Cultural Awakening in Japan

Story Salon                     Dan Reading poem at Onion Fall Poetry Festival 11102013

(Below was my presentation at the Story Salon this evening)

I am 15 in Japan on my first day of school with my brother Chip where Dad was stationed as a Naval Commanding Officer at Yokosuka Naval Base

Every school day at 7:00 A.M., Chip and I walked a mile to an electric train that took us to Kamakura. We caught a larger train to a city called Sushi passing a huge statue of Buddha’s mother, Maya, in Ofuna, the site of one of the most hideous concentration camps. Crowds of Japanese workers, professionals, and students nudged the person in front until the warning bell and then they shoved smiling until each car was stuffed so different than in America where touching seems forbidden. From there we boarded a grey Navy bus to Yokohama High for our first class at 8:15 A.M. The one-hour commute covered thirty miles.

Japanese Commuter Train

On my first trip, I looked around and, for the first time, realized what a member of a racial minority felt like when surrounded by people with backgrounds alien to mine, whose skin and hair color, eyes, foreheads, differed significantly from my features. I studied the faces of the people called “Japs,” in war movies, often depicted as inferior vicious buck-toothed warriors, a “yellow menace,” the allied forces had fought in World War II. Fanatic fascists who would never surrender, President Truman felt compelled to drop two atomic bombs, decimating them like so many insects.

Upon careful inspection, however, each face had a wide variety of unique characteristics. They had long or short noses, relaxed or tightened mouths, and different hair styles. Many wore hats and long, or short dresses, or silk kimonos of all colors, and black school uniforms with white shirts. Others sported three-piece suits with brief cases and wore glasses of every kind imaginable. The males had their hair slicked straight back, wavy, crew cut, or bald. Their skin pigment varied from dark to light, and every shade in between, some were clean-shaven; others had beards or a mustache.

They did not move like the automatons, or simplistic people portrayed in newsreels I had watched. The Japanese stereotypes portrayed in the movies had propagandized and prejudiced me. The Japanese were actually far more complex and distinctive.

When I attempted to communicate in my broken Japanese, they were responsive in either good or broken English, courteous, and welcoming. They seemed delighted when an American boy showed enough interest in their culture to ask a question in elementary Japanese and were as intelligent, industrious, and, often, as athletic as any American. This awareness helped me learn one of life’s most important lessons: we are all part of one race, the human race. No race, because of any attribute, over which they have no control, stands inferior, or superior, to any other.

Buddha in Kamakura Avatar

Nearby the bronze statue of the Great Buddha majestically rose above stone steps encircled by natural vegetation. A Japanese garden rested behind the immense meditating figure that induced a sense of tranquility from his facial expression, folded hands on his knees, his seated posture, and the ambiance of the surroundings. The adjacent Hachiman Shrine held the Shinto god of war and archery, in an old reddish-orange wood building with a sloping roof.

sunrise over Fuji with Torii

Located at the top of stone steps on the other side of a park, a long approach formed a tunnel ending at a large vermilion stone entrance with a black lintel known as Torii. For those who follow Shinto, this structure divides the spiritual area within from the profane region beyond. Shaped like two “T”’s their trunks straddled the cherry trees, whose white blossoms spread like dancers on branches. Petal blizzards covered the ground like pink dotted snowflakes mixed with shiny green leaves while gangs of squirrels romped, darted, and danced.

Alex(Yoshio Suzuki) Birthday Chip, Bill and Dan top left)Kamakura 1955

(Chip, Bill, Dan, top left back row at birthday party with Japanese friends from Kamakura 1955)

In another location thousands of bystanders watched a traditional spectacle featuring mounted equestrian archers in black shaggy wigs adorned in hunting costumes of feudal samurai warriors from the Kamakura period (1192-1333). The horsemen shot arrows from quivers slung across their backs as they raced at three targets set up along a straight riding ground eight hundred feet long. The turnip-head arrows made a whistling sound as they flew through the air. The large crowd loudly applauded each time an archer scored a direct hit. They shot, quickly reloaded, and launched arrows in a swift coordinated motion. A few hit all three targets that caused a thunderous roar.

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  Buddha Smiles in Kamakura

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face,

White circular blossoms from cherry trees

Smoothing the wrinkles of the human face.

Blossoms tumbling down and spreading in space,

Beckoning all to seek a world of peace.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

Nature’s beauty slowing man’s frenzied pace.

Flying buzzing pollen gathering bees,

Petals like a dancer’s dress of white lace.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

Gentle wind blowing waves upon blue seas,

Swallows flying, drifting, gliding in grace.

Archer’s arrows whistling shatter the base.

At warrior’s thunder animals freeze.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

White flowers placed at Buddha’s feet in vase.

Peaceful worshipers fall down on their knees,

Seeking enlightenment and state of grace.

Bronze folded hands and Buddha’s smiling face.

(Excerpt modified from my Memoir, All the Difference, for presentation at the Story Salon this evening)

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Dan will tell a story at the Story Salon Wednesday Night

Dan will tell a story at the Story Salon Wednesday Night

Hi Friends: I will be presenting a story from my memoir, All the Difference, at the Story Salon Wednesday Night September 23 at 7:30 PM  5302 Laural Canyon Drive, Valley Village, along with other outstanding story tellers that I am sure you will enjoy. There is a $5 cover at the door and refreshments are served.See you then!! Dan Lavery

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Cheating Death

 (This is the Story Salon in Valley Village where I presented this true story last night, September 16 along with seven other story tellers to a lively crowd)

Story Salon

I am 16 and the quarterback on a high school football team in Japan

After football practice a week before our family was scheduled to return to America in October 1956, our eight-person carryall broke down a few miles from Yokohama. The engine flooded and the smell of gasoline nauseated me. I had to get outside. Our Japanese driver called the Navy base for a replacement and said, “New van arrive forty-five minute.”

Having been YoHi football team’s quarterback for two years, every teammate formed a habit of following my directions. While standing outside the vehicle and looking around, I leaned in and said, “Come outside now.” They scrambled out. I pointed, “See those tracks running around that hill? If we follow them, they’ll lead to a train station. We can catch one and walk to the Naval Station an hour or sooner than if we wait for a van.”

“Sounds good,” said Tex, a tough first-team tackle.

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“We go to find nearest train, Diajobu des ne?”(OK?) I said to the driver.

“Abunaio!” (Be careful!) “Kiotsketi kudasai.” (Take it easy, please,) the driver said mouth open and wrinkled brow.

Seven athletes aged fifteen to seventeen followed me. We scrambled over rough brush and found a pathway up a slope. In ten minutes we reached two sets of tracks. As we rounded the hill, a narrow tunnel appeared that resembled a black hole.

Night view of railway tunnel

Night view of railway tunnel

“This looks dangerous,” Tex said. “These trains race through the tunnel with little room for us.”

“Don’t worry. If a train comes on one track we can jump to the other,” I said.

“Yeah that’s right,” our fullback, Ron, said.

Two others nodded in agreement and the rest followed.

Running toward the tunnel, the setting red sun sent a glow behind me. The inside of the tunnel was barely visible. After racing into the tunnel, everyone followed at my heels. We had a foot of clearance on each wall in the dark cavity and two feet between the tracks. Dank darkness quickly enshrouded us. It seemed like we had fallen into a black soup as we slowed to avoid stumbling on the wooden planks now in utter blackness.

When we had advanced a third of the way, I sensed danger. A swift-moving train whizzed around the corner at us. A water droplet fell from the moldy ceiling into my eyes. After brushing it away, the flying mass of steel zoomed toward us. A looming light grew rapidly larger and a roaring rattling rumble followed. “Jump right!” I shouted. The blast of the train drowned out my voice. The train’s light revealed seven moving forms.

The steel thunderbolt’s warning bell changed from a high-pitched sound to a descending tone DING DING DINg DINg DIng Ding ding ding din din as it passed us with a deafening clattering at over ninety miles per hour.

Another booming train streaked at us on the opposing track! A horn howled and screamed as it approached. Its warning bell grew louder. Both trains doubled the blaring racket. My heart pounded; my breath heaved; I almost panicked. The heavy weight of shock choked me. I never should have urged my friends to enter the tunnel. Racing on the right track careful not to trip, we were nearly clobbered by the hurtling train from behind. Finally, the first train passed us with a WHOOSH.

“Jump left!” I screamed.

Could they hear me? The new train’s explosive reverberation was deafening. Its rotating light fluttered over our leaping forms. The unexpected steel blur jolted past at blazing speed and threw a forceful blast of hot muggy air at us. Expecting the worst I gazed back as all jumped in time to avoid disaster. The cars bumped and clattered as the steel wheels clickity–clacked and the wind rushed by our sweating faces.

Breathing an enormous sigh of relief, I was ecstatic from our good fortune. We had cheated death. We raced toward the silver light signaling the other entrance of the tunnel. In a mad dash for the growing sunbeams towards life, panting, sweating, I emerged and faced my friends. Tex and a few others stumbled out after me, exhaustion all over their faces. Sweat ran down their foreheads into their eyes and cheeks. They gasped for breath and stumbled toward me. Tex rushed up with fire in his eyes, “Jesus! What the fuck! Lavery, you almost got us killed!”

“Holy Shit! How did we make it?” Ron said.

“Ah Ah I’m so sorry,” passed emotionally out my mouth with fear written over my face. “I never should have led you guys into that tunnel.” We walked towards the station a few blocks away and huddled. “Hey guys. Please don’t tell anyone about this. Our parents won’t understand,” I said.

Tex and the others gradually agreed. We all shook on it.

On the train back, the tunnel train dodging affected me deeply. It made me appreciate life’s gifts I seemed to have taken for granted. Coming close to death not once, but twice in seconds, made me feel I must live more wisely. My thoughtless actions nearly killed eight young men. The shock of near death awakened a feeling of responsibility. That moment of awareness heightened my senses. I clasped my hands, felt the warmth of each finger intertwined, and breathed deeply. Time seemed to slow to a standstill so glad we were all alive.

The advice of my grandmother Ruthie, came back. Having noticed me rushing around as a teenager full of anxiety, “Slow down, Danny,” she said, “Find the harmony in nature. Life is precious.”

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The Golden Rule and supporters present at the Onion Social Justice meeting

Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society Onion

The "Onion" where S.U.U.S. holds services, events, music, and presentations:

August 19, 2015 Helen Jacard spoke to the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society about the Golden Rule, a 30-foot ketch and its crew, Capt. Albert Bigelow, William Huntington, George Willoughby, and Orion Sherwood, which was stopped by the Coast Guard from interfering with nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands in 1958. They were part of an international movement to stop the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. They were arrested at Honolulu, Hawaii.

Another peace keeping yacht, The Phoenix, led by Earl Reynolds, Skipper, Barbara (wife), Ted (son), Jessica (daughter), and Nick Nakami, crew member, sailed The Phoenix, into the nuclear test zone to protest nuclear testing in 1958 and were arrested. Earl was a physical anthropologist whom the Atomic Energy Commission sent to Hiroshima to research the effects of radiation on children. In 1961 they sailed to Vladivostok, Russia, with Thomas C, Yoneda replacing Nick as a crew member to share their message to the Soviet Union. For extraordinary civil disobedience, they were branded as traitors in the U. S., while Japan held them up as national heroes.

The Golden Rule was resurrected, repaired, with the help of Garberville Chapter of Veterans For Peace and other West Coast Chapters formed a movement to bring her back to sail again on June 20th 2015 carrying their peace and anti-nuclear weapon message for the next two months in California (set forth below). They plan to undertake a ten-year peacemaking voyage around North America challenging military solutions to the world problems. Helen is a part of the crew and member of Women International League For Peace and Freedom.

Albert Bigelow, is author of the book, Voyage of the Golden Rule, and a former naval officer in WWII who resigned his commission a month before he was eligible for a pension. “To Russia with Love,” An American Family Challenges Nuclear Testing, by Jessica Reynolds Renshaw, follows the Phoenix on its mission to spread the truth about radiation from nuclear testing and finding peaceful solutions rather than military ones.

Golden Rule Schedule:

8/ 27-29 in Long Beach

8/30 Arlington Memorial

8/31-9/ 1 Marina Del Rey

9/3-9/19 Seal Beach, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Monterey, Santa Cruz

9/21-10/10 San Francisco Bay

10/12 Morro Bay/ Ft. Bragg

  Bomber Hiroshima Hiroshima Mushroom

(Never, ever, again!)

VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and a ship, turned peace activist and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his experiences.  www.danielclavery.com. He regularly attends the Onion presentations since 1980

 

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Dan Lavery Reads at Vroman’s Bookstore with IWOSC

Hi Friends: I read a portion of my memoir about the Alaskan wilderness in a yellow panel truck with Joan, me, and our black Lab, Shiva.The occasion was IWOSC’s Reads Its Own on Sunday August 9, 2015   In the picture you can find me in the back row with a grey hat. Everyone brought their own unique, creative style. We all enjoyed the day.

IWOSCrioAug2015

Our first night we stopped at a beautiful lakeside campsite just across the Canadian border. After parking our camper at the top of a hill overlooking the expansive lake surrounded by pines, and conifers, we walked out with Shiva on a leash attached to her red collar as California Law required, gold name tag dangling, her black coat shimmering in the sunlight, and she whined and tugged.

“Take that leash off that dog!” the burly husband said with a smile, “You’re in British Columbia.” After unleashing Shiva she dashed down the hill and plunged in the lake with a glorious SPLASH. A flock of Canadian Geese scattered honking and cackling. Each black head and neck, white chinstrap, light tan breast, and brown back rose in the sunset transforming the spectacle from tranquil to cacophonous, yet picturesque. Shiva swam around, lunged out, and raced back to me panting with her pink tongue hanging out. “Good girl, Shiva,” I said, scratching her neck and petting her black shiny head. She looked up in gratitude and shook water all over me. Joan and our new camp friends laughed and then made a fire for a BBQ. A feeling of freedom, fresh air, and the smell of pine trees, filled us with vigor. A crackling fire, basted chicken breasts, and corn on the cob, put us in the mood for sky watching. The twinkling stars we barely saw in California cities burst forth in the Milky Way galaxy. The “Tea Pot” in Sagittarius and Scorpio’s tail sparkled. We soon were in sleeping bags with Shiva at our feet.

We drove through the pristine roads of British Columbia dotted with pines, oaks, and maples on our way to Prince Rupert. A Tlingit village that featured tall totem poles was celebrating a holiday and offered a canoe trip with a guide who told us their version of the creation story known as the Raven Cycle:

“Raven steals the stars, the moon, and the sun from Naas-sháki Shaan, the Old Man at the Head of the Nass River who kept them in three boxes. Raven transforms himself into a hemlock needle and drops into a water cup belonging to the Old Man's daughter. She becomes pregnant from this and gives birth to a baby boy. Raven cries until the Old Man hands him the Box of Stars, another with the moon, and a third with the sun. Raven opens the lid and the stars escape into outer space. He rolls the box with the moon in it out the door where it flees to the heavens. Raven waits until everyone is asleep, changes into his bird form, grasps the sun in his beak, opens the box, and the sun breaks free into the blue sky.”

“That’s a beautiful and interesting myth,” I said.

“It is not a myth. This is our truth. We teach our children what our ancestors shared with us. Never call the Raven Cycle a myth,” she reprimanded me angrily. Realizing I had put my foot in my mouth while seeking to learn about their culture, it occurred to me in awhile my clients in Alaska had their traditions and stories, which I would respect, and apologized to our Indian guide for using the word myth; but I had caused some damage. You can’t unring a bell.

Once we reached Prince Rupert, we boarded a ferry for the Inland Passage to Haines. We slept on deck chairs outside when the crew secured our yellow truck alongside other vehicles. After ninety miles we arrived at Ketchikan, known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” home of all five species of salmon who inhabit the streams and waters of the Tongass for spawning, leaving their roe on the gravel. We took Shiva out for a walk along Ketchikan Creek, which flows through the town.

When she saw salmon leaping up the “fish ladder” they climb to spawn at the top, she barked and raced to the edge filled with an electric charge of energy. I feared she would jump in and directed her back on the path that followed the creek through the primeval forest. The gravel beds are the end of the salmon’s struggle and are so thick with numbers the shallow streams were black with fins and twisting fish. Shiva smelled the dying salmon that had spawned, hurtled over logs, and bolted through underbrush in a frenzy searching for wildlife. Sand hill cranes, trumpeter swans, black-tail deer, porcupines, and wolves roamed the area. Red cedar, yellow-cedar, mountain hemlock, spruce, and shore pine were everywhere. Nature had aroused Shiva and us with such energy, we chased our black bouncing streak laughing with joy. We rested under hemlock and spruce and gave our Lab food and water next to an alpine meadow covered with pink fireweed, blue lupine and yellow poppies. A Ferry whistle brought us back to reality.

After we got underway we saw killer whales and porpoises jumping and playing alongside the ferry. Bald eagles soared on thermals. Dall porpoises have black backs and white bellies resembling killer whales, but are much smaller, and generated a “rooster tail” spray visible for twenty feet. They were “bow riding”—a pressure wave like the blast of wind that follows a passing truck—they sidled up under the surface and rode inside the pressure wave.

At the next stop we left the ferry to see the capital of Alaska, Juneau. The mountains sloped down to the water where it rests along the shoreline. The Tlingit Indians used the adjacent Gastineau Channel as one of their favorite fishing grounds for thousands of years. The native culture, rich with artistic traditions, included carving, weaving, orating, singing, and dancing.

The Juneau visitor center presented a spectacular view of the Mendenhall Glacier, a massive mountain of ice with cracks and fissures that revealed tints of blue and gray. The sound of ice chunks tumbling into the water roared as the waves caused from violent forces shook floating icebergs sending ripples in the surface. The Mendenhall reached its point of maximum advance in the mid-1700s, while its terminus rested almost two and a half miles down the valley from its present position. The mighty glacier started retreating as its annual rate of melt began to exceed its yearly total accumulation. Its bulk now retreats at a rate of one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet a year. Global warming has accelerated the process so the glacier will disappear in several centuries.

(Excerpt from All the Difference, by Daniel C. Lavery)

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