December, 2000

Japan - From the Past to the Cutting Edge
By George Takei

OSAKA, Japan - A trip to Japan is like a continuous time warp back and forth through history, from the past to the cutting-edge present, then back to the ancient. My mission was history based. The international opening of the Japanese American National Museum's traveling exhibit on the history of the Japanese Americans of Hawaii at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum in Okinawa, Japan.

My arrival in Japan was at Kansai International Airport, a stunningly contemporary facility built on a vast man-made island in Osaka Bay. The Japanese flair for efficiency and design, rationality melded with style, made the normally punishing process of an international transit a smooth, in fact, pleasurable, experience. We sailed through customs, exchanged our dollars for yen, had a tasty light snack of buckwheat noodles all in stylish comfort, and we were on our way to our destination, Okinawa.

The opening of the museum's exhibit was a great success. A large contingent of museum supporters and staff were in attendance, including Irene Hirano, the museum's president and executive director. U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Thomas Foley, U.S. Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye, Lt. Governor of Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, and Governor Inamine of Okinawa were our honored guests together with more than 250 other Americans who had traveled to be with us for the opening. As the only American to speak at the ceremony in both Japanese and English, I became something of the bridge to mutual understanding that is the point of our exhibit.

The following day was back to the future. The museum sponsored a special educational program at the National Okinawa Youth Center on Tokashiki Island, a fast jetfoil ride away from the main island. The program featured two astronauts from NASA, Daniel Tani, a Japanese American from Chicago, and Mamoru Mohri, a Japanese astronaut who has flown two NASA space missions in the past two years. The program had the eyes and imagination of the young people of Okinawa soaring to the stars.

From Okinawa, I flew to the southern Japan city of Fukuoka because of my personal interest in architecture. I had read that American architect Jon Jerde had designed a remarkable project in Fukuoka called Canal City. Remarkable it is! Jerde has designed a fancifully futuristic commercial complex incorporating one of the many canals of Fukuoka. There are restaurants and shops galore, offices and educational facilities and a dazzling multiplex cinema and a grand theater for Broadway musicals - indeed a traveling production of Disney's "Lion King" was the next production booked. Whimsically geometric structures snake and undulate following the curves of the canal. The canal itself spouted jets of water five stories up. Lights bubbled and flickered or glowed and subtly illuminated the contours of the fanciful buildings. There were performers on little peninsulas out on the canal. But the cascade of people flowing up and down the escalators and stairways made simple people watching just as entertaining. Jerde's creation is an architectural Broadway musical. And my actor's instincts led me to book my hotel reservation at the Hyatt Grand right smack center stage in the middle of the whole colorful production. I lived for two days and two nights in an architect's theatrical fantasy.

Then a super-fast bullet train sped me right back into history. When it stopped, we transferred to an old-fashioned ferry that sailed leisurely toward the legendary shrine island of Miyajima shrouded in the mist of history. As a matter of fact, there was a light mist in the air as we approached the famous floating torii gate to Itsukushima Shrine that seems to mystically rest on water. Legend has it that because the island is considered sacred, there were no births or deaths allowed on it. That all had to take place on the mainland. Even today, there is no hospital on the island. However, at the ferry station, we did take a taxi, instead of the rickshaw, to our lodging. As we were driven through the narrow passageways of the village of Miyajima, it felt as though we were passing through the set of a samurai movie. A short way up the hillside and we arrived at a magnificent Japanese villa. This was the historic Iwaso Inn, one of the great lodges of Japan. We were gracefully ushered by a charming kimono-clad chambermaid to a classically formal Japanese room. Beyond the veranda lay a serene view of a maple forest. I could have sat meditating on that veranda all day. But we had so much we wanted to do.

It was autumn and the forest had turned a spectacular palette of reds, oranges, and yellows as well as the deep greens of the evergreens. We took a cable ride high over the spectacularly painted forest to the topmost point of the island. We fed the famously hungry tame deers that roam the island of Miyajima. We trooped through the shrine with the day-tripping tourist horde. Exhausted, we returned to our inn. I soaked in the hot Japanese bath gazing up at the steam wafting through the pine branches. Every tired muscle in my body seemed to melt into blessed relaxation.

Shortly after I had changed into my formal kimono provided by the inn, a gentle knock came on our sliding door. Our chambermaid was ready to serve us dinner. The low, spacious lacquered table in our room became the stage for a seemingly endless parade of small, artfully arranged dishes presented with elegance and grace. This was the renowned "kaiseki" dinner of ancient Japan. When the last delicious morsel had been served, the chambermaid suggested that we go for an after dinner stroll on the island. Miyajima at night, she urged, is something quite special.

She was so right. The island was magically transformed. The hurley burly of the day-trippers had disappeared and in its place was a tranquil scene of kimono-clad people quietly admiring the illuminated shrine and pagoda. The reflection of the shrine on the calm, dark water made it seem almost supernatural. On our way back, we ambled past the detached villa of our inn that was reserved for the emperor. Emperor Hirohito himself, we were told, had regularly stayed there. When we returned to our room, the lacquered table had vanished and in its place futon beds had neatly been arranged. That night, I slept deeply dreaming the dream of some past emperor.

Another quick bullet train ride the next day and we were in the shining new metropolis of Hiroshima. This city, flattened by the devastation of the atomic bomb over half a century ago, has rebuilt itself into a modern urban center of broad, tree-lined boulevards, tall glassy buildings and, at its focal point, a leafy park dedicated to international peace, the center of which is the Peace Museum. The exhibit there is a deeply moving chronicle of the human suffering as a result of the dropping of the bomb.

In Hiroshima, I was back to wearing my hat as the chairman of the Japanese American National Museum. After Okinawa, we want to tour our exhibit throughout Japan. It is currently set for Osaka in March of 2001. Because a large number of Japanese immigrants came from Hiroshima, as indeed my maternal grandparents did, we would very much like to see our exhibit visit there. I had met Governor Yuzan Fujita of Hiroshima on a previous visit and so had arranged to meet with him again to gain his support and guidance finding a way to get our exhibit to Hiroshima. The Governor greeted me warmly and, after I made my request, he immediately had ideas of a venue to be considered. He called for his personal car and driver and promptly dispatched me to examine his suggested site. Transported in the luxurious comfort of the Governor's car, I toured a handsome new exhibition hall. I now feel rather confident that the people of Hiroshima will be viewing our exhibit.

After visits with relatives in Hiroshima, I was back on the bullet train for my final stop on this trip, Osaka. The Second City of Japan is an overwhelming metropolis of congested traffic, bustling commerce and energetic people. And this is where the popularity of Star Trek in Japan is enormous. Through Russ Haslage of the Excelsior campaign, fans in Osaka had contacted me, and a charming young lady, Sachie Kubo, had made arrangements, to show me their city.

When I checked into my hotel room, the view that greeted me through my window was of the great Osaka Castle, the most spectacular historic structure in Japan. Circled by a wide moat protecting a lush park-like area, then looming up on a base of gigantic boulders amazingly fitted together, the castle sparkled in the sun with its golden embellishments. I had to go across immediately to tour it.

Crossing the arched bridge over the moat felt like the prelude to entry into the past. This was the very place where great battles were fought by the most powerful shogun in Japan's history, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Stepping into this storied precinct, I felt as though I were going back in time. That illusion was immediately smashed when a trendy young runner jogged by wearing a shiny spandex running outfit - then another wearing earphones with a thin metallic antenna bobbing over his head. I learned that the park inside the moat was one of the popular running paths of Osaka. As I walked through the outer entrance of the castle and the gigantic wood gate studded with black iron braces, I recognized it immediately from the television mini-epic, "Shogun." I remembered that this was where it was filmed on location. We trudged up a seemingly endless series of gray granite steps to the castle's main entrance. As we huffed and puffed, our straining muscles let us know how impregnable this castle must have been to the warlords who attacked it. We paid our admission and walked in. I stood there stunned. In front of us was a bank of elevators! There were video displays on the history of the castle built right into the walls! And I felt the comforting warmth of forced air heating in this ancient castle! I learned from a brochure that this historic castle had been completely rebuilt just a few years ago -- with all modern conveniences to boot. With a slight sense of disillusionment, we took the elevator to the top of the castle. The view was great. We were taking in the panoramic vista of modern day Osaka from the highest point of the castle, when I heard an American accented voice shout at me, "My god! You're Mr. Sulu, aren't you?" With one excited exclamation, I was brought from my fantasies at the pinnacle of this recently rebuilt ancient castle, back to my very own present day reality. The cameras flashed as I posed for pictures with American Star Trek fans touring in Osaka.

I spent the following day with Japanese Star Trek fans in Osaka. Four beaming faces were waiting in the hotel lobby that morning to show me the sights of this city. Sachie Kubo and Masanori Mizuumi were from Osaka but I was both flattered and moved to discover that Yoshimitsu Murata and Youichi Nieda, whom I had met on a previous trip to Tokyo earlier this year, had traveled all the way down from Tokyo to share the day with me.

It was a fun-filled day of roaming through a vibrant and engaging metropolis of busy marketplaces and elegant shops, raucous entertainment quarters and traditional bunraku theater and temples and shrines. We even saw a traditional wedding ceremony taking place at one of the temples. That evening, about a dozen more fans joined us at a restaurant for a lovely dinner of Japanese hot pot and conversations about the Excelsior campaign. The savory steam that wafted up from the bubbling pot of vegetables, seafood, noodles and other delicious morsels seemed to warm new friendships and enhance old ones.

All to soon, our 10-day trip to Japan was coming to an end. The next afternoon, we were on the express train to Kansai International Airport for our flight to Los Angeles - home to prepare for the holidays. As I write this on my laptop in the airport lounge in Osaka, I'm reminded of the many events of this past year. Much has happened, great and small. We have much to be thankful for. And much we need to do in the future. May I wish you all the joys and blessings of this holiday season.



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George Takei Statement on William Shatner

Marriage Equality Comes to California

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George Takei on Casting of John Cho as Sulu

Second Wind

George's Statement on the Star Trek Feature Daily Variety Story

The Forty-Year Trek

Why Howard Stern?

January, 2006
The Year of Equus

Tribute to Pat Morita

November, 2005
Equality and Justice For All

Tribute to Jimmy

May, 2005
Catfish, Scholars, and a Geisha Party

April, 2005
Two Surprising Gifts

March, 2005
Measuring TV Viewers

February, 2005
Oscars: the Luckiest of the Best

January, 2005
New York, New York

December, 2004
Tsunami of Compassion

November, 2004
An Emperor, Abe Lincoln, and Four Presidents

October, 2004
Fund-raising with fun raising

September, 2004
Life Interrupted

August, 2004
Celebrating Three Legends

July, 2004
Dense Enrichment

June, 2004
Seattle: The Crucible of Imagination

May, 2004
High Times Down Under

April, 2004
Trekkin' in Japan

March, 2004
An Actor's New York

February, 2004
They Call Her Osama

January, 2004
Caribbean Seatrek

December, 2003
My Arkansas Roots

November, 2003
A Month of Glory and Fury

October, 2003
Jet Lag Reminiscences

September, 2003
Supporters and Whoopee!

August, 2003
Beaming Back in Time

July, 2003
Hawaii, Chicago, Tulsa and Kiribati

June, 2003
A Salute to Liberty

May, 2003
Renewal and Nurturing

April, 2003
The Human Spirit

March, 2003
An Anglophile Angeleno

February, 2003
NASA Must Rise Again

January, 2003
A Shiny Double Bow

December, 2002
Holiday Reflections

November, 2002
"Omiyage" Gifts from Japan

October, 2002
Historic Travels

September, 2002
Oscar-Winning Movies

August, 2002
Summer Visitors

July, 2002
Mama's "Pacific Overtures"

June, 2002
Fumiko Emily Takei, 1912 - 2002

May, 2002
Flight of Angels

April, 2002
Surviving a Texas Storm

March, 2002
Hooray for Hollywood; Boo on Secession

February, 2002
Sacramento Roots

January, 2002
Bearing Witness

December, 2001
A Hundred Million Miracles

November, 2001
Serendipitous London

October, 2001
The Aftermath

September 11, 2001
A Special Message

September, 2001
Summertime at the Hollywood Bowl

August, 2001
Voice Transporter

July, 2001
Two American Monuments

June, 2001
Luck Be a Lady

May, 2001
A Global Banquet Table

April, 2001
Joy and Disappointment

March, 2001
Two Guys Named David

February, 2001
Wisdom from a Volcano

January, 2001
Millennial London

December, 2000
Japan - From the Past to the Cutting Edge

November, 2000
Counting My Blessings

October, 2000
The Mother of an Actor

September, 2000
Hanover Expo 2000

August, 2000
Rockin' in the Northwest

July, 2000
Global Interchange

June, 2000
Sky High Challenge

May, 2000
A Month of Theater

April, 2000
Excelsior Passion

March, 2000
Alien World Right Below

February, 2000
Hawaii Connections

January, 2000
A New Beginning

December, 1999
Millennium Musings

November, 1999
Power of Ingenuity

October, 1999
Back to a Diverse Future

September, 1999
Our Human Linkage

August, 1999
Equatorial Launch to the Stars

July, 1999
Celebration of Diversity

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