Friday, July 28, 2006

Baseball Champs!

The Iwate Prefecture Baseball Tournament has finished. The team from Kitakami Senshu High School has won and the whole city of Kitakami is abuzz. Thursday night there was a festival and all the players wore their uniforms and paraded around town. The shops and public buildings are draped with huge posters and banners for the occasion. Next stop is the National Tournament at Koshien in August.

The Champs!
[Kitakami Senshu High School & Banners around Town]

While many people joke that baseball is a religion it is not taken that way in Japan - especially when it comes to the high school variety. The Church of Perfect Liberty, founded in Japan in 1924, sponsers the most successful high school baseball team in Japan; PL Gakuen of Osaka. They actively recruit players and the best players want to go there. Other Religions such as Tenrikyo recruit high school baseball players to their schools and have been successful in the annual tournaments.

Even when the team is not affiliated with a religious group the community supports their local team with a devotion that can only be considered fanatical. The games are televised and watched by all. The players don't have to study. The entire student body is bused to the games and made to cheer their team on. Of course, with a team like Kitakami Senshu, it's easy and fun to be a supporter!

Good luck at Koshien, guys!

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Musen Ojiisan

Just about every city I've lived in has had at least one colorful eccentric character. In Miami, Florida there was a Latino who stood in the median strip every day at rush hour where two major highways intersected waving flags and shouting at the cars like a cheerleader! In Morioka there is a man who rides around on a bicycle shouting into a walkie-talkie and sometimes playing music from a portable tape player. Some people call him Musen Ojiisan or Wireless Grandpa in English!

musen ojiisan
[Wireless Grandpa - 無線お祖父さん]

He seems to be emulating the right wing fanatics who drive around in big trucks blaring patriotic anthems and shouting right-wing slogans. He also has a variety of placards that he displays on the front of his bicycle; an imperial chrysanthemum or a rising sun and he shouts very loudly into his walkie-talkie.

Some people are afraid of him but I have never heard of him harming or even harassing anyone. He is just loud and obnoxious - or entertaining - depending on your point of view! I personally think he adds a bit of variety and color to what can otherwise be a boring, ordinary day!

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Happy Birthday Iwate Nippo

The Iwate Nippo (岩手日報) Newspaper celebrated its 130th birthday on July 21st.
Iwate Nippo - 130 years old
[Masthead of Iwate Nippo for July 21, 2006]

The published a special edition with three sections full of history, information and, of course, advertising. One thing that I did not see, though, was a reproduction of the first edition! My friend Mr. Takahashi suggested that maybe they don't have one! There is a reproduction of the front page of the June 21, 1905 edition in Takuboku Ishikawa's Honeymoon House in Morioka. (Notice the very different Kanji for 'Iwate' in the photos!)

Takuboku Ishikawa - Iwate Nippo
[Masthead of Iwate Nippo for June 21, 1905]

From collecting stamps I know that the climate in Japan is not good for preserving paper. The best old Japanese stamps come from North America or Northern Europe where the air is much drier! So I suppose the typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos, fires and floods combined with all the other more normal ravages of time have taken their toll. If you ever find a 130 year old Japanese newspaper it just might be worth some money!

The Iwate Nippo web site is only in Japanese!

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Admiral Yonai & General Itagaki

Two of Iwate's native sons were Mitsumasa Yonai and Seishiro Itagaki. This newspaper article from The Hammond (INDIANA) Times of May 8, 1939 suggests that their Iwate origins were to some extent responsible for their advancement in the military and eventually Japan's military aggression leading to WWII!

Mitsumasa Yonai served as minister of the navy under several prime ministers. Despite his opposition to an alliance with Germany and Italy he was appointed prime minister in 1940. He was forced to resign six months later but became prime minister again in 1944.

Seishiro Itagaki was appointed minister of war in 1937 and led the Japanese army in Manchuria. Promoted to general in 1941 he was convicted of war crimes in 1945 and executed in 1948.

The following passages are quoted directly from the article -

"The men who are guiding Japan’s military and naval affairs (Yonai & Itagaki) come from the nation's poorest region and commentators here see this background of poverty as a prime reason for Japan's effort to expand toward a more abundant life."

"Other high ranking officers of the fighting services have a similar background, which lends understanding to efforts to lessen the profits of Japan’s capitalists and to gain command of China's richer resources."

"Because service schools are open to the general public and because, unlike the universities, these institutions are tuition-free, the officers have mostly been able to rise from the ranks of pauper families to positions of power and prestige."

"Tohoku, homeland of today’s admirals and generals, has had a long history of famine conditions which still frequently necessitate the sale of daughters to brothels and brings wholesale deaths from starvation. These famines have often resulted in peasant uprisings."

"Japanese records reveal that between the years 1600 and 1900 there were no fewer than 1,000 uprisings most of which were put down with bloodshed. Cannibalism has been recorded as having taken place during some of the worst famines, notably that of 1788 when the populace ate grass roots until the supply gave out, ate dogs and cats until there were no more and finally, so the report reads, the outcasts turned cannibals."

The entire article, JAPAN'S CHIEFS FIGHT WAY UP FROM POVERTY, can be read in the Iwate Buddy Library!

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Hiraizumi - Another Step Closer

The Japanese love World Heritage sites and go out of their way to visit them overseas and in Japan. There are already twelve of them in Japan and another one may be added in a couple of years. Hiraizumi has been working hard to get its famous temples and historic sites listed for some time.

[The Konjikido golden hall at Chusonji Temple]
The Japan Times]

The Japan Times reports today that, "The government is expected to approve the recommendation (to have Hiraizumi made a World Heritage Site) at a meeting of representatives from ministries and agencies in September and file an application in January with the World Heritage Center of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization."

Read the full story on Iwate Buddy!

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Two Bad Bugs

Anoplophora malasiaca - front
[Anoplophora malasiaca]
[ゴマダラカミキリ - gomadara-kamikiri]
[white-spotted longicorn beetle]

This bad little bug eats trees, especially fruit trees like the apple trees that Iwate is famous for! Entomologists have recently lumped it together with Melanauster chinensis or Citrus Longhorned Beetle. You can read more about them in this document from the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization if you want to!

Riptortus clavatus :: bean bug
[Riptortus clavatus]
[ホソヘリカメムシ - hosoheri-kamemushi]
[bean bug]

This is one of the most harmful pests of soybeans in Japan. Both the adult and nymph bean bugs sting the beans in the pods and suck their juice, so that the beans cannot mature, and the pods discolor and/or fall off. Adults are 14 to 17 mm in size and have a variety of body colors from dark brown to red brown. Nymphs have black bodies and are similar to ants. In the temperate zone, the bugs appear two or three times per year and overwinter in the adult stage. More info on this cutie can be found at Fuji Flavor Co. Ltd.

I hope you never meet one unless you really want to!

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Japan's Rio Grande

My creation
[The Koromo River in Southern Iwate - Japan is on the left while the Emishi lands are on the right.]

One of the defining characteristics of Japan is that it is an island nation; there are no land borders! But, this has not always been the case.

For some 300 years or more the Koromo River in Southern Iwate served to mark the boundary between the expanding Yamato state (what we now call Japan) and the retreating Emishi.

At one time the Emishi occupied nearly all of Honshu. By the mid eighth century, however, they had been pushed back to present day Miyagi and the rest of Northern Tohoku. About this time too, a group of ten districts were created South of the Koromo River called the Koromo Districts or the Nearby Emishi Districts. Here Japanese adventurers and Emishi dwelt in an uneasy proximity much like the American Wild West under the rule of Emishi collaborators!

So, when a Yamato army of 5 or 6,000 camped on the North bank of the Koromo River in 789 it was a deliberate act of provocation. When Minamoto no Yoriyoshi was appointed governor of the region in 1053 he did not dare to cross the Koromo River to take up his post until the Emishi House of Abe was defeated in the Earlier Nine-Year War; 1062.

The Latter Three-Year War ended in 1087. In an act of defiance the Emishi victor, Fujiwara no Kiyohira, erected his home/fort, Hiraizumi Mansion, South of the Koromo River in Japanese Territory!

Today the Koromo is a little known and under-appreciated stream in a remote spot in the sticks but it was once the Rio Grande of Japan!

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Thomasine Allen - Kuji Missionary

Thomasine Allen must have been a wonderful and rare individual. She is one of the very few foreigners to have recieved an Order of the Sacred Treasures from the emperor. In 1960 she received the Fifth Order of Merit of the Sacred Jewel on the recommendation of the governor of Iwate.

[Thomasine Allen in 1960 with Her Decoration]

Born in 1890 she came to Japan in 1915 as a Baptist missionary after receiving her master's degree from Chicago University. She spent time in Sendai, Morioka and finally came to Kuji in 1934 to help with the famine relief.

In 1938 she opened the Kuji Christian Center which had a staff of 40, an agricultural school, a junior high, a clinic and hospital by 1960. In the midst of this endeavor she had to spend two difficult war years in an internment camp before being repatriated back to the States for the remainder of the war.

In 1970 she started Allen International Junior College in Kuji and served as it's president until her death in 1976.

Not only did she count the emperor of Japan, the governor of Iwate and the mayor of Kuji as her supporters but also the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Dr. Edwin Reischauer and the U. S. military attache for air, Col. Robert Hemphill. Besides the rich and famous she found tremendous loyalty amongst her flock in Kuji. They reportedly came to her and asked to work for free!

After retirement she elected to stay in Kuji and continue her work with only the income from her pension to sustain her. In all she spent more than 50 years working in Japan, the bulk of it in Iwate and especially Kuji.

Take a peek at these news stories just added to the Iwate Buddy Library!

April 1, 1960 - Oakland CA Tribune - She Walked Into the Hearts of a People
March 27, 1966 - Oakland CA Tribune - Missionary Advice: ‘Leap...Then Look’

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

M-City West-Entrance Plaza

[Artist's Conception]

M-City West-Entrance Plaza or Mシティ西口プラザ is a new development on the West side of Morioka Station on the other side of the Malios Building. It is a massive condominium complex by Morioka standards with 12 stories, 120 condos, day care, entertainment facilities etc. It is scheduled for completion in February 2007 and tenents can move in from March.

M-City Going Up
M-City Workers
[top & bottom - M-City as of May 2006]
[bottom - Construction Workers at Morning Exercises]

More info is available in Japanese at Shinchiku Homes and Showa Real Estate Co..

Sawfly Caterpillar

[Eriocampa mitsurii - caterpillar]
[caterpillar of a kind of sawfly]

Summer is in full swing here in Iwate and the bugs are out in full force. I found a bunch of these beauties in Hiraizumi near the Koromo River this past weekend! You can learn more about this species and see pictures at Shigenobu AOKI's web site. He has a lot of info about all kinds of bugs!

Special thanks to Eiji for his kind help!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Senator Rockefeller Visits Iwate

Yep, nearly 50 years ago Senator John D. 'Jay' Rockefeller IV visited Iwate to see a friend. Of course he wasn't a senator then, just a young college student taking a bit of a trip.

[Senator Rockefeller by photographer Rick Lee]

It seems the senator attended International Christian University in Tokyo from 1957 to 1960 before getting his degree in Asian Languages and History from Harvard University in 1961. Like many young people of the day he was inspired by Kennedy's Camelot and joined the Peace Corps for a few years where he oversaw their Philippines program.

The news from Japan, though, was not that the famous son was in Japan, nor that he was traveling to the remote North, but that, "Young John Rockefeller rides third-class train coaches in Japan!"

The experience of living, studying and making friends in Japan has served him well. As a senator, Rockefeller worked for 15 years to get Toyota to build a factory in West Virginia. In 1996 the company announced its plans to build an engine plant his state. Since then Toyota's investment has grown to over $1 billion and they have created over 1,000 jobs there!

His web site boasts, "As part of his economic strategy, Rockefeller in 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2001 led Project Harvest trade missions, introducing West Virginia businesses to Japan and Taiwan, opening markets for West Virginia products." Some of the Japanese companies besides Toyota now doing business in West Virginia are Wheeling-Nisshin Steel, NGK Sparkplugs and Okuno International.

Now I wonder how much that third-class ticket to Iwate has paid off over the years? Perhaps his friend became a big-shot at Toyota and remembered him! Read the article from the March 15, 1958 edition of the Odessa (Texas) American in the Iwate Buddy library!

Kitakami's Warner Mycal Cinema

Kitakami is not the largest city in Iwate or the most exciting (maybe) but it does have a lot going for it. It has the best site in Iwate for viewing cherry blossoms - Tenshochi, the best English language bookstore - at American World, the best Russian restaurant - Troika and the very best movie theater - at Sakurano.

Warner Mycal Cinema
[Warner Mycal sign on top of Sakurano]

Sakurano is the big department store that nearly ate Kitakami when it was built a few years ago! The Warner Mycal Cinema is on the fifth floor and has seven screens! They are all conveniently indoors in a temperature and humidity controlled environment with a convenient and free (with validation) parking garage a few steps away. The seven theaters can seat up to 1, 303 people in comfortable stadium seating , with armrests and cutouts for your drinks and popcorn.

One difficulty is that every seat is reserved. The first time I went by myself they didn't ask me where I wanted to sit. They put me in the farthest back corner, which wasn't very good, so I sat in the middle where there were lots of free seats. This caused a problem, of course, when the owner of the seat showed up late and got the staff to evict me. They were quite upset but so was I. They finally agreed to change my seat for the one next to where I was sitting, which no one was using and we all watched the movie happily after that!

You can easily check the show times by going to their website even if you can't read Japanese. There is just enough English you can puzzle out what's what!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Takuboku's Flowers

The Japan Times - Thursday, Jan. 17, 2002
Fukujuso (Adonis)

A long letter came from my younger sister, Mitsuko, in which she wrote: "On my desk is a lovely Adonis. While I was looking at it today, I couldn't help remembering our hometown. We often walked around the graveyard searching for violets and Adonises, remember?"

From "Romaji Diary" by Takuboku Ishikawa (1886-1912),translated by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda(Charles E. Tuttle)

The Japan Times - Thursday, Feb. 27, 2003
panji (pansy)
Thinking I would mend my torn kimono, I
went out to buy some needles and
thread. But instead of buying them and
even as I heard an inner voice crying
"Stop! Stop!" I took out my purse and
bought this notebook I'm writing in, a
pair of tabi, some undershorts, a roll of
letter paper and two pots of pansies at
five sen each.

From "Romaji Diary" by Takuboku Ishikawa (1886-1912), translated by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda (Charles E. Tuttle)

These two flowers are from Linda Inoki's fascinating column IN BLOOM in the Japan Times. Click on the pictures to view the complete articles. More flowers and poetry are available there as well!

Ishikawa Takuboku was a native of Iwate and Morioka.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The North Korean Rocket's Red Glare

Those who have been working themselves too hard or partying too hard may not know about the missle that North Korea has poised to send through the skies of Iwate. But then if that's you you are probably not reading this either!

Just last Thursday President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi discussed "various measures of pressure" if North Korea fires the missile according to an article in the Asahi News. "In the first place, we should try and approach North Korea not to launch the Taepodong 2 missile," Koizumi asserted; to which Bush is reported to have replied, "Launching the missile is unacceptable."

But Aerial displays of power are nothing new to the seasoned Iwatean. At the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union sent weekly espionage flights, called the Tokyo Express from Sakhalin Island, past Iwate down to Yokosuka, an America naval base near Tokyo. The purpose of the flights was to observe the movements of U. S. Navy ships and test the automatic air defense warning system that was under construction at that time!

There is an interesting article about this in the Iwate Buddy newspaper archive.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Signs of Danger

If you're out hiking or picnicing this summer you might want to watch out for signs like these;

Bear Warning
[Bear Warning in Sumida]

poisonous snakes!
[Poisonous Snake Warning in Kamaishi]

It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security in Japan and even more so in rural areas. Besides the the usual earthquakes, typhoons, volcanoes and tsunamis there are bears and poisonous snakes!

There are six kinds of poisonous snakes in Japan according to the Snakes of Japan website. The two most common are the mamushi (Agkistrodon blomhoffii blomhoffii), a Japanese pit viper, and the yamakagashi or Japanese Grass Snake (habdrophis tigrinus tigrinus). I don't have any photos but someone in Kanagawa has a nicely done page about them. Click the link to go there!

There are also a few hornets that can put you in the hospital or even kill small children. Every year the newspapers have accounts of their attacks. Then, too, there are poisonous centipedes and rabid foxes so do be careful! has a discussion are for all the dangerous animals! Check that out too and know before you go!