Japan’s Dirty Secret

Before.

Unfortunately, beauty is truly only skin deep when it comes to taking photos of various locations around the world. This orb we call planet earth is at the point that it’s become overrun with toxic debris, and is now an aesthetically unpleasant place to be. All of this is a direct result of the impact of human growth, greed, and disdain for all things wholesome, and pure. Human’s have become as shallow as a full moon ebb when it comes to the environment, taking responsibility, and making real efforts to repair the damage done, for the benefit of those that will follow in this generations footsteps.

When the sun rises, and darkness is washed in bright light, what’s remains is a revelation of a disturbing proportions, notably that Japan’s beaches are some of the most polluted in the world.

After. This is the same location as in the featured photo above.

(I’ve seen fishermen carry full bags of garbage, and toss them into the ocean at this location, as if it was their personal dumping ground.)

While much of the nation revels in unfounded racist assumptions that all Koreans, and Chinese are filthy four-legged beasts, I thought it proper to show the side of Japan that tourists rarely have the opportunity to see.

The sign reads, no dumping.

This sign reads, no dumping as well.

I’ve had numerous conversations along the shores of Japan, often asking why the rivers, and streams that run into the oceans, and the shorelines themselves are covered in massive piles of debris, refuse, and plastic. I always ask, who is responsible for this? The answers are stark, and reveal layers, upon layers of denial. Literally, everyone I have spoken to had the same pat conclusion. It’s the Koreans, and the Chinese that are fowling up Japan’s shoreline! Ironically, the myriad of containers made of plastic, metal, glass, styrofoam, and other man-made materials, and “convenient” packaging, are all noted as Japanese produced goods. Surely, Japan can’t blame Korea, and China for the sea of debris that flows out of the nation’s own rivers when it rains. Can they? Japan surely can’t blame the massive amount of garbage that’s piling up on the Pacific Ocean side of the nation on their much hated, and maligned neighbors, can they? Yet, they do. This is all part of Japan’s liar culture. Uso mo hōben meanslying is also a means to an end.

The following photos were taken while traveling along Japan’s coast in Chiba Prefecture. They represent a mere two hours of random stops along various beaches.

Up close and not so personal.

So, while Japan’s beaches are covered in toxic discarded containers of oil, and other caustic chemicals, and obsolete electronic goods, the surfers, and fishermen that spend their days on the ocean, walking over, and around the debris that’s piling higher, and higher. The idea of cleaning up this mess never seems to occur to any of them. Instead, they suck on their cigarettes, and toss spent butts into the heaps, never considering that their ignorance contributes to the annual count of trillions of cigarette butts that bleed nicotinic acids, and are instrumental in killing off coral reefs, and cause changes in the ocean’s PH levels, at an astounding rate. But, no worries, the Japanese can continue to blame their hated neighbors for the destruction of their shorelines.

Every “ocean man” in the land has a cigarette dangling from their jaw, and they always end up in the drainage ditch.

The following are examples of discarded debris along Japan’s, not so mystical sea shores.

Beach paths.

Below is a location where divers trespass, and use as their personal dumping ground.

Overflowing garbage leeching into the grounds below.

Wretched shore obstructions built during the fraudulent 80′s miracle era.

Harbors.

The above location was so toxic that the onshore air blowing in off of the ocean was putrid, and burned my throat so badly, that I had to cover my face with a towel, and run back to my car to get out of there.

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Japan Fruit Shams

A hundred and eight dollar mango. Mango!

What is it about Japan that the nation thinks someone will buy a puny mango for more than a hundred dollars? I used to say, in Japan you pay twice as much for half as little. But, this is taking it to the nth degree. One thing is certain, greed knows no boundaries in the little island nation.

At my mom’s home in Miami there are two large mango trees in her front yard. Those mangos are three times as big as this one, and they’re the best damn mangos I’ve ever eaten. Perhaps I should get her to send me several bags. I’d love to set a stand up next to this one, and display her mangos next to this emaciated little shrivel. Heck, I’d take a hundred bucks for fifty of ‘em. And… My mom’s mangos aren’t contaminated with high levels of radiation toxicity.

These stores try to justify their prices by claiming these are “special” fruits to give as gifts for people who are in the hospital. Well, if I gave that mango to a recuperating family member, and told them it cost a hundred bucks, I’d have to call in a pulmonary specialist to deal with the heart attack that was sure to ensue.

If that mango greed factor isn’t off the charts enough for you, perhaps the following will settle the score…

Here ya go!

A hundred and thirty dollar cantaloupe the size of an orange. Yeah, greed knows no bounds in Japan. These prices, while the nation is in a recession, uber deflation, and total denial. And… what of the honey dew!

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Warning To Unsuspecting Teachers

 

There’s a new sham in Yokohama’s Motomachi district known as Orchard Kinder.

This post is a caveat to perspective teachers that the owner of Orchard Kinder, Luther Wong is preying upon.

DO NOT WORK FOR ORCHARD KINDER. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Orchard Kinder is a new “international” school that has been opened for less than two months. The owner, Luther Wong is already in deep trouble with the Labor Bureau, and the courts as a result of his criminal, and illegal activities aimed at unsuspecting foreign instructors.

Wong brought an unsuspecting twenty-two year old female teacher to Japan, who was living in Greece at the time with her mother, and grandmother. She came to Japan under the guise of being employed at Orchard Kinder. Wong had not revealed to her that it was a brand new school, still in the construction stage,f had yet to be completed, and that he didn’t have an advertising budget, or the financial ability to keep the school afloat.

Somehow, Wong believed that by opening a new school, with no advertisement budget parents would flock to the school to sign up. They didn’t! As of the time of writing this, the school had only one paying student, and if those parents were informed of Wong’s criminal activities, the school would be as vacant, as his irrational thought processes.

READ ON

With the clear knowledge that finding students is quite difficult, by late March, Wong immediately fired one instructor before they even had a chance to work a single day. This resulted in great harm as this instructor who had already been residing in Japan, suddenly was without employment, resulting in visa issues. This young man, was from Australia.

In Wong’s communications to the female educator, while she safely resided overseas, he promised to provide her housing, and deduct the expenses out of her salary. When this female (who will remain anonymous, as she has greatly fears Wong) arrived in Japan, she was not provided housing, discovered the school hadn’t opened yet, and was left stranded on the streets without a place to live. She was told to get her own housing, which Wong already knew she did not have the financial ability to obtain. This scared, and exposed woman, now living on the streets in a foreign country, was forced to contact her father, and beg for money to pay for housing related expenses that totalled more than 2000.00 USD.

Anyone foreigner who resides in Japan knows that it is nearly impossible to find housing without an employer as a guarantor. Wong knew this as well. He clearly provided false, and misleading information, which was relied upon, causing great harm to this unsuspecting young women that enjoys teaching little children.

Wong was then to pay this teacher, a contractual obligation, her transportation related costs, which amounted to a mere 10,000 yen for the month of March, and April. Money she needed to purchase food, as she was financially broke, starving, and in desperate need of the money. Wong knew of her plight, and refused to pay those outstanding travel related expenses. This woman, in that vulnerable state, went to the Naka-ku Labor Bureau, and made an official complaint. The arbiter, Mr. Akiyama immediately contacted Wong, and ordered him to pay the teacher’s transportation costs immediately. The arbiter also said that Wong was unstable, trembling like a child on the phone, irrational, and fearful of the circumstance that he had put himself into. Note: As any sociopath, he was fearful of his own circumstance, not of the situation he was putting others into.

Wong’s unconscionable conduct did not subside, instead he began to harass, and intimidate this woman via email, and phone calls, with a myriad of threatening communications. (See below). Those communications include threats of refusal to pay outstanding salary, chastising her for going to the labor office over money she needed to merely eat, and for being unstable. Ironic, when that is the exact word the arbiter at the labor office used to describe Wong.

The woman refused to work for the man any longer, and demanded the outstanding pay owed to her, which was contractually due on April 1st, 2014. She demanded her outstanding salary paid via bank deposit. Wong then called the police, after she, and another (third) fired teacher  handed him documents provided by the labor officer that is investigating the matter.

Wong refused to comply with this teacher’s salary demand, instead, he demanded the young woman to meet him in person. She refused, and as a result, he refused to pay her outstanding salary. Fearing retaliation from this Wong character, as he had already called the police for no good cause, she again refused to meet with him. As of April 7th, 2014, Wong has not paid the woman’s outstanding salary, and travel related expenses, and continues to demand her to meet with him in person. A police report was filed to the Yokohama police department.

Wong has previously fired two other teachers after they each paid their own relocation related expenses to work at Orchard Kinder. One teacher was fired for merely asking Wong to supply the necessary documents for a visa renewal, as Wong had agreed to sponsor that teacher’s visa. Wong stated that he could not supply a company tax statement, or a company financial statement, which is required by immigration law to process a work related visa.

The real issue is that Wong has no financial ability to pay the debts he has incurred, and doesn’t have the ability to prove his financial statement, or tax statement required by Japan’s immigration ministry.

CAVEAT

Wong advertises online at Craigslist, GaijinPot, and other sites preying upon unsuspecting teachers, and now requires them to have a working visa instead of sponsoring them, as is required by immigration law. (See a screenshot of Orchard Kinder website teacher advertisement shown below).

Unknown to Wong, when a \ company provides a sponsorship for a visa, it is illegal for a second company to circumvent immigration law document requirements, and then hiring that employee, who was initially sponsored at the expense of the previous employer. These visa “requirements” are a continuing scam of companies that prey upon unsuspecting, and perspective employees. In a nutshell, Wong’s advertisements for hire violates Japan’s immigration policy.

It also turns out this second teacher was due travel related expenses, and Wong refused to pay them as well. This second teacher took the matter to the Naka-ku Labor Bureau, where Wong was ordered to pay that teacher as well. This second teacher was then fired with a mere eight days remaining on their visa. Wong told the teacher, “I won’t fire you. Keep coming to work, and you won’t be able to look for another job. When your visa expires, you can’t work. I won’t pay you, and you will have to leave the country.” Wong’s termination lies were entirely exposed to the labor office as a result of the arrogant email trail he left behind, which exposes his unlawful conduct.

Is Orchard Kinder the kind of company that should be allowed to operate in Japan? Of course not, and on many levels. First, Wong has no experience in education. Further, his obsessive unconscionable conduct, cheating teachers over small fees he is legally obligated to pay has resulted in great harm to three different instructors, and in a very short period of time. Why are these phony educational shams allowed to exist where there is no licensing requirement by the Ministry of Education? Why is there no oversight? Orchard Kinder is just another example of Japan allowing foreign labor to be exploited by criminal, and immorally reprehensible perpetrators that prey upon unsuspecting, and innocent educators. Luther Wong should go to prison!

Another disturbing trait of this Wong criminal is that he communicates in English fairly well, yet all three of the teachers were fired, in less than a month’s period, and given termination notices written in Japanese. The labor office asked, “Why has he given these termination notices in Japanese?”, and “Why is he writing these termination letters to us, and not to the employees? It’s clear, isn’t it? Writing fraudulent termination notices are intentionally vague, and ambiguous. Unknown to unsophisticated people like Wong, it is the maker of a contract that is held to the terms where there is a dispute in language terminology. The ambiguities, and vague language is always held against the maker of the contract.

The matter with Wong, and his empty school lies with the arbiters at the Naka-ku labor office. Once they finalize their determination, Wong is obligated to their decision, by civil code, as stated in the contract he prepared himself.
The teachers have vowed to file a civil action Luther Wong, and Orchard Kinder based on fraud, false representation, misleading statements resulting in financial harm, intentional infliction of emotional distress, power harassment, and the reimbursement of all costs related to relocating, a move not made, but for Wong’s false representations. The labor office officer handling the case said, “This guy has only opened for a short time, and yet he is already causing this much trouble? Well, have to keep a close watch on him, and not allow this to continue.”

Orchard Kinder website ploy sucking in unsuspecting teachers. Note the valid visa or work permit requirement.

Craigslist Advertisement

Communications regarding Wong with the teachers mentioned in this expose.

April 21, 2014 8:39:31 PM
I’m sure the other teachers are scared as well. This guy (Wong) really showed his bad side, and that he is unstable.

April 22, 2014 12:13:33
He (Wong) claimed (student name redacted) is afraid of me, and told his parents he doesn’t want to go to the school any longer. In the statement (Wong) said he suspected me of doing something wrong, and that I was not fit to work with children. This… coming from someone that has never worked with children.

On Apr 23, 2014 1:26 AM
I feel bad that that student. (Wong) told me that he leaves his kids alone in the crib when they cry. He said, that’s the best way to handle them. He’s dead wrong. Leaving a child to cry, means they have no trust, and don’t bond well. You can see his younger son has issues with trust. (Wong) knows nothing about running a school, let alone running a business.

April 23, 2014 12:12:05 PM
I will take a photo of how employees are forced to sit on the floor during break, while (Wong) sits at his throne. (This is in reference that Wong has purchased no furnishings for the staff to sit upon while eating lunch. The teachers sit on the floor.)

April 23, 2014 12:17:13 PM
I just sent him notice to remove any images of me from his Facebook page, and from the Orchard website as well.

April 23, 2014 1:41:12 PM
(Wong) also has invaded my privacy by looking at my phone and touching my hand and treating me like a kid on a few occasions too many. He also took my violin out of my case, took photos of it without even asking my permission.

April 24, 2014 12:12:32 PM
I went to the labor office today and handed in my documents. They said go to the school with my documents and demand (Wong) to pay me 10,000 yen for travel expenses for the month of March. I went to the school and he had the school door locked. I kept trying to open the door until he finally let me in. I guess the school is a prison now. He then took me out in the hallway where he got emotional on me. I demanded him to pay me for the month of March as the labor office demanded of him and he refused. Now I have to call the labor office Monday as they asked me to do if he refused to pay. He also tried to get me to quit again but I refused. (Wong) was shitting in his pants when I left.

(Wong would later commit assault, and battery on one of these teachers after submitting documents provided by the labor office for Wong. Wong would then call the police on this teacher, who gave the labor officer’s card to the police, who they called, and verified that Wong was violating labor law.)

Date: Apr 24, 2014 5:01 PM
From: “Wong Luther” <luther.wong@orchardkinder.com>

Subject: RE: dayoff at Friday 25th April 2014
To: (Redacted)
2014.4.24
Your application of dayoff at Friday 25th April 2014 is not approved, please come to work at  8am tomorrow
Regards,
Luther
SCENE / Orchard Kinder

April 24, 2014 11:19:34 PM
I will tell the labor office on Monday about the police incident.

Date: Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 7:27 PM
From: Wong Luther <luther.wong@orchardkinder.com>
Subject: Warning Letter
To: (Redacted)
2014.4.25
From Luther Wong
This is a warning letter regarding 2014.4.23 2pm to 5pm that you left the school without approval from your direct supervisors. (Teacher went to the labor board regarding being paid, and starving)
As a result your co-worker (Redacted), she had to take care of children (2 of 2 years old, 1 of 1 years old) by herself alone. (One student and two Wong kids)

Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 11:22 PM
Same pattern of threats, and intimidation. And putting it in Japanese is pathetic. The Labor Office already commented on that. Let the douche fire you. Get out of there.

April 25, 2014 11:27:14 PM
I agree, I think his letter is a form of harassment.
Due to (Wong’s) behavior at work I cannot return there.

Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 5:07 PM
Subject: Re: warning letter
To: (Redacted)
2014.4.28
(The document was written in Japanese)
This is another warning letter to you that you refused to come to work at 2014.4.25 without a proper reason, and you also disobeyed the order from your immediate supervisor. (There is no supervisor, as there is only Wong, and two very scared Japanese teachers)
We would like you to change your attitude and become responsible to your role.
Luther Wong
Managing Director
SCENE / Orchard Kinder

Apr 29, 2014 11:09 AM
Subject: Request for medical certificate etc
To: (Redacted)
2014.4.29
Reference is made to your email at 2014.4.27 and 2014.4.28, company requires you to provide
1) medical certificate that dated at 2014.4.27
2) medical certificate that dated at 2014.4.28
3) receipt of medical prescription of both day
all clinics in Japan issue and keep the record of medical certificate, you shall able to ask the the doctor(s) to re-issue.
In Japan, medical prescription is given out every time you went to see doctor, please provide the copy or a photo of those medical prescriptions.
Luther
Managing Director
SCENE / Orchard Kinder

Apr 30, 2014 11:51 AM
Subject: RE: End of your probation period
To: (Redacted)
2014.4.30
RE: End of your probation period
We are writing to you and letting you know that your employment contract will be ended as 2014.5.30.
Reference is made to Labour Law article 20.
Based on our observation, you have failed to demonstrate your attitude, your ability as a teacher in our preschool Orchard Kinder with following reasons:
1) 2014.4.23 2pm to 5pm that you left the school without approval from your direct supervisors. As a result your co-worker (Redacted), she had to take care of 3 children (2 of 2 years old, 1 of 1 years old) by herself alone. Your action could lead to serious damage to company reputation as well as harm to children.
2) You refused to come to work at  2014.4.25 without a proper reason even though company is agreed to pay your March and April travel expense, and you also disobeyed the order from your immediate supervisor.
3) Accused company  that your salary was deliberately paid late at 2014.4.7. All salary paid at 2014.4.4 to the employees. (Salary was due 4.1.14. by contract) Company has lost trust on you due to your irrational accusation.
4) Accused company agreed to provide housing to you. On 2014.4.23 you made complaint to Kanagawa Labour  Bureau that company did not provide housing compensation to you. However according to our interview as well as our email correspondence, company never ever agreed to provide any housing compensation and housing is on employee own expense. Your irrational accusation has cause us lost trust, faith to you and gone to a level that could not be repaired. (In email communication while this teacher was still overseas Wong promised to provide housing, and to deduct it from the teacher’s salary. When she arrived in Japan, he has no housing for her, the school was still in construction stage, and the only offer was for her to take a shower at his home, AFTER his friends who were visiting him vacated.)
Lastly, you did not come to work at 2014.4.30, without given prior notice and reason to your immediate supervisors.
You are still hiring by company and you are obligated to come to work.
Regards,
Luther Wong
Managing Director
SCENE / Orchard Kinder

May 1, 2014 10:29 AM
Subject: RE: Warning Letter
To: (Redacted)
2014.5.1
RE: Warning Letter
This is the 3rd warning letter, you did not come to work at 2014.4.30 without giving prior notice to your supervisor.
Please make sure you come to work at 2014.5.1 and 2014.5.2
Luther Wong
Managing Director
SCENE / Orchard Kinder

May 1, 2014 1:22:46 PM
Why is he paying in cash? This guy scares me, I dread getting his harrassment letters everyday.
I hope you are enjoying your time with family! I believe this will be a long month for me as I have no reason to go back to that place.

May 2, 2014 at 3:24 AM
Luther Wong,
I demand all outstanding salary, and unpaid travel related expenses paid electronically into my JP Bank account as stipulated in my employment contract.
You are on notice that I have no intention of seeing you in person regarding any of this matter, as I have great fear of being around you.
Send an electronic copy via email of the breakdown of those expenses, as required by labor, and tax law.
Remove all images, and videos of me from the Orchard Kinder Facebook page, and website.
I am also putting you on notice that I will be seeking reimbursement regarding moving costs, and other related costs in a civil action against you, and your company. This suit will also include breach of contract, fraud, false representation, and harassment.

Fri, May 2, 2014 at 4:27 PM
Subject: Re: Payment Notice
To: (Redacted)
2014.5.2
RE: Payment Notice
You cannot make you demand as you want, you are still hiring by the company and company will have follow the procedures to ensure operations are running efficiently.
Another point is 2014.5.5 and 2014.5.6 is public holiday, banks are close. (This means payment should be paid BEFORE holidays, not AFTER, as required by labor law.)
As I mentioned in the previous email, you are official still bound by the employment contract until 2014.5.30, therefore you are obligated to come to work. (This asshole clearly doesn’t understand the term involuntary servitude, which is a nice way of saying SLAVERY.)
Reference made to your point of deleting your videos and photos, for clarification your request was sent at 2014.5.2 3:02:20 JST
Regards,
Managing Director
Luther Wong
SCENE / Orchard Kinder

Fri, May 2, 2014 at 5:39 PM
When the LB reopens after the 13th, I will go with you. I will bring the package he sent me as well. He took down all my artwork and sent it to me, which clearly shows that he recognizes that I worked for him in Feb., and still refuses to pay, even where the labor office already determined he must pay.
I’m arbitrating this matter, and letting the labor office know about him. I already told him that your communications will be posted on my news site, and every English teacher sites as well.

May 2, 2014 5:43:43 PM

I bet the place looks like a shit hole without your artwork. I’m pretty sure he had (Redacted) email me because she asked me to come to work on the 7th. He owes me from working there and causing this pit of doom.
May 1, 2014 at 10:10 AM, Wong Luther <luther.wong@orchardkinder.com> wrote:
2014.5.1
To: (Redacted)
During the payment dispute raised at 2014.4.24, from going forward your salary and travel expense shall be paid in cash and deliver directly to yourself. You shall come to school to collect your salary as well as travel expense. Upon received your payment you shall sign a receipt in order to for us to keep a record of your payment.
Regards,
Luther Wong
Managing Director
SCENE / Orchard Kinder

May 2, 2014 at 5:32 PM
You do not have to see that guy. Regardless of what he thinks. He’s a nut. Let him know you fear that he will assault you, as he did me.

May 2, 2014 5:36:34 PM
I do fear that. I fear him kidnapping me.

May 2, 2014 at 3:51 PM
Subject: Re: Change of payment method
To: (Redacted)
2014.5.2
I have indicated the reasons in my emails to you, that I won’t pay  you. Due to you don’t hold any credibility to your action and words, to avoid further dispute it is advised to pay you directly. However I am ok if you are willing to present yourself to the school and sign up the receipt immediate after the transfer.
Regards,
Luther Wong
Managing Director
SCENE / Orchard Kinder

May 2, 2014 5:40:58 PM
5.2.2014
1) To make my point clear, you MUST pay me electronically as it is MY salary and MY travel expenses that you OWE me.
2) I never want to see you in person, again.
3) You MUST pay me electronically and send MY payment receipt electronically.
4) If you refuse to pay me electronically by 5.7.2014 I will get ahold of my aunt who is an attorney.

Date: Fri, May 2, 2014 at 4:01 PM
From: Wong Luther <luther.wong@orchardkinder.com>
Subject: Re: Warning Letter
To: (Redacted)
2014.5.2
I am following the necessary procedures in order to avoid further conflicts maybe raise by you.
And it is wrong that you said you have the freedom to go to work, you are bound by the employment contract that you provide services to the company, 8 hours a day, 5 days per week. (Another attempt at involuntary servitude.)
If you have mental instability, you shall apply for sick-leave provided that you submit the medical certificate and medical prescription.
However for the past 5 days you didn’t submit any supporting documents for the sick leave and even prior notice for the company.
I hope it is clear.
Regards,
Luther Wong
Managing Director
SCENE / Orchard Kinder

On 2014/05/01, at 13:37
I understand the warning letters and I understand that you will end my contract on May 30, 2014. However, I do not appreciate receiving these letters of warning everyday. I believe it to be unnecessary as I am aware that I have the freedom to go to work or not. How you have treated me results in my “mental instability” and inability to show up to work on the days requested.
I wish it were otherwise, but it is not the case.

Thu, May 1, 2014 at 10:29 AM, Wong Luther <luther.wong@orchardkinder.com> wrote:
2014.5.1
RE: Warning Letter
This is the 3rd warning letter, (Actually fifth) you did not come to work at 2014.4.30 without giving prior notice to your supervisor. Please make sure you come to work at 2014.5.1 and 2014.5.2
Luther Wong
Managing Director
SCENE / Orchard Kinder

5.2.2014
1) To make my point clear, you MUST pay me electronically as it is MY salary and MY travel expenses that
you OWE me.
2) I never want to see you in person, again.
3) You MUST pay me electronically and send MY payment receipt electronically.

May 2, 2014 5:50:18 PM
To: (Redacted)
My Dad was even fearful when I said he wants to see me in person to pay me.

On Fri, May 2, 2014 at 5:45 PM
All this is good fodder for the labor office. He’s insane, harassing you, and violating the law in a dangerous way. His actions are criminal. He’s telling you he will not pay you unless he sees you in person. He’ll regret all of this. I can assure you of that.

May 4, 2014 1:03:35 PM
To: (Redacted)
By labor law he was to pay on April 1st. If he claims he doesn’t have to pay until the 4th, for example, Saturday, and Sunday fell on a weekend.
He has not responded to my demand to give me an accounting (receipt) of the payment he made to my account. I suspect he didn’t pay any of his legal obligations in an attempt to save money, including pension, withholding tax, etc. As you recall, the reason he wants to pay cash is because the cheap bastard said it saves him a 1000 ¥ bank fee. It’s pretty clear this guy is hurting for cash, and as Mr. Akiyama said, with only one student, he won’t be in business much longer anyway.

—–

For those who don’t know, this is what it is really like working in the country of Japan. 

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3.11.11. Three Years On

Three Years On is dedicated to the victims of Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that occurred on March 11th, 2011.

It’s been three years since Japan’s triple disaster, and there has been very little, if any change in the way the nation governs the nuclear aspect of the energy industry.

Hundreds of millions of dollars poured in through generous donations from around the world, but most of the victims hadn’t received one single yen of compensation, as the government has hijacked misappropriated much of the funds, and used it on projects that most of the donor’s would not have approved of. Meanwhile, scores of families still remain living as evacuees, without being supplied basic necessities such as water, electricity, and heating. Most refugees have not received government assistance, nor cash payouts by TEPCO for the loss of their lands, and livelihoods. The victims, be it the earthquake, the tsunami, or the radiation debacle, simply have been forgotten by the media, Japan, and the world.

As far as the man-made nuclear aspect of the disaster goes, most of the Japanese people remain in denial, even as officials have finally admitted that many areas in Fukushima Prefecture will never be inhabited again. The radiation contamination readings in Fukushima, and the surrounding areas have recently been recorded at their highest levels ever recorded. Meanwhile, a joint study by Kyoto University, and the University of Tsukuba, estimates that the water at the mouth of the Abukumagawa River that runs through the prefecture is contaminated with radiation levels of 50 billion becquerels per day. This will prove to be disastrous for the people of Fukushima, as that river is their main water source. Further, an estimated 10% of Fukushima children already have suffered cancer related illnesses, but the government, and TEPCO continue to deny any causal link between their suffering, and the reckless corporate management of the nuclear facility, that brought about the subsequent destruction of much of central Japan.

As the disaster in Dai-ichi continues to unfold, it is becoming evident that Japan’s nuclear nightmare is far worse than that of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Tepco still hasn’t been able to get close enough to Unit 3, to even make an assessment, as to how severe the situation is at that particular reactor. Are they even trying? The company continues to dump highly contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean as if it is their personal radiation disposal site. Meanwhile, a huge radiation plume has already made its way to North America’s west coast. The impact of that is yet to be known, as the plume continues on its course, heading to the Hawaiian Islands, and further into the massive Pacific Ocean vortex. How much radiation contamination is really out there from Japan’s triple reactor breaches? According to Professor Koide the three explosions that occurred at the Daiichi nuclear facility in the city of Namie, has released the plutonium equivalent of 200,000 Hiroshima bombs into the environment.

Nuclear energy companies promised clean, safe, and cheap energy when they started this “atoms for peace” program. It’s quite clear that none of this is true. Some radiation left behind by Tepco’s reckless, and unconscionable conduct will continue into its half-life decaying stage long after human’s are extinct. Until then, generations of offspring will have to deal with attempting to maintain the environmental catastrophe, again, and again, and again, at crippling economic costs. That’s the legacy, the environmental footprint that will be left behind by mankind.

This generation has caused more destruction to this planet than any prior. If we don’t start becoming responsible for our actions, we won’t have to worry about our legacy, as there will be no one left to right our wrongs. We are already in the world’s sixth great extinction period, and life on this planet is dying off at a faster rate than at any time in history. The red flags are raised, and the alarms are all sounding, but we are all asleep at the wheel.

Clearly, nuclear energy is not the answer to the world’s energy demands. Even more clear, is that the only foreseeable way out of the current economic crisis, that has already lasted for nearly a decade, is for companies, and governments to cooperate, and invest into renewable energy technologies, such as fusion, wind, and solar power. Simply, the world needs sustainable energy sources that are clean, and effective.

Hopefully, the politicians, and the corporations that prop them up, and profit from their wars, destruction, and genocide will somehow gain a collective conscience, and move beyond petty money grabbing schemes, and rise to the challenge. Somehow, I doubt this will occur. I’m not optimistic that the human race will ever rise to that challenge. Even when it means saving their own species from annihilation.

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3.11.11. In High Dynamic Range

The following photos are of Japan’s 3.11.11. disaster, shot with HDR technology. All photos Stack Jones. © 2014. All rights reserved.

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The Pink Bicycle

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I had only been in the city of Fukui for a short time when I realized that something wasn’t right with the company I was engaged as an employee. JALI, or the Japanese American Language Institute was owned, and operated by a man named Edward Miller. I had been working for Miller for about a month, and when it was time to get paid, hadn’t received any money. I confronted him, and he said the Japanese government allowed him to withhold a workers salary for up to sixty days. I knew his statement was false, and he knew, that I knew  it was bullshit. Red flag! Despite this, I said, I don’t care what the Japanese government permitted, two months was an unreasonable time to wait until getting paid. I demanded to get paid for the work that I had performed. Further, I had thoroughly read, and was already familiar with the Japanese labor code prior to entering the country. The Japanese Labor Code is quite clear regarding the limitations placed on when an employee may receive their salary.

Japan Labor Standards Law; Article 24 § 2, states that wages must be paid at least once a month, and at a definite set date.

I quoted the exact text of the law to Miller, and demanded to be compensated for the work that I had performed. I returned home bitter, and decided to take a drive along the coastline of the Japan Sea. Tojinbo has many tales, one legend is about a corrupt Buddhist priest from Heisen-ji, a local temple, who so enraged the populace that they dragged him from the temple, and to the sea and, threw him off the cliffs of Tojinbo. His ghost is said to haunt the area to this day, so many Japanese people won’t venture onto Oshima Island for fear of “manifest ghosts.” An alternate legend says that the name Tojinbo comes from a dissolute Buddhist monk. According to the legend, a Buddhist monk named Tojinbo, who was disliked by everyone, fell in love with a beautiful princess named Aya. Tojinbo was tricked by another admirer of Princess Aya, and was pushed off the cliffs. The legend says that after that time Tojinbo vengeful ghost would go on a rampage around the same time every year, causing strong winds, and rain. Some decades later, an itinerant priest took pity on Tojinbo, and held a memorial service for him. After that, the storms ceased. Unfortunately, the true tales of Tojinbo is not awash in folklore. Tojinbo is in fact a well-known place to commit suicide. According to statistics, as many as twenty-five people (usually unemployed young men, or high school students that failed the college entrance exam) commit suicide by jumping off the 70′ high cliffs each year. The number has risen, and fallen with Japan’s national economic hardships, and unemployment rates. Recently, a retired police officer, Yukio Shige, frustrated at having fished so many bodies out of the sea, began patrolling the cliffs for potential jumpers. He claims to have convinced more than two hundred people to not jump. Shige keeps in touch with every one of those people to this day.

Suicide in Japan has become a significant problem nationally. Factors in suicide include unemployment due to economic recession, depression, and social pressures. Suicide is predominately the result of a combination of factors such as healthcare provision, social attitudes, cultural influences, and economic distress. In 2007, the National Police Agency revised the categorization of motives for suicide into a division of fifty reasons with up to three reasons listed for each suicide. Suicides traced to losing jobs surged 65.3 percent while those attributed to hardships in life increased 34.3 percent. Depression remained at the top of the list for the third year in a row, rising 7.1 percent from the previous year. The rapid increase in suicides since the 1990s has raised concerns. For example, 1998 saw a 34.7% increase over the previous year. Japan has one of the world’s highest suicide rates, especially amongst industrialized nations, and the Japanese government reported the rate for 2006 as being the ninth highest in the world. In 2009, the number of suicides rose two percent to 32,845 exceeding 30,000 for the twelfth straight year, and equating to nearly 26 suicides per 100,000 people. This amounts to approximately one suicide every fifteen minutes. However, this figure is somewhat disputed since it is arguably capped by the conservative definition of “suicide” that has been adopted by the Japanese authorities, which differs from the WHO’s definition. Some experts suggest a rather larger figure of 100,000 suicide deaths annually. Currently, the conservative per year estimate is still significantly higher than for any other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country. In comparison, the UK rate is about 9 of 100,000, and the U.S. rate about 11 of100,000. In 2007, Japan ranked first among G8 countries for female suicides and second, behind Russia, for male suicides.

Typically most suicides are men; over 71% of suicide victims in 2007 were male. In 2009, the number of suicides among men rose 641 to 23,472 (with those age 40–69 accounting for 40.8% of the total). Suicide was the leading cause of death among men age 20-44. Males are two times more likely to cause their own deaths after a divorce than females. Nevertheless, suicide is still the leading cause of death for women age 15-34 in Japan. The rate of suicides has also increased among those in their 20s, and in 2009 was at an all-time high in that age group for the second straight year reaching 24.1 per 100,000 people. The NPA likewise reported a record for the third consecutive year among those in their thirties. The rate among the over-60 population is also high, although people in their thirties are still more likely to commit suicide.

Common methods of suicide are jumping in front of trains, leaping off high places, hanging, or overdosing on medication. Rail companies have been known to charge the families of those who commit suicide a fee depending on the severity of damage, and disrupted schedules. A newer method, gaining in popularity partly due to publicity from Internet suicide websites, is to use household products to make the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide. In 2007, only 29 suicides used this gas, but in a span from January to September 2008, 867 suicides resulted from gas poisoning.

Historically, Japan has been a male-dominated society with strong family ties, and correlating social expectations. However, the bursting of the bubble, which brought about the end of the “jobs-for-life” culture, has left the heads of families unexpectedly struggling with job insecurity, or the stigma of unemployment.  Japan’s economy, the world’s third-largest, experienced its worst recession since World War II in early 2009, propelling the nation’s jobless rate to a record high of 5.7 percent in July 2009. The unemployed accounted for 57 percent of all suicides, the highest rate of any other occupation group. As a result of job losses, social inequality has also increased which has been shown in studies to have affected the suicide rates in Japan proportionately more than in other OECD countries. A contributing factor to the suicide statistics among those who were employed was the increasing pressure of retaining jobs by putting in more hours of overtime, and taking fewer holidays, and sick days. According to government figures, fatigue from work, and health problems, including work-related depression, were prime motives for suicides, adversely affecting the social wellbeing of salary men, and accounting for 47 per cent of the suicides in 2008. Out of 2,207 work-related suicides in 2007, the most common reason (672 suicides) was overwork. Furthermore, the void experienced after being forced to retire from the workplace is said to be partly responsible for the large number of elderly suicides every year. In response to these deaths, many companies, communities, and local governments have begun to offer activities and classes for recently retired senior citizens who are at risk of feeling isolated, lonely, and without purpose or identity.

Consumer loan companies have much to do with the suicide rate. The National Police Agency states that one fourth of all suicides are financially motivated. Many deaths every year are described as being inseki-jisatsu (responsibility-driven suicides). Japanese banks set extremely tough conditions for loans, forcing borrowers to use relatives, and friends as guarantors who become liable for the defaulted loans, producing extreme guilt, and despair in the borrower. Rather than placing the burden on their guarantors, many have been attempting to take responsibility for their unpaid loans, and outstanding debts through life insurance payouts. In fiscal year 2005, seventeen consumer loan firms received a combined 4.3 billion yen in suicide policy payouts on 4,908 borrowers, or some 15% of the 32,552 suicides in 2005. Lawyers, and other experts allege that, in some cases, collectors harass debtors to the point they take this route. Japanese nonbank lenders, starting about a decade before 2006, began taking out life insurance policies, which include suicide payouts on borrowers that included suicide coverage, and borrowers are not required to be notified.

Oddly, suicide has never been criminalized in Japan. Japanese society’s attitude toward suicide has been termed tolerant, and on many occasions a suicide is seen as a morally responsible action. Public discussion of the high rate of suicide also focuses on blaming the economic hardship faced by middle-aged men (sarakin). However, the rise of Internet suicide websites, and increasing rate of suicide pacts (shinju) has raised concern from the public, and media, which consider the pacts thoughtless.

In 1703, Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote a puppet play entitled Sonezaki Shinjuu (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki), which was later reengineered for the kabuki theatre. The inspiration for the play was an actual double suicide, which had recently occurred between two forbidden lovers. Several more double suicide plays followed, which were eventually outlawed by the governing authorities for emboldening more couples to romantically end their lives. During Japan’s imperial years, suicide was common within the military. This included kamikaze, kaiten, and suicide when a battle was lost. The samurai way of glory was through death, and ritual suicide was seen as something honorable. Writer Yukio Mishima is famous for his ritual suicide while taking over a Japanese army base.

The cultural heritage of suicide as a noble tradition still has some resonance. While being investigated for an expenses scandal, Cabinet minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka took his life in 2007. The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, described him as a true samurai for preserving his honor. Ishihara is also the author of the film, I Go To Die For You, which glorifies the memory, and bravery of the kamikaze pilots in WW II.

Despite an economic upturn in 2007, suicide rates have continued to be high, prompting concern by the Japanese government. Describing the situation as very serious, they have called on municipalities to implement measures based on the differing realities. In 2007, the government released a nine-step plan, a counter-suicide White Paper, which it hopes will curb suicide by 20% by 2017. The goals of the White Paper are to encourage investigation of the root causes of suicide in order to prevent it, change cultural attitude toward suicide, and improve treatment of unsuccessful suicides. In 2009, the Japanese government committed 15.8 billion yen towards suicide prevention strategies. Naoto Kan, the current prime minister, has spoken of his desire to minimize unhappiness in the country and has repeatedly spoken about the need to reduce Japan’s high suicide rate. Japan has allotted 12.4 billion yen (133 million) in suicide prevention assets for the 2010 fiscal year ending March 2011, with plans to fund public counseling for those with overwhelming debts, and those needing treatment for depression. Amid the overall increase in self-inflicted death for 2009, the government claims there have been encouraging signs since September. The Cabinet Office said the number of monthly suicides declined year-on-year between September 2009 and April 2010. According to preliminary figures compiled by the NPA, the number of suicides fell 9.0 percent from the year before. Unfortunately, suicide is part of the Japanese One Way system.

After visiting Tojinbo, I returned home, and took a run through the rice fields. Jogging through the fields, and watching the elderly farmers toil away, always made me feel magnificent (genki)! I put in four kilometers, and decided to wash my car before showering.

One of my greatest enjoyments is when the neighborhood children attempt to engage in some form of communication with a foreigner. Even if they can’t speak a word of English, and most cannot, they still want to have some type of connection with the outsider. In my neighborhood many young girls in the age range of six to ten would often come by my home, knock on my door, giggle, smile brightly, meander in pure shyness, and attempt to speak the strange foreign sounding words they were trying to absorb at school. (Japanese words end in vowels – a, e, i, o, u, where most English words end in consonants). Unknowingly, they would get real close, and stare into my blue eyes, as this was probably the first encounter with someone that looked like me. I think what made visits to my home extra-special was the fact that I always had a bag of chocolate, or candy ready to reward them for their efforts. Japanese are very conservative in things such as small gifts. I never am! I would let the children take as much as they wanted. And they often did.

Tojinbo located in Fukui Prefecture is one of Japan’s major suicide destinations

The idea of young children going to a stranger’s home in the states would strike fear in the hearts of parents. Not so in Japan, as there is a near zero crime rate. The idea of anyone harming a child, especially a teacher is unheard of. Not that this mindset isn’t beginning to change as the crime rate is beginning to rise slightly.

Nevertheless, being a foreigner, I took extra precautions to make sure there could never be any false interpretations of my intentions. First, I never allowed any child to enter my home. When the children knocked on the door, I would exit, close the door behind me, and step out into the sidewalk area. Second, all communications took place out in the open, never past the ginkan (entryway) of my front door. Setting that aside, I have had few joys in my life that compare to a wall of happy face, excited foreign children vying for position to engage in conversation with me. One of the usual questions Japanese children like to answer, because they are familiar with the question is, “What’s your favorite (skinano) color? Almost every little girl will proclaim, “I like pink!” I can’t help feeling that the large amount of candy I gave them may have also had something to do with these visits. Ya think? The large bags of candy that I was purchasing weren’t lasting very long as a result of these numerous visits.

Whenever these kid conversations took place, which by now were almost daily occurrences, two children that lived across the street from me, who lived in a tiny apartment with their single mother would never approach. However, they would always watch attentively while keeping their distance. One was a rough looking young girl about the age of six (imoto). Her older brother (oto oto) was probably about nine-years-old. I would always make an attempt to engage the little girl, but she always hid herself from me. Although they wouldn’t communicate with me, I would always see them riding up, and down the block without the other children, but together as brother, and sister. They didn’t seem to interact with other children at all. The boy had a decent bike, but the little girl’s was in poor condition. One of the sad things in Japanese culture is that when parents divorce, the mother usually takes custody, an agreement is made for payment by the father to care for the children, but the father generally has nothing ever to do with those children ever again. I found this to be a shocking part of this culture that is entirely family, and community oriented. Emphatically, every culture has a dark side, and why would Japan be any different?

On this particular day, I was brooding about not being paid, as there was a new Canon EF Telephoto Zoom Lens, 70-200mm, F/2.8 IS lens that I wanted to purchase. Now, it appeared I had to wait another month. After my run, I decided to wash my car. The two kids across the street were riding their bicycles up, and down the street as I gave my car a good scrubbing. Suddenly, the boy zoomed past, and his younger sister tried to catch up. As she quickly passed me, her bicycle chain came off its mechanism, and she lost her balance, she tried to gain control but panicked, and slammed on the only break she had, which was the front tire break. The break grabbed, and she was tossed over the handlebar, and then slammed to the ground. Her bicycle toppled on top of her. She began to cry immediately. I looked around, but there was nobody to help her. This was a tough situation, as she had always hid from me. Yes, she was curious, and had always watched me from afar, but whenever I waived hello, she’d duck behind a wall, or run away. I had to find out if she was OK. So, I walked up to her, as she sat on the ground in a crumpled ball. She continued wailing, and was bleeding from both knees, and other minor cuts. I didn’t want to pick her up, but knew that she needed consoling. I simply reached out my arms, with my hands opened to see if she would respond. She did. She took my arms, and pulled herself into them. I picked her up, as she continued to cry. She put her arms around me as if I was caring a sleepy child off to bed. I carried her over to a chair that was by my car, and sat her in it. I got some paper towels, and some water, and cleaned her bloody knees. I asked her if she was OK in Japanese. (Dai jobu?). She kept crying, and staring at me. I walked over to a vending machine, and got both her, and her brother an orange drink. While she sat in the chair, I went over and inspected her bicycle. I was surprised as to the terrible condition it was in. There was no way a six-year-old child should be riding a bicycle in such dangerous condition. There was no bolt to tighten down the seat. There was no bell. There was no rear brake, and the chain was extremely loose, and could easily fall off at any moment. I carried the bike over to the child’s side, and returned to washing my car as she began to calm down. She didn’t get up from that seat for more than an hour. She kept looking at me, and I kept asking her if she was OK. After a great amount of time, she got up and returned to her home. The bike remained where I had put it. I looked at it, and thought of her riding it, and getting injured again, and then decided to go to the local supermarket (supa), and see if I could locate a cheap bike to replace the piece of garbage (gomi) she had been riding.

I tried to find a bike that was under ichi mahn en (one hundred U.S. dollars). The choices were slim, but there was this one pink bicycle with a white tires, a white seat, and white grips with long ruffles flowing that looked pretty cool. I thought, well, if I were a little girl about six or seven that would be the bike I’d want to be riding. It was a little more money than I was willing to pay, but I decided to get it anyway. The idea of buying a cute little kid, a cute little bike was more enticing than having the few extra bucks remain in my wallet. I paid for the bike, tossed it in the back of my car, and headed home. I had planned to wait until nightfall, and put the bike by the child’s front door, knock on the door, and then run home quickly, and watch through the window to witness the reaction. I was thinking about this as I approached the final stop sign, with the kid’s apartment in plain view. Wham! A van suddenly appeared before me, and nailed the entire front of my car. The front bumper was immediately ripped off, and the entire front hood, and fenders were crumpled badly. Shit! No good deed goes unpunished.

The fan stopped, and a ratty looking toothless man exited. I got out of my car, and asked the guy if he was OK. (Dai jobu?) He was a construction worker who was still wearing his oddly designed construction outfit. The teeth (ha) that were missing from his mouth had not been knocked loose from the accident. They had been gone for quite some time. The teeth that remained in his head were badly stained from tobacco, and rotting away. By this time, people started to exit their homes, standing on their front lawns, and becoming front row spectators in the chaos, and confusion that would ensue. The man stuck his head in my face, and laughed loudly. His comments were interspersed with insults, and obvious accusations. I had insurance, so I wasn’t too concerned, but I surely felt uncomfortable as I couldn’t communicate with anyone, and nobody stepped forward to communicate with me. The man kept shouting and acting like he was on stage. He asked me in Japan, “Anata was Nihongo ga wakari masuka?” At the time I didn’t understand what he said, but what he had said was, “Do you speak Japanese”? When it was clear that I couldn’t he began to insult me, and shouted things like, stupid foreigner (baka gaijin). I wanted to punch the guy out, but instead I contacted the secretary of the company I had worked for. She said she would notify the insurer, and the police, and she, and the insurance company representative would be there as soon as they could. While I was in this conversation, another car pulled up, and two buddies of the guy who was driving the van got out, and began conversing with the man. The car drove away, and they shared many cigarettes, while we waited for assistance to arrive. I tried to move my car, but I couldn’t. It was a total wreck. The second to arrive on the scene was the secretary, and the insurer. Then the police (keisatsu), arrived, followed by an ambulance. Everybody was speaking Japanese, and I couldn’t understand anything that was being said. I was stunned to see the van driver, and his two buddies getting neck braces put on, and being treated gingerly by the paramedics. I became livid! I was trying to tell the police that the other guys were not in the van. Nobody was listening to me. The three men were placed on stretchers and one by one, placed into the ambulance. Before it drove off I approached it and threw open the door. The van driver looked up at me from the gurney, and gave me a crazy smile. One of the ambulance assistants closed the door, and it drove away sirens blaring, and red lights blazing.

I was told that there would be a hearing date, and that I would probably have to pay a fine in the amount of roku mahn en, (around 600.00 USD). A temporary replacement car had already arrived. I was given the keys, and was free to return home. I watched as the police painstakingly took measurement, engaged in conversation, and filled out reports. I frowned at each one of them if they glanced my way. Realizing this, they stopped looking at me. I watched as the tow truck driver collected, and swept up the debris. I pulled the pink bicycle out of the back of my destroyed car. I must have looked ridiculous walking home with a brand new pink bicycle with white tires, a white seat, and white handgrips, and the ruffles swaying in the breeze. I watched as the tow truck drove off with my totally destroyed car.

The next day the insurance company man arrived at the office with papers for me to sign. All documents were written in Japanese. They were settlement papers for the van owner, and the three men. I absolutely refused to sign anything. The following day the insurance man returned to the office with two other men. One looked like a thick, squat pit bull. They had prepared the final documents for me to sign regarding the settlement to be paid to the three “injured” men, and to cover the cost of repair for the van. Again, I refused to sign any documents. They calmly communicated that they just wanted to settle the matter. However, they had a glaring issue. They could not settle the case without my signature, and I continued to refuse to sign any of the documents they placed before me. The secretary entered the room with green tea, which is customary when people are having a meeting. I told the original representative that he was too weak, and that I didn’t want to talk to him any longer. I looked at the pit bull, and told the secretary to translate my words. She agreed. I made it clear that I would continue to refuse to settle the matter because two of those men had not been in the van. I’m sure they didn’t believe me, but I said until they look into that, they were wasting their time. Second, I stated that the van had one small scratch, and that the majority of the damage was to my car, and if they were so terribly injured, then why wasn’t I? That question seemed to have some affect on the three agents. I also stated that the damage to my car was the result of the vans rear bumper catching the front of my car, and ripping it open. Despite a tiny little scratch, that van’s bumper didn’t have any sign of damage. I reiterated that I would not be signing any documents until they investigate the matter further. I told the pit bull that he looked like a tough guy. I told them to wait this out, and don’t rush to settle. Threaten the men with court, and further proceedings for fraud. They felt like I was a foreigner interfering with their job, but I didn’t give a shit what they thought. If I was going to get fined, and drag through traffic court, then I was going to fight them all the way. After all, I was already aware of the worse case scenario that I was facing, which was a mere 600.00 fine. Realizing they were getting nowhere with me, the men left. Over the next several days the office secretary persisted in trying pressure me to sign the documents. Her words fell on my deaf ears. This went on for about two weeks.

The insurance company representatives returned for another meeting. All three had a smile on their face. I inquired into the change in their demeanor. I was told the insurance company did an investigation into their own records, and that the three men had another similar accident only one month earlier. In that case they had already thought the accident was staged. All three men, complained of neck pain, and drove off in an ambulance. This information was forwarded to the police, who started their own investigation, discovering that merely one week earlier the same three men had been in another similar accident. Coincidence? Could the same three men, be in three different accidents, with similar injuries in a one-month period? The insurance company refused to settle with those men in either of those incidents, as well did the other insurer who was notified. The police dropped their case against me, and sent me a letter of apology for not listening to me. I took this as a sign that Japan’s One-Way system had been damaged by a stubborn gaijin that failed to accept settlement in an unjust matter.

That evening I put aside my anger about the accident, and quietly crept toward the front door of the little girls apartment. The windows were closed, and the curtain drawn. I placed the bicycle along side the front door, making sure it couldn’t be spotted when the door was opened. I rang the bell, and hauled ass home. I peered through from my front window curtains, and watched as the boy opened the door. He looked out, but saw nothing, and closed the door. I waited to see what happened, but nothing did. Apparently, he didn’t see the bike. Damn! I waited a while, crept back over to the door, and rang the bell again. The door began to open, so I leaped behind some nearby bushes, and hoped they hadn’t seen me. They didn’t! This time the boy stepped out, and saw the bicycle. He called to his sister, and I learned of her name for the first time. Kariri! Mite! Mite! (Look, look). The little girl walked outside, and the cuts on her knees were already turning into purple bruises. Her face, and eyes widened in astonishment. Neither child knew what to do. They ran back inside, and locked the door. Soon they both peaked out the front window, and looked down to where the pink bike was located. The curtains shut as quickly as they had been opened. A moment later the front door opened, and the boy stuck his head out looking first to his left, and then to his right. They both stepped outside, and cautiously looked around again. Finding nothing unusual, except a brand spanking new pink bicycle with white tires, a white seat, and gleaming white grips they turned their attention toward the bike. They both studied it carefully, speaking quietly, as they surely did not want to be overheard by anyone. Kariri touched the bicycle, and the front wheel turned a little. Both children ran back inside. I could hear familiar scraping sounds inside the apartment. The children were dragging chairs across the living room toward the window. They opened the curtain, then the window, and stood on either of the two chairs staring down below at the pink bicycle. Those few extra bucks were well worth the investment. I have seen many children’s faces when they get excited, but this incident topped the list. I pined for my camera. I didn’t want anyone to see my hanging around, and creeping behind some bushes, so I slowly backed away. I headed back to where the accident had occurred, and looked down at the large pile of cigarette butts those three guys had smoked while they contemplated their scheme. I then went to the nearest Sunkust convenient store (konvini) and bought a beer. I headed home, sat on the front porch, twisted off the lid to the bottle, and took a swig. I uncontrollably spit out the beer in laughter as the thought occurred to me; I had washed my car inside and out, vacuuming it and drying it off with a towel before completely destroying it.

Miller decided to stop by, and discuss the car accident with me. As I sat with him, drinking my beer, the door of the kid’s apartment opened. It was the kid’s mother. She looked at the pink bicycle, and then began walking over toward where we were sitting. I couldn’t speak Japanese, so I told Miller to handle it. I told him that if she inquired into the matter, that I had no knowledge of the bike, or its origin. When she got within a few feet of us, it was apparent that she had apprehensions about communicating with two foreign men. She began thanking me for taking care of her daughter regarding the bike accident. She bowed deeply, again, and again. She then said that she couldn’t accept the bike as a gift for her child, but then began sobbing profusely, and apologized for being a terrible mother. She stated that she was single, and their father had nothing to do with his children, which is a great shame. She apologized that she had to leave her children home alone all day, (and often well into the evening), as she worked long hours to support her children. She apologized for her daughter’s terrible bicycle condition, and for causing me so much trouble. I told Miller to tell her that I had no idea what she was talking about, and that I hadn’t given any child any bicycle. Miller added that while we were sitting on the porch, some fellow drove up in a car, put a pink bicycle by their front door, rang the bell, ran to the car, and then drove off. By this time the woman was wiping away tears from her wet face with a white cloth. She knew our story was bogus. I added that perhaps it was the children’s father that had left the bicycle. In Japanese culture when one gives a gift to another, they are then indebted to the donor, and must repay that debt in some way. This was the main reason for denying knowing anything about the pink bicycle. This may be odd behavior in western culture, but in Japan this is the way it is done. She took a long deep bow, in such a manner that I have never experienced before. There were no more words that needed to be said. She thanked me again, and apologized for taking up my valuable time. The woman said she believed her daughter would really appreciate the bike, as her daughter already stated that it was the most beautiful bike she had ever seen. After all, her favorite color is pink.

The next morning I awoke to the jangle of children laughing, and the bright sound of a bell, ching-a-ling-linging, again and again. I pulled myself out of bed, and stood at my front window, and peered out the closed curtain. I watched as Kariri rode her new bike up, and down the street. Most of the children in the neighborhood had little to do with Kariri prior to that morning, but on this sunny day, many of the neighborhood girls were riding with her. Kariri was riding hard, and ringing her bell, as the handle grips plastic white sashes fluttered in the wind. Kariri’s smile was brighter than a thousand suns. Of all the children who were riding bicycles that morning, Kariri bike the prettiest of them all.

Strangely, the children stopped coming to my door to engage in conversation, and to get their fill of candy, and chocolate. I thought parents had ordered their children to stop coming to my home because of the car accident that I had been in. But, one of my elderly neighbors, a farmer, and retired businessman from Tokyo told me that one of the children had told their grandmother about the foreign neighbor that had been giving them candy whenever they stopped by. The parents were told, and they grew angry with their child. Other parents were told about this, and the children were ordered to stop pestering their foreign neighbor. The children never stopped by again, although I often saw them during my runs, or as they rode by my rented home. We always waived hello when we saw each other, but I would grow to miss those children, and those wonderful chocolate, and sugary encounters.

Miller was an expat who had lived in Japan for the past twenty-five years. He operated. At one point the business he owned was the premier education center for the entire prefecture of Fukui. What went wrong?

On that same date on the following month, I checked my bank account, as Japan companies generally make salary payments through direct deposit, my bank showed a payment of ¥ 80,000. I had been working for the past two months, and received the equivalent of 800.00 USD. I was furious. Miller was clearly avoiding me, but when I managed to confront him, he claimed that, that was the salary he owed me for my first month of work. A bitter argument ensued. From that point on I began to investigate Miller, and the Japanese American Language Institute. I was surprised to find several complaints posted on the Internet about Miller, and his organization. One site titled, http://j-ali.blogspot.com, had the following statement:

THE JAPANESE-AMERICAN LANGUAGE INSTITUTE LOCATED IN FUKUI JAPAN HAS BEEN HARMING TRUSTING TEACHERS FOR MORE THAN 10 YRS. THIS BLOG SERVES AS A COMMENTARY TO ADDRESS THIS AND OTHER FACTS REGARDING THIS EXTREMELY HARMFUL ORGANIZATION WHICH IS RUN BY EDWARD MILLER. ANYONE THINKING ABOUT WORKING FOR JALI BEWARE. CALL OTHER FUKUI SCHOOLS AND ASK TEACHERS… JALI IS INFAMOUS IN THAT CITY. BEWARE!

I left my job, and great life in Shizuoka to relocate to Fukui so I could explore the Japan Sea. Instead, I find a man with a terrible past. Miller originated from the Boston area of Massachusetts. He had been a heroin addict, and personally admitted to me that he was the first to stick a needle in his younger brothers arm. His younger brother became an addict as well, but eventually died of a heroin overdose. Miller then became a “born again” Mormon, married, had four kids, and relocated to Japan, where he began “preaching the gospel” of Joseph Smith, and the Mormon Church. Soon Miller started his own business, and at one point had twenty-five instructors working for him. This would have been a successful business netting at least 80,000.00 USD each month. I thought it strange that Miller didn’t drive a nice car, or live in a beautiful home. In fact, Miller’s personal appearance was terrible. His clothing looked to be several years old. His shoes were all in terrible condition, and he rented a dilapidated old house. When I arrived in Fukui, the only people working for Miller were his secretary, and myself. JALI went from a staff of thirty to a meager three. What was going on?

I had to admit I enjoyed living in Fukui, and did a lot of surfing, exploring, and I was shooting a lot of photography. I had a car by this time, and was able to travel to some of the major cities in the area, such as Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe. So, instead of quitting my job, I simply filed a complaint of non-payment to the Fukui Labor Board Standards Office thinking they would be able to resolve the matter. I also went to the local Fukui International Friendship Association, and inquired into other issues that might be known about this company. To my great surprise the staff said, “Are you here to file a complaint against Ed Miller?” I said, “How did you know that?” I was told that Miller had a long history of non-compliance with the labor board, and for not paying employee salaries. I was handed a folder of former instructors that had worked for Miller who had not been paid their full salary. They had all signed a document that was given to the labor board, and backed by a toothless, and useless organization known as the National Union of General Workers. Twenty-two former teachers signed the list. Each one had a number placed by their names, in the amount of money that was owed to them. One particular name stood out, a K. Taylor who was owed more than a year’s salary. One of the persons that signed the document was the current secretary. This current secretary claimed that Miller had not paid her salary in several months, and was owed several thousands of dollars. Her signature on the document really surprised me. Why would she participate in a public battle over unpaid wages with her current employer, yet still remain working with him?

I began to delve into a full investigate into the matter. I went to the Fukui Police Department, and filed a complaint. I learned that Miller’s wife had relocated to Utah with their four children. The wife kept making demands for Miller to send her more, and more money. It wasn’t long before the company’s business funds began to disappear. Miller had an accountant at the time, which was responsible for paying employee salaries. He claimed she had been embezzling JALI’s funds, and as a result he was unable to pay his instructors. An employee labor battle ensued. Sadly, most instructors had to leave the city as a result of not being able to continue working for free. Now Miller was trying to pull the same bullshit on me. Again, I confronted him about the non-payment of my salary. He kept talking about how his former account had destroyed his business. But, that was more than two-years earlier. My response to that was, “I have ninety-nine problems of my own, and [Miller] isn’t one of them. I demanded my pay. I also began to contact each person on that list of non-paid instructors to find out their story. Each person had worked for several months without being paid. The scam started by withholding teacher salaries for two months, and they when the employee fell on economic hardship, they would immediately seek other work, and leave. Never following up on the money they had lost. I decided to contact the former office manager, who had worked for JALI, and Miller for fifteen years. K. Taylor revealed a lot of information, and we decided to go to the media.

Taylor agreed that the accountant may have embezzled some funds, but not to the extent Miller had claimed. Records showed that Miller was sending large chunks of money to his wife. When he ran out of money, and was unable to send her any more, she filed for divorce. Eventually, Miller’s wife got all the money, and by the time I was employed at the company she had sent him a restraining order, and a notice of divorce. Miller’s wife’s attorney had demanded Miller to undergo a psychological evaluation before he could see his children again. Sadly, each child wrote Miller a letter telling him they wanted nothing to do with him any longer. Here, Miller had destroyed his own business funneling all the money he had in an effort to try and save his marriage. In the process he destroyed the business that he took twenty-five years to make. When there was nothing left to give, his wife simply left. The woman found a new man in the congregation of contradiction known as the Mormon faith. She used the money Miller had sent her to build a home in Salt Lake City.

Unfortunately for Miller, the matter surrounding non-payment of my salary was far from over. For several months I had pressured the labor board to get paid. On some level this worked. I began receiving monthly payments but I was still owed about 8200.00 USD. I also had the General Union represent me at the labor hearings, and that was a farce, as they had about as much knowledge of the Japanese labor codes as I did. They had fought Miller in the past, and had won, but little money was actually paid. So, who really won? I figured that I wasn’t going to get paid, but I was going to make Miller suffer. Eventually, we decided to go to the media. We held a press conference, and I was surprised to see every major radio, magazine, and TV station present at the conference. K. Taylor attended the conference, and told of the history of the company, and their non-compliance with Japanese labor laws, and the salary issues. My story found its way in many Japanese newspapers, and magazines as well as the local evening news. By this time Miller had anticipated that I was leaving, and hired another instructor. I contacted the instructor who stated that he had not been paid. This teacher was working at Alcoa, Howmet about an hours drive north of Fukui. I had worked there, and this was one of Miller’s best contracts. Somehow through all Miller’s deceit, he managed to hold onto this client. I notified the company’s manager, who was an English speaking Britain that Miller had not paid the other teacher. I gave the Howmet manager copies of the documents I received from the International Friendship Association, and copies of the General Labor Union findings, and the Fukui Labor Board rulings. As a result Howmet hired the instructor on to work full-time, and Miller lost a large portion of that contract.

In my case the labor board managed to collect some of my non-paid salary. In my investigation, what I learned was there are many foreign owned businesses in Japan that have ruined the educational industry. They prey on young men, and women that want to work in a foreign country, but are unfamiliar with the language, culture and laws. One of the most common scams is to withhold an instructor’s salary for sixty days, which is illegal. When the instructor eventually leaves due to lack of payment, and even if they had filed a grievance with the labor bureau, they almost never get paid. Once the duped employee returns home, it is very difficult to collect on unpaid salaries.

After nearly a year of battling Miller, I was offered a job in the northeastern region of Japan, which was an area I knew nothing about. I really didn’t want to head to the colder territories of Japan, where summers were shorter, and winters longer. Despite that, I was running low on funds, and had a long list of photography equipment I was interested in purchasing, so my priority now shifted to actually being paid for the work I was performing. The last I heard about Miller was that he was sleeping in Internet cafes, many months overdue on the office he was renting, and doing the best he could to hang on to the last couple of clients he had left. I left Fukui, and headed north to the coastal region of Miyagi Prefecture, and Sendai City. I had no idea what the future would hold. I had no idea that soon enough 3.11.11., would become a date locked into infamy, and the town I would move to would be 100% wiped off the maps by the largest ever recorded earthquake, and tsunami.

Written by Stack Jones. © 2014. All rights reserved.

Tagged , ,

The Crazy Woman And The Fiery Snow

Yamadera

Before the astonishing event occurred, nobody had any idea who the woman was, or where she had come from. Even after it was over, the woman remained as much a mysterious as on that day when she first arrived. All they knew, that is to say, the people of the small village, located in the mountains of Yamagata, was that the woman was not from Yamadera. The fact that she wasn’t from that village was easy to ascertain, as all the town’s folk knew each other, and if they didn’t know that woman, then she simply wasn’t from their community.

So, who was this woman? And why hadn’t she left since that day when she first arrived, carrying a glow-in-the-dark soccer ball, and a small plastic bag with who-knows-what in it? What brought her to Yamadera anyway?

It wasn’t long after her arrival that the woman became the talk of the town. The nosy folks considered her a nuisance. The worst of the lot believed she was a demon, and would do nothing better than bring the town bad luck. Tourism to the area had already been diminishing, and her presence just seemed to stoke the flames of contention. It’s like that in most bucolic communities. Folks seem to enjoy letting themselves get all worked up over nothing at all. Those who knew better knew to stay out of the natter, knowing it would only lead to more bickering between those who supposed themselves to be close neighbors. Even so, the majority of the town folk were ready to believe that this woman, that complete, and unknown stranger had brought with her something sinister. Even those that didn’t usually believe in such nonsense began to believe that this time it might be true.

Some of the residents were furious, not only at the woman, but also at the local authorities who took no action on their behalf. When they then turned to the police in order to have that woman, that crazy woman forcefully ejected from the mountaintop, which she adamantly refused to depart from, they too would take no action. The town leaders then called everyone together so they could decide what to do about the woman, and what method they were to use to “get rid of her.” Others being slightly more selective in the words they chose to use in communicating their thoughts were to call it, “solving the problem.” After a few polite requests given directly to the woman (that were in reality nothing less than slightly veiled demands), she remained unbendable. This crazy woman soon became as an imperfection, a tarnished spot on a sentimental object that wouldn’t go away no matter how vigorously it was attended to. Under most circumstances where such imperfections exist, one could simply cover it up. Hide it, say, with a lamp, or a doily. But, that wasn’t the case here. That woman took hold of a spot right out in the open, and anyone that strolled along the path to the top of the mountain easily came in contact with her.

The temple at Yamadera where the woman seemed to have taken up residence is known to have one thousand, and fifteen steep steps that extend upward from the base of the mountain to its peak. The region obtained its name from the sect of Risshaku, which was founded in 860, by a priest named Ennin, who is actually better known by his posthumous name, Jikaku Daishi. (How one gets a name change after their death remains as much a mystery as the sudden arrival of the woman). In 847 upon returning to Japan from China, Ennin became the chief priest of the Tendai sect at Enryaku-ji. The Risshaku-ji was founded as a branch of the Enryaku-ji on Mt. Hiei near the city of Kyoto. Even today the ritual fires brought from Enryaku-ji continue to burn in the main temple on the mountains of Yamadera. It’s said the main ji (temple), Konpon-chudo was built by Shiba Kaneyori, who was the Lord of Yamagata Castle at the time. Even so, most of Risshaku-ji was destroyed during the regional wars of the early 16th century. During the Heian period the seated wooden image of Yakushi Nyorai (Buddha Bhaisajyaguru) became the principal image of the main temple. Konpon-chudo would later be rebuilt in 1543 under the instructions of a monk known as Enkai. By the Edo period (1600–1868) Risshaku-ji had become a powerful institution possessing a fief of 1,420 koku (a quantity of rice measured in liters). The present day Konpon-chudo (main hall) is a Muromachi period (1333–1568) construction of beech wood, which is rarely used as a building material. The temples that cling to the steep rocky hillsides are picturesque, and quite unusual. The “thousand step” climb through the dense cedar trees is the route one would take to the temples at the top, and for the spectacular views that awaits those who do.

Yamadera also possesses many important cultural assets in its treasure house, the Hihokan, including standing wooden images of Shaka Nyorai, Yakushi Nyorai, and Amida Nyorai, a seated wooden image of Dengyo Daishi, a hanging wooden mandala of the Buddha, and a stone monument of the Nyoho-kyo Sutra from 1144.

Yamadera is also where the famous haiku poet Matsuo Basho wrote his famous poem, “Ah this silence, sinking into the rocks, voice of cicada.” A museum of Basho’s writings, paintings, and other related art are stored at the Yamadera Basho Memorial Museum, which is a short walk up the hill on the opposite side of the modern day road that cuts through the steep valley of the small village.

The Ministry of the Environment also selected the cicadas of Yamadera as one of the great soundscapes of Japan. Who would have known that of all the great treasures, the accolades bestowed upon them, and the deep mysteries that are part of the lore of Yamadera, there would soon to be another added to it. But for that phenomenon that followed the crazy woman’s sudden appearance this would not be so. Even the most pessimistic, and disagreeable of the town’s people stand firmly in their belief that neither would have occurred without the other.

The woman didn’t arrive in Yamadera seeking accolades. She wasn’t interested in being held in high regard. She wasn’t concerned with any of the historical significance that the town held either. Despite all of these matters, none of it was the reason she arrived in town, on foot, in near rags, and clutching that glow-in-the-dark soccer ball.

During the brief stint when the woman became the focal point of the town’s gossip, the monk who lived at the top of the mountain was the only one who ever sided with her. He’d always end the heated arguments over the woman’s presence by stating, “There is a purpose for all things, as well as an impermanence of all things. When the time comes for the woman to depart, she will go. Let us give it no more thought.” The idea that the woman’s departure was to be some future event remained unsettling to the local people. They wanted her gone, and they wanted her gone yesterday. Better yet, they collectively wished she never arrived in their quiet little community, and took up residence at the top of the mountain. The woman’s presence, at first a minor annoyance, now irked the entire town. She must go!

As word spread that there was a crazy woman who wouldn’t leave the mountain top shrine, outsiders became curious. They began arriving at the village just to get a glimpse of her. They would ascend those more than a thousand steps, and find the woman, as they had heard, dressed in near rags, and kneeling before the children’s shrine. It seemed as if she never moved from that position, as if she never shifted, or repositioned her body either. It turns out that none of what was transpiring was really particularly interesting, or inspiring, especially in the full heat of the summer. What was all the fuss over?

In the evening, the monk would bring the woman rice, and tea, but as he rose early each morning he would discover not only had the rice not been eaten, but also the tea he had left for her hadn’t been drunk either. This pattern went of for several days. If it continued much longer he thought, “They won’t have to drag her out. She’ll die of starvation, and thirst.”

Before the woman, that crazy woman, sat rows, and rows of hundreds, and hundreds of little childlike figurines. Each one was colored in white, and had a tiny bright red scarf draped around its neck. Each represented a child who had passed away, and were placed there by family members. And just like the woman who now knelt before the iconic figures, each, and every one of those families had their entire existence torn away from them through the senseless, untimely, and unbearable passing of a young boy, or girl. These children would never obtain the age of adulthood. They would never grow feeble, and they would never learn to do the things that adults do, such as having children of their own. From all over Japan they came. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, as well as siblings; they would ascend those numerous steps, and place at the children’s shrine one of those red scarf cladded figurines. They did this so their child wouldn’t be alone in whatever was to follow that thing we call death. They believed, or at least hoped their child was to be surrounded by other children, those who had suffered similar fates, and were in need of comfort, and companionship. In reality, it would not be the children who agonized over their early departure. No, it would be those who would be left behind with sketches of memories, or items that the child claimed as their own, and the photos that froze moments in time. Many of those images were important events, while others less significant at the time of their taking. But beginning the day of that terrible wrenching away, those less significant images became moments memorable. Those photos would be of holidays, trips, school recitals, graduations, certificates of achievements, birthdays, awards, and rewards, and other matters that mattered most in the life of a child, and the parents who adored, and cherished them.

The woman came from Sakuranbo-Higashine. This small town had become famous for the overpriced cherries that sold well in small shops, kiosks at train stations, and supermarkets from all over Japan. Sakuranbo-Higashine was famous for their cherries, and pears too. In fact, the word sakuranbo itself actually means cherries. Ironically, most every town scattered throughout Japan was famous for something or another.

There was nothing particularly out of the ordinary about the woman’s life. She had married about a dozen years earlier, and the marriage produced a boy. Her father passed away before the boy was born. The woman’s mother had died shortly before the boy did. That was about the only thing the woman was really thankful for. She was, for lack of any other way of putting it, grateful that the elderly woman, who adored the boy, wasn’t around to agonize over his sudden, and sad departure.

It was a tragic, and senseless death. The boy was riding his bicycle, his chain fell off, and he was unable to avoid being struck by a car. He died instantly. The authorities that investigated the tragedy never faulted the driver. Regardless, that never lessoned the burden of the one who was behind the wheel. Sadly, the driver would end up committing suicide almost one year later after countlessly recalling how unbearable it was to relive that disastrous event, night after night, after night in recurrent nightmares.

The woman’s marriage to the boy’s father came to an end about the same time the driver of the car decided to take their life. This suicide story made it in the local newspaper, and kept all the pain of the boy’s passing in frequent thoughts of his parents. This while both had yet to move beyond the initial grieving stage. So, here they were again, facing the tragedy anew, and watching it expand inward, and upon itself. It wouldn’t be long before the woman, and her former husband stopped speaking to each other. Not that they didn’t truly care about one another. It was just that the boy’s tragic passing was too much for either one to bear. The pain was bad enough in their own private hells. Together it would manifest itself twofold in every conversation, act, or inactivity.

The boy was born on May 5th, which is Boy’s Day. Too much time has passed since anyone could recall for sure when the observation of the Tango-no-Sekku began, but historians trace it to an ancient Chinese custom known as Sechie, in which the royal guards wore ceremonial helmets, and carried about with them their bows and arrows. These items would later become popular at the court of the Japanese Regnant Empress known as Suiko.

The boy’s favorite things were playing soccer, and collecting Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards, that, and bike riding with his closest friend Takeshi. At one point the boy studied English. However, the lessons got in the way of nearly everything that was important to him. Finally, his parents gave him the choice of remaining in his Eikaiwa class, or playing soccer. It was a no brainer. Of course the boy would chose soccer. What boy wouldn’t? However, this decision was to be one aspect in the chain of events that played a role in his untimely passing.

It happened on a Saturday morning. The boy was on his way to play in his first scheduled game. His team, the Sakuranbo-Higashine Tigers were to play against another team from the nearby city of Tendo. Sadly, he would never make it to the game, as that’s when the tragic accident occurred. It was also about a week before Boy’s Day was to arrive.

It would be a year since the boy was gone. Prior to this mournful period the woman had already began to give away, and sell off all the things she owned. When everything was gone, and there was nothing left but the clothing on her back, the boys collection of trading cards, and his favorite soccer ball, the one that glowed in the dark, and what little money she collected from selling those paltry few items, she would then head on foot to the town of Yamadera. Why was she going to Yamadera, and the mountaintop shrine? Simply because she believed!

Yamadera is an ancient, and beautiful small village, which is located right in the heart of Yamagata’s steep mountainous terrain. The river that runs through the community is pristine, and the local people frown greatly upon anyone who’d dare to throw any rubbish into it. One would have to look very hard, and for quite some time to find even the smallest piece of debris in that river. At least in that area!

In the summer, Yamadera has numerous beautiful waterfalls that cascade down the mountains, and into crystal clear, shallow pools of water. There is no place in Japan that can rival the aesthetics, and sheer beauty of this particular region. One would take this all in while hiking along, or fishing for trout in the winding, and majestic river. During the winter, it’s a short train ride from Yamagata City to any of a number of fantastic skiing locations. In Yamadera one can simply step off of a train, and right onto a ski lift. It really is an amazing, and adventurous location. But, this too is not why the woman was heading on foot to that very same town. She was on her way to the top of the mountain to place a figurine as a representation of her child, and to pray, and to leave the trading cards, and the soccer ball amongst all the other toys, stuffed animals, baseball mitts, caps, dolls, action figures, and whatever else had once been held in the grasp of a smiling child’s hand.

This would not be the woman’s first trip to Yamadera. Years earlier before getting married, she, and her former husband had gone there by train. They spent the day walking along the river, splashing each other in the waterfalls, and walking across the numerous bridges that crisscrossed back and forth across the river. Finally, at the end of the day, the couple ascended those thousand or so steps to where a wooden structure had been built for visitors to look at the town that sat far below, and as well, take in the wonderful views of the mountains that surrounded them. Ironically, it would be that very evening the boy would be conceived. Soon, they were to marry, and spend their honeymoon in Oahu, Hawaii, getting sunburned on the beaches of Waikiki, just as many other Japanese honeymooners so often do. However, during her trek upward upon those steps, the woman wasn’t thinking about the views of the mountains, and the valley far below. She gave no thought of the waterfalls, and the numerous bridges that crossed over it. Too, she wasn’t interested in the winding river that split the beautiful little village into two, or the waterfalls that cascaded down into it.

There was nothing spectacular, or peculiar about the woman when she first appeared in the town. She merely passed the train station, the rows of tourist shops that sold ice cream, sweets, and the usual items found in souvenir shops. The woman crossed the red painted bridge, over the river, and began immediately ascending the steps that led to the children’s shrine at the top of the mountains. She never noticed the sounds of the cicadas made famous in the haiku poet Matsuo Basho’s famous poem.

As she walked up those steps, the same ones she had taken years ago, young couples, and families with children of their own were heading down as the sun was already beginning to set. Never once did the people look at the woman as they passed her. No one thought it odd that a lone woman was ascending the stairs with a small pouch, a glow-in-the-dark soccer ball, or of the demeanor of a person whose mind was already set upon performing a specific task.

As the woman reached the top of the stairs, the monk who lived alone at that location politely told the woman the temple would be closing soon. She hadn’t heard a word as she continued onward toward the place where the children’s shrine was located. When she arrived at her destination she placed the new child like figurine at the front of the sea of others. Next, she placed the soccer ball below it, and then placed the trading cards beside the ball. She then placed all the money she made from selling all she had owned, in an offering box the monk had prepared for the maintenance of the shrine. There would be no one to tell it to, but the woman now possessed nothing in the world. No home, no job, no clothing, no money, and as a result, no security. She had but one thing on her mind, and that was to pray for the return of her son. To her there was nothing left, but the hope she had in her faith that somehow, prayers really did get answered. Finally, she knelt down before the figurine, and remained there until the town folk, in their fury, and outrage would forcefully cart her away.

For three days nobody took notice of the woman, save for the monk who remained silent. Eventually, word got to the town people that a crazy woman was scaring off visitors. The self appointed officials then formed a small committee, and ascended the thousand or so steps to investigate the matter. In a state of exhaustion, they finally reached the top, and found the raggedly clad woman.

The committee returned to town, and told of their discovery. It was agreed that the committee would return to the shrine, and tell the woman she had to leave. On the next morning the committee ascended those stairs, and found the woman in the same kneeling position as they had the day before. They went to the monk’s residence, and inquired as to how long the woman had been there? The monk merely replied she hadn’t harmed anyone, not since she first arrived, and not to that very moment. He said, “She remained orderly.” This didn’t satisfy the committee. They approached the woman, and demanded she leave immediately. The woman remained vigilant. The committee realizing they were not receiving any response from the woman, returned to the town. By now most everyone agreed that the crazy woman must be forcefully ejected. The town folk chose a dozen of their strongest men to take care of the matter once and for all.

The following morning most of the town’s residence stood at the base of the steps. There were a few who were visibly shaken as they had once left behind a figurine that was a representation of the child that they lost. Others just wanted her gone, and were there to show their support in that. Since word had gotten out that there was a nutty, and disheveled woman who was haunting the mountain temple, the town’s people felt that their community had been stolen from them. This was their collective effort to get it back. It seemed clear that this woman was responsible for bringing a curse upon them. Enough was enough! Today was the day she was to finally go. And hooray for that! After a few words of encouragement, the dozen men chosen out of the community began to ascend the steep steps to the top of the mountain. This was to be the last time.

As the group of men approached the woman, they first tried to reason with her, stating that whatever it was that she had hoped to achieve hadn’t, and wouldn’t happen. But, she had given it her best effort, and that nobody could fault her for that. Their words fell on deaf ears. Next, they would drop their tactfulness, and tell her it was time for her to leave. But, again she would not regard their demands. Finally, the men felt they had no other choice but to forcefully remove her from the mountain. Having been there for several days without sustenance, the woman was in no physical condition to resist, although she desperately tried. But it would all be in vain.

As the men reached the final step, the woman struggled to be freed. She cried out, and begged to be allowed to return to the shrine. Most of the people who were standing nearest to her shook their heads, and clicked their tongues. Even in their anger, they took pity upon her, seeing the woman was half mad. Some openly mocked and ridiculed her. Others wondered what all the fuss was about as they fanned away, or wiped away the perspiration that was the result of the heat, and humidity, and which easily accumulated. It was at this moment that one of the town folks suddenly shouted, as she looked skyward.

Although it was a bright, and sunny day with few clouds overhead, it appeared to be snowing on the top of the mountain. It was snowing, but it was sunny, like one of those odd days when it rains, but the sun still shines downward as everything is being drenched in water. The snow also appeared as though it was on fire. The entire crowd collectively gasped, forgetting all about the crazy woman as they stared at the sky in disbelief. The woman then loosed herself from the men’s grip, and raced back toward the top of the mountain. Even in her weakened, and emaciated state, she never once stopped to pause.

As she raced past the monk’s simple cottage she hadn’t noticed that he was already on his knees, prayer beads in hand, and weeping profusely.

When the woman reached the children’s shrine, all of the white figurines, each having their own little red scarf, began to disappear. As she made her way to the pinnacle, the very peak of the mountain, she looked up to see that the snowflakes that were falling really did appear to be on fire. As each snowflake floated downward from the sky, it landed upon the cedar-stained soil, and sprung to life. Just as soon as each landed, a child, dressed in all white, and wore a red scarf around their neck. Immediately after landing, they took to the steps, and began to descend in an orderly manner. It wouldn’t be long before the town folk could see hundreds upon hundreds of children calmly, and quietly descending those one thousand, and fifteen steps. At the top of the mountain, the woman stood knowing her prayers had indeed been heard.

One by one as the children passed the woman, they stooped, and pick up one of the weather beaten toys. Each child had a destination secured in their hearts. They were heading home. Home to where mothers longed for them, and fathers mourned over their loss. Homes to where grandparents had once doted over them, and where their brothers, and sisters had once played with them.

The last of the fiery snowflakes to fall was to be the woman’s boy. He took his place in the line of the onward moving children. Each child held a stuffed animal, a baseball mitt, a cap, a doll, an action figures, and whatever else they had once laid claim to. As the boy reached his mother, he took her by the hand, and they silently walked to the shrine, where the boy picked up the trading cards, and the glow-in-the-dark soccer ball.

As the woman, and her son approached the location where the monk was still kneeling, and weeping in great astonishment, she bowed to the man. The monk bowed deeply, face, and hands melding into the cedar stained soil.

As the woman, and her son descended those numerous steps, behind all those other children, the monk turned, and gave this miraculous event one long and final look. He continued to absorb what was occurring until each, and every one of the children were no longer in his view. He then looked up to the sky. He then suddenly leaped up, and darted toward the lookout tower. From there he could see, far below, many children, dressed in white with little red scarves making their way from the steps, and into the valley. Some were already embracing their mothers, and fathers. He could see other adults racing towards children who had descended those steps. Other fiery snow children continued onward. They walked over the red bridge, where the river ran beneath it, past the myriad of souvenir shops, the train station, and headed down the road toward Yamagata, and Sendai. They would press onward until they reached their destination, home where there would be no more sorrow, and weeping for children who left this world long before it was their time to do so.

Word spread rapidly that the children had returned from the sky. The train cars to the village were packed. Cars jammed the single lane road that led into the small village community from both east, and west. From the top of the mountain, the monk could see parents embracing tiny children. The sight of these precious young rushing into their parent’s arms caused the monk’s eyes to cloud over in tears that just kept streaming down his face. Finally, the only thing he could see was the colors of white, and red that seemed to dance within the clear liquid layer that covered his unbelieving, no… his eyes that believed now more than ever before.

As the woman, and her son descended the final step, the entire town had already lined the road she first arrived in Yamadera upon. Everyone bowed, and then dropped to their knees, and began to weep, just as the monk had. The woman never noticed any of it.

Author’s Note: When I first saw the children’s shrine at Yamadera Temple in the northern mountains of Japan, I had no idea it was a place of mourning for children who had died. I wouldn’t learn of this until long after I took photos of the location, and its numerous child like figurines, each representing a  child who has passed away. I also didn’t know that five years later, I would revisit that very same location, and place one of those little figurines, with its tiny red scarf at that very same location, as a remembrance of my own child that would pass due to a miscarriage.

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Mako From The Uninhabited, And Unknown Eighth Island Of Hawaii

Illustration by David Richard

Illustration by David Richard

 Mako was born on the uninhabited, and unknown eighth island of Hawaii. The island is not well known because it’s a great shame to the people of the powerful nation that destroyed it.

Years earlier Mako’s island was inhabited by a happy, and peaceful people. They respected the land, and sang songs of joy, but over time that joy would turn to great sorrow. The invaders from that terrifying, and far off land cared not for peace, nor for joy. They were destructive by nature, and had annihilated the island by fire that rained down from the sky. What kind of beings would destroy one of the world’s most beautiful places? And for what ends?

Because of the destruction left behind by the people of that powerful nation, the island’s peaceful native inhabitants lost their joy, and fled in great fear from their homeland. At that time, they did not know that they would never return. Today what remains on this unknown island are but vast wastelands, incomparable destruction, and great mourning. That, and Mako!

Nobody knows of Mako’s origin. It’s as if he had always been. It’s as if he was always there, in the shadows, just waiting for his chance to shine, like the sun above shines on each, and every one of us from time to time.

Mako survived on this unknown island by eating berries, and seaweed.

The day finally came when Mako was strong enough to swim to the nearby island of Maui, so he could attend school. On his first day, the teacher called role. When each of the children’s names was called out, they answered by shouting the word, here! Mako prepared himself to shout out the same response. But, when the teacher called out, “Mako Shark”, all of the children screamed, and ran into the mountains, and to the safety of their homes.

From that day forward whenever anyone saw Mako approaching they’d scream, “shark”, and everyone would run. This made Mako very sad, as he didn’t understand why nobody liked him. He didn’t understand why nobody wanted to be his friend. Was it his steel blue eyes that could pierce through the sun? Was it his strong fins that helped him to swim faster than any fish in the sea? Or was it something else? All he knew was that he was always alone. He longed for a friend. That’s all Mako wanted. He only wanted a friend!

Why was it that nobody seemed to care for Mako? Was it because he lived alone in a hut that he had made himself with palm branches, and taro leafs? He thought it might be that, because most everyone else lived in big majestic houses that sat on the top of the hills. Whatever it was, nobody ever came to call.

One day Mako discovered a beautiful house. It was right on the shore, and strangely nobody lived there. It was one of the most beautiful houses on the entire island of Maui. Mako thought, “If I make that house my home, people will like me, and then I’ll have many friends.” But as Mako tried to enter, he quickly discovered that the door was locked. And when he tried to open it, a loud noise blared from within, repeating itself again, and again, and still again. Mako was so frightened by this loud clatter that he dove into the sand, and hid there until long after the noise had subsided. Now, Mako was quite sure that he’d never find a friend.

It wasn’t long before the seasonal trade winds began to blow. They blew, and they blew until Mako’s hut was no more. Having no friends, and no home to live in, Mako returned to the uninhabited, and unknown island of his origin. There he sat on the island’s highest point known as Pu’u Moaulanui, and as the sun set, he looked out upon Lanai, then Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Niihau, and finally the biggest one of them all. He thought, “How can there be so many people in this world, yet it’s so difficult to find a friend?” Mako sat on the top of Pu’u Moaulanui until late into the evening. Each island began to light up from houses that covered the mountains. There were more lights coming from the island homes than there were stars over Mako’s head that filled the sky.

Mako decided he had enough of these land dwelling creatures, and vowed to spend the rest of his life living beneath the sea. He then began to cry. He also knew that whenever he cried, or grew too lonely in the sea, nobody would be able to tell because not only his eyes would be wet, but the rest of him as well. Mako then cried himself to sleep under the stars that flickered above. As Mako slept, one by one the lights on the homes that filled the tops of the mountains began to go out. On the top of Pu’u Moaulanui, Mako dreamed of the new friends he would make, in the new life he would make for himself living under the sea.

Early the next morning Mako rose, and headed toward the shore. He sidestepped several bomb fragments, and the huge craters they had left behind. He carefully stepped around all of the dangerous obstacles that filled this once beautiful island. All of these dangerous objects were the results of the scary people whom he had learned had come from that powerful land that was so far away. Mako finally reached the shore, and then slowly slipped into the water. He turned to look at his lonely island for one last time, because he knew that he was leaving it forever. Mako knew that he would never return there again.

Mako spent his days swimming about, and searching for new friends. But just as the land dwelling people had always done, the sea creatures avoided him as well. Whenever he came upon a beautiful reef, immediately all of the fish would scatter. School under the sea was no different than school on the land. Whenever he tried to attend, someone would scream, “shark”, and class was immediately dismissed. To Mako, the ocean was just as lonely as the silent sand that filled the shores of Hawaii’s numerous beautiful beaches.

Despite being constantly avoided, Mako still loved to visit the island children, and watch as they bobbed in the clear blue surf. But, whenever he tried to join in someone would yell, “Mako Shark”, and they’d all scream, and swim to the shore. There was simply no way to avoid this terrible dilemma.

With no friend on land, or in the sea, (or in the air for that matter), Mako decided to head out to the deep, deep depths of the ocean. This was a place where no creature dwelt. He would remain in that great dark abyss until the day came when the seabed shuttered with a furious roar, which was then followed by a violent quaking.

Although it was warm as always in the islands of Hawaii, it was mid-winter. This was the season for riding the largest waves of the year. On this day, there was to be a great contest at Peʻahi, which was a place that had become a famous surfing spot on the north shore of the island of Maui.

All of the world’s greatest surfers congregated on the shore, as towering waves crashed on the outer reef. The waves were so large, and so fierce that not even the bravest riders dared to enter the water. But, there was one rider, a brave young man named Lance who decided to paddle out, and challenge, not only the biggest waves ever ridden, but also his greatest fears.

As Lance prepared to paddle out, a crowd began gathering along the cliffs of Peʻahi. Lance crouched alone on the shore, and gazed out at the powerful sea. Not only could he smell its mesmerizing scent, he recognized the beauty in all of its power, and mysteries. Lance knew that what he was about to embark upon was incredibly dangerous, but he also knew that letting this opportunity pass was much worse than the dangers that possibly awaited him.

As Lance stood, and picked up his board, the crowd cheered. He ran to the shores edge, and dove in. He stroked powerfully at the waters surface, and headed out toward the vast open sea that lay before him. Before long Lance located the right position, sat on his board, and looked back toward the shore. There he could see the crowd was even larger than it had previously been.

Ironically, not only did Lance want to ride the largest wave ever ridden, and challenge his fears, he also wanted to run away and hide under a rock. He thought, “What an odd position I now find myself in.” Lance turned back toward the sea, and focused on why he was there, as huge mountains of water rolled beneath him.

And that’s when it happened.

Mako had been sulking at the bottom of that great depth amidst a mass of debris that floated down upon him. Then suddenly the sea floor ripped open. The affect was so terrible that Mako, and all that rubble around him was sucked into that massive crevice, which stretched many fathoms deep.

With all his power, and with all his might, Mako desperately charged back to where the seas floor had previously been. He dodged to his right to avoid a discarded boat engine. He leaped to his left to avoid being hit by a stream of waste. Finally, he turned quickly to his right again to prevent being slammed against several other objects that were being sucked into that huge, and vacuous opening.

Now, what had only moments ago been a calm surface was the top of an underwater mountain. Looking across the ocean, Mako could see that the displaced water raced toward the shore. Mako had experienced this kind of danger before. The results were always that children who were playing along the shore would be at risk of being swept out to sea. He also knew none of them could swim as well as he, and if they were unable to somehow survive, their mother’s would miss them, and cry terribly.

As fast as he could, Mako made it to the shores of Lanai. There he showed his great set of teeth, and frightened all of the children so terribly, that they ran to the safety of their mountaintop homes. Next, it was Molokai, then to Oahu, Kauai, and Niihau. The Big Island was so great, and so far away that Mako had to swim with all his might, power, and determination to get there. When he arrived on the beaches of Kona, Mako was nearly spent, yet he endured, and managed to chase all of the children far from the sea. Lastly, there was Maui, and he didn’t have a moment to spare. Mako raced toward the surface of the ocean, and shot out like a cannonball. As he soared above the surface of the sea, he looked out upon the ocean, and saw that great, and terrible wave fast approaching.

As the wave rapidly approached the shore Mako went from beach to beach chasing the children away from the ocean. First it was Kihei, followed by Lahaina, Flemings, and then Kahului. However, as Mako was saving lives by frightening children away from the shores, Lance was paddling desperately out toward the sea. He barely made it over each of the succession of waves, which would then violently explode behind him.

Car horns blared out from the cliff of Peahi, warning Lance as to the imminent doom that awaited him.

As he furiously tried to paddle further out toward the expansive horizon, and with all of his strength leaving him, it would be at this moment that Lance would finally face his greatest fear. This terror would be the largest wave Lance had ever seen, and it was already beginning to pitch far out in front of him.

Lance thought of his little girl, and hoped that she was safe in the mountains. He said, a prayer to the powerful gods of the sea, and hoped they would intervene sparing him from the tragic fate that awaited him. Lance then closed his eyes, and prepared for that huge body of white water that was about to engulf him. And just as that mighty wave was about to cover him, Lance leaped from his board, and into the sea.

Suddenly, Mako grabbed Lance by the seat of his britches, and quickly pulled him under. Deeper, and deeper they went. The further down they went, the colder, and denser the water became. It then became dark as night, as that wall of water roared past overhead, and slammed into the cliffs of Peahi. Fortunately, by then all of the cars that had been along the cliff were already gone.

It was silent now, and Mako let go of Lance’s britches. That great surfer, and the lonely little shark boy looked at each other. Lance smiled at Mako. Mako was greatly surprised by this, and said, “You’re smiling at me?” Lance shook his head, yes. Mako motioned with his fin, and repeated what he had said, “You’re smiling at me? At me?” Again, Lance shook his head, yes. Mako was so happy that he began rapidly swimming circles around Lance, which helped the surfer ascend more rapidly to the surface.

Lance’s head then popped out of the sea. He took a deep breath. Lance thought of his daughter, and wanted to go find her, and give her a great big hug. Lance felt at his britches where there were several tooth holes, but no damage to his behind. It was only then that Lance realized the impact of what Mako had done.

Mako popped his head out of the water, and Lance smiled widely. He said, “Mako you’re my best friend.” Lance then shook Mako’s fin. Mako was so delighted that he circled several more times around Lance, and leaped for joy.

That evening it would be reported that everyone from all of the Hawaiian seven known islands were safe. None of the children had been injured from that great, and terrible wave.

Mako’s tale, (the story that is) became legendary, and from that day forward all of the children allowed him to swim around their feet whenever they bobbed in the sunny surf. From then on, the only time the children screamed whenever Mako was around was when he would sneak up behind them, and tickle their toes.

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Origins Of The English Language

I grew up in Miami, Florida. The city is a hodgepodge of communities that coexist, offering up a variety of cultural nuances, and exhilarating ethnic experiences. However, it’s also a tropical environment, and the high humidity can be a catalyst that causes temperatures to boil over. As a result of the sweltering heat that the city is famous for, rational processes often fail, and hostilities arise between one who perceives themselves to be an American, and another, most likely a Cuban, and who had probably lived in the city for a longer period of time. When the former found they were unable to express themselves, as they desired during one of these heated exchanges, they would often resort to intolerable obscenities, racist slurs, and almost always ended up commanding the latter to speak English!

I speak one of a vast array of dialects that has come to be recognized as the English language. But, what is this English language that I speak? What is its origin?

The language spoken two thousand years ago by those that dwelt in the land that’s known as Britain today wouldn’t be decipherable by contemporary English speakers. It would take another thousand years before the ever-evolving English language would become recognizable in today’s England, a land that received its name from the Saxon invaders. Today, what has developed into the English language has become the vernacular of the world. This is possible because the English language has the ability to absorb other languages almost seamlessly, and is amenable to nearly every other tongue in the world. The adaptability of this manner of speech has made the English language capable of producing new dialects, and new forms of expression that continue to evolve, all over the world.

What started as a guttural tribal dialect has become the language of more than one and a half billion people today. More people speak English than any other language on earth. Yet, the English tongue nearly became extinct on numerous occasions as successive invasions of the island nation not only added to its ever-expanding vocabulary, but also threatened to destroy it completely.

For three hundred years the English language would be forced underground. Nonetheless, it would emerge as the language of William Tyndale, the writer of a vast majority of the King James Bible, William Shakespeare, and William Wordsworth, the master of prose. Oddly, what is dubbed the “Queens” English today is in reality a language forbidden to the ruling classes for three centuries. It was the farmer, and the peasant that lived far from the courts, and the royal facades that kept the language alive. Against all likelihoods, the language of the English empire would eventually become the language of another powerful nation. America! English would also become the international language of business, and diplomacy, despite its rather humble beginnings.

Friesland is a province in northern Netherlands, which originally was part of an ancient region known as Frisia. The Friesland dialect is the closest relative of today’s English, which evolved some 1500 years ago. Words such as three, four, frost, freeze, mist, and blue originate from this region. Other words that began in the Germanic forms of languages include butter, bread, cheese, meal, boat, snow, see, and storm. The people who spoke these words lived in today what are known as Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

Modern English can be traced back to the Germanic family of languages dating back to the 5th century. The Germanic people were nomadic, warlike tribes that moved throughout Europe a thousand years ago, and eventually settled upon what today is known as Holland, Denmark, and Germany. The original Germanic tribes consisted of Jutes, Anglo, and Saxons, and after mastering the art of fashioning together seaworthy vessels they sailed to the English shores in search of conquest, plunder, and to take advantage of abundant resources. However, the Germanic people weren’t the first to invade the shores of England. More than a thousand years earlier, the Romans invaded the land claiming it for Emperor Claudius, and to expand the Roman Empire. The Romans named this newly discovered land Britannia. Yet, when the empire crumbled, the native inhabitants, known as Celts at the time, were left to fend for themselves.

The Celts were subsequently conquered by the Germanic invaders, and were given the name Weelah (Welsh), which meant foreigner or slave. The only way the Welsh could gain in social status within these varying Germanic cultures was to assimilate into it. This meant the Welsh has to adopt the Germanic languages as their own. As a result, the Celt language became more, and more marginalized, and began to fade away almost entirely, as the language of the victors prevailed. Few Celtic words have survived into the modern English langue. Among them are crag for rock, combe for valley, tor for peak, fortress, and the caer of Carlisle, which at the time meant a protected place. The Celts also left many names that remain to this day, including Thames, for the Thames River, London, and Dover.

By the 6th century Germanic tribes occupied much of the southeast, and about half of Britain as well. The tribes broke off into territories, Essex (east), Kent and Sussex (south), and Wessex (west). These regions would form Saxon tribes. In East Anglia, it would be the Saxon’s who bequeathed England with its name.  East Anglia (the Anglos), territory included Mercia, and North Umbria. The “ing”, meaning, “the people of”, was used in these regions, and exists unto this day, such as in the towns of Reading, and Worthing. Other language examples that remain from this period include “ton”, which meant village. So today, Bridlington would mean, the people of the village of Bridl, or the people of the village of Chess, for Chessington. Birmingham today used to be known as Birmington. Another example of the language that survives today would be “ham”, which meant farm. So, today Birmingham would have meant, the farmers of Birm.

Each word you’re reading now is from Old English!

Hundreds of worlds used today in the English language originated around 1500 years ago. From all of those Germanic tongues, and all of their various dialects, a single language would begin to emerge. This emerging language would be known as Old English. And English speakers from all around the world speak Old English everyday. Samples include nouns, such as youth, son, daughter, field, friend, and home, prepositions, like, in, on, into, by, and from come from this time, participles a, and the, also originated from Old English. Our verbs, drink, come, go, sing, like, and love also can be traced to their origins in the Germanic languages. Today there are approximately 25,000 worlds that originate from Old English. This may seem marginal when compared to modern dictionaries that contain approximately 100,000 words. But, the average educated person today only has about 10,000 words in their vocabulary, and those ancient people didn’t have terms like hairdryer, television, computer, electricity, stationary, telephone, and technology to bolster their vocabulary.

Verbim: The Word

Tribal roots in the English language had already begun to fade with the revival of Christianity in England. In 597, Augustine led a mission from Rome to Kent, and around that same period Irish monks were establishing churches in the north of England. Within another century Christians were already building churches, and monasteries throughout the island. Christians (Catholics) also brought with them the international language of scholars, which was Latin. From this point on religious terminology would become permanently imbedded into the English language. Words such as apostle, altar, mass, monk, and verse became used in daily life. Absorbing words from other languages would become a pattern, as the English tongue would continue to evolve from a diversity sources.

The written form of the Jutes, Anglos, and Saxons would end up giving way to the Latin custom. Earlier written forms did not utilize script, as we know it today. The Jutes, Anglos, and Saxons used the runic alphabet, and symbols, which were formed mainly of straight lines, so that letters could be carved into stone or wood, as this was the medium to communicate at that time. Runes were mainly used for short practical messages. The Latin alphabet however, was different, as its curves, and bows allowed for words to easily be written on parchment or vellum using pen and ink. Pages could then be gathered into a book, and widely circulated to convey the writers intended message. It was Christianity that brought books to the English shores. Yet, the text of those books were written in Latin, and the common people could not decipher its meaning.

It wasn’t long before a native culture of scholarship began to flourish in the region. However, the written language would be based on Latin, and not on the ever-evolving language of the English speaking people. The famous Lindisfarne Gospels would be created on the island of Lindisfarne, which was just off of the northeast coast of England. A few miles south of Lindisfarne, at the monastery of St. Paul in Jaro, the European monk Bead, born, and educated in North Umbria, would begin documenting the first recorded history of the English speaking people. Although Bead wrote in Latin, which was the language of scholars at the time, the prevailing language of the land was still Old English. Beginning in the 7th Century, the English language was beginning to appear on parchment, and vellum as well. Thanks to the written form of expression the English language was now able to record a variety of subtle nuances, and express in great depth the human experience.

An Epic English Language Poem

Beowulf is the first great poem ever written in the English language. Its author remains unknown. This stylistic masterpiece was written between the 7th and 10th century, and celebrates the glory days of the Germanic warrior. The work was written in a traditionally oral form that would lend itself to other legendary English writings such as that of Shakespeare. The surprisingly extensive, and expressive language found in Beowulf leaves no doubt that even the earliest forms of English had the ability to utilize a wide variety of creativity, and expressionism. Beowulf contains around 40,000 words. English speakers today speak a less elaborate form than that found in the language of Beowulf. By this time, written English was already fully developed, and had become the perfect vehicle to express action, and descriptive speech. Writers were now capable of articulating great depth, detail, and subtle nuances due to the fusing of so many different languages. Around this same period, the Anglo Saxon Chronicles were also recording England’s historical events.

Invaders From The North

By the late 8th century, just as the English language began to evolve into an elaborate form of communication, a great destructive force from the north had already begun to lay siege. The Vikings had arrived, and sacked, and burned the religious centers that were recording the new English era. First to go was the religious center located on Lindisfarne Island. One year later the Vikings returned, and sacked the Abbey of Jaro, where the monk Bead had been the writer of one of the greatest libraries in English history. Bead was one of the scholars instrumental in writing in Latin, as well as English. Jaro was burned to the ground, and as at Lindisfarne, all its books were destroyed. For the next seventy years the Vikings ruthlessly attacked the eastern half of England. Few stories endure as to what had occurred because few survived the invasions to live, and tell about them. At first, the Vikings were content upon plundering the fortresses of their wealth, and returning home. But, in 865 the Vikings decided to annex East Anglia as well. Within five years the marauders, now known as Danes, controlled the entire north, and eastern part of the country. Of all of the early Anglo Saxon kingdoms only Wessex remained. Old Norse, the language of the conquerors was now spreading throughout the land. Old English now faced the same fate as the Celtic language it had supplanted, which was virtual extinction.

The English language needed a champion. It found one in King Alfred the Great. He would become known as the great defender of the English language. Alfred came to the throne within one year of the Danes numerous attacks on the northeast. In 878, the Danes defeated Alfred in a decisive battle that took place at Chipidome in Woocher. Alfred fled the battle with only a few surviving men. If Alfred’s kingdom fell, then the entire country would fall into the hands of the Danes, and be controlled, and settled by the conquerors that would inevitably crush the English language. His situation was desperate. Alfred began mounting guerilla warfare against the Danes, and in the spring of 878, he sent out a call for all inhabitants of the land to join him in a battle against the Danes. Four thousand men from Woocher, and Summerset would answer the call. The famous battle would result in the Danes being defeated, with the Danish king being baptized as a Christian. A peace treaty followed, and Alfred, and the Danes would divide the country into two regions, establishing a border that divided the land from the Thames to the north. The land to the north would be known as Danelagh, and it fell under Danish rule. The land to the south, and west was English territory ruled by Alfred.

Over the course of time the Danes, and English would trade in goods, and as a result, began to intermarry. Communities mixed, and so did the languages. The English began to absorb the Danish language, and culture. The extension, “by” had been the Danish name for farm. Today towns like Swanby, Runby, Faceby, and Kirkby, that had been vast farmland, still carry the same Danish names. Thorpe, meant “village”, and villages that grew into towns like Westhorpe still have their roots in Danish tradition. “Waite” is a section of land, such as in Huthwaite. “Son” was a Danish way of adding to the father’s name. Harrison, Robinson, Gibson, Simpson, and Watson are but a few examples. The Danish influence exists on many aspects of the English language, and culture even to this very day.

Old Norse remained in the dialect of some northeastern parts of England. Words such as beck (stream), and the sound “sk”, for sky began to appear in the English language. Other words that originated from the Danes include anger, knife, neck, root, scowl, and window. When the English, and the Danes had different words that meant the same thing, often both would survive such as in craft/skill, hide/skin, and sick/ill. These, and other foreign words were helping to build a powerful English vocabulary, and added to the richness of the language’s expression. Words like law, egg, husband, leg, ill, die, and ugly, are all from Old Norse. The pronouns they, their, and them are also Old Norse in origin. Even today, Old Norse affects the English language more than any other. Old Norse actually resulted in restructuring the way English speakers form sentences. Old English had no prepositions like “to.” Instead they added special endings, which meant the same thing. In English, gunum, meant (to man), and un (many), added to blanc (horse), blancun meant, many horses.

Through the great efforts of King Alfred, the English language survived, but the written form remained in a state of ruin. Written English had been on the decline ever since the early Viking raids. In his capital city of Winchester, Alfred began to promote literacy, and the restoration of the English tongue. “We should promote certain books for all men to know, into a language we can all understand. And also arrange it, if we have peace, so that all free men among the English people can devote themselves until the time when all men are able to read English writing well.” Alfred had five books of religion, history, and philosophy translated from Latin into English. Copies were sent to the twelve Bishops of his kingdom to be taught, and spread as widely as possible amongst the people. Alfred truly made the English language the jewel in his crown. King Alfred the Great died in 899, but at the time of his death, the English language had become more prestigious, and more widely read than ever before. Alfred’s legacy was to produce English text that could eventually be read by all who spoke the language.

By the mid 11th century English seemed secure as a language in both written, and spoken form, but the language itself was about to face its greatest threat yet.

The Battle Over Hastings

The Norman Invasion

The English king Edward the Confessor, spent many years in Normandy, and regarded William Duke of Normandy as his son. In 1066, Edward named William as his successor to the English throne. Harold, as Earl of Essex, the most powerful of the English lords was summoned to Normandy, where he was to pledge his loyalty to William. He did! However, when Edward was laid to rest, Harold had himself crowned as the king of England on the very same day of Edward’s death. William responded with a full invasion of England. The Norman, and English armies met near Hastings where a fight would ensue. Harold would fall, fatally pierced through the eye with an arrow. The site where the incident took place would be named with the French word battle. The Battle of Hastings! England had a new king, and a new language. Harold would be the last English-speaking king for three centuries.

On Christmas day in 1066, William was crowned king. Although his coronation was in English, and Latin, William spoke French throughout the entire proceeding. A new king, and a new language were in authority in England. Approximately ten thousand words of the Old French vocabulary would find their way into the English language. The Normans however, no longer spoke Old Norse. They spoke the language of what today is called Old French, which had its roots in Latin. Over time, many words that originated from Normandy would become unpleasantly familiar to the English.

French words became an integral part of the English language. Enemy, and castle would be new words added to the English language immediately. The French built many castles throughout the conquered land, and used them to impose Norman rule over the English-speaking people. By blood the Normans were the same as the Norsemen, who had invaded Lindisfarne, and Jaro centuries earlier, but the language had become very different. Old French, Norman words such as army, archer, soldier, guard, crown, thrown, court, Duke, Baron, nobility, peasant, servant, governor, liberty, authority, obedience, traitor, felony, warrant, arrest, judgment, jury, accused, acquit, sentence, condemn, prison, and jail were words that proved who was in authority over the land. Words such as city, market, salmon, mackerel, oysters, pork, sausage, bacon, fruit, olive, appetite, plate, mustard, salad and dinner, all Old French were absorbed into the English language as well.

The Norman takeover of the English was pervasive, and absolute. The native ruling class was slaughtered, banished, or disinherited. Half of England was now in the hands of one hundred, and ninety men. Only eleven of those held half of that, and not one of them spoke English. The writing of English became increasingly more rare. Even the writings of the Anglo Saxon Chronicles ceased to exist. In a country of three languages, English became the least communicated in any form. As the English language was forced underground, it would take another three hundred years for it to reemerge, and when it finally does, it changed dramatically from when Beowulf had been written.

The Normans took over power in every important aspect of English life especially in positions within the government, and the church. No longer were Englishmen Earls, Bishops, or Abbotts. The last recorded record of English writing during this period was in Peterborough Cathedral Abbey in the year, 1154. For the past six hundred years, the Anglo Saxon Chronicles were written in English, the language of the people. The Peterborough Chronicles would be the last official English text, recording that the new Bishop, was a Frenchman. These would be the last words written in the English language for the next three hundred years. Old English ceased to be the language of record throughout the land. Nevertheless, the spoken language remained the language of ninety percent of the people. Over time, the language became simpler. Plural forms were becoming more prevalent. Despite English being the officially ignored language, it was continuing to evolve and change, and would endure, resisting, and absorbing the invaders tongue, until it would someday become the prevalent language it is today.

New words began to pour into the English language. Words such as, honor, damsels, jousting, and tournaments were absorbed into the language through the French Court. The vocabulary of romance flourished in England. Eleanor, the French queen of England was considered the most cultured in all of Europe. She patronized the troubadours, and poets whose verses, and songs painted the romantic image of the middle ages. This would be known historically as the age of chivalry, but it was never realized outside the pages of literature. One hundred years earlier, chivalry meant something entirely different, it meant cavalry, as it was the warriors of the Normans that carried the day at the Battle of Hastings. Since then, the English considered the Normans as little more than thugs, and bullies, who ran the country by force, terror, and intimidation. But to the Normans, the mounted warriors became known as Knights, and chivalry represented a whole new paradigm of ideals, and behaviors. As a result, the English culture became infused with words, and concepts such as honor, and altruism. Ideas shifted, and words went with them. It was through Eleanor that the stories of Arthur, and his Knights made their way into history books, as the concept of French romanticism, cultivated the region, adding new words that were richer than those of the Normans who had invaded the northern region of the island. This new language would run through the sonnets, and poems of Shakespeare, and the pop songs of today’s hit singles, which have all, in some way, been inspired by Eleanor’s heart of the court of courtly love, and the imagery of fair cruel ladies.

It was William the Conqueror that introduced the system of feudalism to England, and along with it came words such as village, vassal, labor, and serfs. But, the French language did not trickle down to the common people. The native Englishmen were concerned with things related to their less than exalted condition. They sang of matters that related to their daily lives, and sang in their own tongue. English words like summer, sow, seed, spring, and wood sprang from Beowulf. Merry, sing, and loud, words authorized by Alfred remained as part of the language as well. In the country, where 95% of the people lived as serfs, tied to their lord’s land for life, at the subsistence level, lived in cottages, or huts, while their French masters lived in castles. The modern form of English still holds these distinctions. On the farm the English tended to cattle, and raised oxen, and cows, while the French dined on the preferred meats that came to their table. The French ate beef. The English used sheep, while the French dined on mutton. Calf was veal; deer was venison, and pig, pork. English animals were French meat in every case. The English labored as the French feasted. Apple in Old English meant any kind of fruit. The word fruit is introduced into the language, absorbed, and becomes a way of describing a variety of different foods. As a result, apple takes on the characteristic of describing a particular kind of food. English words begin taking on a more narrow meaning, giving the language more descriptive expressions, flexibility, and preciseness. Sadly though, after 150 years, the written form of English, which was the labor of Alfred, was all but dead. But, the balance of power within the languages was about to shift.

Where the French masters, and their English subjects lived together, the boundaries in language began to wither away. The court, and countryside began to mingle, as French words continued to enhance the English vocabulary. But, not the grammar as the Danes had. As trade grew so did the towns with London merging as the center of commerce. Its population doubled during the 13th century, and French craftsmen came to England from Normandy to ply their trade, as the city continued to expand. Feudalism began to loosen its grip. English speakers in masse migrated to the city, looking for opportunity, and a better life. Already established were the French court officials, administrators, lawyers, and merchants. Craftsmen gave French names to the tools of the trade including, measure, mallet, chisel, pulley, bucket, and trowel. As the population, and trade grew so too did the vocabulary. Business opportunity brought in new business oriented words such as, merchant, money, price, discount, bargain, contract, partner, and embezzle became part of the English language. The English didn’t just absorb the French vocabulary; they took their names from it as well. Then as now, names are taken out of fashion, and the fashion of the 13th century was French. French names like, Richard, Robert, Simon, Steven, John, Jeffrey, and the most popular William became the leading names of the English, as well as the French. With this much French influence, one would think the English language would be engulfed entirely, but that didn’t happen. Because of particular historical events, French speakers in English became cut off form their cultural, and linguistic roots.

In 1284, John, the reigning king of Normandy lost his land in a war with the much smaller kingdom of France. The Normandy Dukedoms, and ancestral lands of William the Conqueror became part of another empire. Many French Englishmen were cut off from their ancestral lands, and when they lost that contact, the ruling class began to lose connection with their homeland. Their identities began to change, and their language began to lose its grip on the French-English. French speakers, even from the noblest of families began to marry English wives. When they did, they married English speakers, and into the English language as well. Now, the French aristocrats children were learning English from mothers who spoke the language as their native tongue. As a result, children of Anglo-French families began to grow up bilingual. By 1250, many children were struggling to learn French from language instructors, as had to grapple with what was effectively a foreign tongue. Many French living within the English society were beginning to speak English as well. As Normandy became a foreign land, those with French blood, and French names began calling themselves trueborn Englishmen. The French language was becoming a foreign tongue even to the French, but its vocabulary was streaming into the English language. Words like attire, defend, figure, malady, music, person, sacrifice, scarlet, spy, stable, virtue, park, reign, beauty clergy, cloak, country, food, and air all became part of the English language. The French court would introduce legal terms, such as plead, defend, and marshal while the religious order used clergy, and pillory. As trade with the east began to open, Arabic words also became part of the English language; words such as saffron, mattress, hazard, camphor, lute, amber, syrup, and alchemy were absorbed into English. The chess game term checkmate entered the English language from the Arabic word shazmat, meaning the king is dead.

Fine nuances became part of the language as well. Answer, and respond did not mean the same thing. Neither did, begin and commence, or liberty and freedom. As new words poured in English words remained steadfastly, adding to the richness of the language. Words like swan/signet, as/hatchet, ask/demand, bit/morsel, wish/desire, might/power, room/chamber, on the surface appear similar, yet they began to represent shades of meaning, new thoughts, and expressive details, adding more precision, and flexibility, to the language, which allowed speakers, and writers to carefully choose the right world to express their desired form of communication. Rather than replace English, French was equipping the language with its ability to communicate more powerfully.

The old language was beginning to be revived, and by now was a rallying cry for a new people. Edward I of Scotland, a direct descendant of William the Conqueror, known as the hammer of the Scots, used the English language to unite the kingdom, when the French King Phillip threatened to invade England in 1295. Edward used the English language as a symbol of national unity to galvanize support. “If Phillip is able to do all the evil he means to, God protect us, he plans to wipe out our English language entirely from the earth.” The invasion of Phillip never came. Despite the threat of yet another invasion, Latin, and French remained the official language of those who governed the nation. As the 14th century approached English became the one language everyone knew, and used in their daily lives. Even the French troubadours were now singing in the English language.

By William of Nassyngton

In englysch tonge I schal you telle
Yif ye so longe with me wil dwelle
Ne latyn wil I speke ne waste
Bot englisch that men usen maste
For that is youre kynde langage
That ye have most here of usage
That kan eche man understonde
That is boren in engelonde
For that langage is most schewed
As wel among lered as lewed
Latyn as I trowe can nane
Bot thoo that have it at scole tane
Somme kan frensch and no latyn
That used have court and dwelled therin
And somme kan of latyn a party
That kan frensch ful febelly
And somme understonden englysch
That kan nouther latyn ne frensch
Bot lered and lewed olde and yonge
Alle understonden englysch tonge

The Great Pestilence: Black Death

It would be a rodent that gave the English language its greatest boost. In 1348, black rats began to arrive on the shores of England from France. They carried with them a deadly cargo. The disease became known as the great pestilence, or the Black Death. Black rats shed infected fleas that fed on their blood. This would then transmit the bubonic plague to humans who would likewise be bitten by the contagious fleas. An estimated one-third of England’s four million died from this terrible plague. In some places, entire communities were wiped out. This set into motion a social upheaval that aided in the restoration of the English language as the recognized language of the nation. At the local level, priests who performed mandatory services in Latin either caught the plague or ran away. Many of their replacements were laymen whose only language was English. They began to perform religious rituals, such as Masses, and baptisms in the English tongue.

After the Black Death, England became a very different country. In many places there was hardly anyone that could work the land, or tend to livestock. The acute shortage of labor meant those that did have the requisite skill, and who could perform the work suddenly had the power to demand better working, and living conditions, and higher wages as well. As wages rose, the price of property fell, and the fortunes of the common people began to rise. By 1385, English replaced French in the schoolrooms, and as literacy spread, so did the demand for books written in English. It was during this time that the English language would find its place in the state, and in the law. In 1362, for the first time in three hundred years, English was acknowledged as the official language of business, and the language of the state because too many lawyers, judges, and officials had died from the plague. As a result, cases could now be pleaded, defended, and judged in English. That same year Parliament opened in Westminster, and for the first time ever the Chancellor addressed the assembly, not in French, but in English. Soon English would become the language of the kings. Since 1066, during Harold’s brief stint, England had not had an English king. In 1399, Henry Duke of Lancaster deposed King Richard II. Henry Duke of Lancaster became known as Henry the 4th. He made his coronation speech in English. Once again, the English language was the royal language of England.

Catholic Control: The Dark Ages

The Catholic Church controlled all aspects of life. In the church, Latin was the spoken language, but nobody understood it except the church leaders themselves. When one went to church, and everybody did because it was compulsory, common prayers, the service, hymns, and everything else was spoken in Latin. Only the clergy were allowed to read the word, and they even did that silently. Absurdly, a bell would ring to let the congregation know when the priest reached the important parts. Although the masses were forced to attend church, they weren’t even allowed to know the words of the faith that was imposed upon them, under the threat of death. The authority of the Catholic Church sought to hold all power, and language was power, so it was vital that the clergy stood between the believer, and the Catholic bible, which was written in Latin. But, all of this nonsense was about to change dramatically.

In the 14th century, there was a movement that would tear the church in two. It would mark the end of the middles ages, and cost the lives of millions. This would be the battle for the language of the bible. The English wanted access to the language of the kingdom of heaven. They wanted a bible that belonged to them, and they wanted a religious teaching that was in their language. They were also willing to fight, and die for it. So, English set out to become the language of God. This struggle would be a violent one, as the lay demanded access to the bible in a tongue they understood.

John Wycliffe, a theologian, and philosopher was fluent in Latin. Wycliffe believed everyone should have access to the knowledge he held. The church in Wycliffe’s time was corrupt, and he was fiercely opposed to the power, and wealth of the church. “When men speak of the church they speak of priests, monks, bishops, friars, but it should not be so.” “Whether a hundred popes, and all the friars turned to cardinals, their opinions, and matters of faith should not be accepted except in so far as they are found on the scripture itself.” Wycliffe railed at the corruption, and complacency of the Catholic faith. Wycliffe believed man had the right tot examine the bible for himself. This meant an English bible that was unauthorized by the church. To the church this very thought (an opinion crime) was heretical, even seditious. Wycliffe set out to produce an English language bible. The work had to be done in secrecy. Its aim was to not only produce an English language bible, but to also overthrow, and end the reign of the Catholic Church. By 1380, Wycliffe had completed, and authorized the first English bible translated from Latin. The work was done at Oxford University, with numerous translators. Hundreds of English language bibles were copied by hand, and distributed throughout England. Today, one hundred, and seventy copies have survived, which means there must have been armies of faithful followers that believed in the cause who were secretly transcribing, and passing them on, knowing their discovery meant certain death.

Eventually, hundreds would be martyred as a result of Wycliffe’s English bible. B But, many believed it was worth dying for, as it was “God’s” work that they were performing. Because of Wycliffe’s bible, many phrases made their way into the English language, and continue to this day. Some of those words, and phrases include, woe is me, an eye for an eye, barbarian, birthday, child bearing, cock crow, communication, crime, dishonor, envy, godly, graven, humanity, injury, jubilee, lecture, madness, mountainous, pollute, tramp, unfaithful, and zeal. These, and other words, and phrase first appeared in Wycliffe’s bible. In fact, there are more than one thousand Latin words that first appeared in Wycliffe’s bible, and those words would become a pertinent part of the English tongue. Other words from Wycliffe’s bible include, emperor, justice, city, cradle, suddenly, angel, multitude, and glory.  Wycliffe’s bible immediately became the best selling, and most sought after literary work in the English language. The church immediately condemned it. “The jewel of the cleric is turned to the sport of the laity, and the pearl of the gospel is scattered abroad, and trampled under foot by swine.” Clearly, the Catholic Church thought of the English as nothing more than mere farm animals; chattel to labor for the churches coffers. By keeping the masses in the dark, regarding scriptural content, contradictions that existed between the Catholic Church, and the scripture could not be known. However, once the English bible became available, people began to question the churches doctrine, and authority, and the foreign faith that was imposed upon them. Moreover, the swine that the church spoke of were now becoming illiterate, and learned.

Wycliffe trained an order, and dispatched them throughout England. There purpose was to spread the word all across the land. They were determined to win the battle against the church, and preach against its corruption. They did this reading from Wycliffe’s bible. Those who read from Wycliffe’s bible became known as Lollards, which meant, the whisperers. The Lollard’s remained a secretive, but influential movement that was hated by the Catholic establishment. The Lollards went straight to the people, cutting out the middlemen. The following text is from the book of Mark, which Wycliffe had interpreted directly from the original Greek, and Hebrew:

Blessed be poor men in spirit, for the kingdom of heavens is theirs.
Blessed be mild men, for they shall wield the earth.
Blessed be they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed be they that hunger, and thirst rightwiseness, for they shall be fulfilled.
Blessed be merciful men, for they shall get mercy.

On May 17th, 1382, a special organization of top church leaders met to examine Wycliffe’s work. It was as much a show trial, as the Nuremberg trials held in Germany after WWII, as the conclusion was preordained. Wycliffe was condemned as a heretic. The Catholic Church ordered his arrest, and the arrest, and imprisonment of all of Wycliffe’s preachers. The church also secured a parliamentary ban on all of Wycliffe’s bibles. Wycliffe fell ill. The stress defeated him. He was paralyzed by a stroke, and would die two years later. Regardless, it was already too late for the corrupt church leaders, because after Wycliffe’s death, the movement continued, as the faithful avoided captivity, keeping their faith, and their English teachings alive. Wycliffe’s bible became a national political movement, and its cause was an English language bible.

The church was not satisfied with Wycliffe’s death. In 1414, the Catholic Church declared Wycliffe a heretic once again, and in the spring of 1428, his body was ordered exhumed, and posthumously burned. Wycliffe’s remains were burned near a tributary of the Avon River. His ashes were then scattered into it. Officially, the bible would remain in Latin, but a Lollard prophecy rang true:

The Avon to the Severn runs
The Severn to the sea
And Wycliffe’s dust shall spread abroad
Wide as the waters be

The Church Of England

In 1417, King Henry V, began writing letters in English. His English letters started a movement to standardize spelling throughout the entire country, because each region spelled even the simplest of words differently. Take for example the word church, which could have been spelled sixteen different ways. The following are those different spelling forms, church, churche, cherche, chirche, church, chyrch, cherge, chyrche, kirk, kirke, kyrk, kyrke, kerk, kire, kerke, schyrche. The Chancellery was given the task to standardize spelling because it was crucial that all official documents that were written in London, could be read elsewhere. Because government documents had legal status, they had to be consistent. The Chancellery had the task to impose this new standard upon the entire nation. Congruency within the language became one of the nation’s top priorities. The Chancellery had to choose, which form of a word, and which spelling would become the standard. Thousands of documents were written, and sent all over the country explaining this new legal procedure. The language was becoming clearer, more modern, and congruent. I, (previously Iche) found its modern form. So did any, but, ought, and such. Lond became land, chirche (and the rest) became church, xal, and schal became shall. Rithe became right. Hath, and doth became has, and does. Everyone spelling words the same way doesn’t mean the language became logical though. Anyone trying to rationalize the English language text realizes immediately that the final determination is in reality not logical at all.

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes
Then one fowl is a goose, but two are called geese
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese

You may find a lone mouse or a whole nest of mice
But the plural of house is houses, not hice
If the plural of man is always called men
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen

The cow in the plural may be cows or kine
And the plural of vow is vows, never vine
If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet
And I give you a boot would a pair be called beet

If one is a tooth, and a whole set are teeth
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth
If the singular’s this and the plural is these
Should the plural of kiss ever be keese

Then one may be that and three would be those
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren
But though we say mother, we never say methren

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him
But imagine the feminine she, shis and shim
So the English, I think, you all will agree
Is the strangest of languages you ever will see

The Power Of The Press: Gutenberg Germany

The print medium gave writing its true power. The ability to print is the most technological seismic change western civilization has ever known. In 1435, printing was invented in Guttenberg, Germany. This would be the beginning of the information age. Print also made it hard to control the spread of ideas. As in England, where the Chancellery decided how words would be spelled, it would be the owners of the presses that determined what words would be used.

Early in the reign of Henry VIII, the king remained adamant on burning Wycliffe’s bible, and followers. Wycliffe’s bible was circulating relentlessly in hand copied form. The Catholic Church continued hunting down, and executing all books they alone considered heretical. It was during this time, an ordained priest, educated at Oxford, named William Tyndale began to preach against the Catholic Church. History was repeating itself. The presses would play a major role in bringing about a radical change in the English language, and what was to be read. When one cleric challenged Tyndale regarding his intention to make a new English language bible he responded, “I will cause a boy who drives a plow to know more of the scriptures that thou.” It would be Tyndale who finished the work that had begun with John Wycliffe.

William Tyndale: A Stranger In A Strange Land

In 1524, at the age of 29, William Tyndale left England. Unknown to him at the time, he would never return. He settled in Cologne, Germany, and began to work on translating the New Testament, not from Latin, but from the original text of Hebrew, and Greek. By 1526, six thousand copies had been printed, and were about to be smuggled into England. Henry VIII, and the Catholic Church were alerted, even terrified of this perceived threat. The nation’s entire political, and religious authority was put on alert. Naval ships patrolled the coastal waters, and searched boats for the latest heretical conspiracy against the church, and a great number of Tyndale’s books were intercepted. Nevertheless, hundreds of copies of the first run of Tyndale’s Bible would eventually make their way through. The king sought to purchase the entire print run so he could have them burned. “Oh, he will burn them”, Tyndale was known to have said. “Well, I am the gladder, for I shall get the money for these books, and the whole world will cry out for the burning of God’s word.” The books were purchased, and burnt. Tyndale would use the proceeds to prepare, and print a better version of his bible, and all at the church’s expense. Tyndale’s work would later become 85% of the King James Bible, and native English language speakers all use Tyndale’s words, and phrases unto this very today. Words, and phrases such as, scapegoat, let there be light, the powers that be, filthy lucre, my brother’s keeper, fight the good fight, flowing with milk and honey, sick unto death, a man after my own heart, signs of the times, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, ye of little faith, eat drink and be merry, broken hearted, clear eyed, and hundreds of other phrases, and idioms are accredited to Tyndale. Words like, beautiful, fishermen, stumbling block, two-edged viper, Jehovah, and Passover also come to the English language through Tyndale. Tyndale’s language not only refined the English speaker regarding their external experiences, they also taught them how to communicate concerning their internal condition.

Before long there were thousands of copies of Tyndale’s Bible in England. These new bibles were produced in pocket-sized books and were easily concealed. He passed them on to city officials, and universities, even to young boys who plowed the fields. The authorities, especially Thomas Moore railed against Tyndale’s work. But, it was too late, the damage to the Catholic Church was done. The English had their bible. Tyndale, of course, was condemned as a heretic, and the hunt for him continued until 1535 when two hired assassins trapped Tyndale in Antwerp. Tyndale was captured, kidnapped, and smuggled out of the city, and taken to Vilvoorde Castle near Brussels, where he was imprisoned. In his last letter, Tyndale asked, “That I might have a warmer cup, for I suffer greatly from the cold. A warmer coat also, for what I have is very thin. A piece of clothe for which to patch my leggings, and I ask to be allowed to have a lamp in the evening for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark. But, most of all, I beg and beseech your clemency that the commissary will permit me to have my Hebrew bible, my grammar, and my dictionary, so that I might continue with my work.” Tyndale did continue to work, his work would also give the English language phrases such as, a prophet has no honor in his own country, a stranger in a stranger land, a law unto themselves, and, let my people go.

In August, of 1536, Tyndale was found guilty of heresy by an inquisitional court in the Netherlands, and as was the case with John Wycliffe, the determination was already predetermined. On October 6th, Tyndale was tortured yet again, strangled while tied to a stake, and burned. His last words would be, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” Within one year the Catholic Church would be ousted from England, and Tyndale’s bible placed in every parish throughout the land. The ousting of the church wasn’t based on corruption, or even morality. It would be based on a king that sought an annulment of his marriage. A decision the Catholic Church wasn’t willing to make.

The Pope’s refusal to grant Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon led to a confrontation with the Catholic Church. Suddenly, Henry VIII objected to Catholic rule. Precipitously, scripture became more important to the king than Catholic authority. As well, Thomas Moore would be executed for refusing to a meeting of the minds with the king. King Henry’s new advisors, Thomas Cromwell, and Thomas Cranmer, pushed for ecclesiastic reform. The split with the Catholic Church also meant a split from Rome. The English reformation was now in its infancy. The English language would now become the language of the court, the language of literature, and now the language of religion. Ironically, at the time of Tyndale’s martyrdom, Henry had authorized the first legal English bible, the Coverdale Bible. Soon there would be so many competing versions of the bible that King James of Scotland would order a standardized version, which today is known as the King James Bible, completed in 1611. The interpreters of the King James Bible reviewed all of the competing versions, but it would be William Tyndale’s Bible that made up the majority of the English text. In fact, 85% of the King James Bible is in reality, Tyndale’s work.

Henry The Eighth And His Many Wives

Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon, who had previously been married to the king’s brother Arthur. Arthur had been the original heir to the throne. Henry, and Catherine’s first son died, and a series of miscarriages followed. Catherine therefore failed to produce an heir to the throne. Henry being much younger watched as his wife became bloated as a result of numerous pregnancies. The marriage however was able to produce a daughter. Mary! Catherine, being of Spanish blood was a devote Catholic, as her daughter would grow to be. During Henry’s reign, Thomas Woolsey was the churches supreme leader. Woolsey rose from a butcher’s son to the hold the highest position in the Church of England. Woolsey would be the architect of Henry’s victories in the French campaigns, known as the Battle of the Spurs. Henry took control of two French cities at that time. Also, during this time, in Germany, Martin Luther had risen in power, and began condemning the corruption of the Catholic Church.

Henry was adamant to defend Rome, and won the title of Defender of the Faith when he wrote his book, In Defense of the Seven Sacraments. This was the first book written by a king since Alfred. Thomas Moore, a friend who held great sway over Henry requested Henry to take a more moderate stance on religion. The king steadfastly refused. King Henry would eventually fall for the sister of one of his mistresses, Anne Boleyn. Anne refused Henry sexual relations, only unless he agreed to marry her. The difficulty was that he was already married, and Catherine refused to grant a divorce. So, Henry, and Anne began searching for a legal loophole to resolve the marriage. Their best hope laid in the bible. The book of Leviticus forbade a man to marry his dead brother’s wife. Henry argued that when Rome permitted his marriage to Catherine, the Pope exceeded his power, and the marriage was therefore invalid. That matter was then turned over for disposition to the man who was both the Pope’s representative in England, and Henry’s own chief minister, Cardinal Woolsey.

On May 17th 1527, the first trial of the marriage of Henry the VIII began. It was a secret trial, as Catherine had no knowledge about the proceedings. All were confident that Woolsey would rule the marriage invalid. To everyone’s surprise, on May 31st, Woolsey adjourned the court indefinitely on grounds of the difficulty of the case. Woolsey defied the king who felt betrayed. The fact is that matters in Rome at that very time made it impossible for the Pope to rule in favor of Henry. The troops of Charles V had sacked Rome, and pillaged the city. The Pope was driven out of the city, and sought refuge at Castel St. Angelo, which was the property of Catherine’s nephew. While the Pope waited in exile at the Castel St. Angelo, Henry’s desire to receive an annulment was quashed.

Henry, and Anne had hoped for a quick marriage, but the matter had stretched into years. In the second divorce trial held in 1529, Henry’s patience was at an end. Woolsey knew his power, and life was at stake. He wrote Henry’s case, in his own hand, “never rising to eat or even piss” according to his valet. But, not even the Cardinal of England had the power to sway Europe’s political powers at that time. Given the condition of the Pope, Woolsey was unable to persuade the Pope to grant Henry, and Catherine’s annulment. Woolsey would lose his position, power, and prestige, and shortly thereafter died, but not before cursing Anne, and blaming her for his swift downfall. Woolsey predicted the downfall of the Catholic Church as well.

Anne, a sympathizer of Luther, encouraged Henry to turn to Rome’s English opponents for guidance, and that led to a meeting with Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury. Henry was told that he had been going about the divorce proceeding the wrong way. Cranmer said he had been treating it as a legal matter, but it wasn’t, according to Cranmer, it was a moral one. Cranmer said the bible supplied absolute answers as to what was right, and what was wrong. Cranmer suggested Henry seek the knowledge of theological experts to get his answer, which all of Rome, as well as the Pope would have to recognize. Experts gathered at Cambridge, and delivered the verdict Henry desired. Henry’s envoy was then sent to pit the argument against the authority of the Pope. The entire power of the Tutor state bribed, and bullied the European universities to rule in favor of Henry. But, Catherine wasn’t without her own defenders. One of them was Thomas Able, her personal minister. Henry sent Able on a mission to Catherine’s nephew, but Able acted as a double agent. Outwardly, he was working for Henry’s cause, but secretly he was undermining the king’s strategy, on Catherine’s behalf. When Able returned to England, he became Catherine’s outspoken propagandist. He wrote, Invicta Veritas, which attacked the verdict of the university scholars. Henry read the book, and was furious, he wrote, “The whole basis of this book is false. Therefor, the Papal authority is empty save in its own seat.” Despite this, Able continued to rail against the king. This led to two arrests, and imprisonment in the tower. Able would subsequently be executed as a traitor to England in 1540.

Henry being king, and emperor of England felt he was subject to no authority on earth. Not even that of the Pope. Henry, once the stoutest of proponents of papal authority, turned his back on the church, all because of the matter of a divorce. Henry held that the truth was not found in Rome, but in the words of the bible itself. Those same words that the church had tried so desperately hide from the English people.

The Pope’s interest in preserving his own position, and the five years delay in obtaining a divorce had taken its toll. The church was now Henry’s enemy, and what stood between him, and Anne. Henry argued that there were no Popes in scripture, but there were plenty of kings. Cranmer also argued that it was kings who were God’s anointed. Henry’s wrath against the Catholic Church would transform the monarchy from that point on, and forever. On January 19th 1531, the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed that Henry should be the head of the Church of England. The announcement was met by a stunned silence. The Archbishop took it to mean consent. Henry was now head of the Church of England. By becoming the head of the English Church, Henry broke Magna Carta, the first clause of his coronation, which was his allegiance, and devotion to the Catholic faith. Henry, still married to Catherine became a bigamist. In December of 1532, Anne became pregnant, and in January of 1533, Henry, and Anne married. The following month Cranmer was made Archbishop of Canterbury, and declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine unlawful. Charles V of Spain became furious upon learning of the announcement, and the Pope excommunicated Henry.

Henry’s old friend and counselor, Thomas Moore, warned him regarding his defiance to the church. Laws now required opponents to swear a double oath, to accept the kings second marriage, and to object to Papal supremacy. To refuse the oath meant treason to England, and certain death. Moore refused the oath, and was imprisoned for more than a year at the tower. At his trial, Moore said he could not be guilty because the English Parliament did not have the power to make Henry the supreme leader of the church. Moore argued that all of Christianity had given that authority to the Pope, and had done so for more than a thousand years. The law chief justice responded, “English law was whatever English Parliament said it was.” Moore was condemned, and beheaded on July 6th, 1535. Working with Parliament, instead of against it, as his father had, worked in Henry’s favor. In 1536, the monasteries were plundered of their wealth, and dissolved under the guise of reform. Henry would then face the greatest threat to his power, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. By 1540, the last standing Abbey was gone. This provoked shock, outrage, and open revolt. The largest army England had ever seen, since the Battle of the Roses, some thirty thousand with twelve thousand reserves marched toward London from the North. They were prepared for war. Henry only had eight thousand men. Wisely, he chose to negotiate a deal. Henry also offered pardons to all, and the revolt dispersed. A few months later Henry broke his promise, and exacted revenge. The leaders of the revolt were arrested, and sent to London. The trial was especially harsh on the clerics, even those who were coerced into joining the revolt. Many religious leaders were drawn and quartered, or hanged. Henry’s church, which condemned Rome for all its barbarity was now the new form of tyranny, and terror.

Anne was unable to produce a male heir to Henry’s throne. After only three years of marriage, she was executed on trumped up charges of adultery, incest, and sexual perversion. Anne’s real crime however, was that she failed to produce a male heir. Henry soon married Jane Seymour who produced a male heir, Edward. However, Jane would die shortly after giving birth to Edward. Henry’s two disputed marriages, and the lack of a male heir were now resolved. Edward succeeded Henry in 1547. Edward then removed his half sister Mary from succession because of her staunch Catholic religious faith. On Edward’s deathbed, Lady Jane Grey was named queen of England. Mary formed an army based out of East Anglia, and backed by the Catholic Church, and successfully deposed Jane, who was subsequently beheaded. In 1554, Mary married Phillip of Spain, and thereby began the 4th Tutor dynasty. Mary restored Catholicism to England, and during her five-year reign, executed more than two hundred and eighty protestant dissenters, who were burnt at the stake. Upon her death, Mary’s half sister, and successor Elizabeth returned England to Protestantism.

Prevailing Winds

John Locke’s, Essay Concerning Human Understanding was a conceptual work where Locke believed that if a definition of all words could be agreed upon, this would bring an absolute understanding between nations, and as a result, peace would prevail, and wars would be avoided. “Dispute would end of themselves.” Locked also believed that a uniformity of language would lead to pure reasoning. Latin remained understood as the international language of scholarly work, and regarded as the only precise way of communicating science, and other serious works. Members of the Royal Society wanted to make England the language for scholars. In 1687, Isaac Newton published his first work, Principia Mathematica, which was published in Latin. But, his next work, Opticks, published in 1704, was written in England. Newton gave the English language new terms such as flexibility, and other terms began to take on new meaning, transmission became, passing through a medium, opaque had meant unlit, but now was understood for not allowing the passage of light. Newton also gave us indistinctness, and well defined. English scholars by now were redefining the meaning of many English words.

For the first time, daily newspapers began to circulate, and articles were short, and concise. By this time the work of Geoffrey Chaucer’s, The Canterbury Tales, was becoming difficult to understand, even tedious to read. Jonathan Swift, the writer of the bogus travel diaries, known as Gulliver travel’s, while writing under the name Lemuel Gulliver, (a surgeon and captain), criticized these new changes, he argued that these new terms could hardly be understood unless one had aces to an interpreter. Swift hated “the vulgar liberties” these English scholars were having with the English language. Modern scholars also began shortening words, and this shortening was considered crude. Examples include, mob, from a French word that was shortened to mean common people. Swift also hated modal words such as, bully, banter, shuffling, cutting, and sham. Swift said Latin, and Greek had survived because they never changed. Swift said he would save the English language by “putting an end to changes.” He wanted to take control of the language, and to take it away from the “anarchy” of the class bloods, and their slang. In 1712, Swift proposed the foundation of an academy, for ascertaining, improving and preserving the English tongue. This new form of academia was to replace the bastardization of the language the aristocracy was responsible for. Swift took his case to Queen Anne, however she died shortly thereafter, and George III, took her place. George III was a German king who spoke little English, and cared about the matter even less. Swift’s plans died a miserable, and humiliating death. Dr. Samuel Johnson, an effortless eccentric would become the English language’s next champion.

Samuel Johnson took seven years to put 43,000 words, and definitions, etymology, and quotations into a dictionary. He confessed to omitting words he didn’t understand, “Many terms of art, manufacturing, and trade were omitted. But, for this deficit, may I boldly allege it was unavoidable. I could not visit caverns to learn the miner’s language, nor take a voyage to perfect my skill in the dialect of navigation.” Johnson’s dictionary is lacking in the language of law, medicine, and the physical sciences. He left out rude words, and when two society ladies asked him why, he responded, “What my dears? Have you been looking for them?” In 1755, Johnson’s dictionary was finally published in two volumes. This dictionary, with all its omissions gave a sense of national pride. For it was not put together by a French committee, but was the efforts of one man alone, an Englishman. One inclusion into Johnson’s dictionary is the word, Tarantula, which described the creature as, “an insect whose bite is cured only by music.” Johnson also defined his trade as a, lexicographer, “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.” Today the dictionary is still read, and enjoyed in all its eccentricity, and antiquated glory. Despite the humor attached to some of the definitions, like the examples given above, Johnson’s goal was to fix the pronunciation of words in the English language. But, by the time he finished his work, Johnson was convinced that no dictionary could pin the language down.

The printed form of English was being regarded as the correct way to speak the English language. But, what did the written English sound like, and who decided? One idea was that all the letters that were written should be spoken. This was to help in how to pronounce vowels. But, what of the many English inconsistencies in the written form? Truly, the English language is a nightmare. There are at least seven ways to pronounce the vowel, e. Free, these, leaf, field, seize, key, machine. The four letters ough, have six different sounds, cough, though, through, thorough, bough, thought. Johnson omitted pronunciations from his dictionary stating, “Trying to fix it was like trying to lash the wind.”

The Select Society held. “Pronunciation is proof someone has kept good company.” Thomas Sheridan believed his new book would teach everyone how to speak the same, and make everyone equal. That didn’t happen. His book divided people’s, especially the Scotts who were made to feel their dialect was inferior. Robert Burns would be the bearer of the Scot standard. Born in 1759, to a poor farming family, Burns worked as a plowboy until he was 15. It’s said he loved women, Scotch, and Scots. His first publication was a collection of poems, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Burns made the Scots proud of their own language. Burns died at 37, but he left four hundred songs, and other admired Scottish works.

Prose And Cons

William Wordsworth, an ordinary man wrote, Lyrical Ballads And A Few Other Poems. He said, “Poetry should be written in the language in the language really used by men.” Wordsworth lived in the same manner that he wrote. He planted his garden using wildflowers, instead of the cultivated hybrids of the upper class. It was much the same with the language of his verse; the natural variety that men used in their daily lives. Wordsworth warned that readers who were used to gaudiness, and inane phraseology, of many modern writers would perhaps have to struggle with reading his works. For daring to write poetry in the language of the ordinary person, Wordsworth was reviled by the critics, and contemporary poets. Thomas Paine’s, The Rights of Man, was written in the plain language of the common people, as well as, Answer’s to Mr. Burke’s Attack on the French Revolution. Today it’s hard to imagine a world of art without the likes of Paine, Wordsworth, and their predecessors. Wordsworth gave a lasting legacy to the language of ordinary speech. Despite this, among the privileged, and “educated”, how one spoke was a key to their social status.

Jan Austin wrote novels that were aimed at the woman reader. Her subjects were always a well off businessman in search of a wife who had the same social status. Her works carried with it the concept that, if certain words were removed, the thought regarding those words follow. For the male penis she used terms, such as: tailpipe, Pilgrim’s shaft, silent flute, pike of pleasure, mutton dagger, cupids torch, chink stopper, Nimrod the might hunter, his majesty in purple cap, pick lock, pump handle, pleasure pivot, dear morsel, and Dr. Johnson, “because there was no one that he wasn’t prepared to stand up to.” Trade terms had no place in the works of Austin. But, those terms were about to reinvigorate the English language once again.

The Industrial Revolution

In 1851, an exhibition held at the Crystal Palace in London, displayed manufactured a plethora of goods, and inventions from the modern industrial world. For the first time ever, every conceivable device was on display. This era of industrialization also ushered in, and introduced new words into the English vocabulary. Those trade words included, hydraulic power, centrifuge pump, lithograph, electro-plating, dynamo graph, and anhydrohepsetarion. Craftsmen, usually watchmakers brought word of their trade into common language as well, wheels, pins teeth, and horsepower the new standard of energy output. New words that originated from Greek, and Latin were absorbed into the new world, which was now the leader in science, the technology such as: biology, petrology, taxonomy, morphology, paleontology, ethnology, gynecology, histology, agronomy, phytology, and entomology. Engine in the middle ages meant skill or talent. It would change to mean machine, or weapon, and again to mean motor, or locomotive. The world was moving on, and taking with it many words. The word industry itself moved away from initially meaning, individual ideals, to large factories or mills, which had originally been trading post. Now, factories were something that churned out products en masse. Words like labor, capital, and industry were not just changes in meaning, but also changed the way people lived. Untold millions would learn new words, from the slang of the poor, including slum. The economic miracle of the industrial revolution was also a curse with large-scale squalor, and poverty on every corner, never before seen in any society considered civil. English was using new words to describe social standing. Status, or rank changed to class. The slum was the realm of the working class, the lower class.

In the late 16th century, the language police sneered at urban dialect, such as Cockney, which was regarded as the speech of the “vulgar provincialists from metropolis”, or “a speech that lacked literary propriety.” The journalist, Henry Mayhew writings would change all of this when the Cockney rhyme eventually gave the street language the cherished characteristic it still enjoys today. Slang means street language. It’s code speech. A way a group speaks to itself, without being understood by the rest of society. Marie Lloyd, was reviled for using the following line, “She sits among the cabbages, and peas.” Lloyd then changed the words to, “She sits among the cabbages, and leeks.” Speech was changing; people were changing, their speech was designed to hide its true meaning, behind masks of respectability. Charles Dodson, who wrote under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, invented the fictional character of Humpty Dumpty, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean.” In 1871, Dodson wrote, Alice In Wonderland, Through The looking Glass. He then took the written form of the English language into a new realm, with his poem, Jabberwocky, which was considered intellectual nonsense. Dodson once said, “A word means what the writer intends it to mean, and what the hearer understands it to mean, and that is all.”

Pygmalion, a work of Bernard Shaw is the story of a Cockney girl who’s coached how to speak “properly”, like an upper class lady. Shaw intended to show that there was no magic in this perceived “good speech.” At the time Shaw broke one of the cardinal rules of polite society, which was to never use a certain word on stage. That word was “bloody.” The use of this word brought outrage at the time, but that outrage would soon fade, as the outbreak of WWI would bring about the long decline of social order, an order based merely on language, and speech. From this time on, no longer would one be considered a better person simply based on the manner of their speech. WWII would follow, and the new mediums of radio, and television brought the realities of the horrors of war right into the living room of every home. Soon the Korean War, Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam were to follow, and terms like, communism, red scare, cold war, and nuclear bombs were added to the vocabulary of anyone that spoke the English language. People could now sit in the comfort of their own home, in their favorite reclining chair, while eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream, and partake in the ritual of becoming desensitized to the realities of the new world that surrounded them. Next it would be Palestine, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the “terrorist”, both theirs, and ours, as the high-speed “information age” ran so fast at us that everything had to be abbreviated. 911, and WMDs are phrases that were intended to put us in such a perplexed state of fear that nearly everyone was ready to give up all their freedom in order to keep their liberty. Soon, “smart devices” came along, and anyone that had learned to type at 60WPM, could suddenly express themselves while clumsily typing on a keypad the size of a thimble with only their thumbs. CUL8TR, LMFAO, and OMG will no doubt become dictionary entries, if they haven’t already in this age of de-evolution. No longer would one have to leave their desk to communicate to another warm body. One can now LOL while the entity on the other end contemplated it the former was laughing out loud, or sending lots of love their way. I’d LMFAO at the entire scenario if it wasn’t all so very pathetic.

This new era, this “information age” is in reality anything but that as how much information one is allowed access to is strictly controlled by those that own the airwaves, the television networks, cable networks, magazines, newspapers, marketing, and PR firms. I think you get the picture. I hope you do.

As much as the English language has grown, absorbed, and expanded in this age of talking heads, visual manipulation, enhanced audio, and double spin, all of this in reality is designed to bombard the senses with senselessness, and mystify the bovine masses with a sophisticated form of controlling the way we perceive, and react to intentionally illusory contrivances. The age of technology, and a refined, and well-crafted form of propaganda has arrived. It too has brought the English language a myriad of cryptic terminology. But… who cares? Let’s go shopping!

I’ve heard it said that journalism is a form of communication that is usually untrue, unreadable, unlearned, paid for, and intentionally misleading. On the other hand, I’ve also heard it said that literature is expressive, stylized, and dynamic yet it is seldom read, and even less understood. What is communication? What is language?

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Montague Folding Bike: Paratrooper Pro Review

Montague Paratrooper Pro

If you’re in the market for a folding bike this article may help you to decide what bike is right for you.

Around Japan there are plenty of cheap folding bikes. They’re not attractive, and most are not very functional either. The small rims, frail frames that wobble, and lack of any realistic features render these bikes impractical. So, I set out to find an effective folding bike, one that I could use for commuting, as well as travel, and sightseeing.

Are there any other reasons to possess a folding bike? Even though I live in a house, finding room to store a large bike is an issue. Having the ability to store a bike folded up, and in a bag when it’s not in use is very handy. Beyond that having a couple of folding bikes tossed in the back of a vehicle, and available on a whim can make for an impromptu adventure. Say, a trip to Kama Kura, Enoshima Island, or trekking along one of the beautiful beaches of Tateyama, such as the wonderful stretch of endless, and scenic roads along the shores of Ito.

After looking at several bikes, I decided to purchase a Montague Paratrooper Pro, in black of course. I chose the Paratrooper Pro because it was the only full size folding mountain bike available on the market that looked rugged. Further, I thought the price was reasonable, and from what I had read about it, I thought I couldn’t go wrong. I also purchased a carrying case, and a set of folding pedals, which would result in taking up much less space in storage, as well as in transportation mode. After contacting the manufacturers in Boston, Mass., I soon discovered that it would not be as easy as I thought. In fact, in the company’s own words, they were “reluctant” to ship a bike to Japan, as it was too much hassle. This is not the best way to deal with customers when attempting to break into new markets. The following information is what has transpired.

I had sent about a dozen emails, and even made some phone calls to find out how to purchase the bike in Japan. I didn’t receive any response, so I began looking around for distributors. There aren’t any in Japan. Finally, after making numerous other attempts at communicating with the manufacturer I received an email telling me there wasn’t any distributors in Japan, but that there was one in the works, if I was willing to wait another six to eight months. That wasn’t an option. I was then told to contact one of the distributors listed on the companies website, one in Taiwan, China, or Hong Kong. I did! Several times. However, none responded. I then contacted other international distributors posted on Montague’s website, including those in Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, and even Indonesia. I received no response from most of them, and the distributors who did respond, and listed on the companies website as distributors for Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore responded saying that they were not Montague distributors. At this point, I felt I was getting not only bad information from Montague’s home office, but being lead around, and misinformed. How does a company not know who is, and isn’t its own distributor? I also contacted David Montague directly for this article about the company, and its products, hoping I could persuade him to ship me one of his products, but I hadn’t received a response from him either. Ah, the age of “globalization.” Isn’t it great?

I finally contacted Kent Koike at Koshida (USA) in good ol’ California. Kent exports wine to Japan, and owns Evolution Bike Shop. Kent also happens to be a west coast distributor for Montague, and had everything I needed in stock, and to all of my specifications, frame size, color, etc. I said, “Let’s make the deal.” Kent said, “It’s on!” I wired him the funds, and received the bike in less than a week. Yes, he’s that good!

The total price for everything came to $1,655.94. Shipping was handled by Yamato, and cost 474.55. I was charged for an oversized package, which is why the shipping fee was so steep. I thought the fee was excessive. The package only weighed 47 pounds, and was about half the size of a normal bike box, and much thinner. The packaging is much smaller than a surfboard, which cost less than 100.00 to ship, so I have no idea why the rate was so high. You don’t want to know what FedEx tried to charge. How does that company stay in business?

As soon as the box arrived I set to opening it up. It had no external damage, or crushing. As usual, Yamato did an excellent job shipping the package. I highly recommend this company, as they always seem to handle packages with kid gloves. As I began opening the package I noted the following information posted on the outside of the box, and in very large letters.

IMPORTANT

This merchandise was carefully packed and thoroughly inspected before leaving our factory. Responsibility for its safe delivery was assumed by the carrier upon acceptance of the shipment. Claims for loss or damages sustained in transit must therefore be made by calling the carrier.

Having a law degree, and having done plenty of contract work I know how ridiculous these attempts at unilateral waiver of liability are. First, these kind of “important” notices have no legal significance whatsoever. If there is damage to goods while in transport the manufacture, as well as the shipping company are always liable. Period! A recipient of damaged goods may bring action against any contracted party under grounds that the manufacturer, and/or the shipper fell below the professional standard of care associated within that particular industry. Action could be brought for breach of contract, intentional, reckless, or negligence handling; whatever would be applicable to the particular situation.

Next there was a strange notification that read: WARNING: Never ride at night. There was also other irrelevant information warning the purchaser that there may be helmet laws in their particular jurisdiction. Yada yada yada, and on it went. Ah, legalese!

As I began removing cardboard strips from the bike I was excited to see it beginning to reveal itself to me. But then… I saw some minor scratches to the top part of the frame. This was underneath the cardboard packaging, and could have only occurred prior to shipping, and during the assembly or packaging stage. So much for the “carefully packed, and thoroughly inspected” warning. Once I removed all of the paper, and plastic holding the bike in place, I applied some wax to the damage, and managed to buff out most of it. It’s a bummer to have a brand new bike arrive damaged. If I were in the states I would have forced the company to ship another one.

Getting my first look at the bike, and beyond the pain of those minor scratches, I thought it still looked great. But there were numerous childlike stickers all over the bike. I peeled every one of them off. A total of seventeen stickers were removed, and as each one was peeled away the bike started to take on a much cooler, and slicker look. The myriad of stickers actually made the bike look cheaper. The satin finish in all black looked cool, and the paint job itself was nice, and thick. Of course, it was nothing like the excellent paint jobs that used to come on Klein bikes, but hey… It’s a folding bike!

Some stickers on the bike’s frame were misleading. One read, Made in the U.S.A., while another one read, Made in Vietnam. The bike was shipped from Vietnam so that answers where the bike was manufactured. There is also a large “Patented Folding System” sprayed into the paint on both sides of the bike. Although it’s subtle, its unnecessary, as every component of every bike is patented. Imagine if every piece of the bike read, patented wheel rims, patented shifters, patented…  Who cares? Keep it clean! Superfluous information is unnecessary, and gratuitous.

The cables, three of them that run along the frame are not noticeable in the promotional photos. It appears they are stored away inside the frame as they are on many bikes today. They are not! Besides having three cables running along the outside of the frame, they’re positioned in an ill thought location, where the bike actually folds. As a result, when the bike is folded, the frame presses against the cables, causing them to bend slightly. This could only lead to stretched cables, poorer performance over time, and damage to the bikes paint. The bike could easily have been designed to hide away the cables, and none of these problems would exist.

The tires, and rims are not the same as those in the company’s website promotional material. The tires are not as high quality, but the wheels seem to be comparable. Peeling the cheap stickers off of the rims made them look much more streamed line.

Montague Paratrooper Pro Folded

Putting it all together.

It was a bit awkward getting it together for the first time, but once I figured it out, it didn’t take long to get things lined up. I needed to be careful with the front wheel, as the breaking system will rub if it’s not aligned perfectly. It took a bit of wrangling to get the tire finally lined up, and clamped in place. It’s was a bit harder to do than I thought, and definitely took longer than the twenty seconds the advertisements say. (More on the breaking system later.)

Once I got the bike all configured, I jumped on it, and took it for a ride. The patented folding system road very tight. The bike didn’t feel at all like a folding bike. Certainly, it was stacks above the competition seen around town. I changed through most of the gears, and was pleasantly surprised to see that they worked well without rubbing, and grinding. It was when I hit the breaks that left me with my first negative reaction regarding the mechanics of the bike. I don’t know how to put it any other way, but to state that the breaking system sucks! Hitting the breaks hard, it just kept on rolling. The bike would slow down, but it wouldn’t stop. This is unacceptable. Especially, when riding in the narrow, and crowded streets of Japan. My Schwinn stingray that had a sissy bar, and a banana seat when I was an eight-year-old kid had a better braking system. The embarrassingly ugly gold Murray ten speed that I had when I was ten had better breaks, and so did my Columbia, Raleigh, Klein, and every other bike that I ever owned as a kid. Who at Montague approved that deal? If I had Fred Flintstone’s feet it wouldn’t be much of an issue, but really… Talk about liability? If there’s one thing a bike needs to do is stop! So, apparently I’ll have to spend more money replacing that deplorably wretched breaking system. For the kind of money I paid for this bike, breaking should be the last thing I had to worry about.

Folding the bike.

The bike comes apart pretty quickly. But, the balance between the front, and rear where it pivots is disproportional. It’s awkward to carry in that manner, and although the bike is not heavy, it doesn’t take long before it gets wearisome. Forget about carrying this bike around as depicted in some of the promotional shots. It’s not gonna happen! After dragging the bike around a train station, and up a flight or two of stairs, I assure you, I was already exhausted, and I run, hike, surf, dive, swim, do yoga, and workout.

Commuting.

It was a bit difficult to manage the bike through the turnstile, even with the pedals folded down. Sitting on a train, it takes up two seats, so it’s not really ideal for commuting in Japan. In fact, I had a major issue returning home. I was refused on the train. I was told I had to have a carrying bag. (Which I purchased, but didn’t have with me. The bag is way too cumbersome to carry around for commuting purposes.) I finally bullied myself down the steps, and onto the train, but by then it was apparent that this bike was not one for commuting via rail. After all, if I had to lug the bike around in a bag, and argue with train employees every time I wanted to get on a train then what’s the point of having a folding bike to commute to work with in the first place? I don’t fault Montague on that, it’s merely another example of a long list of antediluvian, and arcane predicaments where the nation of Japan, and its imperialistic miscellanies prove that it has failed miserably to segue into the modern era.

In conclusion…

Overall, the bike is damn nice. It looks really cool, and a lot of people took notice. It also handles well, and is quite sturdy. It’s great to store, as it doesn’t take up much room. However, it’s not a bike for commuting around Japan’s urban communities because of the extremely limited forms of transportation that is available. The brake system that is currently shipping on these bikes is extremely unreliable. The component that is supposed to clamp down on the disc is made of plastic, and bends easily, which causes the brake system to fail in a manner that could mean life, or death. In fact, as stated, but worthy of repeating, the braking system is exceedingly dangerous. Some of the other components are a bit cheap as well, and I would have much rather paid three to five hundred dollars more, and received some higher quality components. Quite honestly for the money, I could have purchased a much higher quality bike, like a Trek, and had a really nice mountain bike, with no component issues at all. Despite all of the down sides of the Montague Paratrooper Pro, having a folding bike to get around tourist spots, festivals, and the beach, is great. It’s excellent for throwing in the back of a car, and for being prepared for any adventure that may arise. That is, once the breaks have been replaced.

As for safety I give the company an F for effort, a D- for failing to communicate adequately, an A- for the innovative design, which I would change to an A+ if they hid away the cables, and did away with the childish stickers. As for the price of the Montague Paratrooper Pro, its durability, and ability to tuck it away, I give it a definite A.

If interested in purchasing a Montague bike contact:

Kent Koike
Koshida (U.S.A.) Inc.
5201 Great America Parkway, Suite 320
Santa Clara, CA  95054
Tel: (408)730-2621

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