Sunday, December 26, 2021

Kamishibai (Paper Theater)


The World Kamishibai Day Celebrated its 20th Anniversary on Dec 7, 2021.

My daughter in Santa Barbara, California was surprised to hear about the celebration, claiming Kamishibai a lost art of storytelling. She should remember them from her preschool days in Japan, even though she did not spend much time there. She says she remembers seeing live theatrical performances called “Fairly Tales in the Park”. With a cast of 4-5 actors, this troop performed short plays for children at different parks. They were quite entertaining, dressing up as different characters and using props. It was much different from watching a movie or TV. I believe this performing group surprisingly still exists. I don’t recall ever taking my kids to see Kamishibai. When they were young, I took them to library programs and bookstore events before bookstores disappeared.

Kamishibai, the Japanese paper theater or picture story card show, once flourished during the depression years in the 1930’s that saved many unemployed adults, but disappeared at the advent of World War II. I sensed its revival while living overseas.

What I recollect about Kamishibai was how it demonstrated its power to communicate when the new Japanese Constitution was promulgated in 1948, using the old medium of popular entertainment to educate. An attentive street crowd was informed about important impending changes. The banner and sign advertised the new constitution coming into effect. The photo attached was taken from the famous book, Embracing Defeat by John Dower. Tokujiro Kanamori (1886-1959), State Minister under Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida was strongly involved.

The latest World Kamishibai Day initiative promotes the idea that Kamishibai lessons can imprint unforgettable memories in children, invoking the same level of curiosity and enthusiasm from rivaling content on smartphones and tablets.


The San Diego Library “Rebellious Miss Breed” retrospective purportedly continues ‘from Sept 2021 to Jan 2022' and its Kamishibai special program was scheduled at the Rancho Bernardo public library on November 19. I asked my friends, the Kaneko family, living nearby, to attend if possible and report back. Kaneko-san attended with her son’s family, including grandchildren aged 8 and 6. To my and their disappointment, no Kamishibai plays related to Miss Breed were performed that day. However, the grandchildren seemed to have enjoyed them all. The following three Kamishibai were performed by Mr. Walter Ritter, the narrator/performer, surrounded by 10 adults and a dozen children that made up the audience.

  1. Taberareta Yamanba, The Mountain Witch that was Eaten
  2. Chinese folk tale
  3. American tale

According to Mr. Ritter, two Kamishibai stories related to Miss Breed are available. I tried looking for a performance date, but could not find any. They are Boy Tetsuzo, about whom I know and talked to person, and Fusa Tsumagari.


One of the most well-known original stories that was first performed using Kamishibai was Ogon Bat (The Golden Bat), a Japanese superhero created in 1931. The popular character eventually made the transition to manga and anime adaptations.

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Tango as Therapy

Few visitors to Boca Raton, Florida, known for its affluence, imagined the area means literally 'the rat’s mouth'. This same Boca in Buenos Aires was named to its port by European immigrants. Today "Boca" thrives as "Junior Boca", young soccer teams adorned by local kids. La Boca, however, wears another face there. It is a popular destination for tourists, like me, to visit colorful houses and pedestrian street “Caminito”, where Buenos Aires tango dancers graciously and sensuously perform.

In 2001, I extended my trip to Brazil-Uruguay-Argentine (bordering Iguaz Falls) to Buenos Aires for two reasons: 1) to attend Buenos Aires Toastmasters meeting and; 2) to visit La Boca.

I took special social dancing lessons in my late teen days until I changed my major from economics to English. My favorite lessons were the waltz and the tango. When I heard music like La Cumparcita ("The Carnival", 1917) or Yira-Yira ("Go Round and Round", 1931), I was so exhilarated. I kept my dancing shoes separate from the family show rack. Lo, I haven't danced the Tango for a long time now.

In tango, steps, or rather leg glides, "Caminando" in Spanish, meaning "walking" is non-stereotype. The couple synchronize with the music, you and your partner and the environment. You follow no single specific rhythm. Because the dance is led and followed at the level of individual steps, the variations can occur from one step to another. This allows dancers from one step to the next, to vary the dance from moment to moment to match the music and the mood. I like the tango flexibility.

Another thing, tango lines your two kneecaps close, corrects your carriage, keeping your posture straight. I felt very refreshed, blowing off my stress after Tango dancing. Tango may be good for physical fitness, akin to Judo or Aikido. Strange that Tango has a therapeutic effect, blasting away daily stress. People in La Boca gathered to free themselves from nitty-gritty lives of poverty.

Tango music sprouted around the turn of the century (1900) in Boca neighborhoods. Most well-known was Carlos Gardel, a French-born Argentine singer, songwriter, composer and actor. Initially it seemed he had a tough time initially, even unable to buy Mate tea to drink, but gradually overcame the challenges. He succeeded in performing in New York and was a huge success.

Alas, he met a tragic death when his plane crashed in Medellin, Bogota in 1935.

I participated one night in Buenos Aires Toastmasters gathering named Morris Gellman and was welcomed as a speaker from the Orient. I remember I talked about Japan as volcanic islands archipelago. I am happy to report the Club is sound and going strong. Big cheers! I befriended Lidia Cobo, with whom I exchange emails. Below is a photo of the Cobo sisters.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

4215 Trias

I read the obituary of Miss Clara Breed when I was visiting San Diego as a traveler after retiring from Kyocera. I met Clara several times in the late ‘70s at a fundraising board meeting of the San Diego Balboa Park Friendship Garden project, with the Honorable Japanese Consulate General Will Happen Jr. as President, Clara as secretary (requested perhaps by Joe and Liz Yamada) sitting on the Board, and me, representing my employer - Kyocera.

The obituary opened my eyes to her career as the ex-President of San Diego Public Library, and her close associations with the Japanese community, especially with children during the very dark period when they spent their days in concentration camps during World War II.

I wrote "4215" with my felt-tipped pen, followed by "Trias" on the notebook I carried then and it became my Breed notebook ever since. Trias in Mission Hills, San Diego is located a bit north of Fashion Valley on the slope. The neighboring Hillcrest has UCSD Medical Center Complex on the plateau. I frequented the above mentioned Honorable Japanese Consul General Wil Hippen Jr.’s residence close to Presidio Park for various projects which included the Japanese Naval Force band reception on Ports Call.

Losing husband Ruden, a pastor, Clara’s mother Estella arrived in San Diego in the 1920s, invited by Estella’s sister and her husband. Clara graduated from San Diego High as an honor student. Her school activities were diverse - art, horseback riding, tennis and making graduation albums. She made her own miniature house zoo, feeding foxes, raccoons and possums. I assumed early San Diegans enjoyed a life close to nature.

In the obituary, I read Clara kept a boxful of letters from children and when I called Liz Yamada, she already donated them to the Japanese-American National Library (JANL). She introduced me to Tetsuzo Hirasaki for a meeting and I had a valuable conversation with Tetsu (he passed away shortly after we met).

I visited JANL and copied a few letters from children reading “Dear Miss Breed” as samples. I was told the library was in the process of sorting through them and would take at least six months to finish. Joanne Oppenheim, the author of the Dear Miss Breed (Scholastics), miraculously found out about Miss Breed by inquiring at JANL about her Japanese classmate and started interviewing 'Miss Breed's children'. I heard about Joanne’s interviews through Liz and waited until her book came out in 2006.

The Japanese edition of Joanne Oppenheim's book came out in July 2008. Not bad! The translation took me two years (I wish to thank Eisho-no-Kai members for partial translation) and only had to count days needed to find a publisher. Luckily, Kashiwa Shobo in Tokyo came to my rescue.

I have to thank Teiko Uemura as my great self-sacrificing partner. She helped organize the manuscript into a fine, neatly typed Japanese version. I met her at Kumamoto Toastmasters Club and we bonded over sharing a cordial spirit. She later moved to Hachioji, Tokyo but we remain tied in the same spirit.

Latest Honors bestowed upon Clara Breed:

2014: California Library Hall of Fame by California Library Association

2007: San Diego Women Hall of Fame in the Cultural Bridge Builder category

2006: Smithsonian Institute incorporated four of the Dear Miss Breed letters into lesson plans to be used in Business School documents

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

One Hundred-Towered Prague

One Hundred-Towered Prague
by Czech Republic poet Nezval (1900-1958)

One hundred-towered Prague
City with fingers of all the saints
With fingers made for sweating falsely
With fingers from the fire and hail
with a musician’s fingers
with shining fingers of a woman lying on her back.

With fingers of asparagus
with fingers with fevers of 105 degrees
with fingers of frozen forest and with fingers without gloves
with fingers on which a bee has landed
with fingers of blue spruces
With fingers disturbed by arthritis
With fingers of strawberries
With spring water fingers and with finger of bamboo

Reflecting on my limited global travel experience, I wish to strongly recommend to friends - be sure to include Prague if you are planning to go to Europe.

Prague can offer unusually deeper cultural / historical insights than any other European city. I shall say better than Vienna, London, Paris, etc. You can witness old and new architecture; Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, Rococo, even Art Nouveau and contemporary - castles, churches, monasteries, libraries, museums, gardens and parks. I read and heard comments by visitors to Prague saying that it was as if they were visiting a fairyland.

The above quoted Czech poet Nezval also wrote about the River Vltava running through Prague:

‘Bon voyage, Vltava!' Your bubbly string playing string for us glorious tunes along with harp while the Vysehrad* soaring up in the bright moonlight as if straining its ears to listen to Vltava".
(*Vysehrad - the name of the hill where the Prague castles or fortresses are)

Nobel Laureate poet Jaroslav Seifert also referred to Vltava as his river of hope and faith. And Bedrich Smetana dedicated his first symphonic poem “My Fatherland” (in Japanese) to Prague. The Czech name of this symphony is “The Moldau”, meaning Vltava in German. I enjoyed the Vltava riverboat cruise when I was there.

My favorite Mucha’s artwork are St.Vitus Cathedral’s stained glass windows. I remember there is a colorful area called Golden Lane where it was rumored alchemists transformed lead into gold. In reality, the area was home to the castle’s gunners and goldsmiths, where Franz Kafka once lived. The strangely named “Powder Tower” enchanted me.

I returned often to Wenceslas Square recalling the so-called Prague Spring or Velvet Revolutionary demonstrations. In the Old Town Square, I marveled at the old but still operating astronomical clock and bustling flea market.

My visit to Czech was in the spring of 2005 when I visited the Architectural College named after Jan Leztel (1880-1925), the architect who built the Hiroshima Prefecture Business Exhibition Hall Building. The building itself was destroyed by the Atomic Bomb in 1945 but the dome skeleton has been famously kept as a war memorial, now designated as a UN Heritage site. The college is in Nachod, East Bohemia, a border town to Poland through Krkonose Mountains (see riosloggers 2009).

Monday, October 18, 2021

8611 Balboa Ave, San Diego

A godsend found among my many yellow tinged papers is a checkout receipt dated May 1, 1957 from the Lafayette Hotel and Club, 2223 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, together with the paper clipped article about the hotel’s renovation. A quote from the newspaper reads, “Built in 1946, Lafayette offers deluxe guest rooms, including one- and two-bedroom suites with fireplaces, libraries, mini-bars and large terraces. The complex surrounds the original 25-meter swimming pool and patio courtyard”. My receipt was for $8 per night.

I don’t know why this Lafayette Hotel, far from downtown San Diego, was chosen by our travel agent. Surely there were many other hotels located closer to San Diego’s Lindbergh Airport. Perhaps their austere choice was influenced by the fact that our trip was sponsored by a Boston company to conclude a technology assistance agreement, and the Japanese Government had yet to liberalize the yen — so Japanese citizens had no access to purchase U.S. dollars.

I had a free Sunday morning to walk around the Lafayette grounds on El Cajon Blvd. Amusingly, the cross-streets on the left were named Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, Arizona on the right. Jacaranda trees along the streets were in full bloom with purple flowers. They looked so beautiful like the Japanese cherry blossoms.

Never had I dreamed that I would live in San Diego for 20 years. When I had a chance to revisit the Lafayette, I was surprised that the hotel had become the local Immigration Bureau. I had to accompany our family there when they arrived.

Another surprise was the Honeywell Building on Balboa Ave., in Kearny Mesa. In 1957, my boss informed me that Honeywell had agreed, in writing, to show us their plant. We went there only to be detained by their on-site security. Why? They show the plant only to customers. Period. Yes, my employer produced some competitive products, but Honeywell also made many products that were not in competition with goods made by my employer. The misunderstanding was cleared up and we walked through the plant only in the areas for non-competitive products.

In 1973, I joined Kyocera at the Kearny Villa Plant in Kearny Mesa, within walking distance of that Honeywell facility. My primary job, in addition to being the plant controller, was to build a new bigger ceramic plant at a 17-acre site, obtained through the San Diego Economic Development Corp, with the help of construction consultants such as Frank Hope & Associates and Nielsen. Critical was solving the high-tension power transmission line issues involving SDG&E professionals, but we got past them and had final blueprints ready for local bidders. The construction teams were elated.

Then out of blue, the 21-acre land, 288,000 square foot plant facility Honeywell Plant I had walked through 15 years ago, went up for sale! Unbelievable! The dilemma now was either to stick to the construction plan or to make a windfall deal? Kyocera’s decision was a wise one – to buy rather than build. “The greater embraces the less” goes the proverb. In short, Kyocera's diversification requirements and Honeywell's cash requirements matched up perfectly. The address of 8611 Balboa Avenue became the US headquarters for Kyocera International.

Kyocera's purchase included taking over the lease for a number of big tenants, including General Dynamics, Rohr, and San Diego County Office, which assisted with Kyocera’s gradual and flexible future expansion. Added to my job was the impossibly “lucky” role of ‘tenant relations.’ I worked for almost 20 years at 8611 Balboa until my retirement.

P.S. I found out that the Lafayette Hotel is still going strong as per Jay Scovie, Kyocera's Corporate Director for Communication & Education. I owe him the link to the hotel website below:
Lafayette Hotel Website

Thursday, September 23, 2021

El Morro

Spaniard sailors called it "El Morro".
A landmark for their navigation,
An awesome rock mound, about 600 ft. tall
Edged on a Pacific Coast beach.

Traveling from the inland San Luis Obispo
It's the last stack bolted in the bay,
One of a linear series of volcanic knobs
Hollister Peak, the closest in the line.

El Morro was exploited as a quarry for some time
by heartless miners
Though disfigured with scars and weather beaten,
It added more dignity and reverence.

Today it is a State and National Estuary
covering the bordering sand dunes and spits,
salt marshes and mudflats.
A sanctuary for birds, plants and sea animals.

I had returned to El Morro a dozen times
Whenever I headed to upper Calif
Whenever I had problems and soothed myself
turning to my favorite destination

I flew over the Pacific Coast
from San Diego to Seattle.
I recognized El Morro from the air
It became a landmark of my life and my careers there.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

A Most Unexpected Visit to Cuba

One of my favorite Spanish songs is “Guantanamera”, a Cuban song. The composer is Jose Fernandez Dias (1908-1979) and the lyrics, nobly dignified, is dedicated to Jose Marti (1853-1895) to honor his life and efforts to liberate Cuba from Spain.


Guajira Guantanamera
Yo soy un hombre sincero (I am a truthful man)
De no me crecen los palma (from the land of palm)
Yo soy un hombre sincero (I am a truthful man)
De no me crece los palma (from the land of palm)
Y antes de morir yo quiero (Before dying, I want to)
Echar mis versos del alma (share these poems of my soul)

Probably I was one of the rare Japanese who got to visit Havana, Cuba in December of 1961, soon after the Cuban Revolution. Cuba was not originally in my travel plans. I delegated the task to a Japanese measurement instrument manufacturer to visit Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela, where area sales to governments and industries were gradually increasing through local representation. While in Mexico, I came to learn that the Cuban Government was interested in the so-called AC Network Analyzer, an analog electrical distribution analyzer such as the one my employer made.

Luckily, Mexico was then the only country where I could obtain a Cuban visa. With the help of Mitsui Trading Company in Mexico, I submitted my visa request and commuted daily to the Cuban Consulate there. My visa was granted for 4 days, from December 4th to the 8th. I reserved flight tickets right away on Cubana de Aviacion.

Capri was the Havana Hotel where I stayed, (6 Dollars a night, less than one Dollar but more than one Peso at the time), guarded by a soldier with a machine gun.

In Havana, I visited Campana Cubana de Electricidad. The engineers I met there were Stanford University graduates.

They seemed to be conducted a comparative analysis of our product against counterparts of GE, Westinghouse and others. They showed me a room where the instruments were to be installed. The power requirements were 120/240V, 60Hz. I made the rounds to the various Ministries accompanied by Mitsui Trading. The talks, however, did not pan out even with the option to barter with sugar as far as I know. My gut observation was that Cuban people were short of daily necessities and medicines in particular. How do you value an instrument or an engineers’ toy versus food?

The highlight of my Cuban visit was a drive out to Ernest Hemingway’s "Old Man and the Sea" beach and a dinner reception hosted by the Japanese Ambassador Tsumura. Besides me, two other Shosha men stationed there were also invited. Ambassador Tsumura (who was stationed there without his family) welcomed me to his empty official residence. I learned that most Japanese expatriates and families were evacuated earlier, leaving only the Ambassador and two Shosha men there in Havana.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Reflections On Yumeji Takehisa’s Art

“I waited long and patiently for you
like a primrose waiting for the moon,
Yet still ‘am unsure of being betrayed?'

(Song composed by Tadasuke Ono)

This poem was written by the famous painter Yumeji Takehisa, 1884-1934, sung by Mieko Takamine whose song once dominated the airwaves in Japan. I do not follow this type of art, but I remember the song. Yumeji’s Bijinga (portraits of beautiful women in wood print, which predate photography) has been applauded as the second most visited of Hiroshige in Taisho.

Yumeji was born near Okayama, spent his boyhood there, and moved to Yahata (where I live) when his father was employed by Yahata Iron Works in 1901. There are records that indicate Yumeji worked at the same steel mill as a draftsman. It probably was a short stint since he headed for Tokyo shortly thereafter. I found evidence of the journey he took in a dedicated park named after him with a couple of Bijingas in his honor. I found a couple of art museums associated with him in two different locations in Okayama - one in Setouchi where he was born, and the other in Okayama City, Tokyo (Yayoi Museum). There are a number of other museums and galleries associated with him in Ikaho, Kanazawa, and other locations. Yumeji’s path to success came when his entry won the “Junior High School World” contest in a magazine. Then came the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 which delayed his rise to fame temporarily, but he inevitably established his name as Bijinga Master. Yumeji spent some time in the US and Europe before he died in his 50’s. See Yumeji's Haiku on his trip below.

About a month ago, the newspaper carried one of the unknown Yumeji’s painting (in black and white) owned by Yabeya Teahouse (owned by the Konomi Hon-Ke Family) in Yame City where I took my Japanese-American friend to bury a part of his father’s ashes at Yame’s ancestor’s temple. Yame is about 100 kilometer south of Kitakyushu. The paper stated that Yumeji traveled to Kyushu for a few weeks during which the Konomi’s personally bought the painting from Yumeji.

I wrote to Yabeya Teahouse to find out if the Yumeji’s painting in color was available, and if so, can I post the image for my blog. Mr. Kenichi Konomi, 14th generation master, wrote back, enclosing the requested color postcard and the Yabeya’s business pamphlet. The title of the painting is “Embracing A Doll.”

Here’s a brief history of Yabeya. It started about the same time that the Edo period began (1704) under the Tokugawa Shogunate. Yabeya was a general merchandise supplier and vendor to the Kurume Domain. They settled down in Yame in 1865, gradually specializing in tea making. The Yabeya’s house, factory and warehouse they built has been designated as Yame’s Cultural Property. "Gyokuro" cha is their top premium specialty product described as the 'golden jewel or jade jewel' that uses their signature washi-wrapped charcoal roasting furnace. My family was lucky enough to live near the Sayama-cha site in Tokyo, and now Yame-cha site, fairly close to where I live now in Kitakyushu. While in the US, we shopped at the import shops, such as Marukai, LAX. Sencha, Hoji-cha,Genmai-chai are readily available. My daughter in Ventura County says tea bags are sold at their nearby Costco these days. I myself cannot live without good tea in my life.

Sampling of Yumeji’s haikus:

Night chatting
expanded in deepening night
in desolate Monterrey

Intermittent rain
held Belgium parent and child
immovable and crouched down

Slanting rain
revealed German girl's
heel to calf

Money is short
wherever you are,
in Japan or else at the end of the year

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Hiraodai Karst Plateau and a Folktale

Hiraodai Karst Plateau, equally famous as Yamaguchi Akiyoshidai, is southernmost Kitakyushu City bordering Kawaracho and Kandacho. Mt. Hiko, the sacred mountain where many aesthetics have spent time there, towers over the prefectural boundary between Fukuoka and Oita. The deep-blue Masubuchi dam is not too far. Boasting 3,000 acres (12 square kilometers), the elevation is between 310 - 710 meters. It is uncertain when people settled in Hiraodai because of the cold and snowfall in the winter. During the war, Kokura had the Imperial Army arsenal and the ammunition chambers in Kitagata. They probably thought of Hiraodai Karst Plateau as their ideal shooting range, however, there is no historical evidence of that. After the war the Japanese returnees from Taiwan and Korea, found their paradise in Hiraodai if they became farmers.

First, here are a few basic karst terms:

Soline: Sinkhole. Closed depression draining underground, meaning 'valley' (Slavic)
Polie: A large flat karstic plain (Slavic). Liable to become intermittent or perennial stream or lake.
Uvala: A complex closed depression with several lesser depressions within its rim (Slavic)

In the spring, Hiraodai is famous for its controlled burs of its fields. It was not to slay ogres as in the old folklore, but to burn dry and withered grass in the 'soline, polie and uvala' areas, to prevent wildfires. Field burning should be a common practice throughout Japan to renew grassy zones, prevent forestation, and maintain the green every year.

Upon returning from the U.S. in the mid-1990’s, I joined the local trekking group and visited this Hiraodai Karst Plateau, strolling up and down karst and exploring a few caves. About the same time I had a chance to visit Yunnan Province, China and the Shilin (石林 ) Stone Forest, the UNESCO World Heritage site that covers over 180 square miles. The tall rocks seem to rise from the ground in a manner somewhat reminiscent of stalagmites or with many looking like petrified trees, thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone. Limestone creates these otherworldly landscapes. However, the Shilin landscape is over millions of years old and spans thousands of miles. Once you step in, you may get lost in a maze of geology and paleontology. It was very different from Hiraodai.


The local legend has it that there lived two demons in Hiraodai Karst Plateau, one named “See-demon”, the other “Smell-demon.” One day they took conferred about what offering to bring to their boss in the nearby Mt. Hikosan*. “Hmmm! How about bringing a concrete straw stone inside the famous limestone cave for his sword or a sheep shaped stone as an ornament? They talked quite a while but they finally decided upon offering a human child. In the past, they knew the boss demon raised human children as his retainers and extended his influence. When reared since childhood with the boss demon, these children eventually turned into demons.

These demons descended from Ryugahana to Satonotsuji through Fukiage Pass. The village people panicked with the sudden appearance of the demons and scattered in confusion. The demons caught one child on the first day. The returned to the village on the second day as well.

“See-demon”, "Can you smell it?" asked Smell-demon as they approached the village. “There is a scent of something nice coming from the village! Let’s find out!” As they descended, one village guard alerted the villagers with the temple bell. With the bell ringing, all the villagers hung rotten sardines at their doors. Two demons with sharp and keen eyes and noses got queasy, felt sick and hurried back to their dwelling. Despite the deterrence, the two demons came back on the third day well prepared with clothes pins to plug their noses and went on a rampage. After the onslaught, the villagers gathered to discuss how to slay the ogres and came up with a plan. The following night, the demons returned with their pins and found the village deathly quiet. The inquisitive demons reached the village square where a fire was burning. “There they are!” As they attacked the villagers, flames broke out all around all at once. Burning bamboos spilt with loud snaps and cracks. Pillars of flames shot up everywhere. The surprised demons panicked and retreated at full speed. The kidnapped child was rescued by the villagers during the turmoil. The crackling sound of burning bamboo scared them and the demons never returned to Hiraodai.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

A 100th Birthday Celebration

1. Arthur Jonish’s White Age celebration on Sept 20, 2020

I took an overnight trip to Kyoto to attend a special event. Arthur Jonishi's "White Age" celebration was to start from 6:00 pm but was delayed to 6:30pm, as the turnout of over 500 guests was slow. The venue was the Reaga Royal Hotel in Kyoto, close to Kyoto Central Station. Perhaps the majority of guests were Kyocera people but an ex-Sanyo person was at my table for six. Arthur is a Kyoto University graduate, and a long time Rotarian; has many hobbies, like golfing and playing Go, so his friends should be quite diversified.

He entered the venue riding a motored "senior car", a gift from his Rotary Club, clad in a purple Sanga Soccer team jacket and donning a pandemic face shield. He needed helping hands to stand before the microphone. After the champagne toast, he spoke for half an hour. The rest of the hours were chats and meals. The nests of boxes were distributed to each table in paper bags. The hotel service was just to open the champagne bottle. This is the new “normal” these days because of the Corona virus. Each guest received a 50-page booklet "Footprints of A. Jonishi".

Arthur was drafted into the army during World War II in Dec 1943 in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture. On board the SS Teifumaru, an aging wooden ship, his troop headed alone for the Solomon Islands away from the main fleet. At midnight, he saw a US submarine surface without noticing his ship in the dark. Arthur saw some sailors lighting up for a smoke. When they saw the Japanese boat’s shadow, it immediately submerged and started discharging torpedos. Some said they saw a dozen streaming towards their ship. Arthur counted at least 7 or 8, which whizzed passed without incident. Good thing the boat didn’t carry heavy loads, like tanks and cannons, which would have kept its keel low. He feels very fortunate to have been aboard the SS Teifumaru, otherwise he would never ever have reached white age.

I noticed printed handouts in English on my way out. It's a collection of 'Arthur’s year end letters' to overseas friends and relatives over the past 10 years. Very interesting.

2. A Centenarian

Arthur Jonishi celebrated his 100th Birthday on April 25, 2021.

Mike Okuno, representing all ex-Kyocera employees visited Arthur in Kurama, Kyoto to hand deliver a bouquet of flowers to celebrate his 100th birthday - a new centenarian. Meanwhile, KII, San Diego Headquarters responded with an issuance of the San Diego Country of Board of Supervisors’ Proclamation honoring AJ’s birthday.

3. Brief Bio

1921 Born in Vancouver Canada
1948 BA in Economics, Kyoto University
1948 Shofu Co Ltd Kyoto
1963 Kyocera Corp
1969 Founded Kyocera Intl Inc
1974 KII President
1978 Director, Minato Gakuen
1979/87 EVP Kyocera Corp
1982 Return to Japan
1989 Advisor Kyocera Corp
1995 Director, Inamori Foundation


1988 Kyoto Pref Distinguished Industrial Service Award
2002 JSSDT Business Leader Award

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Beat the Pandemic

This striking New Year card came from one of my San Diego friends. His name is Mike Kawamura, a superb ceramic engineer, my longtime colleague at work, stationed in Europe and Brazil, as well as in the US. He organized a San Diego WISH Society as a cofounder, and is an executive adviser. He serves as VP for the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park.

The New Year card has his simplistic artwork, one discernibly glaring evil demon, the other a merciful Buddha saint image. I took his message as “Damn the Corona Virus” inflicting the whole world into disorderly chaos and many solemn prayers for departed souls because of Covid-19.

After a few weeks later, I asked Mike if I could share his artwork in my blogs and obtained his quick approval. He revealed the same request came from one of the non-profit organizations in San Diego for its fundraising campaign poster.

I recall I saw similar evil demon figures such as King Nio or Ashura, guardians of Buddha, when I used to visit temples in Kyoto, Osaka as well as Hino, Tokyo where I once resided. The temples I visited: 2 King “Nios” guarding Daigo Temple in Kyoto, 4 King “Nios”, guarding Shiten-Oji Temple, Osaka, and Takahata 2 King Nios guarding Takahata Fudo Temple.

1 - Daigo Temple, Kyoto

An important temple of the Shingon Sect of Japanese Buddhism, designated world heritage site (“Senboin” constructed in 1115), located southeast of central Kyoto. Famous cherry blossom viewing party site of Taiko Hideyoshi.

The King Nio Gate at the entrance, rebuilt in 1605, enshrined pairs of King Nio statues (built in 1134 by Seizo and Nizo) , one called “a”, the other “hum” in Sanskrit. The term a-un is used as a figuratively harmonious relationship or non-verbal communication.

2 - Shitenoji Temple, Osaka

Prince Shotoku, Asuka period, invited Korean carpenters from the Kingdom Baekje to commission the construction. The temple celebrated its 1400 Anniversary. The building rebuilt most recently was in 1963.

The 4 King Nios guard the temple. Clockwise, they are Kings Jikoku and Zancho, who open their eyes and show anger as if they are looking at the enemy in front of them, while Kings Komoku and Tamon, are squinting with their eyebrows tightly and swelling their noses and staring into the distance. Four Kings surely vowing to keep the commandments, the eyes of four kings must be sharper and harsher.

3 Takahata Fudo Temple

Same Shingon Sect as Daigo Temple, an esoteric temple. Guarded by 2 King Nios. The benefits of faith can be seen from the special “Goma” ritual, the firewood burning. The fire symbolizes the wisdom of Fudo Myoo and firewood will burn anxieties, warding off evil, and grant the wishes of the believers as clean wishes and fulfill them.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I Love N.H. - the White Mountain State

Hey, I'm no mountain climber, but I made it to the top of Mt Hodaka (10,470 ft), one of the more known peaks in northern Japan Alps in Gifu Prefecture. It was in the summer of my mid-20’s, led by a mountaineering specialist. A party of dorm friends followed him from Tokyo in a fleet of cars. The Karasawa Ravine from Hodaka was so beautiful, the image was burnt into my memory.

I found another equally beautiful ravine called Tuckerman in New Hampshire when I accompanied Ken Toku and Sugiyama from Japan, joined by Foxboro (MA) friends - Bob Temple, Mead Bradner and Bruce Hainsworth. I forgot how we reached the area, but still remember the snowmobile ride from the foothill to the ravine, arranged by Bob. He served at the White Mountain Weather Station when he was younger and was very knowledgeable about winter traveling details.

Ken Toku was the only skier of the day. He came fully prepared and trained for his big day. He trudged up the ravine, his ski gear on his shoulders. We all watched him scurry up the snow-covered cliffs half way up and more on the ravine which took a couple of hours. Then he skied down the ravine in a flash. He did this a couple of times. He complained "the snow was too icy".

Thereupon my love affair with New Hampshire started. I tried to return often but in vain. One summer I took my family to Lake Winnipesaukee. I believe I took them to the top of Mt. Washington. I traveled 100 miles across New Hampshire from Portsmouth to Exeter to Keene in the late 1990’s to visit friends.

Teresa Volt, one of my pen pals in Vermont, lived fairly close to New Hampshire. I asked her about Tuckerman Ravine. She said she had heard of it. Some years ago, she went to Mt. Washington herself and sent me a few photos. I thanked her, but I misplaced them until recently when I came across them, including the map.

New Hampshire has some hidden, but great names to the Japanese. One is Hanover, the home of Dartmouth College, dating back to the 1760’s. Portsmouth, known for where the Treaty of Portsmouth was signed in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt to finally end the Russo-Japanese War. The Bretton Woods Conference, held in 1944 at the Mt. Washington Hotel, established a new global monetary system. The gold standard was replaced by the dollar as the global currency, establishing the World Bank and IMF concept.

Lastly, let me quote my favorite line from Nathaniel Hawthorne's “Sketches from Memory: The Notch of the White Mountains,” (1835):

"Let us forget the other names of American statesmen, that have been stamped upon these hills, but still call the loftiest - Washington. Mountains are Earth's undecaying monuments. They must stand while she endures, and never should be consecrated to the mere great men of their age and country, but to the mighty ones alone, whose glory is universal, and whom all time will render illustrious."

When I read Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was a hot topic. The total trail stretches over 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine, and required help from many volunteer hikers. I saw that Foxboro engineers, Bob Temple and Mead Bradner (RIP) contributed to the so-called Appalachian Warner Trail, about 30 miles of trails running through Sharon, Foxboro, Wrentham, and Plainville, Massachusetts.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Mataichimura NY NOW!

Excerpt from “Formula” by Joan Gordon (Alfred resident)

“Today you touched my heart
With your wise words
About a formula to ignite
The process of success:

Take passionate effort,
Mix it with ability,
And add a large measure
Of positive attitude.

As a binder to hold
The mixture together,
Pour in lot of love
Yes, a lot of love.”

As a former New Yorker, I have long known Elmira, New York as the soaring capital (i.e., motorless flight), like Torrey Pines, California. Ever since I had my glider pilot second class rides, pulled with human power, lifted by the wind, slicing through the air and skidding down to the ground a hundred times in my teen days as a future Kamikaze pilot, I have continued to yearn for the sky, and I remain attracted to glider bases whenever I see them. In fact, a motor-driven glider ride at Elmira or Torrey Pines is on my bucket list.

I know the Elmira airport is within convenient distance of Corning (15 miles) and Alfred (50 miles), in an area that became known as the Ceramic Corridor back in the old days when Silicon Valley had just started to flourish. Both Corning and Alfred have gained renown for challenging the frontiers of technology, though they remain somewhat less famous than the vibrant tech cluster to the west.

Today, Corning and Alfred are established not only as world-leading technology centers, but stand as grand cathedrals of industrial glass and ceramic innovation with technology museums sponsored by international giants Owens-Corning and Kyoto-based Kyocera Corporation. In particular, The Inamori Kyocera Fine Ceramics Museum adds international flavor to Alfred University’s cooperative research and exchange of information.

I unfortunately had no knowledge of Alfred until I joined Kyocera in San Diego in the early 1970’s. Kyocera’s arrival in San Diego was a miracle in itself. Fairchild, the forefather and pioneer of the semiconductor industry, operated twin-plants in San Diego and Tijuana at that time to manufacture electronic packages for its integrated-circuit (IC) chips. However, the Fairchild package operations were struggling. Impressed with the high-quality packages supplied by Kyocera, Fairchild asked whether Kyocera might be interested in taking over its San Diego operations. Thus, Kyocera founder Kazuo Inamori visited Fairchild in San Diego and came back, legend has it, reporting that the technology was good but “the plant has no heart.” It was 1969.

Kyocera acquired the Fairchild operations in San Diego in 1971 with Ken Miller as Plant Manager and five Japanese engineers from Kyoto to support him. Despite initial labor pains, the operations gradually came to life. When I joined I was to build a new and bigger plant of Kyocera’s own design. After the land had been purchased, blueprints finished and the site ready for construction, God sent another miracle. The nearby Honeywell plant with 21 acres of land went up for sale! It was a plant I had actually visited in late 1950’s and toured inside. What an amazing coincidence ─ and opportunity! The purchase brought us big tenants like General Dynamics and Rohr Engineering. Thus, we could start small and gradually expand as tenant leases expired.

After 50 years, Kyocera’s U.S. operations headquartered at 8611 Balboa Avenue grew from dozens of employees to a peak of nearly 2,000. The business diversified worldwide from ceramics to electronics, optics, document printers, solar power, mobile phones, lab-grown gemstones, and you name what else, producing numerous subsidiaries and allies, as a reputable and leading concern.

What surprised the world was that then President Inamori (now Chairman) was endowed in 1988 with an honorary doctorate for the first time from Alfred University in New York. Kyocera employees rejoiced with the news in a great cheer of “Hurray!”

In 1999, Dr. Inamori was invited to Alfred to speak at the annual John F. McMahon Memorial Seminar. There he shared many of his unique insights gleaned from his work in the field of ceramics, including his pioneering efforts in solar energy, which helped create a dramatic 97% reduction in the cost of solar cells, along with his daily creed for work, persevering in development efforts for years before meeting success. He believes that only relentless effort and unshakable philosophy ultimately bear fruit in the form of technological breakthroughs. Joan Gordon, poetess above and spouse of the late Prof. Ronald Gordon, Dean of the School of Ceramic Engineering and Materials Science at Alfred University, both sat among the audience and at the banquet reception, where Joan found time to hand her impromptu poem to Dr. Inamori.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

“Mataichimura, Here I Come”

An hour’s drive north along the Hudson River from Manhattan and a left turn takes you to the foot of the Catskills, where Rip Van Winkle dozed with a rumbling sound in the distance as a lullaby. The area dishonorably nicknamed the Jewish Alps is a favorite summer resort for many New Yorkers. New England comes first when talking of autumn foliage, the Catskills were closer to us as a family coming from New York. We used to go on excursions to view foliage in upstate New York during the weekends in the 1960’s.

Triggered by the assassination of President JFK and the wide East Coast area blackout chaos, New York had an uproar of labor strikes one after the other, from garage workers to garbage collectors, under Mayor Lindsay. However, one step outside the city and the New York throughways, rustic villages and alpine air awaited you.

One day we headed for Monticello. We found a big landmark with the village name “Mataichimura” written on it in Japanese. After over 50 years, I can’t say for sure if it was a garden mark with trimmed flowers. Probably I’m beautifying my memory. Daily flower trimming must be costly. Rather, it could have been a stone or wooden landmark. I just wondered why this village had a landmark with a Japanese name on it.

A while later, a group of young Japanese golfers from electronic industries in New York set out for a weekend golf trip. I joined the group and returned to “Mataichimura”, and this time I solved the riddle from my previous outing. Sanyo, an austere name, was based there, in Ellenville, New York. Toshio Iue (1902-1969), the founder and first president wrote in his book “Anticipating the Birth of Worldwide Standard Employees” (publisher: Bungei Shunju, 1967) that Sanyo entered into a business relationship with Channel Masters, an antenna manufacturer. He foresaw the importance of joint ventures to avoid the increasing US-Japan trade frictions. It was Toshio Iue who named Ellenville “Mataichimura”, a very appropriate name in the Japanese sense. The name Mataichmura, meaning, “another village” evokes images of countless visits to many counties and many villages, one after another.

The golf course belonged to Channel Masters. It has only 9 holes, all hilly ups and downs, with no on-site starters or managers. We just went in and played the same 9 holes twice and dropped in at Sanyo inside Channel Masters as a courtesy. The group was met by Toshimi Takemoto heading Sanyo there. Sanyo people were at work even though it was a Saturday. Their telex machine room operations looked very busy and reverberated with activity. We quickly headed for Sanyo’s dorm, a 4-story house with many rooms, and the group stayed overnight by sharing rooms.

My family revisited Ellenville about a year later in the summer. I called Mr. Takemoto without advanced notice. He invited my family to his home despite the suddenness of our visit. My children were happy to play outside with Takemoto’s children. My wife and I listened to the story of Mr. and Mrs. Takemoto’s weekly trip to New York to buy Japanese food. The couple had the responsibility to feed the employees from Japan. On their return trip home from New York, their station wagon was fully loaded with Japanese food for dorm dining.

I started to work for another company in San Diego in the early 1970’s and forgot all about the East Coast and Ellenville. In the early 1980’s, E&E Sanyo arrived in San Diego and became our neighbor. Our family became close to Mr. and Mrs. A in connection with the Minato Gakuen Japanese language school, primarily for the Japanese expatriates. I remembered Takemoto and inquired about his latest assignment. I found out Takemoto was in Los Angeles and I was convinced that I would meet him again soon.

That day finally came. He was named a major speaker at the annual “Focus on Japan Festival” sponsored by San Diego State University. I listened to and recorded his speech, as he was acclaimed as the best English speaker in Sanyo by Toshio Iue. I went to congratulate him after the speech. “It has been 30 years since we visited you in Ellenville.” I felt so much emotion that no words came.

I read in the trade paper that Takemoto returned to Japan and then retired after a few years of service with Sanyo. Before I retired, I was hoping to revisit Ellenville before returning to Japan.

I revisited Ellenville in 2002 after visiting my son who was working in New York. Channel Masters was out of business. I dropped by the golf course I had once played. The golf course was there, but it looked shabby compared to the gated resort community. The landmark “Mataichimura” was gone.