Hi everyone! It’s becoming really hot in Japan after the rainy season got over.
I went to visit the grave of my mother last week with my father and husband taking about 2 hours by car.
It is located in FUKUSHIMA prefecture, 200km north from where we live, TOCHIGI prefecture.
FUKUSHIMA is the place where Nuclear power plant (the yellow point in the map below) accident happened during the devastating earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2011: The Great East Japan Earthquake.
Even now, the stricken area is suffering from aftereffects, being changed to the towns of death.
People had to leave their beloved home and some of them are forced to live in temporary housings still.
Once exposed to such strong radiation, it takes tens or hundreds of years to be restored to its original state. The fact is that even by all the warm assistance from all over the world, it is taking time to recover.
The grave of my mother is situated far from the disaster area, in inland area of FUKUSHIMA prefecture, so we were able to go and visit the grave again this time.
When the earthquake hit Japan, although my house in TOCHIGI prefecture (the blue point in the map above) is 500-600km away from the seismic center, it measured 5 on the Japanese earthquake damage scale of 1 to 7.
At that moment in my house, almost all the tableware fell down from the cupboard and got broken, the washing machine and laundry dryer “flew” and hit against the wall of opposite side, making 30 garbage bugs filled with the debris afterward!
As you may know, it was tsunami which caused the most severe damage in this disaster. The scene that the black water surged over the towns and washed away everything was broadcast on TV many times.
When I recall it, I feel that the damage I suffered was tiny compared to the tsunami victims and it pains me thinking of the uncertainty of the recovery. It is said that the magnitude of this earthquake was 9 and the toll of dead and missing were about 18,500 according to the recent report.
Well, after visiting to the grave, we went to YONEZAWA city of YAMAGATA prefecture (the red point in the map above) which is next to FUKUSHIMA prefecture.
YONEZAWA is well known for KIMONO because it is the production area of “YONEZAWA TSUMUGI” (check out this article for “TSUMUGI”!)
YONEZAWA TSUMUGI is a generic term for several types of TSUMUGIs produced in this area, such as:
- “NAGAI TSUMUGI”: A TSUMUGI produced in “NAGAI area” in YONEZAWA which features large KASURI (splashed or geometric patterns mentioned also here).
- “SHIRATAKA OMESHI”: “OMESHI (a kind of CHIRIMEN （silk crape) which belongs to TSUMUGI)” produced in “SHIRATAKA area” in YONEZAWA.
- “YONERYU”: An abbreviation of “YONEZAWA RYUKYU TSUMUGI”. “RYUKYU TSUMUGI” means the TSUMUGIs produced in OKINAWA prefecture of which the characteristics are KASURI patterns on black textile.
- “BENIBANA TSUMUGI”: A TSUMUGI of which the threads are dyed by “BENIBANA (safflower)” before weaving. Of all the dyes extracted from the safflowers, 99% are yellow so that in order to dye a roll of KIMONO textile in red, 90-100 safflowers are required to get enough red dyes.
When you wear YONEZAWA TSUMUGI, you will feel warmth of craftsmen who inherit the technique manual for several hundred years in long-established YONEZAWA-TSUMUGI textile manufacturers.
When I came to YONEZAWA the year before last, I visited some of such textile manufacturers with my customers, however my target was not the same this time.
When I was watching a TV program the other day, I heard the current United States Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy (the daughter of the late U.S. president John F. Kennedy) speaking that the Japanese politician that her father respected the most was YOZAN UESUGI and that he admired a lot about YOZAN’s outstanding ruling capability and his devotion for the common good.
So, I became very curious about this gentleman, the 9th DAIMYO (a powerful territorial lord) of YONEZAWA domain, “YOUZAN UESUGI” (1751-1822) who is also known as “HARUNORI UESUGI” (“YOZAN” is his pen name after retirement)
Following is the famous saying of YOZAN:
“Naseba naru nasaneba naranu nanigotomo. Naranuha hitono nasanu narikeri”
(Translation: “If you try to do, it can be achieved, if you don’t, it will never be achieved. Achieving nothing is due to one’s own intention to not try.”)
At the age of 17, he became the feudal lord of YONEZAWA domain which was about to go bankrupt at that time. He felt the reform of the domain was his life-time responsibility and made huge efforts to reorganize it.
In order to increase income of the domain, he promoted production of cocoons, safflowers and “AOSO (fibers made from a kind of nettle plant)” making the basis of current YONEZAWA as one of the top quality textiles producing region.
To know more about YOZAN, I visited the “UESUGI Museum” which houses lots of works and treasures related to UESUGI family.
There are also dioramas about the lives of common people of the 16th century as well as a theater showing a short film about anguished days that YOZAN lived after becoming feudal lord.
(It was quite touching thanks to Japanese actors and actresses who gave great performances in the film!)
I also found there “RAKUCHU-RAKUGAI-ZU BYOBU (Japanese folding screens of the scenes in and around Kyoto)” by EITOKU KANOH, a Japanese famous painter who lived during the Azuchi–Momoyama period of Japanese history.
These screens are said to have been sent to “KENSHIN UESUGI”, the first lord of YONEZAWA domain (also known as a “God of War”) from “NOBUNAGA ODA”, a Japanese warrior who initiated the unification of Japan by ending long period of feudal wars. These screens are now one of the Japan national heritage (registered in 1995) .
Finally, we went to a restaurant of “carp” after the museum.
Not only textile business, YOZAN promoted also a carp farming thinking that carps were good protein for his people.
By this short trip, I was deeply impressed by YOZAN and wanted to introduce to the world more and more great Japanese people in its history because I believe that the most effective lessons can be brought by the teachings (or sometimes errors) from our predecessors!