Archive for the ‘Children of Tohoku’ Category

World Kid Lit Month Review: Riku and the Kingdom of White

By Malavika Nataraj, Singapore

September is #WorldKidLit Month, a time to notice if world literature is reaching kids in the form of translations. Malavika Nataraj shares this review of children’s novel Riku and the Kingdom of White by Randy Taguchi, translated by Raj Mahtani, published by Balestier Press.

On March 11, 2011, the world watched in open-mouthed horror as the most powerful earthquake ever to rock Japan set off a giant wave that lapped up everything in its path: a tsunami that slammed into three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex, crippling them and resulting in a catastrophic release of radioactive waste that affected hundreds and thousands of lives.

We all heard and read about the evacuations, the relief operations despatched into the worst hit areas, the scores of people who lost everything—their homes, their families, their possessions. Japan was in a panic; all of the resources it had strived to protect—its waterways, the sea, the very air—had fallen prey to the invisible evil that was seeping into everything, silent and deadly. Radiation. This word reverberated through the nation and beyond. Exports suffered. Share prices dropped. People had little or no electricity. Cartons of uncontaminated food and bottled water were scarcely unboxed before they flew off store shelves. Fear lurked everywhere. Hundreds and thousands of residents within a 20-kilometer radius of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were forcibly evacuated, their hometowns deemed too dangerous to inhabit.

Yet many people chose to remain nearby. Technicians, engineers, doctors and fire-fighters stayed behind, risking their own lives and those of their families to help the nation fight the catastrophe. We, the world, heard the reports, read the articles and watched the news. But could we ever fully understand the challenges these people faced, living in a radioactive disaster zone?

In towns that were as close as 40 kilometers to the epicentre of the disaster, many families soldiered on. Children still went to school, teachers still taught, and most residents made themselves as useful as they could. They organized volunteer centres, ran operations to de-contaminate their streets, and closed their windows against the radiation. Despite their challenges, their view of the world remained as upbeat as possible. But the way the rest of Japan viewed the Fukushima residents had changed. People became wary of the evacuees and residents, fearing that they had been ‘contaminated’.

This did not stop volunteers from pouring in. They came from all over Japan, bringing with them food, hope and helping hands. Many were moved by the plight of the children in Fukushima, who had been robbed of a normal childhood so suddenly.

The Fukushima Kids project kicked off in summer 2011, to give Fukushima kids an opportunity to learn and grow amidst nature—something they were no longer able to do in their own hometowns, for fear of exposure to radiation.

Over the summer, spring and winter breaks, hundreds of children were shepherded out of Fukushima to other parts of Japan, where they participated in homestays, enjoyed hands-on activities, played sport, went on treks, spent time with animals, ate healthy food, and generally enjoyed being ‘normal’ kids. This afforded them a chance to relax and refresh, learn new things and be close to nature again. The Fukushima Kids Executive Committee, formed by volunteers, ran the project successfully for five years.

Author Randy Taguchi

Author Randy Taguchi’s charming narrative, Riku and the Kingdom of White, is the result of time she spent as a volunteer in the Fukushima Kids project, working with the families and children of Fukushima. Through her involvement, she had the opportunity to interact with and interview dozens of Fukushima residents, and she was deeply moved by their resilience and strength.

Her story is the simple, yet thought-provoking tale of Riku, a fifth-grader, whose physician father accepts a transfer to Minamisoma, a town near the disaster zone. Having fresh air to breathe and good food to eat were things Riku never had to think about. Until now. And he is definitely not prepared for how much his life is about to change.

When Riku’s classmates in Utsunomiya find out that he is transferring to a school in Fukushima, their reaction is of shock and horror. “He’ll die of the radiation, poor guy,” they say. Riku’s aunt Midori, his mother’s sister who lives in Yokohama, also has nothing but horror stories to share about the fate of the towns near the epicentre of the disaster. But nothing will change his father’s mind, so Riku—whose life, he believes, is not in his control—puts on a brave face and prepares to follow his father. His mother has passed away, and his dad is the only family he has now.

The story, translated into English by Raj Mahtani, is told through Riku’s eyes. Through Riku, Taguchi has us experience a world where children go to school breathing only through masks. Their clothing covers every inch of their skin, and their heads droop like wilted flowers under their hats. Frozen and canned food, sausages, rice from other parts of Japan, carried in the capable arms of volunteers—these are the foods they eat. Tiny cylindrical objects that continuously measure radiation levels, called dosimeters, dangle from their necks as a reminder of their new reality. Taught in classrooms with sealed windows, sweating through the blistering summer months, they need at all costs, to be protected from this invisible evil, radiation. They inhabit a world where no one is allowed to play outside; a place where only the wind pushes the swings in empty parks, and unused bicycles turn to rust in garages.

When Riku arrives at Minamisoma, memories of his Utsunomiya life still fresh in his mind, he is stunned at how empty the town feels, like a town of ghosts. There are no kids about and he sorely misses running around with his best friend Yuta, and riding bikes the way they used to. When Riku finally does meet local children, he feels like an outsider. He is aware that he isn’t a ‘real’ Fukushima kid. At first, he is baffled by the others. Why don’t they play outside? Why do they all look so downcast? But as time passes, he begins to understand too well the magnitude of the disaster, and the impact it has had on the lives of Fukushima’s children.

The children naturally look to adults for answers. How should we live? What should we do? But no answers come, because the adults themselves are confused. They are stressed out and sad. Decontamination of the pavements, soil, and school grounds happens multiple times a day. But no one knows what to do with the radioactive waste. What’s the point of decontaminating the mud, if it is just going to be stuffed into bags, piled up and left here anyway? Riku thinks. The adults are full of contradictions. “We just want you to study without any worries, Sweetie,” says one mother. Riku wonders if that is even possible anymore.

Throughout this book, Riku runs through a gamut of emotions: anger at his father for bringing him to Fukushima, confusion, sadness, and finally, acceptance.

The more time Riku spends in Minamisoma, the more like a ‘Fukushima kid’ he becomes. This is never clearer than when he goes to stay with Aunt Midori during his summer break. His cousins are afraid to come near him in case he is contaminated; his aunt won’t let him touch anything without having a hot bath first. He feels contaminated, like an untouchable, an outcast. He realizes that this is how everyone views children like him—children who are living in the disaster zone. He sees that he can never go back ‘home’ to Utsunomiya or anywhere. He has lost his home forever.

Things begin to look up for Riku when he and four other children get the chance to leave Fukushima during winter break, as part of the Fukushima Kids project. He learns that he will go to Hokkaido, a place that holds the fondest memories for him, because it was there that his family had their last holiday before his mother’s death.

In Hokkaido, he spends time outdoors, crunching through snow in his snowshoes and learning about animals of the forest from his homestay host Mr. Nomura. He has thoughtful conversations with the indomitable Gen-san and with Mr. Nomura’s son Yoichi. In Hokkaido, no one treats him like an outsider or an outcast. He finally feels like a regular kid. Slowly, he begins to heal.

Translator Raj Mahtani

Riku begins to come to terms with the loss of his mother; he battles his loneliness by befriending a mysterious boy in the woods and a mischievous tonchi. He finally returns to Fukushima, more mature and responsible. He begins to see that his life is his own and he can live it with strength and heart. And that being a Fukushima Kid isn’t so bad after all.

Riku and the Kingdom of White is a valuable story of a boy’s spiritual evolution. And translator Raj Mahtani, who has collaborated with Taguchi on her book Fujisan, brings Riku to life for the English reader.

A Yokohama resident, Mahtani has been translating from Japanese to English since the nineties. His other translations include Rieko Saegusa’s Tale Winds, Fumitada Naoe’s Live with Meaning. Die with Passion and Shiho Kishimoto’s I Hear Them Cry.

 

Reviewer and editor’s note: We hope for Balestier Press to issue a second, carefully edited edition of this novel that does justice to its highly compelling content. 

Advertisements

Tomo Anthology Update, Six Years After

By Holly Thompson, Kamakura

March 11 marked the sixth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake  (東日本大震災 Higashi Nihon Daishinsai), and the subsequent tsunami that ravaged the Tohoku region’s Pacific coastline followed by the triple meltdown of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Throughout Japan, a moment of silence was held at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, the time the quake struck.

This month also marks five years since the publication of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. Proceeds from sales of Tomo have for five years been donated to the Japan-based NPO Hope for Tomorrow. Hope for Tomorrow has provided much-needed support to high school students in the form of financial assistance to enable students in the hardest hit areas of Tohoku to take costly university entrance exams. Having succeeded at what they set out to do, Hope for Tomorrow will cease operations at the end of this Japanese academic year (at the end of this month). Thank you to Hope for Tomorrow for providing a unique form of support to high school students in Tohoku during the most difficult years after 3/11.

The Tomo anthology has recently gone out of print, but the book is still available as an ebook in Kindle format. Future proceeds will be donated to other organizations that support youth in the areas of Tohoku still struggling six years after. Please continue to read, give and recommend the Tomo anthologya collection of 36 stories including 10 in translation—so that we may continue to offer our friendship and support to teens in Tohoku.

May we remember that many thousands in Tohoku are still displaced, that reconstruction and the delicate work of rebuilding lives continues, and that many thousands still reside in prefab “temporary” housing in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate—the three hardest hit prefectures.

Here are a few articles to read on this six-year anniversary:

SIX YEARS AFTER: 34,000 People in Tohoku Region Still in Makeshift Housing UnitsAsahi Shimbun, 11 March 2017

Six Years After the 3/11 Disasters, Japan Times editorial, 11 March 2017

A New Shopping Center for a Tsunami-Struck Town, Nippon.com, 11 March 2017

Destroyed by the Tsunami, JR Onagawa Station is RebuiltSpoon & Tamago, 10 March 2017

Six Years On, Fukushima Child Evacuees Face Menace of School Bullies, Reuters, 9 March 2017

This blog post also appears at tomoanthology.blogspot.com.

For a running list of news items about 3/11 and young people, please see Children of Tohoku.

Five Years after 3.11, The Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei Resonates

Gleanings in Buddha-FieldsBy Sally Ito, Winnipeg, Canada

Today is the five-year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, also called the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, or 3.11.

Not long after this disaster struck five years ago, I arrived in Japan for four months with my family while my husband taught English literature as a visiting scholar at Kwansei Gakuin University in Nishinomiya, near Kobe. A few people at home in Canada worried about us going to Japan at such a time. Because of widespread media reports of the disaster, there was a general feeling of panic and unease about the country, even though the area where we were going was unaffected. However, Nishinomiya was not necessarily any safer than Tokyo or Tohoku; it was affected by the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Not far from the house we lived in was a memorial commemorating citizens of the area who had perished in that disaster. If you live in Japan, it is impossible not to be affected at one time or another by earthquakes, floods, landslides, or tsunamis. But who can really be prepared for such events? As sophisticated as our technology has become, we still know neither ‘the hour nor the day’ of a disaster’s coming.

What the Japanese do have is their lore of such events, which helps people come to terms with the fickle nature of the geo-physical forces in their environment. Take, for example, the Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei and the Tsunami by Lafcadio Hearn, posted here by translator Sako Ikegami. In this tale, a wizened old village chieftain manages by intuition and quick-thinking to save villagers from certain death. After this post ran in April of 2011, the inaugural year of this blog, it became the third-most viewed post that year, and it continued to be viewed frequently, becoming the top-most viewed post in 2013, 2014, 2015, and so far in 2016. It is the all-time most popular post on this blog. I encourage you now to click the link and read the tale, to immerse yourself in the ‘hour and the day’ of a disastrous event and its effect on the Japanese people.

The Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei and the Tsunami

Above: Gleanings in Buddha-Fields (1897) by Lafcadio Hearn is the source of the Hamaguchi Gohei story. The text of this book is not in copyright. Cover image located here.

Two Stories for Children Commemorate 3.11

The Cape for Waiting for the Wind

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

As March 11 draws near, it’s time to count another year since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. It’s hard to believe it has already been five years.

NHK World/Radio Japan’s The Reading Room is currently featuring two stories for children that relate to the earthquake. The first is “The Cape for Waiting for the Wind” by Sachiko Kashiwaba, and the second is “The Wind Telephone” by Yoko Imoto (and our appreciation goes to the anonymous translators!).

Both stories illustrate the pain of loss in very Japanese ways, but they end with the  universal hope that thoughts sent up to the departed have been successfully communicated.

While listening, I was reminded of how Japanese children’s stories can sometimes cross the line of what we might expect young children to understand, but, in a culture where not everyone feels free to talk about their feelings, children’s stories are often a source of comfort to adults. “The Wind Telephone,” especially, prodded that inner child in me who will never quite recover from what happened on March 11, 2011.

The Wind Telephone by Yoko Imoto

Top: Illustration for NHK World/Radio Japan broadcast of Kaze machi misaki (The Cape for Waiting for the Wind) by Sachiko Kashiwaba. Above: Picture book Kaze no denwa (The Wind Telephone), written and illustrated by Yoko Imoto. Click on either image to access the NHK broadcast (20 minutes) and complete copyright information.

 

Fourth Anniversary of 3/11

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen StoriesThis week marks the fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories (Stone Bridge Press) is a collection of YA fiction compiled to help teen survivors of the 3/11 disaster. This benefit anthology was edited by Holly Thompson.

Tomo offers 36 stories including 10 translations from Japanese (one from Ainu). These are:

“Anton and Kiyohime” by Fumio Takano, translated by Hart Larrabee

“Blue Shells” by Naoko Awa, translated by Toshiya Kamei

“The Dragon and the Poet” by Kenji Miyazawa, translated by Misa Dikengil Lindberg

“Fleecy Clouds” by Arie Nashiya, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

“Hachiro” by Ryusuke Saito, translated by Sako Ikegami

“House of Trust” by Sachiko Kashiwaba, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa

“The Law of Gravity” by Yuko Katakawa, translated by Deborah Iwabuchi

“Love Letter” by Megumi Fujino, translated by Lynne E. Riggs

“Where the Silver Droplets Fall” by Yukie Chiri, translated by Deborah Davidson

“Wings on the Wind” by Yuichi Kimura, translated by Alexander O. Smith

The epigraph of Tomo, an excerpt from the poem “Be Not Defeated by the Rain” by Kenji Miyazawa, was translated by David Sulz.

All proceeds from sales of Tomo benefit teens via the NPO Hope for Tomorrow. Interviews and an educators’ guide may be found at the Tomo blog. Tomo is also available as an ebook.

 

Reflections on Kenji: Visionary, Green, and Ever the Optimist

By Sako Ikegami, Kobe

Renowned translator of Japanese literature Roger Pulvers writes this week in the Japan Times about Kenji Miyazawa (creator of Ihatov) and how his life and views have meaning for us today, two-and-a-half years after the Tohoku earthquake.

Long-gone writer tells it how it is

An Essay from Tohoku

On Friday, March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Tohoku, Japan’s rural northeast, combined with a destructive tsunami to wipe out villages, ignite a nuclear crisis, and cause the greatest mass loss of life in Japan since World War II.

Caught in the disaster were the children of Tohoku, who went from finishing a school year one moment to facing tragedy the next.

On this second anniversary of the disaster, we highlight an essay written afterward by then-second grader Mai Nakamura of Sendai. The essay appears in the book Children of the Tsunami: The Unwritten Stories (Bungeishunju Ltd., 2011), which is being offered for full translation and publication abroad on the J-Lit website Books from Japan.

For more stories, please also visit our updated Children of Tohoku page.

Thank you for joining us as we remember the children and teens of Tohoku on 3.11.