Short story from rural Japan

told in pictures by Susumu Katsumata

Wild geese memorial service, pg187 of Red Snow by Susumu Katsumata
I have spent the last three days of the Chinese New Year holiday season reading a large stack of books I bought recently from and the Folio Society. One was Red Snow, a collection of picture stories of pre-modern rural Japan by Susumu Katsumata.

In this story, a young Hankontan salesman was hurrying home for New Year when he was caught and buried by a heavy snow storm at the mountain pass. A passing farmer managed to dig him out and brought him home. The farmer's daughter took care of the half-frozen man and using her bare body heat, revived him.

The girl took care of him for 10 days straight without sleeping herself. When the youg man recovered, he went with the old man to the beach where the girl was gathering seaweed and catching sea cucumbers. They built a fire from the tree branches that were scattered on the shore. The old man explained that the branches were dropped by migrating wild geese.

There are 10 stories in this beautiful hardbound book. The setting is rural Japan just before modernisation, where folks lived a hard life of unremitting labour. Traditions, myths and passion are mixed in the stories.

Growing up in the 1940s, the artist Katsumata used to herd cattle after school. In such a setting he developed a strong bond with animals and nature. Sadly, in 2005 when Red Snow was published, he fell ill and died in early 2007.

If you want to know whose memorial service the title in the main picture refers to, go get Red Snow. – February 5, 2011

The Wild Geese, a poem | Contents Page