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A Fire In The Rice Stacks

Author: Satoru Shiraishi, Issue: April 2005, Topic: Japanese Culture

The following is a speech from a member of the Saitama Toastmaster's Club.

Four hundred villager's lives were saved by the wisdom and quick action of the elder in a small village in Wakayama Prefecture, when a huge tidal wave struck following earthquake 151 years ago. Old Japanese people around my age read this story in elementary school textbooks. Now I will tell you this story.

Hamaguchi Goryou was a respected old man living in a coastal village called Hiro in the Kii peninsula. His house stood on a plateau overlooking the village and the ocean.

One autumn evening Goryou was looking down at the village as usual. Suddenly, there was an earthquake. It was not a strong one but he felt endless, long, slow spongy motion. As the quaking ceased, his keen eyes anxiously turned toward the village and the sea. Goryou became aware of a strange phenomenon. The seawater was running away rapidly from the land against the inshore wind. He remembered a story of a huge tidal wave told by his grandfather. "It's an emergency. How can I warn all the villagers immediately?" As it was getting dark, Goryou got a pine torch and set fire to hundreds of harvested rice-stacks.

People saw the fire and hurried up to the plateau. But Goryou said, "Don't extinguish the fire. I want everybody come up here." Knowing nothing people looked alternately at the fire and at the Goryou's face. "Here it comes." Goryou shouted. All looked and saw a long dim line at the horizon. The line quickly thickened and broadened like the face of a cliff and rushed over the village up to the plateau faster than a kite flies. "Tsunami!" people shrieked and scattered back in panic.

All stared at their devastated village speechlessly. When a better time came, people did not forget their debt to Hamaguchi Goryou, declared him a god and built a shrine in the name of his spirit, while he was still alive.

The story of a living god was originally written by A British writer, Lafcadio Hearn, in English, translated into Japanese by a school teacher called Nakai and adopted in elementary school textbooks. To my regret, this book was used for only ten years and then discarded at the beginning of the American style education system in 1947.

I truly want to introduce this marvelous story to as many people as possible. It is my passion to work on this matter as one citizen of a country, from which the well-known global word "Tsunami" originated. Goryou's knowledge of the tsunami truly saved his fellow villagers. If people in coastal villages had some knowledge about earthquakes and tsunami, over 90% of 300,000 victims could have been saved during the recent tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean. Actually in a small island called Ue near Sumatra only 12 died among 27,000 residents, because they knew the possibility of tsunami. Another huge earthquake happened on March 28, as you know. A tsunami surely will happen again in near future. So I am sending this speech script to Toastmasters Clubs in the Indian Ocean area in order to save future victims. And I prepared a leaflet containing the whole story in the Japanese textbook with some background explanation and comments. I have already distributed hundreds of copies to nearby elementary schools and high schools. Many enthusiastic teachers are glad to use this leaflet for language lessen or home room. One month ago I created my homepage for the purpose of introducing this story.

Ladies and gentlemen, please pass this story, in either English or Japanese, to as many people as you can. We must never forget the heroism of Hamaguchi Goryou. Honor Goryou's memory by helping me spread his story, and in so doing, save many people from the terror of the tsunami.

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