Meiji Era parable on sacrificing for future finds favor in Honduras

Kyodo

The government of Honduras has adopted a 19th century Japanese legend on belt-tightening for the sake of the future as a guiding principle to build public support for putting resources into education.

The “kome hyappyo” legend tells the story of how an impoverished clan in central Japan at the dawn of the Meiji Restoration received 100 sacks of relief rice and, instead of consuming it right away, sold the grain and used the proceeds to build a school.

The “spirit of kome hyappyo” found its way into a policy speech delivered by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Diet in 2001. In outlining his reform initiatives, he urged the nation to “endure the pain of today for a better tomorrow.”

When told of that story, Honduran Minister of Culture, Arts and Sports Mireya Batres decided that Honduras could make use of the parable, which has been turned into a play by playwright Yuzo Yamamoto.

Batres got the English version of Yamamoto’s work translated into Spanish and assigned the Honduras national arts academy to produce a play with this theme.

The Hondurans got technical help from Swa-raj Gekien, a Kyoto-based theater group that produced the play “Kome Hyappo” in Japan.

As part of Japan’s cultural exchange program, the Foreign Ministry sent Shinji Kimura, head of Swa-raj Gekien, to Honduras earlier this year to supervise the production.

“We hope to convey the importance of enduring the hardship of today by setting our sights on the future,” the 70-year-old Kimura said.

The play “Kome Hyappyo” will debut in Tegucigalpa on Wednesday in a special show that counts Honduras President Ricardo Maduro among the invited dignitaries.

A public performance will run in the capital for two days before the play tours elsewhere in the country.

Honduras, a nation of 6.5 million with a per capita income of $850 in 2000, is rated among the lowest-income countries by the World Bank.

The origin of the kome hyappyo story goes back to 1868, when Japan’s samurai-led clans were defeated by the army of a newly formed central government.

The Nagaoka clan, located in today’s Niigata Prefecture area, was one of them. The clan was reduced to rubble after its defeat in the Hokuetsu Boshin War of 1868.

As Nagaoka starved, a neighboring clan sent 100 “hyo” of rice as relief.

“Hyo” is a Japanese measurement mainly for rice (“kome”); one hyo is equivalent to 60 kg.

While most samurai in Nagaoka wanted to distribute the rice among the clan, one of its officials, Torasaburo Kobayashi (1828-1877), proposed that the grain instead be sold to raise money for education.

There was stiff opposition, but in the end, Kobayashi prevailed.

The rice was sold and the money raised was used to build a school in the region, the story goes.