Okinawan Traces of War: Telegraph from the Past


 “There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.”  ~ Dwight David Eisenhower

Carrier aircraft attack Ishigaki-jima in the Ryukyus

Carrier aircraft attack Ishigaki-jima in the Ryukyus

Kamikaze-Attacks-of-World-War-II-Okinawa-Ryukus-MapIt was probably a lazy day at the office in the fall of 1944 or spring of 1945.  Having finished a shift full of mundane duties and boring watches, perhaps a few decided to enjoy the sandy beach and pristine waters immediately adjacent to this wooded site.  Others were probably enjoying their time off, tending to personal business nearby.  Being stationed on a remote island far in the southern reaches of the Ryukyu Chain, and then being billeted to such a small, isolated communications station in a completely rural part of the island, the War in the Pacific seemed many thousands of miles away, if not of a different time.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), bullet scared WM

Then, without warning, death rained down from above.  And nothing was ever the same again.

Death came from above by means of the Navy's "Avengers"

Death came from above by means of the Navy’s “Avengers”

Sakishima%20IsIshigaki Island is the most inhabited and developed island of the Yaeyama Islands (Yaeyama-shoto) in the deep southwestern waters of Okinawa Prefecture (Ryukyu Islands) and the second of this grouping of sub-tropical isles.  The Yaeyama Islands are, at the same time, the mostly southerly and westerly parts of Japan, located approximately 430 kilometers/260 miles south of Okinawa.

Ishigaki's relationship to Okinawa, the Ryukyu Island Chain

Ishigaki’s relationship to Okinawa, the Ryukyu Island Chain

Japanese-WWII-key-capturedOn a small peninsula out to the west of Ishigaki-jima is a former Japanese Military Undersea Telegraph Station, built at the turn of last century (1897), which operated until attacked during World War II.  While not the easiest place to find, and certainly not a well-visited “touristy” destination, the unimproved road leading to the coastal site is well signed off the primary road in the area.  Be prepared though; the long and winding path leading down to the facility can be very rough on your vehicle!  We had a rental (wink).

Telegraph Lines converge at Ishigaki

Telegraph Lines converge at Ishigaki

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), now defunct and dead station on the beach WMDuring the time in which Taiwan (then Formosa) was administered by Japan, this small structure served as a critical node in the larger Japanese Imperial Army communications system between Taiwan and headquarters in Honshu.  Numerous relay stations were located all the way from the Japanese mainland to Taiwan, all connected by huge undersea cables.  From the Sino-Japanese War until World War II, this station, known as Denshinya, was used by the Japanese military.

Attacks on the Japanese airfield at Ishigaki-jima.

Attacks on the Japanese airfield at Ishigaki-jima.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), old wooden signage WMDuring WWII, it was attack by carrier-based aircraft, was abandoned, and has been in this damaged state ever since.  Severe damage can be seen, and although it appears the building escape a direct hit by bombs, it certainly was well-strafed with heavy machine gun and aircraft cannon fire.  Some locals claim that many ghosts haunt the area, but on the bright, warm sunny day of our visit, we unfortunately (fortunately for my wife) encountered none.  I cannot find any reports of casualties or of the actual attack in my research (read about the frequency and magnitude of attacks across Ishigaki-jim).  Ishigaki was frequently attacked in the lead-up to the Battle of Okinawa, particularly its airfield.  Read about an unfortunate American crew that was shot down perhaps at the same time this station was attacked in Beauty and Honor Entombed, and about their particular story Shipley Bay.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), bullet scars remain WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), now defunct and dead station WMThe facility was never repaired or reclaimed, and continues to deteriorate.  The day we visited there was some archeological study going on, where a Japanese man was taking meticulous measurements which annotated some amazing sketches of the facility he had done.  There is no English here, but there are what appears to be a couple of memorial plaques in Japanese.  As simple and small as the building may appear, it was once played a key role for the Japanese Imperial Government.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), war-torn decaying structure

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), ruined interior WMSurveying the scene today, one can only imagine the horror of the day when the facility was attacked.  Set in a rustic yet beautifully bucolic setting, I’m sure the death from above was both a shock and a surprise to the Japanese that were pulling duty here.  The remoteness of the site, along with the preserved state of battle-damage and ensuing decay, allows this particular location to certainly convey somber and silent commentary on the darker complexion of war.  There certainly was no glory here at this station, even though blood was surely shed.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), Jody modeling the Army's Station

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), station's beach & ocean warningsTo Visit: Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph) 556, Sakieda, Ishigaki City (Ishigaki-shi), Okinawa Prefecture.  There is no fee, nor hours; the site is not lighted, and no facilities are anywhere nearby.  Easy beach access is adjacent to the site, but parking is very limited.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), looking back through time to WWII WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), Jody on the beach-front property 2 WM

A Kite Breeding a Hawk (鳶が鷹を産む)


“A kite breeding a hawk (鳶が鷹を産む),” meaning a splendid child born from common parents.  Of course no parent thinks of their children as common, but you get the point (hopefully).

My son, his wife (the Kites), and Baby Z, the Hawk

My son, his wife (the Uncommon Kites), and Baby Z, the Hawk

“God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.” ~Voltaire

“It takes a long time to become young.” ~Pablo Picasso

“Let them eat cake.” ~Marie Antoinette

Marie knew that cake held great value...for toddlers.

Marie knew that cake held great value…for toddlers.

I am a Grandfather.  Yes, I must put that in writing and mumble it to even myself.  It helps convince me that I am already that old!  My Granddaughter Elizabeth (“Baby Z” or “Eli”) just had her first birthday late last month, and after seeing the pictures of that mixed-cultural by still very American birthday celebration, I got to thinking about how the Japanese mark the occasion and recognize the milestone.

Me and my Granddaughter

Me and my Granddaughter

And, of course, like most other major life events, the Japanese have more formal and more rooted traditions and celebrations.

Thank you card for our gifts

A less formal thank you card

Totoro is my Granddaughter's fav!

Totoro is my Granddaughter’s fav!

In Okinawa, the first birthday of a child is marked by a celebration called tanka-yu-eh, meaning, loosely, “1 year old celebration.”  On this day the child’s family prepares a festive meal to share between relatives who have usually come from all around the island in order to celebrate together.  And, of course like most other aspects of cultural celebrations in Japan, this particular celebration becomes a much more regal and grand celebration when a couple’s first child is male.

erabitori

One of the central elements of the wider celebration is long-practiced ritual called tanka-uranai – the one year fortune-telling, designed to foretell generalized aspects of the child’s future.  This can also be referred to as erabitori (選び取り), or loosely “pick & keep an item”).  Certain items are placed on a tatami mat in front of the son-to-be toddler:  a Japanese abacus, festive red rice, a book, ink and ink stone, money, and in case of a girl a pair of scissors is added.  The baby is turned loose to make his or her way to the item of their choice; all the while, the eager and anxious family members hold their breath in attempts to contain their desire to influence the fortune!

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Money. Smart kid. But will he keep it??

totoro_birthday_card_design_by_mikkimoo27-d5vck0zSo, the first item the child reaches for and touches – NOT the one he or she ends up with – prophesies potential for the youngster.  If the abacus (generally a calculator in more modern times), the youth will become a fellow mathlete (I have been accused of being worse!), which presages a strong business sense.  Red rice (or chop sticks) forecasts plentiful food throughout a long life or culinary skill, while a book or dictionary portends a studious nature leading to a solid education for the child.  Money or a wallet, perhaps the most obvious elements, predicts a life of riches, while the ink and ink stone divines a livelihood in writing.  Some families have also recently started adding a musical instrument as a way to forecast for talent (music, signing, acting), a ruler to predict successful homeownership, and a game ball or sports shoes to prefigure an athletic career.

More Fortune Telling

DSC_4701-1-550x365Finally, for girls turning one, scissors are meant to imply a future as a good housewife and mother, or, what I like to refer to as a “Domestic Engineer.”  Funny thing about sexism in Japan:  the kanji (姦) for kashimashii (noisy/boisterous) is made up of the symbol for “woman,” but not just one woman.  Not two women. No.  There are three women (three “woman” symbols).  What happens when you have three women together?  Of course, they get really noisy.  C’mon ladies; everyone knows that to be an absolute truth (wink)!

noisy-kanji

Happy Birthday in Japanese!

Happy Birthday in Japanese!

In wider Japan outside of Okinawa, there is also another tradition that is only once in a lifetime on hatsu tanjo (初誕生), or “first birthday.”  Although many if not most of our western birthday customs have been thoroughly adopted here in Japan, most Japanese parents continue to celebrate this special day with one or a pair of red-white birthday rice cakes, tanjo mochi (誕生餅).  Here in the Kyushu province of Japan, this particular cake is known as mochi fumi (餅踏み, mochi stepping), and the custom entails the birthday child stepping on the mochi wearing baby-sized waraji (草鞋, straw sandals).

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Mochi Fumi and baby-sized Waraji for “Cake Stepping”

Unhappy Mochi Carrier

Unhappy Mochi Carrier

However, in the rest of Japan, this mochi is commonly known as shoi or seoi or issho mochi (一升餅).  In most areas of Japan, the children carry the mochi on their back or shoulder, either in a bag or bundled up with a furoshiki (風呂敷, wrapping cloth).  Issho is a unit of old Japanese liquid measurement equivalent to ~1800cc, so the mochi are crafted to weigh around 1.8kg (almost 4 pounds exactly), a pretty heavy load for a baby!  And, in a strange twist, some parents attempt to deliberately interfere or prevent their child from walking or crawling smoothly with light pushes, an early attempt at educating children about the bumpy ride of life, full of its ups and downs.  While this may seem an odd way to “happily” celebrate a first birthday, by carrying out this ritual, good-natured parents can extend their wishes that their child be blessed, throughout their life, with enman (円満), an affirmative word representing perfection, harmony, peace, smoothness, completeness, satisfaction and integrity.

The plastic bag is a...nice touch.

The plastic bag is a…nice touch.

For my Granddaughter, I too wish her to be blessed with plentiful and long-lasting enman.  But, I can’t help but wonder what she would have “picked and kept” if the tanka-uranai items were placed in front of her.  What would YOU want your precious one-year-old to choose??

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Anything but scissors, right?!

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Happy First Birthday, Baby-now-Toddler Z!!

What are The Odds (The Right Way)


“Success is simple.  Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.” ~Arnold H. Glasow

“If the odds are a million to one against something occurring, chances are 50-50 it will” ~Unknown

“I’ll enter the same calculations using what we like to call ‘The Right Way’.” ~Fred Randall, Rocketman

What-Are-The-OddsSo the day finally arrives and our household goods are actually on-island and scheduled for delivery.  The movers are due over sometime in the morning, and since our front door is usually ajar for Cleo’s sake (our cat; it’s hard to open doors without a thumb), I hear the moving trucks arrive and it’s only 7:45!  This is going to be a GOOD, early start to the day.

I am called down to inspect the customs seals that are placed on the wooded crates which are they themselves sealed with nails and metal banding.  As I approach the trucks, the first thing I do is count the crates:  we should have six remaining (one, and only one was delivered on-time back in October).

There were eight on the truck.

Well,” I think to myself, “they must have another delivery this afternoon.  No worries!”  After all, the name scribbled on the crates was “KING.”

The movers are all busy undoing the crates; hammering nails out here, cutting metal bands there, prying and splintering wood wherever wood happens to be, and staging moving equipment in order to get the 6,000+ pounds we have been expecting for oh so long up safely and securely to our 5th floor condo.  I am handed the move paperwork government forms in all their finest regalia (as you might imagine), and the customs seal stickers and numbers on those forms are pointed out for me to verify.  I like these guys; they strictly follow standard operating procedures.  Except…

Houston, we have a problem.

They seem to be missing some "stuff," too....

They seem to be missing some “stuff,” too….

None of the seals on the paperwork match any of the seals physically on the crates.  Not even close.  I call the head-mover-guy over and tell him, with a nervous smile, “No matches….”

He is very confused.

He takes the paper work, and looks back and forth between the numerous shifted sheets and the crates a number of frantic times.  He points out the name on the wooded sides of the crates written sloppily in fat permanent black marker, almost like really bad, conservative graffiti.  “Yes, that’s my name….”  There was even a leading initial “J,” for Jody we all assumed, since the move is in her name and under her social security number (I was simply an authorized agent).  He goes back to his paperwork, while I at the same instant spy in the upper corners of the crates a letter-sized piece of paper…too far away to read, but most certainly containing…the small print.

We really shouldn't assume as much as we do....

We really shouldn’t assume as much as we do….

The devil is always in the details.

Turns out, on closer and more careful inspection, this particular shipment was for a “Joshua King, E7, Kadena Air Force Base.”

I was dumbfounded.  What Are the Odds – WATO???  I had an old Skipper from my flying days in the Navy who used the phrase to great effect all the time.  Meaning, no matter how remote the odds may be, if you play with chance enough, your number comes up.  For instance, we used to “cloud-chase,” where we would weave around and through the puffy clouds which are always around the aircraft carrier, relying on the “big-sky, little-airplane” theory of airspace deconfliction.  “WATO?” our skipper would ask, rhetorically of course, but the point was firm.

This is especially true when attempting to navigate an asteroid field....

This is especially true when attempting to navigate an asteroid field….  Or get your HHG to Japan.

chances-of-dyingBut seriously!  There was another inbound shipment to Okinawa (our little corner of the world which we currently occupy), which arrived at the same time, on the same ship, for someone in the military with the same name, and even same first initial.  It seemed rather unbelievable, and certainly incredible enough actually to make me rather incredulous!

Trying to contain my growing frustration and anger, I don’t even take my eyes off the paper-plasted crates when I call out rather loudly (and probably rudely I imagine), “This isn’t my stuff.”

More confusion abounds.  It’s bad enough already that there is a really arduous language barrier between us.  Think about it; throughout Europe and South America, you can pretty easily get by without knowing the language.  The written characters of the language are easily readable and perhaps even wholly recognizable, and there’s a basic, generalized understanding of pronunciation.  Worst case, you can simply match up words and phrases.  Besides, many people in these regions speak English rather well.

Okinawa 2013, Kwuirky Home, dryer control translationAlmost none of this holds true in Okinawa, and the same can be said for many if not most places in Asia, at least those outside of the urbanized areas, particularly where westerners travel, visit, or do business.  Some of the language’s characters here are so complex that it takes a great deal of study to match; you should’ve seen me try to switch on the heat here using our air conditioner remote controls – all in Japanese; hypothermia was setting in by the time I could claim victory!  I explain to the moving crew that my wife’s first name is “Jody,” not “Joshua,” and the realization of the mistake slowly – and finally sets in.

I made Jody call me "Boris" for a day after supplying her heat.

I made Jody call me “Boris” for a day after supplying her heat.

The head-cheese-mover-guy is immediately on the phone with higher headquarters.  I interrupt:  “YOU DO HAVE MY STUFF, RIGHT?”  I’ll tell you this; it was much more of a demand at that point than a question.  “Hai!” came the polite response…with a smile…that just didn’t seem quite right.

It may be a good course, but not a good course of action.

It may be a good course, but not a good course of action.

How much faith do you put in a simple, single word response after going through all of this!?!  Not much.  In the military doing the things that I did, part of becoming quite deft at tactical and strategic planning and execution is that “hope” is not a good course of action, and “faith” is not proactive approach to any situation.

Sometimes faithlessness is punishable.

Sometimes faithlessness is disturbingly punishable.

I am immediately on the phone with the moving company.  I am placed on-hold; no doubt they are probably calling the head-cheese-mover-guy standing right in front of me on his phone to the same place…and both are most likely getting a busy signal!  The very nice and polite English-speaking Okinawan woman at the mover’s office comes back on the line and says, with some measure of relief, “We have your things here; the movers will be back in one hour!”

Now that is hard to believe; remember the thoughts about hope and faith above….  An hour to drive back to the warehouse, unload the trucks (there were two of them), find the right crates, load the right crates back on the trucks, and then drive back to my condo?  Seemed unlikely to me.  I was in no mood to be patronized.

We experienced drama that can only be properly captured in a pop #1 hit.  Sung by a boy-band....

We experienced drama that can only be properly captured in a pop #1 hit. Sung by a boy-band….

Not trusting the system any longer (it is a government-procured and controlled process after all), I asked her rather flatly:  “How many crates do you have.”  “Six,” came the replay.  Good, that was the right – and correct answer.  “What is the first name on the paperwork?”  “Jody-san.”  Right again.  “Okay, one hour; really?”  “Hai!  One hour!!”  I wouldn’t bet on it.

Okinawa Dec 2013, Qwuirky Home, living area

Our Qwuirky Home, with our Goofy Goods

Our Qwuirky Home, with our Goofy Goods

And I would’ve lost.  In the end, the movers did return within an hour, and, perhaps, more incredibly, they returned with the right stuff (the efficiency and responsiveness of the Japanese service industry is the subject of a blog of its own).  The crates were unloaded, our things are here (that quality of the move will be discussed later), and the movers were still gone by about 1 pm, ultimately righting a major wrong in our world…

Okinawa Dec 2013, Qwuirky Home, dining area and computer workstation

…against it seemed, all odds.

What moving horror story do YOU have to share?

may_the_odds_hunger_games

Opportunity Knocks


They missed multiple opportunities for a haircut.

They missed multiple opportunities for a haircut.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” ~Henry Ford

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.” ~Mark Twain

During our first week or two after arrival on Okinawa, Jody and I did a lot of rounding on the shops and concessions available to us on both Kadena Air Force Base and Marine Corps base Camp Foster, the two American-based shopping meccas.  Both locations offered a more normalized “BX” (Base Exchange) experience than any commercial area out on the economy, but also included a wide variety of Asian-based concessioners, both locally based and from throughout the region.  If one is alert and persistent enough, unquestionable treasures can be found and gotten in some of these shops.

During one of these shopping forays we happened onto an Asian furniture concession on Camp Foster.  The couple that was fronting the store were, I believe, from Korea.  The woman spoke passable English; her partner, an older gentleman, did not.  But his English was still much better than my Korean!  Their store was full of Asian-inspired furniture from China, Tibet and Korea, including some very unique and inspiring pieces.  As we were perusing through the shop, literally bloated wall-to-wall and eight feet high with fittings and fixtures of all types, shapes, and sizes, we spied something which immediately caught our collective and collectors’ eye.

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A genuinely exclusive piece.  At once quite old.  And easily assumed that it might just be quite rare.  It drew us in, and stole our imagination with its provocatively emotional keep-sake calls of matrimony past wanting to nurture present love.

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We were told it was a Korean wedding box, about 150-200 years old.  Not a box really, but a collection of nesting boxes all held secure in a wood and iron frame to make a portable yet efficient chest.  When placed together as intended, the trunk is carried by a large square wooden pole that would be placed through the trunk’s handle, and then placed on the shoulders of two or more bearers (depending on weight  I would assume).  The item is also painted with various colored shapes and symbols, and that is covered by a thick layer of lacquer.  Unfortunately, most of the painting’s more colorful elements have been lost to time and the elements, and as a result, the painted illustrations have darkened mostly beyond recognition.  And, in many places, the lacquer coating has cracked extensively and literally chipped off, taking the underlying paint with it in most areas where this has occurred.  The means and methods of construction utilized are really breath-taking: hand-worked iron plating and nail fasteners alongside carved lattice-work in the wooden handle and base.  Bracing the entire set are more forged iron pieces on the sides.  When taken in totality, the crate cries not just “ART,” but emotes a history that you can literally feel, and I insist you can almost hear the stories that are safely sealed in its very inanimate essence.

I was taken aback, stunned at the find, and almost sold on the spot.  But now the hard part:  how do you put a price on such an intimate historical keepsake, and how much would that price be?

opportunity-knocks-quotes

The original price was something like $5,500.  That had been marked down on the tag to I believe something on the order of $2,500.  There is little doubt that our Korean capitalists could tell we wanted this piece.  So, negotiations were in order, and I initiated by low-balling a price of $1,500.  They balked, as expected.

You see, we were still in our temporary lodging, and had no place to keep this chest.  It’s not that large, but we had no room.  We still did not know where we were going to live, and whether this element would “fit” in that place, both in style and in placement.  We were hemorrhaging cash at the time, having had to buy two cars and purchase insurance and titles (~$9,000), and knew we were going to have to put out at least $4,000 in initial housing costs (security & agency fees).  Plus, we just bought our own way out to Okinawa and had yet to even apply for reimbursement (~$2,500).  So, financially, and hell, even pragmatically, it didn’t make any sense to purchase this treasure.

But it was a piece of treasure.

We should have seized the opportunity.

We should have seized the opportunity.

Jody left the decision to me after talking through all of the pros and cons of purchasing.  I decided, silently and internally, that if the sales people would drop to my initial almost silly price of $1,500, we would walk away with this coffer and figure out all the rest latter.  How often would this type of opportunity present itself?  As the saying goes, opportunity only knocks once.  Answer the door.

In the end, they would “only” come down to $1,700, and even then only hesitantly after explaining at length that they couldn’t possibly drop the price anymore due to the nature of this gem:  handmade, one-of-a-kind, an antique, complete with what must surely be an emotionally vivid history – all things true, and which could not be adequately argued against.

So, we walked away, not really knowing if the piece was actually worth that kind of cost anyway…plus all the other reasons not to buy.  BUT, at dinner that evening, we began researching this idea online.  After Jody’s attempts failed to turn up anything significant, I took a stab.  I search for “wedding box pole handle asia antique,” and BINGO, there it was (see below):

yhst-40539389554149_2260_284464092Antique Chinese Wedding Dowry Carrier

This from the SilkRoadCollection.com website:

Item # RB1023X, Price:  $3,000.00

Approximate Age:  circa 1800, Origin:  Shanxi Province, China

Material:  Mixed Woods with Iron

Dimensions:  Width: 32.5″ (82.5cm), Depth:  20.5″ (52cm), Height: 40.5″ (103cm)

Antique Chinese Wedding Dowry Carrier:  A museum quality antique, with its original iron work and much of its original lacquer.  This Chinese antique wedding carrying box would have traditionally been used to carry a bridge’s dowry when moving to her new husband’s family home and/or to carry food to a wedding or other special event.  The square hole in the center of the handle is where the carrying pole would have been inserted.  The handle has pierced lattice-work carvings at each end.  The remaining rugged patina reveals red and black layers of lacquer.  Of special interest are the iron metal work, handles, flat work and bars used throughout the box and the brass nail heads.  Even the base is adhered to the box with metal rods and fasteners.  The four compartment areas of the box open at each end by shifting the compartment above in a different direction. The upper compartment has a lid. The lips of each compartment interlock by nesting into the bottom of the upper cabinet, securing the compartments in place. Today, this carrying box can be used as a side table by placing a glass top over the upper compartment’s lid; as well as for storage.

So, not only was the set genuine (although it was Chinese vice Korean), it also appear to be a *steal* at the price I negotiated!!  We were somewhat shocked:  there is nothing more expensive than a missed opportunity!  So, we elected to go back and purchase the chest right after dinner, suspecting that the vendor would already be closed for the evening.

Alas, they were closed.  But worse, the piece was completely wrapped in plastic.  Was it sold???  Could it have sold in just a matter of a couple of hours??  No problem; we’ll go back the next day and see, and snatch it up if it wasn’t.

We did go back.  Sometime just after noon the next day (Saturday).  And…

…and the store was EMPTY.

So too was waiting....

So too was waiting….

Seems there are a certain number of vendors that make the military rounds from base to base throughout Asia, and stay at each for only a couple of months.  That morning, they had literally loaded up their freight containers for shipping up to somewhere in Honshu.  We pleaded to get the trunk; there was simply no way to get it back out of the shipping container….  So, we left our brand new Japanese cell phone numbers with the owners, who thought they might be back in late October or sometime in November (it was late August at the time).  This did not make me feel better; the odds of that chest not selling at the asking price were slim over time, especially for someone else who did their proper online research and knew what they were looking at.  All it would take is a sentimental sap like me or Jody properly armed with some knowledge and a healthy checkbook or line of credit.  And, even if the chest made it back to Okinawa (say 20%), the odds of that woman hanging onto our number to phone in a sale were even more remote (say 5%).  Taken together (and for you mathletes, to get the total odds, those two individual probabilities must be multiplied together, making the product much smaller), the odds were excessively low.  Something akin to 1%.

Statistics can be tricky, even for a mathlete.

Statistics can be tricky, even for a mathlete.

A missed opportunity.  And then regret sets in….  We pledged that we would not let it slip away again.

Ron Burgundy and I agree on a lot of things....

Ron Burgundy and I agree on a LOT of things….

Fast forward to mid-November.  I had, starting in late October, kept a keen eye out for this particular vendor’s return.  They never did take up residence, and when November was well underway, I thought, in the classic vernacular of Naval Aviation, “NO CHANCE PADDLES.”  On one excursion over to Camp Foster, I saw across the street from the Exchange complex a rather large furniture tent sale set up in a parking lot.  I didn’t bother going over since these types of parking-lot tent sales we had visited up until that point were all, well, rather pointless.  Jody even happened to mention the tent sale a couple of days later after her independent shopping journey; we were eagerly in the market for some bar-height furniture for our balconies (which we had found earlier in the year, but wanted too long in an eerie replay of this story…without a – spoiler alert – happy ending).

Quotation-Francisca-Olivia-chance-opportunity-life-rest-regrets-Meetville-Quotes-19619

So the following week or so, we decided to stop by the tent sale since we happen to be on Foster doing some shopping.  What could it hurt?  It seems there is always something that we need here in Okinawa.  I was expecting and prepared to be let letdown, but it became apparent that this was no Exchange furniture bizarre; rather, it was an Asian furniture vendor, and it appeared to have a lot of items similar to our coveted and missing vendor of earlier in the fall.  I found the man working the area, and he was not one of the sales people we had encountered previously.  I inquired about the couple we had spoken to, and to avoid his clearly broken English, he gave us the international symbol for “I dunno:”  the shoulder shrug….

We continued to walk through the maze of Asian delights, and around a far corner I froze:  could it be???  “Jody, come here!” I exclaimed!

She came up to me and stopped, both of us about 10 feet from the chest we could spy.  I could hear the circuitry firing in her head in time with my own:  could this be our chest?

Our Chest!

Our Chest!

We examined the container.  While we couldn’t exactly recall some of the details of our earlier encounter, there quickly became little doubt that this indeed was the trunk we had coveted…and lost.  And we both agreed, months prior, that IF the chest wound up back on-island, we would not miss the opportunity a second time.  I mimed for the salesman to come over….

Carved wood lattice work.

Carved wood lattice work.

“How much is this piece?” I inquired without even looking closely at it.  “That is $1,500,” he more than casually and quickly replied.

Hand-formed iron nails and plating.

Hand-formed iron nails and plating.

“Are you kidding me,” I thought!  Not only did we “find” the chest again, it was being offered at the low-ball price that I initially used to start negotiations!  I looked at Jody in disbelief; she returned the expression.

Original painting and lacquer finish.

Original painting and lacquer finish.

So, after some closer inspection to make sure that the parts were there and that there was no undue damage other than 200 years of physical wear, emotional tear and numerous international travels, we told him, in no uncertain terms, “SOLD.”

Nesting boxes with lid.

Nesting boxes with lid.

Ironically, when we went to pay and he actually examined closer the pricing of the chest, he realized his mistake with a smile, and said simply something to the effect that we got a very good deal on this particular transaction.

Even Cleo our cat can sense its importance.  Or she just likes to photo-bomb....

Even Cleo our cat can sense its importance. Or she just likes to photo-bomb….

Yes, we did.  But better yet, our regrets from a missed opportunity were all but erased, exchanged for the priceless joy of having a genuinely unique and evocative yet eloquent place to store all our wedding mementos.  The odds of opportunity knocking twice in this fashion are low (probably not astronomically, but close), but the connections here are unlikely and are reminiscent of an early blog where I covered equally unlikely associations (see Long Odds and Unlikely Connections).  The universe sometimes – maybe the majority of the time – generally unfolds pretty much how it should.

regret-chances-we-didnt-take

I have said, for years, that one of the very worst things in life is a missed opportunity.  And because of it, this darker facet of our shared human condition, we all suffer from some level of regret.  Oh, those people who claim “no regrets!” are exactly the type of people who say that to themselves to make themselves feel better about all the miss opportunities in their own lives….  In this particular case, we were lucky; opportunity came knocking twice after we failed to answer the door at the first calling, and regrets were not avoided but subverted.

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This story could have very well had an ending full of lament and regret.  And although we can all strive to limit such unfortunate occurrences in our lives, we all live, to some degree or another, with missed opportunities and the regrets which result.  What story do you have about a missed opportunity, or better yet, when has opportunity give you a second chance?

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And more importantly…ANSWER THE DOOR!

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Death by Public Service Announcement: Commercials on AFN


fear

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.” ~ Sophocles

“We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.” ~ Christian Nestell Bovee

Yoda-Fear-is-the-path-to-the-dark-side_-Fear-leads-to-anger_-Anger-leads-to-hate_-Hate-leads-to-suffering-Yoda

Okay, I’ve decided to finally try to capture the true nature and extent of the Commercially Induced Culture of Fear that the military has created and under which it seems to thrive overseas when they hold the monopoly on most, if not all things media.

I’m talking about the commercials on Armed Forces Network (AFN).  Well, actually they should be more appropriately called Public Service Announcements.

But then again, they are none of those things.

They are crafted not for the public, but for what I can only assume is us, the people our leadership considers wholly mindless, relatively incapable, and quite immature military servicemembers and dependents on the island.  Sorry contractors – you fall somewhere in that mix as well, although you are generally compensated much more appropriately to endure this pain and suffering..

The only “service” from these PSA’s is in a nostalgic, prison-influenced characterization of “time-served” once removed from Okinawa and it’s falsely created, media-limited bubble.  Any prudent, normalized American would and could only assume such attempts at brain-washing and behavioral control would be attempted on, say, designated political deviants in a gulag of the ex-USSR…or within Camp X-Ray of GTMO in 2003.

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And finally, announcement is defined by Google as “a public and typically formal statement about a fact, occurrence, or intention.”  Okay, we’ve already talked about intentions (see brain-washing and behavioral control above, if you need reminded, which the military would assume given that you are mindless and incapable on your own), and while the barebones facts of the content making up this propaganda in many cases are sound, they are projected or extrapolated into occurrences which, in one way or another, will kill you….

So, I’ve taken notes on the commercials I heard yesterday.  Now, remember, this is for one day and one day only.  It does encompass scanning back and forth between the one AM and one FM station available here.  But it’s even better than that:  it’s for only that time in one day when I was in my car.  Which is, basically, a trip or two to a store and/or the commissary, a trip to the gym, perhaps a dive shop or two, and finally a relatively long detour to a different exit from the base due to an accident and massive traffic backup….  But still probably no more than 90 minutes.  Check this out and tell me I’m not over-reacting:

  • Vaccines.  Get your dang adult vaccines or HPV, Tetanus, Shingles and Whopping Cough will kill you, your family, and your friends.  Okay, I’ll give the military this:  Tetanus is a killer, and HPV can cause cancer…which is a killer.  BUT, being in or associated with the military here on Okinawa, we all are screen for and required to get vaccines (see Always Listen to your Momma)!  So what’s the point??
The Vaccine that we all really need....

The Vaccine that we all really need….

  • FDIC.  Yes, without the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, your money isn’t safe, and ultimately you will die.  Except this time poor and destitute.
IOUs are about as good as Cash

IOUs are about as good as Cash

  • Water Safety.  Swimming and/or water sports can result in drowning…which will kill you.  If you gave in to the warnings, you wouldn’t even look at the water with any sense of longing or excitement.

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  • Finances.  If you don’t plan well, you run out of time to build a retirement and then you die.  Poor once again.  Imagine if you ignored financial planning AND blew off the FDIC.  Surely a sign of the End of Days.
A Typical Approach to Retirement Planning

A Typical Approach to Retirement Planning

  • Emergency Room.  The order cases are taken are based on triage (who doesn’t know this??), so don’t forget that unless you are dying, you’ll have to wait….
Don't use the ER as your Family Practice Clinic.  Or dentist....

Don’t use the ER as your Family Practice Clinic. Or dentist….

  • Tours.  Okay, there was something helpful about upcoming tours offered by the Air Force and Marine Corps.  But seriously, a 30 minute radio show?  The radio personalities on AFN barely know how to operate the former, and lack the latter.

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  • Integrity.  Dirt-bag airmen will in some bizarre linkage of unintended consequences, you guessed it, kill you.  Something about “resilient airmen,” whatever that means, although it suspiciously seems connected with all the highly flexing yoga I see the Air Force doing at the base gym.
Real Integrity.  And Guts.

Real Integrity. And Guts.

  • Heroes.  An interesting snippet on General Marshall, of “Marshall Plan” fame.  I’ve tried, but I don’t see much chance of dying from this one.  Although the piece does tie him to setting the state for the European Union, which may in the coming hears lead to the deaths of a number of national economies.

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  • Terror.  Yes, terrorists will kill you.  Even though Okinawa is, factually, the safest place I’ve live and will ever live, we are led to believe that just about everyone and everything should be considered suspicious.  No doubt we should be hugging our pillows tight and sleeping with one eye open.

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  • DUI.  Drinking and driving will kill you, your friends, and someone else’s family.  True enough.  This is an issue here on Okinawa, but not because of the Japanese; the vast majority of tickets, arrests, and related issues are initiated by Americans on and to Americans.
Drunk Uncle to the Easter Bunny

Drunk Uncle to the Easter Bunny

  • Sports Pads.  Without them, you’ll die….  Don’t forget that mouth-guard!  Even knocked-out teeth can die.
Not to mention bike helmets....

Not to mention bike helmets….

  • Seatbelts.  Adult seatbelts will kill your kids.  Oh, so will airbags…when using adult seatbelts.  The piece doesn’t say anything about bouncing around the back of a station wagon like we all did growing up.
But what about our pets??

But what about our pets??

  • Etiquette.  You would not believe how often I hear this particular commercial:  “The Senior Member Enters a Car Last so that they may Exit the Car First.”  Really?  And who the heck requires this timely piece of military etiquette?  I can only imagine that an overly irate senior-ranking member of the AFN establishment might be so frustrated over the insult of leaving the car second (or god forbid, last) that they would resort to murder.
The Etiquette surrounding an office love-affair with a Jeanie is a bit more involved.

The Etiquette surrounding an office love-affair with a Jeanie is a bit more involved.

  • Spice & Salvia.  Taking drugs will kill you.  Oh, so will supplements.
Probably not the Spice in question.

Probably not the Spice in question.

  • Typhoons.  Even in Tropical Typhoon Condition of Readiness 4 – the lowest, base level of concern during the entire season, a typhoon can kill you within 72 hours.
Typhoons are deadly...to Asian umbrellas!

Typhoons are deadly…to Asian umbrellas!

  • CAC Cards.  If you lose your ID card, a terrorist will get it and ultimately kill you.  See “Terror” above.
Some IDs ARE a license to kill.

Some IDs ARE a license to kill.

  • VA.  A playful take of VA benefits and services using a “greatest hits” approach.  But not playful enough to be entertaining the 2nd through 23rd times heard.
This Culture of Fear is not helping those with PTSD

This Culture of Fear is not helping PTSD

And finally, I saved my favorite for last.  Against all this other fearful chatter, there is the most odd and misplaced radio ditty concerning breast-feeding called “Every Ounce Counts;” you can listen to song Healthy Baby Healthy Mama here.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m a full-time supporter of breastfeeding, and understand pretty well all the benefits to baby and Mom that come from this wholly natural and nature’s intended way of feeding babies.  But seriously, is this radio spot really necessary?  I cringe every time I hear this song and can’t help but think about the continual castration of the warrior class of the military long past….

Oops.  This pint-sized glass if for another type of drink....

Oops. This pint-sized glass if for another type of drink….

But, more critically, I would love to see a serious medical research study done on the effects and efficacy of such attempts at mind and behavioral control.  Two things strike me – a non-medically trained observer, but one with quite a bit of graduate education.

First, creating a culture of fear and imposing this culture on people 24/7 is counter-productive.  You can only cry “Wolf!” or that the “Sky is falling!” so many times before someone simply stops listening, and more dangerously, they stop caring.  The military reaches this point after a week on-island.  A persuasive and over-stated culture of fear benefits no one.

Radio does have its place.

Radio does have its place.

Second, there could be consequences, potentially serious, for subjecting the force to this type of indoctrination.  If you tell a young, moldable minded individual that everyone and everything, everywhere and anywhere, is dangerous, what results?  There is where a formalized study would not only be interesting but is one I believe long overdue and ultimately necessary.

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I’ve written about the failures of military leadership in this blog before (see Epic Fail), and about AFN too (see Team America).  The commercials or PSAs or whatever you want to call them are the source of a lot of consternation online, the source of a whole slew of jokes on-island, and worst, is responsible for creating an overall lack of respect for the governmental-military-industrial complex…which includes leadership, large and small.  The fact that the collective “we” of the military community on Okinawa are continually subjected to be treated like children who don’t know any better so that we must be constantly reminded about the dangers around every corner and in every person, action, place or thing actually results in a backlash against the establishment.  And why leadership can’t see this, why they are not more aware of just how bad AFN is in this regard and how badly it is perceived, to me means they aren’t listening.

To AFN.  Or to those they wish to lead.  Now that’s something that truly should be feared.

Fear is a prison for your mind

Speaking Through Art: Deaf-initely Different Artists of Okinawa


“Painters must speak through paint, not through words.”

~Hans Hofmann (March 21, 1880 – February 17, 1966), a German-born American abstract expressionist painter

Speaking Through Paint

Speaking Through Paint

A few weeks ago I was coming home from grocery shopping, first bringing up to our 5th floor condo as many bags as I could before I returned to my vehicle to load up our handcart with the remainder.  During this first trip, I caught a glimpse through the elevator door windows as it climbed through the other floors of an older gentlemen, certainly not American, and with that same tube slung across one shoulder.  Could it possibly be him?  What are the odds?  Stranger things have happened (see Kishikaisei: Long Odds & Unlikely Connections)….

Okinawa’s Most Famous Deaf Painter

Gusukuma's Portrait of the Sacred Beast Baize

Gusukuma’s Portrait of the Sacred Beast Baize

Gusukuma Seihō (城間 清豊, 1614- 1644) was an official court painter at the royal court of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, located in present day Okinawa, also known as Ji Ryō (自了) and by the Chinese-style name Qin Kesheng (欽可聖, Kin Kasei).  He was born to an aristocratic family in Shuri where his father was a musician.  However, Gusukuma was born a deaf mute and thus focused his energies in a different direction from that of his father, teaching himself instead to paint being heavily influenced by Chinese culture and paintings of the period.

Hearing of the young painter, King Shō Hō in Shuri called him to his court and bestowed upon him the name Ji Ryō.  It is said that the Chinese investiture envoys in Okinawa at the time who witnessed his paintings compared him to some of the top painters in China, and that Kanō Yasunobu, court painter for the Tokugawa Shogunate in mainland Japan, similarly praised the artist when one of Gusukuma’s works was brought to Edo in 1634.

Most of Gusukuma’s works were destroyed in the 1945 battle of Okinawa, with only one extant work bearing a Seal (rakan) confirming it to have been painted by Gusukuma.  Depicting a fantastic creature known as bai ze in Chinese and hakutaku in Japanese, it is held by the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and has been designated an Okinawa Prefectural Important Cultural Property.

Present-Day Artistic Connections

Back in 2005 I was in my apartment within a block off the Sunabe Seawall when there was a knock at the door.  At the time I was separated from my now ex-wife, and was quite alone, and even dare I say lonely.  There are few reasons anyone would knock on your door while living off-base in Japan.  This time involved an old Chinese man, with a large tube and sash slung over his shoulder.  He smiled wide with his whole lover face, and even more brightly using his bright and lively eyes while handing me a card stating that he was deaf-mute and that he was traveling door-to-door selling his paintings.  Perhaps wanting the company, but certainly because of the changes I was going through at the time, I eagerly invited this artist into my home and asked him to show me his work.  He did, and what ensued for the next hour was the most interesting exchange of conversation, culture, and yes, negotiations for a painting I fell in love with.

We concluded our business with payment and offers of refreshments, and when we were done, I wished him well, knowing that I helped make a difference in this man’s life, while gaining an original, colorful and emotional remembrance of that most difficult time for me in the Far East.  The painting is framed and has been displayed in my home back in Pensacola; we are currently awaiting its arrival here in Okinawa where it will continue to be proudly displayed.

The 2005 Painting at Far Right

The 2005 Painting at Far Right

Signing "Art"

Signing “Art”

However, in the almost present day, on my second trip up with an even fuller load of groceries, I stopped the elevator at each floor and checked the building’s corridors looking for this man.  I had to know:  was it him?  I felt the universe prodding me on, and certainly its calling to buy another piece of Far Eastern art.  He was found on the third floor, all the way at the far north western end of one of the breezeway, where he was pausing on his journey of chores to enjoy the view of the East China Sea.  I attempted to gain his attention by calling out to him, first in a loud voice, but then again in a commanding plea.  That is until it dawned on me that, of course, he was most certainly deaf!  I could see that the tube did indeed hold a number of canvases rolled together.  Could it really be him?  I was flabbergasted at the notion.  I grew even more eager to re-establish what I thought was once-in-a-lifetime tie to the Far East, and to entertain and be entertained by this engaging personality yet again.

I got his attention as he spun around to go down the stairwell, and motioned for him to follow me.  He did, with a large grin and bright, smiley eyes.  I was certain this was the same man, and I could only think that I had caught that glimpse for a reason, for us to reacquaint ourselves with each other and with his admired work.

paint trayHe followed me into my place, helping me maneuver my loaded cart of groceries.  He wanted to give me his “I’m a deaf-mute card…” but I refused with a smile of my own, waving it away already knowing while inviting him into our living room.  I mimed that I was going to put away groceries, and he took my cue right away; he cleared an area on our rug near the dining room table and started to unroll his paintings, pulling over a chair for me to sit in and view each piece has he displayed them in turn one at a time.

Okinawa Oct 2013, Painter's Art displaying his craft

Okinawa Oct 2013, deaf-mute conversations 1I settled relatively quickly on three finalists.  As I viewed the work they struck me as quite different from the set I viewed back in 2005.  Most of these present-day works were much too graphically simple; however, three really did catch my eye.  We briefly discussed price; I knew I was going to haggle, but only to maintain both our honors.  Art that is original and beloved is extremely hard to price.  Oil paintings of the size and quality he offered at the prices requested were certainly reasonable.  I took him into our bedroom and showed him our drapes and window treatments; he immediately understood that I wanted to make sure they matched our current décor and scheme.  He brought the finalists in and laid them on our bed, where we continued to discuss the paintings and pricing a bit more, but ultimately I told him that my wife had to agree and make the final decision.  I invited him back in 45 minutes when I knew that Jody would be home and have some time to review the paintings.  He agreed, and left the works there for us to contemplate.

Conversational Snippets

Conversational Snippets

Now, keep in mind that these “conversations” were all executed via a small notepad and pen.  He was more than literate in English; he could read and write exceedingly well, and also was able to pick up on some nuances of humor and slang of our language!  It was really a pleasure to be able to communicate so well with someone who couldn’t communicate in the more common fashion in which we all fail much too often.

My First Painting from 2005 at Far Right

My First Painting from 2005 at Far Right

However, in these discussions I mentioned that I bought a painting from him in 2005.  He said yes, and was so very excited to find a repeat customer!  I’m sure he too was thinking, “What long odds!”  However, when I pulled up a picture of this previous painting and displayed it on our computer he immediately recognized it as a friend’s work, and mimed that this other artist had died and departed this realm.  He was very sad, and wrote me his name; they both were of Chinese origin, and knew each other through their works and particular “membership” in the deaf-mute artistic segment of society in Okinawa.  He missed his friend, and no doubt this all was a vivid reminder of our shared but limited time on this planet.

Jody and Our Artist Proudly Display Our Newest Far Eastern Painting

Jody and Our Artist Proudly Display Our Newest Far Eastern Painting

It’s hard to image that seeing that fleeting glimpse of a man’s back would lead to such circular connections.  And it’s hard to leave this to chance.  I am honored to have met these two men, and am proud to display their work in our home.  The degrees of separation between us are always far fewer than we ever care to count.  And seeing what others endure and overcome always helps to put our own problems in much clearer, more reasonable perspective.  It is during times like these that perhaps I feel the most human, knowing that such karmic connections can and do happen, and that life is meant to be lived, captured, and happily displayed in as many forms as we can imagine.

Okinawa’s “Rubella Children”

Okinawa has an interesting if not tragic connection to the deaf community.  The Okinawa Prefecture Kitashiro School for the Deaf established in 1978 was the only school for the Deaf which combined junior and high school programs spanning the last six years of primary education in Japan.  It was specially established in order to meet the need of the great number of children born in 1964 through 1965 who lost hearing due to a massive outbreak of German measles (rubella) on Okinawa.

Vaccine Squashes Measles

Vaccine Squashes Measles – but only after the outbreak of the early 1960s

Starting in 1963, there had been an outbreak of rubella in the United States, and this was most likely transmitted to the Okinawa Island through America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  At the time, that war was significantly increasing in violence and bloodshed, and Okinawa more and more began to serve as a major staging area for B-52 bombers entering the conflict.  Troop levels and rotations massively increased, while Americans mingled freely with the Okinawans.

Okinawa's Deaf-Mute Baseball Team

Kitashiro’s Deaf-Mute Baseball Team

Over 500 “rubella children” (fushinji) were born in this time period in Okinawa Prefectures, most with severe or multiple disabilities, with almost all deaf or hard of hearing.  Although these deaf students were initially mainstreamed in local schools, they quickly ended up falling significantly behind their hearing peers academically.  The Prefectural school board thus made a decision to build a special school that would be ready in time to capture this student pool as they entered middle school, and which could more properly provide educational services throughout high school along with vocational training.  In 1984, with all the affected students having matriculated, the school officially closed.  However, Okinawa’s reputation as a place of compassion and refuge for people with such challenges lives on.

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