Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Here on the grounds of Tozen Temple in nearby Ushioda (just a stone's throw away from Temple Valley) stands a monument to a random act of kindness and bravery. It's dedicated to Tsunekichi Okawa, a police precinct commander, neighborhood cop and local legend who is credited with single-handedly saving the area's Korean-Japanese community from the hands of a blood thirsty mob in the chaotic aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
In the wake of that devastating event, a volatile mix of emotions flowed through the streets of Yokohama. In his book, Yokohama Burning, Joshua Hammer writes that "some army commanders may have viewed the Great Kanto Earthquake as an opportunity to purge the country of trouble makers [and] vent their hatred against all Koreans..." In Yokohama fear mixed with old hatreds creating a tornado of violence that swept up the small ethnic Korean community in a path of death and destruction. Hammer notes that "the army in Tokyo and other areas whipped up rumors about Korean well poisonings... and for several days gave vigilante squads known as Self-Defense Committees freedom to patrol the streets and exact what justice they saw fit."
It was just such a rumor that sent 300 people fleeing for their lives ahead of an angry mob to the doors of our valley's local police station. Not long after the desperate group of innocent men, women and children were given sanctuary within the walls of the precinct station, the state-sanctioned killers showed up looking for their pound of flesh and more. It was then that a man of quite ordinary stature, a simple cop, emerged from within. Staring the prospect of his own death straight in the eye, Tsunekichi Okawa looked the rabble up and down and said "if you want to kill them, you'll have to take my life first, so go and fetch me a jug of that poisoned well water you're crying about." Then jug in hand, Okawa downed the entire contents of the vessel proving beyond a doubt what he already knew. The poison was all in their minds.
When he died, Okawa's ashes were interred in the cemetery attached to Tozen Temple. Years later some of those he had saved and their descendants had the monument pictured above erected on the temple grounds in his memory. This spot and a couple of others in the surrounding area known as Okitsuru (an amalgamation of the place names, Okinawa and Tsurumi)were stops on a multicultural Japan tour sponsored by a Tokyo-based NPO. The tours were initiated sometime in the early aughties in response to a few less than kind words Tokyo's governor, Shintaro Ishihara, had to say about the metropolitan area's international community.
Related post: The Kindness of Strangers