Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Etching the earthquake in the memories of Indian Children - A new form of Interchange under the COVID-19 Pandemic
ISHIMARU Aoi / The Japan Foundation New Delhi

June 4, 2021
I would be in India on March 11, 2011, the tenth commemoration of the Great East Japan Earthquake. What could I do about it? It was toward the end of 2019 that I started thinking about it. It was because of my own experience in the affected area that I wanted to tell people in India about “the earthquake” which occurred in a faraway foreign country so that it would remain in their memory. This was how the idea for “Stories of Courage”, an online picture book storytelling event held on March 10, 2021, was triggered.

I was a university student when the earthquake occurred. I took the opportunity to participate in volunteer activities in the quake-hit area as a part of a university class, and continued to visit there personally. The place where I mainly worked is a small island called Kesennuma Ohshima in Miyagi prefecture. At first, it involved a lot of manual labour such as removing debris from the tsunami and cleaning abandoned houses. As reconstruction progressed, there was less and less work to do. Still, we maintained contact and, even after I started working after graduation, I went to the island to help them with agricultural work and oyster farming, or to run in a marathon event.

Whenever I visited the island, people there always welcomed me and we used to drink together and talk late into the night. On those occasions, I remember them saying many times that they were glad that our bond forged through the earthquake had continued. At the same time, however, I was feeling that it was difficult to stay connected to the affected area while not forgetting the disaster. In fact, now I am far away from the affected area and have fewer chances to exchange words with them than before.

Because of such experiences in the quake-hit area, I felt growing in me a sense of a mission to plan a project which is not transient and will remain in people’s memories for a long time. Some ideas crossed my mind. A photo exhibition? Or a film screening? It may be a good idea to show folk performing art of the Tohoku region…. Just as the project was showing signs of taking off after having meetings with local cultural organizations, the world was hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Above all, India was affected the hardest. The planned projects were cancelled across the board and I was forced to evacuate from India, to return to Japan. It was November 2020 when I finally returned to India. By then all events had to be switched to online.

We had to replan this project as an online event. Just as I was about to give up my original idea of making the event “indelible in peoples’ memories”, I encountered a picture book. The book was called “Voices in the Wind”, which was written on the motif of “The Phone Booth in the Wind” installed in Otsuchi-cho in Iwate prefecture for people to convey their feelings and thoughts to their lost beloved. I delved further, and discovered that there are many picture books with a theme about earthquakes in Japan. This led me to think about translating them into Hindi and reading them to children. My mother used to read picture books to me when I was small and there are many stories I still remember. With just illustrations and a voice, it’s so simple that it is easy to convey messages. Thinking that it could make a lasting impression even online, I selected three more books as a result of my research.

“Mother’s Lullaby” which was based on a true story of a letter arriving from a deceased mother to her children after the quake; “A Dogwood Path”, a story of a mother who plants dogwood trees, which her lost son loved, to mark the path for emergency evacuation; “Moon Shell” where a girl who lost her family is guided by a mysterious shell to come into contact with the souls of the victims. All of them are powerful picture books and we were convinced that these would reach children’s heart even online. Ms. Tomoko Kikuchi, a Japanese-Hindi translator whom I knew well, kindly agreed to translate them.

Furthermore, when we consulted Bookaroo Trust, which organizes a Children Literature Festival in Delhi, in order to reach out to more children, they became our reliable partner, willing to work with us on this meaningful project. Then, two great storytellers, Kapil and Priyanka, joined us. As I heard their wonderful story-telling at a rehearsal, it brought tears to my eyes even though I didn’t understand Hindi very well. Despite the short time period, preparations went quickly and smoothly. I felt as if we were being led by some invisible hand.

On the day of the event, we could see that a lot of children on the screen were listening intently to Kapil and Priyanka read the four books in turn. There was a school which joined the event with more than a hundred of their students in a big hall like a gymnastic hall. Children were shy and it was not easy to get feedbacks from them directly. But what one of the teachers told us stood out in my memory most: “In India, we would not normally think about creating picture books based on a theme of disasters or its victims. It was a novel and appealing idea. With a tool such as picture books, it is easy to convey messages.”

All of the characters in the picture books are thinking of their loved ones lost in the earthquake. I hope that this memory of a story-telling event has been etched somewhere in the minds of children as one of the signposts to understand others’ bereavement and prayers. I am certain that it will lead to further cross-cultural understanding.

Aoi Ishimaru is Director, Arts and Cultural Exchange, the Japan Foundation New Delhi.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

石丸 葵 / 国際交流基金ニューデリー日本文化センター

2021年 6月 4日
東日本大震災から10年を迎えるとき、私はインドにいるだろう。そのとき、私に何ができるだろうか、そんなことを考え始めたのは2019年の暮れの頃だった。遠い異国で起こった「震災」について、インドの人々に記憶に残る形で伝えたいと思った背景には筆者の被災地での経験があり、そして生まれたのが2021年3月10日に実施した、オンラインの絵本読み聞かせイベント”Stories of Courage”である。









筆者は国際交流基金ニューデリー日本文化センター 文化芸術交流担当ディレクター
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Etching the earthquake in the memories of Indian Children - A new form of Interchange under the COVID-19 Pandemic