Cooking class in Naha, Okinawa: A hands-on lesson in making soba noodles from scratch

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Clockwise from upper left: Mozuku-su (seaweed with cucumber and ginger garnish), fried Japanese doughnut, jasmine tea, white rice and Okinawa soba soup (with tofu slices, pressed fish cakes [on right], green onions, handmade soba noodles and red ginger garnish).
By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the sixth in a series about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan, and Guam. See my April 1 discussion of Navy man George Tweed eluding Japanese soldiers for more than two years on Guam in World War II; April 8 about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery; April 15 about the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Mara and the deaths hundreds of schoolchildren during WWII; April 29 about photographing newlyweds after their Shinto ceremony; and May 14 about the WWII destruction of Shurijo Castle.

For someone who loves pasta as much as I do — all shapes, sizes and varying international specialties — you might think I would have tried making linguine, ravioli or some other shape from scratch.

That was never the case, until I took a cooking class at Taste of Okinawa and made soba noodles by hand. It not only took longer from start to finish than I was expecting — about three hours — but was far more labor-intensive as well.

As with the other cooking classes I’ve taken in Asia (for my experience in Chiang Mai Thailand, see my post from May 1, 2017, and for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, see December 12, 2016), we started with a market visit. Taste of Okinawa staffer Rina led us among the stalls and aisles to pick up some ingredients we’d use to make our dinner.

And as with my other classes, Taste of Okinawa was happy to accommodate dietary restrictions (it’s helpful to notify in advance if making this request). Instructors need time to prepare a different broth, for example, made from bonita flakes, instead of the usual pork-based stock.

I had been to the Makishi market earlier in the week and seen a brownish, oblong-shaped item neatly stacked in rows. I had an idea what this was and I picked up a sample to smell it. The vendor was not happy with my having done so, and I quickly replaced it and apologized.

But my nose confirmed that it was dried fish of some sort.

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Dried bonita, a type of tuna, is used extensively in Okinawan and Japanese cooking. The vendor I had previously visited did not have a hand with a big red “X” warning shoppers not to touch.

At the market, Rina refined my identification, saying that this was dried bonita, one of the key ingredients in Okinawan cooking, and indeed in Japanese cooking overall.

At the vendor we visited who sold this bonita, a machine made quick work of shaving the rock-hard dried fish into wispy paper-thin flakes, an orange-pink in color. The flakes were packed in a plastic bag and we left for the next stop.

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This machine rapidly spits out sliver-thin shaved pieces of bonita.

There, Rina picked out dried mozuku, a brownish, thin-stranded, nutrition-rich seaweed that we would use in making a side dish. Deep-fried Japanese doughnuts were also purchased, and this would become our dessert.

Back at Taste of Okinawa, staff had prepped recipe ingredients into small glass bowls and other containers while we were at the market.

The interior furnishings were very simple. Two long communal tables were positioned along the length of the left wall, framed by wooden chairs on both sides. On the right, a small bar, craft beer taps, stovetop, refrigerator, oven and food prep area occupied the space.

We donned colorful aprons, and stood at our individual stations: three on one side of one of the long wooden tables, the other two facing us.

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Some of the ingredients we’d be using to make dinner were premeasured by staff at Taste of Okinawa. We cut the carrot, green onion, shiitake mushrooms and fish cakes to size as instructed.

Our group included an Okinawa-based Marine brigadier general, his wife, his sister visiting from California and her adult daughter, and me.

Instructor Zoey, a Taiwanese-born, self-described “highly competitive” young woman, stood at the head of the table and gave us a brief summary of her culinary background (more on that later) before we began our soba noodle production.

The first step required little effort from our two teams: We briefly shook close-topped plastic bags to aerate the white wheat flour. (Some soba is made from buckwheat.)

Next, in a small bowl, baking soda and salt were blended with one egg and a little bit of water. This differs from a basic Italian pasta recipe, which generally is just flour and eggs.

In a large mixing bowl, a well was made in the center of the flour and the egg-water mixture was added. By hand, we took turns bringing in the flour from the well’s sides until the ingredients held together in a ball.

Then, with the dough separated into five portions, we each began kneading our ball on a floured surface for about 15 minutes. Zoey said the texture we were looking to achieve was soft and smooth “like a baby’s bum” and enough give to leave a small indentation when pressed lightly with a fingertip.

The dough was placed back into a plastic bag to rest for about 30 minutes at about 115 degrees Fahrenheit (45 Celsius), in this case, a warmed microwave oven.

Meanwhile, we worked on the other dishes for our meal. The mozuku was reconstituted in a bowl of water, and we practiced our knife skills by making julienne strips of cucumber, carrots and shiitake mushrooms; cut pieces of green onions; and grated ginger. The mozuku dressing consisted of sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and bonita stock.

The mozuku was drained, the dressing mixed in and then garnished with the cucumber and grated ginger.

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My uncooked soba noodles weren’t perfectly even in size or length, but they tasted just fine in Okinawa soba soup. 

Working with the dough again, Zoey instructed us to roll it out into a rectangular shape to about 1/8-inch thick. This was pretty tricky, even with an elastic dough, and my rectangle was decidedly lopsided.

Then, accordion-like, the dough was folded back over itself three times to form four layers.

Our last step was the hardest and most time-consuming: Cutting the folded dough into (in theory) identical 1/4-inch-thick pieces, then unraveling the layers — using as much extra flour as needed — and piling the strands on a cutting board.

The more exact the better, but since the end product is a tangle of noodles, consistency is a goal, not an obsession. The point of slicing the dough so thinly is that when the strands are placed in a large pot of boiling water to cook for 60 to 90 seconds, they will double in size.

After the noodles were cooked, we placed them on a rimmed baking sheet, poured a bit of vegetable oil over the top and stirred continuously with chopsticks for a minute or two to help separate them as they cooled.

The noodles were given a quick dip in water to rinse off the oil.

Finally, it was time to make a bowl of Okinawa soba soup. In my case, it was vegetarian, and using tofu where the others had pork belly, which was prepared in advance by staff.

So, my soba noodles were swimming in bonita broth, topped with pieces of tofu, pressed fish cake slices, green onions and red ginger.

Mmmmmmmmm. Was the effort worth it? Absolutely. The noodles were slightly chewy, and oh, so easy to slurp (as is customary in Japanese cuisine). I had an extra portion of noodles leftover, which went into a plastic bag and were stored in the mini-fridge in my hotel room overnight. I had them plain for breakfast the next morning. That might not sound appetizing, but they were!

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Once cooking class was finished, Zoey performed another aspect of her job: Making snacks and light meals for early evening diners at Taste of Okinawa.

Taste of Okinawa, when not hosting afternoon cooking classes, is also a craft beer bar and restaurant. Zoey, who has had a strong interest in cooking since she was a preteen, describes the menu as fusion cooking with Italian and French influences and “my own personality in it.”

While we were talking after class, she was preparing orders of nachos, salads, and fish and chips for the early evening patrons.

Born in Taipei, Zoey has been cooking since she was 7, and calling up her grandmother to get help and advice while her parents were at work.

By 11, she was in a bookstore writing down recipes from a Jamie Oliver cookbook — while not understanding much English. Computer-generated translation helped her make sense of her notes.

After attending a cooking high school in Taiwan, and her interest in bettering her English only increasing, she wrote up a business plan at 21 and asked her parents to help support her while she worked in kitchens abroad, including Spain, gaining experience and widening her culinary horizons.

Eventually, she landed in Paris in 2013 and enrolled in an intensive, nine-month course at Le Cordon Bleu. Having already spent years catering dinners and events to promote her mother’s antique jewelry business, Zoey didn’t find Le Cordon Bleu overly taxing, but it did help her to refine her palate and culinary vision.

“If you know ingredients, how to choose it, how to use it, that’s the best cuisine,” she told me.

From friends of friends, she heard about an opening at a new place — Taste of Okinawa. She arrived in June 2016, helping to design a menu and create the first cooking classes.

She’s planning to add a class in Chinese to the one she already teaches in English. Classes are also available in Japanese.

I had a lot of fun making soba noodles. When I next attempt this at home, I’ll be sure to budget a full afternoon and remind myself as I’m struggling to unravel my noodles of the deliciousness to come.

Quick reference: Classes can be booked in advance online. Adults, 6,500 ¥ (about $59), children, 3,500 ¥ (about $32). Cold jasmine tea is included in the price, and craft beer and other beverages are available for purchase. Inquire about a group rate for more than 10. Visa, MasterCard and American Express accepted. A booklet of recipes is included to take home. Class: Tuesdays-Sundays: 3:30-6:30 p.m. Restaurant hours: 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays for snacks and light food; 7-11 p.m. for full menu. The website has a printable map and detailed instructions for finding the location. 1-6-21 Tsuboya, Naha, Okinawa. Phone: +81-98-943-6313; website: tasteof.okinawa

 

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Okinawa’s Shurijo Castle: Restored fortress of Ryukyu kings was headquarters for Japan’s 32nd Army during World War II

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Monarchs of the Ryukyu Kingdom sat in a chair like this in the seiden (main hall) to receive important political guests at Shurijo Castle, in what is now Okinawa, Japan. The facing dragons are symbols of the king and can be found in many places around the castle.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the fourth in a series about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan, and Guam. See my April 8 post about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery; April 15 about the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Mara and the deaths hundreds of schoolchildren during World War II; and April 29 about photographing newlyweds after their Shinto ceremony.

About a year before the American-led invasion of Okinawa began on April 1, 1945, the Japanese Army began digging in.

Literally.

The Allies’ hard-fought Pacific Island victories were bringing World War II ever closer to Japan’s home islands, with horrific losses on the battlefield on both sides.

Japan’s Imperial forces were losing ships and aircraft at an unsustainable pace. With resources dwindling and resupply lagging far behind demand, it became clear to military planners that defense and counterattacking were now the best strategies to conserve what men and matériel they had left, and to delay as long as possible the Allies’ turning their attention to advancing toward Tokyo.

So in the spring of 1944, thousands of Japanese soldiers and Korean laborers, poorly fed and often ill-treated by senior officers, set about excavating coral, dirt and limestone without the aid of tunneling equipment — think pick ax and wheelbarrow — on the southern third of the island.

(The Japanese Army, outnumbered two to one in manpower, and with a tenth of the firepower of their enemy, knew they could not defend the entire island, though there would be brief, spirited resistance against U.S. Marines fighting in the north.)

Near Shuri, the second-largest town on the island, steep ridges, cliffs and dense foliage marked the landscape, the very features that would bedevil the attacking Americans. The castle itself, ringed by stone walls 20 feet thick at the base and some reaching 40 feet tall, was strategically perched on the highest point.

When Operation Iceberg began, the view west toward Naha, Okinawa’s largest town, would reveal a massive Allied armada hovering within easy striking distance of Shuri.

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This was an entrance to the underground cave complex from where General Mitsuru Ushijima commanded Japan’s 32nd Army.

The caves beneath Shuri Castle became headquarters of the Japanese 32nd Army, under the command of General Mitsuru Ushijima. More than 1,000 men — the size of a fighting battalion — would be housed in timber-reinforced tunnels and side shafts that were 50 feet underground at their shallowest depth.

The fortifications, covering 13,000 feet (about 2.5 miles), included a well-stocked kitchen and pantry, dispensary, telephone switchboard area, operations rooms, an overtaxed ventilation system and much more. Humidity hovered close to 100 percent, moisture covered nearly everything and the soldiers developed rashes because their skin never dried.

Even with these hardships, the tunnels were so secure they could withstand fire from 16-inch naval shells.

Said one incredulous Marine, when the fighting was over, as quoted in the excellent “Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb”: “Two-tiered quarters, running water, everything beautifully engineered — it was like a ship inside the hills. That’s why you never saw a [Japanese soldier] most of the time: They’d be bombed, bombarded, napalmed — and safe inside those thousands of caves. And caves with mouths so small you wouldn’t see them until you were almost right on them and they started shooting.”

(For those interested in an exhaustive, detailed and highly readable examination of the Battle of Okinawa, I highly recommend George Feifer’s “Tennozan,” published in 1992. The word comes from the all-or-nothing gamble a 16th-century Japanese ruler made on a lone battle. Now it means “any decisive struggle.”)

Eventually, underground fortifications spanned the width of the island at the Shuri Line, about 12 miles across at that point, reaching both coasts to north of Naha (four miles away) on the west and Yonabaru on the east. (Okinawa is 60 miles long and ranges from two to 18 miles wide.)

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It wasn’t just the walls that were destroyed at Shurijo Castle. After three days of bombardment from the USS Mississippi in May 1945, the entire complex was rubble.

About two months into the Battle of Okinawa, over a three-day period in late May 1945, Shuri Castle itself was totally destroyed by fire, the result of almost continual bombardment by the USS Mississippi from offshore. Photographs show the surrounding barren landscape, random bits of shriveled timber the only things left of what had once been a splendid architectural achievement.

Ushijima and part of the 32nd Army retreated south, to Mabuni on the Kiyamu Peninsula, where the final fighting would take place. After a total of 82 days of battle, Okinawa fell to the Allies. (Obviously, this a much-condensed version of the deadliest campaign of the Pacific war, with an especially high toll paid by civilians. Estimates range, but it’s possible up to 150,000 Okinawans died, a third of the pre-war population.)

After the war, the priorities were to rebuild housing and resurrect businesses, and to replant farms to re-establish what had once been the lifeblood of many Okinawans.

Reconstruction at Shurijo Castle and Park, as it is now known, would have to wait for decades, but finally the former home of Ryukyu’s dynastic rulers was opened in 1992 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the end of American administration and the return of Okinawa to Japanese rule.

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The seiden is the center building with the decorative arch. When the castle was rebuilt, construction was based on the 18th-century version.

Based on excavations, survey plans and photographs, the castle is a faithful replica of the 18th-century version of the structures from the days of Ryukyuan royalty, when the islands were an independent kingdom. (Fires destroyed earlier castles dating to the 1400s.)

Over 500 years, economic, artistic and intellectual exchanges with China, Japan, Korea and southeast Asian countries enriched island life, allowing the development of a unique culture. (Part of this time, the invading Satsuma clan from Japan was in charge.)

Chinese-influenced arts, such as lacquerware and textiles, were localized by the Ryukyuans. Brightly colored garments fashioned from a fabric-dyeing method called bingata, which I’ll write about in a future post, were favored by women of the noble class. Cranes and flowers were popular motifs, and the kimono-like clothing was also worn for traditional dances.

Chinese architecture also served as an example for the style of the seiden (main hall), with its up-curving eaves, roof tiles and part of the exterior painted a brilliant vermillion.

At the base of the stairs leading to the seiden stand two dragon pillars made from sandstone. One dragon, its mouth open, faces the other, with its mouth closed. Dragons, symbols of the king, can be found all over the property.

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A scale model of the una (striped area) in front of the seiden illustrates what the site looked like for special ceremonies.

On the first floor, in a series of rooms, the king conducted political business and hosted ceremonies. Today this area is devoid of furniture but the supports, ceiling and partitions are a buffed, shiny red. (When entering the seiden, be prepared to take off your shoes, as is Japanese custom. You’ll be given a plastic bag to carry them in until you leave the hall.)

Upstairs visitors will find the king’s red-and-gold “seat” on a raised platform. Guarded also by facing dragon pillars, the seat — less imposing than a high-backed throne — was reconstructed from pictures and references that date to King Sho Shin, who ruled from 1477 to 1526.

An area on the second floor was the domain of the queen and her attendants, and another room served as a place of worship, where the king and his female attendants would pray for peace and the safety of the kingdom.

Current exhibitions, in buildings adjacent to the seiden, are “Treasures of the Kings” (painting, lacquerware and textiles) and “Ryukyuan People’s Picnic” (multi-tiered food boxes, thermoses and self-contained picnic sets elaborately decorated with gold and inlaid mother of pearl). The exhibits run through July 3.

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Following the path after these stone stairs, topped by Zuisenmon Gate, will lead to the una and seiden.

When Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in May 1853 in Naha, seeking rights for American ships to provision in Okinawa (then called Lew Chew, with many alternate spellings), the Ryukyu kingdom was in its waning years. Without an invitation, the imperious Perry and a procession of 200 from several of his ships, including two bands, arrived at Shuri Castle.

Over the next year, Perry’s willful and sometimes threatening negotiations in the Japanese home islands would bring to an end centuries of self-imposed isolation and jump-start trade with the West.

With the Meiji Restoration in 1879, an emperor replaced centuries of shogun rule and the Ryukyu Islands were annexed by Japan, which changed the name to Okinawa.

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From this part of the gardens, the view features Naha, capital of Okinawa Prefecture, and the Pacific Ocean in the background.

Shurijo Castle’s grounds cover more than 300 acres, and some areas are still being restored. The property can be separated into three sections: administrative, centered around the seiden, its core buildings and a large plaza; the ceremonial and ritual area to the west, most of which is outdoors with lovely gardens and views; and the residential area to the east, where no male except the king and his relatives could enter. This was mainly managed by women of the court, and these buildings are not open to the public.

Some markers do mention the war damage, but the information is brief. Vertical gates, some partially obscured by overgrown trees and vines, block the cave mouths and access to the 32nd Army complex. No part of it is open to the public.

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Bezaitendo Shrine was the repository of Buddhist scriptures that were a gift from the king of Korea. Enkanchi Pond surrounds the temple. The original building dated to 1502, about 80 years after the Ryukyu kingdom was established.

Shurijo, and other Ryukyuan sacred sites and monuments on Okinawa, were added as a group to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2000.

Allot at least two hours to see all of the buildings, stone gates and temples (more if you are reading everything and taking photos). Arriving early before the crowds is also recommended. If kids are along, make sure to pick up a “stamp collection rally” pamphlet. A stamp and red ink pad are near all 25 of the buildings open to visitors, so kids can update their pamphlets. Prizes are awarded depending on the number of stamps collected. A complete set earns the “stamp of the king,” a page of stickers, a 5 3/4-by-7 1/2-inch plastic sleeve for papers, and a booklet “The Bright Red Castle of Ryukyu Kingdom,” illustrating the castle’s history.

Quick reference: Shurijo Castle, 1-2 Kinjo-cho, Shuri, Naha City, Okinawa. 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily April-June and October-November, 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily July-September, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily December-March. Adults, 820 ¥ (about $7.50); high school students, 660 ¥ (about $5.50); elementary and junior high students, 310 ¥ (about $2.80); 5 and under, free. Closed the first Wednesday and Thursday in July. Easily reached by taking the monorail to Shuri Station. It’s about a 10-minute walk from there to the western entrance near Enkakuji Temple. This area and some of the other outlying buildings can be seen without paying admission. oki-park.jp/shurijo/en

For an in-depth discussion of the tunnels and caves, with illustrations, and the overall Battle of Okinawa, see http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/CSI/CSI-Okinawa/

At Scotland’s Stirling Castle, seven sumptuous new tapestries showcase centuries-old craftsmanship

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This section of the seven new tapestries at Scotland’s Stirling Castle is called “The Unicorn in Captivity.” It took two years to weave. The overall project spanned 13 years, and was completed in 2015. The seven tapestries together are known as “The Hunt of the Unicorn.”

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

In October 2017, I visited Scotland for 10 days. This is the fourth in a series about my wanderings. See my December 15, 2017 post about Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott; January 9, 2018 about the Royal Yacht Britannia; and February 3 about the Pipers’ Tryst Hotel and National Piping Centre in Glasgow.

In addition to its strategic importance and favored status as a Scottish royal residence of yore, one aspect of Stirling Castle bridges the 16th century to the 21st, and from the Old World to the New: Its unicorn tapestries.

Large, heavy and expensive (especially if they featured gold thread), tapestries provided eye-pleasing beauty, a measure of insulation in vast drafty rooms and topics of conversation for European monarchs and their castle invitees.

Though cumbersome and sometimes spanning the length and width of a wall, tapestries were transported from palace to palace, delivering a continuing message of the crown’s wealth and prestige. In the long run, however, the tapestries’ very mobility may have done irreparable damage to the fibers and overall integrity.

In 2002, as part of a refurbishment, Stirling Castle undertook what would become a 13-year, £2 million project to create seven new tapestries, called “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” inspired by Scottish Renaissance works that hung in the palace when James V and his wife, Mary of Guise, were in residence in the 1530s and 1540s.

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Before 1603, facing unicorns were featured on the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland. Images of the mythical animal can be found in many locations at Stirling Castle.

The unicorn occupied a prominently place in Scottish heraldry, is the figure seen on the castle’s logo and can be found in locations high and low around the property. National Unicorn Day (really) is marked on April 9 annually.

The original tapestries, noted in a 1539 inventory of more than 100 in James V’s possession, have not survived. But tapestries from a similar time period and theme do; they were probably woven around 1495-1505 in the textile hotbed of the southern Netherlands and once the property of French aristocrats.

Their colorful history includes being looted during the French Revolution and possibly covering potatoes in a barn before being recovered in the 1850s.

These highly prized tapestries were purchased in 1923 by John D. Rockefeller Jr., of oil-money fame, for his New York residence. He donated them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1937. They’re now at the Met’s Cloisters Museum in Upper Manhattan.

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The tapestries hang in the Queen’s Inner Hall. The upper left section is “The Unicorn at Bay,” illustrating the beast surrounded and under attack. The one in the upper right is “The Unicorn Is Killed and Brought to the Castle.”

The seven new Stirling tapestries, the biggest weaving project taken on in the United Kingdom in a century, hang in the Queen’s Inner Hall, next to her bedchamber. The hall is the palace room in which she would have greeted honored guests.

Well into 2015, the Stirling project employed a multinational team of 18 weavers, some based at the castle and others at the West Dean Tapestry Studio (part of West Dean College) near Chichester, England.

Creating just one tapestry consumed more than 16,000 hours of work, using, when possible, the techniques and tools that would have been available in the 1500s. Four tapestries were made at the castle and three at the college.

An exhibit in a temporary wooden building in the Nether Bailey, northeast of the castle proper, allows visitors to better understand the processes that went into crafting the new tapestries.

A few material concession were made. In the 16th century, tapestries relied on plant-derived dyes, such as woad, a flowering member of the cabbage family, for blue, and madder, a perennial Eurasian herb, for red. The 21st-century tapestries utilized longer-lasting chemical dyes, perfected at West Dean’s dye laboratory.

Wool, silk and gilt comprised the weft sections (horizontal threads) of the old tapestries, but the modern versions substituted mercerized cotton, a treated stronger fiber, for the silk.

Getting the color palette right and tracing full-size drawing of the originals — known as making a cartoon — were part of pre-production, which required visits to New York to view the former Rockefeller tapestries. In the cartoons, some alterations were made to restore areas where the originals were damaged or nonexistent. They were also reduced in size by about 10 percent.

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Modern weavers executed each section with the image positioned on its side. This is “The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn,” the last tapestry to be woven. Only two fragments from the original survived, so artisans re-creating it could only guess at the part of the story being told. This is a photo of a photo from the exhibition I saw when I visited the castle in 2017.

Eventually, a stronger-paper version of each cartoon was temporarily stitched to the weaving as a guide for the workers. As in medieval times, the modern masters worked with the image on its side. But in a break from tradition, the cartoon was replicated from the front, easier for the weavers, and for visitors interested in watching the project come to life.

Medieval pictorial tapestries served several purposes. They could be appreciated solely as decoration and admired for the skills involved. But more importantly, they told a story, often with secular and/or religious components.

“The Hunt of the Unicorn” obviously portrays just what it says: Silk-and-velvet-clad noblemen, accompanied by professional hunters and dogs, in the multi-stage pursuit of their quarry and its horn, which was believed to be imbued with mystical powers of purification.

Some suggest that the hunt could also be a courtship tale, with the unicorn representing a lover’s object of desire.

Alternatively, a strong argument could be made for the tapestries as Christian allegory, with the unicorn representing Christ.

For example, in the section called “The Unicorn in Captivity,” which took two years to complete, with the weavers working from right to left, the ornately collared and tethered animal lies on its side, enclosed by circular fencing, under a thin-trunked pomegranate tree heavy with fruit. In the background, among myriad other flowers are wild orchid, violets, thistle and bistort, a medicinal herb.

In the secular version, the golden chain tying the unicorn to the tree represents marriage and the pomegranates indicate fertility. Is this the beloved tamed?

In the religious version, the small booklet I got at the castle suggests that the wounded unicorn represents a risen Christ, and the juice of the pomegranates symbolize his blood.

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A closer look at “The Unicorn Is Killed and Brought to the Castle,” which shows the unicorn in the upper left being killed and in the center draped over the back of a horse.

The religious allegory is even stronger in the panel titled “The Unicorn Is Killed and Brought to the Castle.” In the center, the dead animal, its horn somewhat parallel with its mane, is draped over the back of a handsome horse. The unicorn’s neck is ringed in hawthorn, evoking Jesus’ crown of thorns.

Whatever the meaning, the tapestries illustrate that an ancient craft, practiced across cultures and over the centuries, is still a viable art form in today’s digital age.

Quick reference: Stirling Castle: 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily March 26-September 30, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. October 1-late March. Closed December 25-26. Admission: Adults, £15 (about $20.33); ages 60 and over, £12 (about $16.26); ages 5-15, £9 (about $12.20). Castle Esplanade, http://www.stirlingcastle.scot

The Met Cloisters: 10 a.m.-5:15 p.m. daily March-October, 10 a.m.-4:45 p.m. daily November-February. Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, January 1. Admission: Adults, $25 adults; ages 65 and older, $17; students, $12. 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, New York, New York. 212-923-3700. http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/met-cloisters.

In Naha, Okinawa: Japanese newlyweds provide a great photo op after their traditional Shinto wedding

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Quite by accident on a Sunday morning, I came across a wedding party posing for pictures at the Naminoue Shrine in Naha, Okinawa.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the third in a series of posts about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan, and Guam. See my April 8 post about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery; and April 15 about the sinking of the Tsushima Mara and the deaths hundreds of schoolchildren during World War II.

I had another of those turn-the-corner “wow” moments that seem to happen in Japan as I walked smack into a wedding party posing for post-ceremony pictures at a Shinto shrine in Okinawa.

To the Japanese, a Shinto wedding may be commonplace, but to an American tourist, just this scene provided a glimpse into the very heart of an ancient culture.

The bride was dressed in a snow white kimono, known as shiromuku, the most formal of Japanese wedding attire. Nearly every other person standing in three horizontal rows on gray concrete steps was in a dark suit or dress (with a few splashes of white), including her new husband in a traditional kimono.

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The newlyweds pose at the Shinto shrine’s outer hall. I think the cutouts at left are a funny juxtaposition to the formality of the bride and groom’s traditional kimonos.

Further contrast was provided by the bright red triangular roof at the shrine’s outer hall (haiden), the dangling white paper lanterns and the cloudless blue sky.

Most of the bride’s hair and part of her face were shaded by an arched, balloon-like hood, known as wataboshi, which serves the same purpose as a Western veil: To reveal her fully only to her groom. (Wataboshi also come in different shapes and some expose more of the bride’s face.)

She was, in fact, head to toe in white, down to her leather sandals (zori) and split-toed socks (tabi).

The Sunday morning sun was so bright that it made the opaque silk seem like shimmering, freshly fallen snow. I knew a garment of this expense and quality would have some sort of elegant design embedded in the fabric.

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Cranes, chrysanthemums and spirals were repeating motifs on the bride’s kimono.

Zooming in with my telephoto, I could see traditional cranes, their long necks extended, beaks closed and wings fully spread, with spindly legs trailing as if taking flight. Cranes are a symbol of peace, longevity and hope in Japan, all sentiments appropriate for a wedding.

Interspersed around the cranes, particularly at the bride’s shoulder, neck and flowing sleeves, were repeating spirals and floral motifs, including chrysanthemums, a flower long associated with the Japanese imperial family. The flower is also a symbol of longevity.

The groom’s black outer coat (haori) over his kimono displayed his round, white embroidered family crest (mon) near each shoulder, once below the elbow on each sleeve and between his shoulder blades on his back. This, too, seemed to have a plant or floral motif.

A man’s kimono is far shorter than a woman’s, and loose striped trousers (hakama) conceal the garment’s hem.

Two braided cords (himo) held his kimono in place, secured at the waist with knots, the shape of which reminded me of a cross between an old-fashioned shaving brush and a blooming flower.

His sandals (setta) and socks were also white.

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I had gone to another part of the shrine, and when I returned to the picture area, the bride’s hooded veil had been removed to reveal this elaborate hairstyle. The groom’s family crest is displayed on his shoulder. 

Both bride and groom were holding closed fans, another traditional accessory.

Shinto, “the way of the gods,” is the oldest religion in Japan and has no written doctrine. Its kami (deities) inhabit all forms of nature, from mountains to animals to earthquakes. Many of the ritual, prayers and offerings are intended to ward off evil.

Families may also have an altar-shrine at home for offerings and worship.

A wedding ceremony, officiated by a Shinto priest, is attended by only the close family of the bride and groom. It may take only 20 minutes.

The couple is purified, sake is ritually consumed, and the groom reads the marriage oath. Rings may be exchanged, and the ceremony generally ends with an offering, such as sacred tree branches, to the kami. (Obviously, I didn’t get to see any of this.)

For the reception, usually held at a hotel and running an exact amount of time, the bride would definitely don another outfit, possible a kimono, and the groom might change also.

If the newlyweds were hosting a post-reception small party just for their close friends, another change of clothing would be likely.

I was not the only one engrossed with the formal attire, as other shrine visitors also snapping photos. A few even asked to pose with the bride and groom once they had completed the more formal images.

As their official photographer continued working, I went off to have a closer look at the grounds at the front of Naminoue Shrine, the most important shrine in Okinawa prefecture.

Its name translates to “Above the Waves,” appropriate in that is located on a bluff overlooking the ocean and Naminoue Beach, the only seaside sandy strip in the city of Naha.

(While I was briefly at the beach, en route to the Tsushima Maru museum, I looked up to see the roof finials and realized how close I was to the shrine. I knew it would be an interesting detour — but I didn’t know just how interesting.)

With the shrine’s proximity to the sea, it’s where fishermen in ancient times would pray for an abundant catch, where sailors would appeal to the deities for a safe voyage and farmers would ask for a plentiful harvest.

Like so much else in Okinawa, the original shrine, which dated to Ryukyu dynastic days in the 15th century before the islands became part of Japan in the 19th century, was destroyed during World War II.

Only the torii, the two-railed gate designating the separation of sacred property from the everyday world, is original. At many shrines, the torii is painted a bright vermillion, but that was not the case here, where it was grayish and possible made from concrete.

Near the torii is a statue of the Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) in full military dress.

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Shrine visitors write messages on votive tablets, called ema, asking for, among other things, good health and fertility. The ema then hang clustered together on a large board.

At all Shinto shrines, believers (and souvenir seekers) can buy a variety of inexpensive good-luck charms (onamori) and votive tablets (ema). The charms are usually tiny pieces of wood or paper, upon which wishes for good health, fertility, safe driving and other sentiments are printed. They are tucked into a decorative cloth pouch, which can be worn or secured in a special place. Above all, the charms are not to be opened to reveal the content.

Ema, made from very lightweight wood (perhaps balsa), vary in illustration and size from shrine to shrine, but most are small. The one I bought at Naminoue was about 61/4 by 4 1/4 inches and 1/4-inch thick.

Messages are written on the tablets, making similar requests as the charms, and posted on large boards to hang together at the shrine.

When I finished looking around, I returned to the area where the photos were being taken to find that the bride’s wataboshi had been removed, revealing her elaborate hairstyle.

The swept-up style, definitely something reserved for formal occasions, brought to mind the lavish look worn by geisha and maiko (geisha-in-training), who live mostly in Kyoto and Tokyo, not Okinawa.

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Some sort of form is helping to give volume to the hair where it curves out over the bride’s ears. 

Bows, combs, golden flowers and other ornaments were tied, dangling and clipped into the bride’s heavily lacquered coif. Even after examining my pictures, I was uncertain if this was her hair or a wig, but I think it’s her hair.

I did pose the question to my Japanese friends in Tokyo, and the older daughter, Hatsumi, told me that this hairdo was achievable in about an hour, using copious amounts of hairspray.

My friends also let me know that the bride’s white kimono was almost certainly rented.

“What use would she have for it again?” Hatsumi said.

Indeed.

Quick reference: Naminoue Shrine, 1-25-11 Wakasa, Naha, Okinawa. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. Free admission. http://naminouegu.jp

The history behind the 5-year Nazi occupation of Guernsey, author Victor Hugo’s lengthy exile and a quirky chapel in Britain’s Channel Islands

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This memorial commemorating the occupation of Guernsey during World War II was dedicated in 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the island. In a famous speech by Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered on May 8, 1945, he said: “… and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.” The return of British forces was actually a day later. His words are on the back-rest seating area of the memorial. The Weighbridge Clock Tower is in the background.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos, except where noted. All rights reserved.

When the novel “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” was published in 2008, its release brought a flurry of interest in the second most-populated of the British Channel Islands.

With last Friday’s opening in the United Kingdom of the film adaptation of the book, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, the island is likely to be ready for its closeup again. (Netflix has distribution rights to the film in the United States.)

Funny thing though: Not one scene was filmed on the island. English locations in London, Devon and Cornwall stand in for Guernsey.

In pre-production, directors came and went — actor Kenneth Branagh among them — as did lead actresses. At one time, Kate Winslet was to star, then it was Rosamund Pike.

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Tom Courtenay (as Eben Ramsey) offers Lily James (playing Juliet Ashton) a taste of potato peel pie in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” From left: Katherine Parkinson, Kit Connor, Penelope Wilton and Michiel Huisman. Photo courtesy of Kerry Brown/Studio Canal

Lily James, of “Downton Abbey” and “Cinderella” fame, in the role of Juliet Ashton, plays a post-World War II London writer, who strikes up a pen-pal friendship with Guernsey residents who formed the book club of the novel’s title, and comes to learn of their experiences under five years of Nazi occupation.

The cast is, in fact, a mini reunion of “Downton Abbey” actors. In addition to James, you’ll recognize Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley on DA), Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil Crawley Branson) and Matthew Goode (Henry Talbot).

The director is Mike Newell, perhaps best-known for “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

In May 2009, I visited three of the Channel Islands — Jersey, Guernsey and Sark.

The word “charming” is often overused in travel stories, but it perfectly fits these islands, especially Guernsey, with its stacked-stone walls lining narrow country lanes and sturdily built, lovingly named houses (Southernwood, La Manse, Rose Cottage, for example).

I had read the book by then, but my interest was piqued years earlier, when I wrote a travel article in 2005 for my then-employer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, about the islands’ commemorations of the 60th anniversary of their liberation in 1945.

During World War II, the islands were the only part of the British Isles occupied by German troops. Nightly curfews, daily restrictions and food shortages were commonplace as islanders, in the best British “stiff upper lip” tradition, did what was necessary to survive.

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Approaching the harbor in St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Behind the lighthouse is Castle Cornet, more than 800 years old. It has five museums and four period gardens.

Liberation Day is annually observed on May 9, and I planned my trip so as to witness the re-enactment of British troops (in period costume) arriving back on Jersey, and partake of the celebrations in general. I also visited several of the museums and WWII sights on Jersey.

The islands, including Alderney and Herm and several privately owned spits of land not open to the public, lie about 80 miles from the southern coast of England. They are far closer to the Normandy area of northwest France, about 14 miles, than the United Kingdom.

Though allied with France at the time of William the Conqueror, for centuries they’ve been self-governing British Crown dependencies. Their history and customs are a rich mix of both cultures.

About 60,000 people live on Guernsey today, making a living from banking and financial services, agriculture — think namesake fawn-and-white colored dairy cows — and tourism.

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Whether walking along the cliffs or treading the sandy beaches, the scenery is dramatic and gorgeous on Guernsey.

Guernsey is an excellent place to unwind. You can be as busy as you like, having a lengthy cliff-top ramble, investigating secluded sandy coves or going fishing. Or you can wander the shops in St. Peter Port — there is no Value Added Tax levied — and enjoy the freshly caught seafood at one of the cozy restaurants. There’s far more to experience than the sights I’ve mentioned here.

From Jersey, I took the ferry to Guernsey and caught just the tail end of its May 9 festivities, many of which were held harborside at St. Peter Port.

Guernsey, like Jersey, has an excellent bus system. A dark-haired Irish lad was often the driver on my route back to my small hotel, La Barbarie (labarbariehotel.com), and we had many brief, pleasant conversations.

Nearly 12,000 German troops occupied Guernsey during the war. Before the assault began in late June 1940, thousands of schoolchildren (most without their parents) were evacuated by boat to England.

So many others decided to flee that the island’s population was reduced almost by half, leaving about 17,000 to endure life under enemy control. Contact between friends and loved ones living islands apart was limited to 25-word messages, their delivery facilitated by the Red Cross.

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In late June 1940, St. Peter Port absorbed the opening salvos from invading German forces. Far more peaceful today, it’s a favorite place for pleasure boaters to drop anchor.

On June 28, German planes attacked St. Peter Port over two days, resulting in 33 civilians deaths. No military resistance was mounted because the British government didn’t think Guernsey was of strategic value, and was still reeling from the massive evacuation of more than 330,000 British, French, Belgian and Polish troops from Dunkirk, France.

By June 30, the first Nazis, arriving in aircraft, had begun the occupation.

“All clocks and watches are to be advanced one hour as from midnight of the 2nd 3rd July, 1940, to accord with German time,” said order number six (of 17) from the Commandant of German forces, as reported on the front page of The Star, Guernsey’s oldest newspaper, on July 3.

At the privately-owned German Occupation Museum, visitors can see a small collection of weaponry, memorabilia (medals, uniforms, band instruments) and a re-creation of a typical kitchen from a Guernsey household. The scene is set after dinner, with the father listening to a forbidden wireless that is cleverly concealed during the day.

A street scene, filled with storefronts and period-costumed mannequins, offers another look at what life was like in the 1940s.

The museum also has an Enigma machine, used by the Nazis to send encrypted messages that they thought were unbreakable. Little did they know that teams of linguists, scientists, mathematicians and others at Bletchley Park in England had deciphered the secrets of the Enigma, led in part by the groundbreaking work of Alan Turing, often credited as being the father of modern computing.

La Valette Underground Military Museum, housed in slave-labor-built tunnels that were planned as fuel-storage depots for refueling German U-boats, has a much wider array of weapons, uniforms and vehicles. Some of the items date to World War I.

The fuel tanks were of great interest after the war when getting oil was still difficult, but the tunnel was closed over the ensuing decades. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the site was converted into a museum.

Military hospitalI also went to the German Military Underground Hospital and Ammunition Store, which has a collection of occupation newspapers, fascinating in and of themselves. (According to Visit Guernsey, this sight is closed until further notice.)

The tunnels of the hospital and ammunition store, in the south-central part of the island, cover about 75,000 square feet, the largest physical reminder of the Nazi occupation.

Slave laborers (many of them POWs) from countries occupied by the Germans, such as France, Belgium, Holland, and others from Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Poland and Russia, along with some Guernseymen, were forced to work long hours on starvation diets, removing 60,000 tons of granite over a 3.5-year period.

Much of the work was done by hand with picks, shovels and sledgehammers, and the occasional use of explosives and pneumatic drills.

The tunnels had a full heating and air-conditioning scheme, five ventilation shafts, three entrances, an electric generating plant and their own reservoir.

The hospital, with space to treat 800 patients, was used for only about three months. Hundreds of wounded Germans were transported from the Normandy beaches after the Allies’ invasion in June 1944.

The concrete-reinforced hospital layout mimics a ladder: Two long parallel corridors connect a series of “rungs,” that housed the wards, operation room, X-ray room, lab, dispensary and staff sleeping quarters. Also included were a kitchen, store rooms, a cinema and a mortuary.

Not much remains today other than some beds and kitchen equipment. When the Germans fled, a lot of the equipment went with them and the British took a much of what was left in 1945.

The Ammunition Store was just to the north (and a tiny bit west) of the hospital. Similar in layout to the hospital but even larger, it was occupied for about nine months. Thousands of tons of tarp-covered ammunition packed the rooms. From the spring onward — the walls were dripping when I visited — considerable condensation would have posed a threat to the ammunition.

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Broken china, pebbles and seashells cover the exterior and part of the interior of the Little Chapel, one religious man’s tribute to the more famous grotto and basilica at Lourdes, France.

Less than a 10-minute walk from the hospital is the distinctive Little Chapel, about 16.5 feet long and 10 feet wide (5-by-3 meters), and the dream creation of Brother Déodat of the De La Salle Brothers.

His goal was a chapel in the style of the famous grotto-and-basilica Catholic pilgrimage site in Lourdes, France. Brother Déodat came to Guernsey in 1904, fleeing France and its laws forbidding religious schools.

In 1914, he built the first small chapel before demolishing it almost immediately. A second stood at the same site until 1923, when, after a visiting bishop could not fit through the door, Brother Déodat decided to start again.

The third, under construction for a number of years, is the one that stands today, though Brother Déodat never saw its completion, having returned to France in 1939 because of ill health.

Brother Déodat spent a considerable amount of time collecting small pebbles and seashells to decorate the chapel’s exterior and interior. Adding to its uniqueness are the colorful mosaics, and many pieces of broken china, including discernible English Wedgwood, adorning the chapel and steps leading to the entrance.

Deep in the countryside, it’s among the most-photographed sights on Guernsey.

Also high on my list of must-sees was the former residence of French author Victor Hugo, who lived on Guernsey for 15 of the 19 years of his political exile, 1856-1870. Among the works he wrote while in residence with his family (and his mistress living down the street) was “Les Miserables” (1862).

Hauteville House, a white, five-story structure and adjoining garden, is up a steep hill from St. Peter Port. From the top-floor, glassed-in porch overlooking the harbor, Castle Cornet and Havelet Bay, visitors can picture Hugo letting his imagination wander as he plotted what was next for his complex, often-troubled characters.

Much of the heavy wooden, ornately carved furniture was of his own design, drawing from his extensive travels in Europe.

The decor is an eclectic mix of styles and furnishings, and much of the interior is very dark, which doesn’t make it photography-friendly.

One room is covered,  including the ceiling, with priceless Flemish- and French-made tapestries. Hidden behind a panel is a darkroom, where Hugo could indulge his keen interest in photography.

Blue-and-white tiles imported from Delft in the Netherlands surround the dining room fireplace, with the squares on the face arranged in two overlapping letters “H” for Hauteville House.

Hugo’s small bedroom and a book-lined corridor are also on the top floor.

The house, donated by descendants to the city of Paris in 1927, is administered by a French team.  A major renovation is under way, and the house is closed for the rest of 2018. It is scheduled to reopen in April 2019.

Visit Guernsey is publicizing walking tours and bus tours highlighting locations from the book, as well as a host of other tie-ins.

Search the website for a link to two You Tube videos to see Guernsey chef Tony Leck preparing the wartime version of savory potato peel pie and a modern one, which is inverted to serve, like an upside-down cake. The recipe for the latter is on the Guernsey website.

For tour details, much more about the WWII occupation and further information about how much Guernsey has to offer, see www.visitguernsey.com.

For a schedule of this year’s May 9 Liberation Day festivities on Guernsey, see www.guernseyliberationday.com

Quick reference: Hauteville House: 38 Hauteville, St. Peter Port, Guernsey. http://www.maisonsvictorhugo.paris.fr/en/museum-collections/house-visit-guernsey

German Occupation Museum: Adults, £6 (about $8.40), children £3 (about $4.20) 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily April to October. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays in November to March. www.germanoccupationmuseum.co.uk

La Valette Underground Military Museum: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, March 1-November 15. Adults £6 (about $8.40), children £3.50 ($4.90). Opposite the bathing pools in St. Peter Port. lavalette.tk

Hundreds of schoolchildren died in the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Maru by the USS Bowfin during World War II

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Portraits of some of the schoolchildren and others who died in the sinking of the Tsushima Maru in August 1944 are displayed on the lower level of the Tshushima-maru Memorial Museum in Naha, Okinawa.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the second in a series of posts about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan, and Guam. See my April 8 post about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery.

“This is our chance.” — message sent from the USS Bowfin, August 22, 1944

With those ominous words, the crew of the American submarine patrolling the waters of the Ryukyu islands prepared to launch its torpedoes, taking aim at a spread-out convoy of five Japanese vessels: Three passenger-cargo ships escorted by a destroyer and gunboat.

What the submariners did not know is that the Tsushima Maru — unmarked and unlighted — was carrying evacuees from eight schools in Naha, Okinawa, and elsewhere, heading to Kagoshima, a port city on the southern coast of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands.

Of the 1,788 or so passengers, about 800 were children. About 740 teachers, parents and elderly were aboard to provide an orderly, reassuring presence. The crew numbered 86, with an additional 41 gunners.

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A scale model of the Tsushima Maru is on the second floor at the museum. The ship was built in Scotland for Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kaisha, founded in 1885. The colorful strands of origami cranes in the background are symbols of hope and peace.

The 6,754-ton Tsushima Maru was not a swift ship. Neither was it new. It was built for Japan’s Nippon Yusen Kaisha by Russell and Company at a shipyard on the River Clyde near Glasgow, Scotland, in 1914. The almost 450-foot (136 meters) vessel presented a big lumbering target for the American sub.

Conversely, the steel-hulled Bowfin (SS 287) was less than three years old. A Balao-class diesel-electric powered sub that measured about 312 feet in length, it was launched at the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, on December 7, 1942, a year to the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. No wonder its nickname was “Pearl Harbor Avenger.”

The Bowfin was on the sixth of its nine World War II patrols, and under the authority of Commander John H. Corbus for the second time, having left Pearl Harbor in July. It had a crew of 80: 10 officers and 70 enlisted men.

The maximum speed for Balao-class subs was 20.25 knots surfaced, and 8.75 submerged. They generally carried 24 torpedoes.

About halfway to its destination and off the coast of Akusekijima, several torpedoes destroyed the Tsushima Maru between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Passengers who had left the stifling holds hoping for some fresher air on a humid summer night jumped from the listing ship’s upper decks into the sea. Many of the schoolchildren, crammed into berths on lower decks, died where they slept.

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An artist’s depiction of the sinking of the Tsushima Maru. (Please ignore the buildings in the right background. They’re a reflection off the glass covering the painting.)

The Bowfin reported seeing secondary explosions, which may have been the Tsushima Maru’s boilers in flames. It sank in less than 15 minutes.

“Teachers and soldiers were grabbing children and throwing them into the water,” said Keiko Taira, then a fourth grader, sharing her memories of the horrible night in a 35-minute film at the Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum, which opened in 2004 in Naha. “We all tried our best to stay alive.”

Some children, wearing their hastily donned life vests, huddled on rafts or clung to flimsy pieces of bamboo, increasingly frightened when sharks were sighted nearby. These conditions are depicted in survivors’ sketches that are on display in the museum.

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Leather satchels for schoolbooks were among the few items recovered from the water.

Fishing boats and patrol boats eventually plucked 177 evacuees from the water — some had been drifting for several days. Fewer than 60 of the rescued were children, and about 82 of the crew and gunners survived, bringing the overall total to about 280 (some made it all the way to nearby islands).

The exact total of passengers who left port are unknown to this day because no investigation was undertaken in 1944. Some students didn’t turn up on departure morning, August 21, and others were unexpectedly shoved onto the ship by anxious parents. In the chaos, no one was recording an accurate list of names.

The Japanese destroyer Hasu and gunboat Uji in the convoy also suffered direct hits.

To compound the tragedy, Japanese authorities, fearing a plunge in morale, imposed a news blackout. “You mustn’t mention any single thing to anyone in the neighborhood. It’s strictly confidential,” says a letter at the museum. With the ban in place, families assumed their children had arrived safely at their destination and were informed only after the war of the devastating event and, ultimately, their heartbreaking loss.

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The entrance to the ship-like Tsushima-Maru Memorial Museum is on the second level.

This disaster is little known in the United States and the West in general, and no guidebook I consulted before my trip mentioned the museum. No tourist information booklets I got in Naha publicized it either. I found it listed on only one map. And that was just the name, no capsule description or details about the sinking or its aftermath.

Most of the displays are in Japanese, with very little English translation. A map shows the Tsushima Maru’s fateful route and there is some information on the Bowfin’s specifications and a lengthy excerpt from its patrol report.

Also upstairs is a scale model of the Japanese ship, and many long skeins of colored paper and copper origami cranes, a symbol of hope and peace.

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Part of the re-created schoolroom on the lower level, across from the victims’ portraits.

Downstairs is a reconstruction of a schoolroom, with desks, a blackboard and a textbook’s cover showing a smiling boy holding a rifle and dressed in a military-style uniform. A girl is seated to his right, in a nurse-like outfit with a Red Cross cuff on her left arm. Underlying message: Even as children, you can help in the war effort.

By far the saddest part of the exhibit is the photo wall, with black-and-white portraits of many of the children who lost their lives. With so few survivors, recovered personal effects, aside from some leather book satchels, were also scarce.

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A bronze dove of peace (center) was added to the Kozakura no To memorial in 1978. A plaster replica of the bird is at the Tsushima-maru museum.

Southwest of the museum, across Asahigaoka Park bordering Naminoue-dori Street, stands Kozakura no To, a mostly white memorial with a ship motif dedicated to the children who died. It was unveiled in May 1954.

The Tsushima Maru sinking was not an isolated incident. In the period of July 1944 to March 1945, more than 70,000 evacuees on 178 ships lost their lives.

While the Bowfin crew accomplished its mission, it wasn’t until many years later that the sailors learned that they had sunk a ship loaded with mostly civilians. They had no way of knowing that the Tsushima Maru’s latest passengers weren’t military, which they had been coming into port on August 19.

The Tsushima Maru had arrived in Naha with the cargo ships Gyoku Maru and Kazuura Maru. From China, they had transported a total of almost 9,000 soldiers of the 62nd Infantry Division and about 900 horses for the build-up to the confrontation that the Japanese suspected was inevitable on Okinawa, especially after American and allied forces had reclaimed Saipan, Tinian and Guam in the Mariana islands the previous month.

The military increase was the reason for the islanders’ evacuation in the first place.

With civilians on board, Tsushima Maru had not requested safe passage, an option that the Japanese knew was available. Instead, with a naval destroyer and gunboat escorting the three cargo ships, they were all fair game as targets.

The Bowfin was decommissioned in 1971. It was later restored and opened to visitors on April 1, 1981, as part of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. Its website mentions the sinking of the Tsushima Maru but not the more than 1,400 who died.

In December 1997, the remains of the Tsushima Maru were positively identified, near where it went down, at a depth of 2,871 feet (870 meters) by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology Center using deep-sea detection equipment.

No attempt was made to salvage any artifacts or raise the ship, according to “In Titanic’s Shadow: The World’s Worst Merchant Ship Disasters” by David L. Williams.

Quick reference: Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; closed Thursdays, and December 31-January 3. Adults 500 yen (about $4.65), ages 13-18, 300 yen (about $2.79). Entrance is on the second floor. 1-25-37 Wakasa, Naha, Okinawa. www.tsushimamaru.or.jp

Find out more about the USS Bowfin, and the route of its sixth patrol at http://www.bowfin.org

In Naha, Okinawa: Sea grapes and other local specialties, a hit-the-spot lunch, and a ramble through the pottery district

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A very satisfying lunch of three triangular rice cakes (known as onigiri), salad, mackerel teriyaki and vegetables from Kitchen 33 in Naha, Okinawa.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the first in a series of entries about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa, Japan, Tokyo and Guam.

Sea grapes, seaweed soup, a tulip-shaped deep-fried minicake, dark brown sugar cubes and mango gelato: This may be the oddest combination of food that I’ve ever eaten for breakfast while traveling in Asia — and that covers some ground.

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Live sea grapes sway in a tank at Heiwa-dori arcade. They’re sold in small clear-topped plastic containers and have a short shelf-life once they’re out of the water.

I didn’t eat them all together but rather while grazing as I explored the Heiwa-dori arcade, which intersects with the even-larger Makishi Public Market, on a March morning in Naha, the largest city in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture.

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The habu snake, related to the rattlesnake, is native to the Ryukyu islands, of which Okinawa is the largest. Here it’s immersed in awamori, high-alcohol-content sake. Smaller bottles are sold in liquor stores. Yes, people really drink this.

Heiwa-dori is several blocks long, with meandering offshoots, where side-by-side vendors display their wares (often offering samples), ranging from the above items to still-squirming seafood (or fish on ice), all of the pig except the oink, vegetables well-known and other-worldly, rice, clothing, souvenirs, and on and on … and the famous (and deadly) habu snakes, coiled, open-mouthed and seemingly ready to strike save for the fact they’re encased in wide glass jars.

Umibudo — sea grapes — are an Okinawan delicacy, sold in small quantities and sometimes referred to as “green caviar,” quite an upscale nickname for algae. Pop a skinny chlorophyll-heavy strand into your mouth, and squash them: The salty liquid explodes from the tiny bubble-like grapes, indeed, quite like the more familiar fish roe. Umibudo is often an accompaniment or garnish for sushi and sashimi.

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This cool cat is a puffer fish, which can be deadly to diners if it is prepared incorrectly.

At the same stall where I tasted sea grapes, the woman gave me a little portion of inky-green seaweed in broth in a rectangular foil dish. This is another favorite on Okinawa, where inhabitants boast an inordinate rate of longevity. Rich in vitamins and minerals, the seaweed evoked the ocean, as did the broth. Not as salty, but with that definite day-at-the-beach aftertaste. (I think this might have been mozuku seaweed, which is harvested only in Okinawa.)

The fried cakes, “sata andagi” locally, were much less healthy. Think not-too-sweet, hush-puppy-heavy dough, eaten alone or with a cup of coffee or tea. For about the equivalent of 60 cents, I nibbled on the mango-flavored “doughnut” as I continued my wandering.

Eventually, I went upstairs, where fuzzy, black-and-white historical photos of post-World War II Okinawa rimmed the top of the steps. Information was sorely lacking, only occasionally pinpointing the year. There was, however, no mistaking the uniformed American military men in the right side of one photo, ambling past shaky-looking wooden buildings. One picture was dated 1950, and I wondered if the series was showing the area where the market is now, as it grew in size and energy over the years.

Several denominations of blue military currency, referred to locally as “B scrip,” were also on display. It was issued by American military occupiers after the war, and was in use until 1958.

Several open-seating restaurants ringed the second floor, but because this was still midmorning, most were not yet set up for lunch.

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Dark brown sugar is being chipped from a solid rectangular bar with an ax. Immediately to the right of the sugar are the Okinawan doughnuts known as “sata andagi.”

At the opposite end was a young woman in a black apron and white short-sleeved shirt, standing at a table wielding a formidable ax, chopping off chunks from a solid rectangular bar of dark brown sugar. The sweetener is another product in which Okinawan pride is evident.

Okinawan brown sugar is said to be higher in calcium, potassium and iron than its relatives produced elsewhere, crediting the coral found in fields where sugar cane is grown, ample sunlight and sea spray for its nutritional assets.

I sampled a few small pieces, and found the molasses flavor quite strong, but in a pleasing way. Many of the market’s vendors sold brown sugar in chunks or granulated, and while on a side aisle, I found sealed 300-gram (about 10.5 ounces) packages for 350 yen (about $3.26).

Nearby the brown-sugar-chipping woman was a small gelato stand, where it also looked like the vendors were just opening. They let me sample a few of the flavors before I settled on mango, again. The Okinawan version of gelato is not to be confused with what you get in Italy.

The man mushed cubes of fresh, bright orange mango, then hand-mixed the pulp into what reminded me more of vanilla ice milk than ice cream. It was refreshing, but not what I was expecting. It was also inexpensive, only about 300 yen (about $2.79).

I knew that if I walked the length of Hewai-dori, at the far end I would be near the Tsuboya pottery area, dating to the 17th century, and location of a museum, ancient outdoor kiln and a street with shops devoted to hand-made ceramic goods. This was to be my post-lunch destination.

After meandering in the market for about two hours, I could have picked up several freshly made items and had a picnic, but I had in mind finding a small restaurant. I saw a sign pointing toward Tsuboya, and as I turned the corner on a side street, came to a halt in front of the plant-laden exterior of Kitchen 33. In white chalk, a blackboard announced “lunch ¥780,” which is all I could understand. The rest was in Japanese. This looked promising, so I went in.

More plants, festooning everything from the light fixtures to the wooden tables. The cozy space had a bar with four stools, two tables pushed together with two orange and two yellow chairs, and a table for two with pale blue chairs, and could accommodate a third patron seated at the end. Above the cooking area was another blackboard; the only words I could understand were “Kitchen 33 set,” and “season menu.”

Behind the light-wood bar was a dark-haired man, maybe in his 30s, in a denim apron and yellow tie, who was busy prepping lunch. He spoke no English. I speak no Japanese, other than a few words of greeting and thanks. (Inadequate, I know.)

This was not an obstacle, in this age of easy translation via smartphone. For the equivalent of about $7.26, I would be served miso soup, salmon teriyaki, salad, rice, vegetables and iced coffee.

Within minutes of nodding my head yes, I’d like to have lunch in this patronless, green-ceilinged restaurant, a couple and a teenage boy sat down at the bar, and then two women settled in to my left.

The background music was a mix of current pop tunes and oldies, all in English, with a British-accented DJ. I couldn’t tell if it was a local radio station, but I did hear the news that Professor Stephen Hawking had died.

In Japan, presentation is as important as the actual food. The square white plate that proprietor Masashi Shio set before me was perfectly balanced. Three thick rice triangles, each with a different coating on the outside edges,were back-to-back-to back on the upper left, across from a tangle of salad greens topped with a dollop of light orange dressing. Below the salad were two V-crossed, skin-on fish fillets in teriyaki sauce, to the left of which was a piece of roasted green bell pepper, a short cylinder of cucumber, and two T-crossed beige “logs” of an unknown vegetable.

I never pinned down what was atop the greens, but smartphone translation came to the rescue again when I was trying to figure out the third rice coating. One was the obvious nori (seaweed) and the second was sesame seeds. The third was slightly sweet and deep purple. My guess was dried purple sweet potato flakes (the purple sweet potato is another Okinawan specialty).

Wrong. One of the women told me it was plum shiso. Mmmm. The logs were “gobo,” or burdock root, a member of the thistle family. Very crunchy but not terribly flavorful. And the fish was not salmon but “saba,” which is mackerel. I rarely (as in almost never) order anything from the ocean when eating out, but even with the tiny bones I had to pick out of the fillets, I enjoyed the fish at this memorable meal.

Thus fortified, I spent the next several hours checking out nearly every pottery-selling shop in Tsuboya. All of them are quite small, selling a less refined version of pottery than some of the delicate porcelain you find in other places in Japan.

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This kiln in the Tsuboya section of Naha dates to the 17th century. The stone pillars holding up the red-tiled roof do so without benefit of cement.

I knew of the ancient kiln from my pre-trip research but I found it quite by accident. I climbed the exterior stairs of what I thought was another shop, aiming to get an overview photo of the stone-paved street. It was really a cafe, and through its back window I could see the huge kiln.

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One of the pottery shops selling a variety of handmade plates, bowls, cups and vases.

At one time there were at least 10 outdoor kilns of this size, used to fire unglazed water jars, containers for awamori (high-alcohol-content sake) and burial urns. Only this kiln survived the war.

Also distinct are the stone pillars that help to support the red-tiled roof. The columns are comprised of hewn natural stones and fitted together without benefit of cement.

My first day in Okinawa, I intended to get my bearings, sampling local delicacies and take advantage of pleasant March weather. A stop at the tourist information center on the way back to my hotel helped me set up logistics for the rest of my stay.

Quick reference: Makishi Public Market, 2-10-1 Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa. 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, closed fourth Sunday of the month. Heiwa-dori arcade can be accessed off Kokusai-dori, the main shopping street in Naha, both about an 8-minute walk from Miebashi monorail station. Kitchen 33, Open 6 p.m. Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (no closing time given), noon to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, closed Tuesdays; 1-1-15 Tsuboya, Naha, Okinawa. kitchen33.crayonsite.net (Japanese only). Naha Municipal Tsuboya Pottery Museum, 1-9-32 Tsuboya, 10 am.-6 p.m. daily, closed Mondays. Admission 350 yen (about $3.26).

31 months in hiding on Guam: With invaluable help from islanders, U.S. Navy radioman George Tweed eluded Japanese military during World War II

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In September 1944, George Tweed returned to Guam and, with a Navy photographer and several of the people who helped hide him in tow, posed at the cave in the northwestern part of the island where he hid for 21 months. He found everything just as he left it in July. This photo of a photo is part of the exhibition at the War in the Pacific Museum on Guam. By his count, Tweed was in hiding for a total of 31 months.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos except where noted. All rights reserved.

“Robinson Crusoe, USN: The Adventures of George R. Tweed Rm1c on Japanese-held Guam” by George R. Tweed, as told to Blake Clark (Whittlesey House, 1945; reissued Westholme Publishing, March 2010, $14.95, paperback)

Within hours of the sneak attack on the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Hickam and Wheeler airfields on December 7, 1945, the Japanese military had other targets in its sights.

In quick succession, Wake Island, Guam and airfields in the Philippines, territories all under the jurisdiction of the United States, were bombed.

The Japanese invaded Malaya, occupied Thailand and took control of the international settlement in Shanghai, China.

Two days later, Japanese forces began landing on Luzon, the Philippines’ largest and most northern island.

Also on December 10, Guam, with only about 750 military in residence (including the Insular Force Guard comprised of Chamorros, the indigenous people), fell to the Japanese. Badly outmanned and for all intents and purposes unfortified, a prolonged fight against the Imperial Army would have been impossible and U.S. Marines put up only “token resistance.”

Two options remained for the 270 or so Navy personnel and 153 Marines: Surrender or head for the bush. (Dependents had been evacuated in October.)

George R. Tweed, a Navy radioman whose job it was to keep all equipment in tip-top working order, chose the latter. An avid hiker, he was familiar with the terrain on this, the southern end of the Mariana Islands. (The other most notable in the chain in World War II history are Saipan, and Tinian, from where the B-29 Superfortresses Enola Gay and Bocks Car would depart to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, respectively, in August 1945.)

Growing up in Oregon, he learned to hunt, be self-sufficient and enjoy the solitude of the outdoors. And, stationed on Guam since August 1939, he’d made friends with some of the Chamorros, who he was certain he could count on to provide shelter should he need it.

There was no question in Tweed’s mind which option he’d pursue. He and a Navy buddy grabbed canned food and other supplies, and with a member of the Insular Force along, jumped in Tweed’s six-cylinder 1926 Reo and drove inland.

Thus began a remarkable, 31-month odyssey of criss-crossing Guam, a Western Pacific island 30 miles long and four to 12 miles wide. An increasingly anxious yet ingenious Tweed lived by his wits and a particular set of skills in evading the Japanese while he awaited the return of the U.S. Navy.

He was confident this would happen. As it turned out, not nearly as quickly as he had hoped, and not before some of the Chamorros, who brought him food, water and tools and reading material, and provided intermittent companionship, would pay a very high price for knowing a most-wanted American — the Japanese put a price on his head — was hiding somewhere on Guam.

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The machete that Tweed relied upon while in hiding, and reproductions of other materials he kept with him. The letter at left is illegible in the exhibition.

Tweed, 39 years old and a Navy man for 16 years, moved often in the early months of lying low, living sometimes in a cave, a swamp or a Chamorro ranch or farm. For part of the time, he was with Al Tyson, also a radioman, with whom he had first fled. They were always ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.

In some locations, the dense scrub and indigenous trees and plants provided heavy cover. Having recently visited Guam myself and hiked Mount Lamlam on the southwestern part of the island, I can attest to the tropical landscape’s ability to disguise the presence of any humans.

The lack of real news from the outside world led to Tweed asking one of the Chamorro men to steal a radio, which he connected to an old car battery, and from which he also generated electric lights. In perhaps a foolhardy move, Tweed typed up the latest war developments for his Guam Eagle, and copies were distributed among trusted communities with the caveats not to disclose the source and to destroy the evidence.

In Tweed’s mind, his actions were a morale-boosting necessity, not a frivolous risk to himself and the Chamorro helpers. This four-month journalistic endeavor morphed into self-made calendars and furtive notes that later aided in providing a fairly detailed recap of his life on the run.

In October 1942, Tweed settled into an “eagle’s nest”-like crevasse, only four miles from the northwestern tip of the island. When he scrambled onto a camouflaged cliffside perch several times a day, he had an unobstructed view of 20 miles of southwestern coastline.

This was to be his home for the next 21 months, fairly well-stocked with provisions his friend Antonio Artero brought in wide, woven baskets, and supplemented with plenty of papaya, bananas and coconuts Tweed could collect on his own.

With his trusty machete and pocketknife, Tweed made a real table and flat-backed chair (from a hardwood), patched leaks in his “roof” and eventually taught himself how to make shoes from deerskin that Antonio provided.

9781594161117_p0_v1_s260x420He was ever-vigilant, sleeping lightly, with his gun near his head should he need to make a quick escape. Tweed even devised a crude yet effective alarm, connecting 300 feet of shredded and twisted bark and the workings of a deconstructed clock. One of the daylight false alarms was caused by a crow sitting atop a limb near where the cord connected with a small tree.

Among the low points was learning on separate occasions that five of the other Americans who were hiding in less well-concealed locations were eventually captured and executed. While the Japanese were torturing some of the Chamorros, trying to extract information about Tweed, he believed his freedom gave the Chamorros hope that U.S. forces were coming. Conversely, some Chamorros thought Tweed selfish and reckless, encouraging him to surrendered and put an end to their misery.

The longed-for day finally arrived on June 11, 1944, as Tweed — by now 30 pounds lighter — recognized the distinctive hum of American bombers and began seeing a buildup of U.S. Navy ships offshore.

From white medical gauze, he fashioned semaphore flags, and used a three-inch pocket mirror to signal American ships. This went on for about three weeks, with Antonio reminding Tweed that if the U.S. Navy could see him, so could the Japanese.

Throwing caution to the wind, Tweed’s efforts finally paid off on July 10, when one of the destroyers saw the mirror flash, and the flags, and understood this message: “I have information for you.” He warned the ship that it was in range of Japanese coastal guns, attempting to indicate that his contact was not a trap.

Thus began Tweed’s rescue by the U.S.S. McCall and the whirlwind that followed, included his pocketing more than $6,000 in back pay and a promotion. He missed U.S. forces retaking Guam (the island was secured by August 11), but he was back in September, meeting again with the brave and resourceful Chamorros who had hidden him and finding out about those who paid the ultimate price.

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Within minutes of the beginning of the assault to retake Guam in July 1944, two officers planted the Stars and Stripes. National Archives

On the initial route home from Guam, he was interviewed by Robert Sherrod, and the article ran in the August 21, 1944 edition of Life magazine.

Tweed’s wife and two young sons were in California during his ordeal, but curiously he never refers to them other than their departure from Guam. He does mention his mother, to whom he wrote regular letters, which he concealed in a coconut shell in case he was captured, and told one of his helpers where it was.

He confided to Sherrod that he wouldn’t be surprised if his wife had remarried after his lengthy absence, but that was not the whole story. By the time the magazine was on newsstands, he had already been granted an interlocutory divorce from Mary Frances Tweed, 27, in San Diego, The New York Times reported. A bit of Internet digging revealed that he and his wife had separated much earlier in 1941.

Tweed remarried in 1945, and was on active duty until 1950 when spinal arthritis forced his retirement. He eventually returned to Grants Pass, Oregon, and ran a TV and radio repair business for 40 years.

He returned to Guam in 1946, and shipped a four-door Chevrolet sedan to Antonio, who had refused any sort of remuneration in the many long months he cared for Tweed.

Hollywood told his story in the 1962 film “No Man Is an Island,” starring Jeffrey Hunter as Tweed, and filmed in the Philippines. The old Navy man also was a guest on the popular game show “To Tell the Truth” that same year. (A panel of four questions three people, trying to figure out the real McCoy from the impostors. Two panelists got Tweed right.)

Tweed (July 2, 1902-January 16,1989) died in a car accident in northern California in 1989. He was 86.

Decades after the end of WWII, former Japanese soldiers were still in hiding on several islands. With Guam liberated in 1944, a former sergeant named Shoichi Yokoi and some comrades took to the jungle. When he was discovered by villagers in January 1972, he’d spent the better part of 28 years in a 10-foot-long tunnel about eight feet below ground, and outlived all the other soldiers. He died at 82 in 1997.

Unwrinkle your nose and stop saying ‘gross’: It’s time to reconsider the many assets of brussels sprouts

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Fresh brussels sprouts should be bright green, with leaves firmly attached, had have no blemishes or blackness around the edges of the leaves.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos, except where noted. All rights reserved.

Oh, little layered veg of green,

On you I’ve lately been so keen,

I wasn’t always this excited,

But now my attitude’s been righted.

You’re sweet and nutty when gently cooked,

And I admit to being hooked

On your perfect tiny cabbage looks,

That send me to my recipe books.

That’s the way I started my ode to brussels sprouts for an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Food section in September 2009.

As a child, I didn’t like brussels sprouts, a not-uncommon reaction to this vegetable often improperly prepared.

In my house, they were overcooked until they reached an unattractive brown sogginess or were burned, devoid of their proper taste  — quite an achievement for such a hearty vegetable — and gave off an equally unappealing smell.

(This is where the logical reaction is to wrinkle your nose and say “yuck.”)

I avoided them rigorously, until someone, many, many years later, roasted them in the oven with just salt, pepper and a bit of oil.

Once I decided to give them a second chance and try some interesting recipes, I found I quite liked them.

Brussels sprouts, rich in vitamins A and C, have a host of health benefits, not the least of which is being high in fiber and antioxidants. They also aid in digestion and may help lower cholesterol.

With Easter falling on April 1, and overlapping with Passover, consider putting brussels sprouts on your holiday table. You just might convert nonbelievers on to the brussels sprouts bandwagon.

Brussels sprouts are available year-round, but the price fluctuates. The ones I purchased last week were $2.99 a pound.

As always, the recipe is to my taste. Feel free to adapt it to your palate.

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I added several of the ingredients I like most to take a simple recipe to the next level. The red of the diced tomatoes and bell peppers contrasts nicely with the green of the brussels sprouts. I serve this version over pasta.

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Onions, Red Bell Peppers and Diced Tomatoes

This is really a stir-fry, cooked to the level of crunchiness you prefer. The brussels sprouts should be a vital bright green, which indicates they are retaining their nutrients.

The first few times I made the recipe, I followed it exactly — just brussels sprouts, olive oil, onion and salt and pepper.

Then I thought why not add a can of diced tomatoes, garlic, red bell pepper and dried red pepper flakes and make it more like a substantial sauce to serve atop pasta. That’s the recipe below.

If you’re feeding a crowd, double the recipe.

Hands on: 15 minutes

Total time: 25-30 minutes

Serves: 4

18 to 24 fresh brussels sprouts

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 Vidalia or large yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their juice

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Pinch of dried red pepper flakes, optional

Rinse the brussels sprouts and trim off the bottoms. Cut the brussels sprouts through the core in half. If they are large, quarter them. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sprouts, onion, garlic, red bell pepper and sugar and stir-fry about 3 minutes. (Or, you can cover the pan and steam them for about 3 minutes. If you use this method, stir several times.)

Add the diced tomatoes and juice and continue stir-frying for 4-5 minutes or until they soften to your liking. Taste one to check for doneness. If still too crunchy, continue stir-frying 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir again. If you’d like a bit of kick, stir in a pinch or more of dried red pepper flakes.

Place any leftovers in a tightly covered glass or plastic dish. They will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Adapted from “Hip Kosher: 175 Easy-to-Prepare Recipes for Today’s Kosher Cooks” by Ronnie Fein (Da Capo Press, 2008, $16.95, paperback)

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Roasting brings out the sweetness and nuttiness of brussels sprouts. Tauton Press photo

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dijon, Walnuts and Crisp Crumbs

Hands on: 20-25 minutes

Total time: About 1 hour

Serves: 6-8

The roasted brussels sprouts pack plenty of texture and flavor without the topping. So if you want to save the fat and calories, just make the sprouts. This recipe can be easily halved.

Make-ahead tip: You can fry the crumb topping 2 hours beforehand.

For Passover, obviously the bread crumbs can’t be used (substitute matzo meal?), and you’ll have to find kosher-for-Passover mustard. There is such a product as “imitation Worcestershire sauce,” but I’ve never tried it. Maybe just wait and make this recipe after Passover?

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted lightly and crushed

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided; more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, cut through the core into quarters

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Position racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk 1/4 cup olive oil with mustard, Worcestershire sauce, caraway seeds, 1/2 teaspoon salt and about 10 grinds of pepper. Add brussels sprouts and toss to thoroughly distribute the mustard mixture. Spread the sprouts in an even layer on the 2 baking sheets.

Roast until the cores of the sprouts are just barely tender and the leaves are browning and crisping a bit, 20 to 25 minutes (if your oven heat is uneven, rotate the pans midway through cooking).

While the sprouts are roasting, make the topping: Line a plate with two layers of paper towels. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil with butter (or margarine) in a medium (10-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. When butter has stopped foaming, add bread crumbs all at once. Toss to distribute fat. Reduce heat to medium, add walnuts and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring constantly until the crumbs are browned and slightly crisp and the nuts are golden, 4 to 6 minutes. (The crumbs will start to sound “scratchy” when they get crisp.) Dump bread crumb mixture onto paper towels to absorb excess fat.

Transfer brussels sprouts to a serving bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle crumbs over sprouts just before serving.

Adapted from Martha Holmberg’s recipe in “Fine Cooking Annual, Volume 3: A Year of Great Recipes, Tips & Techniques” (Taunton, 2008, $34.95)

In Belém, Portugal: A massive monument dedicated to Prince Henry the Navigator and Portuguese overseas expansion

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Prince Henry the Navigator holds a multi-masted caravel, a ship that helped explorers increase Portugal’s territory, at the front of the Monument to the Discoveries in Belém, Portugal. Kneeling behind him is his brother Prince Fernando (Ferdinand) and behind him navigator Joáo Gonçalves Zarco.

 

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the seventh post on my spring 2017 trip to Portugal. See January 16, 2018 for a post about a visit to Taylor’s port wine lodge in Porto; February 18 about the National Tile Museum and making a ceramic tile; June 2, 2017 about unexpectedly meeting author/TV travel host Rick Steves in Lisbon; July 30 for a post about the Casa da Musica in Porto; August 20 on cork and its importance to Portugal; and September 3 on custard tarts, a Portuguese specialty.

If the Monument to the Discoveries had been commissioned by Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator during his lifetime (1394-1460), the towering structure might have been labeled by some as a vanity project.

Whatever the size of Henry’s ego, hundreds of years later, he’s the dominant figure at the head of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos that tops out at almost 185 feet tall (56 meters) and dwarfs everything else along the picturesque waterfront in the Belém section of western Lisbon.

His right hand cradles a multi-masted caravel, the maneuverable, swift ship favored by Portuguese and Spanish explorers of the 15th to 17th centuries. In his left is an unfurled map. His right leg juts forward, as if he’s about to step off the prow and onto the latest piece of land that Portuguese explorers have claimed for their royal house.

The limestone and cement monument, based on an earlier, temporary model, was established in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of Henry’s death. It was conceived years earlier by architect Cottinelli Telmo (1897-1948) and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida (1898-1975), who designed the likenesses of Prince Henry and 32 historical men and women who line both sides of the ramps of a structure that depicts a ship’s prow.

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The monument stands nearly 185 feet tall and was established in 1960 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Prince Henry’s death. This view is from the west side.

Henry, son of King João I of Portugal (1357-1433) and English princess Philippa of Lancaster (1359-1415), was a man of many interests, spanning the fields of politics, religion, economics and science. His foresight was to pay unimaginable dividends for centuries to come. Less charitable descriptions of him might mention greed and religious persecution (the Christian was strongly anti-Muslim).

Bordered by Spain on the east and the Atlantic Ocean on the west, any ambitions to expand Portugal’s holdings were bound to involve going to sea and claiming far-off territory.

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Second from last on the west side is Queen Philippa of Lancaster, mother of Prince Henry. As an English princess, she represented an important alliance when she married into Portuguese royalty. Behind her is her son Prince Pedro (Peter). The figure on the right holding the written document is Luis de Camões, who immortalized Vasco da Gama’s exploits in an epic poem. In front of Camões is painter Nuno Gonçalves.

The monument covers the years from 1418 to 1525, when the voyagers and their ships were pioneering new routes to the known world and beyond. Also immortalized in stone are navigators, artists, writers, religious figures and other royalty.

Navigator Vasco da Gama (circa 1469-1524) is featured in a prominent position — gripping the handle of his sword in his left hand and the second figure behind Henry — on the east ramp (facing the Tagus river [Tejo in Portuguese]). At almost 30 feet tall (9 meters), Henry is the largest of the figures. The others are in the 23-foot (7 meters) range.

By the time de Gama left what is now Belém in 1497, with three caravels and a supply ship, King Manuel I (1469-1521) was on the throne. November found da Gama rounding the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, then heading up the east coast of that continent. By May 1498, he had crossed the Indian Ocean and put in at Calicut in southwestern India, thus opening up a trade route for fragrant spices such as curry and cinnamon, and the gold and slaves from Africa.

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Directly behind Prince Henry on the east side of the monument is King Afonso V, followed by explorer Vasco da Gama (left hand on sword), explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral, who claimed Brazil for Portugal, and Portuguese-born Ferdinand Magellan, who was in service to the Spanish crown.

Also among the explorers on the east ramp is Pedro Álvares Cabral, with his hand over his heart. Cabral, of nobel birth, followed a route to India similar to da Gama’s with a few major differences: His expedition sailed with 13 ships, and it called in first on the east coast of Brazil, where he took possession of the country for his king in April 1500. (He originally named it Island of the True Cross.)

Portugal not only colonized the largest country in South America (it declared its independence in 1822), but gained access to, in addition to other riches, gold mines and sugar cane plantations, and transported slaves from Africa to work them.

In service to the rival Spanish crown after a disagreement with Manuel I, Portuguese-born explorer Ferdinand Magellan (circa 1480-1521) led the expedition that was first to circumnavigate the globe. Fernão de Magalhães (in Portuguese) is also on the east ramp of the monument, right behind Cabral. His route, with five ships and 270 men, went west from Spain in September 1519, down the east coast of South America and in October 1520 into the eponymous Strait of Magellan, the passage between Tierra del Fuego (and its islands) and the mainland.

Less than five months later — March 1521 — they had reached the Philippines. In late April, Magellan and some of the sailors were killed in an island tribal skirmish. Only one ship made it back to Spain, in September 1522, under the command of Basque navigator Juan Sebastián de Elcano.

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Part of the Compass Rose, showing caravels and some 16th century “discoveries.”

On the spacious square leading to the monument is an attractive red-and-black Compass Rose, a gift from South Africa, measuring about 165 feet (50 meters) in diameter. Some sources say the design is composed from inlaid limestone; others say it’s marble.

At the center is a maplike element illustrating the continents, with dates and named caravels showing the explorers’ main 15th- and 16th-century routes. Cobblestones in alternating waves of tan and black surround the Compass Rose.

Past the Compass Rose, heading toward the river, several steps lead to the interior entrance of the monument, where visitors can climb 267 stairs or take an elevator to the viewing platform (included in the entry fee) and a panorama of the Belém area. Exhibits and a film are on a lower level.

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Part of the square and the entrance side to the monument, including the sword of Avis on a stylized cross. Technically, this is the back of the monument.

Also from the entrance side, an enormous, multistory sword of Avis centered on a stylized cross. The website says these symbols indicated “the growth of the empire and faith.”

In addition to the monument, there is much to see in Belém, including the Torre de Belém (tower built 1514-20); the very grand and imposing white limestone Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (monastery), home to the tombs of Camões and da Gama, an archaeological museum and a maritime museum; a war memorial; the 16th century Palácio de Belém, the working residence of Portugal’s president; Antiga Confeitaria, famous for its custard tarts (see September 3, 2017 post); and other sights.

Quick reference: Monument to the Discoveries, Avenida Brasilia 1400-038. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays October to February, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. every day March to September; closed January 1, May 1 and December 25. Admission: 5 euros (about $6.15); check website for discounts. No cost if just looking at the exterior Compass Rose and figures on the monument. http://www.padraodosdescobrimentos.pt