(The following was written Monday, October 18, on the way from Seisen-ryo to Tokyo. I could not upload the photos from Tokyo (bad connection) so this posting is being done from the US. As a matter of fact, it is being done from Kansas City, MO, where Joanne and I are attending the National Collegiate Honors Council’s 45th annual conference along with a delegation of EKU students and faculty.)
It seems the only time I have to write on this trip is when we are on a bus. The work and play of the delegation at KEEP is behind us and we are on the ride back to Tokyo where we will enjoy an afternoon and evening in the city before heading to the airport on tomorrow. Joanne and I are in our 16th day in Japan. While we have enjoyed this trip here like no other, we are ready to come home.
The delegation looked not too timeworn as they came into the terminal after clearing Japanese immigration and customs. Looks can be deceiving, however, and most we asleep by the time we made it through Tokyo. Most, too, were up early the next morning eager to explore their new surroundings.
First came an orientation and work session where we went over the details of the week and prepared 14 official gift bags which the delegation would present to a variety of dignitaries over the week. For me, one of the highlights came with Yasuko Tonegawa had the opportunity to meet James Rusch, nephew of the late Dr. Paul Rusch, whom the Japanese of the Yatugatake Highlands revere. The striking similarity to his uncle made Jim an instant celebrity.
That evening, we attended the official welcoming reception, sponsored by our host, Hokuto City. Mayor Shirakura and I spoke and both of us made our remarks in Japanese. Part of the evening’s entertainment was a group of ladies who played some beautiful music on some scaled down versions of the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument.
Thursday was a very busy day. We visited the city’s experimental solar panel test sign. Picked by the Japanese Central government, Hokuto City’s site has 27 different brands of solar panels from nine countries. They test the output of these different units under a variety of weather conditions. Not surprisingly, they have found that all the units have different strengths and weaknesses.
Then it was to city hall where Mayor Shirakura and some of his senior leadership team informed us about education, tourism, and details about the city’s budget and operations. Then I got to sit in his chair.
Our next stop was a local nursery school, where the children “clapped” the delegation in to the school property. Joanne is leading the way in this photo. She is followed by Masako Meshino, longtime. Brian Ragsdale, who introduced me to the study of Japanese, is in the background, followed by Sandy and Jim Clark and James Dantic.
Later, we visited an historic sake brewery attached to a home where the Meiji emperor spent the night more than 130 years ago. The room where he stayed was not entered by another person for more than 60 years, because it was believed by the Japanese people that he was a god on earth. It was not until the end of World War II, when Emperor Hirohito declared that he was a mortal man that persons were allowed to enter the room again. The gate through which the Meiji emperor entered the property has remained unopened since he used it.
Then we visited the Suntory Hashuku whisky distillery. This whisky is single malt whisky, made in virtually the same fashion as Scotch whisky, even to the use of once used bourbon barrels. The barrels are recharred up to five times and used to age the whisky from 10 to 31 years.
Next was a trip to a small Buddhist temple famed for having one of Japan’s three oldest trees on its property. This cherry tree, which blooms profusely each spring attracting hundreds of tour busses per day, is more than 2,000 years old.
Friday was spent getting to Minobu-san, the site of a large and impressively beautiful Buddhist temple complex. It is the home base of the same sect as operated the small temple we visited on Thursday. A visitor can take all the outside photographs he or she wants, but photographs of the interiors must be taken while standing outside, as the interior shot here was taken.
Saturday we saw the beginning of the Paul Rusch Yatsugatake County Fair. I have written about this even in past blogs. This year’s was the most spectacular I have seen. The weather was wonderful and the crowds were very large, with 25 thousand at least there on each day. The food was great, the dogs amazing, and the children as beautiful as ever. When I presented James Rusch to the crowd during the opening ceremonies, the crowd reaction was overwhelming.
Sunday was a repeat of Saturday and the second day’s use of the new Madison County Booth display designed by EKU art department chair, Dr. Herb Goodman. We are already talking about how we need a booth that will better display them.
Departure from Seisen-ryo this morning (Monday) was the same sweet sorrow as always. Each of us is eager to get home to Kentucky, but sad to leave this place beautiful for both its scenery and its people. Tokyo will be a stark contrast, but I look forward to showing the first timers on the trip Nakamise Street, the Cannon Temple, and the lights of the Ginza and Akihabara.
This has been our longest, most productive, and most enjoyable trip to Japan. I truly believe we have finally gotten the ball rolling toward a partnership with Rikkyo University. I learned a lot in my first American Committee for KEEP/KEEP board meetings and look forward to my involvement on a team of Americans and Japanese charged with developing international involvements for KEEP that will generate private support. My fellow ACK board members and the members of the KEEP board are solid people whom I have grown to respect. This certainly includes Tetsuro Kuroda-san whom I have known since my first trip to Japan 12 years ago.
The war is mentioned from time to time; sometimes as the Pacific War and sometimes as World War II. It is always a matter of fact reference and without the slightest hint of animus. Based on the relationships I have with my Japanese friends, it is almost hard to imagine that our fathers and uncles were at war. That’s the basis for a good part of my belief in the value of international relations. I believe they are a way help insure future understanding and peace.