“It was a momentary feeling, but I doubted your kindness long time ago. I offer you my sincerest apologies. One spring in the 21st year of Showa (1946), I left Sasebo, Nagasaki to Niigata Station by a demobilization train. On the way to Niigata, I had a long break at Osaka Station, and had a ration of rice. At that time, you started to collect the rice and said, “I’ll boil them for you.” I feared that you would steal my rice away. But one hour after, you returned to the station with steaming white rice. I was reduced to tears then. I never forgot your kindness.”
Imai Kanekazu, a 98-year-old man from Niigata, wrote the message he failed to say 70 years ago, and sent his postcard to “Hagaki De Gomen-nasai” (Say sorry by postcard) festival in Nankoku City, Kochi. For the past 12 years, Nankoku City has held this unique event in which people apologize by postcard.
This event was inspired by a pun. Nankoku City incorporates a unique town, whose name sounds like an apology to someone. It is 後免町 (Gomen-machi -‘machi’ means town in Japanese). Gomen-machi’s history started over than 350 years ago, in the middle of Edo period. One government official named Nonaka Kenzan made a tax-exempt city in present Nankoku City to grow its local economy. And he named the city as 御免(Gomen), which means ‘being exempted’. During the 350 years, its Chinese Characters has changed to 後免, but its pronunciation remained. And by chance, this ‘後免(Gomen)’ is the same pronunciation of Japanese apology ‘ごめん(Gomen)’ which is used among friends and family members. The local joke is the streetcars run from Gomen-machi while saying ‘Gomen (Sorry)’ to a town called Ino, a homophone for ‘It’s OK’.
This Gomen-machi is very famous throughout Japan not only for its unique name, but also as a hometown of one famous picture book author, Yanase Takashi. His most famous work is “Anpanman”. Once he returned to his hometown of Gomen-machi, he felt very lonely because most of the local shopping arcades were closed. He wanted to make his hometown bright again. So, he proposed to advertise Gomen-machi by using its unique name. Nankoku City Officers heard Mr. Yanase’s suggestion, and started to collect apologies from their local elementary school students. During 12 years, this contest grew up a national level contest and named “Hagaki De Gomen-nasai”. These days, more than 1000 people send their messages from all over Japan every year.
On January 12th 2016, the executive committee members and 11 local company leaders gathered at the local community center, Yotteko Hiroba, and held the examination. This year, 1083 postcards were collected from all over Japan. 60 percent of them were from students from elementary to high school, and the other 40 percent were from adults.
In the entrance hall of Yotteko Hiroba, there were a pile of postcards on tables. And the examiners read the postcards very carefully while having a chat each other. One said, “This is excellent! I can feel writer’s enthusiasm.”, and the other said “Such a lot of entries of local elementary school students makes me very happy!”
The postcards from students were funny and cute because most of them included their cute pictures. For example, Ms. Ogawa, a girl from Kagoshima drew a picture of her hamster and said “I’m sorry that I always neglect to clean your house, even though you are waiting for me.” On the other hand, adults wrote heartwarming messages, and their pictures are so artistic. Ms. Shinomiya who is from Kochi, drew a car with Indian ink and wrote “Thank you so much for taking me to the station every time it rained. I am sorry to wake you up so early in the morning.”
This year, the best prize was given to Mr. Imai who wrote his demobilization train memory. His postcard was filled up only his handwriting messages and it looked very simple at first glance. But his story attracted many examiners. Nankoku City Mayor commented that, “His message told us very valuable history.” at the examination.
At the reception of this Yotteko Hiroba, there was a book “Sorry – what I failed to tell you” on the table. One committee member, Ms. Yoshimoto introduced the book very gladly, “This contest is now such a big event like this. Thousands of funny, cute and heartwarming messages were collected all over Japan, and finally they became this book.”
「言えなかったごめんなさい」 “Sorry – What I failed to tell you”
by Kaori Watanabe