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Friday, May 29, 2015

Bang A Gong

From the December 1958 edition of The American Club News (Volume 1, No. 11), published by Shadan Hojin Tokyo American Club, I have the following treat.

As part of a gift that will keep on giving for several weeks, if not months, from loyal reader V.G., allow me to present The Lure of Japan column written by Verna Van Zandt… a brilliant bit of lost history.

I've seen other newspaper articles from the 1940s on this subject (I Googled it earlier today), but this is a quaint piece in a newsletter I now own.

Time Gong

Some 40 years ago, a young sculptor in Kasama Village, Ibaraki Prefecture, having urgent business in a distant city, hurried to a local railway station to board a train, but alas, he was late by a few minutes and the train had already departed.

He knew he would be in serious trouble due to his inaccurate timing and in that moment one determination formed in his mind:
"I'll sound a gong and tell people the correct time!"

In those days, the country men in the village had little sense of time and because of this lack many tragedies as well as comedies resulted among them.

Toyomi Miura (surname last), the sculptor, secured a gong and began to sound it every hour regardless of day or night and he has continued the practice for 40 years without interruption!

He cannot tolerate being one second too fast or too slow so in order to be absolutely correct, he goes to the local post office, watch in hand, every hour. Due to this zealousness he is unable to sleep more than 30 minutes at one time.

Twon folks at first considered him crazy but as the years passed the people in the town came to be impressed by the correct time he gave them as well as the beauty of the sound of the gong.

Someone proposed a small salary to be paid him each month and others supported this. Miura received the monthly pay with thanks, but when the payment was forgotten, often months at a time, he never asked for it.

When World War II came, the militarists wanted all the bells and gongs in the country to use for making warships, guns, cannons, etc.

One day Miura received a visit from the military but he spurned their demands for his gong. These haughty visitors came for the second and third time, but upon each occasion Miura opposed their demands, declaring, "Kill me first before taking away this gong."

The force of the saber failed to move this old man and the gong was saved.

Today Miura is well past 70 and the sound of the gong echoes through the town of Kasama every hour throughout day and night.

The old man has never married but lives alone with his gong.

He is adverse to visitors and when one does meet him, his only conversation is, "I'll sound the gong so long as I am alive. The gong is a living thing."

I know that as of 1948, he was 67-years-old… and Ms. Van Zandt says Miura was still banging that gong every hour as of 1958… so we can assume he was 78 at the time of the original newsletter column. 

A couple of times in the article Van Zandt spells Miura's name as Mimura, but I've corrected that here, as well as added some needed commas.

The following is taken from Wikipedia regarding Miura's hometown:

Kasama (笠間市 Kasama-shi) is a city located in central Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.
Kasama was once a castle town and post-station town during the Edo Period (1600–1868), and a shrine town of Kasama Inari Shrine in the Meiji Period (1868–1912). Stone quarrying is its main activity. Utensils for tea ceremony, flower vases, and sake containers called Kasama ware are produced here.[1]
As of 2003, the city had an estimated population of 29,776 and the total area was 131.61km². Kasama officially achieved city status on August 1, 1958, after the towns of Kasama and Inada were merged.
On March 19, 2006, Kasama absorbed the towns of Tomobe and Iwama (both from Nishiibaraki District), and the new city hall is located at the former Tomobe Town Hall. Tomobe has become the new city's administrative center because it is more populous than the former Kasama.

There's more, but at no point is old Miura even mentioned… not even a footnote. I'm a bit surprised.

I know the old boy did indeed seem a bit looney - and probably even more so from the lack of sleep, but that gong is a part of the town's history. What happened to it? Miura-san called it a 'living thing.'

There should be a statue erected of him - complete with working gong.

If anyone has any more information on Miura-san, please pass it along to me,

Somewhere listening to T-Rex,
Andrew Joseph

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