The Longest Summer

   Yuki and I had just wrapped up our sophomore year at St. Edwards university in Texas and along with that her two years of studying abroad in Texas was coming to an end. I had chosen to come to St. Edwards University from the American School of Dubai because of a special program called the Dual Degree Program which allows students to get two separate degrees from two separate universities in two very different countries. The Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) in Japan has a partnership with St. Edwards and sends over Japanese students to live and study in the states. On the first day, the professor that oversees the program introduced me to Yuki, a fellow dual degree student and our friendship took off. After taking her around Austin and out for jogging several times a romance bloomed and the rest is history. Me and Yuki’s study abroad times happened to work out perfectly. She spent her first two years of college in Austin at St. Edwards with me and then I would go to APU with her and we would study there for two years. Now that you know a little bit about our relationship I’ll get back to the story.

IMG_9149    IMG_9339

  Yuki and I had separate summer breaks because of the difference in APU’s start and end times, Yuki had to rush back to finish the Spring semester at APU right away when school at St. Edwards was ending. Meanwhile, I would have the longest summer of my life because school would not start for me until October in Japan. I still had not been formally accepted and the visa process for Japan was long and drawn out. To add to my problems, I had no family in Texas and had to deliver my car to my uncle in Indiana for safekeeping while I was abroad. I also had nowhere to live in the states because the dorms closed in the summer and my family lives in Dubai. I had managed to score an Internship at Emirates Airlines in Dubai for July so knew I had to be there by then.

   As I drove Yuki to the Airport in Austin many thoughts raced through my mind. What if I didn’t get accepted to APU? What if I can’t get a visa from Dubai? How long would it be before I saw her again? We had just finished saying goodbye to St. Edwards and both said a prayer in the grotto where I prayed for my safety on my cross-country trip to Indiana from Texas and continued success in University. I also prayed that I would see Yuki again as soon as possible. We embraced each other at the airport and I told her I’d be there soon. We also promised to talk a lot on the phone and wait for each other over the long summer. I had no doubts in my mind that we would be reunited but I knew that there would be obstacles for me to get through to enter Japan let alone APU. We kissed each other goodbye and I started my drive to Houston with all my earthly possessions in my car. My eyes teared up a bit and I already missed her.

 

First Stop Houston

   I had contacted one of my best friends since childhood and asked if I could crash at his place. My friend Jake and I were opposites in a lot of ways his father was a truck driver and he had lived in the same comfortable house in Jersey Village a suburb of Houston his whole life. We had grown up together and we had been to pretty much every one of each other’s birthday parties up until I moved away. I remember playing with squirt guns in his backyard and bouncing on his trampoline. I’m one year older than Jake and we sort of have a brotherly relationship. I would often amuse him with my stories about the world and try to teach him about foreign cultures. He is always particularly interested in Dubai and the Arabian culture. My ability to travel and fly around the world seemed unimaginable to Jake as he had never even been on a plane before. I respect him a lot and I know he will do great things if he sets his mind to it. I often wonder what my life would have been like If I never got the chance to travel to Dubai and leave Houston. I often put myself in Jakes shoes and become immensely grateful for the opportunities my circumstances have afforded me. Much like Jake I had grown up in an upper middle class neighborhood and had a pool in my backyard. Most of the people my family associated with had pretty much the same social standing and culture as WASPS (white Anglo Saxon protestants). Luckily for me my mother had gained a job in at an expat boarding school made up of mostly Asian and Sub-Continental kids along with a few folks from just about everywhere, called the Village school and enrolled me in it. I gained a much more diverse friend group and was able to see and understand divergent perspectives that were far different than mine. The long and the short of it is that I’m glad things worked out the way that they did and after living in Dubai in a culture alien to mine I gained a bravery and lust for adventure that I cannot emphasize enough.

IMG_9525.PNG

Second Stop Mississippi

   After waking up on jakes couch with his cat Maggie sitting on my face I was ready to begin the long drive to my next stop. My plan was to drive East to Mississippi then North up to Indianapolis. My good Friend Ruairi O’Connor whom I had spent freshmen year with in Dubai and then visited him in Singapore, was living with his grandmother in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Ruairi and I had a lot in common we were both gingers and both from the Southern part of the States. We both behaved like cowboys and both had struggled to fit in our new environments. Ruairi is extremely active and never really did well academically in high school. We both lived on the Palm Jumeriah in Dubai and would kayak to each other’s houses after school. I lived in an apartment on the trunk of the Palm and Ruairi lived on Frond C it was about a thirty-minute row. I also accredit Ruairi with getting me into running. He would show up unannounced at my apartment every night with his dog, an adopted desert saluki named Bronte and we would all go for 30 minute runs. I also consider Ruairi a brother except in this case he is the older one.

   I figured I would use the mandatory road trip to my advantage and see as many as my friends as possible. It was also a perfect way to see the beauty of America and bid the states goodbye for a while. Another plus was that I could avoid paying for hotels. Ruairi had flunked out of college and was working for a lumber company and waiting on his acceptance to the U.S. Coast Guard. I always pictured Ruairi in the military because of his patriotism and love of all things mechanical. I was happy that he had a plan for his future and wanted to see him before he left for boot camp. I drove through the wet swamps and marshes on the border of Texas and Louisiana. I flicked through the radio stations until I found a good ole’ Cajun station blasting some zydeco. I thought about how random it was to have French speaking cowboys in the middle of a swampy marsh. I also wondered if I was in KKK territory and pondered on what they would think of me and Yuki’s relationship. After driving all day, I had finally gotten to Ocean Springs and parked my grey Mazda in Ruairi’s Grandmother’s driveway. I wasn’t expecting Ocean Springs to be as pretty it was, the old oak trees hung on every street with their mossy leaves. I also dug the Cajun feel and the French look of the architecture. Ruairi showed me his sail boat that he had purchased and we both joked and chatted about the progress of our lives. We then hopped in Ruairi’s pick-up truck and headed to a sketchy Mexican restaurant. I used Ruairi’s I.D. because we look so similar and joined him in having a couple margaritas. We then went back to his grandma’s trailer and played some Call of Duty. Ruairi’s family are staunch Catholics and his uncle is a priest at a beautiful church in Biloxi. The next morning happened to be Sunday so we drove through Ocean Springs over the causeway that had been devastated several years ago by hurricane Katrina. We ended up listening to a nice sermon about Mother’s Day. I savored the sermon and church experience knowing that I probably wouldn’t go to Church again for a while in Dubai or Japan. Later that afternoon Ruairi and I went to the Biloxi beach and soaked up some rays.

IMG_9530

Alabama, Tennessee and Pennsyltucky  

   I rolled of the couch at six o’clock bid Ruairi farewell and wished him the best of luck in the Coast Guard. I drove hard that day and listened to some Paul Simon and Johnny Cash. I also learned that Hank Williams was from Alabama. During the summer there was a viral video of a boy yodeling a Hank Williams song in a Walmart, so I thought that was a funny coincidence. As I drove North through Birmingham, I thought of Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. I recalled how Dr. King had eloquently dismantled the Vatican’s stance on Civil Rights in the U.S. He outlined how it was ironic that the Christianity had started as the religion of the oppressed and how it had become a tool of oppression (in the case of civil rights). He compared the plight of African Americans to the plight of early Christians in Rome. I also turned on my radio and heard a Black reverend talking about an incident that had happened at a church he was familiar with in Birmingham. Apparently, a predominantly African American church had put up a sign saying that white people were not welcome in the congregation. I believe that the church had decided to do this after a series of instances of police brutality. The reverend was talking about how Dr. King would have been ashamed at the sign and that the community in Birmingham was taking steps backward, according to the Reverend “we are all God’s children” and that segregation is a worldly concept. I agreed with the Reverend and thought about how in Heaven there would be no divisions. It’s truly amazing how much you can learn about a city or state by listening to the local radio. That night after nine hours of driving I had finally hit Tennessee and crashed at some random Holiday Inn.

 

   Once I had finally arrived with my uncle Phil in Indiana I was happy to stay in his comfortable apartment for a bit. My uncle having a master’s in History from St. Andrews in Scotland he also happens to have a near photographic memory, so he loves teaching me about things and I love listening. He told me about how the Air Force headquarters in Dayton, Ohio only a two-hour drive from Indianapolis. We hopped in his car and headed over the state border. I also learned that the Wright Brothers were born in Indiana so there are many aviation themed restaurants and shops around the border with Ohio. Luckily for use it also happened to be Veteran’s Day so the National Air Force Museum was having a special event. People were dressed up as soldiers and were recreating a WWII military camp. People were displaying military jeeps, rifles, uniforms, and radio equipment. My uncle and I are military nerds so we were both thoroughly impressed by all this. The museum itself is split into several sections between massive aircraft hangers including WWI, WWII, Cold War, and the Space Age. One particularly interesting exhibit is the Boxcar which is the plane that dropped the “Fat Man” nuke on Nagasaki. I remarked to my uncle that it would be interesting seeing the plane and then visiting the peace memorial in Nagasaki itself. My uncle and me then split up because he moves very, very slowly through museums. It was a very interesting and American experience that I am very fond of considering that I am strongly considering joining a branch of the military as my post graduate possibility’s.

My uncle and I                                    The Boxcar                    Rest Stop in Kentucky

 

Indianapolis                                                               The Wright Brothers Birthplace

Wilkes Barre Penn

   After we returned to Indianapolis my father contacted me telling me about how my grandmother had become gravely ill and that he was returning to Pennsylvania from Dubai to visit her. He asked me to come along as well and visit her. My grandmother on my father’s side had had a history of mental illness and I had heard stories about her from my father’s siblings. At young age my parents made the executive decision to keep me away from her. My father describes her as a manic depressive with bipolar tendencies. She had indeed been hospitalized against her will at a psychological institution. I was somewhat frightened to see her and of what she might say to me. I felt a little guilty about never seeing her as much as my grandparents on my mom’s side. My dad told me it meant a lot to him that I come so I bought a plane ticket and flew to meet him from Indianapolis to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.

   After I got off the plane my father and I headed over to Wilkes Barre General Hospital to visit my grandma Gretchen. When we walked into the room she lit up in excitement and seemed overjoyed to see us. I smiled and hugged her she couldn’t really speak properly because she was on a lot of pain medication. She asked me “Why I had shave my beautiful red hair?” I replied by explaining to her I was going bald. Me and my father grabbed her hand and sat with her a bit. I told her that my dad turned out to be a great man and a fun father and that she should be proud of him. She seemed really happy and I was glad that I was able to see her. My uncle Bill had also drove up from Ohio to see my grandmother and visit with me. She didn’t seem so sick to us and my dad had faith that she would recover. My dad said that his mother had been healthy her whole life and didn’t think that this was her time to go. After the visit my father took the opportunity to show me where he went to elementary school and his childhood school.

   My uncle Bill is also an avid hiker and naturalist and he wanted to take us out to one of his favorite hiking spots. Wilkes Barre has an abundance of natural beauty me and my father even saw a black bear while driving on the highway. The next day my uncle Bill took us to a beautiful hiking spot called Ricketts Glen. My grandfather Joe who passed five years prior used to take them there as kids. I could tell that being back in Pennsylvania and being with his brother Bill stirred many memories within my father. As we hiked up several waterfalls Bill educated me about the various flora and fauna in the region. The whole trip seemed surreal to me and the fact that I had ended up in Pennsylvania visiting my estranged grandmother was crazy to me. It was a mere fifteen days earlier that I was telling Yuki goodbye at the Austin Airport. I certainly hadn’t expected for my dad to come all the way back from Dubai and give me a tour of his childhood home.

   The next day my dad visited my grandmother again for several hours. We said goodbye and he told me he would see me again soon in Dubai. The very next week my grandmother passed from her illness, so it turns out that the trip was worthwhile, and I am thankful to have the memory and to have said goodbye.

 

IMG_0769
My father and his family Grandmother Gretchen in the middle

 

England:

   Finally, after two jam packed months in America I made it to my parents’ house in Dubai. But as soon as I arrived my parents decided they needed to get out Dubai which can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius in the summer. In my opinion Dubai is literally synonymous with hot as hell in the summer. The air is thick with moisture, sand and who knows what else which makes me feel like I can’t breathe in the sweltering heat. So, I was pretty much on board for going anywhere else to kill some time before my internship started at Emirates Airlines. My mom has family in England who needed us to house sit so we took over their house for a bit. We saw my British family whom I hadn’t seen in ages. A Lot of my family members are veterans of the British military and have very interesting antiques in there house. My uncle Roger is a very posh and lovely old man. His wife is named Ingrid and they met while he was stationed in Dusseldorf Germany. Ingrid is famous for making us tea and cakes everytime we visit, her motto is “you vill eat it and you vill like it!”. She consistently reminded us that life is too short not to eat cake. My family from Luton also came up to visit us. My cousin Steven happens to be a champion clay shooter so he took me and my dad out to shoot some clays. We had a fantastic time and also toured around much of Thetford and Norwich. I was surprised by how quickly people rush past us on tiny narrow roads. I’ll go into specifics on the sights that we visited in future posts.

Dubai & Emirates Airlines  

   I can’t really go into too much detail about this, as I had to sign non disclosure agreement but I will say what I can! I was working at the Dubai international airport at the Emirates security offices there. I had managed to score this internship thanks to some lucky nepotism and my interest in international security/relations. As I went in I was assigned to Maya a Lebanese woman who would oversee my tasks at the internship. I was given a lovely seat with a window view of the Dubai international airport runway. I also got to see several of the security systems that are in place to ensure the safe transport of valuables and prevent any dangerous goods from entering the country. My task included finding suitable speakers, venues and topics for an aviation security symposium called AVSEC. I had to compile a list of speakers who had undergone security situations. One of my most interesting finds was an Ethiopian Pilot who had been hijacked 3 times and hit in the head with an axe but survived the crash landing. I also contacted several cyber security experts. The internship was good fun and lasted about a month. I was the only American there so people were quite interested in me. I had several lovely conversations and interactions with people I can’t say the names of due to security. I was also given food vouchers for the Indian curry restaurant downstairs. I had butter chicken curry and mutton roganjosh almost everyday and boy was it good. My days would consist of waking up at 5 a.m. driving to the airport then going home and working out with my friend Trishul. Trushil was the only other person I had met close to my age and was the Nepalese gym attendant at my parents apartment. Most people get out of Dubai in the summer if they can and all of my friends I went to High School with are at universities in the U.S. We ended up having long conversations everyday after the internship and he taught me new workouts. The internship was good because it gave me some work experience and helped me pass the time in extreme dusty heat of the Dubai summer. I would also call Yuki for at least an hour everyday once I got home, I was so ready to see her in person.

my lunch break and Emirates and me hanging out in the Dubai desert with Trishul
Oman

We went to Oman for a week after I finished the internship I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

Hiking in Wadi Shab

4 Countries and 10 states later…

   Within a span of six months I had traveled from the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama,Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois to the countries of  the U.K., Oman, the United Arab Emirates and finally to Japan. Yuki and I had planned to drop my suitcases at Yuki’s apartment in Beppu then go on a vacation to Okinawa and celebrate our successful reunion. I was so happy to see her again the 70’s song “ain’t no mountain high enough” rang in my head when I finally saw her waiting for me at the airport in Fukuoka. I knew that being together with her in Beppu would be the start of a beautiful new chapter in our lives.

IMG_0729
Reunited at last in Beppu

 

   When I think of my life I often think of the Beatles song “In My Life” the lyrics about constantly changing people and places really speak to my story. The song also happens to be a love song and when I think of the summer and my reunion with Yuki I picture the lyrics “and none compare to you” please have a listen and get your own meaning from this wonderful song…     In My life- Beatles

Please feel free to follow me on instagram @ redheadkid for more cool pictures of travels around the world. As always thanks for reading my story!

Media in War

The importance of Media in War

Media and the public perception of wars is what allows societies to determine whether a war is virtuous or unjustified. In the twentieth century, Western countries had fought wars that easily portrayed them as the “good guys”. When the United States went over to Europe it was in the name of stopping the tyranny and fascism of the Third Reich. When the U.S. dropped the horrible power of atomic bombs in Japan, they did it to stop the advancement of a barbaric imperialist system that swallowed up smaller countries and enslaved its peoples. These wars were easily displayed as necessary and justified. One could even say that there were a clear goals in mind and adequate illustrations of how the war would come to an end. However, in the period following WWII the reasons for going to war would become increasingly muddled. The German military theorist Karl von Clausewitz stated that the ultimate goal of war is the subjugation of the enemy and “bending them to your will”. For the concept of old physical warfare the idea is brawn over brains but in new wars that are fought between superpowers and small countries media and perception is key.

The Cold War

The proxy wars of the Cold War era were no longer as easily justified as the goal of stopping Fascism or Imperialism but instead enlisted the flawed domino theory. The domino theory was used to justify the Vietnam and Korean conflicts by stating that if one country falls to communism surrounding nations will follow. It added a justification as to why a nation such as the United States could interfere in civil conflicts within countries such as Vietnam. Presidents such as Kennedy and Johnson would reiterate the idea that by keeping communism out of Vietnam or Korea the United States was in effect protecting all of its Asian Allies along with itself. At the beginning of the war in Vietnam victory seemed assured for the United States. Surely the United States had the resources, power, money and advanced technologies to take over a poor unindustrialized country like Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese knew very well that they were outmatched so changed the Strategy from all previous wars that came before. They focused on psychological manipulation and the influence of people rather than physical warfare. They wanted to make the war impossible for the U.S. to justify and prolong the conflict as long as possible. Once the U.S. started the draft they had already lost in the hearts and minds of its people. Vietnam was in a far-flung part of Asia that most people hadn’t heard of until the war started. The fact that the power of Vietnam did not pose an existential threat to the U.S. increased the difficulty of how to justify a proxy war to the public.

 

The Gulf War

“The Gulf War Did Not Take Place” as written by Jean Baudrillard expressed how important perceptions of war have actually become. Baudrillard described how the U.S. and other Western countries were fed pictures and news reels of slick tomahawk missiles and advanced fighter jets gracefully striking their targets. Western audiences were sparred gruesome images from the effect of these bombing but instead saw inhuman infer red images of Iraqi soldiers being struck by “smart” bombs. The U.S. knew that the public was still reeling from the experience of the Vietnam war and needed convincing propaganda to send people into feelings of war fervor. One such now infamous event was the “weapons of mass destruction” campaign launched in the U.S. to portray Saddam Hussein as being in possession of WMD’s. While whether WMD’s were present or not, intelligence agencies have admitted that evidence was not conclusive. Another lessor known event was when a fake news story spread about premature babies being removed from incubators in Kuwait by Iraqi invaders. It is clear that on the hierarchy of victim’s premature babies are by far the most defenseless. The Events of the Gulf War display how the U.S. had learned from its mistakes in Vietnam and made sure to make the war palette-able for the American public. America accomplishes this through concepts of “risk free” warfare, war fervor propaganda, and intense reiteration of justification for the war. Risk Free warfare refers to the images of soldiers safely piloting unmanned weapons in locations relatively far away from the battlefield. In effect the Gulf War was sanitized for the consumption of Western audiences.

If I have learned anything in University it is to question all media sources including the ones you trust. The Military industrial complex is real and every source of media is biased. Everything is said a certain way… to make you think a certain way.

The purpose of this post was just to write down some of my thoughts from my War and Media class. I hope you found my thoughts about the correlation between war and media usage interesting.

The Japanese Navy Caves

Okinawa is littered with vast cave systems that were created underneath the island. During the Battle of Okinawa Japanese soldiers and Okinawan civilians caught in the crossfire took refuge from the constant artillery bombardment in these caves.  Okinawans call these caves “gama” and they have become infamous as the places where many people committed suicide during the war. In the heart of Naha there is one such cave system situated directly under a large hill. When the Japanese military learned of the imminent American invasion of Okinawa they attempted to convert this cave system into a bunker that would act as the Imperial Navy Headquarters. They quickly amassed a troop of Okinawan laborers to excavate this cave and reinforce the roof with steel and concrete. As the situation became increasingly desperate more civilians and soldiers became clumped together in this cramped and soggy cave. The Imperial Navy Headquarters museum in Naha attempts to tell the tragic stories of those in the cave as the inevitable Japanese defeat loomed and the battle waged on.

This Museum as with all museums in Japan that focus on the topic of WWII, emphasize the importance of peace and how war is catastrophic to all those involved. I have noticed that war is always handled very delicately in all Japanese museums and they are careful in their wording never to demonize either side. This is directly opposite of my experiences in Vietnam where museums are very biased and occasionally reflect hatred that is still perceived at the “enemy”. Museums in Japan are not meant to display any sort of propaganda but instead memorialize the victims and factually display the atrocities of war committed by all sides. Every time I visit a “peace museum” I am increasingly impressed with the care and attention that goes into the wording and overall feeling of the exhibits. I always leave a peace museum with the solemn reminder that “war is hell”.

 

*The following information contains historical details of war that may not be suitable for all readers (Contains gruesome details collected within the museum)

My Experience:

Yuki, her brother Shintaro and myself climbed the seemingly beautiful mountain on a bright summers day to the entrance of the museum. As we entered we were shown a small exhibit that explained the chronology of the Battle of Okinawa and some personal stories of the navy officers in the cave. We saw several artifacts such as rifles and canteens that had been recovered from the cave. There is also information regarding how the caves were built and how soldiers and civilians survived on rats while hiding in the cave. Once we finished reading the brief information we entered the dark stuffy tunnel with stairs that led us deeper into the cave. Once you’re in there you can easily imagine the horror of those trapped in this cave while bombs were dropping off directly above. They must have been terrified that the cave would collapse upon them and kill them instantly, but perhaps that would have been a more humane end than their actual deaths.

IMG_7910
Shintaro entering the Navy Caves

As you proceed the cave becomes a maze of corridors and antechambers. At various locations, there are markers that explain what the room was such as “medical chamber” or “officers quarter”. In some particularly important rooms markers show illustrations of how life was during the war. One room that particularly left an impression on me is one in which faded stains and chipped concrete from shrapnel covers the walls. On a nearby plaque Yuki read to me that several officers had used grenades to blow themselves up to avoid surrendering. The Commander of the base Minoru Ōta had commanded all 175 soldiers to commit suicide rather than surrender he himself died via seppuku. We also learned that civilians were also sometimes “forced to commit suicide” and in turn murdered by the soldiers that were meant to be protecting them. All of these facts lead me to the conclusion that the Japanese soldiers often had sentiments of extremist nationalism and would rather have died than surrender. It also displays how the propaganda of the time had so successfully brainwashed the soldiers. Above all it is a testament to how horrific and brutal this war had become in it’s final stages.

IMG_7922
The room where General Ujishima and Navy  Commander Ota committed seppuku

Towards the end of the battle American troops stormed the caves and killed or imprisoned the remaining soldiers. I’m sure they were astonished by the gruesome scenes that awaited them deeper within. This site is an important testament to the human costs of any conflict and remains one of the most visceral experiences I have ever had in a museum. As I have said before it is an absolute miracle that me and my Okinawan girlfriend can visit these memorials together a mere seventy years after these horrible events. It was at this sight that I also realized that almost every part of Okinawa had at one point been a battle ground where people brutally died. While a vacation to Okinawa is certainly fun and enjoyable I think it also important to recognize the tragic history of the island. It is truly amazing that the Okinawans were able to rebuild after such devastation and is a testament to the resilience of the Okinawan people.

Other information contained at the museum:

 

IMG_7915
map of the caves

We learned how U.S. troops would often lob grenades into caves with the intention of clearing out soldiers but civilians were often killed because they were too afraid to come out.

This is the location where General Ushijima died and has biographical information about him.

Minoru_Ota.jpg image from Wikipedia

Minoru Ōta was the last commander of Imperial navy who committed seppuku alongside Ushijima. He wrote a telegram to the emperor asking that special considerations be given in the future to the prefecture of Okinawa because of the Okinawans staunch defense and loyalty the “the Motherland”.

“Born as a man, nothing fulfills my life more than to die in the name of the Emperor.” Ōta’s death poem

If you’re interested in learning more about Okinawa please see my other posts about Okinawa

 

History of Okinawa

In order to understand Okinawa you must first understand this islands fascinating and sometimes tragic history. I’ll start from when Okinawa  was called the Kingdom of Ryukyu and functioned as a powerful trading kingdom that traded with both Japan, China, and later the West. On the other islands in the Okinawan archipelago such as the Miyako islands and Yaeyama island chain one can find varied dialects and alternate cultures. One very interesting cultural practice occurs during rice harvest festivals Miruku the god of bountiful harvest is venerated and given rice wine in hopes of a bountiful harvest. Many of the islands have separate and unique gods. My personal favorite is Oh Ho Ho a god with “European features” that is depicted as a dancing man with a long beard and pointy nose. During one ritual Oh Ho Ho proceeds steal the local native women away from their husbands. The locals must throw money at Oh Ho Ho to appease this greedy god. I personally think this practice may have been developed based on past experiences with European traders in the medieval period but there is no conclusive evidence to back up my claim.

IMG_7951
Painting depicting Shuri Castle the home of the Ryukyu Kings

Becoming Japanese 

Okinawa used to be called the Kingdom of Ryukyu and due to it’s convenient geography of being nestled directly between Taiwan and Japan it became a wealthy trade hub. During the medieval period the Satsuma clan of Southern Kyushu occupied and conquered the islands of Ryukyu and united them in the name of the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Thus the Kingdom of Ryukyu become the Japanese province of Okinawa. Okinawa literally means “off coast rope” in Japanese and is still sometimes seen as the “Japanese Hawaii”. Indeed Okinawans may speak Japanese but they have their own unique culture, customs and heritage. In fact, the reason why the Okinawan dialects have become nearly extinct is because during the Meji period (Pre war 1900’s) Japan had enforced hardline assimilation policies on the Okinawans and punished students for not speaking Japanese in schools. During WorldWarII  these practices became even more harsh and Okinawans caught speaking their native dialects were often accused of being spies and executed.

World War II

After years of increasingly aggressive nationalist policies Japan had succeeded in colonizing Okinawa’s neighbor Taiwan and many other Southeast Asian countries. Any non Japanese sentiments were brutally crushed and Okinawans began to forget they had not always been Japanese. After the brutal fighting on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima and raising of the flag over mount suribachi the U.S. fleet set it’s sights on Okinawa. Japan knew that it had to prevent the forces from landing on Honshu and prolong the battle of Okinawa as long as possible. Japan also knew that it was fighting a loosing war but hoped to create as much battle fatigue in the U.S. soldiers and public as possible. They hoped to hold off a full scale invasion of the homeland and have more favorable peace talks. The sheer brutality of the Battle in Okinawa is often considered as the catalyst for the Truman’s decision to drop the Atomic bombs. Japan had throughly spread propaganda warning and scarring Okinawans out of  surrendering to American troops. Propaganda stated that the American troops would kill civilians immediately and even eat the bodies. The Imperial Japanese army also armed civilians with bamboo spears and sent out a national wide order to “fight to the death!”. Before the Americans landed they spent two weeks bombarding Okinawa with naval artillery fire to weaken Japanese defenses. This bombardment became know as the “typhoon of steel” and turned the battlefield into a muddy and bloody mess. Of course this bombardment also indiscriminately killed countless civilians. During the invasion itself American troops landed in the middle of the island and pushed southward towards the main city of Naha. The north of the island was relatively peaceful compared to the hell that the South had become. There are countless stories of horrible tragedies that took place during this desperate battle. Many Okinawans and Japanese chose to commit suicide rather than surrender. Japanese soldiers even distributed hand grenades to children and told them they were “gifts from the Emperor”.  The soldiers told civilians it was better to die than give themselves up to the Americans. Many people who didn’t have hand grenades threw themselves of the “suicide cliffs”. The tragic battle ended up being the last battle of the pacific before the surrender of Japan. The United states ended up occupying Okinawa until returning the island to the Japanese in the 70’s after mounting unrest broke out across the island. I have heard stories about the celebrations that occurred when suddenly the currency was changed to yen from dollars and cars drove on the Japanese sides of the road. U.S. bases on the island were used heavily as staging grounds during the Vietnam and Korean conflicts and continues to be a controversial issue.

“Green grass dies in the islands without waiting for fall,
But it will be reborn verdant in the springtime of the homeland.
Weapons exhausted, our blood will bathe the earth, but the spirit will survive;
Our spirits will return to protect the motherland.”- General Mitsu Ushijima suicide letter before committing seppuku

IMG_7922
The Room in the Japanese Navy Caves where General Ushijima committed seppuku

 

 

I suggest watching “Hacksaw Ridge” and the Okinawa episode of the HBO series “The Pacific”

I hope this post helped you gain a brief understanding of the History of Okinawa I will go into specifics of historical locations and my travel experiences in future posts. It is ironic how a place that is so unimaginably beautiful was also home to such a degree of pain and suffering. When I am in Okinawa enjoying the beach or strolling through a luxurious mall I often find my mind drifting to the stories of those who died so savagely here in the 1940’s. I don’t usually believe in ghosts but when your out in the darkness of night at Okinawa you can defiantly feel the spirits. Americans and Okinawans have become connected through history and as an american I feel a connection to this place. Perhaps I feel it even more because my girlfriend is Okinawan and I find it abhorrent to imagine her going through the brutality of that time. I also find it miraculous that a mere 70 years later I am able to walk freely down the streets of Okinawa with her as a couple, where our ancestors had once tried to desperately kill each other. This very fact gives me hope that deep seated hatreds can be left behind and nations that once so brutally clashed can achieve peace and amity between one another.

IMG_7885
A photo I took of the Suicide Cliffs from the Okinawa Peace memorial observation deck
IMG_7956
An english textbook hand printed in the Taisho period during the American Occupation

Takyoi Light Festival in Usuki

こんにちはみなさん!Hello everyone, let me tell you about a wonderful experience I had while studying in Japan so far. Me and my girlfriend Yuki heard about this light festival that happens every October to celebrate a bountiful harvest. During this festival people in the small village of Usuki light up thousands of carved bamboo shoots. There is a old story about the return a ghostly princess who returns every year at this festival and the local people reenact this event.  The bamboo shoots are meant to ensure the ghost princess can find her way home. People on the main street also set up market stalls that sell local handicrafts and foods like fugu sake. For those of you who don’t know, fugu is the deadly pufferfish which the Japanese had found a way to clean in a particular way as to make it safe to eat. On the train to Usuki from Oita we fortunately ran into two of Yuki’s friends Hiroki and Take. Take is actually a local of Usuki and has worked as a tour guide there. Luckily for us she offered to show us her village and was eager to explain to us the local traditions.

First we went to the most prominent temple where legend holds that a dragon is imprisioned  within the main pagoda. Take explained to us that several of the demon statues called Oni guard the dragon and keep it from escaping. We also visited her family’s baking stall and bought some delicious english tea cake. After following the trail of lit bamboo shoots we scaled Usuki Castle to get a great view of the whole town. I learned that the famous Sengoku period daimyo, Otomo had constructed this castle which was formerly situated on an island. My inner nerd came out and I couldn’t help but imagining this town with samurais and women in their traditional kimono’s strolling around. Luckily for me my fantasy was about to come true as the locals were going to reenact the “return of the ghost princess”.  We witnessed the a procession of flute players dressed as ancient court attendants and the princess dressed in a pale white kimono being carried on top of an ornate litter. We could all feel the peaceful serenity of the moment and I’m pretty sure everyone had goose bumps from hearing the soothing flute music. We also were able to see traditional harp playing and wadaiko (drum dancing).

Throughout my travels I have realized that certain culture festivals seem more like shows put on more for the tourists than the locals. In the Takeyoi festival I was one of the very few foreigners and got the sense that the night was sacred to the people of Usuki and not a show for tourists. It is incredible to me how Japan has so many contrasts between old and new customs. Many people think of samurai and the medieval period when they picture Japan, others picture robots and anime. It is interesting and admirable to me how Japanese society is constantly evolving but also successfully maintains it’s rich cultural heritage and identity.

 

 

 

Comparing Cultural Norms Between Japan and the U.S.A.

One of the many cultural differences between the United States and Japan is that Japan has very homogenous society and most people who identify as Japanese have the same ethnicity. Many Japanese also seem to be more financially similar than in the United States. The U.S. is very heterogeneous and there are many races religions and ethnicities who identify as Americans. Also foreigners or “gaijin” in Japanese are fairly rare outside of urban centers in Japan. I am a large redheaded man so many people stare at me while I’m on public transportation or walking down the road. I’ve had many people ask me if I dye my hair. I try my best to understand their curiosity and try to greet them with a smile and phrase from my rudimentary Japanese.

One of my expectations of being a Texan is that people enjoy friendly chit chat while waiting in line or for transportation. Many people in Japan are quite shy and reserved. I have said good evening “konbonwa” to many strangers and occasionally received confused stares. I have also learned that a common stereotype many Japanese have about American people is that “we are always happy”. I suppose this stereotype must have to do with our friendliness or loudness. I was also quite startled with how many media sources and businesses objectify women. Of course, the U.S. has the same problem but not on the scale or openness that it is used here. I was surprised to see signs featuring completely nude women. This is quite different for me especially after spending my high school years in Dubai where women are supposed to dress modestly under Islamic custom. Speaking of nudity one of my most interesting cultural experiences was visiting an onsen (hot spring) where people are expected to get completely nude and bathe together. Being American I was quite unnerved by this at first but relaxed once I realized nobody seemed to care. I then enjoyed my warm soak in the sulfur rich water.

I have a keen interest in Japanese History especially concerning WWII and I have met an older Japanese gentleman who was able to tell me about the bombing of a rail train he witnessed when he was a child here in Japan. I am also very interested in the Battle of Okinawa and the last stand of the imperial army on that little island. I find it inspiring and intriguing how japan was able to thoroughly reinvent itself after its defeat in WWII and become a cultural and economic powerhouse.

Before coming here, I took Japanese lessons for two years at St. Edwards. My mother and grandfather also lived in Japan during their twenties so I was able to hear many stories about Japan. My grandfather was stationed at an air force base in Morioka and my mother was a model in Iwate. I am currently taking Japanese lessons and a Japanese history course. I also intend to travel extensively while I’m in Japan. I am very excited to get a firm grip on the language because I believe that will provide a steady platform to continue my study of the culture, society, and region. Like other East Asian cultures such as Korea and China Japanese society is based on buddhist and Confucian structures. I am studying these belief systems more closely and currently reading several books on the matter.

 

 

History of Japan: Christians in Oita and Nagasaki

 Geography and History are linked very strongly and often can help to explain why cultures develop in certain ways. We can also analyse traditions, philosophy, religion and political structures of the past to better understand the present. I wanted to develop my understanding of the religious makeup of Oita and Beppu. As we learned in class among many Northeast Asian Countries there “is a shared moral philosophy derived from Confucianism”. During my research of this region I discovered that Oita was under the control of a famous Daimyo named Otomo Sorin. It is rather interesting to me that these Daimyos from the Sengoku period live onward in the imaginations of their former subjects and are often venerated in festivals, literature, and pop culture. I wanted to attend a festival to see this for myself during my visit to Oita city I saw Otomo Sorin depicted with a Christian Cross. I also noticed that the Portuguese missionary and founder of the Jesuits, Francis Xavier has a statue directly adjacent to a statue of Otomo. These monuments are situated prominently outside the train station in the city square. I became interested in how the influences of Christianity had shaped this region and political developments of the past. In my research I will describe the historical developments of Otomo’s conversion, instances of conflict arising from religious differences and the current distribution of churches in comparison to the native Japanese Shinto and Buddhism. I will also attempt to describe and list locations of particular historical significance in relation to the Christianization of Beppu and Oita City.

  I found in my research that Kyushu was one of the main points of contact with European traders. In fact Dejima island is an artificially created island in the bay of Nagasaki where European traders were allowed to stay and trade their goods. I discovered that the antiquated term for the European traders is “nanban” or “southern barbarians”. Europeans arrived with advanced technologies such as matchlock guns and powerful ships. The Europeans accidentally stumbled upon Japan when a typhoon washed up a ship of Portuguese traders on Tanegashima Island. Unbeknownst to the Japanese the world had been split into two spheres in the Treaty of Tordesillas which the Pope mediated between the Catholic powers of Spain and Portugal. Due to this treaty the Portuguese were given permission to exploit Japan for the famous three g’s god, glory and gold. Otomo himself most likely saw the advanced “nanban” technologies and saw converting to Christianity as more of a strategic move, rather than a religious revelation. Otomo was also the most prominent of all the sengoku period Daimyos to convert to Christianity and one of the few to meet with Francis Xavier directly.

 Francis Xavier was already an experienced missionary whose main focus had been converting Goa and Southern India. Xavier found significantly less fortune in Japan where he struggled significantly to understand the language. Eventually Xavier alongside three Japanese converts were able to spread Christianity where it gained its initial foothold in South West Japan. The main sects of Christianity that appeared was Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and much later Protestantism. Beppu known as Bungo during the Sengoku period was allowed religious tolerance under Otomo who allowed his people to continue to practice shintoism or convert to the new and foreign religion of Christianity.

   After his conversion in 1578 Otomo used his favor with the Europeans to exploit them for guns, financial gain and assistance in his civil war against the other major Western clans the Shimazu and Mori. Eventually however Shimazu was assisted by the unifier of Japan Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the Otomo clan was destroyed. Despite the pacification of Otomo Christianity remained entrenched in Kyushu particularly in Nagasaki and islands in the West.

  Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned the arrival of new Jesuit monks and outlawed Christianity seeing the popularity of the religion as a personal threat to his power. Under Tokugawa and the Edo Bakufu Christianity was completely outlawed. Famously 26 Japanese Christians were martyred by crucifixion on a hill outside of Nagasaki. Christian missionaries were banned for 250 years and Japanese Christians were forced to go into hiding. “Kakure Kristians” developed, meaning literally “shadow christians”. Congregations were forced to hold services inside people’s homes. This period was similar to the period when Christians were persecuted by Roman Emperors. Finally in the 1850’s the ban on Christianity was lifted in the Meiji restoration and Churches were free to appear publicly. Several beautiful churches sprang up in Nagasaki and the surrounding islands.

  Let us now evaluate the present day implications of these historical facts. According to the World Value Survey there “may be up to three million Japanese Christians”. Most Japanese Christians live in the Western part of Kyushu because this was one of the main meeting points between Europeans and Japanese. After World War II many protestant preachers from the United States also protletyzed in Japan and protestant sects such as Lutherans and Methodists appeared in Japan. Even now I discovered Mormon missionaries in Beppu. Christians do not really hold any political power in Japan because japan prides itself on having a secular government.

 I wanted to investigate clearly the comparison between christian churches and shinto temples in Beppu. I used google maps to find the location of several of these churches and temples. I also took several pictures of various locations I traveled to that helped me to understand my research. I will differentiate pictures that I took myself and photos I found on the internet. I will show some of the important sites around Oita.

IMG_9851.JPG

Photo I took of Otomo Sorin Statue in Oita City

IMG_0038.JPG

Photo I took of a float in a festival depicting Otomo Sorin with a cross on his chest to show his Christianity

 

IMG_0047.JPG                                    IMG_9982.JPG

Me at the Festival among the floats (dashi)       Visiting a Shinto shrine in Beppu with Jizos

 

 

unspecified.png                                                   Screenshot 2018-11-06 13.28.25.png

Beppu Churches (12)                                                                                 Beppu Temples (15)

 

Screenshot 2018-11-06 13.28.38.png                    Screenshot 2018-11-06 13.27.49.png

Higashi Beppu Temples                                              Higashi Beppu Churches (6)

(1)

Thanks to these maps I can see that the amount of Churches and Temples is roughly equal in Beppu. There are 12 Churches and 15 Temples. The distribution of the temples are somewhat unequal and most of the temples to be in the Northern part of Beppu and further away from the sea. I also compared Higashi Beppu and there was a strong concentration of churches in one area. I hypothesize that perhaps in the 1600’s there may have been trade with Europeans in the inner city close to the main port. This may have affected demographics and caused more Christians to live in urban areas. Often times religion is hereditary and passed down through generations perhaps these current day christians are descendants of the “hidden christians” from the Edo Periods.

  To supplement my research I also discussed the conversion of Otomo Sorin with my Japanese History professor Hasuda sensei. I asked professor Hasuda what were some of the implications of Christianity’s arrival in the 1500’s he explained to me that the lower caste people were more likely to convert because they would receive welfare and a better sense of community. Hasuda also shared with me that almost all of the missionaries came from either Spain or Portugal and the Jesuits and Dominicans were the most active in Asia. He discussed how the Jesuits found even more success in converting the Vietnamese to Christianity partly because they were a French Colony. It is also well known that the Philippines is a very Catholic country mostly due to its Spanish Colonial period.

  I also discovered an interesting anecdote about issues that faced Christians in Nagasaki after the Atomic bombing. Due to weather issues the crew of the Boxcar the USAF crew that dropped the Fat Man bomb diverted its course from downtown Nagasaki to the Urakami district. The Urakami district had been one of the cities districts which housed many of the social outcasts and lower caste peoples. Despite the fact that the Japanese caste system was banned in the Edo period the burakumin caste still suffered discrimination. Christians and burakumin were often grouped together in impoverished areas. After the bomb fell some Japanese who were shinto said that the gods were punishing the Christian population in Urakami and blamed them.

 

Photo from the Japan Times Article “Nagasaki’s ‘Providential’ Nightmare Shaped by Religious, Ethnic Undercurrents.”

n-postwar1-c-20150808.jpg

Urakami Cathedral after the Bomb

 

Conclusions

Christians went through a period of growth in Japan upon contact with Europeans who mostly hailed from Portugal. Trade with Europeans was mostly concentrated in Kyushu specifically Nagasaki. Otomo Sorin Daimyo of Bungo (modern day Oita) Converted in order to receive guns and financial support from European powers. Under Otomo his subjects were allowed religious freedom and Christianity in Oita grew. During the Edo Bukufu (Tokugawa Period) Christians were banned due to isolationist and xenophobic policies. During this time Christians were persecuted and even crucified. Finally in the 19th century Christianity was allowed once more and several churches sprung up especially in Nagasaki and Western Kyushu. Otomo retains a legacy as the most prominent Daimyo ever to convert to Christianity.

 

Sources:

Google Search, Google, www.google.com/maps.

“Nagasaki’s ‘Providential’ Nightmare Shaped by Religious, Ethnic Undercurrents.” The Japan Times, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/08/07/national/history/nagasakis-providential-nightmare-shaped-religious-ethnic-undercurrents/#.W_EvQZMzZmA.

“Once Hidden, the History of Japanese Christianity Gains UN Recognition.” Crux, 3 July 2018, cruxnow.com/global-church/2018/07/03/once-hidden-the-history-of-japanese-christianity-gains-un-recognition/.

Ledford, Adam. “Christians in Kyushu: A History.” Tofugu, Tofugu, 8 Jan. 2015, http://www.tofugu.com/japan/history-of-christianity/.