Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tokyo rocked by Mother of All Earthquakes

A 'fallen' woman showing her er... reaction to the quake!
Friday (March 11, 2011), afternoon around 2:50, I was in bed taking a siesta--as I went to bed last night, or this morning, only around 3:00 AM. It was time for me to get up, but I was still psyching myself to get up while listening to Narnia, the C.S.Lewis fable for children. One of the characters in the story, Eustace, was wondering who he was as he suddenly found himself changed to a dragon. Then I sensed small mild tremors. Although most of us, accustomed as we are to innumerable tremblers, tend to take them easy, today I got up, got out, closed the door, and stood in the usual 'safe' place, which is the door frame, between the room and the corridor. [It is 10:15 PM now, and I just returned after going out, as the building started shaking again.] It looked like the usual rattle, with some shakes and squeaks, but suddenly it got serious and continued on and on, with violent movements of everything around me. I could hear inside the room things crashing and books falling, and the whole building was moving in different directions. The noise was really the most frightening as it was like going on an old steam engine train over a broken down bridge in India. Or, (for those who have not been to India) it was as if the whole building was an airplane going through a turbulence over the Pacific!

Today was supposed to be the wake of Fr. George Graziano, whose lifeless body lay just about 20 meters from where I was, and no doubt I prepared interiorly to join him saying goodbye to this world. I could hear things falling in different rooms, but could hear no one crying or shouting. Neither could I see anyone running. It was as if I was the only one in the whole building, going to face this calamity. The quake seemed to continue much longer than usual, becoming extremely severe at times. I could see the door of the tiny chapel in front of my room open, and two statues (one of Mary and the other of Joseph) falling down and crashing into pieces. The decapitated head of Joseph rolled towards the exit, and moved back and forth in rhythm with the quake. I was wondering whether to get out of the building by running just a couple of meters to the exit door, but the threat of imminent doom held me strapped to my 'safe' spot. At last--some say after about three minutes, some say after about five minutes--the quakes subsided, and I rushed out of the building to the open ground between a three storied building and a five storied building.

a broken statue
There in the same area, I met a young man in his twenties, who had come to Japan just a couple of months ago. He was dressed in black for the wake of George, and he was dusting himself and pressing down his pants. As he was a foreigner, I asked him where he was during the quake and how he found the experience. Although he looked cool, his story was even more chilling than mine, Apparently he was in the adjoining building using a personal computer, when he felt the quake. He tried to get out, but in the corridor, he was not sure if he could make it safely to the exit. So he went back to the computer room and opened the window to get out. Unfortunately, outside the window there is a two-meter-wide pit going all the way down to the concrete basement, and the only solid ground is about two meter away. To add to his problems, the window too is quite small and about a meter above ground; so he could not sprint or stand near the window to jump. Still being young and perhaps scared, he just jumped and landed safely on the muddy ground with some interior scratches in his leg. So he was still tense with fear, which increased as he viewed the nearby tall buildings swaying back and forth. Luckily he had no serious injury, and he looked cheerful.

The aftershocks continued as I took a walk around the building and the garden. I could see a large number of persons standing outside in the streets of Sophia University, but there didn't seem to be any damage. Many residents I spoke with mentioned about things falling down and room in disarray, but nobody reported any human injury. The Sophia employees meanwhile came out and directed everyone to go out to the playground, which is the official 'safe'' area for people around here during a major quake. Today there were some graduate school entrance examinations, and so there were many more people than usual. I went to the Sophia crossroads, met many students and friends, and walked towards the playground. There were a few hundred people in the playground just in front of the main entrance to Sophia. I went up the dote 'embankment' where too there were many people, each one with a cellphone trying desperately to contact someone or other. Apparently cell phones didn't work for some time or they worked only partly. So some seemed frustrated. Of course, everyone seemed to be narrating to someone else how he or she escaped the quake and which things fell down or broke. As I walked towards the Yotsuya station, I could see that the cross on top of the St. Ignatius Church tower had rotated 180 degrees, hinging on a screw that held it aloft over the tower. Some bricks or concrete debris seem to have fallen down, and so there was a no entry zone around the tower.

Fracture on the wall
It was after about 15:40 that some Sophia employees announced in a megaphone that they could return to their places. [It was surprising that they didn't use the loudspeaker; they only used a simple megaphone, which could be heard only by a few people nearby!] The trains had stopped soon after the quake, and so many people had nowhere to go. According to TV, most taxis and buses too were unavailable. So many started walking back. Many students and employees returned to the university. Many persons slept yesterday in shelters as they could not return to their homes, and some walked for three to five hours to reach their home! Sophia too made its space available to those who sought shelter.

On TV, of course, the earthquake has been the only news in all channels, and even now at 12:10 AM, on March 13, they still broadcast earthquake news. When I saw the news some time ago, about 1400 were reported dead, and a large number missing or wounded. According to news, this earthquake was perhaps the most serious in anyone's living memory, and perhaps the deadliest in a millennium. This was also a mega quake that has affected almost the whole of Japan, all the way from Hokkaido to Okinawa. The center of the quake seems to have been somewhere in the sea near Miyagi, with a frightening 8.9 magnitude. Miyagi seems to have felt a quake of 7.8 magnitude, and the Tokyo area, a quake of magnitude between 5 & 6. The duration of the quake, about three to five minutes, too seems to have been quite unusual.

What seems to have done the greatest damage is the tsunami. Although the news channels warned about the tsunami soon after the quake, people seemed to have had no time to remove their belongings to a safe area. The news clips of the inundating tsunami look like Hollywood movie clips as rushing water pours into airports, homes, and highways hauling cars, trucks, boats, houses, and even buildings! There were also fires in many places. The Sendai airport seems to have practically sunk under tsunami though parts of the main building were above water. And now there is the very serious talk of chemical leaks from the atomic plant, which has made it necessary to move nearby residents to safe areas at least 30 kms away.

One point that struck me after the quake was how sturdy the modern buildings are! Really the Japanese architects have done an excellent job! Although in movies we see skyscrapers crashing and crushing people, not a single major edifice seems to have fallen during this monstrous quake. A couple of minor accidents were there, but no major collapse of any building. In Tokyo there were only very few deaths due to the structural failure of buildings--one of the saddest being the Kudan Kaikan crash that seems to have killed two and injured about 20. No doubt, the Police, SDF, Fire Service, and other service personnel too are doing a remarkable job during this critical time. Congratulations and thanks to all of them!

Although it is nearly 32 hours after the major quake, I can still feel tremors now and then. The aftershocks have continued since yesterday afternoon, and one doesn't feel relaxed enough to go to sleep. I hope we will all live through this monstrous mother of all earthquakes and learn additional lessons to protect ourselves better.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

George Graziano, Jesuit Professor of English

Fr. George Graziano, S.J.
I have to apologize for reporting the death of another Sophia University Professor, Fr. George Graziano, S.J., who passed away around 7:30 P.M. today (Ash Wednesday, March 9, 2011).

I don't think George was ever hospitalized during his long life except for the final three months. His hospitalization, towards the end of last year, proved to be not only the first, but also the last. When he reluctantly left for a checkup, he was looking forward to returning within a short time, but his situation deteriorated gradually and turned critical after a couple of falls in January.

George was born on February 2, 1930, entered the New York Province of the Society of Jesus on August 14, 1947, and was ordained a priest on June 20, 1959. He had been in Japan since 1955, mostly teaching English at Sophia University until his retirement around 2000.

With a degree in Applied Linguistics, George taught mostly oral English, presentation skills, and writing. George was a pioneer in introducing media-based English courses at Sophia, and, according to various accounts, he even had a bus with audio-visual gadgets in the 1960s and 70s. Although he belonged to the Department of English, for many years he taught in the Faculty of Law, grooming many generations of youngsters. He was a dedicated and committed teacher, willingly giving his time to students, helping them improve their oral and written English. His office door was always open, and there were always students there, often learning English while watching a movie or a Columbo episode. He kept in touch with students even after their graduation, and he officiated at the marriage of many of them.

George was much interested in audio-visual machines and computers. He had a substantial collection of audio and video tapes for teaching English, some of which he himself edited or compiled. His favorite teaching tool was the Columbo TV series, many episodes of which he knew almost by heart. He was one of the earliest users of a computer at Sophia, especially from a non-Science Faculty, going back to the days of punch cards. After the arrival of PCs, he used almost every version of Windows until Windows Vista. He was competent in handling the programming language BASIC and wrote several programs for use in class. In fact, after his retirement from Sophia, he volunteered to work in Myanmar, and there too he employed his personally developed CALL system, which consisted of a set of lessons with Columbo episodes and custom-made dialogs and questions, all controled by his own software program.

George had the knack of attracting people and was often surrounded by former students who came from different walks of life. One of the reasons for his popularity might have been his membership in a yachting club, to which he belonged for many years. Almost every year, he attended numerous functions associated with the club and was regular in giving opening or closing speeches. He was also a 'socialite' being very generous in treating friends, sometimes even cooking for them. George was a very talented cook and had very clear notions about the quality of food and the manner of serving and eating. Perhaps he came from a family of restaurateurs, educated since a very young age in food vocabulary and food criticism. He often made bread, pizza, and other dishes in his office and ate with others.

George was a memorable character. Perhaps no student is likely to forget George's sonorous voice and impressive appearance. Most notable were his hair, which he laboriously wound around to cover his bald pate, and his pants, all of which were ultra-tight. Of course, he was always dandy, paying close attention to the colors of his clothes, the design of his tie, and the choice of his jacket. Perhaps more than his voice and appearance, what made him memorable was his vocation-inspired sociability and generosity, as he always strove to be available and generous to others. R. I. P.

Funeral Details:
April 9, 2011 (Sat), 10:00 AM: There will be a Memorial Mass for Fr. Graziano at St. Ignatius Church, Yotsuya, Tokyo.

Wake and Funeral were canceled due to the calamitous Great Quake of March 11.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Klaus Luhmer, former Chancellor of Sophia University

Luhmer MetroCard
[FYI: For a printable version of this entry and for the Japanese Eulogy delivered by Fr. Jerry Cusumano, S.J., on the occasion of Fr. Luhmer's funeral, please click the following link and view the first entry: ]

I hate to make this into a blog of obituaries, but unfortunately so many illustrious professors and builders of Sophia University are disappearing that I am forced to write something about at least some of them. Just a couple of minutes ago, I heard that Fr. Klaus Luhmer, one of the most well-known faces of Sophia University, passed away at the age of 94, at 12:20 PM today (March 1, 2011).

LuhmerAs a young man
My association with Klaus goes back to many years, but it started getting closer and warmer since the time he started using computers and email, in mid-1990s. He was one of the most athletic, energetic, and enthusiastic men around, and so his curiosity knew no bounds. He boldly embraced the Internet, and despite numerous 'electronic accidents', he continued to use it and do creative work with it. I believe he started engaging himself seriously in Montessori-style education around that time, and he started translating, writing, and editing numerous books and articles on Montessori--of course, with several Japanese collaborators, one of his closest associates being Professor Masako Ejima. He also became the President of Nihon Montessori Association (日本モンテッソーリ協会会長) and was eager to give some exposure to the Association on the Internet. That was what brought us together. Following his suggestions and recommendations, I opened a Montessori web site for him at Sophia (with web-data created by another Montessori colleague), since the Association had some links with Sophia University then. Sophia, unfortunately, cut off its ties to the Association after some years, and so the Webpages had to be removed. Luhmer too gave up the Association's Presidency in favor of some other person.

Luhmer skating at the age of 84!
Around the same time, I also created a Web site for Fr. Luhmer, aptly named LUHMERLAND (see, listing major events in his life and the series of Montessori books he authored, edited, or translated. Even after he moved to Loyola House, he continued supplying some information for the Web page, including his meeting with Agnes Chan, a Sophia University alumna and a teen idol of the 1970s. Fr. Luhmer really enjoyed life and loved to be in the company of people, and so he was constantly on the move meeting persons, giving talks, and visiting the sick. It was hard to keep up with all his activities, and so I have to confess that I was a bit negligent in reporting many of his activities.

Here is a list of some major events in his life:

**1916, September, 28 : Luhmer was born in Koln, Germany. Had his early education at Beethoven Gymnasium near Bonn.

**1935, April 26 : Entered the Society of Jesus.

**1937, February 18: Arrived in Japan, via Siberia, with other illustrious Jesuits such as L. Laures & Erlinghagen, after 13 days of travel! Studied Japanese in Tokyo and Hiroshima for about 18 months, and then studied philosophy at Hiroshima noviciate for about three years.

**1943: Studied at Tokyo Azabu Theologate, while experiencing many aerial attacks and bombs.

**1945 July 1: Ordination to priesthood, and on August 6, witnesses the incredible atomic bomb over Hiroshima, from a distance of 4 kilometers. Enters the bombed zone within the city several times to help the wounded, rescue Fr. Enomiya Lasalle, and save some Church relics and sacred vessels. Thus becomes acquainted first hand with the atom bomb, and also gets affected with some skin infection.

**1947: After acquiring teaching skills at Kobe Rokko Gakuin, proceeds to Detroit University, USA, for studying Educational Administration.

**1953: Enters Sophia University as a Professor in the Department of Education, Faculty of Literature. He teaches Western Educational History and Comparative Education.

**1957-1965: Holds the position of Sophia University Chancellor. Among his achievements as Chancellor were the buying of the Kioizaka Building, establishment of the Science Faculty, and the recruitment of illustrious Japanese to hold important positions.

**1965: Is in charge of Public Relatioins, and gives publicity to Sophia overseas. Also sees to the publication of student newspaper and dissemination of information about Sophia.

**1969: For about three years--especially during the Student Unrest period--serves as the Vice-President of General Affairs under President Moriya.

**1985, November: Receives an Award from the Japanese Government for his services (勲三等旭日中授賞)

**1987: Even as he is ready to retire at the age of 70, he is appointed the Chancellor of Sophia University once more! Also made a Professor Emeritus.

**1992 March: Retires from the job of Chancellor, and takes up wholeheartedly and intensely the study of Montessori Education. Visits various countries like India and Italy to get to know Montessori first hand, and attends many conferences on Montessori. Becomes President of Nihon Montessori Association. Publishes several books (see, including The origins of Liberal Education: From Plato to Montessori, The Way of Montessori Education, and Schule und Ildungsreform In Japan I & II

**Fr. Luhmer was not only an academic, but also a sportsman, doing ice-skating even in his mid 80's, and a man of many talents. He loved playing the flute and organ, often playing with friends in an ensemble. Even at the age of 90, he was learning Korean, Spanish, Italian, and French listening to the NHK radio!

Klaus With Pope JPII
Fr. Luhmer was perhaps born to govern as he spent most of his life occupying positions of power and administration. Still, he had a simplicity and gentleness that made him amiable and approachable. He was friendly with all and never put on airs. Like most great men and women of history, he had a way with fellow human beings, and dealt with them respectfully, fairly, and generously. He seemed adept in using languages--especially Japanese--and wielded Japanese ably to raise funds, extract cooperation, and encourage colleagues. He used to speak of the verbal and non-verbal cues that the wealthy gave him whenever he went fundraising, and had a list of signs that guided him when to continue a conversation and when to cut it short.

Klaus with a medal
Funeral Arrangements:
WAKE: March 3, 2011 (Th), 19:30, at St. Ignatius Church, Yotsuya, Tokyo
FUNERAL: March 4, 2011 (F), 13:30, at St. Ignatius Church, Yotsuya, Tokyo