Monday, May 31, 2010

A Portuguese Hero starring in a Tokushima Puppet Show

I was planning to attend the Toastmasters Spring Conference and Speech Contest sponsored by Tokushima Toastmasters Club. From Kitakyushu, where I live, to Tokushima by rail is about 500 kilometers (310 miles), which includes the Great Seto Bridge that spans the Seto Inland Sea built in 1988. It is the world’s longest (13 km) two-tiered bridge serving both railroad and automobile traffic.

After you take the bullet train to Okayama, you have to change local trains twice making the trip wearisome. I settled for a slower ferry boat ride on the way there and multiple train rides back. Luckily, I found a ferry service from Kitakyushu to Tokyo with a stop at Tokushima. My idea was to get a good night’s sleep in the ferry to be ready for a full schedule the next day.

There were about 40-50 passengers, mostly with their automobiles on the ferry. We left Kitakyushu’s New Moji Port at 7 PM and arrived at Tokushima Port at 9:30 AM. Despite my best laid plans, I had some trouble sleeping because of the beat of the Diesel engine. I woke up early at 5:30 AM and was able to watch the ferry go around Muroto Cape, the southernmost tip of Shikoku as the sun came up.

Immediately after hotel check-in, I went up Mt. Bizan by ropeway. I’ve been there on a previous visit, but without a camera. The altitude of this eyebrow shaped mountain is 350 meters (ll40 ft) and is a symbol of the city, densely forested. Along the ropeway slope exit stands the white Moraes Museum. The museum building was built in 1972 in honor of Wenceslaus Jose Moraes de Sousa (1854-1929) recreating his tatami living room on the second floor. Moraes' house used to be at the foot of Mt. Bizan.

Moraes was a Portuguese naval officer turned Consul General in Kobe, and after retiring, he came to live in Tokushima during his autumn years, as a writer / reporter for Portuguese papers, including Comercio de Porto of Portugal, for over 15 years. They were all written in Portuguese, a language most Japanese cannot read. Tokushma people likened him to Lafcadio Hearn of Izumo.

It was a 15 minute trek down from the top to find Moraes Square with the guide map where the sky gazing bronze statue of Moraes with chin whiskers and his dog stood. The stone epitaph read “Saudade” (homesick). Here I was told that visitors from the Portuguese Sister City Leiria (near Lisbon) came and exchanged gifts and had a ceremony in front of the statue. I saw a photo of the planting of Jacaranda trees by the same group at the botanical garden of Tokushima.

Back at the foot of the Bizan, I found Moraes Street where Moraes house originally stood. There was another statue at one of the street corners. The area has many small temples and shrines, which Moraes most likely dropped in while strolling. At the authentic looking Zen Temple called Zuiganji, people were bottling water. The women hollered "Tastes good. Drink it!" I was thirsty after walking so scooped up a cup and drank.

Why did Moraes decided to settle down here and die? A Tokushima native Jakucho Setouchi (1922-), a Buddhist nun and writer, who won the Kan Kikuchi Award, a prestigious literary honor, published Moraes’ Love Pilgrimage a few years ago. Seemingly the book was written to be dramatized by the local ballad drama troupe using life-size puppets, called Bunraku or Ningyo-Joruri accompanied by Shamisen music. The first performance took place in Tokushima in 2007. Tokushima is famous for the traditional classic love and hate shows since the Edo period.

Moraes had sired two sons while stationed in Macao with a Chinese lover. In Japan, Moraes married two women, first with Yone (1900-1912) in Kobe and after her death, with Koharu (1913-1918), a niece of Yone, in Tokushima. Moraes visited Tokushima, hometown of Yone, to bury her there. The place must have had some appeal for him to settle down there, instead of his plan to live in Izumo with another girl friend. Koharu perhaps reminded him of Yone.

Koharu delivered a still born baby after marriage. She gave another birth of questionable fatherhood, when Moraes angrily let her return home to Yone’s sister. These incidents are dealt with in the “Moraes' Love Pilgrimage” by Setouchi through the eyes of the local temple priest, whom Moraes befriended from his frequent visits to Yone’s grave. Koharu also passed away soon afterward in spite of Moraes’ effort to save her at the hospital. Moraes’ book Yone and Koharu is reportedly a hit in Portugal.


Sorobai said...

Hello, you have some few errors in your text regarding Moraes life but in general is a good review and good homage. Thank you. If interested I can help you correct the mistakes in the text.

riodan said...

Yes, please let me know what they are. Thanks.