Feature Contributors Archives for 2023-04

Column: Emma Horner, remembered

Dear readers,

Emma Horner, a well-known member of our community passed recently. I’m certain that hearing the news brought sadness to many. It did me. 

I met Emma over 40 years ago during the time she served as the Chief Probation Officer for Shelby County. Even though she retired over 30 years ago, she stopped by my office this past Christmas with her good friend Carolyn Moheban and brought me a fruitcake. 

Let’s turn back time for a sentimental memory or two. Look closely at the photo. It isn’t a particularly good photo. I’m sure if it was taken today, the photographer would have taken another one or pushed a button to correct the focus and remove the glare.

Of course, in those days that wasn’t an option. After taking a photograph, the film had to be dropped off at the drug store to be developed. Part of the fun of taking photos was the anticipation of waiting for the “prints” and the surprise of seeing how they turned out. 

Left to right, Emma is the first person in the front row followed by me and court reporter Pam Hupp. In the second row is prosecutor Jim Lisher, Laura Kern (secretary), Charlie Brown (probation officer), Kim Wilgus (court staff), Barb Stats (court staff), and Tom DeBaun (probation officer and our current mayor). 



One of Emma’s proudest achievements was implementing the Guardian ad Litem program, which is now known as CASA. It is a program that helps children involved in court cases.

One of my favorite Emma Horner stories happened when George Tolen was judge. In an attempt to straighten out local juvenile delinquents, Emma was trying out a new program involving psychological testing. 

The delinquent would take a multiple-choice test with hundreds of questions. Emma would mail the test to a psychologist who would issue a report as to the adolescent’s personality traits.

One day Emma asked prosecutor Jeff Linder and me to stop by her office. She needed advice on handling a horrible dilemma involving Judge Tolen. 

For you readers who didn’t know Judge Tolen, he was known for being opinionated, stubborn, bull-headed, and sometimes unreasonable. At least that was his reputation among his friends. 

Tolen once banned defense attorney Vance McQueen from practicing in his court for 90 days. An order that was later reversed by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Tolen played no favorites. He wasn’t just tough on defense lawyers. He once gave prosecutor Jerry Lux the choice of taking part in picking a special judge or going to jail. More than a few lawyers held the opinion that Judge Tolen was crazy.

Emma told us that Judge Tolen was skeptical about using the psychological testing. Tolen had taken one of the tests himself and told Emma to send it to the psychologist under a fake name. Emma didn’t think it was fair to the psychologist who was scoring the test, but she also didn’t want to disobey the judge. Besides, Emma said, “What if the report finds that Judge Tolen is crazy?” 

After discussing the problem, the decision was made to send the test to the psychologist under a fake name as requested.  

Several weeks later when the report arrived, it wasn’t flattering. The report found the fictional delinquent to be opinionated, stubborn, bull-headed, and unreasonable. After reading the report, Judge Tolen said that he was surprised at the accuracy of the test. Emma was free to continue using the tests. And as an additional benefit, those who thought Judge Tolen was crazy were proved wrong. 

As Paul Harvey always said, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

 See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Retiring in Japan

A regular reader of this column who lives in New York, wrote to ask if I could write about “retired life in Japan.”

She has a Japanese friend who was telling her about his parents who are in their 80s and how active they stay with exercise and activities, socializing, and enjoying life in general. Gloria commented, “they are doing great, seem happy, and healthy, and look forward to each day. Their daily lives appear to incorporate what we humans thrive upon — socialization (not isolation), exercise, stimulation, and self-care.”

It sounds like Gloria’s friend’s parents are certainly enjoying their golden years and have created a nice retirement life for themselves. Unfortunately, such a life for many Japanese retirees is getting more and more difficult to achieve in recent years. A good percentage of Japanese retirees are finding that their pensions are not enough to live on and many have resorted to earning extra money to supplement their pension by doing menial, low-paying jobs that are rather unstable and often times physically demanding.

Some of these jobs include custodial work, traffic flaggers in construction zones, or working as security guards. This is partly due to the nation’s chronic labor shortage in a country with one of the highest percentages of longevity in the world.

The Japanese government is quite worried about how to combat the low birth rate coupled with the fact that people are living longer now than ever before in Japan. The pension system will have to be changed somehow to maintain solvency to provide for the elderly who are living longer and longer. If there aren’t enough young people paying into the system to support the older pensioners, eventually the money will run out, and then what?



One solution has been for the government to encourage retirees to keep working past the traditional retirement age of 60. Most Japanese companies set their mandatory retirement age at 60, but in 2013 a law was revised which allows workers to work until the age of 65, which is when one is eligible to receive pension benefits from the government. In 2021, the law was further amended to encourage companies to allow workers to work until the age of 70, even if that means reassigning them to other tasks within the company or organization, more suited to their age and skill set.

I know at the university where I am employed, we have a mandatory retirement age of 63, but are allowed, as a rule, to continue working for two additional years but at a reduced salary. The compromise is that we do not have to serve on any committees and we basically get to keep our university offices and just teach our courses. Most universities follow this same system but most allow faculty to teach until 65, with the reduced salary configuration until 67, then many professors opt to teach as an adjunct or part-time teacher until the age of around 70. So, in a year I will be 63, and I will be semi-retired, so to speak, with a reduced salary but with my same course load — but no extra departmental work on committees or any additional administrative work. Since I enjoy teaching students, I expect to then teach to at least the age of 70 as a part-time professor. This is all dependent upon my health, of course.

I have my own theories as to why retirees are working long past retirement age in Japan, besides merely wanting or needing to supplement their income.  Traditionally, the oldest son nearly always came back home to the family house and took care of his aging parents after working away for a number of years. The trend today is for children to relocate permanently near their work, so coming back to the family home isn’t considered as seriously as it once was. The son may offer for the parents to relocate closer to where he settled with his family, or to live together, but often times the parents prefer to stay in the area where they have always lived rather than being uprooted and moved to a completely new place. And can you blame them? It would be very disruptive to say the least. Also, other siblings and their families may still be in the general area.

But living independently means there are more living expenses that are incurred and while Japanese people are known for being voracious savers, this added expense of maintaining a separate household from one’s children can deplete a savings nest egg rather quickly, forcing these elderly people to try to find work to make up the difference and to make ends meet. Just like in the U.S., inflation has been an issue In Japan and daily living expenses have increased along with the costs of normal goods and foodstuffs. Thankfully, the Japanese healthcare system allows for easy access at a reasonable cost, and prescription medicine is very nominally priced, but it all adds up causing financial stress on some of the elderly.

I have noticed in the high-rise condo where I live that a goodly portion of the units are inhabited by elderly people. Likely a decision was made to sell the family home due to the upkeep of the house and yard, and with no adult children willing to move back home, the best option was to move into a condominium that has no outside maintenance and allows for a more modern, safe (e.g. barrier free) lifestyle that usually has shops and stores nearby to buy daily necessities. The parents can stay in the same general area, but have a more comfortable life living on their own, independently, rather than being forced to move to an unfamiliar place far away. However, living in a high-rise can be very isolating and lonely, too. Elderly people have to make an effort to interact with others to avoid becoming hermits. Working part-time somewhere allows them to have social interactions with others, which relieves their loneliness and keeps them active, both physically and mentally.



Another theory I have is that Japanese people really don’t like the idea of “retiring.” In the U.S., people count the days until they can retire and look forward to the day when they are no longer obligated to work. Huge retirement parties are held, with people congratulating the person who “gets to retire.” 

In Japan, while people are celebrated and recognized as they retire from their workplace, the mood is not as jovial and fun as it is in the U.S. So, while there are many elderly people who must continue to work out of a financial necessity, there is a percentage of Japanese retirees who continue to work merely to avoid boredom and in order to stay physically and mentally active. It is true, that in the U.S., some people who retire tend to have more health issues by being more sedentary than those who stay physically and mentally active by doing some sort of work or hobby after retiring.

Also, despite the belief in the West that Japanese society has such an esteemed and high respect for the elderly — which it does (to a certain extent) — there is some noticeable discrimination that does occur due to a person being of an advanced age. A friend’s mother recently wanted to change her apartment to one that was a bit closer to a supermarket and one which had an elevator as she is now 72 years old. He was shocked when they began to inquire about different rental units/places that were advertised; when the owner would realize her age, and that she would be living alone, they wouldn’t even show her the unit. They finally decided that his sister’s husband would actually rent the apartment officially in his name as he is still gainfully employed, and she will live there. The application was then accepted by the owner with this change.

It is common practice here that once a person reaches a certain age that it becomes more difficult to move residences if renting alone, because of the fear that the person may need assistance, or become incapacitated, or worse die. If the person has no close relative to take care of disposing of their belongings, there is the fear that no one may realize the person had died until bills become overdue. As morbid as this sounds, it is a real concern of potential landlords here in Japan and it is not as uncommon as one would think. Frequently, news media details an elderly person dying alone in a home and no one realized it for some time.

On the positive side, there are many upsides to retirement in Japan. Many communities offer fun and interesting activities for retirees and the elderly. Sometimes these are in the form of classes to learn a new skill or art form, like Japanese calligraphy, flower arranging, hula dancing, or karaoke, etc. Other programs allow retirees to teach a skill that they were able to hone over the length of their career, like woodworking, cooking, or teaching a foreign language.

One system I appreciate in Japan is how city governments will organize what they call “silver centers” where retirees can still impart their knowledge and expertise by being hired out to do small jobs related to the work they did professionally before retiring. I have hired handymen, landscapers, and cleaning personnel from the Silver Center to do odd jobs that needed to be done, but were beyond my ability to do them well or efficiently. I have had really good luck with them over the years because they are great to troubleshoot issues and then proceed to fix whatever it is with professional and skillful expertise. The price is usually lower than hiring from an actual company and they are dependable, on time, tidy, and enthusiastic, usually. Occasionally, you might get a curmudgeon!

As my impending retirement approaches, I guess I have adopted a more Japanese attitude towards that eventuality. While I am looking forward to having more free time for pursuing some of my own interests like writing and traveling, I do fully expect to continue teaching in the classroom as I really do enjoy that aspect of my job. Will I celebrate? Heck yeah, I am American after all, but the celebration will be short lived as I will continue doing what I have become accustomed to doing over the past 35 years — teaching students.

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Column: The Great Gildersleeve

Dear readers,

I recently stopped by to visit loyal reader Chuck Cochran.

Chuck told me that he enjoyed my column about the Henry Ford Museum. He asked me what I thought of the rare Airflow vehicles on display.

Chuck is well-known nationally as an expert on Airflows. Chrysler and DeSoto both manufactured Airflow vehicles in the 1930s and they are rare and highly valued by collectors. I told Chuck I didn’t see any Airflows in the museum. He looked puzzled. 

A couple of days later, I received a picture post card in the mail from Chuck. It is a post card from the Henry Ford Museum featuring one of the Airflows in their collection. It is the photo included with this column. Take a close look at the photo. The back of the post card says: “Following in the path of the legendary 1934 Chrysler Airflow, the 1939 Dodge Airflow Texaco tank truck was the epitome of streamlined commercial vehicles.” 

I will have to do a better job of looking around the museum on my next visit. Now let’s turn to this week’s topic. Last Sunday for your listening pleasure the Shelby County Players presented a radio drama on Giant FM, Johnny Dollar in “The Clever Chemist Matter.”

Johnny Dollar was a great radio show and there are hundreds of episodes. Johnny Dollar is an insurance investigator. He narrates each episode as he is filling out his expense account. Johnny never misses an item in preparing his expense account. As the radio announcer says, “At insurance investigation, he’s only an expert.  At making out his expense account, he’s an absolute genius!”



The heyday of radio shows was before my time. When I was young, I remember old-timers talking about radio shows like “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “The Shadow.” and “Little Orphan Annie.” 

I paid little attention, but then just by chance sometime in the 1980s I discovered “The Great Gildersleeve.”

The local library had a set of cassette tapes with old radio shows. I had a cassette tape player in my car. I practiced law in most of the surrounding counties. The half hour radio shows were a great way to pass the time. I had never heard of The Great Gildersleeve before taking those tapes out of the library. I was hooked after only a few episodes.

Recently, I discovered old radio shows on podcasts. Searching for “old radio shows” should lead you to several podcasts. I have found many great shows specifically on “GSMC classics.” 

If you are old enough to remember radio shows, you will enjoy listening to them again as much as Jack Yeend enjoys watching Andy Griffith reruns. If you never took the time to listen to radio shows, give it a try and you will be so pleased with the experience that you will send me a fruitcake next Christmas. 

Here are my recommendations.

GSMC Classics: Bold Venture with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. If you liked Bogie and Bacall in “Key Largo,” you will like this radio show. 

GSMC Classics: Richard Diamond, Private Detective. If you liked Dick Powell in that film noir classic, “Murder My Sweet,” this radio show is for you.

GSMC Classics: The Big Show Variety Program. The big show is an hour variety program hosted by Tallulah Bankhead. If you have a recurring dream about Tallulah Bankhead, this show is for you. Then again, maybe I’m the only one who has that dream.

GSMC Classics: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Now that the Shelby County Players have piqued your interest, listen to the original. 

Warning: Listening to old radio shows can be addictive. Too many hours of just sitting around the house, headphones on, laughing loudly to shows no one else can hear will make your wife Sandy mad. It will probably make her mad even if her name isn’t Sandy.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Column: The Travel Bug

Recently, I began cleaning the basement. Our basement has been the catch-all for many years, and I really didn’t remember what was down there. Of course, when you begin to sort the keepers from the throw-aways, memories begin to emerge from your past, which brings me to the beginnings of the re-infestation of the Travel Bug.

Packed away in a blanket box was a small plastic bag that contained a crocheted dress. It is a golden yellow and fits a baby less than one year old. Upon that discovery, the Travel Bug wormed its way into my mind again!

That dress was lovingly made by my late, great aunt Lena Ryerson of Morristown. She made it for me when I was about 10 months old. My mother was so thrilled with the gift that she had my picture taken in it.  I have the picture somewhere in the basement. I haven’t found it yet. This is an important find in my life because Aunt Lena was a traveler.

Lena grew up in Shelby County, graduated from DePauw University and moved to New York City to teach art. After she married at the ripe old age of 32, a spinster in that era, she and her husband, Floyd, moved back to Indiana to live on one of the three farms my great-grandfather, Leander Billman, had purchased as a legacy for his three children.

I was about 11 years old when Aunt Lena, who never had children, began to travel again. She had already attended the Chicago World’s Fair and brought back a fiberglass men’s tie. Long ago the fiberglass did not stand up to the ages and had to be thrown away. Fiberglass clothing had been touted to be the clothing of the future! It was certainly a conversation starter over the years.  

She also traveled to the Smokies and Nashville, Tennessee, on numerous occasions. She would talk about sitting on the porch of the hotel where they were staying with fellow travelers. She made many new friends and talked at length about their culture. Her new friends visited her often in Morristown. 

She traveled by train and boat to Puerto Rico about that time. She brought back exotic presents such as castanets and a pair of maracas, not to mention colorful clothes and wraps, things I had never seen. I was smitten, and I wanted to go to all those places.

Her next big trip was to France and Switzerland. For that trip, my mother drove Lena to Indianapolis to shop for clothes. Her beautiful, new lace dresses and formal wear filled a steamer trunk. She flew to Europe and went on an extensive tour. I begged to go but my parents said no. I was too young, they said. 

Aunt Lena brought back Chanel #5 perfume, which I recently saw priced at about $100 a bottle, and a beautiful Swiss watch for me, which I still have, and lots of goodies for my parents. I was determined to go to France and Switzerland some day. My Travel Bug became more intense.

Many more trips followed.

Lena’s last big adventure was to Hawaii. She was 82 and in failing health. My mother insisted she get a note from her doctor that she was well enough to go. So, Aunt Lena went to see her cousin, a doctor who lived in a nearby county. The doctor wrote to my mother that Lena was indeed in good enough health and wished her a good trip.  

Hearing about all of Lena’s adventures has kept the Travel Bug alive and well in my mind.  

As it turned out for me, however, life happens and for many years travel was put on the back burner when I married and our family and careers grew. Then, after retirement, I went to work part time at Shelby Senior Services and eventually became the Travel Coordinator.  

My Travel Bug is being satisfied with wonderful trips to many parts of the world, not to mention here in the United States. This year marks the 14th year of travel for me.

Aunt Lena would be proud! 

And, I am not jealous of my friend Kris Meltzer for visiting Detroit. We took a Mystery Tour there three years ago and toured Henry Ford Museum (photo), Motown Museum, and lots more! 

I’m glad he has the Travel Bug, too.

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Column: Call to the Post

Dear readers,

This Tuesday the bugler at Horseshoe Indianapolis will blow “Call to the Post” for the first time this season. Team Schwinn always looks forward to opening day at the track. Thoroughbred horse racing is by far the biggest thing to come to Shelbyville since goat-cart racing at the fairgrounds.

Historical Note: Wilbur Shaw, famous three-time Indy 500 winner, got his start by racing goat-carts at the Shelbyville fairgrounds. Legend has it that his goat, Speedy, ran on a special feed developed by my grandfather, Brady Meltzer.

The beginning of thoroughbred horse racing every year always takes me back to the time Team Schwinn tried to enter a donkey in the Indiana Derby. Just like many of my stories, I realize, it sounds a little far-fetched.



I have included a photograph with today’s column for you skeptical readers. Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

It is a photo of Cousin Tom’s donkey, Cletus, saddle on, posing with his jockey before the start of the Indiana Derby. Look closely at the photo.  It captures the happiest moment of that day for Cletus and all of us at Team Schwinn. Immediately after the photo was taken, our dream of winning the half million-dollar purse was reduced to tears. We received word that Cletus had been disqualified.

The hair-brained scheme to enter Cletus in the Indiana Derby began the Christmas before. We had just finished the last of the fruitcake and eggnog. Earl and Tom were discussing their favorite movies. Tom, being a child of the 1950s was telling Earl, a millennial, about the seven “Francis the Talking Mule” movies. 

Someone brought up “Hollywood Handicap,” a movie where an old nag rescued from the glue factory, wins a horse race and saves Father Flanagan’s orphanage. Somehow the conversation segued into entering Tom’s donkey, Cletus, in the Indiana Derby.

As most of you know, most ideas born late at night under the influence of fortified eggnog are never even remembered the next morning. Not so for this crazy idea. It was picking up speed.

By spring of the following year Tom and Earl were getting Cletus in racing form. After very little discussion, it was decided that Skeeter (Kristiaan Rawlings) would be our jockey. 

It didn’t take long for all of us, especially Skeeter, to realize that you can’t learn to be a jockey by just watching YouTube videos. Skeeter kept falling off and even if he could hang on, it didn’t look like he could make weight anyway. 

Lucky for us, one of the winningest jockeys at the track that year didn’t have a horse to ride in the derby. His name was Tommy, a good omen. Full of excitement and the prospect of winning $500,000, we all took Cletus out to Indiana Grand to meet our new jockey.  

Tommy looked Cletus over and told us that while Cletus was a fine-looking animal, we might have a problem entering him in the Indiana Derby. Tommy saw two major obstacles. 

First, all thoroughbreds have a tattoo inside their lip that identifies them as a racehorse. Cletus does have a tattoo, but it does not identify him as a thoroughbred. Cletus’ tattoo is of the hula girl from the label on a bottle of Sailor Jerry Rum. Secondly, Cletus is a donkey.

I don’t remember the technical reason given for Cletus’ disqualification, but it doesn’t really matter. Cletus was out of the race and Team Schwinn was headed home. Cletus didn’t take the news very well and his behavior was horrible. It took us over an hour to get him back in the trailer. It came as no surprise that Cletus wasn’t a good sport. After all, he is an ass.

To quote the great Paul Harvey, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Shintoism and Buddhism

I would like to thank everyone who reached out to me by e-mail with ideas and questions after my first column appeared. I greatly appreciate your interest in Japan, and over the next few months I will do my best to address your questions and/or ideas for topics in future columns.

One reader of the Shelby County Post wrote that when she stayed with a Japanese family on a visit to Japan, she was fascinated with her host family’s altar where the family made daily offerings to a loved one who had passed. In addition, she was intrigued by how many Japanese people seemingly glide between the two main religions of Shintoism and Buddhism rather effortlessly. So, thank you Sylvia for your observations which are the topics of this week’s column.

Sylvia is correct in her observation that Japanese people largely do consider themselves to be both Shintoists and Buddhists. An example is how most Japanese have a Shinto wedding, but a Buddhist funeral. Every year on New Year’s Eve, hordes of Japanese people crowd into their local Shinto shrines (photo) to pray for good health and prosperity in the new year, but during the summer’s O-Bon season, these same Japanese people will attend to their ancestral graves and follow Buddhist traditions. 

People who consider themselves to be Shintoists is just over 70% of the population and Buddhists are just over 67%, which indicates people claim both religions. Japanese Christians are only 1.5% of the population.

I think it is fair to say that the two religions of Shintoism and Buddhism, in many respects, coexist harmoniously and even serve to complement each other for the most part. If you ask a Japanese what religion he or she follows, you will likely be told “both.” But few Japanese people consider themselves to be “religious” in the same manner and context that Western Christians do.  Culturally, both religions play prominent roles in Japanese daily life with certain traditions of each being followed for different events (like festivals) or traditions (like wedding and funeral-related customs).



When I lived in Hirosaki, Aomori-ken, I had a good friend who was a Buddhist priest and one time he was giddy with delight because he had been asked to officiate a wedding by one of his temple members. He lamented that as a Buddhist priest he was so accustomed to conducting funerals that when he was asked to do a wedding he was thrilled because, for a change, it was truly a happy celebration centered on new beginnings and love.

I once learned in graduate school that Buddhism is based primarily on a concept that emphasizes the idea of transcendence of one’s soul within the cosmos, which also includes human suffering, while Shintoism focuses more upon the concept of adaptation to life’s practical and realistic needs and desires through a polytheistic approach with the worship of many deities called “kami.”

The origins of Buddhism are well-known and documented, but Shintoism’s origins are much more ambiguous and is indigenous by nature. Buddhism originated in India in the 5th or 6th century BCE, spread to China, then eventually came to the shores of Japan. Shintoism, in contrast, is an ancient, animistic religion in that every living thing and even inanimate objects, like stones, possess spirits.  Nature is revered and considered sacred, as well. Buddhism isn’t considered to be a theistic religion and humans who reach Nirvana —enlightenment — are venerated.

Another difference is how Buddhism subscribes to a clear doctrine and rules. Probably most people are most familiar with Zen Buddhism, but there are a number of other Buddhist sects within the religion and they all follow certain dogma and truths that are universal to Buddhism. Similar to Christianity in that many denominations encompass the religion, with small differences separating them, but the core beliefs tend to be the same.

Shintoism, on the other hand, as I mentioned earlier is more ambiguous in that there are no prescribed religious texts or set doctrine for the most part and as a polytheistic religion, it allows more flexibility and freedom of its adherents to worship “kami” or deities of their choosing. I remember when I first lived in Japan in the late 70s as a 17-year-old high school student, and going to a train station toilet and seeing a portable Shinto shrine displayed near the ceiling in the restroom. It seemed out of place to me at the time, but after I learned more about the religion, I understood that it was there to honor the train station toilet’s spirit.

So, if you travel to Japan and visit a “shrine” (jinja) it is Shinto, but if you go to a temple (tera) it is Buddhist. But sometimes both are featured within the same area, because the two religions really do coexist in harmony with one another. Most Shinto shrines have a large torii gate at the entrance, often painted a bright orangish-red color if made of wood, or if made of stone, it is left in its natural state. Shinto shrines also normally feature some sort of stone animal guarding it, like a dog, fox or other animal.

Buddhist temples tend to be more imposing structures, rather muted in appearance on the outside, but on the inside, they are elaborately decorated with ornate gold statues and wall hangings featuring images and depictions of the Buddha. Also, there is usually a large urn of burning incense outside to allow worshippers to purify themselves before entering. A Shinto shrine usually has a large water basin where worshipers may rinse their hands and mouth before entering the area. Since COVID-19, many shrines have removed the ladles for rinsing and drinking and only have free flowing water displays for rinsing the hands now. This is part of the new normal post-Covid. 



Sylvia also commented on her host family making offerings to the souls of loved ones in their home altar. I suspect that this was a Buddhist “butsudan” which is a home altar built in a cabinet that is displayed in homes (photo). Family members will regularly make offerings of incense and favorite foods or drinks of those who have passed and who are being revered. This is most common in Japan, but some families also have a “tamaya”, which is a Shinto memorial altar and it is also dedicated to the spirits of departed family members or ancestors. These are less common from my experience because funerary-related traditions tend to be more dominated by Buddhist traditions in Japan.

Since I studied world religions in my graduate studies quite extensively, and even taught this subject to my graduate students, I have collected various religions’ objects to revere, honor and display in my home. Of course, I have a collection of crucifixes and menorahs having been raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but I also have a Thai Spirit house, a kamidana (god-shelf) with a portable Shinto Shrine, a small Buddhist butsudan, and a collection of other religious objects from other religious traditions. I like revering and honoring other religious traditions by incorporating these items into my home to allow the energy of these religions to permeate and bless my living space.

Todd Jay Leonard was born and raised in Shelbyville, but has called Japan home for over 34 years.  He is currently a full-professor at the University of Teacher Education Fukuoka in Kyushu where he lives, writes, and teaches.  He is the author of 26 books and can be reached at toddjayleonard@yahoo.com

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Column: Happy Easter

Dear readers,

Happy Easter from Team Schwinn and all of us here at GIANT fm and the Shelby County Post. Been a while since I opened the mail, so let’s see what’s in the mailbag this week.

Dear Kris,

I enjoyed last week’s column about your road trip to Detroit. Weaving together a tale that included Ford trucks, Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love,” Trace Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and a mention of Tallulah Bankhead all in about 500 words was nothing less than amazing. I thought the title should have been, “Come for the Bathtub Gin, Stay for the Badonkadonk.”    

Long time reader, Cosmo

Dear Cosmo,

I love your title. I will use it for the column if I ever get around to publishing another booklet of readers’ favorite columns. Speaking of Trace Adkins, he is going to be in Nashville, Indiana, at the Brown County Music Center on June 29.



Dear Kris,

I recently read that the Shelby County Tourism and Visitors Bureau was recognized by the Indiana Tourism Association for its excellent bicentennial swag.

I am not familiar with the term “swag.” It sounded like maybe it was some sort of beverage concoction. I imagined it to be like what we called a “hairy buffalo” at the Delta house in my college days. Could you get the recipe from Tourism Director Rachael Ackley?  Even better, maybe she could serve it at your next soirée at “The Helbing.” I could use a good swig of that swag.

Yours truly, Pinto

Dear Pinto,

Let me take a wild guess. You pledged Delta at Faber College, motto: “Knowledge is Good.” Your posse included Otto, Flounder, Bluto, and Boon.

You frat guys are always trying to put one over on columnists like me and Ann Landers. You and your brothers deserve twenty lashes with a wet noodle. However, you do have a point. Swag does sound like it could be a beverage. Instead, it is merchandise. 

Shelby County Tourism won for its bicentennial items including the community pins. Last year it won Best Specialty Item for the Downtown Shelbyville Walking Guide. Hopefully there will be another win next year for their promotion of The Helbing as a destination. 

Speaking of The Helbing, several of you saw on Facebook that it was being moved to Waldron. You should have noticed the date on that post was April 1. Mohawks can stop celebrating. You aren’t getting Shelbyville’s Helbing. 

Dear Kris,

I have recently noticed that trivia games are becoming as popular as karaoke in our community. I can’t sing, so I couldn’t ever participate in the karaoke fun. I was hoping to have better luck in trivia competitions.  I’ve started watching the Andy Griffith Show. I am hoping to compete in future trivia contests. After watching several episodes of the show, I am confused. Andy Taylor is in every episode along with his deputy Barnie Fife but where is the Andy Griffith character?

Just sign me puzzled in Mayberry.

Dear Puzzled,

Jack Yeend is Team Schwinn’s official Mayberry trivia expert. I would refer your question to Jack, but it is so easy even I know the answer.  You should take some singing lessons. I think you have a better chance at karaoke.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: New Beginnings

In Japan, the first of April marks new beginnings. I thought this would be an appropriate topic as this is my first column of “Letters Home” for the Shelby County Post. 

Many of you may remember, well over 20 years ago (and for a number of years), I wrote a column for The Shelbyville News under the same title. Then several years ago, I reprised my column for the Addison Times.  When that online periodical ended publication, fellow columnist Kris Meltzer graciously offered to introduce me as a potential columnist to Jeff Brown and Johnny McCrory to write for the Shelby County Post.

So, like a bad penny, I keep coming back!

I hope that unlike a bad penny, though, my return is welcomed. I feel very happy and honored to have this forum to continue writing about Japan and I encourage you, the readers, to send me any questions you may have or ideas for future columns. My columns tend to be written like essays, similar to a personal letter to all of you (hence the column’s title). The columns reflect my observations and knowledge of Japan and its culture through my eyes and experience of living here for the past 34 years and counting.  So, here’s to new beginnings!



The only official holiday in April in Japan is on April 29 and it is called “Showa Day.” It was the birthday of the Showa Emperor, better known outside of Japan as “Hirohito.” 

After Emperor Showa passed away, it could no longer be called the “Emperor’s birthday” as the new Emperor’s birthday was then celebrated officially, so it was changed to “Greenery Day.” In part, it was created to celebrate all things related to nature but also because of the fact that the Showa Emperor had a genuine fondness for nature, so it seemed fitting to continue celebrating the day of his birth with a newly-formed holiday that celebrated nature.

In 2007, the holiday was officially changed to “Showa Day,” designated as a day to look forward to the future while nostalgically looking back to the long period of the Showa Era which included not only war and tragedy that tested the moral fabric of the nation, but also it was a period of opportunities and the rapid development of post-war Japan.

Regarding “new beginnings,” Japanese schools begin their school year from April 1. Entrance ceremonies for kindergarten, elementary, junior high, senior high, and university students are time-honored rituals that all Japanese students experience as they grow up. 



New uniforms are purchased for junior and senior high school students with the hope they can wear them for the following three years for each, and elementary school students receive their new backpacks that they will use for six years. These school bags are called randoseru (a word coined from the Dutch word, ransel, meaning “backpack”) and are quite sturdy in order to survive six years of being lugged back and forth to school and thrown here and there. 

They are firm-sided, high quality leather or synthetic material in a variety of colors. Red and black seem to be the most common from my observation. Often times, these are presented to the children by their grandparents as a gift to mark their entrance into elementary school. Also, grandparents will often gift their grandchildren with their first desk and chair to study at in their bedrooms.

The custom of gifting a sturdy school bag to children originated back in 1887 when an 8-year old Prince Yoshihito (later becoming Emperor Taisho) was gifted a school bag when he enrolled in school by Japan’s first Prime Minister, Hirobumi Ito. The bag was fashioned after the bags used by the Imperial Army, and this began the tradition of the upper and noble classes’ elementary-aged students using these bags, receiving the sturdy school bags when entering elementary school to begin their studies.  The shape and design have remained pretty much the same throughout the past century. 

After World War II, the custom of presenting these bags to children spread to the common folk and today it is considered to be standard. Nearly every elementary school child in Japan uses the same type of bag. Japanese anime and manga afficionados will no doubt be familiar with these bags from watching Japanese cartoons.

April 1 in Japan also marks the beginning of the fiscal year of Japanese companies where new employees report for their first day of work. Again, an entrance ceremony is usually conducted and recent university graduates truly begin “adulting” by becoming a member of the workforce. Even long-term employees may find themselves in a new position at their company.

Japan has a tradition of “tenkin” which is the practice of transferring regular employees to a different subsidiary of the same company or office which usually requires the employee to move and relocate.  Often is the case where the breadwinner of the family moves away alone, leaving the family behind. It is customary that if the children are enrolled in school already, it is felt to be less disruptive for them to remain with the mother to attend their regular school rather than to be forced to change schools, which might hinder their studies negatively. Even within small companies, in mid-March, many employees are informed rather suddenly that they will be changing jobs/departments — whether they like it or not.

I remember when I worked for the public school system how nervous everyone was in mid-March not knowing if they would be transferred to a new school, which meant they may have to find new housing and pack up rather quickly to make the move. Some teachers suspected they might be transferred because they had been there for several years, and the tradition dictates that employees be moved after a few years, but it was still nerve-wracking all the same.

The idea behind this system is to offer employees an opportunity to learn about all the facets of a company by experiencing a variety of positions to become more knowledgeable and flexible in the types of work they will be doing for the company in the long-term. This system does offer them a chance to expand their knowledge and to learn new skills. But if they really like their job and the people they work with, it makes it hard to leave that common group and established work history. 

On the other hand, if one hates that particular job and/or workmates, it can be a gift from heaven to start anew in a different position and office. At my university, this practice is common among the clerical staff. It is frustrating when you have someone you work with closely for several years suddenly leave and then a new person comes in with no real knowledge of the position or history of the work that had been done previously. 

One advantage, though, is if you have a rather cantankerous person who you don’t get on well with, you can expect that they will be moved roughly every three years.

Todd Jay Leonard was born and raised in Shelbyville, but has called Japan home for over 34 years. He is currently a full-professor at the University of Teacher Education Fukuoka in Kyushu, Japan where he lives, writes, and teaches. He is the author of 26 books and can be reached at toddjayleonard@yahoo.com

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Column: Henry Ford, the Elon Musk of his day

Dear readers,

After last week’s embarrassing little episode where I had to apologize to the lawyer robot, I decided to get out of town for a while. I told Johnny that I needed a travel assignment.

Johnny reminded me that Giant FM’s feature contributor covering the travel beat is Carol McDaniel. He told me that maybe I should stick to “whatever it is” that I write about every week. Johnny added, “just make sure you don’t cover the same destination as Carol.” 

“OK boss,” I said, as I left the building. I was headed to Detroit. I didn’t have to check with Carol. I already knew that she and her Shelby Senior Services crew were already packing for their trip to Portugal next month.

Motor City! I know what some of you are thinking. 

“Hey Kris, Giant FM is a country station. Shouldn’t you be headed to Nashville instead of Motown?” 

You do have a point. When I think of Detroit, Smokey Robison, Diana Ross and other Motown greats do come to mind. They are all products of Detroit along with Aretha Franklin and her famous pink Cadillac she drove on the “Freeway of Love.”



So why is Detroit my destination? Ever since I started here at Giant FM, I noticed that I have been thinking about pickup trucks. At first, I couldn’t figure out why. Then one day, I realized it must be from listening to so much country music. They are all singing about pickup trucks, from Brad Paisley’s “Mud on the Tires,” to Jason Aldean’s, “Take a Little Ride,” to the not so subtle Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah.” 

Detroit is where pickup trucks are made, specifically Ford pickup trucks. The Ford pickup has been the best-selling truck in America for 46 consecutive years. In fact, the Ford pickup has been the best-selling motor vehicle in America for 41 years.

About a hundred years ago during the Roaring Twenties when Tallulah Bankhead and Zelda Fitzgerald were competing to see who could drink the most bathtub gin, Henry Ford was building a giant factory in Detroit.  It is located along the Rouge River, so Ford called it “The Rouge.” 

On a side note, the area was first settled by the French, thus the use of rouge for red. If the Spanish had named the river, Ford’s famous factory would no doubt be called “The Rojo.” 

In its heyday, Ford employed 100,000 people at The Rouge. Raw materials including coal, iron ore, and rubber arrived at the docks on one end of the factory and motor vehicles came out the other end.  Everything needed to make a motor vehicle, including the tires and windows, was manufactured on site. 

The Rouge complex included 93 buildings and totaled 16 million square feet. Elon Musk’s “Gigafactory Texas” has 10 million square feet of floor space -- although it is all in one building.

Touring The Rouge is quite an experience. It is amazing to see several thousand people working together on the assembly line and producing a brand-new shiny Ford pickup every 53 seconds. 

I wanted to include a photo of a newborn truck, but taking photos is not allowed. I included a photo of the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile instead.  It is on display at the Ford Museum where photos are allowed.

The day after I returned from my trip, I was telling Johnny McCrory, the morning DJ here at Giant FM, about how country musicians are obsessed with pickup trucks. All they sing about is pickup trucks. I told Johnny how listing to country music these past few weeks had given me a bad case of pickup truck on the brain. 

In between spinning tunes, Johnny told me that if I thought country musicians just sing about pickup trucks then maybe I hadn’t listened to enough country music. Johnny then put Trace Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” on the turntable.

I haven’t thought about pickup trucks since.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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