Posts Tagged ‘ Alabama ’

Tornado. 竜巻 / トルネード

This site is almost 3 years old.  This is the  very first non-Japan (China, India) -related piece I’ve posted here.  Just thought I’d share.  Here’s the thing — yesterday afternoon a tornado tore through the family property down in South Alabama (just south of Slocomb, Geneva County), missing the home where my mom lives by mere feet.  These are a few photos — taken by my sister about 17 hours ago — of part of the scene.

Yellow pine tree uprooted by tornado. 1 March '12.


Close call. Slocomb tornado. 1 March '12.


On the family property, trees uprooted, snapped, by tornado. 1 March '12.


On the phone, my 85 year old mom said she “could hear the [tornado’s] roar, but wasn’t about to go outside to investigate.”  That Scots-Anglo pragmatism.

More photos, taken 3 days later.  I came down to South Alabama to visit my mom and see this first hand.

Same tree as the one in the top two pics. Three days later.


Same trees as those in the third photo above. Three days later.


One of the several back yard trees that (fortunately) fell away from the house. My dog, Chloe, helps provide some scale to the tree's size.


Another near-miss in the front yard.


Neighbors' trampoline up in neighbors' trees. It wasn't there before the tornado.


More heavy weather is predicted for the U.S. Midwest and South, extending into Alabama, today (posted 2 March 2012):


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UPDATE:  In the 24 hours following this “hit” on at my mom’s home in South Alabama more storms swept across the U.S. Midwest and South, destroying neighborhoods, wrecking towns and killing more than 30 people.


Roll Tide. 波が圧延しよう!

For more than 6 months this has been a Japan-oriented blog (with a little venture into India and China, here and there).  Tonight I draw (a little bit) outside the lines (see the Japan tie-in just below) and say, “Roll Tide, Roll!”

I should note that many, many Japanese grads of Chiba-dai, Kansai Gaidai (me, ’84), Nanzan Dai and other Japan-base colleges have attended The University of Alabama.  That JVC (Nihon Victor) has a manufacturing plant in Tuscaloosa, that Honda has a plant in Lincoln/Talladega, Alabama, that Toyota has a plant in Huntsville, Alabama and that Sony is in Dothan.

Alabama Rolls over Florida, 32-13, to win the Southeast Conference Championship and go to the National Title Game in Pasadena, California.


From summer of ’84, a present given to me by a group of Chiba University students with whom I whiled away 6 weeks on the UA campus.  A week after they gave me this flag I was on a plane to Japan, my first overseas trip, to begin my Exchange Student Experience at Kansai Gaidai (a university between Osaka and Kyoto).

Going home gift from Chiba U students. Summer '84.

I got together with these same students, my friends, for a night in Los Angeles (they were spending a week in California on their way back to Japan, I arranged a one-night layover) and, then, a couple of months later I traveled up to Chiba University (just north or Tokyo) to hang out with them for a weekend on their home turf.  Several of them remain dear friends who I see from time-to-time when I’m in Japan, or when they are on business in the U.S.  All brought together through distance and over time via the University of Alabama.


Satsuma, Part I


Satsuma, Part I

温州蜜柑, さつま町

What people in the Deep South call a Satsuma.


Note:  after reading and, hopefully, enjoying this piece, please make sure to visit “Satsuma, Part II“, which brings this history and many of the twists and turns surrounding All Things Satsuma, up to date.


When I was a kid in Northern Virginia in the ’60s and ’70s, my father made a point of treating the family to oranges and tangerines and all such citrus fruit around Christmas.  There were always a couple of tangerines in the stockings on Christmas morning.  This was nice and I came to associate that citrus smell mingled with those of pine from the Christmas tree and hot chocolate and burning wood from the fireplace and sometimes snow with the whole holiday season.

But I didn’t really get why all varieties of orange were so special to my South Alabama born-and-bred father until he, as well as my West Virginia-raised mother, would from time-to-time reminisce about growing up during the Great Depression and how a few oranges were such an incredible treat, were a luxury, around Christmastime.  Being raised during the “boom” ’60s and ’70s, such a time as that in which my parents were raised was difficult for me to comprehend.

There was another reason, though, that tied my father, who just past away last year just shy of his 86th birthday and his and my mother’s 60th wedding anniversary, to all manner of citrus as December rolled around.  Growing up in the very Deep South gave him and his family put them in relative proximity to Central Florida’s orange groves, whose annual bounty came in season beginning around late September, extending into the winter.  But there was more:  it wasn’t until the late 1970s, when my immediate family moved from the cacophony and concrete of Metro D.C. to the pines and placidity of extreme Southeast Alabama (7 miles from the Florida Line), that I began to learn that this part of the country had its own, “native” citrus crop, a direct descendant of what’s now Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan . . . and the Meiji Restoration, a retired Union Army General, and Civil War . . . in Japan.  How small the world is.  How integrated times and places can be.

My family’s satsuma tree. November 2009.



In 1878 retired U.S. General Robert Van Valkanberg, fresh from a diplomatic posting in Japan, made his way to the wilds of Southwest Alabama to make manifest his dream to become a citrus baron.  In 2005 two towns situated at the southernmost tip of Japan’s southernmost large island, Kyushu, merged to become the small city of Satsuma-cho, “-cho” meaning “town” in Japanese (さつま町).  Several times over Thanksgiving Weekend 2009, I walked out from the back door of my parents’ home in southeast Alabama, 7 miles from the Florida line, and picked and ate small, delicate, sweet and sour “mandarin oranges”, locally called “satsumas“, and thought of my father who about 10 years earlier planted the tree that continues to bring them forth, ready-to-savor, beginning around every early-to-mid November.

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“a most agreeable day”

In the waning months of the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Congressman Robert Van Valkenberg — a New York lawyer who had raised militias to fight in the war (he commanded the New York Volunteers 107th Regiment at the Battle of Antietam) — to the post of U.S. Minister to a newly-opened Japan, a country that was experiencing its own internal upheavals after 250 years of isolationism, feudalism and internal stability.  The former ruling Tokugawa Shogunite (generalissimo) Regime had recently been toppled, the Emperor had been “restored” to his place of prominence as Japan’s leader, a cabinet of sorts had been established to advise Emperor Meiji on reasserting and consolidating his family’s position in Japan, and various skirmishes and all out battles were breaking out throughout Japan (and would do so for a couple of decades to come) between those loyal to the Emperor and those loyal to the Shogunite.  It was a confusing time.  And these were the times, in August 1866, that General Van Valkenberg arrived in Tokyo Bay and was received by the new, fragile government as Washington’s top liaison to Japan.  According to one contemporary account, it was, all in all, a most agreeable day.

Satsuma tree. Slocomb, Alabama. November 2008.


Now exactly how Gen. Van Valkenberg became familiar with a particular type of tangerine grown on the southern tip of Japan’s southern most large island, Kyushu, appears lost in antiquity.  However, what’s not debatable is that as the United States’ Foreign Minister to Japan from 1866 until November 1869, there’s no doubt that he was treated and feted to all of Japan’s best delicacies, which would include the best citrus from what was then-called Satsuma Domain (Satsuma-han), later to become part of present day Kagoshima Prefecture.  Van Valkenberg’s familiarity with Deep South Japan also came by way of his intervening in one of the internal struggles — and battles — which flared between rival “pro-Emperor” vs. “pro-Feudal System” armies in Southern Japan, known as the Boshin War and waged in the heart of old Satsuma Domain.  Minister Van Valkenberg initially blocked the delivery of the French-built ironclad ship, C.S.S. Stonewall, to the Japanese government, desiring to keep the U.S. neutral during Japan’s civil war(s), but eventually delivery was made and a ship originally built for the Confederate Navy went into service as Japan’s first ironclad navel vessel.  Another twist to the story:  when in 1865 the then-named C.S.S. Stonewall (later renamed the Kōtetsu by the Japanese navy) first arrived off the U.S. East Coast, manned by Confederate sailors, one of the U.S. ships that met it was the U.S.S. Kearsarge, which in June 1864 sank the Confederate raider, C.S.S. Alabama, off the Cherbourg, France.  Small world.

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Please see:  Satsuma,  Part II:  satsumas arrive from Japan to Alabama (and Florida, and Louisiana. . . ).  Cold snaps wipe-out dreams (ahh . . . doesn’t that say so much), new towns are born, beer’s brewed and, well, other things happen.

Local Satsumas (right). Wicksburg, Alabama. November 26, 2011.