Do you know the comic Dilbert? It’s a comic strip by Scott Adams and in it was the phrase, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” meaning that when life gives you sour lemons, you should make sweet lemonade. In other words, no matter what happens, we can make use of it, and no matter how difficult the situation becomes, there are ways to overcome. It’s one of my friend’s favorite phrases.
One month has passed since the Tohoku-Kanto earthquake. Work to remove the debris, etc. is still continuing and in many of the devastated areas there are very few places where lifelines have fully recovered. Many people continue to live in evacuation shelters, and recovery and reconstruction will likely take much time. Nevertheless, people are helping each other and the day-to-day scene is quite simply just as the phrase says, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Putting heads together and living life. In a television interview, an elderly man and woman talked about how “In the past, life was inconvenient. We just want to return to the days of our childhood.” They also mentioned that “For the children, this is an opportunity to teach the age-old wisdom of life.”
On another note, my father’s family home is in Yonezawa. Although there was little quake damage there, it was still a fair amount. Yonezawa is also the place introduced in NHK’s period drama “Tenchijin” as the land of the Uesugi family. Rinsenji, where Naoe Kanetsugu slept, is near his family home. Many people in Yonezawa are proud of the Uesugi ninth feudal lord, Uesugi Yozankou, a figure who saved Yonezawa from the domain’s financial difficulties and famine. Calling him Yozankou is a sign of respect from the people of Yonezawa. Other than him, there are no other lords called “kou.” Also, the name Yozan is a name he used after retirement. The name Uesugi Harunori is the name used after attaining manhood. He was a lord, but adopted and born into the Takanabe domain (located in Hyoganokuni, presently Miyazaki Prefecture). At the time he became a lord, he was still young and it is said that he often conflicted with the chief retainers appointed by predecessors, however he gave important posts to bright individuals in industry and government, and immediately proceeded toward reform. It was necessary to address short and medium term problems like famine in the Tohoku area, as well as the long term problem of improving the domain’s financial difficulties. The Yonezawa domain’s income before Yozankou was said to be blue flax (Aoso or ramie) or wax. The former was used as a plant fiber, a raw material for clothing and paper. The latter was something mainly taken from lacquer. The income from these began to decline, and it was necessary to acquire other means of income.
First was land reform. In order to increase rice production, road maintenance took place. Agricultural waterways were completed over several decades, and increased rice production became possible. Even today, some of the agricultural waterways from those times are apparently still in use. Along with water improvements, close to one million Japanese lacquer, mulberry, and kozo trees were planted. Lacquer is the raw ingredient for wax, mulberry is essential in raising silkworms for silk, kozo is a raw material used for Japanese paper. In addition, he looked for new industries and carried out purification of salt used in hot spring areas. He tried everything that could be industrialized. A well-known story is that of rice textiles. As well as being a raw material used in the production of clothing, he made a textile mill for the Yonezawa domain. Women farmers were employed and they began raising silkworms and silk production. He is also famous for making the samurai do sideline work. They made the local art pieces called Sasano Ittobori wood carvings and Sagara dolls to supplement income. The famous wood carving is called “Otaka Poppo.” This hawk is supposed to represent Yozankou (one of the characters in the Japanese spelling of the name Yonzankou is “hawk”).
In order to solve the food shortages during the famine, freshwater fish such as carp were brought up. Even today, sweet boiled carp is famous. At that time, rice harvests were poor, so porridge was eaten. It’s said that he came up with the idea to improve nutrition with protein. In addition, how to eat wild plants, fish and meat preservation methods, how to make miso, etc. together with details about the famine were gathered in paintings and put into booklets called “Katemono,” which were distributed throughout the domain. He taught people that if you could put something in your mouth, it could be eaten. As a result, the number of people from the Yonezawa domain who died of starvation due to famine and poor crops was much lower compared to other domains. His reforms were not limited to just industry and food. He also put efforts into education and set up a “suggestion box” in the domain to understand the opinions of the townspeople and farmers.
Although a period novel, “Real Lacquer Country” by Fujisawa Shuhei contains writings about Yozankou and we suggest that anyone with some time definitely read it. Although it is a story from a fairly long time ago, it was made into an NHK drama.
Yozankou’s famous words are, “You can do anything if you try” (rough translation). It changed the words of Takeda Shingen, but he is without a doubt a historical figure who could “talk the talk and walk the walk.”
In the foreign media, because of the earthquake disaster and nuclear accident, the future of the Japanese economy may be dark, but I also think that we “Can Do.” Unfortunately, there is no leader or presence like Yozankou, however I think that his spirit has been handed down to each and every Japanese.