Thursday, May 27, 2010

ばか! George Stephanopoulos Historical Gaffe of the Week

Last night on ABC’s World News Tonight anchor George Stephanopoulos reported on the notable death of Medal of Honor recipient John William Finn who had past away today at the age of 100.
John William Finn had served in the U.S. Navy and was decorated for his valor under fire manning a machine gun from an exposed position despite being heavily wounded during the Japanese bombing at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Mr. Finn was the oldest Medal of Honor recipiant alive from WWII and the last from the attack on Pearl harbor.
By any means the passing of John Finn is a reminder of their struggle to defend their nation in a time of war as well as “The Greatest Generation’s” ever decreasing numbers. What was wrong with this report was in the erroneous statement made by Stephanopoulos in where he described John Finn as defending against “Kamikaze” attacks at Pearl Harbor. Uh George, there were no Kamikaze attacks or Kamikaze units in 1941. In fact there were no “Hotaru” Special Air Corps Units until late 1944. Now normally I would pass this off but what happens when a trusted name like George Stephanopoulos misreports historical facts it just contributes to what Actor/Producer Tom Hanks (who recently produced HBO’s The Pacific Mini-Series) called in a recent Time Magazine interview as “The Historical Illiteracy of America” and nobody with any sense of responsibility wants that.

So now the torch has been passed on to a new oldest surviving Medal of Honor recipiant. His name is Barney F. Hajiro. It's almost ironic that the new holder of this unique honor now goes to a U.S. Army Veteran who is son of Japanese Immigrants. But before anyone gets that story wrong let's get back to Geroge's unfortunate gaffe of the week. Now by no means am I trying to pay any disrespect to the family or memory of John W. Finn. Nor am I out to attack George Stephanopoulos. I am actually a fan of his stylish reporting but I have to call it as I see it. I am simply pointing out something we would expect for George to get right. George Stephanopoulos is one of the most trusted news anchors since the late Peter Jennings so we expect a lot out of him and you should too. This is why we can't let this gaffe slide. So here's what we at American Mishima did about it:

I wrote directly to ABC news right after the evening news broadcast and received their automated response which reads:

Dear, (They cound't mention my name?)
Thanks for sending us the feedback. We read every piece of information we get from our users, and will forward your contribution to the right people here at ABC News. Please stay in touch.
The team

If there is any update to this story I will post it here. Just keeping you honest George!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

侍祭り- Odawara Samurai Matsuri

The news had spread all over the internet by morning. Armed Samurai had taken over the streets of Odawara Japan. Ok, no not really.  Oda Nobunaga did not rise from the dead nor were there any die hard Aizu Retainers on the prowl. It was actually a large group of re-enactors participating in a large Samurai Matsuri in Odawara. As a former historical re-enactor myself, I take great delight in viewing Samurai re-enactors on parade. If you read other Japanese sites, you may already be aware of this historical festival held every year in Odawara near Tokyo. Now I have never been to Japan. But if I could, this would be one of many events I would like to see. In the meantime, please enjoy the video footage below. おねがいします!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

達成 Shōshin - Advancement in Rank

In Martial Arts, one can be periodically tested to certify their advancement in skill and by rank. In the world of Shinkendo this is no different. As a Honbu student of the World Headquarters of Shinkendo in Little Tokyo, one can train all year round and test quarterly when a Sensei feels you are ready. This week I am pleased to announce that I have passed two such tests. The first being in Shinkendo for the rank of Jiho which is a second rank certifying me as an intermediately student among the Shinkendo Ranks. For those not familiar with Shinkendo, Shinkendo uses an older ranking system that goes back to the Edo period as opposed to using Kyu/Dan or belt ranking. To achieve the Jiho rank one must know the eight Kamae, Taitsubaki (defensive footwork techniques) Tatchiuchi (sparring techniques done with a partner) Tarengata (pre-arranged solo forms) as well as other reviewed basics from the previous Ichimonji rank testing. As opposed to Kendo which uses Bugou (armor) & shinai, Shinkendo uses wooden Bokken or Bokuto and ultimately real shinken. Overall, this progression from wooden sword to real katana is done to both enhance technique and emphasize safety. As a result, there has been no major accidents in Shinkendo's 20 year history. This is the result of the excellent training devised by Obata Kaiso.

No matter how hard you train, one should almost expect the unexpected to happen. Chaos theory definitely applies here. I had become quite ill during my brief run up to San Francisco the weekend before testing. Testing while using cold medication can make some simple moves quite challenging. But in the end, your Sensei knows what your true ability is. If that wasn’t enough personal chaos combined with the stress of testing, the test for Toyama Ryu would seriously put me to the test. Seriously!

Toyama Ryu is a sword discipline that was used by the officers of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. As with such being a military discipline, each technique must be perfectly executed with military precision. I had seen Toyama Ryu as the gateway to Tameshigiri (live sword cutting) and had train hard in Batsu-Jitsu & Yamagata. But as the chaos factor entered the picture two elements would take me by surprise. One being that I would not be tested in what I had trained for and the other would be that I would have to test in front of the whole class before our headmaster & Shinkendo Kaiso (founder) Toshishiro Obata-Sama. Talk about nerve wracking! One minor mistake and picture a scene from any good Samurai film where the Daimyo yells at a subordinate Samurai who is caught off guard but this time for real! But for those of you who are not Japanese or simply not to be confined to just watching Samurai films, this is what you train for!

As expected, the unexpected occurred when I was told to test in the alternate form of Batsu-Jitsu known as Gunto-Soho, a form we rarely ever practice involving seven draws and precision steps that would have been required by any officer in the Japanese Imperial Army. To my relief, I passed! I have now achieved the 6th Kyu rank in Toyama Ryu. Tameshigiri is only a discipline away! The training will continue and there will be more tests to come but for now I can take pride in the fact that my hard work has borne some results and there will be more to come! To find out more about Shinkendo or Toyama Ryu please visit Shinkendo's Official Website.

Or to read further on Shinkendo please check out Shinkendo by Toshishiro Obata available at the

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

文化イベント - The Kaiwo Maru & Our Date With History

We had embarked on our journey to follow in the footsteps of Katsu Kaishu and on that journey, a rendezvous with history. It had been 150 years since the Shogunate Vessel Kanrin Maru had sailed through the choppy waters of San Francisco Bay. It seemed as we drove nearer to our destination, that the reality of these Samurai who had crossed the great Pacific expanse was drawing clearer to our own. It had taken the Kanrin Maru some five and a half weeks to sail from Uraga Harbor to San Francisco Bay. By contrast, it took us seven and a half hours to drive from Los Angeles to the Embarcadero and from there to Pier 27 to go aboard the spectacular training vessel Kaiwo Maru. The Kaiwo Maru which literally translates as “The King of the Sea” had been docked there since her arrival on Wednesday May 5th in order to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Kanrin Maru’s historic Voyage. Just like her predecessor the Kanrin Maru, The Kaiwo Maru had welcomed the public to come aboard and tour her pristine decks. But unlike her famous predecessor she allowed women to tour her decks which were something unheard of back in 1860. And if that was of no surprise, we discovered a dozen women aboard serving as both Officers and Cadets. I am not sure if the young crew was aware of this significance, but one look from many smiles of the officers and Captain Makoto Inui made everything seem right with history.

As I write of my experience, I am humbled to have partaken in this journey. We were greeted by every member of the crew who was happy to hear our Japanese greetings and even more impressed that we drove so far just to see them. But it was more than that for me. The minute I had come aboard I realized I was technically on Japanese Soil. That feeling of the dream somewhat realized hit me as I looked up to the waving of the grand Rising Sun flying in the breeze amidst the many koinoburi that decorated her tall four masted rigging. I could only imagine this sight from the deck of the Kaiwo Maru what it must have been like for “John” Nakahama Manjiro returning to San Francisco by sea for the second time since arriving there in time for the California Gold Rush. Or even better the wide eyed expressions of the crew or even Yukichi Fukuzawa as they looked up to all the trees that lined up past the tall brick building up on Russian Hill. I could see all of this through the eyes of the young cadets standing before me as they welcomed me to tour their most magnificent ship.

Throughout the day I posed for pictures with members of the crew and talked at length about their voyage and that of the Kanrin Maru. We later walked over three hundred feet over to Pier 9 where the Kanrin Maru had originally docked to photograph the commemorative plaque marking the 150th anniversary of this most historic visit which truly opened bi-lateral relations between the United States and the Empire of Japan. As history records this event it would later be eclipsed by the American Civil War. Revolution and War would also follow over in the Land of the Rising Sun. There would be no further such official visits from Japan until 1872, twelve years after Katsu Kaishu disembarked and stepped foot on Pier 9 and yet here we were standing on that very spot. It was as if all these mythical figures from history had come to life. I had somehow connected with their journey and in a way had marked the first leg of one of my very own.

We were not sure if we were going to be able to make this trek up north given that our food situation and mounting debts had been caving in all around us. This long period without work has been both a curse and a blessing for it has given me time to realize how much I hate computer work and how much I have come to love writing. This trip was important for me and not for just for political or historical hindsight but for as an aspiring novelist I had to walk in the steps of these Samurai in order to write about their appearance in my current book which I will name “The Setting Sun Over The Bakumatsu Trail.” In one chapter I write about how my fictional protagonist William Merrick had come to California with John Manjiro during the Gold Rush. It is during that voyage that Merrick learns his first Japanese words and sparks the curiosity to know more of Japan. It would be another ten years before the two friends would meet again but this time Manjiro was not alone. He had come aboard the Kanrin Maru and would introduce him to Captain Katsu Kaishu and Yukichi Fukuzawa. So in order to walk in their footsteps we made the trek up California Street to Chinatown where I could only imagine the crew rushing the noodle vendors after weeks at sea with only American provisions. What imagery this place provided! It was all worth the effort.
We celebrated our accomplishments with a late night sushi & sake feast in Japan Town that was provided by our local friend Lavina Lewis in a place known as the Sapporo-ya where Star Trek’s George Takei had been known to frequent or so said our chef Nobu. Japan Town is not Little Tokyo but I must say they do have some better shops and more restaurants that are actually run by Nikkei and not Kankokujin! Not that I am being prejudice or anything but I am a stickler for authenticity and the truth in advertising. As Sunday morning rolled around we returned to Japan Town for the cultural events that were to take place under the famed Peace Pagoda. They were running two hours late and we wanted to go to the Asian Arts Museum to view the original documents and artifacts from the 1860 Japanese Embassay Visit and still make it time back to Pier 27 to partake in the farewell ceremonies for the Kaiwo Maru that would include the Consul General of Japan and a member of the Japanese Diet as well as an actual descendant of the original Kanrin Maru crew. We rushed through the museum to view the many beautiful articles brought by the Japanese Embassy and the original sketches and books from the original crew of the Kanrin Maru. We managed to do all of this while having come down with a serious fever the night before leaving yours truly in less than top form to meet such a demanding schedule. Undaunted and having come so far, I knew that Katsu Kaishu was on my side and that we would make it back in time to see the Kaiwo Maru before she was to sail off to Hawaii before returning to Japan.

 I could not help but think about what it must have been like. I could only imagine Katsu Kaishu emerging from his cabin (while hiding his sea sickness) to join Manjiro and the eleven American crew members to see the rolling hills to their right and the greenery of Marin to their left. I pondered this image as me and Tinahime toured the bay by boat later that Saturday Afternoon after touring the Kaiwo Maru. Katsu Kaishu had sailed these very waters. And as I looked out from our return under the Golden Gate Bridge I could not help but to feel sad that our new friends would be leaving us so soon much the same way Kaishu, Fukuzawa, and Manjiro would have left us some 150 years earlier on a similar late afternoon. And if for a moment I could take in the cool breeze and close my eyes and notice there was Katsu standing there grinning off to my shoulder then I knew I had to be here.
We had come some 390 miles to partake in history. As the Consul General said that we shall remember this day as will all those who sailed aboard the Kaiwo Maru commemorating this historic anniversary marking the long continued friendship between Japan and the United States. I could only feel moved as a local band played the Japanese National Anthem while a local Issei beautifully sang its words under the flag of the Rising Sun. I would be remiss if the thought did not bring a sad smile to this humble author for as one journey ends another begins.

To See More Photos of our Visit to the Kaiwo Maru, Please visit our American Mishima Flickr Files.

To Also learn more about the Kanrin Maru's famous visit to San Francisco check out
 Masao Miyoshi's book As We Saw Them
available on
The American Mishima Bushidoya eStore.


Friday, May 7, 2010

文化イベント - Kaiwo-Maru in San Francisco!

This weekend marks the arrival of the tall training ship of the Institute of Maritime Training of Japan of the Kaiwo Maru in San Francisco. The tall ship is here to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Kanrin Maru which arrived in San Francisco on March of 1860 carrying the Shogun's Embassy to America which is noted as the first cross cultural exchange between the United States and the Empire of Japan.

The Kaiwo Maru has traversed the Pacific Ocean tracing the route taken by the original Kanrin Maru that was captained by Katsu Kaishu who was accompanied by John Nakahama Manjiro and Fukuzawa Yukichi. This weekend will host a public viewing of the Kaiwo-Maru on Saturday followed by a cultural exchange in Japantown on Sunday before performing the Toshorei(manning of the yard) farewell ceremony. We are not sure if we can make it up there but if you can make it up to San Francisco you will truly have a date with history that you can participate in. Should we raise enough funds in time we will try to report from there with this week's festivities. For more information visit Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco or call 415-356-2460.

To see the Toshorei, watch the video below. Enjoy! おねがいします!

For any additional information, please visit Kanrin Maru150 site. おねがいします!