I had closed 2015 and begun 2016 by keeping in touch with old friends. I have traveled quite extensively and can say with gratitude that some of the ‘strangers’ I had met in those travels have eventually become long-time friends.
One of them is Michikazu Iseri. I met him in 2004, when I attended the International Conference for Renewable Energies in Germany. (As I typed this, it made me glad that Iseri and I had managed to be friends for more than a decade already, despite the distance. Thanks to modern technology indeed!)
Iseri (as how we fondly called him in Germany), is a visiting professor at Kumamoto University and a senior writer for the Kumamoto Daily News in Japan. He joined the newspaper after his studies in Keio University and the University of California at Berkley. He began his career in the daily newspaper as a reporter, eventually becoming political editor, cultural editor, and editorial writer. He was later seconded to the Kumamoto University and currently serves as a professor in journalism.
He has been covering mercury contamination and poisoning since 2001. This interest has led him to study Minamata disease (M.d.) extensively. He then authored the book, Countries that learned from Minamata: Mercury control and management (in Japanese language). If I will recall our conversations during our Germany trip, I think this is a topic that somehow started our bond as friends (not mentioning, of course, Iseri’s light bantering and sense of humor). It was a sad topic, of course, but if I will look back at my own personal and professional journey, I would probably consider my trip to Minamata, Japan (many years ago) as a turning point.
It may be recalled that the methylmercury (MeHg) poisoning in Minamata is a result of one of the most serious environmental disasters in the world. It was caused by effluents containing the highly toxic methylmercury, which was released by the plant of Chisso, a chemical company. The discharge effluent contaminated the Minamata Bay and bio-accumulated in fish and seashells, which form a significant part of the diet of the local population (Allchin, n.d.). (This is a very serious environmental disaster that everyone must read about so I encourage you to read more about it. The article of Allchin is a good start.)
While I had really planned to be involved in social development and environment when I entered UP, the trip to Minamata was somehow a major point where my decision to build my career in these areas had somehow taken a more defined shape and clearer directions. In Minamata, I had seen the horrors of mercury poisoning, a likely consequence of a lack of or poor environmental management systems and negligence in pursuit of economic activities. I am sure no one wanted it to happen but, hopefully, the lessons will remind us constantly of the importance of appreciating (and respecting) the inextricable link between the environment and health. A positive outcome from this sad past is that Minamata is now seriously redeveloping the city based on sustainable and ‘eco-township’ principles (Minamata City Government, n.d.).
That was why meeting Iseri and then later becoming friends with him is somehow another meaningful synchronicity in my life. Iseri might have not realized it yet but I have always been a fan of Japan, its people, culture, arts, and history. While there are sad realities in our shared history as warring nations, Japan and the Philippines share universal truths and values such as love for the arts and, among them, music. This is where this piece evolves from.
As I said earlier, I was in a bit of nostalgic mood a month ago so I sent Iseri (and my other friends) a Christmas-new year note with the announcement of my new email address. Bless his usual kind heart, he emailed back with a very nice update – he is part of an acoustic guitar duo called, Kazehozonkai!
Kazehozonkai (loosely translated as “Wind Preservation Society”) is based in Kumamoto, Japan. It plays and does its best to popularize the songs of Shozo Ise, a Japanese singer-songwriter, to the next generations. Kazehozonkai, while inspired by the music of Shozo Ise, also plays other songs. Iseri is accompanied by Yuji Tsuyama.
Yuji is currently editor of the Newspaper in Education program of the Kumamoto Daily Newspaper. Born in 1958, he graduated from the Kumamoto University and joined the paper in 1981. He began his career in the newspaper as a reporter, later becoming a copy editor. He enjoys listening to and playing folk and rock music.
Kazehozonkai is not a ‘big’ name (at least, not yet) but I think that the Japanese community and music lovers will enjoy listening to them (as much as I and my husband did!). I am not a music expert (so please forgive my bias) but listening to their songs made our breakfast that December morning more enjoyable and relaxing. Don’t expect much drama or rock-star-gyrating performance but expect to be serenaded and brought to a place where there are sweet notes of nostalgia, bittersweet memories, and heartfelt joys and awakenings.
Here are links to two of the duo’s performances. I have also asked Iseri to translate the songs into English.
Nijunisainowakare (“22-year-old farewell”)
That I can say “Good-bye” to you is only today. If I touch your warm hand tomorrow, probably I couldn’t say it. I could no longer wait for you and I have chosen the happiness, which appears in front of me.
You placed 22 candles on the cake on my birthday, and you said “Each candle was your life.” From the 17th candle, we lit together.
This memory seems to me as if it were only yesterday. Now these 5 years may be called “Too long spring” for me, who is about to marry the man whom you don’t know. If you hear my wish, I hope you to remain you, of now, all the time, from now on. (Translated by M. Iseri)
Kaigandori (“Seaside Street”)
You have chosen a ship. Is it from your consideration for me?
Why didn’t I notice that a cord that links a person to a departing passenger, to see him off, was cut? The sun setting in the harbor is very beautiful, isn’t it?
The ship you boarded is getting smaller.
The sea of the daybreak is sad. It is seen from you by the seaside street.
I should have remained a ‘younger sister’, as you said. I did not want to hear, in your gentle arm, that you will leave this town someday.
The ship you boarded is getting smaller, leaving waves in the sea, just like yesterday. (Translated by M. Iseri)
These two songs really stirred my soul and when Iseri sent me the English translations, I fully understood why I felt some bittersweet kind of emotions when I listened to them the first time. 🙂
Kazehozonkai also performs pop and soft rock music and here is its rendition of Hotel California (by Eagles).
I hope that through this post, you will know more about Japan and find another reason to reconnect with old friends, near and far. Someday soon, I will be traveling to Japan again (this time with a husband beside me!), reconnect with Iseri and my other friends there, and hopefully, stay longer.
Allchin, D. (n.d.) The poisoning of Minamata. Retrieved from https://www1.umn.edu/ships/ethics/minamata.htm
Minamata City Government. (n.d.). Minamata, Environmental City – Model Environmental City Manual. Retrieved from http://www.city.minamata.lg.jp/1000.html
Recommended reading: Lessons from Minamata Disease and Mercury Management in Japan, Ministry of the Environment (Japan). Retrieved from https://www.env.go.jp/chemi/tmms/pr-m/mat01/en_full.pdf
Minamata City image credit (top-most): Act-B Recycling Company (through “Yunoko”), retrieved from http://www.act-b.co.jp/eng/environment/rine.html
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