Posts Tagged ‘Sako Ikegami’

Ten Years after 3.11, The Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei Still Resonates

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok, and Sako Ikegami, Kobe

The SCBWI Japan (then SCBWI Tokyo) Translation Group launched this blog in April 2011, partly in response to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, or 3.11. One of the first posts published was The Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei and the Tsunami, which, in the decade since, has remained both the most commented-upon and the most viewed post. Yearly views have increased twentyfold over time, from 141 in 2011 to 2,873 in 2020. Something about the story of Hamaguchi Gohei—as told by Lafcadio Hearn in Gleanings in Buddha-Fields—continues to strike a chord, as Sally Ito reflected on the fifth anniversary of 3.11.

Today, on the tenth anniversary, we would like to share a bit more information about the tale, which describes a man warning his village of a tsunami by setting fire to his harvested rice.

The story is based on Hamaguchi Goryo, seventh-generation owner of the Yamasa Shoyu (soy sauce) company in Wakayama. Several organizations maintain web pages about him:

In addition, Goryo’s story is the subject of picture books and kamishibai in Japan, including Tsunami!! Inochi o sukutta inamura no hi (Tsunami!! The Rice Fire That Saved Lives, Chobunsha, 2005; Japanese).

Of further interest amid the Covid pandemic is Goryo’s involvement in education and public health. Sako writes that Goryo was “very involved in education with close ties to Fukuzawa Yukichi and others, who went to New York to have a funeral for Hamaguchi when he passed in 1885 during a tour of the U.S. and Europe.”

Goryo “sponsored the education of Kansai Seki, a leading physician who helped spread modern medicine in Japan, allowing him to study Rangaku (focused on modern medicine from Holland) in Nagasaki. Goryo built schools in his native Wakayama for students of Rangaku, thus contributing to the proliferation of western medical knowledge in post-Edo Japan. He was a philanthropist who believed firmly in preventive medicine and was a supporter of vaccination, providing funds to rebuild a vaccination center (for smallpox) when it burned down.

“Today, as the world eagerly awaits inoculations to allow us to return to a more normal state of life, especially for the children, it seems fitting to reflect on the life of Goryo who not only could act on the spur of the moment to save a village from a tsunami, but also possessed the foresight to ensure the entry of modern medicine into Japan by providing opportunities for education. And further, by supporting the type of preventive medicine that will save the world today.”

We would be keen to see his story published in English in a setting for children.

Meanwhile, we hope that our blog continues to serve as a source of information about both the effects of 3.11 on children (see the Children of Tohoku page), and about Japanese children’s literature in English translation.

Global Literature in Libraries Initiative Features Japan, Including Children’s and YA Literature

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Looking for a strong dose of commentary on Japanese literary works online? Try the special Japan-in-Translation series at the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (published throughout May 2018). Organized by David Jacobson, this series offered an entire month of blog posts spanning poetry and prose, manga, light novels, chapter books, picture books, fun with kanji, and onomatopoeia, plus reflections on publishing and reading translated works. Several members of SCBWI Japan contributed.

Here is the full list of posts in the series, including many on children’s literature:

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.

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.

Translators to Appear at 2014 Events in Singapore, Tokyo, LA, Yokohama

Members and friends of SCBWI Japan Translation Group will appear at several events in coming months. Here is a sampling!

AFCC logoAFCC in Singapore (30 May–4 June 2014)

Cathy Hirano, translator of acclaimed novels by Noriko Ogiwara, Kazumi Yumoto, and Nahoko Uehashi—winner of the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing—will appear at the 2014 Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC), Singapore.

On 3 June, Cathy will present the session “Found in Translation: Asian Content for the World’s Children,” discussing why young readers need Asian stories and how translators can “channel” the voices of Asian authors. She will also join a roundtable discussion called “Go West: Translations for North American and European Markets,” focused on challenges that translators face when taking their work overseas. Cathy will join panelists Cheryl Robson, founder of Aurora Metro Books (UK), and Stacy Whitman, founder and publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books (US). Also attending AFCC at Singapore’s National Library will be Paul Quirk of SCBWI Japan Translation Group.

IJET 25 TokyoIJET in Tokyo (21–22 June 2014) 

Sako Ikegami, translator of works by Ryusuke Saito, and Alexander O. Smith, translator of Batchelder Award winner Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe, will present at IJET-25, the 25th annual conference of the Japan Association of Translators (JAT), in Tokyo.

At IJET, Sako will speak about both medical translation and “Teen Angst—Painful, Moving in Any Tongue,” a topic of keen interest to young adult (YA) translators. Sako’s session description alone deserves a look by wordsmiths in the category. Alex will speak about the paradoxically liberating restrictions on translation of video games, manga and other forms of entertainment. Also attending IJET will be Deborah Iwabuchi and Wendy Uchimura, among many others.

SCBWI Summer Conference, Los Angeles (31 July–4 August 2014)

Avery Fischer Udagawa will attend this year’s SCBWI Summer Conference in LA thanks to a Tribute Fund scholarship. She will trawl for info on how to publish more children’s translations from Japan in English; she also hopes to connect with translators from other languages. Inquiries are welcome via her website or SCBWI Japan.

SCBWI Summer Conference 2014

Translation Day in Yokohama  (18 October 2014)

This just in! SCBWI Japan plans its next Translation Day on 18 October 2014 in Yokohama. As in 2010 and 2012, Translation Day 2014 will include presentations, critiques, and conversation for published and pre-published translators of Japanese children’s literature into English. Featured speakers will include Juliet Winters Carpenter, a prolific translator of everything from folktales to poetry to novels—including A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, which just won the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Award’s Grand Prize in Fiction. Is this retelling of Wuthering Heights set in postwar Japan a YA novel? Join us at Yokohama International School to find out!



The Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei and the Tsunami

By Sako Ikegami, Kobe

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku were the latest of many to pound the region and Japan as a whole. Literature from Japan refers to many such events that came before. Here is an example from the writings of Lafcadio Hearn, also known as Koizumi Yakumo (1850-1904). It is a tale for the young and old alike.

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Excerpt from Lafcardio Hearn’s Gleanings in Buddha-Fields I. A Living God

Now concerning Hamaguchi.

From immemorial time the shores of Japan have been swept, at irregular intervals of centuries, by enormous tidal waves,—tidal waves caused by earthquakes or by submarine volcanic action. These awful sudden risings of the sea are called by the Japanese tsunami. The last one occurred on the evening of June 17, 1896, when a wave nearly two hundred miles long struck the northeastern provinces of Miyagi, Iwaté, and Aomori, wrecking scores of towns and villages, ruining whole districts, and destroying nearly thirty thousand human lives. The story of Hamaguchi Gohei is the story of a like calamity which happened long before the era of Meiji, on another part of the Japanese coast.

He was an old man at the time of the occurrence that made him famous. He was the most influential resident of the village to which he belonged: he had been for many years its muraosa, or headman; and he was not less liked than respected. The people usually called him Ojiisan, which means Grandfather; but, being the richest member of the community, he was sometimes officially referred to as the Chôja. He used to advise the smaller farmers about their interests, to arbitrate their disputes, to advance them money at need, and to dispose of their rice for them on the best terms possible.

Hamaguchi’s big thatched farmhouse stood at the verge of a small plateau overlooking a bay. The plateau, mostly devoted to rice culture, was hemmed in on three sides by thickly wooded summits. From its outer verge the land sloped down in a huge green concavity, as if scooped out, to the edge of the water; and the whole of this slope, some three quarters of a mile long, was so terraced as to look, when viewed from the open sea, like an enormous flight of green steps, divided in the centre by a narrow white zigzag—a streak of mountain road. Ninety thatched dwellings and a Shintô temple, composing the village proper, stood along the curve of the bay; and other houses climbed straggling up the slope for some distance on either side of the narrow road leading to the Chôja’s home.

One autumn evening Hamaguchi Gohei was looking down from the balcony of his house at some preparations for a merry-making in the village below. There had been a very fine rice-crop, and the peasants were going to celebrate their harvest by a dance in the court of the ujigami.[1] The old man could see the festival banners (nobori) fluttering above the roofs of the solitary street, the strings of paper lanterns festooned between bamboo poles, the decorations of the shrine, and the brightly colored gathering of the young people. He had nobody with him that evening but his little grandson, a lad of ten; the rest of the household having gone early to the village. He would have accompanied them had he not been feeling less strong than usual.

The day had been oppressive; and in spite of a rising breeze there was still in the air that sort of heavy heat which, according to the experience of the Japanese peasant, at certain seasons precedes an earthquake. And presently an earthquake came. It was not strong enough to frighten anybody; but Hamaguchi, who had felt hundreds of shocks in his time, thought it was queer,—a long, slow, spongy motion. Probably it was but the after-tremor of some immense seismic action very far away. The house crackled and rocked gently several times; then all became still again.

As the quaking ceased Hamaguchi’s keen old eyes were anxiously turned toward the village. It often happens that the attention of a person gazing fixedly at a particular spot or object is suddenly diverted by the sense of something not knowingly seen at all,—by a mere vague feeling of the unfamiliar in that dim outer circle of unconscious perception which lies beyond the field of clear vision. Thus it chanced that Hamaguchi became aware of something unusual in the offing. He rose to his feet, and looked at the sea. It had darkened quite suddenly, and it was acting strangely. It seemed to be moving against the wind. It was running away from the land.

Within a very little time the whole village had noticed the phenomenon. Apparently no one had felt the previous motion of the ground, but all were evidently astounded by the movement of the water. They were running to the beach, and even beyond the beach, to watch it.

No such ebb had been witnessed on that coast within the memory of living man. Things never seen before were making apparition; unfamiliar spaces of ribbed sand and reaches of weed-hung rock were left bare even as Hamaguchi gazed. And none of the people below appeared to guess what that monstrous ebb signified.

Hamaguchi Gohei himself had never seen such a thing before; but he remembered things told him in his childhood by his father’s father, and he knew all the traditions of the coast. He understood what the sea was going to do. Perhaps he thought of the time needed to send a message to the village, or to get the priests of the Buddhist temple on the hill to sound their big bell. . . . But it would take very much longer to tell what he might have thought than it took him to think. He simply called to his grandson:—“Tada!—quick,—very quick! . . . Light me a torch.”

Taimatsu, or pine-torches, are kept in many coast dwellings for use on stormy nights, and also for use at certain Shintô festivals. The child kindled a torch at once; and the old man hurried with it to the fields, where hundreds of rice-stacks, representing most of his invested capital, stood awaiting transportation. Approaching those nearest the verge of the slope, he began to apply the torch to them,—hurrying from one to another as quickly as his aged limbs could carry him. The sun-dried stalks caught like tinder; the strengthening sea, breeze blew the blaze landward; and presently, rank behind rank, the stacks burst into flame, sending skyward columns of smoke that met and mingled into one enormous cloudy whirl. Tada, astonished and terrified, ran after his grandfather, crying,—”Ojiisan! why? Ojiisan! why?—why?”

But Hamaguchi did not answer: he had no time to explain; he was thinking only of the four hundred lives in peril. For a while the child stared wildly at the blazing rice; then burst into tears, and ran back to the house, feeling sure that his grandfather had gone mad. Hamaguchi went on firing stack after stack, till he had reached the limit of his field; then he threw down his torch, and waited. The acolyte of the hill-temple, observing the blaze, set the big bell booming; and the people responded to the double appeal. Hamaguchi watched them hurrying in from the sands and over the beach and up from the village, like a swarming of ants, and, to his anxious eyes, scarcely faster; for the moments seemed terribly long to him. The sun was going down; the wrinkled bed of the bay, and a vast sallow speckled expanse beyond it, lay naked to the last orange glow; and still the sea was fleeing toward the horizon.

Really, however, Hamaguchi did not have very long to wait before the first party of succor arrived,—a score of agile young peasants, who wanted to attack the fire at once. But the Chôja, holding out both arms, stopped them.

“Let it burn, lads!” he commanded, “let it be! I want the whole mura here. There is a great danger,—taihen da!

The whole village was coming; and Hamaguchi counted. All the young men and boys were soon on the spot, and not a few of the more active women and girls; then came most of the older folk, and mothers with babies at their backs, and even children,—for children could help to pass water; and the elders too feeble to keep up with the first rush could be seen well on their way up the steep ascent. The growing multitude, still knowing nothing, looked alternately, in sorrowful wonder, at the flaming fields and at the impassive face of their Chôja. And the sun went down.

“Grandfather is mad,—I am afraid of him!” sobbed Tada, in answer to a number of questions. “He is mad. He set fire to the rice on purpose: I saw him do it!”

“As for the rice,” cried Hamaguchi, “the child tells the truth. I set fire to the rice. . . . Are all the people here?”

The Kumi-chô and the heads of families looked about them, and down the hill, and made reply: “All are here, or very soon will be. . . . We cannot understand this thing.”

Kita!” shouted the old man at the top of his voice, pointing to the open. “Say now if I be mad!”

Through the twilight eastward all looked, and saw at the edge of the dusky horizon a long, lean, dim line like the shadowing of a coast where no coast ever was,—a line that thickened as they gazed, that broadened as a coast-line broadens to the eyes of one approaching it, yet incomparably more quickly. For that long darkness was the returning sea, towering like a cliff, and coursing more swiftly than the kite flies.

Tsunami!” shrieked the people; and then all shrieks and all sounds and all power to hear sounds were annihilated by a nameless shock heavier than any thunder, as the colossal swell smote the shore with a weight that sent a shudder through the hills, and with a foam-burst like a blaze of sheet-lightning. Then for an instant nothing was visible but a storm of spray rushing up the slope like a cloud; and the people scattered back in panic from the mere menace of it. When they looked again, they saw a white horror of sea raving over the place of their homes. It drew back roaring, and tearing out the bowels of the land as it went. Twice, thrice, five times the sea struck and ebbed, but each time with lesser surges: then it returned to its ancient bed and stayed,—still raging, as after a typhoon.

On the plateau for a time there was no word spoken. All stared speechlessly at the desolation beneath,—the ghastliness of hurled rock and naked riven cliff, the bewilderment of scooped-up deep-sea wrack and shingle shot over the empty site of dwelling and temple. The village was not; the greater part of the fields were not; even the terraces had ceased to exist; and of all the homes that had been about the bay there remained nothing recognizable except two straw roofs tossing madly in the offing. The after-terror of the death escaped and the stupefaction of the general loss kept all lips dumb, until the voice of Hamaguchi was heard again, observing gently,—”That was why I set fire to the rice.”

He, their Chôja, now stood among them almost as poor as the poorest; for his wealth was gone—but he had saved four hundred lives by the sacrifice. Little Tada ran to him, and caught his hand, and asked forgiveness for having said naughty things. Whereupon the people woke up to the knowledge of why they were alive, and began to wonder at the simple, unselfish foresight that had saved them; and the headmen prostrated themselves in the dust before Hamaguchi Gohei, and the people after them.

Then the old man wept a little, partly because he was happy, and partly because he was aged and weak and had been sorely tried.

“My house remains,” he said, as soon as he could find words, automatically caressing Tada’s brown cheeks; “and there is room for many. Also the temple on the hill stands; and there is shelter there for the others.”

Then he led the way to his house; and the people cried and shouted.

The period of distress was long, because in those days there were no means of quick communication between district and district, and the help needed had to be sent from far away. But when better times came, the people did not forget their debt to Hamaguchi Gohei. They could not make him rich; nor would he have suffered them to do so, even had it been possible. Moreover, gifts could never have sufficed as an expression of their reverential feeling towards him; for they believed that the ghost within him was divine. So they declared him a god, and thereafter called him Hamaguchi DAIMYÔJIN, thinking they could give him no greater honor;—and truly no greater honor in any country could be given to mortal man. And when they rebuilt the village, they built a temple to the spirit of him, and fixed above the front of it a tablet bearing his name in Chinese text of gold; and they worshiped him there, with prayer and with offerings. How he felt about it I cannot say;—I know only that he continued to live in his old thatched home upon the hill, with his children and his children’s children, just as humanly and simply as before, while his soul was being worshiped in the shrine below. A hundred years and more he has been dead; but his temple, they tell me, still stands, and the people still pray to the ghost of the good old farmer to help them in time of fear or trouble.

.    .    .

I asked a Japanese philosopher and friend to explain to me how the peasants could rationally imagine the spirit of Hamaguchi in one place while his living body was in another. Also I inquired whether it was only one of his souls which they had worshiped during his life, and whether they imagined that particular soul to have detached itself from the rest to receive homage.

“The peasants,” my friend answered, think of the mind or spirit of a person as something which, even during life, can be in many places at the same instant. . . . Such an idea is, of course, quite different from Western ideas about the soul.”

“Any more rational?” I mischievously asked.

“Well,” he responded, with a Buddhist smile, “if we accept the doctrine of the unity of all mind, the idea of the Japanese peasant would appear to contain at least some adumbration of truth. I could not say so much for your Western notions about the soul.”

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