Escaping Iran at 15 years old, Amir Taghinia has been railing against circumstance his entire life. This week on Elsewhere, we sit down to discuss a life of migration, Iranian identity, and the grim reality that comes with smuggling yourself halfway across the world.
Climbing up rocks when I can’t find walls!
Update time! University has been pretty off the chain lately – Just finished a great class, Critical Approaches to Anime. If I’d known I could get college credit roached on my couch watching Ghost in the Shell, maybe this degree wouldn’t have taken a decade + change.
Anywho, this series is an anime now – audio only of course, so I’m leaving most of the heavy lifting to you. Much like the election of Joe Biden, nothing will fundamentally change, but perhaps we can feel slightly different about things.
Shinier, with better eyebrows.
Tune in to Pylon Radio on Vancouver CoOp 100.5 FM every Thursday @ 11am, or click the link below for the full mp3.
Martian by Oatmeal Queen
BELOW! Is one the articles I read detailing the samurai presence in the new world.
Samurai in Spain by Ed Gutierrez
Japan Quarterly, January 1st 2000
|By 10 A.M. in late July, it is already hot in Coria del Rio, a small town of 20,000 in Andalucia in southern Spain. This and region is the heartland of flamenco and bullfighting, and the towns here are full of whitewashed houses, Catholic churches trimmed in yellow, and flaming red posters peeling off the utility poles and clapboard walls. When most Japanese think of Spain, they think of Andalucia, and each year, an estimated 300,000 Japanese tourists come here. Very close to Coria del Rio, indeed just around the bend in the Guadalquivir River, which stakes the flat landscape in a lazy olive-green swath, is Seville, the regional capital. The Moors controlled it first, before the Christians took it over. In the 17th century, it was Seville, not Madrid, that was Spain’s most important city. Treasure– laden ships from Spain’s new territories across the Atlantic Ocean would sail up the Guadalquivir River to dock at Coria del Rio, the last stop before Seville.|
|Nowadays, the more likely vessels in the waters around Coria del Rio are empty tourist boats. Nothing happens before 10 A.M.; not a lot happens after 10, either. Local vendors lean against their doorways, enjoying the cool of early morning, watching the world of cobbled streets, sheltered from the sun by narrow corridors with high walls called callejones, come alive. The merchants greet passersby in the theatrical, outgoing manner of Andalucians-a form of communication that may strike newcomers as an argument or a discussion of a momentous event. Prominent among the performers is one man who likes to sit outside his bicycle shop on a rickety wooden chair two sizes too small. This is his perch for the morning, and he will gladly engage you in chat on any topic. Turn the conversation to the most prominent Japanese visitors to the town and he will offer a tale that will take the rest of the day to tell. It seems strange to realize that this short, rotund Orson Welles-like man should have the blood of samurai coursing through his veins. He is among the 600 residents of Coria del Rio-3 percent of the total populace-who are believed to be distant relatives of Japan’s warrior class. All descend from members of a small band of samurai who sailed from Sendai in northern Japan in 1613, halfway around the world, to Coria del Rio, on an ambitious diplomatic mission that would bring them before two of the most powerful figures in the known world. Proof that these modern-day residents of Coria del Rio are related to Japanese lies not in their physical characteristics, but in their family names, which are all the same, and very unusual-jap6n. Some employ Jap6n in both paternal and maternal branches of their family trees, resulting in locals bearing double-jap6n birth certificates. Before hearing more, however, you must come in out of the rising heat and dwindling shadows, into this man’s bicycle shop. Manuel Virginio Canajal Jap6n, or “Virginio,” lifts himself out of his little chair with some effort. One cannot help but think that, if this 62-year-old man is indeed related to the Japanese, he must have inherited some sumo genes along the way. He makes his way ponderously through his shop and its obstacle course of disassembled frames, inner tubes and mountain-biking helmets in plastic bags. The only fully functioning mechanical device apparent is an old-fashioned fan oscillating slowly in a corner. This dusty shop seems to be a couple of laps behind more modern cycling outlets, and its inventory crosses into the more financially secure realm of auto and motorcycle parts as well. “Nobody comes during the morning so we can talk all we want back here,” he assures. This room in the back is where Virginio explores his past. In addition to being the owner of the bicycle shop, he is also president of the Associacion Hispano Japonesa Hasekura. Virginio has been to Japan twice but does not speak the language. Virginio is an authority, however, on Hasekura Tsunenaga (1571-1622), the samurai who led the historic diplomatic mission in 1613. This room holds nothing mechanical, and is a cryptic half-library, half-museum. Books with Japanese and Chinese characters scribbled down their spines line shelves that travel all the way around the room. The walls are framed with Old World exploration maps and yellowed Edo period scrolls that have the patina of burnt corn husks. What space is left in the bookshelves and glass cabinets holds collections of terra cotta pots, Oriental lacquerware and un-japanese-looking opaque glass bottles. In this room, Virginio is not a mechanic, but a genealogical researcher. “I have always been interested in my past,” Virginio says. He settles himself into his other chair, a soft leather throne that accommodates his bulk much more comfortably than the precarious stool out front. Every movement Virginio makes is in slow motion, matching the deliberate pace of his speech as he begins talking about Hasekura Tsunenaga. The samurai was a veteran of the Korean Peninsula invasions in 1592 and a trusted retainer of Date Masamune, a feudal lord who ruled the northern provinces of Japan around present-day Sendai, in Miyagi Prefecture, which also incorporated some areas of Iwate and Fukushima prefectures. Lord Date wanted to open direct trading routes in the Pacific with Mexico, a Spanish territory then known as Nueva Espana. As the laws of the time stood, merchant ships could trade with Mexico only through Manila in the Philippines, yet another Spanish territory. To avoid the Philippines, Lord Date needed authorization from someone even more powerful than the shogun: Philip III, king of Spain. Lord Date chose his loyal vassal Hasekura Tsunenaga for the mission that was to reach Spain via Mexico. Hasekura was thus destined to become the first officially recognized Japanese envoy to North America. Carrying an official calligraphic scroll penned by Lord Date explaining his aims, Hasekura and some 180 other Japanese set sail in 1613 from the port of Tsukinoura in Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. The galleon in which they sailed had been built under Spanish supervision and was christened the San Jian Bautista (St. John the Baptist). Accompanying Hasekura on the trip was a Franciscan friar and Seville native called Luis Sotelo, who would act as an interpreter. Friar Sotelo had ambitions of his own and wished to become nothing less than the archbishop of eastern Japan. The backdrop was the larger Franciscan-Jesuit rivalry. The Jesuits had dominion over Japan from their base in Nagasaki at the time; Friar Sotelo apparently hoped for a bishopric in eastern Japan, with himself as its head. With this objective in Friar Sotelo’s mind it was therefore arranged that the samurai retinue would also go to Rome to visit Pope Paul V in the Vatican. As Virginio begins to describe the details of the journey from the comfort of his leather throne, he directs me to find several reference sources hidden in the shelves that surround us. “Go get that book,” he says, without getting up. “No not there. To the left. Up. More up,” he offers, pointing a fat finger. “Eso es (That’s it),” he proclaims in his Andalucian lilt. The San Juan Bautista arrived at a port near Acapulco, Mexico, in 1614. Here they left their galleon behind and made their way inland to Mexico City to meet the viceroy of Mexico. From there, they journeyed across to the Atlantic Ocean side, to Veracruz, acquired a new Spanish ship, and set sail again. “Most of the crew stayed behind in Mexico,” Virginio said. “They integrated into Mexican culture and lost their Japanese names.” For some reason a community with Jap6n last names did not sprout up there like it did in Coria del Rio, but he is vague about this point. The diminished crew, now down to about 30, sailed past Cuba and out into the Atlantic. The tenacious band of samurai is halfway across the Atlantic when the bicycle shop phone rings. Where is his assistant Arturo? I never know where he is,” Virginio says, seemingly more interested in telling this story, which he has told many times, than in getting out of his chair to answer the phone. Finally, he rises, goes to the other room and engages in a discussion about a parts inventory list. A little while later a pretty young woman comes into the store. “She is also a Japon,” shouts Virginio from the phone. She is a slender, brown-eyed blonde. The red polka dots on her tight pants would be quite trendy on a Friday night in Shinjuku. Here, the dots are quite typical of traditional Seville fashion. I didn’t find out about the history of my name until I learned about it from Virginio,” says Mari Carmen Japon, 25. She cannot recall any relatives in her recent family tree who look Japanese. To her, Japan is a million miles away. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but here,” she says. Virginio returns, eases himself back into his leather throne, and is about to pick up his narrative when another member of the extended Jap6n family enters. He is a close friend and former provincial minister of culture. His features are neither Japanese nor Spanish: Indian, perhaps. it is hard to determine whether the Japons of Coria del Rio converge upon the back room of Virginio’s bicycle shop, or whether they all just happen to be out and about town at this hour. Mission Welcomed as Nobility In any case, the guests eventually leave, enabling us to return to the suspended samurai. They have finally reached the mouth of the Guadalquivir River at Sanlucar de Barrameda in 1614 and stayed briefly at a house owned by a wealthy relative of Friar Sotelo. They then sailed upriver on the last leg of their journey, to Coria del Rio, then a pivotal city that served as the principal customs authority before Seville. Here the delegation disembarked and donned formal attire for the march into Seville. “Instead of diplomats, the samurai must have looked like a small army with their kimono and swords,” Virginio says. In Seville, they were received as nobility and toured the city’s Moorish Alcazar Palace and the enormous Seville Cathedral, one of the largest in the world. One of the bells for the church’s tower would later be cast by Francisco Japon, a relative of one of the members of the party. From Seville they ventured to Madrid via the cities of Cordoba and Toledo, stopping along the way, much like modern tourists, to see Mezquita Mosque, another architectural wonder of the early Muslims, and other historic sights. In Madrid they were cordially received by King Philip III and his court, but no specific trade arrangements were struck. Still optimistic, the group proceeded to Rome, passing through the cities of Zaragoza and Barcelona to the northeast, and through parts of France. “Hasekura didn’t know what a baguette was, and at first thought that all the Frenchmen in the morning were carrying around some kind of sticks,” Virginio says. They were cordially received in the Vatican by Pope Paul V in November of 1615, but again nothing became of their mercantile objectives, including Friar Sotelo’s ambition to become archbishop of eastern Japan. As a token gesture, Hasekura was granted honorary citizenship of Rome, and all marched back to Seville by the same route they had come-empty-handed. During the party’s three-year sojourn in Spain, the Japanese visitors were converted to Christianity and were baptized and given Christian names with Jap6n attached to designate their country of origin. The samurai lived in the Loreto Monastery at the outskirts of Seville until 1617, when some of their party decided it was time to return to Japan. Six of the samurai stayed, however, and married into the community. The present-day bearers of the Jap6n name in Spain can thus be traced back 15 generations to these six expatriates. Hasekura, Friar Sotelo and the restive samurai headed back for Japan, stopping in the Philippines for two years on the way, to finally return to their starting point in 1620 after seven years abroad. In specific terms, their mission had been an utter failure. But it is now 2 P.M. and time to pause in the narrative. Siesta is beginning all across Spain. Virginio locks up the shop and takes me to a local bar around the corner. The sunbaked streets are empty and the heat reflects off the whitewashed walls with a glare so bright one must squint even with sunglasses. The bar is a cool haven, lined with hand-painted blue-on-white Andalucian tiles. A few of the regulars are here, and I meet another Edward Gutierrez. Besides being a community with many citizens bearing the jap6n surname, Coria del Rio also seems to have bred an unusual number of men called Edward Gutierrez. My twin shares my height and wears glasses, but that’s another story. As Virginio sips a drink at the bar and snacks on a tapa or two, as is the custom in Spain at this hour, a friend enters and hands him some documents written in Japanese. The friend has no idea of what these papers could be. But in Coria del Rio, all things Japanese eventually find their way to Virginio, the Jap6n patriarch. Virginio disappears, off home for lunch. I go to look at the statue of Hasekura in the park. Little intense blue forget-me-nots blossom on both sides of the promenade and the Guadalquivir lazes past, drawn toward the Atlantic about 100 kilometers away. The bronze statue stands on a pedestal near the bank where his ship is thought to have dropped anchor in 1614. He is facing east, the direction of the rising sun, holding out Lord Date’s unheeded message; his pedestal is scrawled with graffiti. “We clean it up each week and the students spray it the next,” sighs Virginio later. This statue was made by Sato Churyo, a renowned Japanese sculptor. Virginio makes a point of mentioning this because, he says, “no one ever mentions the sculptor’s name.” There are several similar statues of Hasekura in and outside Japan: there is one in Acapulco; there is one in a town in Italy. Hasekura statues are about as common as the tombs of Christopher Columbus. When Hasekura finally returned to Japan in 1620, the Tokugawa Shogunate was in the midst of persecuting the Christians and shutting the doors of a country that would remain sealed to outside influence for the next two centuries. It is said that Hasekura, with the aid of Lord Date, renounced his Christianity and went into seclusion in the mountains of Kajiyasawa, in the town of Osato. Friar Sotelo, less fortunate, was imprisoned, then burned at the stake. To conceal his whereabouts from the wrath of the shogun. Hasekura’s family falsely claimed that he had died. For the next 32 years, Hasekura was a mountain recluse, or so claims a document written by Seki Komei, a member of the Osato Town Cultural Assets Protection Committee. When Hasekura finally died in 1654 at the age of 84, his family kept his gravestone secret to protect the family name. Formal records Put Hasekura’s death at 1622, two years after returning to Japan. It was only through reports from other countries during the Meiji era (1868-1912) that the adventures of Japan’s forgotten ambassador came to light. The saga would seem to end here. Back in the bicycle shop, later in the afternoon, however, Virginio offers an unanticipated footnote. “I and a few others knew the history of Hasekura. The problem was that I never knew where the samurai had started from. I had always thought that Boxu (Oshu, the old name for the district of Date Masamune’s feudal domain, was somewhere in Kyushu, in Nagasaki, for instance, where most of the Japanese contact with the Christian missionaries took place, and that the samurai mission abroad had started from there,” Virginio says, warming again to his narrative. “Unbeknownst to me, a museum in Sendai also knew the history of Hasekura, but, of course, they knew nothing of the jap6n community in Coria del Rio.” It was not until the events leading Lip to observance of the centennial of the city of Sendai in 1989 that the missing pieces emerged. The mayor of Seville was invited to Sendai for the anniversary. In his speech, he mentioned the existence of the Japon community in Coria del Rio. “Bing! That’s when it clicked,” Virginio says. “The mayor himself had no idea why people here are called Japon. Most people thought it was due to early Japanese fishermen. His historian secretary was the one responsible for the speech.” The long-lost descendants of the samurai drew national media attention in Spain and in Japan. Several cultural exchanges were arranged between the Japanese city and the little Spanish town. Coria del Rio surfaced again in the media in 1996, when a local Jap6n beauty, Maria Jose Suarez Benitez, won the Miss Spain competition. There was talk of geisha refinement and one reporter eagerly asked the queen with the dark, classic Andalucian features how it felt to be Japanese. Miss Spain replied to the effect that she did not feel Japanese at all, but she allowed that her great grandmother on her mother’s side looked a little Japanese. Coria del Rio is now mentioned in the Japanese-language Chikyu no Arukikata (Globetrotter Travel Guidebook) series, and has become something of a Must on the itinerary of young Japanese travelers. Their grail is a polished wooden board that separates Virginio’s bicycle shop from his Japan office. Each Japanese pilgrim signs this board with a kind of mission-accomplished satisfaction. Virginio starts to elaborate on “the blue Asian spot,” a birthmark that turns up on the buttocks of some residents of the town when they are born and how the girls generally show more Asian characteristics than the boys, but more customers are beginning to arrive at his bicycle shop. The afternoon trickle is handled by his assistant Arturo, who has finally shown up and is busily pulling out spark plugs and inner tube patches from wooden drawers. Virginio waddles in to join Arturo and leaves me holding a framed copy of Lord Date Masamune’s calligraphic scroll. The original hangs in the Seville City Hall. It must have been quite unreadable to both the king of Spain and the pope. Ed Gutierrez is a free-lance writer based in Madrid. His “ShigarakiGarden of Earthy Delights” appeared in the April-June 1999 issue of Japan Quarterly|
Great news everyone! Earlier this week I sat down with Jimi Cohen to discuss his ongoing water security project, http://www.wemakeimpact.org/- Jimi’s a seriously rad guy with tons of amazing stories doing important work in Kenya and Uganda.
Find our conversation via the link below, or search The Elsewhere Podcast wherever you find podcasts.
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The sun is out! And so is the one-year anniversary of PYLON RADIO! Come celebrate this milestone in auditory hallucinations w/ me on a beachside bike-ride through time, sense and national barriers.
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Can’t Get You Out of My Head (Adam Curtis series)
Part 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bud9zF8e1zU
Part 2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GeDN9Jw4E0
Part 3 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmTzGcDboME
Part 4 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vrqGlGnBUg
Part 5 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AI2lRVifwg
Part 6 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_XdqHP5EUg
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