Archive for August, 2008

Yuko Kawano composed the following tanka poem:


Feed [my children] well,

Wrap them in sun-dried futon,

Let them sleep–such bliss



It is normal for parents–regardless of their nationality or religion–to wish above all else that their children will not go hungry.

A certain person was determined to help make Afghanistan a country free of hungry children and provided agricultural instructions to local people. This person tried to sow seeds on land neglected due to war and internal conflicts so parents could feed their children well.

Kazuya Ito, 31, a member of a nongovernmental group was kidnapped by a group of gunmen and later found dead. Seeking nothing more the smiles of parents and children, and having devoted literally everything to the well-being of the local people, there likely was no bounds to his bitter disappointment.

For what cause do the militants struggle when they kill a person who loved Afghanistan as if it was his own country and bring sorrow to the Afghan people? What principles or assertions are they addressing?

In the face of this unforgivable barbaric act, my fingers cannot stop trembling as I write this column.

“Please return my son who has been working for Afghanistan,” Ito’s 55-year-old mother, Junko, said tearfully before his death was confirmed. Her plaintive voice continues to ring in my ears.

With a prayer, she likely waited for the miraculous moment when she could welcome her son with home cooking and a soft futon.

I also close my eyes in prayer.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

何の闘争か。何の主義主張か。・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華


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“Living long is an artistic skill  …” Musings hachiyorenge

When writer Sawako Ariyoshi (1931-1984) was 36, she found herself consulting a dictionary for the same English word she had looked up in the dictionary the previous day. She was shocked to recognize a decline in her memory.

This episode led her to study senility in depth and eventually write a topical novel, “Kokotsu no Hito” (literally, “enraptured person”–a euphemistic expression used to refer to an elderly person suffering from dementia).

She reportedly took the book’s title from a passage in “Nihon Gaishi” (An Unofficial History of Japan) written by Rai Sanyo (1780-1832), a Confucian scholar during the Edo period (1603-1867). The passage reads: “Miyoshi Nagayoshi [1522-1564] falls ill as he gets older and, enraptured, doesn’t recognize the people around him.”

Thirty-six years have passed since the publication of the book, which took up dementia ahead of others as a subject of a novel.

Dementia is no longer a rare disease in this aging society.

I am put in mind of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, 82. Her eldest daughter, Carol Thatcher, in her memoir to be published shortly, reportedly reveals that her mother’s dementia worsened to the extent that she forgot her husband was dead.

I was sad to hear the news sent from Britain of Baroness Thatcher’s dementia as I remembered the Iron Lady’s quotes such as, “What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?” and “I’ve got a woman’s ability to stick to a job and get on with it when everyone else walks off and leaves it.”

“Living long is an artistic skill”–these are words poet Isamu Yoshii (1886-1960) delivered to master rakugo comic storyteller Katsura Bunraku VIII (1892-1971).


Which spring was that when

I told rakugoka Bunraku

Living long is one of the artistic skills


I recognize anew the difficulty of mastering an artistic skill.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

長生きも芸のうち・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華
有吉佐和子さんは36歳のとき、前日に辞書で引いた英単語をまた引いている自分に気づき、記憶の衰えに愕然(がくぜん)とした。老いを究めようと思い立ち、やがて話題作「恍惚(こうこつ)の人」を書く◆題名は頼山陽「日本外史」の一節、「三好長慶(ながよし)、老いて病み、恍惚として人を識(し)らず」から採ったという。認知症をいち早く取り上げた小説が世に出て36年、いまでは高齢社会のごく身近な病となったが、「あの人が…」と思えば胸に去来するものがある◆マーガレット・サッチャー元英国首相(82)の長女が近く出版する回想録のなかで、元首相の認知症が進み、夫君が死去したことも忘れるほど記憶力が減退していることを明かしたという◆「コンセンサス(合意)の旗の下で、誰が戦いに勝ったか?」「たとえ一人になっても、私が正しければ問題はない」等々、“鉄の女”と呼ばれた人の語録を思い起こし、英国から届いた知らせを寂しく聴いた◆「長生きも芸のうち…」とは歌人、吉井勇が八代目桂文楽に贈った言葉である。〈長生きも芸のうちぞと落語(はなし)家(か)の 文楽に言ひしはいつの春にや〉。芸のむずかしさを改めて知る。

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“Be mentally immature  …” Musings hachiyorenge

When baseball legend Shigeo Nagashima was still playing for the Yomiuri Giants, he once practiced swinging with his glove on after assuming his fielding position of third base because he could not get his mind off batting.

Tetsuharu Kawakami, then manager of the Giants, did not let it pass. After the game, he vehemently scolded Nagashima in front of people.

Kawakami’s method of not providing special treatment to the star player was praised by Katsuya Nomura, current manager of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, in his book published by Shogakukan Inc., “Ace no Hinkaku” (Dignity of Aces).

The strict guidance of his manager helped develop an unparalleled career of the baseball great who is respected and loved with his nickname, “Mister.”

Wakanoho, 20, who was thought of as a star sumo wrestler in the making–perhaps less was thought of him at times–is blessed with a strong physical build and rose through the rankings at a fast pace, was arrested earlier this week by police for allegedly possessing marijuana.

The police found a marijuana pipe in the apartment of the Russian wrestler, who rose to the makuuchi division less than three years after he started his sumo career.

I wonder if the stable master spoiled the wrestler and did not strictly teach him mental discipline because he was so impressed by the wrestler’s physical strength and techniques–despite the fact that all three elements of training, mentality, physical strength and techniques must be sound to make a good wrestler.

It may be a good idea for the stable master to try to learn a little bit from the great Giants manager.

There are ways that those in managerial positions can provide instructions: One can make the “Mister” shine as a star or one can knock down a budding star by allowing him to be mentally immature.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

心を鍛える・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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“Where neither mistakes nor latitude are permitted  …” Musings hachiyorenge

There is a story of failure that recounts how poet Yaso Saijyo (1892-1970) made a faux pas at a dinner he attended in Paris. While he was making a tour of the city, he was invited to the dinner by French poet Charles Vildrac (1882-1971), the author of the play “Le Paquebot Tenacity” (English title “S.S. Tenacity”).

Helping himself from a dish, Saijyo ladled food onto what he thought was a plate but was in fact a lace doily.

To put his embarrassed guest at ease, Vildrac reportedly said teasingly, “Jeunesse!” (youth). The Japanese poet, who was in his 30s at that time, could not be referred to as a youth.

What the French poet meant was that Saijyo’s blunder would take its place in a treasure trove of memories in which youthful days glitter.

I have been muttering the same word Vildrac spoke every day as I watch TV broadcasts from Beijing. Athletes who failed due to injury, poor physical condition or bad luck must have amassed their own trove of memories. The Olympics seem to be also a festival of youth, or gaucherie.

Having a young girl lip-sync a prerecorded song sung by another girl during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was a mistake. Even if the girl were to have fluffed the words due to stage fright and burst into tears, the audience would have applauded her performance with sympathetic tears.


Spending days

Making mistakes every day

These two things

Could be one thing


This is a passage from Hiroshi Yoshino’s poem titled “Ayamachi” (Mistake). All of us spend days making mistakes repeatedly.

It must be stifling to live in a society where neither mistakes nor latitude are permitted, and the word “youth” is forgotten.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

失敗を許しも認めもせず・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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“Travelers who fell today will be reborn and start walking again …” Musings hachiyorenge

The runner running while repeatedly looking back

What you are chasing is your own shadow and nothing else.


This is from “Kizuiko” (Oriental Paper Bush), a collection of poems by Shotaro Oe.

On reflection, people are living while always looking back, as if being chased. During their lifetime, they have to cross hills and mountains, and get wet when it rains.

The lonely figure of a long-distance runner conjures up the image of a traveler taking on the path of life. If the marathon’s distance of 42.195 kilometers is compared to a duration of four years, the final five days would be equivalent to the race’s last 144-meter stretch. At that point, a marathon runner would be in the stadium and have the finish line in sight.

Mizuki Noguchi, 30, withdrew Tuesday from the field in the Beijing Olympics women’s marathon, only five days before the race, due to a torn muscle in her left leg. It is hard to imagine how mortified she felt after enduring a difficult and lengthy training program to defend her gold medal in Beijing, following her victory at the Athens Olympics four years ago.

In a statement released to the press, Noguchi said she was concerned that public expectations would place a heavy burden on Japan’s two other runners in the women’s marathon–Reiko Tosa and Yurika Nakamura. I realized again how heavy the burden was for the small-statured “traveler.”

I hope Noguchi will take enough time to rest, both mentally and physically, and not look back on her painful experience.


Travelers who fell today

will be reborn

and start walking again


These lyrics from “Jidai” (Era), a song by Miyuki Nakajima, came to my mind when I thought of Noguchi. I think such a day will definitely come for her.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

今日は倒れた旅人たちも/生まれ変わって/歩き出すよ・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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“Finding good rivalry in you  …” Musings hachiyorenge

At a funeral for Yaso Saijo (1892-1970), poet Daigaku Horiguchi (1892-1981) dedicated a dirge to him:


At the age of 20

Finding good rivalry in you

The whip I applied to myself was painful


The two poets must have enjoyed a youthful rivalry in which they fiercely competed with each other.

I remember remarks made by Ichiro Suzuki in the biweekly sports magazine Number. “For me to think I gave my best performance, I need to have my opponent give his best performance in addition to mine,” Ichiro said. His words seem to share the same feeling as shown in Horiguchi’s poem.

Breaking a world record in the process, Kosuke Kitajima, 25, won the gold medal in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke at the Beijing Olympics, his second straight victory in the event. With Alexander Oen, an up-and-coming Norwegian swimmer, setting Olympic records in the preliminary heat and in the semifinal, Kitajima’s eyes took on a focused edge, according to a story dispatched from Beijing by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Real athletic ability is like a fuel tank that can only be filled through hard and unremitting daily training. The catalyst used to ignite the fuel and ensure that every last drop is burned is the unyielding spirit of the athlete as symbolized by the focused stare of the athlete.

With a glint entering their eyes as they see their competitors produce personal best performances, athletes figuratively whip themselves to produce their best, too. The Olympics seem to represent an exacting competition for athletes who can endure the pain of their own whipping.

“Sorry, words fail me,” Kitajima said in a post-victory TV interview. He was choked with emotion for several seconds and could not suppress his tears. With this, otokonaki, a forgotten beautiful word that literally means the crying of a man, springs to mind.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

はたちの日よきライバルを君に得て自ら当てし鞭いたかりき・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

はたちの日よきライバルを君に得て自ら当てし鞭いたかりき・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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His house collapsed, leaving his parents trapped inside. He was able to see his mother’s fingertips, and as he was grasping them, flames approached. His mother, who was buried under the rubble, told him, “Get out of here, quick.” Since he had no one else to care for him, he then thought about visiting his grandmother.

This was an account of a boy following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. He was about 10 years old and had a bloodstained cloth wrapped around his head.

Author Yoko Ota wrote these words, recounting her experience of meeting the boy on a bus evacuating survivors from the city of Hiroshima three days after the bombing, in “Shikabane no Machi” (City of Corpses), her chronicle of the atomic-bombed city and its people.

There must be many more heartbreaking accounts in the book, but I remember this boy’s story every time I observe the Aug. 6 anniversary.

I sometimes imagine the sensation of his mother’s fingertips the moment the boy let go of them. I sometimes picture how the mother’s fingers moved after she told her son to leave.

During this period between the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which falls at the height of summer vacation, I encounter parents holding the hands of their children everywhere I go.

If one is to paint a picture that expresses the gratitude of the ability to enjoy peace, it must be a picture of such families. I cannot help but look at their clasping fingers.

I wonder what happened to the boy who was going to visit his grandmother in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture.

I wonder if he still feels the warmth of his mother at his fingertips. If he is still alive and well, he must be in his mid-70s.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings. The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

被爆の記録「屍の街」・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華

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