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Sunday, April 10, 2016

2016 Japan Sakura Adventure: Day 15--The Continued Search for Kenjiro's Grandmother

Most of Hawaii Japanese residents have roots linked to Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Kumamoto and Okinawa.  Both my grandfathers came from odd places.  On my mother's side, he left Toyama (Japan Sea) for Hawaii when my grandmother died at the birth of my mother.  It is said he entered Honolulu by jumping off a ship and was pretty much an alien all his life.  He found success with the Waterhouse family, who set him up to be a chef.  Our family almost weekly spent a day every weekend at his home for some kind of party.

All of my roots search, however, has centered on Kenjiro Takahashi, my father's father.  Kenjiro's parents were from Akita.  They moved to Otaru on Hokkaido, where Kenjiro was born.  The reason why my real focus has actually been on one of his grandmothers is that it is rumored one of them might have been a female samurai.  Nothing has surfaced of this possibility, for only folklore can be investigated for reality, and I've found none.

Kenjiro''s family moved to Sapporo when the population was less than 2000.  Even Otaru, in 1873, had double that number of people.  Tokyo?  Nearly 600,000.  At the end of World War II Tokyo had 2.8 million and Sapporo 220,000.  For 60 years now, the urban population of Tokyo-Yokohama has been the world's largest, today with 38 million.  Sapporo is now just about up to 2 million, the fifth largest city in Japan.

Utashinai, as a living area, only was created in 1890 when coal was found.  This Takahashi family moved to Utashinai (name derived from the Ainu ota-us-nay) around that time.  In 1948 the population of Utashinai was 46,000.  Today, it is the smallest official city in Japan with less than 5,000 people.   Nope, now down below 4000 in 2014 and shrinking.   To quote:

   An official from the city's general affairs division said that a drop in births and an increase in deaths were affecting the population more than people moving in and out of the city. 

Kenjiro, it is my speculation, in the mid 1890's, when he was still in his early 20's, was sent to America to learn how to harvest coal.  There is nothing in the record of where he went or what he did, except an official Secretary of Hawaii document indicates that he came to Hawaii from America.  His training must have led to him becoming a luna (supervisor, rare for Japanese in those days) to build the Wainiha Powrplant on Kauai.  In 1906 it was commissioned at 3 megawatts.  Today?  3 mw using mostly the same pipes and generation facility.  Unfortunately, he fell at the site and died two months before the power system was dedicated.  That's me at the site a few years ago.  Thus, he set the tone for clean energy, and I merely followed the path he initiated.  How he found a wife in Kilauea, Kauai, where he is buried, is a story for my docu-novel on The Search for Kenjiro's Grandmother.

So back to Utashinai (they have a flag), it took until 1958 when it was named a city.  The coal industry went out of business in 1995 and the city has made a transition from gritty black to an Alpine tourist attraction, featuring skiing and wines.  So with that background, I caught a train to Takikawa and got on a a bus to Utashinai.  About an hour each, so the total round trip took 4 hours:


You would think Hokkaido would not be a terribly good place to put solar photovoltaics, but I saw several of of these small solar farms.

Just as the bus drove into the city, it began to snow, just light flurries.  By the time I got off the bus, the snowing had stopped.  Fortunately enough, just across the street from the bus stop was Yumetsumugi Museum, providing a history of Utashinai.  I met the director, Eiko Okabuti:


She took a photo of me:


Unfortunately, she spoke no English and I speak no Japanese, but we were able to barely communicate where she understood that I was from Hawaii and my grandfather came from Utashinai.  She seemed truly thrilled to talk to me and walked me through a personal tour of the place, even though I had no idea what she was saying.  I purchased a few memorabilia.  She especially wanted me to have that piece of coal to the left because it has a trapped sea fossil.  They must have some malachite here too.

Just a typical view of Utashinai:

Yes, there was a lot of snow.  There are two temperatures in Hokkaido:  comfortably warm in a heated room and freezer-like outside.  And this is already April.  This video is pretty much what I saw.

As Kenjiro was born in Otaru, I next went to his birthplace.  My blog of just about seven years ago provided details.  Today, my big decision was lunch:  the fish market or Burger King.  The former won out:


This was already 3PM, and most of the restaurants were sparsely populated.  However, Takinami had a small line.  So I waited for a few minutes and had the above meal, a butter fish with miso soup, rice, etc.

After two days at Toyoko Inn, I decided I was thrifty enough,and moved to the JR Tower Nikko Hotel located at the Sapporo Station.  The internet at TI was awfully slow.  My view at sunset:

One of the mountain peaks near the middle is Mount Yoichi, for here in Yoichi is where Nikka makes it's Yoichi Whiskey, which shocked the world in 2008 by being name the best single malt in Scotland.  I have a bottle of this "scotch" at the Compass Rose in the Tokyo Westin.  In later years Yamasaki and Hibiki from Suntory also were selected #1.  This past year in 2016?  Old Pulteney, distilled in 1989 in Scotland.











So for my final dinner on Hokkaido, I pick and chose in the underground shopping area of the Sapporo Station, and came up with an international fusion:


Simply, Hokkaido beer, Maui chips, French croissant, vegetables from Japan, Castello blue cheese from Denmark and Syrah wine from Spain.

I woke up in the morning to this view from my room:


In an hour, on to Sendai, located 60 miles from the Fukushima nuclear calamity.  In 2014 (three years after the disaster) I stayed at the Westin Sendai and paid $45/night.  Won't be the same this time.

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