Sunday, January 15, 2012

My 10th Visit to Taiwan (Part 3)

Frog Play

While circling Ittekisui Garden, a stone frog statue caught my eye and curiosity. First, I thought of Taoism as a luck bringing mascot. This frog, however, was from writer Tsutomu Minakami's work. Named Bunna (shortened from Bunnaga, the name of Budda's disciple) by Minakami, the frog appears in his book "Come down, Bunna from the tree", one of the young readers' stories Minakami wrote in 1972, as requested by publishers.

Bunna is a young and stout "Tonosama (my lord) Gaeru" in Japanese, a black spotted pond frog, good at tree climbing. He lives in a pond inside the temple. One day, he challenged a tall pasania tree (Formosan oak), disobeying old frogs' advice not to climb this tree. He thought he could climb to heaven, but found instead a temporary prey repository of eagles, the veriest hell of captured animals such as from a shriek bird, sparrow, thrush to rat, snake, etc. to be eaten upon the eagles' return. Bunna narrowly escaped, hiding under cover between clay. Bunna secretly heard their painful cries and whimpers facing death, with mixed emotions, as they are all natural enemies of frogs. A rat advises Bunna that he would kill himself since he knows eagles won't eat dead animals. Bunna survived eating worms and flies out of the dead rat body, and with enough energy, climbed down the tree after one winter hibernation. Through this tree climbing experience, Bunna learns all the living things survive by eating each other and the life of each animal should equally be invaluable. In this world of survival of the fittest, this book teaches and enlightens young readers with the question and meaning of "what is life".

As I mentioned earlier, Minakami wrote this book in 1972. In the early 1970s, I was planning to return to the U.S. and work toward that very same goal with my heart and soul. I had not thought of anything else but myself up to that point.

The sale of the book wasn't favorable at first. But, in 1978, when the theatrical group Seinenza (Youth Group) adapted it for the stage, sales zoomed. The stage version has remained popular throughout Japan ever since among children. Then Amon Miyamoto brought it to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC as a musical in 2008. The title of the musical was "Up in the Air." Seinenza performed it in Beijing in 2007 and in New York in 2010. Recently there was a milestone production performed jointly by Japanese and Chinese children. Minakami reportedly confided before his death that Bunna may be the work that will be remembered by future generations.

Up in the Air

In Taiwan, as well as in Japan, stone lion dog statues guard places such as the National Palace Museum, Tao's Zhi Nan Temple, Hobe Battery Park, etc. Stone frogs similarly may appeal to the Taiwanese as the Japanese word "kaeru" for frog means return or recovery from illness, rejuvenate or revitalize. Frog stone of Ittekisui may attract Taiwanese visitors.

I was told that Ogori, in Fukuoka Prefecture, has a unique temple dedicated to frogs.

Note of Credit:
Photo of the frog stone statue was a Taiwanese blogger whose name is Hsieh Shu-Fen. The writer obtained permission to use it from her and I thank her.

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