Monday, January 12, 2015

Hocus Pocus Medicine from Kitakyushu Folklore

This story dates back to when humans were close to Kappa, mythical water creatures. It takes place in Koyanose, one of the Nagasaki Kaido Stations between Iizuka and Kurosaki. The mighty River Onga flows through Koyanose.

Children Kappa were hanging out at the river all day, bathing, and rollicking with each other. They particularly liked Sumo wrestling and would practice until the top of their saucer-like heads were almost dry and had to jump back into the water.

One day, a Kappa, imitating human children, pulled a hair from a horse tail for a fishing line. He approached the grazing horse from behind and the surprised horse kicked the Kappa with his hind leg.

"Ouch! It hurts!" He cried out in pain and his arm hung limp. An elder Kappa passing by examined the sobbing Kappa. The elder wrote a 'prescription' and told him to take it quickly to a human doctor. The prescription read:

“Half a snail shell, one whisker from a stray cat, two pieces of yam, and three seeds from a Mt. Hobashira cedar tree. Stir until all mixed together and apply it to the affected limb. Last but not least, make sure to place four cucumbers on top of head.”

Lo, the child Kappa was healed from his wounds. All Kappa kin flocked to visit the doctor, claiming it was an old remedy handed down from ancestors. The doctor prospered, and his patients exited the hospital with cucumbers placed on the top of their heads.

The following is why and how the English version of "Kitakyushu Folklore" was created.

1. Bamboo Press started the trend

In the mid 1990s (just about the time I returned from the U.S. and relocated from Tokyo to Kitakyushu), the Newsletter Bamboo Press (now defunct, see photo) published quarterly issues edited by the Kitakyushu International Association (KIA), introduced translations of "Kitakyushu Folklore" stories, originally published by the "Kitakyushu Urban Association". Translators were successive editors, pairs of Japanese and Americans, including my friend Jesse Rude; I found them interesting and a boost to local pride and history. Upon discontinuation, I counted about a dozen stories, not enough material to warrant a book.

2. Kitakyushu Toastmasters (TMs) bridges the gap

In 2013, Kitakyushu City celebrated its 50th anniversary. The city with a population of one million was established in 1963 by the equal-basis amalgamation of five cities: Moji, Kokura, Wakamatsu, Yahata and Tobata. Many celebrations participated in the celebration in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNIDO and OECD. Multiple events took place, such as the International Conference on Future of Cities, Promotion of Eco-Cities Network in South East Asia and Mayors Forum "Urban Green Growth in Dynamic Asia, along with citizen sporting events, a marathon and Nagasaki Kaido Walks.

To commemorate the 15th anniversary, I proposed my Kitakyushu TMs to donate at least 10 translations of Kitakyushu folklore to match up with the dozen translations of the above Bamboo Press Newsletters and the proposal was accepted. The Kitakyushu TMs started working immediately, but finished late. It was March in 2014 that we submitted it in the form of a CD Master to Kitakyushu City Foundation for Promoting Arts and Culture, the NPO body, successor to the Kitakyushu Urban Association.

3. Promotional Endeavors

I felt responsible for Kitakyushu TMs who donated their time to translate. So, I tried my best to advertise the English version "Kitakyushu Folklore" my own way thinking it would be helpful for studying English at the elementary and junior high school levels. I selected three stories and presented each of them as a monologue "story-telling" at TM meetings. The stories were:

  • Sugao Fall - summer 2014, Kitakyushu TM meeting
  • Yakara-sama - summer 2014, Shimonoseki TM meeting
  • Hocus-pocus Medicine - Dec 2014, Joint TM (Fukuoka, Iizuka, Kitakyushu, Shimonoseki) meeting

I favored Yakara-sama, the story of Heike refugees and Genji pursuers - a matter of life or death situation which transcends time. "Imagine that killers have invaded your neighborhood. They're in your house, and you and your neighbors are hiding in the cellar. Your baby starts to cry. If you had to press your hand over the baby’s face until the fighting stopped - if you had to smother the baby to save everyone else - would you do it?"

4. Some thoughts on Copyright

I know folklore would be hard to dispute copyright, because it is too old and is considered communal knowledge. But I have heard UNESCO WIPO pondering exceptions such as Peru's "Condor Passa." I believe Kitakyushu can claim Kitayushu Folklore copyright on the contemporary versions in both Japanese and English. However, it is my understanding that theatrical performance for educational purposes is always free of copyright fees.

1 comment:

eraigames said...

I will state with reasonable certainty that there can be no copyright on those or any such folktales. While I am not an expert on Japanese intellectual property law, I am somewhat of an expert in American intellectual property law and international standards for the protection of intellectual property. Generally, Japan follows American precedent when it comes to IP and what relevant Japanese IP laws I do know of mirror their American counterparts. American copyright law would not allow for the copyrighting of such materials nor translations of them and so it is no great stretch to assume that the nearly identical Japanese statutes would not either.
Moreover, Japan is a signatory to the TRIPS convention and is a member of the WTO so by treaty Japan is limited in what it can protect through trade and intellectual property laws. Passing a law to create protection for these things would likely be found in violation of these treaty obligations.