Monday, June 27, 2016

Diwata, a new metaphor, in the 105th graduation rites of UP Diliman

The installation art by Toym Imao is inspired by the sarimanok.

"Ako ay isang diwata. Lahat tayo ay diwata. [I am a fairy. All of us are fairies.] We, the graduates, have the potential to soar through the stratosphere. From the rocks of Oble on the ground to the cosmic domain of Diwata [the first micro-satellite of the Philippines], our family, friends, university officials, and professors have shaped us to take flight. Let us thank them by soaring to the sky. Pumailanlang na tayo. Mabuhay ang mga bagong diwata! [Let's all soar. Long live the new fairies!]"

That's how Alexander Atrio Lim Lopez invited his fellow graduates to go out to the world during the 105th Pangkalahatang Pagtatapos [General Commencement Exercises] of the University of the Philippines Diliman on 26 June 2016.  He was speaking on their behalf along the theme"Diwata and Oble, Me and You." 

Alexander Lopez, summa, spreads his arms as if  to soar like Diwata (the satellite), or a diwata (mythical fairy).

Lopez was one of the thirty summa cum laude that led Class 2016 comprising 4,552 graduates from 27 degree-granting units: 3,580 who received their undergraduate degrees and 972 their graduate degrees (70 of which were conferred their doctorates).

The top three among the summa were Miguel Ricardo R. Leung, BS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (WAG of 1.0375); Miguel Raymundo C. Gutierrez, BS Economics (1.064) and Danilo Lorenzo S. Atanacio, BS Economics (1.074).  

The six summa from the College of Engineering with college and university officials.

Lopez was a former student of UP Manila where he earned his BS Basic Medical Sciences degree under the 7-year Intarmed program. Instead of pursuing the MD program, he opted to enroll at the College of Social Sciences and Philosphy in the Diliman campus. He earned hi BA Philosophy with a WAG of 1.1810.

He recalled that back then in his third year of Intarmed, he knew that he will not be a medical doctor.

"I already knew I loved philosophy," he said, "but I also thought about the lower pay that philosophers got compared to medical doctors and maybe more importantly, the lower respect that philosophers received. My failure was I wasn’t brave enough to accept and fully defend what I loved."

Even if his classmates were being shaped by the UP College of Medicine, he wanted his "rock to have a shape different from medicine to support Oble."

Lopez looked at Oble [the Oblation] as a representation of "each Iska and Isko [short for scholar of the people, or Iskolar ng bayan] and each person,"   The iconic statue of UP stands with its head looking up, its arms outstretched with palms up standing on a pedestal of rocks. "The rocks are like the differently-shaped disciplines that make up UP" and "[e]ach discipline, whether it be from the sciences or humanities, has a different character. The combination of these differences allows humans to soar," he said.

A graduating UP Pep Squad 'soars' as her dean presented the members of their class.

He reminded Class 2016:  "When we are inspired, we do our best work. When we do our best work, we can offer the best service to our countrymen, which is after all, what Oble is known to symbolize. It is in the interest of society that we put each other in situations that will inspire us to do our best work for the people. When scientists, artists, and philosophers do their best, it is not only the individual but also society that soars.

"We need all of them. In a tragedy where 49 people were shot dead, it’s medical science that heals the victims’ bodies and minds, it’s art that inspires survivors to move forward, and it’s philosophy that forms ethics to prevent another moral disaster.  

Pledge of loyalty to the University.

"I have acquired scientific precision from medicine, artistic expression from creative writing, and rational open-mindedness from philosophy. All these have shaped the rock that  I give in support of Oble’s soaring.  Fellow graduates, we all have our shapes that are distinct and beautiful—beautiful like a diwata."

As each one builds his or her life in the real world, UP President Alfredo Pascual invoked in his keynote speech that this be done with integrity and honor, tenets that the university builds into the minds of its students. 

The clinched fist in the singing of the University Hymn.

Pascual invited them to give this a thought: join the academe and help mold the minds of future nation-builders.

Up above Quezon Hall and the colorful installation art based on the sarimanok by Toym Imao is t he call to graduates of UP, the national university: Paglingkuran Ang Sambayanan [Serve the People].

The lightning protest toward the end of graduation rites each year.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Birthing pains of the K-12 education reform program

It's the first day of the implementation of the senior high school program in the Philippines. It happens to be the day after the commemoration of the 118th anniversary of country's independence from Spain, and around 1.5-million students are expected to attend their first day of Grade 11 classes in their old schools, or in another public or private school.

But alas! "glitches mar [the] senior high program," the Inquirer reported today with only some 600,000 having enrolled for Grade 11.  Some sectors aver that the K-12 program severely handicaps Filipino families financially to send their children for two more years of schooling.

Elementary school graduating class 1931-1932, San Narciso, Zambales. From Lilia Galace's collection. 

We were informed that in one of the barangay national high schools in our hometown San Narciso (Zambales), the senior high building has yet to be completed. This means that the Department of Education (DepEd) would have to rent a place to house Grade 11 or to stagger classes in all the high school levels to accommodate the senior high in the existing classrooms.

We think that the infrastructure problem is remediable. What we are more concerned about is the preparedness of teachers to tackle the senior high curricula even if DepEd conducted trainings on the "specific tracks (similar to college courses) based on the four disciplines:  Academic (includes business, science & engineering, humanities & social science, and a general academic strand), Technical-Vocational-Livelihood (with highly specialized subjects with TESDA qualifications); Sports; and Art & Design."

Another nagging question is how the town's first Grade 11 students picked their personal tracks, and how prepared and ready are their teachers and advisers in guiding them.  DepEd says that "specializations or tracks to be offered will be distributed according to the resources available in the area, the needs and interests of most students, and the opportunities and demands of the community."

Many look at the K-12 program as another burden, and believe that finishing Grade 10 is enough. But it's not. Some of those who went into graduate programs in universities abroad spent two years of undergraduate level studies before they got into their major courses. It's all because they did not go through K-12 in the Philippines.  In a forum in the University of the Philippines last year, we heard one professor advising the engineering students to get their masters as soon as possible. He said that with the ASEAN 2015 Integration, they would be equivalent to technicians because they did not go through K-12, which all other ASEAN countries have.

This discussion brings back historical memories.  When the Americans introduced their brand of public education in the 1900s, they started with a core curriculum that comprised reading, writing and arithmetic. Initially, completion of Grade IV was enough qualification to teach English.

Zambales High School class 1937-38. Photo from Lilia Galace's collection.

The elementary level was up to Grade VII. Not all towns then had high schools; hence, those who aspired for higher education had to go to the provincial high schools in the capital towns. Many high school graduates went to the Philippine Normal School to take up education. Looking at it now, it was sort of a missionary assignment from the Bureau of Education to teach in far-flung corners of the archipelago after graduation.

We were reading the editorial on 'compulsory education' in the June 1909 issue of the "The Filipino Teacher" of the Philippine Teachers' Association, and the arguments against it (from the teachers!) ring somehow similar to those who oppose K-12 (non-teachers!).

They were happy with the first education law enacted by the Philippine Assembly:  the Gabaldon Law that appropriated one million pesos for constructing school buildings in the barrios.

A bill was passed by the Assembly with a narrow margin of five votes: establishment of compulsory education in the country.  While they appreciate the "lofty purpose" of spreading public education, they found it severe, unnecessary and not justified.

There's no need to compel anyone to go to school because, they argued, "the Filipino people are and have always shown profound love for instruction." They cited that the people flocked to the schools when these were declared open to everyone right after the United States military took control of the country.

What they really wanted to say at the end was that they would be "confronted by the economical side of the question."  According to them, "the present number of schools and teachers and other necessary personnel must necessarily be increased which will involve the expenditure of more money, which, judging from the economical condition of the government, cannot now be granted,"

It's also the 'economical side' as far as the parents of senior high students and the general education faculty of universities and colleges are concerned. Regarding the latter, we heard about the possibility for them to teach senior high part time for the next two years, when there will be no college freshman and sophomore enrollment..

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Changing of the guard in my hometown

The newly-elected mayor, vice-mayor and seven members of the Sanggunianng Bayan during their proclamation by Comelec on 10 May 2016 Photo by the author.

In the recent May 2016 elections, a woman was elected mayor, the first in the history of my hometown San Narciso, Zambales.  Dr. La Rainne Abad Sarmiento and her close rival to the post crushed the incumbent's hopes for a third and final term. It was her first try, and she succeeded with an integrated campaign network in all the town's barangays.

Sarmiento joins five other women who will head local government units for the next three years starting 1 July: three re-elected (San Felipe, San Antonio and Botolan towns) and two newly-elected like her (Cabangan and Masinloc towns) .

Sarmiento's victory toppled the 'dynasty' (the town folks' term) of the Lim brothers.  The older one completed three terms, and the younger failed to clinch a third term. The full-blooded Chinese brothers, scions of one of the owners of the local hardware store, are Filipino citizens.

In one way, the Lim brothers upset the long-held prejudice against 'non-locals' by blood or origin in elections for posts in the local government. The first 'non-local' or 'gang-gannaet' (stranger in our Ilocano idiom) was elected town councilor in the 1971 elections. He was from northern Zambales married to a local teacher. Before him, the local photographer attempted but he was rejected even if he had been a long time resident of the town.

The vice mayor and municipal councilors (in polo barong) elected before the declaration of martial law. 
From the collection of the author.
The 1971 elections was a historical turning point. It was the last democratic elections before Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in September 1972, nine months after the winners in the November 1971 elections took their oath  on 31 December 1971 (photo above).  

I was a fresh engineering graduate from the University of the Philippines, and my candidacy was an impulsive decision, unplanned.  I was the youngest of that last batch. Aware that I was elected only for a four-year term, and with no end of martial law in sight, I resigned in 1975. The rest served the Bagong Lipunan regime until the elections on 30 January 1980, the first local and national elections after the declaration of martial law.

The 1980 elections did not bring a change of leadership. The mayor got a renewed mandate, and he would serve until the EDSA revolution of 1986.

EDSA I, in a sense, was a turning point in local history. President Corazon Aquino replaced the 1,550 mayors of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan party and four non-KB, and likewise municipal council members all over the archipelago with officers-in-charge until elections were held under the new Constitution of 1987.  The incumbent, a medical doctor, had already been mayor since January 1963. Cory Aquino replaced him with another medical doctor as officer-in-charge. They would face each other in the elections of 1988. The OIC lost that race to the long-serving doctor mayor. It was in the 1992 elections that the former clinched the title; the latter no longer ran for re-election.

The election results of 9 July 1846: San Narciso contra los temblores. From the Ereccion de Pueblos SD-14126 of the National Archives of the Philippines.

The first turning point in the history of San Narciso governance was the election of local officials on 9 July 1846. This was in accordance with the orders of Governor-General Narciso Claveria prior to his approval of a memorandum from the Alcalde Mayor of Zambales dated 11 July 1846  creating a civil town called San Narciso out of the four Ilocano barrios of Cabangan town.  The barrio of San Marcelino was included on 1 October 1846.

In the election results the town was described as "San Narciso contra los temblores" (literally, San Narciso against earthquakes), and the following were elected:   Teniente (absoluto) - Don Fruto Apolinario; Juez de policia (police) - Don Miguel Labrador; Juez de palmas (palm trees) - Don Timoteo Andres; Alguacil primero - Don Patricio Erese; Alguacil segundo - Cosme Agustin; and Alguacil tercero - Vicente Toledo.

Since San Narciso was a civil town still under the jurisdiction of Iba, the capital, and it had no parish yet (it was visita of the Iba church), the town head was called teniente absoluto but was actually discharging the duties and responsibilities of a Gobernadorcillo.

There were subsequent elections for teniente absoluto until the town was emancipated from the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Iba on 12 May 1849.  On this date also, barrios Bobolon, Sindol, Pamisarauan and San Marcelino were separated from Alasiis, which became solely the town of San Narciso.

Bobolon became San Felipe but Sindol opted to remain its barrio. San Felipe and Sindol were initially visitas of San Narciso. The civil towns of San Marcelino and Pamisarauan as San Antonio were attached to the church in Subic.  Until they obtained independent parishes from their religious matrices, the town heads were addressed as teniente absoluto. 

The election of  the first Gobernadorcillo, ministros and subalternos of San Narciso was held on 7 December 1849.  Teniente absoluto Don Fruto Apolinario was re-elected, this time as Gobernadorcillo, for the year 1850.

Ministros elected were:  Teniente primero (first lieutenant; in a way the vice gobernadorcillo) - Don Tito Mariano; Juez de sementera (agricultural lands) - Don Esteban Canonizado; Juez de policia (police) - Don Valentin Mayor; Juez de ganados (cattle/farm animals) - Don Joaquin Velasco.

Subalternos: Teniente segundo - Don Fermin Rivera y Valdez; third to fifth Tenientes - Martin Natividad, Pioquinto Matias and Toribio Bernabe; first to fifth Alguacil (policeman)  - Agustin Villanueva, Agustin Lucas, Julian Guerrero, Juan Vigilia and Faustino Somera.

Of course, through the years, there were other turning points in the history of San Narciso local elections: the last election before end of the Spanish regime, the first election under the Americans, the governance during the Japanese occupation and first one after World War II.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Going up and down six floors of the massive Himeji Castle of Japan

Main Keep (right) of Himeji or White Egret Castle.

The cold spring weather was just fit for the climbing. It was not tiresome though because going up and down six stories of the Main Keep of Himeji Castle was rather slow: there were waiting queues at every up or down staircase.

We were awed by the many visitors, predominantly young and old Japanese, to the centuries-old massive wooden structure that towers 91.4 meters above sea level. We saw similar huge crowds in historical Buddhist temples and shrines.

School boys trooping to the Castle.

According to the information guide, the Main Keep is covered with white plaster made from slaked lime, shell ash, hemp fiber and seaweed using Japanese traditional method. The structure is described as resembling a white egret in flight; thus, Himeji Castle is also known as White Egret Castle.

In 1931, Japan designated the Main Keep as National Treasure. The other keeps were designated National Treasures twenty years later. In 1952, the premises within the inner moat were declared Special Historic Sites.

In 1993, Himeji Castle made it to the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites, the first for Japan.

Another view of the Main Keep.

The east and west large wooden pillars of the Main Keep makes the climb awesome. They are 24.6 meters long, extending from the basement up to the 5th floor beam. In the castle's history, in 1950, the upper part of the west large pillar was replaced with a 650-year-old cypress and the lower part with a 765-year-old cypress. The east large pillar of fir is largely intact although the base was changed to cypress.

The windows and shooting holes were intriguing. The latticed windows prevented enemy intrusions and entry of arrows and bullets. The warriors inside the castle shot their arrows and guns through the shooting holes of various shapes: oblong for bows, and round, triangular and square for guns.

Wooden beams of the castle.

The present Himeji Castle dates back to 1601 when the 5-story, 7-floor Main Keep was completed. It was one of 56 castles that Japan decided to retain and preserve in 1873.

Since then, the Castle has undergone three restorations: Meiji Era Restoration (1910-1911), Showa Era  Restoration (1934-1950) and the recent Heisei Era Restoration (2009-2015).  The Main Keep was dismantled and repaired during the period 1956-1964. 

Rear view of Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is located in the Hyogo Prefecture in the western part of Japan.  Foreign visitors can easily access it from Osaka City. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Asian high school students shone at the 2016 Intel International Science & Engineering fair

ISEF 2016 participants during the shout-out of the opening program. Front row, left: three members of Team Philippines.  Photo from the Facebook page of Society for Science & the Public.

Two high school students from Asia scored high in the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) held on 08-13 May 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona:   Pei-Hsuan Chang, 17, from Taipei City, Chinese Taipei for her outstanding mathematics project, and Takahiro Ichige, 18, from Chiba City, Japan for his excellent work in engineering mechanics.

Each went home with a First Grand Award of $3,000 and a Best of Category award of $5,000. They were among the 22 Best of Category winners who vied for ISEF's top three prizes: the two Intel Foundation Young Scientist awards of $50,000 and the Gordon E. Moore award of $75,000.  

Chang's study on 'nested eggs: where Brianchon, Pascal and Poncelet meet' also gave her passport for a trip to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists this coming September.

On the other hand, for his work on 'a novel and simple power saving controller for stepper motors', Ichige also won for him an Intel Foundation Cultural and Scientific Visit to China award.

Other Asian students (individual or team researchers) brought home grand awards in the various categories although none won in behavioral and social sciences, microbiology and systems software:  $500 for a fourth, $1,000 for a third, and $1,500 for a second, award.  

From China:
  • Team of Ming Yan, 19, and Weizhen Cai, 17:  third award in engineering mechanics for 'electric skateboard with disk brakes and bluetooth remote control';
  • Team of Mark Tsz Chun Lau, 17, Hyun Seo Chung, 16, and Ricky Tsun Yuen Ho, 16: third award in engineering mechanics for 'developing a novel public intra-city small- to medium-sized cargo distribution system for cities of the future';
  • Chin Yeoh, 16: fourth award in engineering mechanics for 'origami transformer: bridging ancient art with modern computer sciences'; and
  • Qingxuan Jiang, 17: fourth award in mathematics for 'the rolling lamp problem and related link structure'.
The Chinese Taipei delegation to ISEF 2016. From the Facebook page of Pei-Hsuan Chang.

From Chinese Taipei:
  • Chi-Yuen Wu, 17: fourth award in animal sciences for 'immune reactions of encapsulation in cockroaches';
  • Team of Yu-Ting Huang, 17, and Jia-Lan Lin, 17: fourth award in biochemistry for 'misfolded alpha-synuclein: assessment of lactulose and melibiose for Parkinson's disease';
  • Team of Anin Luo, 17, and Tsan-Mei Chu, 18: third award in biomedical and health sciences for 'inhibitory effects of Omega-3 fatty acids-based fish oil on cholangiocarcinoma';
  • Cheng-Pei Lin, 17: third award in chemistry for 'UV-light sensitive transparent organic solar cells';
  • Team of Yu-Hung Chen, 18, and Shih-Hao Chen, 18: third award in earth and environmental sciences for 'experimental simulation of cellular convection with miso soup';
  • Yen-Chen Chen, 16: fourth award in engineering mechanics for 'rotating fluid in paraboloidal tank tuned liquid damper as an effective vibration absorber'; and
  • Bo-Han Lin, 17: second award in physics and astronomy for 'nanobubble: generation and applications';
From Hongkong Special Administrative Region:
  • Team of Kwun Wing Thomas Li, 16, Pak Hei Chu, 18, and Tat Ngai Davis Chan, 17: third award in chemistry for 'supermagnetic iron (II, III) oxide silver cysteine complex nanoparticles (SISCCN) in metal ions adsorption and chiral recognition';
  • Sidney K. Chu, 16: fourth award in computational biology and bioinformatics for 'identification of Parkinson's disease-associated SNP-SNP interaction using interaction analysis by Chi-Square (IAC)';
  • Team of Hei Man Fong, 16, Ching Man Felice Tang, 17, and Nai To Chan, 16: third award in energy: chemical for 'sencha power';
From India:
  • Shreyas Kapur, 17: third award in biomedical engineering for 'cellphone based optometry using hybrid images'
  • Team of Suhani Sachin Jain, 15, and Divya Kranthi, 16: third award in plant sciences for 'innovative strategy using endophytes for effective biocontrol of insect pests in cotton'; and
  • Vasudev Malyan, 18: fourth award in translational medical science for 'a novel paper sensor as a diagnostic test for multiple schlerosis'.
From Japan:
  • Tomoro Warashina, 18: second award in cellular and molecular biology for 'silk-gland-derived sericin as a growth promoted in animal cell culture';
  • Team of Chizumi Maeta, 18, and Mei Yamamura, 17: second award in energy: chemical for 'investigation and development of a new solid polymer electrolyte using a natural membrane for fuel cell devices';
From Malaysia:
  • Team of Dylan Lim Shu Zhe, 16, Nizar Bin Jalaludeen Rajagobar, 16, and Derric Lim Shu Chuen, 16: third award in materials science for 'pineapple skin galore';
From Pakistan
  • Shahmir Khan Niazi, 15: fourth award in energy: physical for 'a new spin on renewable energy';
From Singapore:
  • Yuhang Wang, 19: third award in chemistry for 'nickel oxy-hydroxide thin films as efficient electrocatalysts for dye wastewater treatment';
  • ShuYi Jia, 19: fourth award in chemistry for 'immobilization of glycans on silicon substrates for diagnostic microarrays';
From South Korea:
  • Team of Seong Ho Lim, 18, Jihong Kim, 18, and Seung Yoon Lee, 17: fourth award in chemistry for 'can we directly measure each solute concentration in mixed solution? a new class of polarimeter';
  • Team of Nayeong Kim, 17, and Jongha Choi, 18: fourth award in energy: chemical for 'ceria supported Cu-Co composite catalyst for WGS reaction';
  • Jae Hyeok Choi, 17: fourth award in environmental engineering for 'the development of 3R water filter: round wave-rusty wire for rural regions';
  • Kim Dae Hyun, 18: third award in physics and astronomy for 'generation of beat sound of Korean bell with a bicycle rim'; and
  • Yun Kang, 16: fourth award in robotics and intelligent machines for 'direct connection technology between disabled and prosthetic robot hand'.
From Sri Lanka:
  • Abishek Stenush Gomes: 16, third award in embedded systems for 'wearable device to translate American Sign Language (ASL) into English'.
From Thailand:
  • Team of Charuntorn Doungnga, 18, and Runglawan Charpugdee, 17: second award in animal sciences for 'a silk sheath production frame developed from negative geotropic spinning behavior of silkforms resulted in silk sheath with high homogeneity';
  • Team of  Puvanat Triamchanchai, 15, and Touchakorn Chintavalakorn, 15: also second award in animal sciences for 'bubble nesting behavior behind local wisdom of rearing Siamese fighting fish by utilizing dry leaves'
From Vietnam:
  • Team of Chau Thu Minh Nguyen, 17, and Chinh Lu Duc Hoang, 16: third award in cellular and molecular biology for 'study on the ability of binding and killing several cancer cell lines of antinuclear antibody';
  • Team of My Ha Nguyen, 17, and Long Quang Nguyen, 18: third award in chemistry for 'potential anticancer complexes from platinum and clove basil oil (Ocinum grastissimum L.)';
  • Team of Phong Tuan Pham Wu, 16, and Ngoc Bao Nguyen, 16: third award in earth and environmental sciences for 'rice straw phytolith to enhance CO2 capture: ideas for sustainable management of rice straw and reduction of greenhouse gases from paddy soils'; and
  • Team of Ngan Hoang Nguyen, 18, and Truc Thanh Pham, 18: third award in engineering mechanics for 'diverse terrain wheelchair'.

(Left to right):  The three Best of the Best in ISEF 2016: Kathy Liu, Hanjie (Austin) Wang and Syamantak Payra. Photo from the webpage of Society for the Science & the Public.

For the top three prizes: the Young Scientist awards went to Syamantak Payra, 15, from Texas and  Kathy Liu, 17 from Utah for their projects in embedded systems and in energy - chemical categories; respectively, and the Gordon E. Moore went to Canadian Han Jie (Austin) Wang for his microbiology project. titled 'boosting MFC biocatalyst performance: a novel gene identification and consortia engineering approach.'

The three winners appear to be part of that generation in North America whose roots can be traced to Asia.

That's how it was in Phoenix where some 1,760 Grades 9-12 students from 77 countries, regions and territories converged for the world's largest pre-college science research competition under the theme 'Think Beyond.'

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Enjoying Ginza without a shopping bag

Hokoten or 'pedestrians heaven', Sunday afternoon, on Ginza's main street.
It was truly 'pedestrians heaven' when people invaded Ginza on that Sunday afternoon we were visiting the place. They were either strolling freely up and down the main street or hopping from one store to another for the shopping spree. The Japanese call this 'heaven' Hokoten, short for Hokosha Tengoku.

For those who love untrammeled walking, it was a grand time to observe humankind, and to look around for something off the ordinary, one that does not spell 'market' or smell 'money.'

Cities and their associated endemic/symbolic flora. This is one of four panels.

We quickly noticed one building under construction or repair fenced off with white walls for the usual reasons: aesthetics (no eyesores) and public safety.  The walls looked though like a long canvas bearing nine murals with various Japanese motifs, all framed by what appeared to us from a distance the outlines of folded papers.

The koinobori, a carp streamer.

The frames actually took off, according to the large production notes on the wall, from the byobu, the Japanese folding screens made up of several panels hinged together. Of course, we know that these screens serve some practical and aesthetic purposes. They're intended to 'block out the wind' or to hide something from view. The artistic merits come from the decorative paintings with calligraphy on the screens.

"Mt. Fuji, here I come!"

The notes said that byobu paintings inspired 77-year old Junko Koshino, internationally known Japanese woman fashion designer, to produce the set of modernistic designs she called 'Japanese Beauty.'  She wanted to convey 'the diverse appeal Japan has to offer to foreign visitors.' 

Immediately recognizable were the outline of the iconic Mt. Fuji and the carp (fish) streamers called koinobori. If we could read Japanese, we would be able to identify the flora associated with the cities named in four of the 'Beauty' panels.

Well, that was part of the learning experience of a first-time visitor to the Land of the Rising Sun. Earlier in the Hiroshima Prefecture, we were taught how to wear the kimono and to arrange a few flowers and leaves in the Japanese minimalist method - ikebana.

Going past "Japanese Beauty" on the wall.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Add fun to a vacation in Japan - look for beautiful manhole covers

These manhole covers in Himeji City feature cranes/egrets in flight.

In our first vacation in the western part of Japan recently, we found something novel that added more fun to our tour of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites there:  looking for manhole covers!

Saijo City: sake brewery chimneys.
The fun came in the discovery that each city we visited had distinctive manhole covers. These have artful images that convey the spirit of a city to the walking tourist. They detract from the fact that they cover entries to the city's underbelly comprising sewage tunnels, water pipes, networks of telephone and power cables.

Our first find was in Saijo City in the Hiroshima Prefecture. While we were listening to our kimono-dressed English-speaking lady guide to one of the city's iconic sake breweries, we passed by this beautiful manhole cover.  We later learned that this cover can only be found on the city's Sakagura-dori street.

It features the typical red-brick brewery chimneys and familiar shapes of sake containers in color. Saijo is considered the 'City of Sake' of Japan.  Some of the finest brands are made here, one of which has been nicknamed 'Obama sake' because the American president enjoyed it.

Symbolic flowers of Matsuyama City.
The colorful manhole cover of Matsuyama in the Ehime Prefecture bears the city's symbol: camellia flowers in white and red. We found this while we were walking to the Dogo Onsen Honsan, a wooden public bathhouse that dates back to 1894 during the Meiji period. The waters are from Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest and most famous hot springs of the country.

Egrets are the theme of the round and rectangular manhole covers of Himeji City in the Hyogo Prefecture. We walked past them on our way to the fully restored Himeji Castle, a wooden national treasure with a 600-year history.  Its Main Keep, painted in white, appears to have five stories. It resembles a bird about to fly. The castle is also known as Hakuro-jo ('White Egret') or Shirasagi-jo ('White Heron') castle.

Deer is the symbol of Nara.
A deer occupies a prominent place in the manhole cover of Nara City in the Nara Prefecture. The deer is the symbol of the city. Hundreds of deer roam around Nara Park, and visitors are cautioned to take care of paper and food they carry on their way to the heritage shrines and temples there:  a deer may suddenly grab them to munch.

A visitor to Kobe City in the Osaka Prefecture may likely get a welcome greeting from a manhole cover.  "Welcome to Kobe!," the cover proclaims in English and shows the visitor the modern features of the city: tall building, tower, modes of transport, etc.

We found out that these covers have caught the interest of visitors to Japan. In fact, there's a webpage that features a hundred of them already.  Only one of our six discoveries are in that list: the Matsuyama with the camellia flowers.

A metallic voice of welcome from Kobe City.

There was a time that manhole covers in Manila were stolen because apparently there was a profitable market for metals intended for export to mainland China. We wonder if they were artistic like those of Japan; would they be collector's items in the art world?