Because of the 34th Annual Congress of Japan Spine Research Society, I could have the second chance to visit Sendai city, the Capitol of Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Sendai is also called “City of Forest”, because there are many trees inside and around this city. Actually, there is also a river, called Hirose River (廣瀨川), swirling like a curved silver belt, over the south outskirt of the city, just below the old Aoba castle (Aoba Jo, 青葉城). Aoba castle was formerly a fortress of Lord Date Masamune (伊達 政宗, 1566-1636), the lording general in the early 17th century. Now his statue is situated on the hill. He was not tall, and the right eye was masked with a black cover. Another feature of his warrior’ dress was the rising half-moon like mark on his helmet. In his life, he had joined many wars, and entangled with the important events between Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa. When he died, he was called “Mutsu no Kami”. Now, every where in the city, his name was used in all kinds of commercial purposes, such as the names of the restaurants, foods etc. The most famous one may be gyutan (ox tongue, 牛舌). Gyutan has many kind of preparations. Another famous person living in this city was a poet, Doi Bansui (土井 晚翠, 1871-1952). He was born in the late 19th century, and tool his education in Tokyo University. Many old people may remember the melody or even can sing a sad old song “The moon over the desolate city” (Kojo no Tsuki, 荒城之月), ailing the miserable scene of a once beautiful city which was destroyed after the war. The song was later composed by Taki Rentaro. I have learned the melody of this song from my mother, when I was a child.

The English version of the poem was copied here from Matanabe Minako as this:
A banquet was held in the splendid castle in the season of the cherry blossom.
Where is the light now, that shadowed the glasses and flew through the old pines?
The encampment was covered with frost in the autumn.
Where is the light now, that shone on the swords like plants, that were as numerous as the cackling wild geese, that flew ?
Now there is the moon over the desolate castle.
Whom is it shining for without change?
Only tendrils remain on the walls.
Only the storm sings between branches of the pines.

The shadow of the sky doesn’t change. But the shadow is reflecting it as before, changing for better to worse? Ah! The moon over the desolate castle!
This poem reminds me of a poem春望 by the famous poet Tu Pu, (杜甫) in Tang Dynasty (circa 700-900 AD),


國破山河在 城春草木深
感時花濺淚 恨別鳥驚心
烽火連三月 家書抵萬金
白頭搔更短 渾欲不勝簪

The congress was held in called “International Center, which is located just below the hill. This building is about 7 minutes away from my hotel “Sendai Metropolitan hotel”. The hotel is close to Sendai Railway Station Hotel, and many doctors were staying there during the conference, so I could meet many familiar faces there. 11 years ago, the Japan Orthopedic Association also had meeting in the International Center. At that time, the chairman was Professor Minoru Sakurai (櫻井 實 教授). He was the professor of Tohoku University (東北大學). He now retired from professorship, and was succeeded by Professor Shoichi Kokubun (國分 正一教授). During the congress of Japanese Orthopedic Association (JOA) 11 years ago, Professor Sakurai invited several young orthopedic surgeons from abroad to attend the conference. He thought, through such an effort, the influence by the Japanese surgeons’ achievement could be spread to the outside world. Actually, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) has almost the same ideas as he had at that time. AAOS has tried to expand the influences by encouraging many foreign surgeons to attend its annual meeting in the United States. In one afternoon, Professor Sakurai, Dr. Vo Van Thanh, some young doctors from Taiwan and Vietnam and I had some chats in the coffee shop in the International Center. He told us that he had fighting with illness and overcome it. Now he is living peacefully, and enjoying life in the lovely in Kyoto. My impression on him is a scholar, a poet and a painter.

Professor Kokubun is of my age, and is an old friend of mine. In the past years, we have worked together for teaching the young spinal surgeons in the Asian Pacific region. His specialty is in the field of cervical spine surgery. Therefore, this time, the main theme of the Congress was “Cervical Spine”. He has made a wish that ”Japan Spine 2005 will bring together researchers from all over Asia to contribute knowledge and share information on cervical myelopathy and other spinal diseases with the goal of contributing to the advance of the overall science and surgery of the spine. Up to 1500 participants are expected for two days of sessions in Sendai”. Most of the presentations in this 2-day meeting were focused on this theme. The Japanese orthopedic surgeons are dealing with all kinds of disorders of the cervical spine, such as degenerative, myelopathy, traumas, tumor of the cord, intradural or extra-dural tumors. They have 1700 members, much larger than the neurosurgeons’ group. We can imagine how strong this Japanese spine group is. This fact gives us lot of encouragement. The spine surgeons in Taiwan still have big space to expand our clinical and research territory. Professor Kokubun told us that totally there were 1707 participants attending this annual congress. In the same time, the neurosurgeons also had meeting in Sapporo, and the attendants were around 200 surgeons. The congress also provided new sections for presentation in English. He believed that Japanese surgeons could not isolate themselves from outside world. He has encouraged his Japanese colleagues as well as foreign surgeons to submit papers for presentation into these new sessions. I have found the younger generation in Japan can speak very fluent English. It is quite easy for us to exchange ideas with the Japanese audiences in English. This fact gave Prof. Sakurai a big surprise and ecstasy. He told us that before his retirement, he had invited many foreign young orthopedic surgeons to attend the JOA meeting in Sendai 11 years ago. His ideal was then transferred to his successor, Professor Kokubun, and now his dream has come true. As far as I was informed, Professor Kokubun was regarded in Japan as a rare and outstanding person in the field of orthopedic surgery, who has a wide global vision. He has not only visited many countries for teaching purpose, but also selected some young surgeons to his department for training. He has won the praise and respect from many surgeons abroad. This time, he invited 12 young spine surgeons from China to attend the conference and visit some medical centers for a one-week period in Japan by the support of foundation. Dr. Wen-chi Tsai was also invited for the conference. Dr. Tsai has learned diligently from the presentation sessions too. There were several participating surgeons from Taiwan. They also presented their research topics too. The acceptation rate of papers was 30%.

Because I am preparing for the coming International orthopedic conference in November, which is called “The 6th Combined Congress of the Spine & Pediatric Orthopedic sections, APOA”. I have to encourage more Japanese as well as other Asian surgeons to come to Taipei to attend this meeting. The Congress will be held in Taipei Grand Hotel. During my stay in Sendai, many young and senior spine surgeons have shown high interest to join us. Therefore, I want to appreciate Professor Kokubun for his help to continuous spreading information about this important event. Of course, I also hope the meeting in Taipei will be very successful.

The trip in Sendai is not long enough to appreciate the life style of people in that area. But one thing we can sure is that life and nature is going very closely here. Miyagi Prefecture is close to sea and mountain with a large area of plain. There are plentiful of seafood and agriculturally products. The women’s skin is very light in color. It seems that they do not need too much cosmetics for polishing or makeup. The food and wine in the restaurants are not expensive, very reasonable for the tourists. Also, the hot spring resort Iwamatsu Spring Hotel is superb. The water of Hirose river passing slowly by the Hotel is so clean and un-polluted, so that we could see the bottom of the river very clearly. The rocks, pebbles and the reflection of the trees could be counted by the naked eyes from the bridge some 30 meters high. These were all the unforgettable images of my visit to Sendai.