…and a Thousand Cranes took flight
At 14:46 on March 11 2011, an earthquake shattered Japan. The tsunami which followed was even more devastating with over 15,000 deaths, 3,000 still missing and many thousands injured or left homeless. The brunt of the disaster was borne by the north east of Japan, known as Tohoku, an area of mountains and forests with many towns and cities on the exposed coast.
The disaster shocked us all, but my family have connections with that region. My wife was there for a year as an English language teacher from 1997 to 1998, with many friends in the devastated Ofunato City. Waiting on news was agonising, as communities were shattered with no communications, and the reconstruction efforts are still ongoing. Thankfully, friends were safe, but so many others lost so much.
This prompted an idea, discussed at the Glasgow Writers Group: why not write an anthology in aid of the Japanese Red Cross? The idea took wing, with four editors working together, and we contacted writers in Glasgow and Scotland. The response was overwhelming, with writers including David Simons, Raymond Soltysek, Helen Sedgwick, Kirsty Logan and many others on the literary “scene”.
What was more surprising was the range of connections writers had with Japan. Kirsty’s recollection of smoking peach cigarettes in Tokyo, wearing a dinosaur suit. Helen’s memory of a haiku class in Maryhill. Eammon Bolger, Jackie Copelton, Ewan Gault, Paul McQuade and Sam Porter, who all lived in Japan, as did David Simons. Others used their memories and imagination: Andrea Mullaney’s tale of Isabella Bird’s sister, recipient of letters from 19th century Japan. Alan Gillespie told of the “ninja turtle” influence on many childhoods. Katy McAulay has a thumping memoir of the time she met the legendary Geno Washington after a taiko-drumming session. Literally!
The project was enthusiastically welcomed by the Consul-General of Japan in Edinburgh, Mr Tarahara. It was given life by Cargo Publishing and Mark Buckland, who gained the endorsement of the First Minister, Alex Salmond. The name chosen was “A Thousand Cranes”, symbolising the legend that a person can have their wish granted if they fold a thousand origami cranes. Sadako Sakai, victim of Hiroshima, folded a thousand cranes with the help of her friends before she died of leukaemia caused by radiation exposure, and the legend is an enduring symbol of peace and hope.
We launched the new edition of the anthology with the First Minister’s foreword at the recent Margins Festival, in front of an audience of forty people. The readings were well-received and mentioned in the Scottish Review of Books. “A Thousand Cranes” is on sale through Cargo Publishing, with proceeds donated to the Japanese Red Cross. Although it is now a year since the disaster, there is ongoing reconstruction and relief work in outlying areas, and there is a continuing spiritual need to reach out and remember. This was a focus of the recent anniversary ceremony in Edinburgh led by the Consul General, Mr Tarahara, which focused on remembrance, gratitude and hope.
So, please buy our book, “A Thousand Cranes”! It is a wide-ranging vision of Japan as well as a worthy cause of support.
Iain Paton is a Glasgow-based writer of crime and horror, whose Japanese themed novel “By The Sword” was recently published by Wild Wolf Publishing. He visited Japan in 1998 when his wife was on a English language teaching programme in the Tohoku region, which was the inspiration behind “A Thousand Cranes”.