“To celebrate our turning 50 years old, let’s take a trip that will be the memory of a lifetime.” As soon as someone said this when I was with friends of the same age, the concept of this trip began to unfold. Because the trip was connected to our turning 50 years old, we decided to call it the “Ushi Tora Chimei Tour.” The terms ushi (ox) and tora (tiger) were chosen because we were all born either in the Year of the Ox or the Tiger, according to the Chinese zodiac. The word chimei, which means “learning Heaven’s will,” comes from the teachings of Confucius, who said that people discover Heaven’s will when they turn 50 years old. We decided to make this special trip two nights and three days long. A bunch of us made suggestions, including the idea of taking a trip to an isolated island where none of us had ever been and probably would never go in the future. Once the date of the trip was set (July 20–22), we started the process of selecting our destination from among the possible isolated islands.

After examining a number of ideas for different islands, including Sado Island, Iki Island, and Ogasawara Islands, we narrowed it down to either Tsushima Island or Tanegashima Island. In March 2012, we met once again to determine our final destination. We decided on Tsushima Island. We chose this island because there were reportedly a lot of Korean tourists visiting the island, and we wanted to find out what was going on. Another reason for the visit was to see the remains of the site of the Korean invasion by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. While Tanegashima Island ended up being the runner-up, we all agreed that, “If a rocket is going to be launched, let’s go to Tanegashima Island instead.”

Then we received information from Mr. Kajiya, a GLOBIS employee who is from Tanegashima Island, that H2B, Japan’s largest rocket, was scheduled to be launched on July 21. To verify this information we contacted the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which confirmed the date of the rocket launch. As a result, we reversed our decision, and Tanegashima Island became our destination. Because of this background, I became the trip organizer.

I soon began creating an itinerary. Because I was going as far as Tanegashima Island, which lay to the south of Kyushu, I thought that I could take the opportunity to hold a seminar in Fukuoka, go to Kumamoto via the newly developed Kyushu Shinkansen (bullet train line) to see some clients, inspect a company in Kagoshima that we had invested in, and meet some of our graduates. I made these plans steadily.

My journey began when I flew out of Haneda Airport to Fukuoka on the morning of July 18. I made some courtesy calls on key people in Kyushu’s business community in the afternoon, and held a seminar in Fukuoka in the evening. The Fukuoka seminar, although being held for the first time in six years, was successful, with 100 attendees in total and the atmosphere was full of energy. I made a speech starting at seven in the evening and attended an informal party around nine. The whole time—four hours—I was standing. Although I started to feel tired, my spirits remained high. Later, I joined a drinking party in Nakasu. It was the first time I had visited Nakasu in six years, and I found it to be as prosperous as before.

Graduates and current GMBA students from the Nagoya and Tokyo campuses, who were originally from Fukuoka, also attended the Fukuoka seminar. I was reassured by the strong solidarity between GLOBIS graduates and its current students.

The next morning I caught the Sakura on the Kyushu Shinkansen line, heading for Kumamoto. Over the past year or so, my experience of the bullet train had been almost entirely limited to the Tohoku Shinkansen line. My first experience of the Kyushu Shinkansen, however, passed in the blink of an eye, as I reached Kumamoto in only 30 minutes.

The interior of the Sakura was decorated with lavish flower patterns. Train announcements were first made in Japanese and English, followed by Korean and Chinese. The Kyushu Shinkansen line now enables people to travel across Kyushu from Hakata to Kagoshima in less than an hour and 20 minutes. In Kumamoto, I saw clients, then visited Kumamoto Castle and climbed the castle’s tower. This made me feel like I was rapidly moving between two different time periods—modern times and the age of the provincial wars in the 15th and 16th century. Far away on the horizon, I could see Mount Aso.

Later I arrived in Kagoshima, and visited the factory for SHIMAUMA Print System, Inc., which we had invested in. Taking advantage of some spare time before this visit, I also visited Miyama, the village where Satsuma pottery comes from. In the SHIMAUMA Print System factory in Hioki, there were dozens of digital camera printers standing everywhere. Apparently, SHIMAUMA Print System currently has about a 20% share of the online digital printing market. Its business has enjoyed robust growth by offering an exceptionally low price of 5 a sheet. If you have a need for digital printing, go to SHIMAUMA Print System (http://www.n-pri.jp/).

I reunited with GLOBIS graduates at the Shiroyama Kanko Hotel that evening. While I was there, my friends started to arrive from Tokyo, Kyoto, and other places. After we had dinner at the hotel, we went to Tenmonkan, Kagoshima’s entertainment district. We went to two Japanese pubs there before we returned to the hotel. Tenmonkan is full of visitors, mainly young people, and stays busy even after 2 a.m. I haven’t been to such a lively town since Sendai. I heard that the opening of the Kyushu Shinkansen really revitalized Kagoshima. Some critics say that a city’s spirited nightlife is proportional to its economic prosperity. I am convinced that Kagoshima has a bright future.

The next morning I got up at 6:00 and took a bath, soaking in an onsen (hot spa), while I enjoyed the view of Sakurajima. It was raining in Kagoshima. The upper part of the mountain was covered in clouds, but I could still see the clouds of smoke coming from the top of the volcano. Soon we took a taxi to the ferry terminal, and caught a high-speed ferry to Tanegashima Island, a 90-minute ride.

It was cloudy on Tanegashima Island. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by the father of Mr. Kajiya, a GLOBIS employee. Tanegashima Island is also famous as the place where guns were introduced to Japan for the first time. This apparently happened when a Portuguese vessel that had gone adrift was towed to the island. While helping to repair the vessel and get it ready to continue its journey, the local people learned how to make guns. There is an anecdotal story that the local people had great difficulties because they couldn’t figure out how to make the screws.

Driving through the city of Nishinoomote, where a castle of the Tanegashima family apparently once stood, our minibus drove along the coastline of the East China Sea, heading for Minamitane-cho, where the rocket base was located. While I was appreciating the view of the beautiful sandy beach, we saw Mageshima Island off the coast. This is an uninhabited island that is being considered by the US military as a possible base camp for landing drills. We were told that people were living on the island until the early Showa era. In the meantime, Tanegashima Island has been attracting an increasing number of surfers because of its ideal surfing waves.

We soon arrived at a park from where we could view the rocket launch, and waited for the launch. We could hear the loud radio broadcast in the park. The countdown started 480 seconds before the launch. When it got down to 60, the park was silent with tension and expectation. Six seconds before the launch, the rocket was ignited, then took off in a burst of yellow flame. The rocket disappeared into the clouds in a matter of seconds. The launch platform was completely covered in smoke, and the roar of the rocket surrounded us.

We could still hear the rocket thundering above the clouds; then the rocket’s sonic boom violently shook us to the core. As the roar surrounded us, I started to hear some people clapping randomly. Then this turned into waves of cheers and applause, with people shouting, “It was a great success!” On the International Space Station, Akihiko Hoshide, a Japanese astronaut, was waiting for the Kounotori. Wasn’t this a wonderful event? I had seen a rocket launch before in Florida, and watching a rocket launch is always very thrilling.

After the launch was successfully completed, we went to the Tanegashima Space Center and met Keiji Tachikawa, the President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). I appreciated his kindness in meeting us, despite his busy schedule. The meeting started with applause for the successful launch of the rocket. President Tachikawa gave us a briefing on the purpose of the rocket and other matters, and was kind enough to answer a few questions we had. Then he went to a press conference, while we looked around the space center facilities, including the museum. People say that this is the most beautiful rocket launch site in the world. It’s true that the beach surrounding it is exceptionally appealing.

At the gate as we were leaving, the JAXA employee who had taken us around the center said, “We will have good times and bad times, but we always count on your unfailing support.” JAXA and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) are Japan’s most prominent research organizations. I would like them to take on challenges boldly, without fear of failure. I hope that JAXA will eventually launch a manned rocket, and develop technologies that can be useful for military purposes. Meanwhile, I hope that JAEA develops a nuclear fuel cycle. I believe that what we—the public—can do is to create an environment where scientists can focus on their research without politics interfering.

Our minibus drove through an area completely covered in sugarcane. The semitropical vegetation piqued my curiosity. Then we went by the only sugar factory on the island. The bus continued to head north, driving along the Pacific Ocean side of Tanegashima Island. The Space Center is located along the coast on the southeastern part of the island. After we saw a cave that was created by tidal erosion, we had lunch at Mr. Kajiya’s house in the village he grew up in.

After lunch, we went to a lecture at a Japanese cattle farmer’s ranch about the breeding of Japanese Black cattle. This particular farmer specializes in breeding and raising calves, then selling them in the market at nine months old. It is an interesting business model.

After the lecture, we went fishing in the East China Sea. It was enjoyable and the sea was unexpectedly calm. Time seemed to pass slowly by the sea, and we could see Yakushima Island through the clouds. I caught a greater amberjack. Altogether we caught 10 fish.

After we returned from fishing, we went to Nagahama Beach, which is 12 km long. There was no one in sight on this beach, which sparkled with unspoiled nature. We swam there for a little while, and the salt water was very refreshing. Then we participated in the release of the sea turtles. The ones we released were very young, having been born only the day before. I took them into the sea with my swimsuit on. I swam along with them, but quickly lost them in the ocean. I tried to find them, but they had completely vanished from my sight. Good luck, young sea turtles!

We released about 100 sea turtles into the sea, but we were told it would be lucky if even one of them managed to come back. They were taken into the open ocean without being taught how to swim or how to find food. Young sea turtles will struggle to survive, avoiding natural predators only by instinct. I would like to adopt such a bold way of raising children. I will “release” my children into foreign countries. I want them to find a way to live independently.

In the evening we had a barbeque on Nagahama Beach, which was still deserted. Watching the sun as it set into the East China Sea, we had some beers and enjoyed fresh seafood. On the dinner menu was Japanese spiny lobster, which had been caught the night before, Nagarame (a type of abalone), turtle legs, local shellfish, sashimi of Japanese horse mackerel and the greater amberjack we had caught that day. We enjoyed this meal under a large canopy on the beach with the special shochu drink from Tanegashima Island, “Shima no Izumi,” a type of distilled spirit made from potatoes. We were only wearing our swimsuits with no shirts. In the pleasant sea breeze, wearing no shoes and feeling the sand directly under our feet, we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner as we watched the sun going down into the East China Sea.

The sky above the East China Sea was painted red in the glow of the sunset. The breeze from the sea and the sound of the surf stimulated all five of my senses. On the table under the canopy, I regarded the fresh seafood. Together with my friends from Tokyo and the local people, I spent a pleasant time with a glass of shochu in my hand.

Then the beach became dark. We turned off the light under the canopy, and began enjoying the display of stars above us. I heard that the stars in the sky above Tanegashima Island shine so clearly that they give you an impression that you can touch them with your hands and they look as if they are falling to Earth. At first it was a bit cloudy that evening, so the local people weren’t very happy. Then a group of men from the area started to sing “Medetabushi,” a local folk song that is sung on celebratory occasions, in honor of our 50th birthdays. This raised our spirits even more.

Filled with cheer from drinking, I walked along the beach by myself. I saw wooden poles sticking up here and there on the beach. These were the markers of the places where the sea turtles had laid their eggs. Standing on the sand, I experienced a moment of quiet. I happened to look up at the night sky. The stars were shining clearly now. I returned to the canopy and told my friends that the sky was fine now. We turned the light off, and enjoyed the stars above us for a while. The Milky Way was also clearly visible, showing a stream of beautiful stars.

After we put away our barbecue, we moved to our accommodations at a nearby campsite run by the town. Believe it or not, the fee was only 2,000, and all of us were going to sleep together on the floor in one big room. We laid out our futons, and each took a bath in turn (with no towels, shampoo, or conditioner). When we finished this, we started drinking again in the room. We drank and talked together until late into the night, and eventually went to sleep on the floor. I knew that this was going to be a trip we would remember for the rest of our lives.

Day 3 of the Ushi Tora Chimei Tour: We had a breakfast of fresh seafood with a cup of milk from the island. Then we set off for the day in the minibus. Our driver was Mr. Sasagawa, a childhood friend of Mr. Kajiya’s. Mr. Sasagawa was apparently once the strongest Sumo wrestler on the island.

We were headed to a fruit orchard. Well, these weren’t ordinary orchards, like a pear orchard or a field of berries. They were mango, passion fruit, and dragon fruit orchards. First we went to the mango orchard. We were told that the mango flowers were pollinated by honeybees. I tasted a mango and understood why mangoes from Tanegashima Island are so popular. I couldn’t resist—I had to buy some mangoes there. Then we went to the passion fruit and dragon fruit orchards, and tasted them too. I never imagined that freshly harvested passion fruit and dragon fruit could taste so lovely. Their colors were particularly splendid.

Then we went back to the minibus and drove just under an hour away from the fruit orchard. We were heading to the Urada bathing beach, which is located on the north end of Tanegashima Island. The beach has the reputation of being the most beautiful on Tanegashima Island. I swam there with my friends for a while, enjoying the very clear ocean, white sandy beach, green hills, and blue sky. We lingered there for a little under two hours. The weather was perfect.

Then we had lunch at a restaurant on the 8th floor of the most elegant hotel on Tanegashima Island, looking down at the port. While we enjoyed our lunch with locally produced food for local consumption, we talked about “chimei,” or discovering Heaven’s will, upon turning 50 years old. After we finished lunch, we drove to the Tanegashima Island port. As we started our return journey, I felt a little bit sad at the thought of leaving this island. When we got to the port, we took a commemorative photo, and thanked Mr. Kajiya’s parents, who had looked after us so well, and Mr. Sasagawa, Mr. Kajiya’s childhood friend, who drove us around the island. They continued to wave to us as our high-speed ferry left the pier, even though they could not actually see us. It was an emotional moment. Our high-speed ferry was heading to Kagoshima.

When the Osumi Peninsula came in sight, we were nearing Sakurajima, and the high-speed ferry soon arrived at the Kagoshima port. Then we caught a bus to Kagoshima Airport before continuing our journey to Haneda Airport. I saw that plumes of white smoke were still rising from Sakurajima.

At a Japanese pub at Kagoshima Airport, we had a final shochu toast. My friends were going back to Itami Airport or Haneda Airport from there. We would be facing real-world challenges again the next day. People discover Heaven’s will when they turn 50 years old. What is this will of Heaven that we learn for the first time when we turn 50? Keeping what we found on Tanegashima Island in our hearts, my friends and I would go on to meet new challenges the next day.

July 22, 2012
Yoshito Hori
Written on the plane to Haneda from Kagoshima