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Japanese Diary

San – Signs of Spring

Snow fades to reveal
shadow tree in bright water.
Twilight silhouette.

tree shadow

It’s been a long winter for the people of Asahikawa, reaching back to the first snowfalls in October. And it certainly seemed chilly to me when I arrived, coming from the humid heat of a South Head autumn. But since then, the lowest temperature I’ve experienced has been around -5 C, and today it had reached 17 C by about 5 pm. (It’s not so long ago that it was regularly -15 C). The gratifying thing I’ve observed, however, is that as soon as the snow starts to melt and the bare earth is exposed, new growth begins.

willows and green
Left to Right: Pussy Willow (Salix chaenomeloides) in bud, and a tree showing the hint of new growth

It’s already more than a week into Cherry Blossom Festival down south in Tokyo, but this far north most of the trees are barely in bud; you can in a certain light, however, discern a golden-green tinge along the branches of some. The Pussy Willows are in flower already. The sight of their fuzzy protuberances reminds me of spring in Dunedin, and more specifically, of my much-loved garden at St Leonards, where the fattening buds were also one of the first signs that winter was finally over.

Phlox
‘Shibazakura’ or Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata). When in flower it’s one of the most vivid of early Summer displays in Hokkaido.

Along the walkways in Tokiwa Koen, the edges of stone walls are emerging from beneath the snow, and I was surprised see Moss Phlox growing there, as green as if it hadn’t been entombed for months. It’s the very phlox I rely on at home to brighten up the edges of my front borders… how versatile it is (!) and I wonder if it’ll flower before I head back to New Zealand.

flowers
Left to right: Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis amurensis), Crocus (C. sativus) and Japanese Sweet Coltsfoot (Petasites japonicus)

I spotted some crocuses pushing up through a patch of dead grass in an otherwise barren strip of dirt at the base of a city apartment building. The familiarity of both this cheerful flower and the phlox help me feel ‘at home’ in this otherwise different environment. I’m discovering unfamiliar plants too, such as the golden, yellow flower Adonis amurensis (a member of the buttercup family) and the chartreuse new shoots of Petasites japonicus.

tulips copy

Behind the phlox-frilled edges of the gardens in Tokiwa Park, rows and rows of bulbs are sending up their first green or ruddy shoots… I wasn’t sure what these could be when they first appeared, but with a few day’s growth under their belts, I suspect they may be tulips.

Leaves

One of the odd things about the snow melting, is that it exposes great drifts of dried leaves, most of which have no doubt been buried since October or November. It is an incongruous sight… you could almost think you were looking at a scene from autumn, rather than from spring, what with the bare branches on the trees, the patches of snow and the masses of leaves .

The Places You Sit

toilets
Toilets often present a mind-boggling array of personal options.

Toilets in Japan deserve a special mention. The first surprise was that most of the toilets in public places, i.e., stores, cafes, railway stations and airports, have heated seats. The first time I experienced this I was perplexed as I was certain that the cubicle had been unoccupied prior to my arrival. As well as the cosy seats, toilets have a mind-dazzling array of ‘personal’ options. You can wash and dry your nether regions, or you can play ‘privacy’ sounds (music or the sound of running water) to disguise any accidental or unseemly noises.

Each time I’ve visited one of these small rooms, I’ve been so tangled up in layers of winter clothing that I haven’t had the inclination to ‘relax’ into the experience, but who knows, as the days grow warmer, and I’m wearing less clothing…


Next episode: Signs, Statues and Quirky Frontages

Japanese Diary

Ichi – First Impressions

My flight to Japan was scheduled for the ungodly time of 1.15 on a Thursday morning.  I arrived at the airport well in advance of this and after a less than enthusiastic circuit of the duty free stores, settled myself into the Koru Lounge for a long wait. I was barely hungry and not in the mood to drink more than a 1/2 glass of chardonnay at such an early hour, so I spent most of the time writing notes in a diary and contemplating the six weeks ahead of me.

Asahikawa is  the second-largest city in Hokkaido (the northern-most island of Japan) with a population of around 350,000.  To get there from Auckland you have to first fly to Tokyo, and then on to Sapporo, leaving the island of Honshu behind. After that, you can either take a train or a bus for the remaining 138 km.  Asahikawa‘s latitude is around 43.77N and if you were to head roughly due west for 850 km (over the Sea of Japan), you’d end up in Vladivostock, Russia – that’s how far north it is.

During my flights from Auckland to Sapporo, and on the train journey from Sapporo to Asahikawa, the reality that I was travelling to an entirely foreign country with a completely different season only became apparent in stages. The first indications emerged while I was waiting in the boarding lounge at Auckland airport, where I metamorphosised into a member of the minority culture. But it was just something I noticed – the situation didn’t feel that different.  I could’ve just as easily been on the AUT campus during Orientation Week.

Then there were the suppers and breakfasts served on the Air NZ flight. On both occasions, the ‘Japanese’ option sounded more appetising, which is not to say it actually was appetising (although I have the feeling that it was better than the alternative. ‘Chicken Sausage’ never sounds appealing as a breakfast choice).

Then there was the fact that for every interruption to the films I was watching (and there were announcements at regular intervals) there was a follow-up broadcast in Japanese, timed for about a minute later, just when I’d manage to re-acquaint myself with the plot. (If anyone’s interested, I watched ‘Lion‘ and ‘Manchester by the Sea‘ and enjoyed both.) The Japanese explanations seemed to take a lot longer, and I couldn’t help wondering if I was missing something.

Auckland to Tokyo

The flight from Auckland to Tokyo takes about 10 hours. I expected to notice differences when disembarking and entering Narita airport, but there were English translations everywhere, and announcements in both Japanese and English, and it was a nice surprise to not feel vertically challenged for once. Customs control and baggage checking went smoothly and before I knew it I was free to do my own thing. I made my way from International to Domestic to board my flight to Sapporo. I had a couple of hours to wait but had already gone through the ‘point of no return’ before this dawned on me. So I was stranded in another waiting room, with not much to keep me occupied. I made a note to make sure I picked up some cash before catching the train from Sapporo.

Sapporo airport
The lounge at Narita airport.

Probably the worst aspect of the trip was the size of my suitcase. The large dimensions meant that I couldn’t use the escalators in the airports and railway stations and had to drag it behind me while I hunted around for elevators. I couldn’t even lift it higher than about 15 cm off the ground.

Tokyo to Sapporo

portal
My first view of Sapporo – steam rising from the heated tarmac.

The flight from Narita to Sapporo took an addional 2.5 hours, but thank goodness it was an older style airbus. The cabin was much less stuffy than on the long-distance flight, and I had a window seat so could look out at the snowy terrain unfolding below. The land started out flat then became more hilly, then mountainous. When we flew over the Tsugaru Strait I saw many container vessels and it must’ve been windy as the charcoal-grey water was dotted with the white crests of waves. Then we were on the way down. And as we taxi’ed along the runway at Sapporo, it looked COLD, with grey skies, bleak buildings, and small piles of snow here and there.

Sapporo to Asahikawa

I’d been given detailed instructions on how to get from Sapporo to Asahikawa, including the purchasing of the train tickets,  and finding the correct platforms and lines, so the actual ‘finding my way’ part was reasonably straight-forward. But it had been a long, tiring trip and by the time I was safely seated on the ‘Kamui‘, with my huge bag tucked tightly beside me, I was both tired and hungry.

fleeting view of houses
A fleeting view of houses – I’d only just focus on a group, and then they’d be gone.

The Kamui is a fast train and soon it was whoosing along, out of Sapporo and through the countryside. For most of the journey the terrain was flat, with almost everything covered with a blanket of snow. The houses in the small settlements we passed looked very different from those in New Zealand – they were boxy or angular, coloured with plain earthy tones, or shades of white, or in bright pastels.

train view 03
Similarly, the trees seemed to rush by.

And as we travelled further north, the views reminded me of Finland, with forests of bare tree trunks crowded closely together on low, mounded hills. Unlike Finland, there were occasional glimpses of snowy peaks in the distance, but this was my first impression.


Next episode: Asahikawa

Skeletons in the Closet

Auckland shorefront 1864
Queen Street Wharf, Auckland, by Daniel Manders Beere, 29 February 1864. (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-096102-G)

Newell Gascoyne

One of the family stories I’d heard, was that my great-great-great-grandfather, Newell Gascoyne, had been murdered. This seemed a somewhat significant way to die, so when I first moved to Auckland in 2006, I decided to fill in time by checking out some early newspapers. I took myself off to the Auckland Public Library to peruse their archives. Surely there’d be something written somewhere?

It was remarkably easy, I’m sure helped by the fact that he had an uncommon name.

The report transcribed below was published on page 5 of The New Zealand Herald of Saturday 16th April, 1864. It provides a somewhat different version of events. A less memorable version, but no less devastating for his wife Isabella and their 3 children. My great-great-grandmother, also named Isabella, was 16 and newly-married; her younger brothers, Newell and Daniel, would have been 14 and 11 respectively.

Coroner’s Inquest

An inquest was held yesterday, at the Clanricarde Hotel, on the body of Newell Gascoigne, who died on the 13th inst., through injuries received by falling down a cellar, in Queen-street, on the 7th inst., while in a state of intoxication.

Frederick Sims, stated: I keep the Wheat-sheaf Inn, Queen-street. I knew deceased, who came to my house about 9 o’clock, a.m., on the 7th inst., and asked for some grog, which I refused to give him, and put him outside the door. Some one coming in soon after, I heard there was a man in the cellar, and went to the door. I saw some policemen and others engaged in lifting the deceased out of the cellar of Mr. Kemp’s house, next door to mine. Deceased appeared then only dead drunk, and made no noise.  Deceased was then taken away in a truck.  The depth of the cellar is about four feet, and the floor is covered with bran.  There was nothing in the cellar that deceased could have struck against.

James Jackson, police constable, said, that on Thursday, the 7th inst., he heard there was a man hurt, and went and found deceased lying on his back on the pathway, outside the cellar of Mr. Kemp’s house, in Queen-street.  The man was insensibly drunk.  I got a truck, with two other policemen, and removed him to the lock-up.  He did not appear in any pain, and I did not think there was anything wrong except being drunk.

Francis Jones, stated: I am a carter.  I was employed by Mr. Kemp, carting some bran from his cellar, the day before the accident, and I came early on the morning of the 7th inst., to get another load.  I had put one bag into the cart, and coming back for another, I saw a man in the cellar, who must have fallen in.  He was lying on his back just below the grating.  On getting him out of the cellar, he appeared drunk, but I could not see that he was hurt.  The cellar was between three and four feet deep.

Thomas B. Kenderdine, stated: I am a legally qualified medical practitioner.  I was called in to see the deceased on Friday, the 8th inst.  He was in his own house.  I found him in bed, lying on his back, with the lower half of his body paralysed.  He complained of a great pain in his back.  He was sensible and able to speak and swallow.  He lived until the 13th inst.  I consider the cause of death to have been injury to the spinal marrow, producing paralysis.  I did not make a post mortem examination.

The Sergeant-Major of the Police stated he had given up the deceased to his wife on the night of the 7th inst., about 9 o’clock.  He was then sober, and complained of pain in his back, and being unable to get up.  He was taken to his house on a stretcher.

The jury, having consulted, returned a verdict – That deceased died from the effects of a fall received while in a state of intoxication.


Nothing is as new as something that’s been long forgotten (German Proverb)

Stories from the past are interesting. Especially when they’re about our own families. But the problem is that so little is passed down. You are handed the bare bones without the flesh. Even the Coroner’s Report leaves me with more questions than answers. The records are merely black print on faded paper; they don’t fill in the details I’m curious about.

I have a copy of Newell Gascoyne’s Death Certificate. It succinctly states: Newell Gascoygne, Mariner, Male 35, Paralysis caused by injury of the spine. 13 April 1864, Auckland.

Did he stumble and fall into the cellar? Is that what his family believed? Or did they suspect he’d been the victim of foul play, hence the story about being ‘murdered’? Or was it that they were ashamed that he’d been ‘insensibly drunk’ at 9.00 o’clock in the morning, and subsequently passed on a different version to their children?

The past holds its secrets close to its chest.


Auckland 1864 - Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 5-2608
View of Auckland 1864, ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections’ Auckland Libraries, 5-2624

Family Tree

Newell Gascoyne (c.1829-1864) & Isabella Barr (c.1825-1880)

Isabella Gascoyne (1847-1916) & Antonio Jose de Freitas (1834-c.1898) (Married: 7 January 1864, St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Auckland)

John Antonio de Freitas (1872-1937) & Eliza Jane Manderson (1879-1941)

William Peter Joseph (1900-1969) & Nina Geary (1895-1972)

My Mum

Me


Additional Information

In the old records, Gascoyne is variously spelled Gascon, Gasgoine, Gascoigne, Gascoyne and Gaskong. Newell Gascoyne’s occupation is first noted as mariner, and later as sawyer. They also show that his children Isabella, Newell and Daniel were all born in Auckland, and that when younger Isabella applied to get married in January 1864, she was resident at Mills Lane, Auckland (and had lived there for 4 years).

The Mills Lane address is also supported by a report in The New Zealander, Vol. XIX, Issue 1879, where in a report about ‘A Determined Thief’, Isabella (senior) is referred to as the ‘wife of Newell Gascoigne, Mill’s Lane’. She was giving evidence about the movements of a Thomas Hill, who had been ‘lodging for two weeks at her house’. (27 May 1863)

The Trivialisation of Important Issues

sky
Clouds move across the evening sky. The land remains and yet we drift across it, frequently uncaring; ignoring the mistakes made by previous generations.

Last Thursday evening (May 5th) I happened to catch the tail end of an item on the TV One current affairs programme, Seven Sharp. I was flicking through the channels at the time, and to be honest, Seven Sharp is something I’ve never more than glanced at before. But I caught part of an interview with New Plymouth mayor, Andrew Judd, who was explaining the reasons he wouldn’t be standing for re-election this year. He used the very powerful term ‘recovering racist’ to describe himself and this is what grabbed my attention.

Mr Judd was talking about how his attitude to Maori had undergone a change during his three years as mayor. That at first he was ignorant of the relevant issues – in fact, when he first became mayor, he knew nothing of local history and hadn’t even stepped foot on a marae. As he became better-informed, he concluded that Maori should have a voice on his own city council. This caused a backlash from Pakeha in his constituency who disagreed. The personal abuse he received ranged from threatening letters to being spat on in public. At one point, Grey Power put together a petition that led to a referendum to vote against the council having a Maori member.

The kinds of things he was talking about are nothing new, of course. But it was reassuring to hear a non-Maori person of some status speaking about this on national television.

It evoked a mixture of emotions in me… the strongest being disappointment that so little had changed since I co-led Treaty of Waitangi workshops in Otago in the 1990s. I also felt admiration that Andrew Judd was prepared to tell it as it really is. It’s clear that he’s hiked a very hilly and personally-challenging path since being elected mayor in 2007.

As the story drew to a close, what I didn’t expect was the opinionated response from presenter Mike Hosking. His words displayed an ignorance that is inappropriate in someone fronting a primetime current affairs programme. It’s left me feeling much more despondent about the state of affairs in our beautiful country. About how attitudes don’t change and how they can be perpetrated and reinforced by a few well-chosen words, spoken to a captive audience by someone who, by being in that position, is taken seriously by many of those watching.

There is an enormous gulf between what he said and what is actual reality. And there is layer upon layer of history lying beneath that reality.

I don’t usually write on this kind of topic. But it just upset me. Attitudes won’t change unless we know and understand our own history. Unless we teach our children to know our own history. Obviously, we won’t get any help on that as long as our schools can pick or choose which parts of NZ history to include in the curriculum.

(Of course, I’m referring to the fact that we still don’t require the New Zealand Wars to be a compulsory component.) But that’s a whole different blog.

Link to Seven Sharp, 05 May 2016


“We need to look after our indigenous people. If we can’t do that how on earth are we going to grow and become this multicultural country we say we are going to be.”
Andrew Judd, Seven Sharp, 05 May 2016

He moana pukepuke e ekengia e te waka.
A stormy sea can be navigated.
Māori whakatauki/proverb


 

If the National Party went to confession

For some reason I was thinking this morning about my Roman Catholic childhood. I was thinking about the National Party’s blatant lack of good faith regarding Crown Land up here in Auckland.  It might be the kind of thing they’d take to the confessional… dunno.

If they did, it might go something like this…

Forgive me Lord for we have sinned.

It is quite a few days since our last confession.

Since then, we have gone back on our word (again).

So, there was this agreement we had with Ngati Whatua. Part of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement. Basically we agreed that we’d give the iwi first dibs on purchasing any Crown land we were going to dispose of.

Sure, this is land that was theirs to begin with – acquired by nefarious means. BUT, really, in this day and age, and with the value of land and the need for HOUSING, we think that someone OTHER THAN Ngati Whatua should be able to buy the land and make money from it. A big multinational company.  It doesn’t even need to be NZ-owned.  We like to share our land around. An Aussie company would be good.

So, I don’t think this is REALLY going back on our word.

Is it?

 


What do you think?

I’d appreciate any comments.

More information can be found here (thanks to TV3)

Kites flying at Bastion Point. Celebrating Waitangi Day, February 2015
Kites flying at Bastion Point. Celebrating Waitangi Day, February 2015

Ngati Whatua Orakei Treaty Settlement.