Monday, March 14, 2011

Bear wrestling, sumo style

My posts are always writing or story-telling related, even if the relation is sometimes as slim as a politician's promises. The disaster in Japan has been very much on my mind, and all my little writing ups and downs and discoveries seem like minor silly things right now.

I'm sure everyone has seen the sob-inducing scenes of tsunami destruction. But it's so easy to forget about other people's problems, especially if you don't have any personal connection there. I don't know anyone from Japan or even anybody that's been to visit there! My sum total knowledge of Japan is from WWII war films my dad loves and from Memoirs of a Geisha.

To educate myself and my little girls a little more about Japan, we've been looking at maps and pictures and I've been reading them some Japanese folktales. Which is where the bear-wrestling comes in (and the link to writing/storytelling).

Kintaro is the folktale of a little boy with super-human power. His mother was forced to flee to the mountains when he was a baby. He grew up with animals as his friends and he would sumo-wrestle with bears (doesn't that conjure up quite the image!!)

Instead of riding a horse, Kintaro used a bear as his mount. His great strength was witnessed by a samurai, who asked the wild boy to join him. He was reluctant to leave his mother all alone (ah, the tender-hearted hero) but with her encouragement he went on to become a great samauri and win renown by defeating a terrible ogre (a Japanese "oni" - just discovered me a new mythical creature - cool!)

Just to balance all the depressing images we've been seeing on the news from Japan, I'm including a couple beautiful pictures. I'm a geographer, so I'm always fascinated by unique land forms and natural wonders. This is a picture of Amanohashidate, a natural land bridge on the western shore of Honshu, the largest island of Japan (did you know Japan has over 3000 islands? though only 426 are inhabited).

Japan is also famous for its gardens. This a picture of Kenroku-en at fall, click the link to see many more beautiful photos. Both the land bridge and the garden were unaffected by the earthquake.

I hope this story and these pictures keep you thinking of Japan and sending hope and prayers to the hundreds of thousands affected by the earthquake.

Other more encouraging news: did you hear Carolina Valdez Miller got an agent! YAYYYYYY! She and some friends are hosting a hugi-humungi-awesomi collection of giveaways. And I hope you've heard of Tahereh Mafi's excellent book deal news, too. If you haven't discovered their blogs yet, I predict your week will be considerably brightened now that you have.

My writing life had a little brightening/inspiring moment this weekend, too, when my daughter brought home her school art on Friday and showed me her drawing of a heart garden.

Heart Garden.

What image do those two words generate in your imagination? My little brain just went OOO-AHHH at that image. Take two unrelated things - hearts and gardens - and put them together and all sorts of new ideas bloom out of that union.

Have you had any unexpected ideas or inspirations lately, or something beautiful that came out of a disaster?


  1. Well done your wonderful daughter for setting your inspiration writerly mojo aflame!! Yay!! Wonderful!!!! Thanks for this lovely telling of Kintaro - it's a lovely story!!!

    Oh Yay for Carolina Valdez Miller!! Wonderful, wonderful news!! yay!! Awwww and thanks for the info about Tahereh Mafi's book deal too - that's excellent!!!

    Erm... something beautiful out of a disaster.. erm... well years ago, I attempted to bake (well deep fry! LOL!) doughnuts and they came out rock solid and I was most upset - BUT my brother thought they tasted great as big bad biscuits! :-) Take care

  2. Wow, lots of great info about Japan! What a nice homage.

    Lots of positive stuff happening in the literary world with book deals and agenting, yay!!!

  3. That's a beautiful image! Heart garden. I love that. And I feel so bad for the people of Japan as well. Check out Maureen Johnson's blog if you haven't. She's fundraising for Shelter Box. I couldn't give much, but I donated there. My heart goes out to them.

  4. What wonderful pictures.

    Love the idea of riding a bear. A great example of turning a common idea on its head.

  5. I'm a big fan of the Japanese fox spirits they call kitsune :D

    Those are beautiful pictures. It breaks my heart what they're going through.

  6. I am a huge fan of Japanese mythology and their supernatural creatures called Kappas. Right now my heart is crying for Japan.

    Thanks for tweeting about my post on points for children's writers. Pleased to meet you, Margo.

  7. I forgot about Japan's beautiful gardens. My heart goes out to the nation. It really puts things into perspective.

    And yay for Carolyn and Tahereh. :D

  8. Thank you for sharing those beautiful photos and for reminding us of the good. It's hard not to be disheartened by recent events, all over the world, actually, but we still have to get through our day.

  9. Yes, my heart is breaking for Japan and I STILL haven't heard from writer, Thersa Maatsura and I'm really getting scared for her. I hope she's ok. I don't THINK she was on the island most affected, but my understanding of Japan's geography is somewhat limited.

    I discovered the awe-inspiring celebration of Carolina's agenting last night. LOL Thanks for the tip, though.

  10. Thanks for reminding us of the beauty of Japan. Oh a heart-Garden. Now that's inspiring. You won second place in my 200 follower giveaway ( Congrats. I'll get with you this week about your prize or you can email me at

  11. Beautiful post, Margo. I love your impulse to learn about Japan during this time of tragedy-to contextualize and humanize what seems to awful and remote. Perhaps the best and most constructive response I've yet heard of.

    And yes! I was unable to sleep last night, besieged as I was by a bubbling kalaedoscope of ideas and inspirations. I'm about to start writing a new novel for my first million words project, and it looks like I'm going to be blending Christian Gnosticism with certain aspects of Hinduism, throwing a little Dante's Inferno with the style of Sin City into the mix. I'm excited, nervous, but most of all itching to get started. Nothing like striking while the iron is hot!

  12. Old Kitty- the making donuts disaster is more common than you'd think! But seriously, it's almost impossible to make sugar, flour and fat come out inedible - even its not quite what you'd expect. I know I've made accidental short-bread a few times!

    Kay - I know - as soon as I saw that picture of the boy on the bear my mind just did a happy dance! I mean yes there are other famous bear riders out there (the Golden Compass) but i wonder if this folktale is where that idea came from?

    Lori and Rachna - I am off to check out kisunes and kappas right now! I am a mythological creature addict!

  13. I think that's really neat that you decided to educate yourself and your daughters. Those beautiful pictures only make the devastating ones more poignant. My heart really does go out to all the Japanese who have suffered.

    I love your daughter's idea. Little kid's minds are so free and uninhibited. The novels they could write!!

  14. I love Japanese gardens. I've never been to Japan but have visited Japanese style gardens in the US. It's so heartbreaking to see the before and after photos of Japan. :(

    The heart garden sounds so cute!

  15. All the happy news in the blogosphere is wonderful! And all the news from Japan is heart-breaking. What a world-changing experience. I can only imagine.

    Best of luck with your new idea. Sounds fun!

  16. I never knew all of that about Japan! Thanks for sharing.

    Also, Margo, you are one of the sweetest and most supportive bloggers I have ever had the pleasure of coming across. Your comments always brighten my day and are so thoughtful. I hope you never forget that you brighten many days!

  17. Those are beautiful pictures, so different from what we're seeing on the news right now. My thoughts and prayers are with Japan.

  18. Thanks everyone for stopping by and giving Japan some of your thoughts & hopes for recovery!

    Victoria I forget where I heard this but there is a twitter feed for #japan that mentions a list of writers in Japan.

    Phil thank you for your wonderful comment! I love your ideas and your amazing 1 million words goal!

    Candice you are so right about kids and their ideas.

    Ghenet, Janet, Stina, Vicki, Angela, LA Colvin and Medeia: thanks for sharing my love of the Japanese gardens.

    Saumya - your comment is so encouraging - but really I have to credit to a few bloggers who have set wonderful examples to me (have you met Jen/Old Kitty yet?)

  19. Gorgeous photos. Japan is a place I've always wanted to visit. I have a friend who works over there, but thank goodness he was here in Australia when the tsunami happened.

  20. What a beautiful idea to learn more about Japan! I've been praying for the people there, but I failed to mention it to my kids. I'm going to get right on that!

  21. Heart garden made me think of several things: a heart made out of bright flowers, then The Care Bears in Wonderland (cough), then the heart shaped rose trees in Disney's Alice in Wonderland. Phew, someone watches too many movies.

    Even though I just read Memoirs of a Geisha, as you know, your Japanese garden makes me want to get it out again to find all the lovely Japanese place names that roll off your tongue. I should have written them down, even as I read I was thinking I loved the rhythm of them and wanted to use Japanese as inspiration for a fantasy language (or at least some place names) if I was smart enough.

    Good Lord, sorry this is so long, I have a mouth on me.
    - Sophia.

  22. Oh, I think it's absolutely wonderful that you're taking the time to educate your daughters about Japan. Those images you posted are so beautiful. I've always been fascinated by their culture and I do hope that those affected get the help they need and some comfort during such a tragic time. I know they are in my thoughts. :)

    A heart garden - that's awesome! I'm seeing a field of red and green, and doves nuzzling in a nearby tree....

  23. Wonderful post - Japan is such a beautiful country and I love hearing their mythology.

    So much good news going on in blogopshere these days! :)

  24. Thanks for the photos. It is a good reminder. LIke you I've never been there and have no personal connection. Making it personal through pictures is good.

  25. Lynda - glad to hear your friend was safe

    Stacey and Donea - it's a shame that it takes a disaster for me to rememeber to teach my kids about other cultures. Going to try to do this more often.

    Sophia - it is like a fantasy language!

    Talli - I've always been fascinated with mythology - so glad people enjoy me rambling about my discoveries

    Laura - "making personal through pictures" - I like that phrase

  26. What a wonderful way of sending out some positive vibes after this horrible tragedy. (Love learning new words like "oni.") You're a good mama. :) Thanks for sharing.

  27. This was such a great way to remind us of the beauty of Japan, and not just the devastating images we're watching. I've never seen that land bridge before, and no, I had no idea Japan was made of so many islands. Thanks for brightening my day!

  28. My heart also goes out to the people of Japan.



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