MATSUE, SHIMANE PREF. – A Japanese tea distributor in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, has produced T-shirts carrying an image of Lafcadio Hearn’s 1897 book that introduced the word “tsunami” to the world, to help support the victims of the March triple disaster.
The distributor is planning to sell the T-shirts via mail-order and at an exhibition in New York of works related to Hearn from Sept. 30 to Oct. 14 at the Nippon Club, a Japanese social club.
According to Bon Koizumi, 50, Hearn’s great-grandson and a professor at the University of Shimane Junior College in Matsue, the tale of the “Living God” included in the Greek-born writer’s book “Gleanings in Buddha-Fields” is based on a true story about how an influential resident in a village in Wakayama Prefecture saved many villagers’ lives by setting fire to rice sheaves in his own fields to warn them of tsunami when the village was hit by the Ansei-Nankai earthquake in 1854.
The story by Hearn, known as Yakumo Koizumi in Japan, was later rewritten as “The Fire of Rice Sheaves” and adopted for use in national textbooks in the 1930s and 1940s in Japan. After the 2004 tsunami and earthquakes off Sumatra, the story was translated into over 10 languages, including Indonesian, Thai, Bengali and Sinhala, and used for disaster-preparedness training, according to the professor.
Just after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Koizumi received an email from friends living overseas suggesting that Matsue, where Hearn once lived arriving leaving America, initiate a charity drive to support people affected by the disaster.
Koizumi consulted an old friend in Matsue, Hisao Nakamura, 57, president of Nakamura Chaho Corp., for an idea. Nakamura is the vendor of “Lafcadio coffee,” which he says reproduced the taste of Hearn’s favorite coffee. They decided to make the T-shirts featuring the cover of the first edition of “Gleanings in Buddha-Fields” to publicize Hearn’s thoughts on preparing for natural disasters and to raise money to help people in the Tohoku region.
“Yakumo kept portraying the Japanese people’s way of life to the world. I believe that at this time, after the great earthquake and tsunami, it is very important for people all over the world to know the wisdom of old Japanese people whom Yakumo wanted to show through his stories, and this T-shirt can play that role,” Nakamura said.
Koizumi said, “Over 100 years ago, Yakumo wrote the work in shock at the impact of tsunami. I hope people will come to know of the bravery of the Japanese and how to protect themselves against tsunami. At the same time, I’ll be pleased if we can make donations by selling the T-shirts, even though they may not be so big.”
Hearn, who spent part of his childhood in Ireland, came to Japan in 1890 and was later naturalized. His other representative works include “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan” (1894) and “Kwaidan” (1904).