THE JAPANESE RUSTIC LIFE IN 1950S . 6

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter 6 A CATTLE SHED (1954)

Written by Y. Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Y.Otsuki (London)

1. ANNE FRANK HOUSE
After the boy had grown up, he visited ANNE FRANK HOUSE on the way to attending an international conference held at Amsterdam, the Netherland.  While walking around each room, he spontaneously shed tears and felt depressed.  How Anne must have been seized with fear, how uneasy she must have felt living in hiding without knowing what the future held for her, how fearful she must have been in the car going to the concentration camp.  She might have even thought she would survive if she could hide for just another year.  Such sad scenes came to his mind one after another, moving him immensely.  After his tears had dried up, he left with what he considered was probably the standard feeling of sympathy that most people had after visiting the house.
On the way back to his hotel, he was looking at the leaning houses of Amsterdam and ruminating on how he felt.  He then realized that his tears had not been caused by such typical feelings of sympathy, but for altogether more personal reasons.
At that time, he had changed his job to seek an opportunity to develop what he decided would be his life work – a new solar battery.  His new company consigned him to the development of electronic parts, and in exchange he would also be able to work on his solar battery project.  His developments for the company were successful, though his own work did not progress as expected.  In comparison to other projects promoted by big institutions with ample investment, many researchers and advanced apparatus, he was struggling with a paucity of resources.  On occasions, he was even forced to improvise with kitchen utensils he had brought from home.  He always felt that he seemed to be walking along a country road pulling a cart, while other researchers rushed past him in fast cars on the highway or flying in planes.  While looking around the rooms in Anne’s house, he was reminded of his own predicament and how he felt trapped, and felt a similarity to Anne’s situation.  This was the real reason behind his tears, he concluded while walking along the streets of Amsterdam.

“No, No, that can’t be the reason I cried”, he had been telling himself throughout his stay in Amsterdam.  He was still turning it over in his mind when he was walking in Schiphol airport.  The reason why he was so troubled is that he had been brought up to believe that it was shameful for men to cry in public. (Recently, it seems to be different.)  And he felt his tears had stirred some vague memory, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
‘Yes, that’s it!’ He muttered to himself while walking toward the immigration gate.  He had a sense of relief on the way home after finishing his work there, which resembled the feeling of freedom he had when he left his village with his mother pulling a cart loaded with their belongings to town when he was a boy.  That scene naturally reminded him of that village and the suffering he suffered at the hands of bullies there.  Leaving there held the prospect of escape from the bullying.  In the town he fortunately never went through anything as bad again, but the trauma he experienced in the village would have an effect on everything he did in the future. His student life was also affected but he was able to get by in daily life because he was able to hide behind other people to some extent.  However, such passivity was a considerable obstacle to surviving in a tough society, especially in the business field, so he tried to overcome it as much as possible. Imagining how tough Anne’s life must have been brought back memories of the trauma, which caused the tears.  Yes, that was definitely the reason.  He felt ashamed for the tininess of his capacity to overcome his negative experiences and also felt small because of the selfish nature of his reaction.
Still dwelling on it and feeling quite pathetic, he again shed tears at the immigration gate, causing the officer to look at him suspiciously.  He felt ashamed again.

2. LARGE FAMILY SYSTEM
By removing the wooden and paper doors which divided the house into rooms, the farmer’s house became a big open hall of tatami mats. There was a stage about a foot high at one end, from which tables were set up in several long lines. Food was placed for each person on the tables under strong lighting that made the room as bright as daylight. In the garden, people not personally invited to the wedding party, who were mainly children, were waiting to see the bride. The guests were wandering around the tables trying to find their seats by checking the nameplate by the food.  Before long, almost all the guests were seated in their allocated positions and waiting for the appearance of the leading characters – the bride and groom and the matchmaker(s). (usually a couple).  All of a sudden, a man started shouted angrily.
“This is the wrong seat. It can’t be mine.“ The atmosphere in the hall became  extremely strained.  The host of the party ran over tohim in a panic.  Everybody knew that something like that couldeasily spoil the party. He shouted louder and louder with increasing rage. Somebody whispered, “He always behaves like that. He really should try to act his age.” Although the people around him tried to calm him down, he would have none of it and the atmosphere worsened. Then somebody got up and went over and started to talk to him. The bright lights made everybody feel uncomfortable as theywatched to see what would happen.  After a while, he gradually began to lower his voice and the atmosphere settled down. The party then returned to its planned course. For the author, the place where one sits at such events is not completely without meaning, but some people pay undue attention to it, because they feel it signifies the position a person holds within the family clan.  And the person who persuaded the man to quieten down was the head of this kindred clan.
Just after the last world war, the USA adopted various policies to weaken Japan in order to hinder it from becoming a military power again. This started with constitutional reform. The main point of the constitution is its pacifist stance, which completely renounces war. (The author would like to assert that this constitution, longing for peace in the world, is something we can be proud of.)  In addition, they made policies to restrict the economic recovery of Japan by such things as dismantling the big financial combines, inhibiting the munitions and aircraft industries etc. The USA paid special attention to the agricultural industries.

The Japanese economy had been based on agricultural industries (mainly the rice crop), and the class system.  The feudal class system was nominally abolished in mid-18th century, but effectively, the economic and blood relationship of lord and vassal was maintained in farming society.  There were three classes of farmers: big landowners, who consigned tenant farmers to work their land; small landowners farming for themselves; tenant farmers. Among these classes, the big landowners and tenant farmers were the majority.  As big landowners were generally the heads of the clan hierarchy, they reigned over the tenant farmers both economically and from the point of view of clan relationship. They were able to grow crops efficiently with a very low labor cost, in the same manner that countries governed by the colonial policies of European countries had been able to. The Japanese economy was supported by this mass production farming. The USA effectively saved the majority of tenant farmers from poverty by making the landowners sell the land to them cheaply, thereby democratizing farming society. This was actually aimed at weakening the economic power of farming by reducing its scale, and it met with great success. Even now, the international competitiveness of Japanese agriculture remains thoroughly weakened, and the rate of self-sufficiency in food production is the lowest by far among developed countries.
In regard to the clan, as is probably the case in all countries, the first in the bloodline   became the head, and the hierarchy was settled with the development of the clan. With the passage of time and changes brought on by war, starvation, economic collapse etc., its order has disintegrated and become unclear. One way that clan heads have tried to maintain the system is by identifying the order of the family with the seating positions on ceremonial occasions like weddings, funerals, the formal exchange of new year greetings, and other religious and community meetings.
With the onset of industrialization, other than the eldest son, a farmer’s children tended to leave the village to get jobs in factories, and then their offspring stayed in the cities.  Now annually, in the long holidays like New Year, the beginning of May, and mid-August, many people who originally left rural areas simultaneously return to their birth places to see their parents. This ”racial” migration results in long traffic jams. ( Similar phenomena are seen in Korea, China and among people working in the EU, like Turks.)  They usually tend to go back to the home of the parents on the fathers’ side, and increasingly less often pay a visit to the home of the clan head while they are there.   This indicates that the extended family system has very much declined, bringing about the abolition of feudalism and the establishment of individual equality. On the other hand, this weakening of family solidarity has lead to other social problems with things like children’s education and care for the aged, and a general decline in social communication.

3.SILK
Silk is a long protein filament made of silkworm cocoon. Its production is said to have started in China between 3000-6000BC. Successive Chinese dynasties made sericultural know-how secret and exported only silk fabrics to foreign countries, along a route that became known as the Silk Road. Around the 4th century AD, the manufacturing method of sericulture circulated around India and Japan, and reached western countries in the 6th century. There is a story that a king of Turkestan took a Chinese bride in order to gain the secret of silk’s production. He is said to have asked his wife to hide silk worm eggs in her hair, and so sericulture came to the Western world.

In regard to Japan, hemp was the only material for clothing before silk was imported.  And then, as domestic products of silk were lower in quality than imported material, it was very expensive and was used mainly by the noble class, including the emperor and his family, until the 17th century. At this time, the quality of domestic silk was improved and its use spread amongst high class Samurai and the rich merchant class. In the Edo era(1600-1867), the shogun(head of the Samurai) governed the country, and the nationwide economy came to be practically controlled by the merchant class. From that time, the merchant class clearly became richer than the Samurai class. Whenever the government faced economic failure due to starvation or overspending, it ordered the people not to wear silk as an example of financial restraint. The merchants then wore clothing with an outer layer of plain cotton and a lining of gorgeous silk, which became the vogue.
So what did commoners wear? Although paper had been used for clothing before the 10th century, they basically used to endure the cold weather wearing unwarm hemp clothing, until the mass production of cotton spread in the 16th century.

The new government, started in1867, found that the former government had almost entirely exhausted the national treasury. The policy of abolishing national isolation and opening the door to foreign countries was decided by the former government just before the revolution, and this lead to the nation facing the threat of aggression by western powers, as China had at that time. Therefore, obtaining armaments became the most urgent task for the new government, so they started to develop sericulture to finance the army. At that time, farmers nationwide were engaged in its production. Incidentally, the farmers in the boy’s district had already been raising silkworms from the 17th century.

The silkworm metamorphoses 4 times in the steps of egg  larva  pupa  moth, and the larva sheds 4 times to accommodate the growth of the body. Then, after the final shedding, the larva vomits a very thin thread from its mouth to make a spherical oval shelter (cocoon) around it and becomes a pupa. In a state of near-sleep, the pupa transforms into a moth, which bites and tears the cocoon to come out.  The silk worm is a domesticated creature and unable to fly or escape from predators, so there is no chance that it could survive in the wild. The moth lays about five hundred eggs after mating and dies after about ten days.

There are four production periods – spring silk (April – June), summer silk (July), autumnal silk (August), late autumnal silk (September and October). In the approximately one month it takes for the production of the silk cocoon, farmers raise larvae into pupas to make cocoons and kill them by drying, and then ship the cocoons to the silk mills. These production processes – feeding the worms 5-8 times a day till the cocoon forms, removing excreta, cleaning the beds, treating the cocoons, cultivating the mulberry, collecting the leaves and shipping the cocoons – involve a lot of hard work.
In the 19th century, when silk production was at its peak, about 25% of farmers in Japan were occupied in the business and silk mills were built all over the country. One of them was the Tomioka silk mill, which functioned as the main factory for developing production techniques and transferring them to other factories. It was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014, from the viewpoint of its cultural importance in the industrial modernization of Japan.
Now, sericulture in Japan has declined to the point where the number of silk farmers is only about five hundred. This was partly due to losing out to Chinese silk in cost competition, but mainly because all the major applications of silk have been replaced by chemical fibers. The farmer described at the head of the Youtube version(the boy’s father’s father) had already given up silkworm farming a long time before and tried many other kinds of agriculture like forestry, tobacco and konjac (a kind of root)cultivation, dairy farming etc. Affected by the abnormality of the policies of the ministry of agriculture and its affiliated organizations, his case has been common among farmers in Japan. In other words, the US policy mentioned earlier was so influential that the Japanese government has not been able to rebuild a competitive agricultural sector. Of course, many farmers have made prosperous businesses through their own endeavors, but their number is still too few to allow Japanese agriculture to survive among world competition. At present, the government is pushing work forward to conclude the free trade agreement(TPP) with many countries around the Pacific rim.  This would be advantageous to some industries, but there is a concern that it would deliver a fatal blow to agricultural businesses.
The End

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A CATTLE SHED (1954)
The terrain was hilly, three hundreds feet above sea level and covered by tall dark green trees.  The pathway ran along a deep ravine meandering through the bottom of the forest.  The small terraced fields of rice and other crops located here and there spread from the ravine to the top of the hill. There was a village of several farming houses in an open area and other individual houses dotted around the village at a distance of about three hundreds feet from each other.

Under the clear autumnal sky, the boy, his mother and sister were walking up a narrow slope between the fields up to a farming house.  As they had been walking since visiting a graveyard about one mile far from there, they were sweating even in the cold wind.
At the end of the slope, five stone steps lead to the yard of the farming house.  The boy glanced up to the yard while following his family up the steps and shouted, “ What’s that?”  A big greenish snake of about five feet in length was crawling slowly in the center of the yard.  He cried, “It’s a Japanese rat snake.” (Elaphe climacophora) He was usually not afraid of snakes because he’d been used to the sight of them since he was a baby, but it was so big and bulging with the chicken eggs in it that he felt he might be swallowed up by it and unintentionally clung to his mother’s hand.  His mother and sister, however, did not seem to mind at all and sat at the edge of the veranda talking to the farmer’s family. Even the dog did not bark at it.
One member of the farmer’s family told him, “ That snake is the guardian god of this house.  It never does any harm to our family – and it’s a better mouser than this cat, though it sometimes swallows eggs, like today.  It is one of a pair of Japanese rat snakes that live in the attic of the warehouse.  On warm days you can sometimes see them hanging down the wall of the house from their nest basking in the sun.  Of course, they sometimes make a trip over to the attic of the main house to catch rats.”  Though the boy understood what he said, he could not easily get rid of his fear of the big snake.  Farming coexisted harmoniously with animals and plants like that.

As one of the rites in Japanese Buddhism, almost all families visit their family grave in the week around the equinox.  By faithfully observing this rite, they believe that they will be able
to go to join deceased relatives in heaven after death.

The boy’s family had also regularly visited his father’s parents’ grave, before calling on their family.  They walked into the house from the bright open air and became unable to see well for a while because the lighting was poor in the room.  They stood on the soil floor for a few minutes and then their eyes gradually became accustomed to the dark inside .The living room was about 40 square yards, 70% of which was wooden flooring and the remainder soil.  The floor at the center of the room was cut to make a rectangular fireplace about six feet from east to west and four feet from north to south. The wooden panels and pillars in the room gleamed black from the smoke of the fireplace and daily wiping.

The charcoal fire in the ash floor of the fireplace warmed the chilly autumnal air and heated food in the cooking pot suspended from the ceiling.  The seats around the fire were specified for each member of the family – the western seat for the master, both northern and southern places for other families, while the eastern part was for the youngest housewife, where she took care of the fire and cooking.  When they had guests, the southern part was allocated to them, and the family was seated in the northern position.
The boy’s family sat there and bowed to each member of the farmer’s family. Other children were not present.
After making small talk for a while, the women brought in small trays full of special dishes from the kitchen.  On the autumnal equinox day, it is a custom to serve rice cakes topped with various sweet pastes and powders.  In this region the toppings are usually cooked soybeans, azuki-beans, sesame, walnut, parched soy beans powder, etc.  Actually, not only sweet dishes but also salty dishes such as rice cakes covered in natto and dipped in a soup of vegetables and soy source.  But then the main dishes were sweet, because sweet dishes were considered a luxury due to the high price of sugar (imported at that time), and were only served on special occasions. Additional dishes were served again and again until the guests couldn’t eat any more.  The boy had a silly thought that the snake must feel similar when it swallowed prey.

The structure of farmers’ houses was generally similar in that village.  The two-story house was about 70 yards from east to west and about 20 yards from north to south.  The walls were made of clay, with the northern side being covered by wooden doors, and paper and wooden doors covering the southern side at night.  The first floor was used for living, and the second for farm work such as sericulture, dried persimmon making, and drying tobacco leaves.  The first floor was divided into rooms of 10-40 square yards by paper or wooden doors and except for the living room and kitchen, all the floors were covered by tatami mats.  When they had some gathering like a wedding or funeral ceremony, the doors were removed to make a big hall. Of all the rooms, the one at the west end was considered to be the holiest.  Buddhist and Shinto altars were installed in this room, and were prayed to by the head of the house or his wife every morning.  The head of the house usually slept in this room or the next room, and his first son in an adjourning room. The rooms in the north side were shared by the women, and whether they could have a private one or not depended on the wealth of the family.  The second and following sons had to endure more miserable conditions. It has already been described that the farmhouse was usually a two-story building, but this house had a small room between the ground floor and the first floor. (The author is not sure if this room was a special or common feature of houses in the village.)  The small room, which was utilized as a work room for farm-related tasks, was where the second and following sons had to live.

His father was just a second son and had grown up in this room, which he visited out of natural curiosity about his father’s history while his mother was chatting in the sitting room.  This was his first visit and he was shocked.  The walls, stained by water leakage and traces of insect bodies etc., were randomly covered by calendars, posters of movies, movie stars, and singers, and a small naked bulb was dangling drearily from the low ceiling.  The reek of men’s sweat rose from the futons piled up on the tattered straw mats.  He thought that the inhabitants of this room must fall asleep without caring about the smell because of the hard work they did in the daytime.  In the 1950’s, the farming in this area produced mainly rice, but also silk cocoons, dried persimmon, tobacco leaves, timber etc. This must have entailed a lot of hard labor because all the work was carried out by men, cattle, and horses.  Basically, their room was just like a cattle shed. (The production of silk cocoons will be described later.)

Japanese society and culture have been sustained by farming. In many countries, the main crop is the staple food, which is dictated by the circumstances of each country.   Comparing rice and wheat will simplify this explanation:  With wheat, the yield per unit area of cultivation is lower than rice and reduced by consecutive cultivation every year, so it is necessary to have an extensive area of land.  On the other hand, rice can be produced with a high per unit yield even with annual cultivation, providing there is sufficient labor.  So in Japan, with a narrow area of land taken up mainly by mountains, there is no choice except rice. (The mean yields of main crops per unit area in Japan are as follows; 500-600kg/a(rice), 300kg/a(wheat), 250kg/10a(corn).  ‘a =100m2 ‘.)
This labor-intensive industry in a small area of cultivation brought about a serious contradiction.  That is, every farmer could secure adequate resources just by producing children, but if upon his death the field were to be divided among the children, the resulting area would be too small to sustain a family.  Consequently, the field was given to one person, usually the first son, and other children had no rights to it. Women worked in their girlhood and left their family as brides or workwomen after they became adults.  Men had rather miserable existences, working their whole lives like domestic animals. (Of course, in the modern age men had the option of going to work in factories, but the resultant shortage of farm labor has created other problems.)
The father of the boy was the second son in his family, so he joined the navy to escape the sad life that he was destined for. As soon as the boy stepped into that room, he had an overwhelming sense of despair, remembering his school life and how he had suffered at the hands of bullies.  He just stood there in a stupor.
He had no idea how long he stood there like that.  He became aware of a sound like rain falling hard on a tin roof.   This sound must have been clearly audible when he first entered, but the intense impression of the room prevented him from noticing it.  He recalled that the farmer was breeding silk worms on the upper floor, and that they made a sound while eating the mulberry leaves.  He went up to the second floor and into a large open area of about 600 square yards.  On shelves around the room, there were many shallow round baskets made of woven bamboo, of about 3 feet in diameter and one inch depth.   In the baskets, a huge amount of white silk worms of about 3/8 inches diameter and 5 inches length were feeding.   The sound of an individual worm feeding was barely noticeable but collectively they made a considerable noise.   The unusual scene – the sound, the huge number of bugs and the intense reek -overcame him.  While watching a silk worm eating the mulberry leaves, he started to feel that its brown mouth was suddenly closing on him as if to bite.  Then it seemed to swell abruptly and it somehow became himself.
He lost consciousness.
THE END

CONCERTS ON 2015

Concerts on 2015:

  • 6th March-St.Bride’s church in Fleet street in London.
  • 25th March-St.Luke’s church in Sevenoaks in Kent.
  • 7th April-Southwark cathedral in central London.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Yu-Fen Lin(piano).
  • 15th May-All Saints’ church in Marlow(as part of the Wycombe arts festival.) in Buckinghamshire.
  • 9th June: From 13:05.-Wesley’s chapel in central London.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Maria Milanova(piano).
  • 23rd June:From 13:30.-Chapel at the Royal Marsden hospital in South Kensington in London.
  • 27th June:from 12:00.-St.Mary’s church in Slough in Berkshire.
  • 27th July:from 13:05.-St.Martin-within-Ludgate church in London.
  • 30th July:from 13:00.-Emmanuel church in Cambridge.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Yu-Fen Lin(piano)
  • 2015- 8th September-From 15:15. Southwark cathedral in London.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Gemma Kateb(piano).
  • 22nd October-From 13:05. St.Mary-le-Bow church in London.Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Petra Hajduchova(piano)
  • 11th November:From 13:00-All Saints’ church in Herford in Hertfodshire.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Gemma Kateb(piano).
  • 18th November-From 13:30.  Chapel at the Royal Marsden hospital in London.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Petra Hajduchova(piano)

CONCERTS ON 2016

Concerts on 2016:

  • 9th January-From 12:00. St.Mary’s church in Slough in Berkshire. Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Alessandro Viale(piano).
  • 25th February-From 12:45. St .Mary’s church in Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.
  • 26th February-From 12:30. St.George’s church in Beckenham in Kent.
  • 11th March-From 12:30. Unitarian church in Brighton in east Sussex.
  • 14th March-From 12:40. Christ church in Woking in Surrey.
  • 16th March-From 13:00. Lion Walk United Reformed church in Colchester in Essex. Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Petra Hajduchova(piano).
  • 18th March-From 13:15. St.Bride’s church in London.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Petra Hajduchova(piano).
  • 7th April:From 13:00-Emmanuel church in Cambridge.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Gemma Kateb(piano)
  • 18th May,2016-From 13:05. St.Botolph without Aldgate church in London.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Gemma Kateb(piano).
  • 26th May,2016-From 13:00. United Reformed church in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Petra Hajduchova(piano).
  • 1st June-From 12:30. St.Luke’s church in Sevenoaks in Kent. Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Alessandro Viale(piano)
  • 3rd June-From 13:00. St.John’s church in Waterloo in London. Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Alessandro Viale(piano)
  • 11th June-From 13:00.  St.Leonard’s church in Seaford in Kent. Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Petra Hajduchova(piano)
  • 12th July-From 13:00.  St.Mary’s church in Watford in Hertfordshire.   Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Maria Milanova(piano).
  • 21st July,2016-From 13:00. St.George’s church in Borough in London.Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Petra Hajduchova(piano)
  • 28th July,2016-From 12:45. Wesley Memorial church in Oxford.  Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Petra Hajduchova(piano).
  • 10th November,2016-From 13:00.   United Reformed church in Maldon in Essex.   Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Petra Hajduchova(piano).
  • 24th November,2016-From 12:30. St.John’s church in Harrow in north London.   Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Alessandro Viale(piano).

CONCERTS ON 2013-2014

A concert on 2013:
1st May-St.George’s hospital in Tooting in London. Fumi Otsuki(violin)

Concerts on 2014:
25th March-Heath street church in Hampstead in London.
1st April-Chapel at the Royal Marsden hospital in South Kensington in London. Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Ieva Caune(piano).
7th October-Uniter Reformed church in Farnham in Surrey.
14th October-Chapel at the Royal Marsden hospital in South Kensington in London. Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Neus Guiu Ritort(piano).
16th October-Mamuska Polish restaurant in Elephant and castle. Fumi Otsuki(violin).

CONCERTS BETWEEN 2009 AND 2012

Concerts between 2009 and 2012:
once every 6 months at the chapel at the Royal Marsden hospital in south Kensington,and once each the following venues in London;Space arts centre near Canary Wharf,St.Peter’s church in Notting hill and Free church in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Most concerts at the Royal Marsden,once each at the Space and the St.Peter’s:Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Suzy Ruffles(piano),and once each at the Royal Marsden and the Free church:Fumi Otsuki(violin) and Alan Brown(piano). I also gave concerts at the nusring homes for old people in London,Surrey,Berkshire,Buckinghamshire,Hertfordshire,Kent,East Sussex,West Sussex,Hampshire and Oxfordshire to make classical music more approachable for the people,who can’t go to concerts easily. Besides giving the concerts as above,I worked for the following charity events for the reconstruction after the great east Japan earthquake and tsunami,which happned in 2011;Greenwich market,St.Hilda’s church,Livingstone house(Deputy mayor of the London borough of Bromley attended this event.),Cambridge university,AmeCon,Japanese cultural afternoon,Mela festival,Lumen church,Japan festival at Trafalgar square and Richmond old town hall.(both violin performance and the presentations of the Japanese culture)

THE JAPANESE RUSTIC LIFE IN 1950S . 5

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter 5 The sports festival at the primary school in rural area (1953)

Written by Y. Otsuki (Sendai, Japan)

Translated by Y.Otsuki (London)

 

 

“TEAM WORK in sports”: The most popular activity at the sports festival was the running race against different neighbourhoods, run by someone from each neighbourhoods and generations. The representatives from the village, that consisted of the valleys, hills, rice fields and forests, came from every generation, from teenagers to those, who were over 50 years old, a participant every 10years. The boy’s neighbourhood attended as well, but he was never elected for it as he was an outsider and well-known for not able to run fast. Supporters sat down to watch the race, and excited to see it. One of the favorite proverbs for the Japanese people is “Harmony is the greatest virtue“. It means that in Japan, as in other collective countries, individuals usually believe in plans and ideas agreed upon by a majority rather than their personal ones, even if they think they are better than the group’s. It also means that the majority tends to relentlessly persecute or ignore the dissentients or individual that is somehow different. The boy’s father was certainly from the village, but his mother came far from a city near Osaka, and the family came from Sendai (30miles north of the village), one of few big cities in northern Japan during the war, and that meant they had many different habits and quirks compared to the people in the village. As a result, they experienced the discriminations, even though they lived in the area, where the father side of the family was from. For the discrimination to have less severe, mother had to learn the dialect of the village and children had to wear the traditional clothes, kimonos, worn by the village people, not western clothes. Therefore, at the sports festival, the loud support by the village people, who excluded his family like this, was scary for him as if the crowd was trying to persecute him.

A typical example about Japanese people, who are easy to unite; marathon/running race is one of the most favorite sports to do and watch on TV or goes there. More than that, they are happy to watch a long distance road relay, called “Ekiden” on TV, or goes there to support them. In Ekiden, runners in each team run while carrying the cloth loop, like a baton in short distance relay race. Supporters watch the runners around the relay points carefully as well as being excited to see the winning and losing of the teams. Some runners show better performances than his past records for sake of his team’s victory. In unhappy cases, the runner would fall in ill, such as muscle spasm, because of the cold weather, dehydration, because of hot weather. But in Ekiden the responsibility of delivering the cloth loop to next runner makes his decision difficult, and he has to struggle with preceding steps. In worst case, he repeats fall/stand and fall/stand, and or claw, and this kind of behaviours will become the some great recollections for the supporters for a long time. This means that we are impressed by and enjoyed to see the strength and dedication for his responsibility as a team. Do you think whether such a behaviour of the supporters as sadistic?

 

GEOPOLYTIC Consideration of Team Play: Individuals to harmonise and unite into a team with strong responsibility, but sacrifice individual expressions. This is what the Japanese are impressed most. Such a disposition for them might be attributed to its geographic characters, according to some historians. That is, countries in east Asia/Oriental countries, including Japan, have been faced threats from China, such as invasions, colonisations and rebels as Korea and Vietnam were both colonised by China for a long time while Japan was attacked by allied forces of China and Korea twice in 12th century. These on 12th century were surpassed against Japan on its military power, but fortunately failed as typhoon came at the middle of these occasions. These made national superstition, that whenever Japan was under the great crisis/attack, “the god of weather” or “Kamikaze” in Japanese would come to save it. Besides, some historians maintain an opinion that Japan had a threat of invasion by China thousands of years ago, such as 1st or 2nd century. Japan as divided into small countries, governed by small tribes, having a territorial battle for each other at that time, which was somehow similar to an example, such as Italy. In the late 2nd century, once the certain information of the Chinese threat was brought to them, the tribes stopped fighting to prepare for it, and resulted to national unification. This opinion hasn’t been a common view yet, but can explain character of Japanese excellently, who easily make groups together and avoid conflicts.

 

BREADS in Japan: In the bread-biting race, we usually use the type of the bread, called “Anpan”, which is a round-shaped sweet bread, that contains the Azuki bean paste in the middle. It is one of the most popular breads in Japan. (“Pan” is the Japanese name for the breads, taken from “pao” in Portuguese.”) The breads were introduced by the Portuguese in 16th century, though it hasn’t become popular, and were only available for high ranking shogun warlords and their families.  Since the end of 19th century, breads became more and more popular gradually, and now breads are eaten more often than ever before while rice is eaten far less. They do sell similar breads as in west, especially showing the admiration for the French breads, as well as their original ones, and the “Anpan” is one of these, invented by a baker in Tokyo in 1874. The Azuki beans has been eaten as the most popular Japanese sweets for thousands of years, in a soup or a paste for the rice cake (“Mochi”) on mainly for important celebrations. (Similar beans do exist in Korea as well, but is salty, and slightly strange for the Japanese.) There are many filling for the breads, such as curry, fried noodles, Korean Kimchi. Recently, a French bakery, “Gontran Cherrier” opened its new branch in Sendai. They sell new type of bread that contains a grilled ox tongue, which is the specialty of Sendai, and is very interesting that the French shop also showed the interest in the Japanese way of the fusion cooking.

 

The boy is running fast, and his heart feels like it is going to pop out of his chest. But he run and run.           Fast!  Fast! Fast!

Coming up to the corner, his upper body is pulled away and he tilts his body, his field of view tilting as well, almost making him fall down. But he run and run.                                 Fast! Fast! Faster!

He suddenly notices the sound of footsteps, made by the other competitors behind him. He tries to put his legs forward as far and as fast as he can, but he does not feel that he moves forward even a bit as if a rope is pulling him back. But he run and run.

Fast!  Faster! Faster!

The goal tape comes into his sight as he comes around the corner. The other competitor’s footsteps gain the volume gradually. His legs cannot move as fast as he wants them to. But he run and run.

Faster! Faster!  Faster!

Just a little more running to the goal. The other competitors draw closer and closer, and he can hear their breathing down his neck. But he run and run.                                    Faster! Faster! Fastest!

He can almost feel himself touching the goal tape. The other competitors are rushing behind him, just inches away. But he run and run.

Faster! Fastest! Fastest!

One more step to the goal. He can see seams on the tape just in front of him.  Over his head, the sky view is turning around and around and spectator’s loud cheer whirls. He almost falls down. But he run and run.

Fastest! Fastest! Fastest!

“Oh, I did it!” Cutting the goal tape, the feeling is fantastic. I won!

Win! Win! Winner!

 

I won. However, did winning need to cause so much stress? For him, it was the first time for all these, to won at the sport festival, to run as fast as he possibly could, to feel stressful at the sports festival and to have a strong desire for not to lose.

 

That day, his primary school was having the annual sports festival under the autumnal clear sky. He won at the “loach carrying running race”, which was one of the activities and among the hardest one with the tricky obstacle, based on 200m (about 183 yards) running race.

That is, runners had to run while carrying a loach, which was taken from water in the buckets, placed at the middle of the course. Of course, if you dropped it you had to grab it again and run again to the goal. Several boys in the same class did this race. At that time, there was only one class for each year in this school.

“Loach” is a rod-shaped freshwater fish and its length is about 5 inches. This fish has a skin so slim that it is very difficult to grab and keep it with bare hands. Thus, carrying it while running, means extra fun for people to watch, especially seeing how runners struggle, trying to catch the fish and hold it while running.
As you might know, eel has similar physical characteristics as the loach, so it can also be used for this kind of race. But their population in rivers is much smaller than the loach, which means it is more difficult to collect the eels for this purpose. The eel is also much more expensive than loach, and people prefer to sell them to fish markets/restaurants, instead of the use for the school race. Moreover, eel is a lot much slimy and powerful than loach, which makes it almost impossible to grab and run while holding it.

By the way, there are small populations of people who take part in religious activities regularly in Japan, but almost all of us have an unconscious belief, a mixture of imported and indigenous religions, such as Buddhism from India via China and Shinto, indigenous belief. According to the Buddhism, we are forbidden to kill any living creatures. Christianity also forbids killing, in the Old Testament, which should mean killing humans only. On the other hand, it does concern all the fauna. Though I am not sure about the reason for this, because I am not an earnest Buddhist, it might state that every living creature has a mind and spirit. Meanwhile, Shinto teaches that every living thing, including plants, has spirit. Consequently, the Japanese, who believed in all of these belief said that you couldn’t eat any flora or fauna, and mustn’t take their lives. Then we introduced some compromises. For example, we had been officially, or rather religiously, forbidden to eat meats of domestic animals until about 100 years ago, but were allowed to eat fish, whale and vegetables. And we had to pray to the creatures for apology for killing them and appreciation for providing their lives for the meals.

We have various festivals, probably one every day somewhere in the country, and some of them originated from ceremonies of apology to killing plants and animals. Therefore playing with creature is worse than killing it. “Catch and release” method, popular in fishing for pleasure in western culture doesn’t suit our culture. That is, we think of “catch and release” method as one of more cruel activities towards animals, or more would “eat whenever catch” with praying.

In this sports festival, grabbing the loach means causing it more suffering, which is thought to be relieved by eating it, accompanied by praying. I would be happy, if you could understand the cultural differences between Japan and the West.

 

The boy had been the last one in any of the races since he entered the primary school. The main reasons for this were his inferior physical abilities, because of being the youngest and smallest of his class, and more importantly, stepping back at the sound of pistol signalling the start, by his fear of loud sounds. Of course, he worried about his slow running, and practised to find a way to run faster, by among others, imitating a boy who was able to run fast, but he wasn’t able to progress a lot. But this time, unlike all the others, he won the loach carrying race. He thought about the reason of his winning, as he always, due to his self-critical nature, reflected everything he did. The main reason for his good success was his skill of catching the fish. That is, while others were struggling with the fish in the bucket, he caught it instantly and could run right away. He could keep this advantage of not wasting time at the beginning until he reached the goal. And he was able to run while carrying the fish in only one hand without any problem when the others had to keep it with both hands while running, because of their poor skills in fish handling, which stopped them from running very fast.

Although he fully appreciated the great feeling of winning, it didn’t give him any confidence for the running races, and he had to accept that in all his time at primary school, with one exception, his second prize in “bread biting race”, he was going to be last.

The bread biting race is similar to the loach carrying one, a short distance race with an extra obstacle. That is, there is a gate within the breads hanging by threads from the bar at the middle of the course, instead of the loaches, and competitors jump up to the hanging breads and have to bite one without using their hands, and then run to the goal. As the breads are shook aimlessly by the winds and foreman is swaying the supporting bar, the participants cannot bite them easily, and their progress makes people laugh.

The boy was able to open his mouth while trying to see how the bread moved and was able to catch the bread much easier than others, and because of him not wasting time, he won the 2nd prize.

There is another one, called “candy biting race”, which is similar. There are candies scattered in white flour on the table in the middle of the course.

The competitors have to catch candies again without using hands. This is difficult beyond people’s expectations as they cannot use their eyes to search for the candies, and no one have ever practised for it. Thus catching any candy is completely accidental, not related to runner’s physical fitness or skill. Spectators/supporters enjoyed chatting with each other about their expectations and results of winners as they are incapable of anticipating results for this race. If a slow runner happens to catch a candy first, he is chased by other fast runners. He runs towards the goal as fast as he can, but the distance between him and others is rapidly shortened. Can he get away or will other get ahead of him? Supporters are watching in excitement. The race is a kind of handy-race with chance, instead of harming individuals by evaluating physical fitness. Furthermore, the runners search for the candies by stirring flour with their faces. This results in them having funny faces covered in flour, which brings another laugh from the supporters. This laughing is caused by known reputations of individuals, according to their power, personality, status, poverty or wealth, are turned temporally over by the flour. For example, rich mayor of the village ends up the last with a white face and it makes all the supporters laugh. That’s why this candy race is only suitable for adults. There is the comedy effect that removes to show the responsibilities of the works of the adults, in candy-biting race. That’s why it is funny when it has done by adult.

The sports festivals were/are held at primary schools, secondary schools and high schools all over the country once or twice a year, just like the school entertainment festival, presented in “The Japanese rustic life in 1950s, No.2”. At his primary school, the sport festivals were held in spring and autumn every year, and these were one of the highlights of the social events at the village. Almost everyone in the village went there with their lunch, and enjoyed to see the activities, performed by children, such as running race, dancing, the acts of imitating the cavalry battles, ball-toss games, tug-of-war etc., as well as games for adults, including the running race against the  different neighbourhoods, folk dance and so on. One of most liked and exciting activities was the running race against the different neighbourhoods. As the boy was an outsider in the village, he couldn’t understand why they were so excited. At the lunchtime, all the children enjoyed eating with their family, talking about the most enjoyable moments of the morning part of the festival. However, none of his family was there, his mother was a teacher, his father worked far away and his sisters were much older than him, so he had to eat a cold lunch alone. So, he disliked the sports festival.
The End

THE JAPANESE RUSTIC LIFE IN 1950S .4

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter 4 Introductorly Scientific Activities

(The way to get ride of boring life)

Written by Y. Otsuki(Sendai, Japan)

Translated by Y.Otsuki(London)

 

In the previous chapter,” The Japanese Rustic life in 1950s. 3 Opening Bus Sevice” , the home page part was mostly shared by describing the features of local and nationwide society, then I would like to describe mainly the way how I was growing up in this chapter.

What is your first memory in your life?: What is your first memory of your life? As the life is shaped by the series of memories obtained daily, the start of series is worthy to be paid respect. My first memory definitely symbolises the series of my sad life. I was crying on the wooden floor at 2-3 years old. Through the floor, I could see a medicine box, in which there was some drug, striking some terror into my heart. I can recall further clear scene concerning this memory, but unclear about exact age and the situation around me at that time. And I have never talked about it with my family as it was too hard to ask them for some reason.

This kind of dark memory as written by author  is simply a “boring progression” to put it bluntly. I can certainly recall certain events. Examples:

 

  1. Curry rice trouble – We had a curry rice for dinner, which was one of the great dishes at the time, when I was 4 or 5 years old. Once we ate just a bit, and rushed for water as it was too salty. It seemed that my mother mistook the amount of salt to add, and then she had never attempted to cook it again. Still now I have to make up my mind when I eat a curry rice.

(During correcting the English in this essay, the corrector pointed out that readers never perceive the content of this topics, and I almost delete it. Soon after I got telephone call from him, and said that he ate too salty meal at Chinese restraurant in London and realised deeply what I meant. So I thought there might be many people having similar experience and feeling simpathy to me, and I would like not to eliminate this topics.)

 

  1. D.J.game – At similar time as above, my sister and I used to enjoy this game, taught by our father. That is, you make a small hole on a vinyl record (SP record). The hole’s position is offset from the centre of the record. (Of course, there is the hole, already in the centre.) Set the off centre on the axis of the turntable on the record player and start. Naturally, the sound changes a lot from the original one, depending on the position of where an alternative hole is made. I was engrossed in this “D.J.game”, but not long after, I had to give up this game as it meant many of the vinyls became unusuable. There were endless memories like this, that I could write.

 

By doing nothing we learn to do ill.: But these memories of little fun in various forms were like small islands, that were floating in the sea, called “boredom”, that I felt all the times. Until I was 5 years old, my family lived in an area, that was about 2 miles from the village centre, which has a primary school, that was accessed by going up the mountainous path. My mother used to peddle around from one rural area to another one while carrying me on her back. After she became a primary school teacher, my sister carried me to her primary school. It was a common among the poor familes that elder siblings took their younger ones to look after them while older ones study there. Even now, some example occurs in less developed countries in Asia and Africa.

I was very bored of school life as I couldn’t naturally follow the class, and I learned that the school is the place to idly while away the time. Then It took a long time until I realised that the school was a place to study, and started paying more attention to study when I got to the graduate school of the university.

My family moved from the area, that I mentioned before to the area ner the school 2 years before going to the primary school, which was why I didn’t have friends before entering the school. My sister was 5 years older than me (5 years was a big difference for a child.), and was a model student, winning prizes every term, and it meant that she didn’t have much time to play with me. After entering school I made some friends, but was still lonely, and others were mostly children of the farmers, and they had to work at the farm after the school. They practised skills necessary for farming through that work, and then became farmers. On the other hand, my mother supported our family as a teacher and there was no field to work on, and there was no other work to do for me.

 

There are famous Chinese proverbs came from “Daigaku”, one of valuable humane learnings in China as:

“Ordinary mortals, having nothing to do, will do evil.”

“Idleness is the mother of all evil.”

“Idle hands are the devil’s playthings.”

It seems to be made by politicians, who aimed to force people to work to work (ot work very hard). But there are Japanese people, mainly older ones, who are still influenced by these proverbs, and can’t enjoy the relaxing holidays, and always rush to buy souvenirs.

 

In northern Japan, there are many people, who are suffering from haemorrhoids, of which the morbidity rate is the worst within Japan. The sickness is said to be caused by stagnation of blood flow in the gastric origin, and in some cases, putting strain into buttocks for a long time is thought to be one of the cause for this sickness. Many people in this area thinks that it is time consuming to stay in the toilet for a long time, so they read a book there as well, and it means that the toilet becomes a small library. Therefore, some people in this region seem to stay in the toilet for a long time, sometimes several minutes. That is, the origin of morbidity ratio of this sickness can be attributed to the serious character of this region’s people, who used to be unable to live without hard work as a harsh climate there means poorer agricultural products.

My mother had always been talling me Chinese proverbs to me as many typical ordinary people did, so that I feared the feeling of bordom and tried to get rid of it. Fishing as I mentioned in “Japanese rural life 1” in youtube was one of them, and the others, such as mountain vegetables/mushroom picking, adventures in the mountain, swimming in summer, sleighing in winter, helping the farmers, climbing the persimmon tree and spending half the day digging the hole in the ground etc. Although I read many children’s novels almost every day, but had never done the homework properly. My mother forced me to study with a self-study book named “DRILL”, bought at the beginning of each term, and that always pressured me to study from ”DRILL” books, but I didn’t once open them.  Then I became unpleasant to this word.  It was really ironic that I became a professional for the “drill” material at the university.

 

To get ride of boring. : Doing science was also one of the ways to stave off the boredom, which always stuck in my mind. During catching fish in the river, my mind was caught by the question, such as “Why does the river flow in the river?”, then making a small dam seemed me to provide some solution, but failed. Another question came to my mind when looking at the sky from the persimmon tree., “Why are there stars of different sizes?, Why don’t  they drop down?”, but it was impossible to find answers due to the lack of the availability of the astronomical knowledge.

During a walk in the forest, a question arose, “Why do snakes have no legs?” Performing an operation on them, the answer was never obtained. With every question, I managed to find answers via hypotheses and experimentation, despite limited knowledge. But during the dinner with my mother and sister, a question happened to arise, “Why am I here with them?”. It was impossible to make any hypothesis with thinking for several days.

The episodes, described in youtube are a little bit normal ones among my experiments. (The other examples will be described in other chapters.)   Many primitive considerations and experiments were not based on correct scientific knowledges/practises, so that they only resulted in starving off the boredom. Consequently, such half hearted study meant that I didn’t employ the correct scientific methods, instead with methods, different to correct one. The reason why I worked more than 12 hours every day at both university and office wasn’t because I loved my job, but was simply to pass the time. (Maybe you are being too reserved or too humble to say like this?)

 

Confucius, famous chinese philosopher (BC552-449), said, “I aspired after study when I was 15. I became independent at 30. I threw away my hesitation at 40. I understood my duty of life at 50. I became able to listen to other people’s words without prejudice at 60. I became able not to be contrary to morals even though I follow my desire, at 70.

The auther is now younger than 70 years old and not saint, but cannot find any reason to do wrong. Still I do not feel at easy without do something.

 

4‐1 Electricity Generation

The boy had been thinking about how to generate electricity for several weeks. There was no library in his primary school nor in his village. Asking the teacher was probably the best way to get an answer, but the boy was too shy to do so. Asking his mother would mean that he’d get told off. He knew that if he asked his sister, she would tell him the wrong answer. In the boy’s class at the primary school, he was daydreaming about electricity generation, without listening to the teacher, as usual. He couldn’t think of how water could generate electricity.  He thought that the electricity and fire were closely related as both were operated in high temperature, but the water, which could extinguish the fire, didn’t seem to be related to the electricity in his imagination.
Once upon a time, he was able to see the bright spot on a stone in the stream while washing dishes on the well behind the home after the dinner. He happened to get an idea, and talked himself, “Oh, this is amazing. It might be some kind of the operation of the electricity.” This bright spot seemed to be a spark, according to his imagination. The water can make sparks, which will start to operate the electricity, which might be similar to  this method; To hit the stone by hammer many times will cause the sparks. This kind of idea was not unreasonble for him as the eletricity operation in his area were only for lights for each home at that time, and this was the main cause of his imagination for the electric operation. Besides he had already thought the difficulty of starting the sparks into the electricity in electric conductive water when he imagined like this.

Nevertheless he wanted to talk to his mother as she was in the peaceful mood, which happened rarely, and said, “Look, can you see the electric operation here, Mum?”, and then he got a rather cold reply as “Yes.” from her. However he was satisfied with this response as he expected it as it was better than being told off.

 

 

4‐2  Badminton

There were no equipments for sports at the primary school in the village at that time. Somehow, his family had a set of the racket and shuttle cock for playing the badminton. One day, his sister was cheerful enough to him teach how to play it, but she gave up teaching when she realised that he couldn’t learn to hit the shuttle on the racket easily.

Therefore, he decided to learn by himself, and started to try to hit the shuttle many times, but he couldn’t improve, or progress easily. He thought the reasons for not able to do it deeply. By looking at the patterns of the way how the shuttle hit, he realised that he didn’t watch the shuttle when it hits as his head turned towards the ground in order to hit it strongly. Then he tried to stare the shuttle all the time. As he still couldn’t hit after doing this new way, he tried to find other reasons/problems very hard.

The shuttle was tossed, and it went up to the air and then fell slowly down. On the way down, his shuttle can be hit by a racket swung over his head. Generally, the process can easily be done by an average child. But there was something difficult in it for this boy. So, he analysed the reasons why his racket couldn’t meet the shuttle. In the “too early” case, racket was swung in the air under the falling shuttle. In the “too late” case, the shuttle was already near the ground when the racket went forward to hit it. In some cases, he swung the racket in time, but it just didn’t meet with the shuttle. So, he concluded that the main problem was that he just couldn’t identify the spot, where they would meet, and couldn’t see clearly the trajectories, made by the shuttle flying, solely in the clearly blue sky without any marking.

He considered how to identify the “meeting point” for a while. Suddenly, the hitting surface of the racket came into his sight. He said to himself, “Ah, if the sky was segmented into small squares by lines, crossly weaved into a frame as in the racket then the “meeting  point” would be in a specific place, and it would be possible to hit a shuttle.” And so, he tried this plan. At first, he watched the trajectories, that the shuttle flew and memorised the specific place of the “meeting point”.  Then he tossed the shuttle and swung the racket towards the memorised area. Do you think that it was successful? As you would expect, of course, it was a failure. He repeated this method many times, but there was never a happy meeting time for the shuttle and the racket. He found, the main problem was that the afterimage of the place had completely disappeared at the moment of hitting. It was impossible to perform further analysis by boy’s small brain, so he gave up playing the badminton. (After he grew up, he repented of stopping the analysis. Because, if he could continued it further, he might be able to get some kind of computer analysis methods like finite element method.)

 

 

4‐3  Ore

The boy had a mysterious golden shining ore in his treasure box. He thought that it was a real gold ore, but in fact it was a valueless pyrite one. He already knew the worth of gold, though he didn’t know its cash value. Therefore, he thought hard about the way to increase the value of the ore, to earn bigger cash, for several days which meant that it was very important for the boy, who easily lost interest.  And so, with all of the  knowledges and experiences of his life, he came to a conclusion, “Like a lily bulb, that grows in the soil for only one summer, the ore might grow in earth for a certain time period.” The boy dug a hole in the garden of his house and buried the ore deeply, because he was afraid that everyone would find out, when the ore grew bigger and bulged the soil surface in a more shallow hole. Of corse, he didn’t forget to make a marking on the hole. After several days he completely forgot about it. A year later he happaned to recall the ore, hidden in the ground. By retracing his memory, he found the marking and dug the ore out. Unfortunately, the ore didn’t grow at all. He concluded that the different soil properties might be the reason. The garden’s soil was soft, meant for farming while ore needed hard soil to grow. He made his mind to retry growing the ore in the hard soil, that it needed, sometime in future, and kept it in his treasure box.

 

4‐4  Practise to ride the bicycle 

It is definitely true that the war, conducted by foolish politicians/army generals meant that there were great sacrifices for the nation, which especially on children. Even 10 years after the world war, people in Japan were still suffering from poverty. Too many children wore dirty and worn out clothes and shoes. Some of them were suffering from scabies, which spreads easily by bathing rarely in humid weather there. In his school, typical Japanese meals, called “Bento” were common to eat for lunch. Usual Japanese lunch consists of rice and some side dishes in a square box. At that time, they were too poor to bring any side dishes. The box was crammed with white rice and a red pickled sour plum in the middle. The Japanese flag called ‘Hinomaru’ is a white rectangle and a red circle in the middle of it, and you can find the similarities between the shape on the flag and the lunchbox. Then this lunch was called ‘Hinomaru Bento’. The children, who were able to bring this kind of lunch were at least still happier as there were many children, who couldn’t eat any lunch at all.

There were no toys for children in average families, epecially in rural areas at that time. In his village there were no bicycles for children, so they could only use adult ones, which gave them a matured feeling. They couldn’t reach the pedals of bicycles as their legs were short, but they tried a method, called the “triangle riding method”. That is, the bicycle is constructed by the triangle frame between the saddle, pedal and handle. They reach their foot through the triangle frame, and the another one  to the pedal on the other side. This riding technique is slightly difficult to keep the stability as it is necessary to incline the bicycle during the riding. The boy was so small, powerless and awkward that he couldn’t perform such a difficult task. He tried it on the farming road, and fell down on the road, ditches and sometimes in muddy rice fields many times. Naturally, he was often told off by his mother by making his clothes dirty.

He thought about the reason why he kept falling down. As soon as he started to use pedals few times, the bicycle started to totter and handle rotated, and rolled out off the road and fell on to the rice fields.
Then he recalled the sad experience at the school entertainment festival (see the Japanese rustic life 2 in youtube), and fixed the handle with a straw rope. Unfortunately the fixed rope was weak, and the handle totated easily, unlike what he expected, and fell down to the rice field. This time, he became covered with mud heavily and town down his trousers, and was told off by his mother more harshly. This experience stopped his passion for riding the bicycle, and he didn’t ride again until few years later.

THE JAPANESE RUSTIC LIFE IN 1950S .3

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

 

Chapter 3. Opening the Bus Services (1954)

Written by Y. Otsuki(Sendai, Japan)

Translated by Y.Otsuki(London)

 

Charcoal Bus: Of course, Japan had already been producing cars by using American car manufacturing technologies before the second world war. Japan was short on all resources, especially domestically-yielded metals, became very scarce due to weapon production. The government forced people and companies to deliver all kinds of metalworks such as; industrial machinaries, poles, rails, manhole covers, kitchenwares, bells, bronze statues etc. There were also some more extreme examples, such as Buddhist alter decorations, which had been treasured by forefathers for a long time. The buses also decreased to an all-time low. There was a similar situation with regard to oil. Japan had very little oil resources and relied on imported oil. Following the outbreak of the second world war, oil imports were extremely limited by the allied powers.

An alternative oil, taken from pine tree sap was developed and used mainly in non-military industries, then for the war planes. Buses couldn’t use such a precious oil and “charcoal buses” were developed as a result. The mechanism of the charcoal buses is as follows; the conventional buses were equipped with combustion furnaces in order to generate carbon monoxide by incomplete combustion of charcoal. This was put into a carburetor, so it could mix with air and then syphoned into engines as fuel, rather than using gasifiled oil. As Japan is rich in wood, this system was helpful to get rid of oil shortage. However, this came with several problems.

In order to start the charcoal bus, one hour of preparation time was necessary to produce a good amount of carbon monoxide. The conductor had to perform this role, which was difficult for him on winter mornings. On steep slopes, the buses couldn’t run, because only a small amount of was produced from carbon monoxide. The passengers often got off the bus to help push it up the slope-like the early years of motorization in US.

During the period after the years, which explained above, the oil had already been imported through the general headquarters of allied powers, so the charcoal buses started to disappear when the system was returned to its original state(dispatching the furnace).

Work after the last war: The traditional Japanese working style had been the apprenticeships.  That is to say, when some shops, factories etc. had labour shortages, they hired employees from rural areas through private connections and employment agencies. The employers usually letted their empolyees to live their families and work by educating everything to live as well as more specific skills. The wages were very low, and holidays(to go back home) only happens once a year. Superiors among these workers were able to be independent with a financial support by the employer, after working for the employer for several ten years. This employment system still survives partly in Sushi bar and some service trades.

Japan had closed its doors Western countries except Holland for more than 250years from early part of 16th century.(In this period, Japan had diplomatic relations with China and Korea.) In mid-19th century, America forced Japan to open the trade once again. Many people from other powerful western countries immediately rushed there, because they already knew that Holland amassed a huge fortune with its exclusive trading and using tricks to make more profit.

The new government, established in 1868, knew how those western countries were exploiting the wealth from Africa,America and rest of Asia. It made a desparate effort to build up a strong army as well as introducing advanced items from West. Unfortunately, Japan had already lost most of its money, even thought it used to be one of the richest countries in terms of gold and silver (after discovering the gold mines in the 8th century.). So, the government promoted the establishment of export industries. One of these was the silk-reeling industry. Silk makers built their factories in rural cities, and produced cheap silk by gathering together female workers from farmers at a low price. The government scudd to military power until the second world war, and ended up driving Japan into tragic poverty. Afther the second world war, many people were forced to live in extreme poverty. That is, the war destroyed many industries and there were few means by which to rebuild in such a situation. Then, the government set their eyes on teenagers, who had just graduated from secondary school. In the year that bus service began, the government sent them from northern part of Japan to Tokyo. It was called “mass employment”. They were hired by small enterprises and shops etc. as workers or clerks, but couldn’t become indepent as in the traditional case.

The policy had been used nationwide for 20years, and supported the revival of the post-war economy by sending a huge number young people to work. This policy was especially famous in northern region of Japan. Ueno station in Tokyo, one of the  terminal stations for trains that carried the workers, was the epitome of “mass employment”, and included in the lyrics of popular songs. For example, someone yearns the people of Tokyo to hear their dialect, because they miss home. This poem is famous for evoking a sense of northern Japanese people’s homesickness, although the time composed is different from the oneof the mass employment plicy carried out.

ふるさとの訛りなつかし

停車場の人ごみの中に

そを聴きにゆく     石川 啄木

Loving very mushc the dialect particular

To my native place, I go to the crowd of people

at the station to hear it. ( Composed by Takuboku Ishikawa, Translated by Teruo Suga)

As making free translation by Y. Otsuki;

Unable to stop yearning my hometown

I stood amongst the crowds of people

at the station to hear its dialect.

 

A girl, who had lived in the village, wearing the stained clothes and with dirty hands was now back at home, on holiday, from Tokyo, one year after “mass employed”. She was wearing beautiful fashionable clothes and make-up. In the boys’ cases, they went by car from Tokyo by saying that a car is cheaper than owning a house. This is an example of the differences in the values between rural areas and Tokyo. He wanted to show that he lived in the new era. This was also another kind of civilization and enlightenment.

 

The village was located on the foot of a small mountain, where a brook was running from west to east with water flowing into the rice field. There was a village centre with a primary school and a grocery shop as the only public facilities. It was facing a road along the northern side of the brook. However, people can’t usually be seen there because of the small population of the village. On a sunny day in May, the road was unusually crowded on both side of the brook. “It’s coming, it’s coming.”  As soon as these shouts were heard coming from the leader of the crowd, the nose of the bus appeared from the corner of the road. Yes, today is the memorial day of the opening of the bus service between the village and the town. The bonnet-bus came along heroically casting a shadow over the people in the northern side of line formed by villagers.

The bus, regrettably not one of the new models, that was stained arrived at the terminal in front of the school. The door opened and the conductress got out, and so did the driver.

The daughter of the richest family in the village presented a bunch of flowers to the driver, and the representative of the young men’s association presented some to the conductress. “Bang, bang, bang” – the sounds of the fireworks echoed three times across the mountains surrounding the village.

 

The village is about 3 miles west of the town. Up until that time, there were limited ways to commute-either walking for one hour, or cycling for half an hour (although cycling was only taken up by rich families). From this day onwards, it only took 20minutes by bus. The people of the village had been wanting this for such a long time. The bus staff seemed so heroic, like astronauts.

Of course, once the bus service became regular by going about its daily routine, the driver lost the admiration of the people, who lived in the village. It’s the same in the case of the astronauts-they become heroes, due to the uncommoness of the their job. So, although astronauts will be heroes forever, because embarking on space flight is not a part of everyday life, their activities are not seen in wider society. In other words, the contribution of astronauts to everyday life is certainly less than the bus crews’.

At least bus crews have been heroes among the villagers for several months. The conductress was especially idolised by the young men in the village and as soon as she knew it, she applied more and more make-up each day since she couldn’t change her uniform. Then, a rumour about the conductress’ romance spread. On the other hand, the women in the village were too shy to romantically approach the bus driver.

 

Several weeks after this commemoration day, a teacher from the boy’s school asked the pupils to write about their ideal future job. There were less than twenty pupils in his class. They were all farmers’ children, except for this one boy. The farmers’ sons couldn’t choose any other job, apart from farming. The eldest son of the family had to succeed the farm owner, and others will live a life, full of labour, just like workhorses. Daughters had more paths, that they could take due to marriage prospects. However, they didn’t have the right to choose who they married, because everything was arranged for them.

The farmers’ children had never considered their futures outside the farming. Therefore, writing this essay wasn’t particularly meaningful for them, or might have upset their parents. This time round , everyone’s ambitions had changed a lot. Now all the boys wanted to be a bus drivers, except for one boy. Naturally, all the girls wanted to be bus conductresses. The one boy, who didn’t wanted to be a bus driver, was wandering what his answer to this question would be. In a previous essay, the boy had written that his dream was to become a diplomat, but gave up in search of something more realistic, because he lost confidence, due to bullying by other boys. A year earlier, his elder sister married a man, who worked as a bus conductor.

So the boy had been thinking about being a bus conductor in the future. On the contrary, he didn’t want to write the same answer as everybody else. What do you think he wrote in the end? As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even remember. At least he didn’t write “bus conductor”, which would seem to be a breach of faith of his brother-in-law’s profession. He was deeply regretful for considering it.

THE JAPANESE RUSTIC LIFE IN 1950S .2

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

White Christmas” sung by Bing Crosby I cannot follow it.

 

2.SCHOOL ENTERTAINMENT FESTIVAL (1952)

Written by Y.Otsuki (Sendai, Japan)

Translated by Y. Otsuki (London)

 

People repeated what he had be done by their parents. Later in life, the same boy became a father and when his son reached the secondary school, he taught his son the authentic way of reading the poem from the textbook as you can hear on the radio. Of course, he remembered the sad story as I’ve just told, so he advised his son not to practise.
But his son was so decile when he read authentically at the school as he followed his father’s instructions that he received many laughs from his classmates. “What did the teacher say?”, the father asked his son. “Nothing”, he replied curtly. This is an example of the present state of the Japanese schools.

 

By the way, according to pioneer-like systematic study on folk tales by Vladimir Propp, the structures of folk tales can be divided into several patterns of stories, which are applicable to every country, even if there are small differences among them, or so I have heard.

Since Japan opened its door to the west in the mid-19th century, it learned many aspects that helped to build modern society as we know it today, especially post-war democracy. We have apparently been living in a modern society since that time. But the spiritual side of various aspects of contemporary Japanese culture are still influenced by the feudal society between 17th and 19th century. The emperor is the king of Japan, but had already lost his practical governing power before the start of the 10th century. During the Tokugawa period(from 17th to 19th century), Japan was divided into aboout 270 small countries. The shognate, however, held a power as practical dominator like scrap&build of countory, control of commercial activities, diplomacy etc. Therefore each country dared to dominate his people strictly to protect itself against neighboring countries as well as shognate, who could not travel to other places without their gevenment’s premission.  (They are now referred to as “prefectures” approximately.) In some countries, they even had their own languages, which were different from others, so that they could easily differentiate between foreigners, and especially find out (Ninjas), who were dispatched from the central government by Tokugawa. The information was circulated through only three routes, as an official injunction from Shogunate to the lords, domestic and illegal trades. Consequently, each country (country/prefecture in present time) had kept its own distinctive culture, which has continued to the present day. Nowadays, people can communicate with each other anywhere in Japan, thanks to mass media and education has spread the standard Japanese language. However, we can still see the diversity of the unique customs, festivals, foods and lives in every regional  prefecture. If you are planning to take a trip to Japan, I recommend that you take some time to enjoy the various regions, where great beauties are present-not in Tokyo, kyoto or near Mt.Fuji.

After you’ve acquired a taste of the regional/rural cultures and have seen the differences between them, you will become a true enthusiast of Japan.

About the folk tales in Japan – its prototypes were already made in 10th centure when Japan was unified by the centralised goverment in Kyoto, formed by the emperor and his nobility members. As the centralised government fell apart, folk tales also made various derivatives, depending on the regions and as a result, it became the huge number of folk tales. Most of them have happy-endings, like Cinderella.

example: Long time ago, there was a village, which suffered from droughts every year. One day, a village elder received a visit from some animals (eg.monkey, bear, frog, fish etc.) or ogre, that offered him a plan for saving the village. Of course, it indicated that it wanted to have one of the elder’s three daughters as its wife. This would act as  bargaining chip for successfully salvaging the village. The elder persuaded his oldest daughter to marry it, but she refused. He asked the second one, and she also refused. Finally, he asked the youngest one and she thought deeply and then accepted. Then the village got the rain fall, which resulted in abundant crops, such as rice, barley, vegetables etc.  After that the girl had to go to its residence and marry it tearfully. In some version of this folk tale, her husband was very good to her, and they lived happily together with their children. In other version, after several years later she killed her husband, came back to the village with a lot of treasures, or there was no place for her to live, even if she succeeded in gaining backing from the animal world. There are many versions like these, which are interpreted by modern studies.

Moreover, there are many folk tales about “repaying kindness”,”filial piety”, being born inside a peach or a bamboo shoot etc.  Essentially many stories of heroes were based on someone, who grow up to be a great adult through overcoming many hardships. These originated from the fact that Japan is based on a rice-growing agricultural society (unlike meat-eating hunting societies in Europe, middle-east etc.) That is, agriculture (traditionally, rice growing and producing) needs to make use of people, who can efficiently work at the same level (no need for Picasso type geniuses, who may be very unique, but find it hard to work in teams.) , while it is important to have a fantastic hero in in hunting societies (eg. western societies.).

Thus each village had a public education programme, which sought to bring up the children to become like-minded adults, and they used the folk tales as one form of textbook to achieve this. In some cases, children experience the community life for a short time to study the ways and rules of the village, including, living, cooperative work, rights and duties etc. And they usually have some adult-like ceremonies at the end of this training-nothing as wild as bungee jumping. In other words, agricultural society don’t need geniuses like Einstein, but equalled skilled groups of people, whose combined result would be as great as Einstein’s. Therefore, even if geniuses are born, according to probability, he/she is either ruined while they are growing up in Japan or they find better lives in the west. This remain much the same even today. Nowadays, such systems no longer exist, due to the modernisation of the agricultural industries, migration to the big cities, and changes in village society life, such as spreading of individualism and breaking free from closed society.

Such mutual estrangement has brought about democratic society, but is also the cause of new problems.  Some of the folk tales have been rearranged and rewritten by Lafcadio Hearn, and I would like to recommend that you read them if you are interested.

Fasten it up with rope!“, “No, no, say it loudly”,Fasten it up with rope!“, “No, no, say it loudly“.

Such a verbal exchange had taken place over and over again so many times between the boy and his mother. The boy shedded tears. “One more time!“, the mother shouted. The boy was made to say “Fasten it up with rope!” in the room, which was situated  furthest from the sitting room, where the mother and the elder sister were sitting there. Unlike western houses, traditional Japanese houses are divided by paper doors, which means that one can easily hear sounds coming from the other rooms. You can experience this in traditional Japanese inns, called “Ryokan”.

It was a custom at that time that every primary school held an annual entertainment festival all over Japan (This is still the case now, and usually in Autumn.). The festival programme consisted of the drama, dance, choirs, reading etc.

The boy was going to play the role of the one, who says, “Fasten  it up with rope!” in the drama, called “Taro Urashima”. The story of this drama is very famous in Japan, and it is known fact that it was established during the 12th-13th century, but its prototype was likely to have already existed before the 10th century. The plot of this drama is as follows:

A long time ago, the children in the village were bullying the tortoise when a fisherman was walking the seaside. The fisherman, called “Taro Urashima” took pity on it and bought it for some cash. He released it into the sea saying, “Never come back to the seaside, so that you won’t be captured again.” Later, same tortoise approached Taro as he walked around the same spot at the seaside. The tortoise said that it would take Taro to a place, called the “Dragon palace” as thanks for saving him. Taro rode on the tortoise’s back deep into the sea, and soon arrived at the palace.

In the castle, there was a mistress, called “Queen Otohime”, who governed the entire sea. Queen Otohime, who looked like a heavenly maiden, also had many servants, who looked like marine lives. Taro was given a cordial welcome by the Queen Otohime, and had a pleasant stay every day. After the stay, which seemed too long to count, Taro casually recalled home, and became eager to go back home. Queen Otohime recommended that he stayed there when he told her of his wish to go back home, but she was unable to change his mind. Queen Otohime gave him a beautifully decorated wooden box when he left the castle, and told him not to open it.

Taro went back home riding on the back of the tortoise. In his village there was no one, who knew him. So he opened the box that he was given by Queen Otohime as he didn’t have a clue what to do with it. Just as he opened the box, he suddenly became very old.

It means that he had spent a particularly long time at the dragon palace.

I suppose there are similar folk tales in every country. At any rate, the major players in this drama are the fisherman, Queen Otohime and the tortoise. On the other hand, the boy’s role is a comparatively minor role with only one line. As the cast of the drama was decided by its director(the class teacher), the pupils, who were cast, were chosen, because of their appearance, academic results, behaviours etc. In short, whoever won the teacher’s favour. The boy didn’t favour well, and that’s why he ended up getting the minor role.

Fasten it up with rope!“, shouted the boy. His mother said, “It’s not enough! No dinner until you can say it loudly.”

The festival was held at the assembly hall of the primary school for the whole day. After the last world war, there wasn’t much choice of the entertainments in the rural village. But this was one of the biggest festivals for the residents of the village as well as the families of the pupils. The audience were taking the opportunity to chat to one another or eat lunch, using the performance as a place to socialise, instead of appreciating the children’s play and only turned their attention towards the stage when they were struck for conversation. This is a similar situation as in a typical contemporary Japanese home, where people watch TV without really concentrating. The boy knew that even if he played his role earnestly, he would never get any attention. That’s why he couldn’t appreciate that night’s practise to shout his line loudly. But because dinner was dependent on the result of his practise, the boy had to practise hard. “Fasten it up with rope!“, the boy shouted as loud as he could. “OK, that’s fine. Why didn’t you say it like that from the start? Once more.” His mother said. Without the moment’s delay, his sister helped him to finish practising, “Mother, that should be enough”, she said.
The next day, the boy had been thinking and thinking until the moment that the performance started whether he should read his line as he did during the previous night’s practise (which would likely to result in a laugh) or whether he would get away with resigning himself to saying to say his line quietly and risk being scolded by his mother. The moment for his role came around quickly. “Fasten it up with rope!“, the boy shouted loudly and instantaneously. The roaring laugh of the audience suddenly hit the boy. He sweated heavily and he didn’t have any memory of what he did after that.