Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sakai Saburo--A Real Samurai

This is a photograph given to me by Sakai.  This was taken before his war injuries and is signed:  "To Smart:  Saburo Sakai (in English and in Japanese and his secret Samurai sign)."

Posting about my obsession with the Japanese warrior class reminded me of my friend Sakai Saburo.  I met Sakai in 1986 when I was asked by the Yakima Air Fair to interpret for the meeting between Pappy Boyington and Sakai.  Earlier that year I was traveling to Japan on a military assignment and while there, the Yakima Air Fair Committee (specifically Bob Clem) asked me to contact Sakai and make a personal visit to his home to invite him as a special Air Fair guest.  They had written letters to him previously and he had not responded.  Apparently, taking the effort to make a personal visit sufficiently impressed him enough to accept our invitation. 

Sakai was born of Samurai lineage on both his mother's and his father's side.  He was a living legend in aviation.  At the time he visited Yakima, he was the leading living Japanese ace from WWII.  He shot down 64 American planes.  He adopted the Bushido code of the Samurai in both his military and his personal life.  After meeting Sakai what impressed me most, however, was his voice for peace and understanding.  The picture above was given to me by Sakai and signed using his secret "Samurai sign."  A secret Samurai sign is made by combining several Chinese characters into one symbol that incorporates the characteristics reflective of the life the Samurai wishes to live.  Although Sakai did not reveal to anyone the meaning of his Samurai sign (it can never be revealed), he did share with me his personal mantra in life: " Futo Fukutsu", which is literally "never bend, never stoop."  In English we would say "Never Give Up!"

I visited with Sakai in Tokyo on two occasions.  The second time, he invited me to spend the night at his home and have breakfast with his family.  I also served as his personal interpreter for several days during two of the Yakima Air Fairs.  Serving as his personal interpreter entailed flying in a private jet to Seattle to pick him up and spending essentially every waking moment with him for several days, including numerous social calls, golfing dates and dining events.  The most notable of these activities were the meetings between he and Pappy Boyington and the dinner engagement he had with the Blue Angel pilots.  We also had him to our home for dinner. He had an excellent sense of humor and was very challenging to interpret for.  I was privileged to interpret the miraculous story of when his plane was shot up in a battle over the Pacific.  His instrumentation was damaged and he become lost somewhere over the ocean.  He was seriously injured, had lost a lot of blood and was passing in and out of consciousness.  His fuel was running low and he was certain he would perish somewhere over the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean when his mother came to him in a dream and guided him back to his air base.  He told this story with such conviction and tenderness that I had no doubts about its veracity.   The first time I interpreted this story, I was in awe.  I could not believe what I was hearing.  This was such a remarkable and touching story. I thought to myself, "This is so powerful!  Someone should write a book about it!"  I obviously had not read Sakai's biography, Samurai!    Everyone at the event was an aviation fanatic and had read the book and knew the story well.  I was hearing it for the first time as the interpreter and was almost in tears hearing this beautiful story of a mother's love and devotion, and Sakai's vision of her in his great moment of need. 

In the West we have mystical views of Samurai and their Bushido code, attributing to them almost divine capacities, which border on the absurd.  In reality, the Bushido code is really about honor and sacrifice and service.  Sakai embodied all that was truly noble and correct of the Samurai--he served his country with humility and courage.  Following the war he was largely forgotten by his country.  Japan was quick to move beyond the devastation and embarrassment of World War II.  However, Sakai was willing to talk candidly about the war, mistakes that were made and suggest how countries should live together in harmony.  He was thrilled when his daughter, Michiko, married an American, Terrance Smart (who is not a known relative of mine).  He said, "families argue but they do not go to war.  My daughter is helping build the bridge of permanent peace between Japan and America."  He was proud that his first grandson, Maxwell Smart was both a Japanese and an American citizen.  He clearly served as an ambassador of peace and goodwill.  I will forever count as one of my great privileges in life the opportunity to both interpret and come to know Sakai as a person, and as a great, modern day Samurai warrior.

Following Sakai's death, this was shared with me by Michiko Smart, Sakai's daughter.

Friday, March 15, 2013

1+ Billion People Cannot be Wrong!

I have three big passions in life: traveling with Sheila, attempting physically challenging things and chilling with my family.  Recently, Sheila and enjoyed some down time in San Diego. I was ostensibly there for a firm retreat, but we still found time to go to the San Diego temple, see BYU get beat up in basketball by San Diego University, sail the San Diego bay and go to a number of amazing restaurants.  We went to a couple of Triple D establishments (you know Guy Fieri's show featuring amazing hole-in-wall eateries).  We visited Blue Water Seafood, a San Diego Dive that is famous for its fish tacos.  Upon the recommendation of our waitress, I ordered the Cioppino.  To say this dish was amazing would be a ginormous understatement.  At the moment of my first bite, I'm pretty sure I forgot my name.  When I got to the dregs of my bowl, I had no choice--I reverted to Asian mode and brought the bowl to my still very hungry mouth.  I could sense that Sheila was  aghast when I breached table etiquette by lifting the bowl off the table.  The look in her eye seemed to scream, "Were you raised by wolves?!"

In the moment I didn't much care much about her protests.  Perhaps this is because I had a number of immediate defenses.  First, if the chef didn't expect the restaurant patrons to lift the bowl to their faces, he/she would not have made it so yummy.  Second, we were not in England, nor at any table with place settings like Downtown Abby.  Third, the dregs of an excellent bowl of Cioppino is always the best part and bringing the dregs to your face only makes sense. And lastly but most importantly, almost half of the world's population eat like this for each and every meal.  Can these billion plus denizens of planet earth all be wrong? 

Sheila and I have an Asian trip in the offing.  I can only hope that she will come to find acceptable looking into my hungry eyes peering over the top of a rice bowl. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Coup

In 2002 my partner, Michael Connell and I decided to open an office in Kennewick.  We were serving a number of clients from the Tri-Cities area and felt that we could easily expand our practice.  Within 6 months, we realized that we had bitten off more than we could chew.  We immediately hired a law clerk out of BYU, Christopher Childers and tasked him to help us grow the Kennewick office.  He accomplished that in spades.  What has happened in the last decade is largely attributable to Christopher's remarkable skills and talent.  We now have 46 full-time employees, over half of whom work out of the Kennewick office.  We have built a beautiful building in Kennewick and developed a staff and sense of professionalism in that office that is a direct reflection of Christopher's efforts and skills.  Several years ago we hired Mistee Verhulp, a seasoned Personal Injury litigator to work out of Kennewick office and immediately made her a partner.  This past fall we added Marcus Henry a recent graduate from Willamette Law School, who will also work out of the Kennewick office. 

Before Marcus entered onto the scene, I loved going to Kennewick. I enjoyed a spacious office that included a refrigerator (which our office manager stocked with chilled soft drinks) and a conscientious support staff that was second to none. The week that Marcus was sworn in and officially joined our firm all of that changed.  Rumor has it that it changed the week before, but I was intentionally kept out of the loop while I was on vacation.  Following his swearing in ceremony, he moved his stuff into "my office", took down my name plate on the door and restocked the fridge with soft drinks he preferred.  My stuff?  As you might have guessed, in a box in the storage room. How did this happen exactly?  One minute I was king of an empire.  The next?  I found myself one step away from what is the equivalency of homelessness in the business world.   

Now some have suggested that this might have something to do with declining production or failing legal acumen.  While that might be empirically true, instead of statistics and hard cold facts, I prefer emotions and personal bias to form the basis of all of my really important decisions in life.  (This is something to which any astute follower of Darrell's Yakimania can attest.)  What I think is really happening is that the young wolves in the pack have smelled blood. The pack is essentially taking down the "Big Dog."  Beyond power and money, I'm not exactly sure of their motives, but a coup is definitely in the offing. So, if you drive past our Kennewick office anytime soon and notice the sign has been changed to "Marcus Henry & Associates" you will know the rebellion succeeded.

Editors Note:  I am actually quite fond of Marcus and his wife Ashley and am thrilled they joined our firm. Marcus is smart, motivated and hardworking--everything one would look for in a law partner.  While it is true he commandeered my space in Kennewick, I suppose I should admit that I might have actually acquiesced to this transition in a moment of weakness.  Marcus has a very bright future ahead of him as a lawyer.  I am proud of his accomplishment in passing the bar and am looking to working with him for the next decade. 

Above is a picture of Marcus and his family immediately following his swearing in ceremony in the historic Franklin County Courthouse.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


One of my biggest hopes in life is that my wife will come to understand that I am in most ways very much like the ancient Samurai Warrior.  During the first two decades of our marriage she realized that I do not like dealing with money, balancing the checkbook, or in general having to keep track of things such as insurance, taxes or bills. This 20 year time period is referred to by me as a "brief adjustment period."  I believe my wife refers to it as "The Monumental Sacrifice." (I have no idea what she means by that.)  Over the years,  I have tried to explain to her that I am not irresponsible; rather, that I like to think of myself as concerned with matters larger than money and the niggling little details of modern life. 

In feudal Japan, the warrior class lived by an ethos, which came to be known as "Bushido."  Bushido is best translated as "Path of the Warrior."  A great samurai could not be bothered with something as mundane and vulgar as money.  The samurai carried a sword--he was a virtual killing machine; there was no need for him to be bogged down with trifling matters such as money.  He had a retinue to pay his bills and take care of his trivial business affairs. His primary concern was the maintenance of his blade and his warrior ways.  I have tried in vain to explain this to my wife that I am a modern day version of the Great Bushido Warrior. To my surprise (and eternal frustration) she doesn't seem to get it.

The other day, my staff was complaining about my refusal to be bothered with some needless detail in my practice.  I tried to explain to my largely female staff that I was living my "Bushido" principles and that my sword would have to do the talking.  (After all I went to law school primarily so people would fear me!)  At this, a smart-alecky female staff member who needs an immediate salary review, suggested: "Are you ignoring these details out of principle, or do you just don't know where to start?"  At the risk of sounding gender insensitive to the vast worldwide readership that is Darrell's Yakimania, I'm pretty sure that most women are incapable of understanding the concept of Bushido and what it means to carry the blade.  Is Bushido limited to the male psyche?  Will the women in my life ever come to understand my burden of living the Bushido code? 

Usually, the answers to these vexing gender related dilemmas are quickly resolved in my mind.  This one, however, truly has me stumped. Now while I don't want to be thought of as a boorish, insensitive chauvinist, I do have a serious and ancient tradition to uphold.  Regardless of whether I achieve understanding by the women in my life on this issue, I fortunately married a lovely woman three years younger than me who is in excellent health, and who will hopefully outlive me.  Otherwise, I have no idea who is going to pay the bills, balance the checkbook and organize my affairs.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Reverend Hirano

This past year one of my best friends from my youth, Jerry Hirano, was featured in several media pieces (including one in The Mormon Times) about his Buddhist faith and his role as the Reverend of the Buddhist church in Salt Lake City.  What was omitted from these articles was the fact that Reverend Hirano is likely the only Buddhist priest to have ever delivered a sermon in an LDS Sacrament meeting.  In fact, a couple of years ago at our 35th high school reunion Jerry asked me to vouch for this accomplishment.  Apparently the Reverend Hirano serves on an Interfaith Coalition in SLC and had mentioned this to a fairly high ranking LDS church officer who was in disbelief that any LDS bishop would have the chutzpah (or lack of judgment) as to turn the pulpit over to a Buddhist.  I hope that I am not risking my standing or reputation in the church by revealing to the World Wide Readership that is Darrell's Yakimania, that in fact the Reverend Hirano did speak in the Wilson Ward's Sacrament meeting circa 1976.  Never mind that he was not yet an ordained Buddhist priest, nor that his sermon was not a strongly worded doctrinal or philosophic statement on Buddhism.  The fact remains that he did read a Buddhist poem about friendship, and the venue for this reading was indeed our ward's Sacrament meeting.

The reality is that Jerry was asked to speak at my Missionary Farewell (when we used to have such things in the church) and my dad, who was bishop of the Wilson Ward, invited him to speak on "friendship."  My guess is that his sermons today are much more polished that what he delivered to our Mormon congregation in June of 1976, but I doubt if the content of this message is less true than any message he or I have shared since.  He is a true friend.  I am proud of his accomplishments and laud the wise words of tolerance and love that he speaks to our community.  Most importantly, I am grateful that there are friendships in life which so easily overcome the differences of religion and the passage of time. I salute my good friend Jerry and his tireless efforts to promote peace and understanding in Utah and beyond.

Of course, I was fortunate enough to have been called to serve as a missionary in the Japan, Fukuoka mission (1976-78). I think it's only fitting that as close childhood friends we would share a common bond related to the Japanese language and culture.  I hope the Reverend Hirano recognizes what an important message he delivered years before his priestly ordination and that the life he lives continues to exemplify that message today.