More Than An Apple A Day

The longest lived people in the world live in Okinawa.  What is their secret?  Well, it isn't a secret and it is more than one thing.  Foremost among them is a low fat, whole food plant based diet, with  nearly 70 percent of calories coming from sweet potatoes.  You may  be surprised to learn that  only about 3% of calories come from fish, other meats or dairy.  Rice, beans, vegetables (including sea vegetables), and fruit make up the remainder of their diet.  You will find similar diets in other long lived groups around the world, such as the vegetarian and vegan Seventh Day Adventists in the USA.

In addition, they have a good social network, a spiritual outlook on life, and get plenty of exercise. 

Most centenarians definitely do NOT eat the standard American diet or even the modern Japanese diet, which increasingly includes meat, oil, dairy, eggs, sugar and other unhealthy foods which results in more cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases.

To help us ALL learn how we can avoid the most common diseases and live a longer,  healthier, happier life is Dr. Michael Greger with this year's (fun!) annual presentation:

"More Than an Apple a Day: Preventing the Most Common Diseases"-
This video has had over a million views on YouTube already. Thanks Doc!

Be happy. Be well.


Taiko Obon Drummers of Maui

Obon, the Buddhist festival to honor those who have gone before us and welcome their spirits back for a visit in our hearts, has just passed.  In Japan, communities hold (secular) home town festival dances - furusato matsuri.  For  Hawaii and areas where Japanese immigrants settled in the Americas,  it brings bon odori - dances at temples founded by them.

 Maui Taiko is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the art of taiko on Maui.

The dancers at bon odori form concentric ovals or circles around a central stage - the yagura - from which emanates the music and announcements.

The video below is from Maui and focuses on three taiko drummers.  The drummers go to each of Maui's many dances.   I used to know the people drumming, but as I left Maui nine years ago I don't recognize the new guys.   This video was taken at Wailuku Hongwanji, where Pandabonium was a member for many years. The dance is "Nippon Hare Bare Ondo" -  or Japan Joyous Feeling  (or cheerful) Song. At the end of each stanza it goes "sore, odorimashou"... which is  "let's dance".   (I highly recommend that you watch the videos in this post on full screen).

In addition to these drummers, some songs are played by a group called Maui Taiko which was founded in 1996 to keep the tradition alive by teaching taiko drumming to succeeding generations.  They play "Fukushima Ondo" and their founding member, Kay Fukumoto, sings the song live.   They do other performances and Kay Fukumoto has taught Fukushima Ondo to many other taiko groups including Mid-West Buddhist Taiko in Chicago, Denver Taiko, San Jose Taiko, and Las Vegas Kaminari Taiko.

Do visit their webpage Maui Taiko: A Tradition for Generations which has a great video clip about their history - it is the history of Japanese people in Hawaii really.   In 2011, they produced an award winning DVD available in English (close captioned) and one with Japanese subtitles.  Check it out here: Great Grandfathers Drum DVD.

As fun as the festivals are in Japan, there are usually only two or three dances - the local town dance, Tanko bushi (coal miner's song), and perhaps one other.*   The dances in Hawaii and many North American temples,  hold a special charm.  Why?  For one thing because they are held at temples and are preceded by an Obon religious service, whereas in Japan, at least out here in the boonies, they are secular events put on by the city (though people still call them bon odori).   K  - my K, not to be confused with Kay mentioned above - tells me that our local Shingon temple members used to dance when she was growing up.  Perhaps such dances will return in the future.  I hope so, as such things are part of the fabric of local community.) 

Also, the various Buddhist sects on Maui get together and each hosts dancers from all the other sects, so that instead of one bon dance, there are many.  And  since Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii from many parts of Japan, there are many local dances represented.  At Hawaii bon dances one can see, and participate in a lot of different dances.  And the tradition of bon odori is on-going, with new ondo (songs) and dances being devised.  The dance schedule is published in the local newspapers and practice sessions are held.

So, if you have the opportunity, do go to watch and join in.  The dances usually start with the easier ones - Tankobushi (coal miner's song) and Sakura Ondo (cherry blossom song).  So perhaps try those first.  Keep your eyes to the dancers in the center ring, as they are the teachers on whom you can rely to show you how it is done.

On Maui you have one more chance this year: Aug 31 (Sat) Kula Shofukuji Shingon Mission;  Service 6:30pm Dance 7:30pm.   This is a wonderful venue as is on the slopes of Mt. Haleakala offering cooler air and beautiful views of Central Maui.  For information Phone: 808-661-0466
Here's Maui Taiko and Fukushima Ondo at Kula Shofukuji last year:

Odori mashou!

*For the last Furusato Matsuri we attended here in Kashima City, checkout the 2008 post "Kashima City Furusato Matsuri".


4,000 Hits

Not on this blog (which has had nearly a quarter of a million hits), but on the baseball bat of Suzuki Ichiro who presently plays for the New York Yankees.

Only three baseball players in history have achieved 4,000 hits:  Peter Rose, Ty Cobb, and now Japan's own Suzuki Ichiro.

What I like about Suzuki-san is that he is very self-disciplined. 

Personally I'm not a baseball fanatic.  The one and only professional league game I ever attended was in Dodger Stadium and to give you an idea of how long ago that was you can Google the name of the pitcher: Sandy Coufax (hint - we're talking the 1960's). 

Not that I dislike the game.  I used to enjoy playing softball for the marketing department of an electronics firm I worked for against the manufacturing and engineering teams.  

This post is dedicated to my high school buddy and fellow trombonist Lynn T who, with his brother, Randy, bring you "Let's Talk Dodgers" via YouTube.  The only Dodgers fan podcast on the net.  Lynn is on the right (how does he play trombone with that mustache?  very well actually!); Randy is on the left.

Frankly they talk so fast and I'm so ignorant about matters baseball, that I don't know what's going on most of the time.  But their enthusiasm is amazing.   And they win points from me for mentioning Suzuki Ichiro in this clip.  For more reasons to like Ichiro, they should look to more of his record of achievements here: reasons why.

Old joke:

Q: What are the last two words of the United States of America's National Anthem?

A: Play Ball!


Sea Vegetables for Health

I really like using the term "sea vegetables" rather than the commonly used term "seaweed".  In Japan, they are called "kaisou" - sea plants - but there are specific names for each of the many different sea plants.

Japanese people have been eating several kinds of kaisou for hundreds of years. Some of the ones most popular in Japan are nori, iwanori, hijiki, kombu, and wakame. For pictures of the most common sea vegetables here and a brief description of how they are used, check out this webpage on  Eat-Japan (just click the picture to open the page)

Sea vegetables are known to have anti-cancer properties in addition to their healthful ingredients.  In this short video, Dr. Michael Gregor asks, "which seaweed is most protective against breast cancer?"  I found it amazing how effective sea vegetables are in fighting disease and how little one needs to consume in order to obtain large benefits.

Of course, as is evident by the statistics shown in the video, eating a plant based diet which avoids meats and dairy products as much as possible is of prime importance in reducing your chances of developing cancer and for attaining and supporting optimal health. 


Peachy Summer Cut

by Momo the Wonder Dog

I'm happy 'cause I went to the doggy beautician and got a bath and a summer cut.  Mari - my beautician - gave me a marine themed bandana too, with anchors, ship's wheels, sailboats, rope, um I mean "line", and seabirds on it.

When I got home, I got lots of attention.  Maybe because I look so cute?  Or perhaps because I smell a lot nicer! K gave me a nice belly scratching.

Then she tried to get me to pose for the camera, but I was having none of it.

More "scritchies" please.

Now I'll see if I can get them to offer me some doggy treats. I hope you're enjoying your summer, too!


Dai Hiroshima Ondo Revisted Part IV

This is the final installment of this series of posts. Earlier posts can be found here:
Dai Hiroshima Ondo Revisited Part I
Dai Hiroshima Ondo Revisited Part II
Dai Hiroshima Ondo Revisited Part III

On our third day in Hiroshima, we revisited the Peace Park. This time we also took in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which has so much information and so many displays that we broke it up into two visits.

In an age when thousands of nuclear weapons, all magnitudes more powerful than the ones used on Japan, stand in silos, airbase bunkers, and submarines, ready to be launched within minutes, and some people actually glibly call for their use, it is good to learn about what the effects of these weapons are. The museum is an excellent source of in depth knowledge on that topic, made personal by the stories of victims and artifacts of daily life - watches stopped at 8:15 AM, the time of attack - melted bottles, even melted roof tiles - an intact lunch box still containing rice, which a mother found under the burned body of her fourteen year old son.

And recollections of victims, like these:

"A dragonfly flitted in front of me and stopped on a fence. I stood up, took my cap in my hands, and was about to catch the dragonfly when . . . ."

From Yoshito Matsushige, the sole surviving photographer who could only bring himself to take five photographs, "I fought with myself for thirty minutes before I could take the first picture. After taking the first, I grew strangely calm and wanted to get closer. I took about ten steps forward and tried to snap another, but the scenes I saw were so gruesome my viewfinder clouded with tears."

And a this, “I went with my uncle to the charred rubble of his house, where my aunt had been. Near the back door, we halted. “Ah! Ahh…” We couldn’t speak. There before our eyes were the skeletal remains of my aunt, still standing. With large teardrops flowing down his cheeks, my uncle said, “Oh, how hot you must have been! I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” My uncle gently tried to clasp her skull with both hands, but it suddenly fell apart into pieces on the ground.”

The main wing of the museum as seen from the Peace Flame.

Looking from the museum over the Memorial Cenotaph, Peace Flame with the Atomic Dome in the distance.

The area that is now the Peace Park was a residential neighborhood of wooden houses. On August 6, 1945, people, many of them children, were busy demolishing some of the homes to make fire breaks in anticipation of a conventional bomb attack.

Atomic Dome

On our last day, we visited the Atomic Dome once more then headed north from the park toward Hiroshima Castle. The castle, originally built in the late 16th century, was destroyed by the Atomic bomb, of course, and was rebuilt in 1958. It houses a museum of the city's pre-war history. We were not interested in the castle itself, however, but something on the castle grounds that I had read about and was curious to see. To get out of the August sun, we walked part of the way through an underground shopping mall.

Guard house of Hiroshima Castle

The moat around the guard house also separates it from the castle.

If you enlarge the picture above (click on it) you can see a berm or mound above the wall in the center of the picture. During WWII this was a communications bunker.
Once open to the public, the bunker is now sealed and marked with a plaque.

This housed the communication room of the Chugoku Regional Military Headquarters. Chugoku is the name for the entire region of west Honshu from Kyoto to the west end of the island.

Soldiers in the bunker were assisted by Hijiyama Girls' High School students mobilized for the war effort. The atomic bomb destroyed telephone and telegraph lines, but the students, using the barely intact military phone system, managed to relay news of the destruction of Hiroshima. Theirs seems to have been the first report of the atomic bombing.

Photo of the communications bunker taken by a US Army photographer, October 1945

The bunker was 700 meters from the hypocenter. We slipped though a narrow passageway between two sections of the bunker, only to find a dead end alley with an incinerator at the end. On the West side I found two sealed windows. However, there was slit that was just large enough to allow me to take a photo of the interior.

Inside the bunker.

In addition to carp, there are lots of turtles in the moat.

After lunch I took a few last pictures of Hiroshima and some monuments.

The Gates of Peace, constructed in 2005, says "peace" in 49 languages.

Mother and Child in the Storm - a mother with one child at her side and another trying to cling to her back, bends forward against the blast.

Over the last century, the proportion of civilian deaths in war has increased dramatically. In WWI it was 14%; in WWII, 67%; in the Vietnam War, the US dropped the equivalent of one 500 lb. bomb for every person in the country and killed three million Southeast Asians. In the 1980's civilian deaths accounted for 75% of war casualties, and now, the proportion is over 90%. With nuclear weapons, the victims are almost all civilians. This post is not to lay blame on this country or that, but rather to draw attention to the universal suffering caused by war and the fact that innocents are increasingly its victims.

During World War II, the United States totally destroyed five cities - Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

'President Truman was aboard the cruiser Augusta, returning from the Potsdam conference, when he was informed of the United States' incineration of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb. Truman was exultant. He declared, "This is the greatest thing in history!" He went from person to person on the ship, officers and crew alike, telling them the great news like a town crier.'
~JFK and the Unspeakable, Why He Died and Why it Matters James W. Douglass 2008

The full realities of the effects of nuclear weapons were hidden from the public for decades, and a mythology justifying their use on Japan was spun, as cold warriors planned for World War IV. Only in the last decade or so have documents become unclassified which reveal the truth. To those still clinging to the mythology of necessity, I urge you to do some reading. Soon after WWII Truman threatened the USSR with annihilation over, of all places, Iran. The British were in southern Iran at the time getting oil leases. The USSR had its army in northern Iran, seeking the same thing. Truman summoned Ambassador Andrei Gromyko to the White House and told him that the USSR had 48 hours to remove their troops, or the US would drop the only atomic weapon it had left on Russia. This from the same man who supposedly bombed Japan only as a last resort to "save lives".

Unless nuclear weapons are eliminated, it will only be a matter of time before they are used again, somewhere. Ironically, perhaps, it was military men - those in charge in the various theaters of the war in fact - who opposed the first use of them. Today, it is retired (of course) military men who lead the efforts to eliminate them - men like Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr. (USA, ret.), who is Chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Jack Shanahan, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), but it will take public pressure on politicians to reverse the hold of the military-industrial complex which profits from these weapons systems.

Leaving Hiroshima, I was left not with feelings of grief so much as hope. It is a city that has emerged from utter destruction to become a vibrant place full of life and yet at the same time one that has not forgotten its tragic place in history and which works tirelessly to remind the rest of the world of that event until the day that nuclear weapons are no longer a threat to life on Earth.

We took a taxi from our ryokan to the train station. As we entered the parking lot and approached the line of taxis waiting to drop off their passengers, our driver shut down the meter to spare us from paying for waiting in line. Would that acts of compassion were practiced on a broader, larger scale. Peace.

A Hiroshima street corner with lots of examples of my favorite truly eco-friendly, recyclable, and sustainable means of transportation. ;^)

Heiwa Dori (Peace Boulevard). Considered extravagant when built in a cash-strapped rebuilding Hiroshima, it now is source of local pride and enjoyment for those who use it. Wide, tree shaded, landscaped strips with meandering lanes for bicycles and pedestrians flank each side. Pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, a motorcycle, cars, a bus and a street car can all be seen in this picture.

"We cannot and must not allow ourselves to have the message of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fade completely from our minds, and we cannot allow our vision or ideals to fade, either. For if we do, we have but one course left for us. And that flash of light will not only rob us of our vision, but it will rob us of our lives, our progeny, and our very existence."

~Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima City [February 23, 1999 to April 7, 2011]


Dai Hiroshima Ondo Revisited Part III

Continued from Dai Hiroshima Ondo Revisted Part II (Please do click on pictures see more detail.)

We had an excellent breakfast at Sera Bekkan ryokan at 7 am and then we were off for Miyajima. As we had passes, we took the streetcar to the ferry landing. That was mistake as there were so many stops that it turned into a 65 minute ride. Also, this was the day that our streetcar was involved in a minor traffic mishap, adding even more time. A better move would have been to take a train from Hiroshima station which would have cost a few hundred yen but would have knocked 40 minutes off of the trip.

The ferries take only ten minutes to cross the narrow channel to Miyajima. I don't care for sitting inside and would rather stand by the rail to enjoy the views and fresh air.


Tip of the hat to Martin, by the way, who suggested that I look up the tide tables ahead of time so as to assure a view of the famous Itsukushima Shrine at high tide when it appears to be floating - not just the torii, but the entire shrine. As it happened we were there long enough to see it near both high and low tides, but it's a very good suggestion none the less.

About mid-crossing, a big ShinMaywa US-1A STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) Air Sea Rescue Amphibian flew over. It was the first time I'd seen one. I mentioned it in the post "The 2nd Raid on Pearl Harbor" and wrote about its relationship to the WWII flying boat H8K2 "Emily".


Soon we grew closer to the torii of Itsukushima Shrine.





It was close to high tide when we arrived. We entered Itsukushima Shrine, which rests atop pilings in a shallow bay. Here you can see the Goju-no-To (five storied pagoda) which was erected in 1407 and stands 29.3 meters high (96 feet).



Next to the pagoda is another shrine - Houkoku-jinja. The building is called "Senjokaku (Hall of One Thousand Mats)" for it's large size. It was built as a Buddhist temple by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the 16th century daimyo who unified Japan. Construction was started in 1587, but it was never completed.



Abroad, Miyajima is perhaps most famous for its shrine. But it is also considered to be one of the three most scenic areas in Japan. Though I had done my homework, I was surprised and delighted to find, in addition to shrines and temples, a jewel of an island with stunning white sand beaches, evergreen covered mountains with streams, unusual rock formations, and sweeping vistas over the Sea of Japan to surrounding islands. The forest is protected from logging and apple and cherry trees offer beautiful displays of color in fall and spring. Graceful deer and monkeys - Japanese macaques that look and act way too much like some people I know - inhabit Miyajima. In earlier times, there were wild boar as well. Deer, of course, are sacred in the Shinto religion, being messengers from the gods. [In fact, our town's name, Kashima, translates to "deer island", which is why our football team -soccer for you American readers- is called "The Antlers".]

A picture is worth... so I'll let pictures do more of the talking.

As we walked through Itsukushima-jinja we heard the drone of the cicadas. Then there was another sound. Music. Someone was playing the ancient Japanese double reed instrument called "hichiriki". Under its spell, one is seemingly transported back to another time to experience this place with different eyes and ears.



A stage for performing Noh musical dramas

Gate at the entrance to Daigan-ji (temple). Daigan-ji used to be in charge of maintaining Itsukushima-jinja.

K is saying a prayer at Kiyomori Shrine. It was Taira no Kiyomori, a 12th century general of the Taira clan, who built Itsukushima-jinja about 1148 CE.

A view overlooking Ituskushima. Note how big Senjokaku (hall of a thousand mats) is, to left of the pagoda.

Riding the first of two ropeways to the top of Misen-san with Hiroshima in the distance on the far right.

The next leg up uses bigger cars.

A container ship threads its way between Miyajima and a small islet. Oyster beds can be seen everywhere one looks.



The edge of Hiroshima City is to the left. The large island in the center is called Ninoshima (which is known for the Mt. Fuji like shape on its main peak) and was used for an emergency treatment hospital after the bomb for some 10,000 victims. To the right, out of view, is an officer training camp which some say was a legitimate target. Except it was NOT the target. The bombing was not about military targets, but about destroying a city in order to test a weapon and show the world what the US could do.

A mother macaque nursing her young.

Ah, sailing...


Meanwhile, back down the mountain, something had changed. The tide was out.

The torii was high and dry.

People's hopes were scrawled on the backs of "ema", the wooden slat that represents the ancient times offering by making a donation of a horse to the shrine. High minded wishes might be found there, such as "world peace", or personal cares like "good health" for a family member, or just a crass request to the gods for good grades or money.

A shrine maiden collects "omikuji", paper oracles. If one likes what the oracle says, one takes it home. But if one would like to try for a better result later, it is tied to a tree - or in this case rods - to send back to the gods.

Itsukushima Jinja at low tide - the green areas are not grass, but wakame "seaweed" which is commonly used in miso soup dishes and (dry) in salad.

K (with parasol) waves from the torii at low tide.


A photographer uses pliers to preen his "pet" deer which obediently poses with guests for a photograph when he takes the picture, but will run off if others try to use him for free. The deer seemed to enjoy it.

Looking back at the torii at low tide as we leave Miyajima

A magical place. We hardly scratched the surface. One more destination we must return to some day.

We took the JR train back to the station, so had a much easier and shorter trip on the return. That evening we dined at Guuguu which I had found on the internet ahead of time. Use goolge maps to find it - sort of, it is just one street off Heiwa Dori.

The 30 seat bar/restaurant features excellent food and jazz played from the owner's personal CD collection that includes greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis - and not too loud, so its easy to carry on a conversation. We were taking notes as we ate each wonderful course, prompting the staff to inquire if we were actually from a competitor and just there to check them out. They serve great shrimp, fish, Italian style, and vegetarian dishes. The ice cream desert was wonderful too. I liked the lighting. Lighting was subdued, but each table had a light that shone straight down and highlighted the meal. Here's what we had (we ordered one of each and shared):

Escargot in butter sauce with baguettes. (¥900)
Seafood bouillabaisse (¥1300)
Salmon and avocado salad (¥850)
Garlic scallops salad (¥850)
Cheese Cake with ice cream(¥450)
Creme Brulee (¥450)
adult beverages

[Gawd, is it any wonder I gained weight?]

The items came out one at a time and we lingered over each savoring the flavors. We weren't counting calories obviously. The kinds of dishes available will vary with the seasons. It was a wonderful end to a long and fun day.

We highly recommend this spot. You won't be disappointed in either the ambiance or the food, though it was a little hard to find even with the address, as it isn't at street level. I had brought a google map with the info, so after a couple of walks around the block, K called and we found out we were standing just a few doors down. Here's a picture we took the next day to help you find Guuguu in case you decide to check it out. First look it up on google maps, then remember what this pic looks like -


[edit. It appears Guuguu may have moved, so you're on your own in tracking it down.]

つづく - to be continued HERE