Girl in the Red Shoes

Among the most well-known statues in Yokohama is the Girl in the Red Shoes. Her statues sits in Yamashita Park.

Now that I am retired, I have more time to enjoy my walks in Yamashita Park. I observe people and watch the children chase the seagulls. I usually gravitate to the statue of the Girl in the Red Shoes. If I were a betting man, I would wager that this statue is one of the most photographed in Yokohama.

Girl in the Red Shoes

Yamashita 0008 Man taking photoInevitably, whenever I walk by the statue, I see all sorts of people taking photos of the girl. No doubt they read the story of the girl and listened to or sang the song in their elementary school days. The words in Japanese are:

赤い靴(くつ) はいてた 女の子異人(いじん)さんに つれられて 行っちゃった横浜の 埠頭(はとば)から 汽船(ふね)に乗って異人さんに つれられて 行っちゃった今では 青い目に なっちゃって異人さんの お国に いるんだろう 赤い靴 見るたび 考える異人さんに 逢(あ)うたび 考える 生まれた 日本が 恋しくば青い海眺めて ゐるんだらう(いるんだろう)異人さんに たのんで 帰って来(こ)

In English the lyrics are

A young girl with red shoes/was taken away by a foreigner. She rode on a ship from Yokohama pier/ taken away by a foreigner/ I imagine right now she has become blue-eyed living in that foreigner’s land./ Every time I see red shoes, I think of her And every time I meet a foreigner, I think of her.

The story of the Girl in the Red Shoes is clouded in mystery.

I really don’t care about the cloudy background. When I look at the statue I think of my daughters when they were little.I hear their crying, their squealing, their joys.  More poignantly,  I remember listening to their dreams.

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Yokohama Short Stories

I’ve lived in Yokohama a good number of years — long enough to observe a tectonic  transformation. I arrived in Japan at a time when office and factory workers placed their work above family life. They devoted their lives to the company. Their common purpose was to strengthen Japan and restore her back to her pre-war status. Ah, yes, that was forty -fifty years ago.  Fast forward to today. Japan, Japanese society, and individual Japanese have undergone a transformation. Japanese place a greater emphasis on family and private life. No longer willing to devote their lives to the company, they join companies with the idea that in three years or so they will move on to different or even greater opportunities. The focus of their efforts have moved from the company to themselves   In many ways, they are better equipped to cope with transitions than their elders. 

This is the first of the short stories I wrote about Japanese caught in the wake of the bursting of the bubble and faced with the spectre of foreign management taking control of their company. When Carlos Ghosn took control of the management of Nissan Motors, a wave of resentment swept through the entrenched Japanese business community. The old ways of operating business in Japan was coming to an end. The changes were leaving individual workers in a daze. One such person was the character Kosaka in Absurdity.



Takeshi cut two thinly sliced pieces from the block of tuna. With deft hands he rolled rice into oblong shapes, and then he placed the sliced tuna over them.

“Absurd!” Kosaka repeated. “It’s absolutely absurd.”

Takeshi shook his head as he placed the sushi on the wooden tray in front of Kosaka. It was after closing time but he let Kosaka stay. Kosaka had been a regular customer for nearly 15 years. The shop, located in an out of the way spot near a subway station, provided Kosaka with a trysting place for his colleagues and other companions. But the events in the economy and in Kosaka’s life had taken a turn for the worse, and he stopped coming. Then tonight, like a prodigal son, Kosaka showed up. He had looked older and grayer than a man of 40 should look.

“It’s absurd!” Kosaka lifted one tuna sushi with his chopsticks and stared at it, as though he were searching for solutions to his problems. Then he stuffed the entire sushi into his mouth.

Takeshi wiped the wood cutting board with a towel. “What’s absurd?”

Kosaka answered in incomprehensible grunts, the sushi muffling the words in his mouth.

Takeshi laughed. What a sight Kosaka made tonight! Worried brown eyes propped over darkening semicircles, a hairline receding relentlessly toward the middle of his head, and his mouth stuffed full of sushi. Some rice spilled from his mouth and added another stain to his necktie.

Kosaka drank an entire of cup of sake to wash down the sushi. “Everything’s absurd. My life. Everything. I worked hard for that company. And now?”

How things change, Takeshi thought. Kosaka first came into Takeshi’s sushi shop at the height of the bubble economy. Brash, young and foolish, Kosaka announced to Takeshi that he worked for Nakamura Motors, Japan’s second largest auto manufacturer and presented him with a business card. Like many of his generation of recently graduated university students in the bubble period, Kosaka could practically insist on the salary and the working conditions he wanted before he consented to work for the company. Nakamura Motors competed fiercely with other major Japanese companies for new recruits. Nakamura was expanding operations, building new plants, establishing new offices and setting up new dealerships with the aim of increasing market share in overseas markets. Naturally, the company made every effort to entice Kosaka to work for them.

The bubble years gave newly recruited employees a cockiness that irritated older employees. “They think the world owes them a living,” Takeshi’s older customers groused.

Kosaka was first assigned to work in one of Nakamura’s manufacturing plants in the outskirts of Tokyo. “Got to start from the ground up,” he informed Takeshi. “That way I’ll have a shot at a management position in two or three years. And then? Who knows? I might make department head by the time I’m thirty.”

The months passed and Takeshi observed Kosaka evolving into a Nakamura Motors man. He wore tailored blue suits, expensive ties and a gold wristwatch. “Bought a new Nakamura Sports Car!”  He even started dating an office lady that worked in the same section.

“This is Sueko. We’re getting married.” Takeshi still could recall watching Kosaka dote over Sueko as they sat eating their sushi. “Best sushi in Japan,” Kosaka boasted. “Ate sushi in Miyasaki, Aomori, and Niigata. But Takeshi’s is the best.” Sueko merely nodded her head and responded, “Really? That’s nice.”

Sueko had all the prerequisites of a good Nakamura wife. Having graduated from a junior college, she immediately found work at the company.  During her off hours, she studied flower arrangement and practiced playing the koto. She was an ideal catch for any Nakamura salaried man on the way up the corporate ladder. In fact, Kosaka’s section chief encouraged the match.

“So she comes with good recommendations, huh?” Takeshi said shortly before Kosaka got married.

Kosaka appeared pensive. “Yeah, I guess.”

Takeshi saw doubt written in Kosaka’s expression.

Kosaka finished off the sake in two gulps. “She does have a kind heart,” he remarked in a sake-induced flush of sentiment.

Kosaka invited Takeshi to their wedding reception. A year later, he showed Takeshi pictures of their newly born son. “Named him after my uncle. Hiroshi. Looks like me, huh?” Kosaka beamed. Before long Kosaka was showing pictures of his newly born daughter. “Michiko! She’ll make someone a great wife.”

Married life seemed to agree with him. Takeshi noticed he was putting on weight around the middle. “All that home cooking,” Kosaka joked, patting his paunch.

At Nakamura, he seemed firmly ensconced on the upward escalator to management. He was made the section chief of the parts purchasing section. His job was to liaise with smaller manufacturers that produced car batteries for Nakamura’s family line of cars. The promotion to section chief before he was thirty signaled a rapid rise to the next level. However, he revised his prediction about becoming division chief. “Maybe by 35. That’s more like it. I need more experience in other divisions.”

Takeshi nodded his head in agreement. “Yes, experience counts for a lot.”

“Yeah, especially in later years when I get into an executive position.”

Takeshi laughed. Kosaka still possessed that same cockiness he had as a newly recruited employee. But he had to agree. Kosaka might very well reach the rarified executive levels.

However, by the time Kosaka celebrated his 32nd birthday, the bubble burst.  Nakamura Motors began cutting back on new hiring and offering older workers in their fifties early retirement packages.

“They put a freeze on promotions!” Kosaka said. “They’re even getting rid of managerial positions.”

Takeshi saw the disappointment and disbelief in Kosaka’s face. He had joined the company when everyone believed the good times would go on forever. Now, he and his cohort of employees faced the prospect of losing their jobs.

Kosaka felt confident that Nakamura would not restructure him out of a job. “Naw, they’re letting older employees go first. Of course if Nakamura goes under . . .”

“No worry about that. Nakamura’s too big a company to go bust.” Takeshi said to allay Kosaka’s unspoken fear.

“Yeah, that’s right. Nakamura’s too big to go under.”

Kosaka came to Takeshi’s shop less frequently after that encounter. “Got to work longer hours!”  Takeshi noticed that the jauntiness had gone out of Kosaka and that his conversations centered on company losses and future cutbacks. “But the company will survive!” Kosaka said with an optimism bolstered by copious cups of sake. He was confident that the banks would continue lending money to help the company stay afloat until the economy improved.

As far as Kosaka’s private life was concerned, however, Takeshi suspected that Kosaka’s marriage was heading toward a breakup. Whenever the topic of his family came up, he would grow sullen. “Sueko and I have nothing in common. She’s got no idea of what I’m going through at work. All she talks about is needing more money for the kids. Extra lessons. She wants the kids to study English, and they’re not even in junior high school yet.”

Then one summer night Kosaka came to the shop with a young girl who wore a T-shirt tucked into a black mini-skirt. The T-shirt had a message printed on it. “Take me!” Obviously, Kosaka was taking the message literally.

“Mieko, this is Takeshi!” Some of Kosaka’s jauntiness had returned. “He serves the most delicious sushi in town.” Mieko could not have been older than 20 years. “She works in a little pub in Shinjuku. Mixes the best gin and tonics!”

Takeshi kept his comments polite but guarded. He averted his eyes as Kosaka’s hand stroked Mieko’s exposed thigh. “Takeshi, this beautiful creature is wise beyond her years.” Mieko giggled and lit a king-sized cigarette. “She understands what I’m going through at the office. I can tell her all my problems. She’s a good listener. Isn’t that right?”

Mieko blew out a stream of cigarette smoke and said. “Yeah.”

Kosaka’s affair with the understanding Mieko ended two weeks later. It turned out, Kosaka informed Takeshi, that Mieko had grown tired of being wise beyond her years and ran off with a high school dropout. Together, they took off on his motorcycle and to parts unknown. “A punk on a motorcycle. What could she see in him?” a visibly saddened and perplexed Kosaka asked.

Takeshi merely shrugged. “Who knows about the young people today?”  He saw that Kosaka’s face had grown pudgier – the result of a steady alcoholic intake. “Looks like you’ve been working overtime. Better go home and get some rest.”

Kosaka looked over at Takeshi with blurry eyes. “Home?” he asked and his face turned hard and cold. “Oh, yeah. Home.” He got up and threw down some money. Then he stormed out the door before Takeshi could count out the change. Takeshi put the change in an envelope and wrote Kosaka’s name on it. For two years, Takeshi waited for Kosaka to come and collect his change, but he eventually forgot about Kosaka and the envelope gathering dust in a drawer.

Times were growing worse. Takeshi’s regular customers stopped by less frequently and ordered fewer drinks. To entice customers, he began offering customers set lunches and dinners at prices that barely covered his overhead. The set meals attracted a different type of clientele – single working people and young married couples living in the neighborhood. Foreign customers also came to enjoy the ambience of a Japanese sushi shop. None of them on company expense accounts, however.

One customer, an attractive French woman in her late twenties whose name was Marie, told him that she would like to open a sushi shop in Paris.

“You mean, you want to make sushi?”

“Sure, why not?” the French woman replied in heavily accented Japanese.

Takeshi pointed out that Japanese women could never make sushi. “It’s a man’s profession.”

“But I’m a French woman.”

Takeshi could not argue that point.

“Will you teach me? All about sushi? And about the sushi business?”

Takeshi replied that he would think about it.

“I shall come here until you say yes,” Marie said.

One night, a group of employees from Nakamura Motors dropped in for drinks and conversation. Takeshi learned from one harried middle-aged employee that Kosaka had gotten a divorce and was living alone in a small apartment somewhere in Tokyo.

“How’s he doing?” Takeshi asked.

“How’s anybody doing?” the harried employee snapped back. “You heard the latest?”

Takeshi shook his head.

“Three banks went belly up!”

Takeshi had read about the bankruptcies. They had come on the heels on the bankruptcy of Japan’s third largest securities company. “The banks are in deep trouble all right. Too much red ink.”

“If banks go under, then companies like Nakamura will be next.”

“Nakamura’s too big to take a fall,” Takeshi said, but he saw that his words failed to convince the harried employee.

Takeshi doubted Nakamura could reduce the huge debt it was accumulating, which was totaling into the billions. The total amount of debt staggered Takeshi’s imagination. It was the size of the debt of a small country. No business, he knew only too well, could continue operating at a loss year after year. Something drastic had to take place.

Takeshi, however, had little time to worry about Nakamura’s financial woes.

“I’ve got to do something drastic!” he told Marie, who came to eat and to observe Takeshi’s technique as often as she could.

“Hire me and I guarantee you that you will build up your business.”

Takeshi pooh-poohed the idea. “I’d lose all of my customers.”

Marie was insistent. “You tell people that I am your apprentice and that I am opening a shop in Paris.”

Takeshi finally gave in and took Marie on as an apprentice.

At first customers were put off by seeing a gaijin woman standing behind the counter. But her charming personality added a cosmopolitan atmosphere to the shop and customers grew accustomed to watching her make the sushi under the watchful eyes of her sensei.

Marie added little European touches to the standard sushi dishes. Deviled tuna spread for appetizers, and a selection of French wines. She decorated the shop with paintings and posters that gave it a quasi-French appearance.

Customers learned by word of mouth about the foreign sushi apprentice. Soon the word reached the editor of New Trends Magazine. The magazine targeted the hip young generation of Japanese looking to keep on top of current fashions and lifestyles. The editor sent a reporter and photographer to do a feature story on Takeshi’s restaurant.

“Foreigner charms way into the sushi world!” read the headline on the front cover featuring Marie and Takeshi. The headline and feature story drew customers in from all over Tokyo. On weekends, Takeshi had to turn customers away.

Many older Japanese shook their heads in dismay. “Foreigners making sushi!” Marie represented one more example of how foreigners were diluting Japanese culture and values. “What next?” They saw the world crowding around Japan, like Hannibal with his army of barbarians at the gates of Rome ready to destroy Japanese culture and institutions.

Two months after Takeshi’s shop made the news, an event so devastating hit Japan with the impact of a gigantic typhoon. Apollonius Motors, Italy’s largest auto manufacturer bought a controlling interest in Nakamura Motors. That news alone was enough to send staunchly conservative Japanese into fits of shock and anger. “We’re being invaded! The Black Ships are being deployed in Edo Bay!” The barbarians indeed have crashed through the gates.

“Looks like we going to get another General MacArthur,” Takeshi remarked to Marie. They were both working in the kitchen getting food prepared for the lunchtime customers. News of the Apollonius-Nakamura Alliance streamed from the portable TV Takeshi had placed on the refrigerator.

Marie was cubing the potatoes for the sushi and potato salad dish she had created for the lunchtime service. “MacArthur? Who is this MacArthur?”

Takeshi shook his head. Young people today, he thought. They have no concept of history.”

“Apollonius is sending its Executive Vice President to take over the management of Nakamura.” Takeshi turned the volume down on the TV.

“You mean they are sending the slasher!” Marie responded. “Uh la la.”

“The slasher?”

“He is known as the slasher in my village.” Marie started washing the mayonnaise and potato from her hands under the kitchen faucet. “His name is Antonio Benedicio Aiello.”

The name sounded like a mouthful of syllables in Takeshi’s ears.

“He was responsible for closing down the Apollonius factory. My father and other villagers lost their jobs. Shops closed down because there was no more business. That slasher has ice water running through his veins.”

At that moment, the TV news showed a close-up photograph of Antonio Benedicio Aiello. The photograph revealed a demoniacally determined foreigner with close-set piercing brown eyes under one black eyebrow that stretched across both eyes like a prickly caterpillar.

The piercing eyes glared down at Takeshi. Thank goodness he was not working for Nakamura, Takeshi thought and cut the head from a fish. Then the cocky face of Kosaka as a new recruit appeared in his mind.

“Poor Kosaka-san! I wonder how he is doing?”

The End.

Yokohama Statues and Childhood Memories

H2028 Statue

Yokohama for me is a city of lights, sights, sounds, memories and statues. One day I decided to pick up my camera and walk around the city to take shots of the statues I spied through the lenses of my prescription glasses. Like many cities in the world, Yokohama possesses a treasure trove of statues — avant-garde, military heroes of forgotten wars, founders of universities and medical facilities — and those from the entertainment world. I chose the first statue to photograph for sentimental reasons. Misora Hibari — who was born in Yokohama and whose parents owned a fish market in Takigashira in the Isogu Ward of Yokohama. Long before she became well-known nationwide, Misora Hibari’s mother took her around the neighborhood nearby their fish market and had her perform on improvised stages at markets and neighborhood events.


The statue is located in the Noge district of Yokohama. It depicts her in her debut film Kanashiki Kuchibue (The Sad Whistle 1949)

I’ve watched the movie many times because it shows the districts of Yokohama I often meander through during my daily walks in the city. Quite a contrast between the city during the early postwar years and today. To give a flavor of what life was like in those long ago years, John Carroll, a long-time observer of Japan and the Japanese in his book Trails of Two Cities encapsulated the atmosphere and color of the Noge district in which Misora Hibari gained recognition as a singer and entertainer.

“At the height of the black market there were 445 stalls on the main road alone, each of which had to pay a fee to the local oyabun, Higo Morizo. They offered black market food that had made its way there from Occupation warehouses and trash cans. Koreans and Chinese who had their own sources of food and the power that stemmed from it sometimes threw their weight around, although gang warfare such as developed in Kobe between Korean and Japan yakuza never really became a problem in Yokohama, perhaps because it was the center of the Occupation and there were too many MPs around. That does not mean Noge could not get rough at times. Kujira Yoko-cho (Whale Alley) near Sakuragi-cho was a killing grounds reminiscent of Bloodtown and other rough quarters of Yokohama’s wild early days. MPs came here every morning to check for dead bodies. Higo himself was knifed to death in 1954 just after the Occupation had come to an end. But Noge was also the place where the Japanese came to enjoy an apres guerre culture characterised by pornography, violence, and a desire to get by without Hibari Misoraregrets. Here a young Times aint like they used to besinger named Kato Kazue made her debut at eight and soon was wowing standing room-only audiences at Noge’s Yokohama Kokusai Gekijo and big clubs in Isezaki-cho. By the age of twelve she had become nationally famous under the name Misora Hibari.
Japan’s answer to Edith Piaff later built a huge a mansion with swimming pool in Isogo, where she grew up.”John Carroll, Trails of Two Cities, Kodansha International, Tokyo, 1994 pp.78-79

Of the many songs she recorded the one that struck a chord in my father’s heart was Shina no Yoru (China Nights)

My father along with many other GIs stationed in Japan during the Occupation Period remember the haunting melody even though they could not understand the words. (For an interesting insight to the song refer to the blog:)

The statue is my favorite of all the statues I come across during my walks. When I look at her dressed in the costume, I recall my father saying, “Some day, Kermit, you should come to Japan.” “Well, I’m here now, Dad.”

Dad10009 Dad and Kermit-1

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Fresh Works from a Greying Mind 

Sixty-six years ago I was a boy of six and I loved pretending I was an explorer. One summer day my explorations took me into the dark interior of the basement. At the time my parents and two brothers and I lived in a house known as Trimmer Hill in Pacific Grove.
In my boyish imagination, the basement resembled an unexplored cave — a place where pirates buried their treasures in chests.

Brownie Camera

The very first camera I took pictures with.

Sure enough I discovered an old fashioned trunk stored among old furniture and stacks of magazines dating back to the 1930s.
I opened the trunk expecting to find pieces of eight, jewels, and gold necklaces. To my disappointment I unearthed musty smelling clothes and old photo albums. Nestled under the albums in one corner at the bottom of the trunk I discovered an old Eastman Kodak Brownie camera.

With my discovery firmly gripped in my hands, I dashed upstairs to show my mother. She took the camera in her hands as though it were a long lost childhood memento. She took it apart and inspected the inside. After putting it together, she aimed the camera at our pet cat and clicked the shutter. “Still works,” she said and smiled.

Camera FilmLater she took me to the drugstore and bought film for the camera. ISO 120 8 exposures Black and White. In those days color film required an upscale camera model. Developing costs also made amateurs think twice before snapping a casually thought out color photo.

That little boxed shape camera introduced me to the world of photography. I took photos of pets, flowers and the ocean. Through trial and error I gained an inkling about lighting and framing. I couldn’t wait for the photos to be developed so I could show my parents and friends.

But alas, as I grew older, the vagaries of life dampened my enthusiasm for picture taking. Other hobbies and inevitably girls took up most of my free time. The old brownie camera was packed away once again down in the basement.

Sixty-six years later, I am a man of 72 who has allowed the boy inside him free rein on his enthusiasm. I bought three Panasonic digital cameras — the GF5, the FZ1000 and the GH4. An extravagance, I know. But as a man twice divorced and living a carefree bachelor life, I have no one to splash cold water on my imagination. Framing a shot and manipulating the function buttons on the GH4 makes me feel as if I were a professional photographer on assignment for National Geographic.

I took pictures with abandonment and out of the thousands I selected the ones I feel happy about.

Recent Photographic and Video Endeavors

Steve Gardner is an American Roots and Blues musician and former photojournalist. He has also become my ad hoc teacher of photographic techniques. When I asked him which camera I should buy, he said, “It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have.”

“So in other words . . . .”

“In other words it’s not what you have . . . ”

SG reading

My mentor and good friend — Steve Gardner

Nahar Amrit Shakti

Mumbai Mobile Crèches In March I took a trip to Mumbai, India, my second trip to visit my daughter and her family. Her husband works for Deutsche  Bank was expecting a transfer to another post in Hong Kong. “Better come before we are transferred,” my daughter coaxed in her emails and Face Time communications. I jumped at the opportunity to visit them and to see the city. One day she took me to the school where she teaches children of construction workers English. The school is part of a Mumbai Mobile Crèches NPO program to provide the children left at home by parents working on construction site. Boys My daughter had often mentioned in her correspondence to me that she did volunteer work at a school for the children of construction workers. The workers came from different villages and districts throughout India. With no place to stay, they moved into empty lots and built makeshift huts from whatever materials they could find. The huts are small, cramped and supplied with limited utilities. The children are left behind to fend for themselves while the parents go the construction sites. Seeing the need to provide a semblance of constructive activities for the children, the NPO Mumbai Mobile Crèches opened schools on the grounds. Indian and non-Indian teachers give the children a rudimentary education. My daughter teaches at the  school in the  Nahar Amrit Shakti development. On the day she took me to the school, I was amazed and inspired by what I observed. Makeshift huts ringed the perimeter of the development. In those ramshackle homes lived families whose numbers might have included five or six family members. The school building was in the center. The students ranged in age from preschool to fifth or sixth grade. They were bursting with energy and smiles. And they all looked as though they scrubbed behind their ears. Clean and neat. Were it not for the NPO, these children would be scavenging the streets for something to eat and for something to do to kill the time while waiting for their parents to return home. I took photos and videos of the site.  They hardly do justice to the joy, the enthusiasm and the energy I experienced on that hot day in that community located in a backroad of Mumbai. Also check out my website for upcoming photo exhibitions.

A trip to Sankeien in Yokohama — a memory

S1001 Boat Pond

Saturday, April 20. 6:30 a.m.: The temperature felt cool as I threw aside the futon cover. I climbed out of bed and opened the curtains. Outside gray skies covered Yokohama. Hardly a promising day for a walk in the city. But I was determined to get outdoors and do something totally at variance to my self-imposed work schedule.

During the week, my mornings after washing the breakfast dishes start off with a review of the InDesign layout I finished the day before. I am working on creating an Apple app of A Christmas Carol — the video production I had labored over for nearly two years editing.  Creating the app was the only alternative opened to me if I hoped to monetize the product. A painstaking job, I assure you. But one that gives me a sense of achievement. With each facet of the InDesign software I master, I feel as if I had reached the summit of Mt. Everest.

I take a two hour lunch break. Then I pack my briefcase with the prison diaries of Terrell Henry Greene. I generally pore through them in the reading room of the Yokohama Archives of History near Osanbashi Pier. The room is quiet and often I have the place to myself.

Terrell spent nearly two years in the Japanese penal system. The crime — overstaying his tourist visa 90 day permission by eight years. His diary entries are filled with self-analysis, description of prison guards and inmates, and stories from his early life as a boy growing up in a Catholic orphanage. I am taking notes which I will have to collate before I undertake the serious task of writing his story.

On Friday I substituted for a teacher at the Asahi Culture Center and taught two of her morning classes. On a note attached to her folder, she wrote: “The students’ ability level is pre-elementary. Some are even false starters.” She neglected to add that the students were in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Contemporaries of mine. I started off the class by introducing myself and then asking them questions about themselves.

“I’m 80 years old and when I woke up this morning I had to cook my own breakfast. Two boiled eggs.” The octogenarian student sat up front to my left in the narrow classroom.

“Why did you have to cook?”

“My wife left early to play golf.” He smiled. The lenses of his glasses magnified his mischievous brown eyes.

I turned to the woman sitting opposite him to my right. She was also in her 80s and a little deaf. Her friend, a younger woman in her early 70s repeated my questions in an amplified voice.

“My husband died two months ago,” she said, her eyes moistening. “I live with my daughter and her family. She cooks the meals.”

As she spoke, a memory flashed through my mind. Years ago I was sitting with friends in a restaurant when I heard a woman’s voice call out. “Borromeo-sensei!” I turned and saw a former university student of mine making her way to my table. “Aiko-san!”

A young man dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie followed her.

In a breezy style, Aiko introduced the young man. “This is Takeshi. We’re getting married next month. He works for a bank and we’ll be posted in Hong Kong. Isn’t that exciting?”

I had to smile. Already she was using the pronoun ‘we’ to describe their lives as a married couple. She had a future to look forward to. The 80 year old widow sitting in the classroom at the culture center had only memories to look back on.

I realized my function in the class was to provide a diversion in the lives of the students. They came to enjoy the companionship of classmates and to have something to talk about with family members and friends. None of them, I’m sure, came to improve their English to the extent of conversing fluently with native English speakers. For those two 90-minute sessions, I gave them simple English conversational exercises that allowed them to respond with confidence.

10:31 a.m.: At Yokohama Station, I boarded the express bus bound for Sankeien Garden. In all the years of living in Yokohama, I had never visited this famous landmark. A quick look at the guide pages on the Internet gave me a token understanding of the garden’s history. Designed and built by a successful silk merchant who went by the name of Sankei Hara, the garden was opened to the public in 1906. It became a popular gathering place for both the elite and the common citizen to meet for conversations over cups of tea, or for walks along the garden paths.

Though interesting, the garden’s history was not what motivated me to visit there. Rather I wanted to go somewhere to clear away the debris left over in my mind after five days devoted to job-related tasks. Already on the thirty minute bus ride to the garden I began feeling relaxed.

11:15: Walking through the entrance of the garden was like stepping through a thin membrane separating the present from the past. The scene of the boat in the main pond in the outer garden reminded me of the picture postcards from the Meiji Period in the Yokohama Archives of History. I blinked in disbelief. Even the people in the park seemed to have stepped out of the pages of history.

The image shattered when I heard the sound of someone kicking a soccer ball. The ball flew in front of me and rolled along the road between the main pond and the lotus pond. Two young French boys, ages I guessed to be 9 and 7, ran after the ball. Their mother cried out admonishments in the French language. Not knowing French I surmised she was telling the boys to watch out where they kicked the soccer ball. The two brothers smiled sheepishly at me. Then within an instant they darted to the main pond where they knelt for a closer examination of the carp.

The fish surfaced perhaps in the expectation of receiving a serving of bread crumbs. The boys obviously had other intentions. The older brother leaned over as if to grasp one of the larger carp. This time older sister, seeing what he was up to,  delivered the admonishments. The boys paid marginal attention to older sister. Instead, they scampered off along the same path Rabindranath Tagore must have walked during his two month stay in Japan in 1916. The recipient of the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature had been the guest of Sankei Hara.

I followed the path past the water lily pond and entered the Sankei Memorial. The displays and photos reflected an earlier, less manic lifestyle. People took time to enjoy the tea ceremony in the garden’s calming atmosphere. One photo from the Shofukaku Observatory showed the scenic unobstructed view of Tokyo Bay.  A contrast to what I actually viewed nearly a century later from the same observatory.

S1010 House Between11:45 a.m.: I climbed up the walking trail to the Kinmokutsu Tea House in the inner garden. On the way up, I encountered the French family again. The father was explaining to his wife the architectural design of the tea house. I deduced this explanation by observing his gesturing over the lines of the roof and his constant referral to the open guidebook in his hand.

As I headed back down the trail, I saw the older son. He had climbed over the fence and started scaling the rocks leading up to where his father was giving his tour guide lecture. He was straddled almost at a 90 degree angle between a rock and a bamboo tree trunk.

“Oh, Lord!” I thought. “The kid is defying gravity.”

I sighed with relief when he returned to a perpendicular state on top of the rock. My nerves wouldn’t allow me to observe his progress upward. I hastened down the trail.

12:05 p.m.: I walked in the direction of the Three Story Pagoda of Old Tomyoji and approached one of the tea serving stations. Here in the old days visitors sat and enjoyed tea under the canopy.  A photograph inside the canopy showed Sankei Hara surrounded by the literati of the Taisho Period among whom was Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892 – 1927).  Akutagawa, impressed by the garden’s natural beauty, composed a haiku in which he focused attention on the garden’s tranquility.

Suddenly, my attention was distracted by the sounds of scuffling. A short distance from the tea station, I saw the two brothers fighting for control of a cloth sack. Inside was the soccer ball. The older brother was getting the best of his younger, shorter sibling. The mother came running down the path shouting out warnings. Older sister pulled the fighting brothers apart.

As the youngest of three brothers, I could imagine what the mother was saying in French. “Stop picking on your little brother! Let him hold the sack.”

The moment the older brother let go of the sack, his little brother, snug in the protective arms of his sister, flashed a smile of victory.

“Wait till I get you alone,” the older brother no doubt threatened.  Or was I putting the words of my older brothers into his mouth?

I continued on my way, leaving the stormy scene behind me.

12:36 p.m.: I reached the Three Story Pagoda of Old Tomyoji. I am amazed whenever I see old structures build centuries ago. How they can survive the heat of the sun, the dampness after a downpour, or the gnawing of termites still puzzles me. Of course, as a cultural monument, the pagoda undergoes periodic repair. I made a note to buy a guidebook before my next visit to the garden.S1015 Three Story Pagoda

1:05 p.m.: At the former Yanoharake House, I took several shots of the firewood outside. The firewood brought back memories of me as a six-year old boy. My parents owned and managed the Trimmer Hill Boarding House in Pacific Grove In the living room, there was a large fireplace. One day while my family and the boarders were in the dining room, I  was fascinated by the flames from the burning log. The rich red colors of the flames under the log looked good enough to eat. Curious, I wondered what fire felt like. I decided to experiment and stuck a dinner napkin into the flames. The flames shot up the napkin and enveloped my hand. I let go of the napkin and screamed.

S1022 Wood StackWhy the firewood piled in neat stacks outside the Yanoharake House should cause me to recall that particular memory is a mystery. One thing for certain, I never again held a napkin over burning logs.

1:44 p.m.: I headed back toward the main entrance. Rain started falling as I walked over the Yatsuhashi Bridge. I sought shelter under the roof of a wisteria trellis near the main pond. The sound of rain drops splashing against the pond produced a soothing effect inside me. Reluctantly, I walked to the main entrance. Before I stepped through the gate, I turned for one last look at the boat in the pond.

In a soft voice, I said, “I’ll be back.”

Yokohama Sketches

Fireworks have always fascinated me. As a little boy living in Pacific Grove, California, my mother took me to informal fireworks displays along the beaches near our home. Of course, setting off fireworks on beaches have long since been banned. Who know? They might have even been banned sixty years ago.

I always wanted to set off firecrackers and light the fuses of rockets, just like my older brothers. “You’re only 5 years old, my dear,” my mother informed me in a crisp English accent, (an accent she maintained even until the final moment of her life) “I will not have you blow your hands away.”

Now I live in Yokohama safe and sound from maternal admonitions. Yet I have no more interest in setting off fireworks. However, I do enjoy watching firework displays. You can always count on the city of Yokohama to sponsor firework events for the citizens who are sweltering in the August heat. One such event took place last week on August 5, 2014. The event took place at Rinko Park (

I recently purchased a new camera — the Panasonic FZ100. I wanted to give it a trial run and take photos and videos of the fireworks in the evening. However, I did not go to Rinko Park and become entrapped among the thousands of spectators sitting in chairs or standing. No, I preferred to climb the steep road past Hongakuji Temple to reach a suitable spot high above nearby buildings to test out my new camera. Unfortunately, I encountered two major obstacles. One, two high-rise apartments near Rinko Park blocked an unobstructed view of the fireworks. Instead, they served as a frame within which the fireworks exploded. And two, my incompetence as a photographer coming to grips with a newly purchased camera. I took over 200 hundred photos. Regrettably only a handful turned out well. And even among them, two or three were blurred.

But I did capture with the video function the fireworks finale. A little blurry, but I’ll get it right with practice.

When the sparks of dying fireworks finally disappeared into the darkness within the frame of the high rise apartments, I could almost hear my mother tell me, “Put your sparkler into the bucket of water. We don’t want to burn our house down, do we?”

Yokohama Sketches

M2007 Temple Bell CU

A Path Well Traveled

Living a solitary life, I have ample opportunities to walk and meditate. I am fortunate that I live in an historical area of Yokohama. The street that runs in front of my apartment is part of the old Tokaido Road.ōkaidō_(road)

Temple BellsAt five o’clock in the afternoon, a monk at the Hongakuji Temple nearby tolls the bell. Ah, time for me to take a meditative walk after a sweltering afternoon in front of the computer. I wipe my sweaty face and body with a towel. I use towels instead of the air conditioner which contributes to global warming and builds up an exorbitant electricity bill. Since the March 11, 2011 earthquake, I’ve been concerned about how many kilowatts people consume just to remain cool during the hot summer days. A towel to wipe perspiration from the body costs far less and it allows your body to ooze out the poisons that accumulate in bodies such as mine that must deal with my profligate dietary habits.

But I digress.M2003 Original Consulate General

Hongakuji was  the temporary residence for the U.S. Consulate General when the port of Yokohama  was opened on July 1, 1859. When I walk up the stairs and see the main temple, I feel the frustrations of the day melt away. I know the path I am taking that day will lead me to to find peace and solace.

M2009 Temple ProperThe temple grounds serve as a backdrop for the gravestones in the cemetery. I look at the cemetery and M2011 Reminders of the afterlifeponder on the impermanence of life. How many more days have I left to watch the sun climb above the high rise apartments? How many more hours left to me to while away precious minutes perusing  through Facebook comments? When will the strength in my thumb finally give in to the ravages of old age leaving me incapable of tweeting. Of course, I could go on and on with my meditation, but I must press forward along the Path Well Traveled. No time for regrets. No time for self-recriminations. I must move forward, like the samurai of olden day. Forward!  Always forward toward death.

Phew! That was heavy. Thank goodness, M2014 SignPostI’m close to the end of the Path Well Traveled.  Tammachi Station! The end of the path is in sight.

Ah, I’ve arrived. The refrigerator at the 7/11 Convenience Store.

The Path Well Traveled is an arduous one, but the rewards are plentiful.

M2015 Beer Cooler






Yokohama Sketches

 Yokohama  Sketches chronicles the lives and events of  two long-term Yokohama residents. Kermit Carvell (hey, that’s me!) and George Okuhara-Caswell (that’s my dearest friend!) Sometimes madcap. Sometimes dramatic. Sometimes serious and sometimes heart-rendering. But always entertaining and informative. Yokohama Sketches opens the theater curtains on a stage richly populated with engaging characters who live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

A little information about me. I live in a small apartment in Yokohama within a ten-minute walk to Yokohama Station. To anyone who will listen, I tell them I am a writer and videographer. In reality, I am a man sliding into his seventh decade of life. Retired and living alone, I spend my days puttering around the apartment, writing, editing, or keeping up with the lives of my children and their families. So I have a lot of activities to entertain myself.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t spend ALL day talking to myself. I make it a point to vary my activities. One of my favorites is talking walks.

Stay happy, stay positive.