A Chimney (part 1)

(this is part 1; you can read part 2 here)

The Fast Small Field Railroad Company in Tokyo, Japan read the future and invested right. In 1977 they tore down the shabby small wooden station of Forever Forest Upper Field and elevated it with concrete, then they had the subway link to the economic and government centers. If only that elevation took place a few years earlier, the fair skin huihui-san who used to cook for the huihui-kids’ school, wouldn’t have died right behind the Islamic temple: her hearing failed to warn her of the trains coming and her old legs weren’t fast enough to cross the narrow crossing that only locals knew. Her funeral took place at the old Islamic temple next to the school. “Huihui-san” is how the area calls the Muslims that have been living in that area since the 1920s. The old wooden temple is gone now; a bigger elaborate white marble, stone, concrete mosque stands on the same site

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The skyline in the area was pretty low before the station was elevated. The current mosque is much bigger than the one before, but the previous wood one felt bigger with the dome and the minarets soaring high above the low rooflines of the houses. Houses then were one or two stories and had gardens. The neighborhood was very proud of the big, old, wooden temple. From there the only other human-made object that one could see in the sky was a chimney farther out to the north.

If one were on the upper part of the temple, one would see below that many trees were taller than the houses, that in some gardens, smaller trees were planted to suit their aesthetics and flowers would be blooming in both Japanese style and Western style: Western style meant the garden had patches of bright green lawn. Watery place it was, too. Streams ran, swamps here and there, and ponds ― many Japanese gardens had ponds small and large. Cast the eyes straight and nothing there until the chimney, which is 800 meters away. Cast the eyes to the right, and there is a mass of dark dense greenery; the forest of a Shinto shrine a kilometer away. It was the time, too, when the industrial areas were quickly developing in Japan, chimneys were blowing smoke, and increasing cases of asthma, particularly among children, was becoming a social and medical issue.

Unfortunately, the huihui-san’s temple aged and was closed in 1984, then taken down in 1986. The new one opened in 2000. And gardenless houses, became the norm.

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An old woman in her seventies living a building away from the mosque wonders how the huihui-sans are doing. She misses the old white lady that died in the train accident. The old lady loved her kids, and they never failed to greet each other. She would send her kids with fruit, or whatever, to the school kitchen and the old lady would give them foreign sweets that were baked in the school kitchen. Her grown-up kids were happy to find the picture of the old mosque in their history textbooks in the early 1980s.

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When the Korean War (1950-1953) broke out she was in elementary school. Many huihui-sans were living in the neighborhood then. Huihui kids her age went to their school that stood next to the old temple wearing a similar uniform she wore for her Japanese public school in the area.

Every day after school, kids in the neighborhood were playing away together. She and a boy whom she married later were among them. Language was not an issue, huihui kids had no problem with Japanese ― related to a reason their school was built: the second generation could not communicate with their parents.[1]

Their favorite playing space was behind huihui-san’s school and temple; the train track delineated the end of the play zone. The area used to be forest. And this side, the north side of the train track, was sparsely inhabited. Both the Islamic temple and school built in the mid-1930s remained unharmed and intact throughout the war.

She also learned from them that their parents fled from the Red Army, the Bolsheviks were anti-religion, and to keep on living right with prayers ― praying was like breathing ― they sought asylum. And here they are with their temple in the Forever Forest Upper Field. In the school adjacent to the temple they learned the Tatar language[2] and the teachings of Islam; the rest of the curriculum adhered to a regular Japanese curriculum and was taught in Japanese.[3] The school had printing facilities with Arabic type-faces attached to it so they were able to print text books, and publish journals and Korans.[4] They were there to breathe their religious freedom.

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Her mother often heard from the women that the huihui women were visiting hospitals to offer whatever they could to assist their invalid fellows, Muslim Tatars sent from Turkey to fight in the Korean War, as part of the United Nations Forces in Korea.[5] The huihui community couldn’t leave the invalids in what would be a strange and unfamiliar environment. They did not want others to experience the hardship they went through.

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Retelling the stories to her families, her mother kept saying sympathetically enough of war, no more, no more …and always commented on the new constitution that it is good and right: the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.[6]

(end of part 1; read part 2 here)



Selçuk Esenbel and Inaba Chiharu. The Rising Sun and the Turkish Crescent: New Perspectives on the History of Japanese Turkish Relations. İstanbul: Boğaziçi University Press, 2003.

Setsuko Adachi is associate professor in the Department of Information Studies at Kogakuin University, Tokyo. Her main research interests are identity formation and cultural systems analysis.




[1] Katsunori Nishiyama, “A Further Inquiry into M. G. Kurbangali’s Anticipation of International Opportunities in the Far East, 1920-1945 (1),” Journal of International Relations and Comparative Culture Vol.4 No.2, University of Shizuoka, March, 2003, p.337. Unless otherwise noted, the translation from Japanese to English is by the author.

[2] Tatar was written using Arabic letters at this time. See school’s tenth anniversary photo book: a Tokyo’da Mekteb-i Islamiye Idaresi http://islamjp.com/library/tkykaikyo01.htm
For Tatar language see “Tatar, the Language of the Largest Minority in Russia,” American Association of Teachers of Turkic Languages, https://www.princeton.edu/~turkish/aatt/tatar.htm

[3] Katsunori Nishiyama, “A Further Inquiry into M. G. Kurbangali’s Anticipation of International Opportunities in the Far East, 1920-1945 (1),” Journal of International Relations and Comparative Culture Vol.4 No.2, University of Shizuoka, March, 2003, p.337.

[4] Ibid., p.338.

[5] 「モスクを建てた亡命タタール人 ムハンマド・クルバンガリー5 ロシア(1890-1972)」この国に生きて 異邦人物語57 Sankei Shimbun, March 15, 2002. Reproduced in the following site: http://www2.dokidoki.ne.jp/islam/photo/kurban5.htm

[6] RENUNCIATION OF WAR Article 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. (“The Constitution of Japan,” Promulgated on November 3, 1946, Came into effect on May 3, 1947 http://japan.kantei.go.jp/constitution_and_government_of_japan/constitution_e.html)

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  1. Pingback: A Chimney (part 2) | Singapore Review of Books

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