Architectural Culture Award in 1989 and was registered as a modern architectural heritage in 2007.  My memory is still fresh also, as the site of dining with the Moes before building Kitakyushu Toastmasters Club.

P.S. - Coming soon!  I am printing a small booklet of my prize winning essay, both in Japanese and English, of about 20 pages plus.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Of Mice and Men

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy ! 
- "To a Mouse"  by Robert Burns 

Another ski season!  George, my best friend in Pardubice, Republic of Czech, sent me his recent Toastmaster speech, titled “Of Mice & Men”, my favorite novella and play by John Steinbeck.  I featured him in my blog “Silver Iron”, a top skier in the authentic Orlicky Half Marathon Cross Country (XC) event in 2012.  

His venture this time, he fell more than once in the Hervis Jizerske 25, completing a circular loop, both thousand meter level ascending and descending trail.  I asked him about snow conditions and he answered it was perfect. Sounded like the trails were overcrowded with fellow racers, which brings me to the Burns poem. Anything can happen suddenly to upset your expectations, however perfect a plan you have made.  I wrote to George “But You made it!  Bearing pains and cramps.”  Steinbeck quoted Burns poem and used it as a title of his novella. 

Krkonose!  The top Czech mountains and National Park in northern Bohemia and the source of River Elbe, bordering  Poland. George told me about Giant Krakonos (Rubezahl in German) that inhabits and tricks men in a friendly manner, symbolized in wooden carved statutes along the mountain paths.  I loved the sound of Krkonose. It must be a lovely summer resort as well.  The town Nachod, the birthplace of Jan Letzel, the architect of the Hiroshima Dome, sits at its foot.  I visited the Jan Letzel College of Architecture accompanied by Toastmaster George in 2005.

I have loved both Burns and Steinbeck ever since I was a student.  While traveling in Mexico after retirement, I met a woman who was completing Burns’ works. When I visited her house in Los Angeles, she showed me part of her research papers before she died. Regarding Steinbeck, I had visited his Salinas home a long time ago. I also visited the National Steinbeck Museum built in 1998 in Salinas. Traveling to Monterey, California on business, I took the time to visit Cannery Row to Fishermen’s Wharf.  Both literary giants have inspired me greatly.

George also seems enjoying running with friends to keep him physically fit for winter sports, the source of his stamina.  Go-go-go George! 

Of Mice and Men
by Jiri Pscenicka

My dear toastmaster friends. Some of you may remember that about a month ago Eda and I took part in Orlicky Half Marathon. A cross country-skiing race on a windy day and in a bit tricky snow conditions. Well we both had falls there, traces of which remained for some time on our faces. Perhaps some of you said: „Is it wise for men of their age to do such things? Well, George is an old fool, but Eda is a respectable doctor, he should know better!“ Our answer would be: But we LOVE cross-country skiing!“

My next love affair with cross-country skiing happened just 6 days later. Hervis Jizerská 25, a race in which I took part a year ago. I considered the race in the Jizerské Mountains much easier than the Orlický half-marathon. So my expectations were high. Last year I was too shy, I started almost from the end of the field and I overtook many skiers during the race. I finished even in the first half of result list (which never happened to me in the Orlický marathon), so this year I planned to start from the front. „More assertivity, George!“ I said to myself.

To prove my assertivity I placed my skis in the fifth row from the front. And OFF we went! Well, my first impressions from the race were promising. I was not overtaken by many people and when we came to the first uphill part, I said to myself:“ Jolly good show, George! Your choice of ski-wax was good“. Some people were sliding backwards, some already had to use herringbone, but my Silver Swix Klistered skis slided beautifully up the hill!  So, full of hope, I eagerly moved forward. But on the 3rd km it happened. A girl fell right in front of me! And when I was avoiding her, I fell too. I managed to get up quite soon. But I felt an excruciating pain in the back of my left thigh. „ Oh dear, it must be spasm! I went to the right side of the track trying to massage it. It did not help. So I limped very slowly forward cursing myself that I had forgotten to take with me Nutrend Magnes Life solution which is supposed to help against spasm immediately.

On the 5th km there was the first refreshing station. I drank ion drink there and asked the volunteers: „Have you got something with magnesium? I have a terrible spasm in my left thigh!“ They did not, but they offered me kitchen salt instead which should also help. A girl brought it in a big open box. I grabbed it in my left glove and put it in my mouth. Ugh! A terrible taste. But I was too shy to spit it out, so I went on. And then I said to myself: „George, you old fool, you should have taken salt first and then the drink!“ I salivated profusely for the next 10 km to the second refreshment station to get rid of the unpleasant feeling in my mouth. And there I asked: „Just the drink, no salt, please!“ 

After the fall my ordeal was to limp for 22 km to the finish. I moved a bit like Vladka on her scooter. The weight of my body was mainly on the right leg, the left one was flapping behind. Luckily, I had two ski poles and two arms to push me forward. And also, the circuit of 25 km race was oriented in anti-clockwise direction, which meant that most bends were to the left, when the body weight is on the right ski. But crowds of people were now overtaking me. At the start we had a snowfall, but later the sky cleared up and the sun was shining! From the upper parts of the course between Čihadla and Hřebínek we could see rolling hills down below. „Po modrém blankytu bělavé páry hynou, lehounký větřík s nimi hraje!“ (* See translation below), I recited loudly to other skiers. But nobody was interested in poetry. They just panted heavily overtaking me. (Well, if they were Germans, Swedes or Norvegians, that might be an excuse.) I noticed one thing which made me afraid: A lot of girls kept falling even in very easy downhill parts. They usually screamed, threw about their arms and fell on their buttocks. At one time I saw three of them on the ground and had to do slalom to avoid them. Well, there was only one sharp bend to the right before the finish. And I fell there, as could have been expected. But I got up quite quickly and finished the race. A girl at the finish slipped a ribbon with a massive glass medal round my neck. But I was unable to loosen binding on my left ski. Somebody had to do it for me.

Now you must be thinking: „Did old George also hit his head apart from his buttocks in the race? Why did he call his speech „Of Mice and Men“, when he talks about skiing?“ Well, it is purely for educational purposes.  „Of Mice and Men“  is a novella by American author John Steinbeck. But he himself was inspired by a poem „To a Mouse“ by the Scottish bard Robbie Burns. In it he says: „The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.“ That’s exactly what happened to me! Expecting triumph I met with disaster! Great Expectations gone with the wind! 

Oh, George, don’t be so hysterically histrionic! Your fall was not a disaster, it was just a minor mishap! No broken bones. You were able to finish the race. You should be grateful to God for getting away so easily. Yes, I am grateful to God for that, I know I might have finished much worse off. And here is the question again: „Was it worth it?“ My answer is: „Yes, it was. I love cross-country skiing.“

* In his speech, George recited Karel Hynek Macha (1810 - 1836), Czech's romantic poet in his native language (I took as his curse). This poet was a young judge. I asked the meaning in English. He gave me the following answer.

"In the azure vault of heaven the blanching mist are dancing. In light dissolving zephyrs tattered,
And on the far horizon scattered white cloudlets over the placid sky go glancing."

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Chapultepec Park, Mexico

Anyone recall Mexico Olympic 1968, the year the Japanese women's volleyball team lost the Gold Medal to the Russians; the expression ”Wonder Women from the Orient” became popular?

My first visit to Mexico City was 1958, and my stay was for one month. There was an Industrial Fair and I was to sent to man the show booth and President Lopez Mateos (48th) dropped by. There was no subway running then. The subway opened almost with the 1968 Olympic. I used un-peso coche to commute to and from my hotel and the Fair venue at Chapultepec Park.  Anyone could share a taxi just pointing the finger up and the fare was just one peso along the Paseo Reforma.

The 700 acre (cf. 850 New York Central Park) Chapultepec is full of lush, sprawling green trees, serving as the city lungs that replenish oxygen to the citizens. 

Chapultepec means grasshopper’s hill in Spanish. The summer house built for the Spanish Viceroy in early 1800 served as a military academy, then became a Castle, later designated as the UNESCO World Heritage site.  Short-lived were Emperor Maximilian, brother of the powerful Franz Joseph, Austrian Emperor, King of Hungary, resided here with Empress Carlota.  Why was Maximilian in Mexico after the Mexicans chased out the Spaniards?  Because of  French intervention. Mexico borrowed money from Europe, England, France and Spain to achieve independence. Strapped for funds and having to pay interest, Mexico asked for a moratorium, to which Napoleon III refused, then invaded Mexico. I opened a history book and found there was a call for a return to monarchism in Mexico.  France accepted the moratorium with the condition that Ferdinand Maximillian be accepted as Emperor. After his downfall, Maximillian could have gone home, but he stayed and was shot to death. His last words, Viva Mexico, Viva Independence.

Maximillian's accomplishments while he was in Mexico include building Paseo de la Reforma just like Champ-Elysees in Paris, and preserving serene Jardin Boda in Cuernavaca, 30 km west of Ciudad de Mexico. He had a special interest in botany.  

Sunday, January 27, 2019

A History of Sweets

Have a sweet tooth?  Listen up!

My speech I gave at Toastmaster's recently was about the history of sweets, favorite things to many, I'm sure. Relax in your chair and enjoy.  Maybe even close your eyes.

Before Christopher Columbus, the world didn't know anything about chocolates - such a delicious treat didn't exist.  It was Hernandez Cortez, the Spanish Conquistador, who introduced it, borrowing the name from the language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, "xocolatl".  This word is built on xococ "bitter", a drink made by a sugar free people from Cacao, itself from Naguato cacauatl "cacao".  Similar Aztec words are avocado, coyote (wild animal, smuggler), tecolate, chipotle. Chipotle is the top California Mexican grill.

Now let us review the Mayan myth a little bit. God was creating the world to be fair and well-balanced:

Give country A a vast land but, be harsh in climate.

Country B is small - let's compensate it with delicacies from land and sea.

Now comes Mexico. Fairly good sized but mostly desert and hot. God said OK, leave it as is....  God heard a shadow voice. "It's a pity to leave it as is. Can you add something?"  So God sent Quetzalcoatl to check it out. He brought many goodies to Mexicans: corn, cotton, and cacao in particular, my subject tonight.  But this benefactor god, disguised as a feathered serpent, vanished suddenly.

Cortez, Spaniard I mentioned above, landed in 1519, the year Quetzalcoatl was believed to return. Cortez faced no resistance. Instead, Cortez was welcomed by Montezuma, a Mayan Emperor. Montezuma served Cortez in golden goblets, a "Theobroma" ritual.  In Greek, theobroma means food from God.  Cortez found it bitter, and did not find it to his taste. However, Montezuma reportedly drank 50 chocoatl a day. To make the concoction more agreeable, Cortez and his countrymen added vanilla and other miscellaneous ingredients.

The Spaniards took chocolatl to Europe.  It gave a sudden rise to all kinds of confectioneries and world enterprises. After many centuries, companies like Hershey, Godiva, Nestle, See's, Mars, Kinder, and Dove survived, just to mention a few. I'm sure you know them well.

Many thank Cortez for adding tasty pleasures, tickling our taste buds and giving us moments of sweetness. Today’s talk was just a tasty slice of history.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt*;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder*
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

(Joy, oh what a godly sparking, daughter of Elysium, drunk with fire we're embarking, blissful, in your holy room Your spell's magic mends each other's ties our customs strictly breach, all the people will be brothers where your gentle wing shall reach)

One miracle in postwar Japan has been that people say the year isn’t over without listening to a chorus singing the 4th movement of Symphony No. 9 (affectionately called “Dai-Ku” in Japanese) composed by Master Ludwig Van Beethoven. Major cities as well as the local cities, Hokkaido to Kagoshima embrace Philharmonic Orchestras’ performing this choral symphony at the close of each year, some even being performed on New Year's Eve. Let’s explore the background story, tracing some historical twists from both World War I (WWI) and World War II (WWII).

Why and how this tradition came to be, comparing, for instance, to Germany where very limited yearly performances are reported. For one thing, Japan was the first country in Asia where the chorus echoed triumphantly by Germans who performed the piece under unusual circumstances. It was the year 1918 (just one hundred years ago). German POWs from WWI were detained in Bando City camp, Tokushima in Shikoku (see 12/28/2010 post for details). I visited Bando Concentration Campsite, Tokushima in 2010. The memorial German House opened in 1972 with exhibits of utensils German POWs used to bake bread, make ham and sausages, etc. What was fascinating was a diorama and a robotic theater illustrating the Germans playing Beethoven’s “Dai-Ku” symphony, with instruments in their hands and a chorus group (men only). Dai-Ku performance was recorded in Tokyo under the Japanese conductors since 1920s. In 1927, the former NHK orchestra played under Joseph Koenig. Conductor Hidemaro Konoe directed Dai-Ku 10 times between 1928 and 1935. Joseph Rosenstock conducted the former NHK orchestra in 1938, the year celebrating 100 years after Beethoven’s death.

At the end of 1947, “Dai-Ku” was performed as a tribute to all young students killed during WWII. After 1940, Dai-Ku went to Kansai and spread further to major cities, including Kitakyushu, the town where I live. The biggest ever Dai-Ku performance was at Osaka Castle Hall which accommodated a 10,000 piece choir sponsored by Suntory Company. The 38th Dai-Ku was performed last December. Surprisingly, age of the performers varied from six to 97. Basically there was no audience. It was 1971 when “An Die Freude” was adopted to become the EEC National Anthem. It it great all EEC countries could unite under the same flag and the same anthem.

I was in Vienna in 2005 and Beethoven Garden at Karlsplats but not the Museum at Heiligenstadt, at the north end of Wien. I had a chance to visit Gustav Klimt’s Secession to see the famous “Beethoven Please” mural on two bent walls where Klimt visualized “Dai-Ku”. (Visit site to see a small portion)

Lastly, I’d like to introduce the Kitakyushu Citizen Chorus Group, called Freude Call. My friend Ace Ikeda (appearing in 4/9/2017 post, who visited Heiligenstadt) sent me the attached “40th Anniversary” brochure. Quoted below are voices of three long time members. Touichiro Izu, tenor, former (lst) President – “Congratulations on 40th anniversary year - my memory is still fresh like it was yesterday, starting with 300 members - Let’s look forward to the next one.” Rui Yoshida, alto - “I joined first when I was in 6th grade, together with my mother, then restarted about 5 years ago, with refreshed resolution - I like mostly high pitch melody of Double Fugue but have a hard part that is difficult to sing well and am still practicing.” Yasuko Hanada, soprano - “after 10 years of trying, my voice now comes out smoothly without much effort - wish to pass on the knowledge to future generations.”