Sunday, July 10, 2011

Absorbing Japanese Culture by the Bushel Part II

It was fascinating to visit with Konishiki

            Our three years in Sasebo was a tremendous education for the whole family.  We got to know the Japanese people and joined with them in many of their holidays, family celebrations, weddings, funerals, harvest festivals, and many other events.
As I related in the first part of this Blog last week, I joined the Mayor and his staff for the annual Harvest Festival Parade in downtown Sasebo

Scene in downtown Sasebo, Japan with Momotaro (Peach Boy) 
at left, with three young American women and Mayor Kakehashi of Sasebo.

One year I was a Samurai Warrior. In the photo shown above, I was “The Peach Boy”, representing a popular Japanese folk tale about a boy who comes to earth in the pit of a peach, is discovered by an old, childless couple, and grows up to do marvelous deeds.
            Each year there was a Fireman’s Parade, and since I was Commander of the Base, I would march in that parade, along with my Fire Chief, who was Japanese, and the young American officer who was in charge of fire and police protection on the base. 

Japanese Firemen

            Japanese firemen are very proud of their acrobatics, which they actually use in fighting fires.  In the parade they run along with ladders, and every few yards they stop and raise the ladders, and one or more of them scramble to the top and perform some daring feat.
            After the parade we would all wind up downtown for a big banquet.  As usual, the Mayor, his Fire Chief, and my fire chief and security officer and I would sit at the head table, and all the firemen would be seated at little tables.  There would be over 100 of these guys, and according to tradition, I was expected to go to each table, and kneel, as they were all squatting at their tables, and I would pour sake for each fireman out of a jar on his table, into a tiny sake cup. Then he would pour me one. Then we'd exchange toasts.
            This went on and on, and after many, many of these tiny little cups of sake, I began to wonder how I could pretend I was drinking, but not take any more on.
            As a matter of fact, we had many, many ceremonial dinners between Japanese and American officials, and most of them ended up with that ceremonial exchange of sake all around the room.
            These dinners sometimes went on and on, with course after course of very elegant, beautifully prepared food.  It was a test of a visiting senior officer or civilian official as to how he could tolerate all that raw fish and strange tasting food, and loads of sake, whiskey and beer.  Most American naval officers, by the time they had made admiral, had spent enough time in East Asia to be familiar with Japanese customs and food, but I remember one dinner when the Commander of the whole U.S. Pacific Fleet, a four-star admiral, and his wife came to town.  He had no clue about Japanese food, or how to use chop sticks, and he was apparently pretty insensitive to other cultures.
            Foreigners in Sasebo sometimes might underestimate their hosts, not realizing that the businessmen and civic leaders who attended these dinners generally had been hosting Americans at similar banquets since the days of the Korean War, and they knew a whole lot about Americans, and could understand a lot of English.
            These Japanese men were wonderful supporters of American forces in Japan.  They were all very influential in local and prefecture politics, and many could pick up a phone and talk with cabinet officers in Tokyo.  They were splendid assistance for our mission in Japan.
            This four star admiral and his wife were seated at the head table with the American rear admiral in charge of naval forces in Japan, and me, base commander, my wife, and a couple of Japanese admirals and generals and their wives, and the Mayor and his wife, and he clearly was having trouble using chop sticks.  Then he picked up some mysterious object, I believe it was a sea cucumber, which is rather slimy, and asked “What’s this sh*t?” in a voice loud enough to be heard by every person in the room. 

            Sumo Wrestling is at the heart of Japanese tradition.  Everything that goes on with the sumo wrestlers in their training and their lives in closely tied to tradition.  What they eat, how they live—it’s all tradition. 
            Each match is rich with ceremony and formality.  I attended a few Basho, or Sumo events, and it was generally very painful for Americans, because we sat in a very nice section, but it was tiny, and you were expected to sit Japanese style, which, for a 52-year-old was not easy.  It was torture. 

Konishiki with his associates

            But once you got past the pain, it was fascinating to watch these huge men in the ring.  One who was a star when we lived in Japan was a young American Samoan named Salevaa Atisanoe, whose fighting name was Konishiki.  This 20-year-old weighed in at just over 500 pounds, and was gradually working his way to the top in Japan.  His top weight became 630 lbs.!

Here I’m seated in the middle, with nearly 1000 pounds of fighting sumo talent standing behind me.  Large man at left is Takamiyama, who retired in 1984; standing at center is Konishiki.

            When the Basho came to Fukuoka, an hour away, the American Consul invited me over to attend the matches, and then join him as he hosted Konishiki and an older, retired Sumo wrestler, also an American, named Jesse James Wailani Kuhulua, fighting  name Takamiyama, from Hawaii, in his home.
            When the two Sumo wrestlers arrived at the Consul’s residence, they came in a small Japanese car, giving it quite the static load test.  As they entered, they filled up the doorway, especially since Konishiki had brought his new wife.  His wife was a shy Japanese girl, wearing traditional kimono.  She looked like she might weigh about 100 lbs.
            When Konishiki sat down for supper, he took two chairs.  During the evening there was some karaoke singing (singing with background music, very popular in Japan). Konishiki sang a popular American tune in a high falsetto, which, coming from a 500-lb. man, sounded remarkable.  He really had a great sense of humor, and it was delightful to visit with him. 
            Living and working with the Japanese for three years, and learning some of their culture, was a fantastic experience. 

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Rawleigh's 1917 Almanac

Rawleigh's 1917 Almanac, Cookbook and Medical Guide, 28th Year: A Valuable Hand Book  1916 Freeport, IL: The W.T. Rawleigh Co. Marvelous book, loaded with advice and information. 140 products for 1917, including toilet articles, spices, medicines, cleaning products, poultry and stock products. Design for an iceless refrigerator using Canton flannel. Recipes for candies. Canning. Rawleigh's Dip for Cattle, Horses, Sheep and Hogs.   Louse powder. How soap is made at Rawleigh's. Photos show gathering of raw drugs in faraway India and other spots. 104 pp. 14.7 x 22.4 cm. Paper booklet, full color, very good condition. (6561) $29.00. Advertising

Caylor System Baseball Score Book, in Accordance with National League Requirements, No. 3--44 Games ca. 1925 Boston, MA: James W. Brine Company, 286 Devonshire Street. Very nice rare Boston baseball memento. James W. Brine Athletic Goods Baseball Score Book with instructions for scoring by O.P. Caylor's System.  Scorecards filled in, dated 1928 to 1941. Teams Mishe Mokwa (summer camp?), Milton, Middlesex, Ayer, Groton, Concord, St. Mark's, Belmont, Belmont Hill, Dartmouth at Harvard (1939), West Concord. Advertising for James W. Brine Official League Baseballs (Guaranteed for 18 innings), sweaters, all kinds of highest quality athletic goods. . 92 pp.        20.5 x 14 cm. Maroon cloth on board, "Whitney Cook" written on cover and on title page. Inside front hinge repaired with binding tape.  Inside rear hinge cracked. Cover shows wear, inside also. Fair. (7358) $120.00. Advertising/American Originals

Charles & Co. Catalogue, December, 1934 New York, NY: Charles & Co. Elaborate hardcover catalogue for teas, coffees, delicatessen, health foods, frosted foods (Birdseye), biscuits, bakery items, household articles and utensils, candies, perfumes, toilet and druggists' sundries, tobaccos, beverages. Charles has a new telephone order department where your calls are answered by pleasant young women who are trained to enunciate clearly. 367 pp. 14.5 x 21.3 cm. Green and bronze cloth on board, edges worn, corners bumped, large writing on front pastedown: "I go to Burris School… of Muncie Indian..." Very good. (3891) $36.00. Advertising/Catalogue

Madame Tussaud and Sons Biographical Catalogue of Distinguished Characters, Historical Gallery, 1886  London, England: Madame Tussaud and Sons. Catalogue includes thumbnail biographies of hundreds of famous people whose likenesses are in Mme. Tussaud's famed collection, including Matilda of Flanders; Henry III, Catherine of Aragon; Henry VIII; Geoffrey Chaucer; Victor Emanuel, first king of United Italy; Queen Elizabeth; Queen Victoria; Late President Grant; Abraham Lincoln; President Garfield; Napoleon Morte; Mehemet Ali Pasha; Chamber of Horrors, including Guiteau, Luigi Buranelli, Diblanc, many more. Advertisements for Cadbury's Cocoa, Needham's Polishing Paste, Steiner's Vermin Paste, Edwards' Oriental Sauce, Oetzmann & Co. 84 pp. 13 x 21 cm. Paper booklet, moderate wear, pencil marks on some biographies, good. (7292) $41.00. Biography

Lamb: Mary and Charles Lamb: Poems, Letters and Remains: Now first collected, with reminiscences and notes, First Edition, published simultaneous with London edition. By W. Carew Hazlitt,  1874 New York, NY: Scribner, Welford and Armstrong.  Life of Charles Lamb, English Essayist, (1775-1834) and his sister, Mary (1764-1847). In 1796 Mary Lamb, in a fit of insanity, attacked her mother and father, killing her mother.  Illustrated with frontispiece portrait of Charles Lamb, and numerous facsimiles and illustrations of favorite haunts of Lambs in London and suburbs. Good friend of Mary was Lady Stoddart, later Mrs. Hazlitt. Author of this book is grandson of the Hazlitts. Includes 31 pp. Notes of Charles Lamb to Thomas Allsop by George William Curtis. Lamb raves to Allsop about gift of Stilton cheese, notes Mary has "sense enough to value the present." 307 + 31 pp. 12 x 19 cm. Attractive dark blue cloth on board with gilt decoration, shows nude women in orbit around woman with crown and male figure with donkey's head. Slight rubbing top and bottom of spine, one illustrated page loose, some foxing, some pages unopened, altogether very good. (2257) $56.00. Biography/English Letters

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