The Spirit of Anpanman Lives on . . . in Canada too
We in the relatively mild climate of Lower Mainland have been pretty lucky as far as extreme weather conditions are concerned – like the past winter’s record cold spells that froze the East Coast and the Great Lakes area, or the severe, extended flooding parts of rain-soaked southern England suffered, or the record snowfall in February that brought much of highway traffic to a standstill in northern Honshu. Cities like Kofu, Akita Prefecture, and those further north experienced the heaviest snowfalls on record. There were also some simple acts of human kindness that helped bring people together under the extreme conditions, like the action one bakery delivery van driver took that had newspaper headlines proclaiming: “Real Anpanman Arrives!”
Stranded on a snowed-in highway along with thousands of other motorists, the driver on his own initiative took out the still-warm buns and cakes in the van and went around handing them out to hungry, shivering drivers and their passengers. “Why waste the merchandize that I can’t deliver anyway, I thought, so I passed out the buns to the folks,” the driver told the media, while some grateful people young and not-so-young started talking about how the “real Anpanman” came to the rescue.
Anpanman must be familiar to many readers. He’s one of Japan’s most popular manga/comic/anime superhero characters loved by generations of Japanese and Nikkei and other fans overseas since the early 1970s right up to the present. One big reason for the series’ lasting popularity is a huge coterie of supporting characters – over 1,700 so far and still counting – from Uncle Jam, Cheese the dog and Breadhead Man, Omusubi Man to Melon girl who help Anpanman in his everlasting fight for justice against villains like Baikinman.
Anpan, a bread bun filled simply with sweet anko (red bean paste) was, according to records, invented in 1874 by one Yasubei Kimura who ran a bakery shop in the already-posh Ginza district. It was tasty and the Japanese were interested in anything new and foreign, so it soon became a popular snack item. After anpan was presented to (the first modern) Emperor Meiji on April 4, 1875, rumor spread that the emperor liked it and its popularity soared around the country. (April 4th has been officially designated “Anpan Day.”)
Our collective yearning for the spirit of our compasssionate hero Anpanman has been rendered especially poignant by the passing of its creator Yanase Takashi (??????, surname first) in June, 2012, at age 94 after a prolific career as stage director, lyricist, MC on TV as well as a cartoonist and illustrator going back to the early 1950s. Yanase sensei’s parting words were classic Anpanman: “I’m going to disappear into the world of zero.” Also the idea of simple acts of selfless kindness to help others in need has been at the forefront of our collective consciousness since the Great Eastern Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster of three years ago, which has required – and continues to require — a lot of recovery, re-construction and various support efforts, a considerable portion of it by volunteers.
Judging from media reports including vivid photos, recovery and re-construction efforts have been slow-moving in the coastal towns of tsunami-stricken Tohoku prefectures with conditions on the ground remaining much the same since the immediate post-disaster clean-up operations. The need for sustained support from groups inside and outside Japan remains as critical as ever and some dedicated supporters have been doing their share here in Greater Vancouver too.
There have also been individuals actions. Some readers may recall Mr Thomas Yoshiyuki Kamiya, the Japanese Canadian Vancouverite, originally from Okinawa, about whom I wrote in the July, 2013 issue. The retired machinery maintenance expert was featured in the Japanese media for the free-of-charge hands-on help he gave as he toured organic farms in the disaster-stricken areas and other parts last year.
He’s planning to leave for Japan again on April 2nd. He was recently kind enough to pay me a visit to share his experiences with new friends and acquaintances he had made in Japan last year. He showed me many photos of peoples at farms in stricken areas, some tilling the earth again with the help of volunteers from as far as the US and parts of Africa. He also showed me many messages of gratitude, support and encouragement scribbled down in the over-size notebooks Mr Kamiya carried around. There were many references to strengthening bonds between Japanese farmers, villagers and volunteers and supporters abroad both Nikkei and non-Nikkei, in North America and elsewhere.
All I could offer on our part was to report here again on his unique support activity, which has spawned, however modest, new ties of friendship and collaboration across the Pacific in the hope of contributing to that effort in a small way. Anyone interested in organic farming (Mr Kamiya is an expert), helping organic and other farmers in the disaster-stricken Tohoku prefectures or extending any other support can reach him by email at GreenCleanSmile@gmail.com
Incidentally Mr Kamiya happened to visit me just a few days after the aforementioned news about “Real Anpanman Arrives!” had come in from snow-bound northern Honshu, and my wife and I were talking about it. After we exchanged our first-time greetings, he handed me a cardboard box saying “Let’s eat this together.” Inside was – you guessed it – a “cast of sweet buns” headed by our longtime favorite, none other than anpan. These anpan were delicious in their own way – big, Canadian-sized, that familiar fluffy bread was stuffed with plenty of Chinese-style anko. When you think about it, for over 100 years in overseas locations wherever Japanese people migrated, all sorts of anpan adaptations must have been created.
Anpan, Japan’s favorite snack for well over a century, begat our superhero Anpanman who could go on fighting without eating anything because he could “eat himself.” Could that be the essence of the “spirit of Anpanman?”