+The 49th Day@

By Kazumi ShimodateA

At the time of Haruko's funeral and in the days following I was indebted to many people for their kindness expressed through the sending of flowers, telegrams, and letters, but I didn't have the strength to pick up the phone or put pen to paper to say thank you, and as I spent the days living in a daze before I knew it 49 of them had gone by.


Today I'm borrowing space in the troop'sB newsletter as I wish to say to all who were so caring "Thank you so very, very much!"




Haruko passed into her everlasting slumber at 10:30pm on January 27th. At the time she was laid upon a sofa bed beside a large hearth in a western style house. By chance, this house had just become possible to rent on exactly the same day last summer when Haruko said suddenly to me from her hospital bed "I wonder if there is a chance of moving to a house with a garden and good sunlight?"


This house was originally a parsonage, rather similar to the place where Haruko learnt English conversation with her elementary school friends, and when I told her "Haruko, I've found a place just like England in SendaiC!" her eyes lit up like a little girl. At the time I thought to myself "I'll make Haruko happy here!" However, if I think about it now, Haruko chose this place as her final abode, and I was probably only able to find it thanks to God who was granting Haruko's final wish but at the same time was neither going to let her live out her life, nor save her.


For nearly an hour from 9pm on the 27th tears ceaselessly fell from an unconscious Haruko, and my seven year old daughter Umi, carefully wiped away these tears one by one. When the tears stopped, Haruko suddenly gave out a tuneful "Aah, aah, aah" and after Haruko breathed her final breath, Umi cried out "Mummy!" and whilst still clinging on to her, she passed out and fell into sleep. Umi's bedtime is set at half past eight, so one could say that Haruko chose her timing in order to lessen the shock to Umi through her drowsiness.


The first time Umi touched upon the subject of losing her mother was on the evening of the day after the funeral. As I lay down beside her she said "Daddy, I miss her beyond all comprehension." I was somewhat surprised at this adult-like expression and when I said "That sums it up perfectly" I was pleasantly relieved to be asked "Daddy, what does 'comprehension' mean?" Umi's two younger sisters seem to be too young to understand their mother not being here anymore but I'd say they are probably instinctively feeling some kind of unease by staying with me and not wanting to be separated.


After the funeral I asked Haruko's mother, who was living alone nearby, to come and live with us, but I am unable to leave my mother-in-law, who has once collapsed from a stroke, alone with three young children so we are asking a housekeeper and a babysitter to help in our daily lives.


As for little Hana who's just turned one, when she cries there is no stopping her, and one evening she wouldn't stop crying and threw a temper, and I actually became so sad I started crying without realizing it. The next thing I noticed was that she had stopped crying and was watching my face with an expression of concern. When Umi comes crying to me to complain that "Solar keeps pulling my hair!", Solar and Hana are running around after each other which undoubtedly ends in a fight, and what with dinner and bath time being mayhem, I feel I'm becoming more and more distanced from my reading and writing.


At night I sleep with my three young daughters but as Umi decides we have to have a "Mummy story" I tell them a story where Mummy appears. If my eldest laughs, so will the next and strangely enough my baby daughter will also join in, and so the dark of night is enveloped in a cosy warmth. With all intentions of doing work later, I lay down with my daughters until they fall asleep, but most of the time I am exhausted and fall asleep with them.


Rather than me shutting myself away in the house, it would be closer to the truth to say I spend nearly everyday being chased by the ever-present housework and bringing up the children, and although it's a bit late now, I pity Haruko as I realise how hard it must have been for her all by herself. Even now there is a stream of people suddenly visiting to pay their respects, and though it's a bit too late those friends of Haruko who knew her from the beginning are rushing over from far away. And as I watch them shedding tears in front of the family altar, I feel that the sadness in my heart that was at last beginning to settle has been thrown again into disorder and I find myself lost just as I was two months beforehand.


Even when I'm told "You looked after her wonderfully" the fact is I don't feel the slightest bit encouraged, but I am tormented by the irrevocable thought that in the end I was unable to save Haruko's life. It's odd but my late Father warned me about Haruko's cancer in a dream, but why wasn't I able to notice that the pain in her shoulders and back, symptoms of the disease, could have been that? Or, when she had her full health check done six months previous and they said there was nothing wrong, wasn't that an oversight? Or couldn't someone let us go back a year in a time machine? Then we could have stopped her being eaten up. When I am alone, I am anguished repeatedly by thoughts such as these.


I held on to the illusionary belief that there was some narrow path that would help Haruko who had been discarded by the thing called Western medicine, and we tried various alternative treatments. From the bottomless disappointment of someone who has fought and lost, I now understand quite fully just how strong a thing that belief was. In her final days Haruko was like she was being pulled along by a tidal wave in the Indian Ocean; there was nothing to be done. But if one can say that a miracle happened, it was that despite the extreme pain that is usual for pancreatic cancer she felt very little, and also that Haruko was able to die a very natural death without the scientific treatment or any medicine in a way typical to her style.


In the days surrounding the funeral, my mind and body seemed to be paralysed, and I wasn't able to consider the world I was walking in as real, but time passed and along with my feelings returning to normal, I was also writhing in agony at the pain (akin to having my flesh and bones hacked and torn apart by a hatchet) that I was starting to feel. And, upon imaging the regret and vexation that Haruko must have experienced, I would lose myself in floods of tears many times a day.


One day I said to a strangely perky Umi "When you want to cry, just let it out." and she replied again with a deep "I'm OK because Mummy blessed me with the ability to not get lonely." I was left somewhat perplexed. And she continued "If Daddy plays outside like Umi, Daddy won't get sad." It seems that Umi has grown so much since her mother passed on.


However, whenever I begin to start over and pick myself up, I think that Haruko was the one who knew me best. "Sadness is sadness, happiness is happiness." Haruko once said. I think the time will come when Haruko's voice will resonate inside me saying "Hey Kazu, surely you're tired of crying by now?"




Sometimes, when I absent-mindedly look upon Haruko's Buddhist name, her radiant smiling face blooms before me, and there are times when the spiteful question "Why was Haruko stolen away from me so early?" seems to disappear. That's because I've heard this answer. "Kazumi, when I gave you Haruko there was an unspoken condition attached, and that was that you had to return her to me 15 years later, and in exchange I will leave three young daughters with you."


I told this story when I gave my speech at the funeralE but as opposed to anger and hatred towards the words that God had spoken, I felt for the first time that I wanted to express my gratitude and say "Thank you for letting me meet Haruko." I honestly cannot imagine a life where I did not meet Haruko. How happy was I made through being with Haruko? In my heart, when all the really, truly happy times I had with her appear before me and I see her spirited, happy face I think "Haruko truly lived!" and I smile uncontrollably.


On March 13th, three days before what would have been our eleventh wedding anniversary, I was curious about the boxes stacked in Haruko's room, and upon opening one of the boxes, out jumped a single photograph of some Indians, which I had never laid eyes upon before. This old man was looking at Haruko, as was the young boy and the young girl. Three sets of eyes directed towards Haruko. Placing the photograph in front of me, I was reminded of what was said to me at the funeral by Miss Takahashi (from the Canon New Cosmos office) and Miss Suzuki (from the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography). "Mr. Shimodate, you have to make a Haruko NakamuraF photo album."


As a photographer Haruko only published one book but there are an enormous number of unpublished photographs. These photos are largely separated into four groups: Italy; Africa and India; TohokuG; Family. I turn towards the eyes of the people in the world who were in their turn looking at Haruko the photographer, and I have started to believe that I probably have some duty to publish these subjects that Haruko saw.


At times, when I think that through this work I may be able to meet Haruko again, or maybe meet a Haruko I never knew, my heart misses a beat, and I think that perhaps I can keep on living.




The one who seemed the most concerned about me not being able to get to the troop's rehearsals because of Haruko's condition, was Haruko herself. Haruko was an important member connected to the establishment of the company and the fact that she came to love the company is most clearly expressed in her taking responsibility for the photography of all the shows and posters. And there is this extraordinary thing when I think about "HamuleH" The thing is that I believe we have to build a stage where Haruko, who said "I really want to see Hamlet done in the company's unique style", could take a picture of us posing triumphantly, and I do think we will definitely be able to accomplish some pretty fine work.


We've only made the first few tentative steps but from now on I want to put the pot of time on to simmer and create a never-seen-before Tohoku Hamlet. And a final word to everybody, I look forward to your continued support and encouragement.




Passionately Searching for Subjects


Photographer Haruko Nakamura (real name Haruko Shimodate)

43 years old.

Sendai-City, Aoba-ku, Komegafukuro 2-1-38

Passed away January 27th 2005



She was a photographer who trusted her own eyes and gave off her own unique sensitivity. Photography colleagues called her 'Photography's thoroughbred in Sendai'. Filled with curiosity, she had never-ending passion and courage. Delicate and gentle. These characteristics were loved by many people. This is backed up by the fact that 850 people flocked to her wake and funeral.


Raised in Sendai, she learnt photography at the photographic department of the Nihon University College of Art. In her twenties she published a photo book entitled "Children of the World: Tanzania" (Kaisei publishing) and promptly achieved acclaim.


The catalyst that led her on the path to photography was gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Five years ago during a lecture at her old junior high school she told her listeners "During my second year at junior high I idolized the Olympic gymnast and failed when I tried to take a picture of the TV screen. The neighborhood photograph shop taught me the trick and I was hooked."


At senior high school she read a photo book on Africa and was drawn to this unknown world. She wanted to shoot the world that she saw. In her third year at University she took off on a solo trip to the African continent. She was bubbling with energy.


In 1989 she returned to Sendai and started work as a freelance photographer. In 1998 a documentary on her pregnancy, birth and parenting entitled "A gift from the sea" was serialized in the evening edition of the Kahoku Shimpou newspaper. The numerous images, which celebrated life and rejoiced at its birth, caused a huge response.


Images from the same work won the creator top prize in the 2000 open photo exhibition "New Cosmos of Photography" sponsored by Canon. The subject was her eldest daughter, now seven years old. Her love for her other two daughters, ages four and one, was also deep. She once related that "From now on I'm going to photograph my three daughters."


Her pancreatic cancer was discovered in June last year. In November there was a reoccurrence and was told it would be fatal. She was spirited and stated "I will not die and leave my family" and "I'm alive!" every morning whilst fighting the disease at home. When the end came, she seemed to slip into sleep whilst her family was watching over her.


Taken from the Saturday 12th February morning edition of the Kahoku Shimpou newspaper.



@ In Japanese Buddhism a special service takes place 49 days after the deceased passes away. This is read 'shi-ju-ku nichi' as opposed to the usual 'yon-ju-ku nichi'. During this seven week period the deceased's soul is still said to be in this world and on the 49th day it is lead away to the next world.

A Names in this translation have been placed in the Western order of Christian followed by family name. In Japan it is the opposite.

B In this article the troop and company refer to the Shakespeare Company Japan based in Sendai and founded by Kazumi Shimodate (the author) in 1992.

C Sendai is the largest city 350kms north of Tokyo in the Tohoku area of Japan.

D Upon death many people can receive a Buddhist name through a Temple which will have some element common to their actual name. This is Haruko's and the Japanese character for 'sei' is the same for 'Haru' from Haruko.

E As the chief mourner the closest relative to the deceased has to give a speech at the funeral, often to say thank you to various people. Not a eulogy.

F Haruko Nakamura is the artist name for Haruko Shimodate.

G Tohoku is the name for the North East area of the main Japanese island of Honshu.

H Hamule is the name for a Tohoku version of Hamlet that the company is working on. The title is actually written with three Japanese characters meaning "rip-no-thanks", and the last two characters by themselves can be read "burei" meaning rude. The Romanized spelling of the pronunciation is purely the translator's style.