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Mary Aikenhead becoming more widely known in Japan

japan-blake-thumbTowards the end of September 2013 a Japanese lady rang the door bell of St. Vincent’s Convent, Cork.  She had no appointment but she certainly had a special mission and purpose for her visit.  Ms Yoko Hosono was received and welcomed by Sr. Mary Scanlan who listened to her story.

Yoko, a retired nurse, was concerned about the sick and elderly and terminally ill people in Japan and was deeply touched by the spirit of Mary Aikenhead and the growth and development of the Hospice movement in this part of the world.  Some years previously Yoko had visited Our Lady’s Hospice and had been given Donal Blake’s book. ‘Mary Aikenhead – Servant of the Poor’  

japan-book-eng1It later transpired that Yoko had already almost completed the translation of Donal Blake’s book and was now wanting someone to write a foreword so that the book could be published in Japan.  Sr Mary contacted Sr Josephine McDonald who agreed to write this.  Yoko was so happy and grateful.  She was on her way to Dublin and the next day was to be her last in Ireland but at the suggestion of Sr Mary and with directions she went to Donnybrook to visit Mary Aikenhead’s grave.

In due course Sr Josephine received an email from Ms Mayuko Kauchi, the publisher of the book.  She wanted confirmation that Josephine was going to do the foreword and requested that it would focus on the origins and development of the Hospice movement.  In her email letter she says:  ‘This book will be the first introduction to Japan of her great work as well as the origin of the hospice movement.  Japan is an aging society and terminal care is a very important matter affecting many people.  In addition, Japan is not as rich as it used to be, and there are many people in financial difficulties.  We believe that it is important to publish this book in order that Japanese carers may become aware of the origin of the hospice movement and its philosophy.  It has been widely accepted in Japan that Dame Cicely Saunders is the founder of the first Hospice.’

Permission to publish the book in Japanese was required from Sr Mary Christian, Superior General and Donal Blake, the author of the book.  This was obtained.  In an email to Sr Mary when Ms Mayuko Kauchi was seeking this permission she says: ‘We want the opportunity to introduce the spirit and the activities of Mary Aikenhead and the Sisters of Charity to the Japanese people… Due to our unprecedented aging society and a rapid increase of poor people, Japan is beginning to face a very difficult era…  Hospice care is not only about medical palliative care.  It is about being with the marginalized people in spirit and in being… This is the time for us to learn from your Foundress Mary Aikenhead, and from the activities of the Sisters of Charity.  It is not about a book.  It is about the belief and spirit one book conveys … how a single book can provide rich and powerful values that cannot be seen by the eyes … We have cultivated the ground to carry such spirit in Japan.’

japan-book-jap1By July 2014 Srs Mary Christian and Josephine both received copies of this book ‘Mary Aikenhead – Servant of the Poor’ translated into Japanese.  Komei Jakanashi, the chief Editor, expressed sincere gratitude for all the support received from Sr Mary.  In a letter to Josephine Mayuko says: ‘ A prominent characteristic of Mary Aikenhead’s spirit was her quickness to recognise a need and her efforts to satisfy it … we will try to convey Mother Mary Aikenhead’s spirit to as many Japanese readers as possible.’

It is indeed inspiring and awesome how much of the spirit of Mary Aikenhead seems to be present in Japan and very encouraging to see the admiration and devotion to her spirit that seems to be so much alive especially in Yoko Hosono who just turned up at our convent of St Vincent’s in Cork with great belief in, and energy for, her special mission to spread the knowledge of and devotion to Mary Aikenhead in Japan.  We have a lot to learn from her enthusiasm and from this whole project.

However, the story doesn’t end there!!  Every year the Blackrock Hospice in Dublin participates in World Hospice and Palliative Care Day which falls in October and for 2014 they developed a community arts project. The project involved folding 1,000 paper cranes to display in the Hospice’s cafeteria area.
For the Japanese, the crane - or tsuru - is considered a national treasure, appearing in art, literature, and folklore.  The Japanese regard the crane as a symbol of good fortune and longevity because of its fabled life span of a thousand years.  It also represents fidelity, as Japanese cranes are known to mate for life.  Over time, the crane has also evolved as a favourite subject of the Japanese tradition of paper folding – origami - as children and adults attempt to master this art.

japan-sadakoShortly after the end of World War II, the folded origami cranes came to symbolize a hope for peace through Sadako Sasaki and her unforgettable story of perseverance.
Sadako was born on 7 January 1943.  She lived in Hiroshima and was a little over 2 and a half years old at the time of the atomic bombing in August 1945.  Subsequently Sadako developed leukaemia after being exposed to radiation and spent her time in a nursing home creating origami cranes in the hope of making a thousand of them.  She was determined to reach a goal of folding 1,000 cranes in hopes of being rewarded with health, happiness, and a world of eternal peace.

Sadako was inspired to do so by the Japanese legend that one who created a thousand origami cranes would be cured by the gods.  Her wish was simply to live. However, she managed to fold only 644 cranes before she became too weak to fold any more, and died in the morning on 25 October 1955.  Her friends and family helped finish her dream by folding the rest of the cranes, which were buried with Sadako.  

japan-sadako2Today this tradition of folding 1,000 cranes represents a form of healing and hope during challenging times.  For example, after the events of September 11, 2001 the Japanese American National Museum’s staff and volunteers, along with many students and visitors folded thousands of cranes, and in a gesture of support and hope for peace sent them to fire and police stations, museums, and cultural institutions throughout New York City.

When World Hospice and Palliative Care Day was celebrated recently in the Blackrock Hospice, Dublin, with 1,000 folded paper cranes displayed in the cafeteria Hospice's area, the Japanese Ambassador was represented by his Second Secretary Press and Cultural Affairs, Mr Yuichi Yamada.  Sisters of Charity Sr Mary Christian and Sr Ann Purcell (who is a chaplain in Blackrock Hospice) were in attendance and Sr Mary presented Mr Yamada with a copy of the Japanese life of Mary Aikenhead, the translation of Donal Blake’s book.  Mr Yamada was very grateful and said he would bring it to the attention of Ambassador Chihiro Atsumi.  Below are some photographs taken at the event.