SLO BUDDHIST TEMPLE
6996 Ontario Rd.
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Ph. 805 595-2625
As we close out 2017, I hope the articles presented in “OKAZU” have been interesting and entertaining. Hopefully, 2018 will bring forth articles with the same effects.
OKAZU by Gary Hongo
As Good As They Come
Growing up in Lawrence, Kansas and later in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Bob Merrick developed the life skills that would serve him well as an adult. Like other mid-western kids coming from a large family, he worked after school and at summer jobs, providing financial help to his parents. He also played basketball and swam for the high school teams. After high school graduation, Bob attended the University of Oklahoma for a year and then took leave to work as a fireman for the Rock Island Railroad. In 1960, he refocused on education, studying history and philosophy at Oklahoma City University. It was at this time that Bob became more aware of the gap between the promises and realities in America and that the success of our democratic society hinged on involvement. He became part of the NAACP Youth Council under the leadership of Clara Luper who greatly influenced his thinking about the universal rights of all people.
A firm believer in service to your community, Bob Merrick was smitten by the words of President John Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” He answered the calling of the Peace Corps and was selected to go to Turkey. After 4 months of intensive training at the Defense Language Institute at Portland State University learning the language, customs and history of that country, Bob was sent to the small city of Silitke, Turkey where he taught English. Bob says that those 3 years in Turkey were a catalyst for “growing up,” getting him “off the sidelines” and involved in promoting some measure of friendship and understanding between peoples. Upon completing his stint with the Peace Corps, Bob pursued his graduate degree, taking a circuitous route: first at Stanford University in California then with a full scholarship at Wesleyan College in Connecticut where he finished his degree. He also did post graduate work at the University of Virginia. Bob returned to Oklahoma to teach history, chair the department and became involved in tennis, coaching 3 state championship teams and two runner-ups. He also was an assistant coach in the Missouri Valley Section of the United States Lawn Tennis Association.
Taking a new teaching position at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago turned out to be a significant phase in his life. It was in Chicago that Bob met Barbara Finn. Never forgetting the lessons learned from Clara Luper concerning civil rights and hearing Barbara’s stories of the internment camp, he applied for a summer internship at the National Archives to write a document based project on the internment of Japanese Americans (JA) during WW II. This document was geared towards high school and university students. He took a second summer internship to pursue a book project (unfinished) focusing on the works by interned JA artists who used pastels, oil and charcoal as their medium and photographs taken by War Relocation photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Clem Alberts. Bob’s goal was to compare and contrast the work of “insiders” and “outsiders,” showing how different something can be viewed depending on which side of the barbed wire you were from.
Barbara’s father, Ken Kitasako, truly amazed Bob. Talking to him and also listening in on interviews that were conducted with Mr. Kitasako resulted in Bob admiring the accomplishments of this man and the influence he had within the Japanese community. Bob will always remember Ken’s stories and the Japanese phrases he would direct upon him. At age 78 and entering the twilight years of his life, Bob likes to cook and enjoy a nice glass of wine or a shot of smooth tequila. His bucket list is simple – the 5 “G”s: enjoy his Grand children; shoot his age in Golf; play his Guitar; dabble in his Garden; and read a Good book.
Only in Japan (Continued from December 2017)
During my recent trip to Japan, other things I found noteworthy were: Efficiency of its transportation system—despite the many train and subway lines , they are always on time. The cars and stations are safe and well marked with information. You can find anything in the train stations—from foods to gifts, the stations are like our shopping malls and more. Many workers will eat a meal on the way home from work at one of the many little restaurants in the station. They can also shop for clothes and groceries too. Drivers do not honk their horns—despite the many cars and trucks on the road, rarely will you hear the sound of a horn. Colorful food dishes —to help the patron better understand what he/she will be ordering, plastic replicas of menu items are displayed in the restaurant window. These dishes will also have a price attached to it and reflect what are in the menu. Bowing is commonplace—whether it’s the food cart person in the bullet trains or the salesperson in a store, bowing is a means of showing respect to the customers. Even in department stores, a greeter will stand near a door or escalator with the upper body slightly bent anticipating the arrival of customers.
Pitat, Pitat, Pitat…. It’s Mochitsuki time again! Many years ago this event was anticipated by Buddhist churches and families as they would gather to pound glutinous (sticky) rice and shape them into “mirror” cakes. The heavy mortar (usu) was brought out along with the long wooden mallets (kine). Steaming rice was placed in the usu and men working in pairs would set about pounding the rice in a steady rhythm. One person would turn over the rice between strikes of the kine, careful not to get his hands in the way. The other would take the kine shoulder high and strike dead center into the glob of rice. Pitat, pitat, pitat. The steady rhythm would be only interrupted to wet the mallet’s head in water to prevent the rice from sticking as it is pounded. The men would tie a “hachimaki” (head band) around their forehead to prevent sweat from falling into the rice and also to give them determination in carrying out the task. Although this process is used only for demonstrations, wouldn’t it be great if the younger folks could experience pounding and turning the rice? Some families who continue the tradition of Mochizuki have done just that—letting the younger generation take charge from steaming the rice to molding them into individual cakes.
I recall as a child reading the story of Momotaro, the Peach Boy, who, accompanied by a dog, a monkey and a pheasant, set out to destroy a band of ogres. Prior to starting his journey, his mother packed him some chi-chi dango, a variant form of mochi, which gave him and his companions strength for the battle. There are many forms of mochi and various ways of eating it. Examples are daifuku (soft mochi with a sweet filling inside), kusa (green variety), mochi ice cream, ozenzai (azuki bean soup with pieces of mochi), ozoni (soup with vegetables and pieces of mochi), kinako mochi (fried mochi smothered with kinako powder) and kagami mochi. How will you prepare to eat your mochi?