Oct. 30, 2014
French aviator's aborted but ambitious journey links people 15,000 km apart in Japan and France (2)
The story about Japy’s ambitious flight and the friendship which emerged from his meeting with Sefuri inhabitants took a fresh turn in 2013, when a female Japanese reader organized a reading performance about the episode in Paris and Beaucourt.
After the conclusion of the twinning contract, interchanges between Sefuri and Beaucourt were at a low ebb, due in part to difficulty in actually receiving each other’s mission. The 9.11 terrorist attacks of 2001 in the United States also forced them to postpone related programs. In the meantime, Sefuri merged with the neighboring bigger municipality of Kanzaki in 2006. At present, Kanzaki has a population of 32,000, including about 1,700 in the Sefuri region.
The reading performance has helped to revive momentum for interchanges between Kanzaki and Beaucourt. Kanzaki City officials, led by Mayor Shigeyuki Matsumoto, have spent busy days preparing to welcome Beaucourt Mayor Cedric Perrin and Nicolas Japy, a grandson of Japy’s elder brother, on the occasion of the performance.
Yuko Aoki, the Japanese reader, has written a text for the performance, Les Ailes d’André (André’s Wings), by herself. The canon-like performance is played in Japanese and in French by two readers, Aoki herself and Vanda Benes, a French actress and stage director.
Her project emerged from a casual conversation with her long-time French friend, Jenny Kimura, as she happened to be a remote relative of the Japy family through her mother. The performance in André’s birthplace in September last year was timed to coincide with the annual Japy festival there and played before dignitaries in Beaucourt and a group of Japanese friends of Aoki, including a couple from Saga. The incident has been remembered in Beaucourt so strongly that one street in the city is christened “Sefuri-Saga-Japon.”
Aoki, who worked with Japan’s public TV channel NHK for over 30 years, currently serves as president of the Reading Center in Karuizawa, the sole facility of its kind in Japan. She expects to continue the reading performance at a total of 11 places across Japan through November.
Aoki’s reading campaign culminated in a performance held at a public hall in Kanzaki in late October in the presence of Nicolas Japy and his family, his wife and two daughters and a son. The Beaucourt mayor partially joined the reading.
The visiting Japy family also realized their long hoped for meeting with the author of the book before the performance; they dined with the 89-year-old former elementary school teacher at a comfortable Japanese-style hotel in Saga. The author took the occasion to present a copy of her book to Nicolas.
The aileron of Japy’s aeroplane which Nishikawa saw at her old school is currently stored at a display facility in Sefuri. Another wooden piece of the airplane, the upper part of the broken vertical stabilizer, had been held at a villager’s home, but this is also stored at the same facility. The aileron measures 152 centimeters in length and 42 to 52 centimeters in width, while the part of the vertical stabilizer is 70 centimeters in length and 22 centimeters in height.
The two “witnesses” of the incident were on display for visitors at the reading performance in Kanzaki. Also on display were four pieces of old photos, including the one showing Japy lying on the bed just after he was rescued from the crash site.
These photos were provided by a woman who lives near Fukuoka and whose father served as an interpreter for Japy while he was in Sefuri. “My father could speak several foreign languages. Maybe, this is why he was called to the place where the French aviator was receiving care,” Akiko Takada recalled. Because her father died of a war-related disease outside of Japan in her childhood, she cannot clearly remember what her father talked about Japy. “But I remember this. My father told me, ‘When I began to talk to Monsieur Japy in French, he looked so delighted,’” she said.
Japy continued to dream of visiting Japan again, but he could not. The airman devoted his remaining life mainly to training young pilots and developing air routes in Tahiti and other places. He died of heart attack in 1974 when he was strolling on the shore in Finistére, Bretagne, northwestern France. He was 70. Gondo confirmed this by obtaining a copy of a local newspaper article about his demise.
The reading performance took up not just Japy’s aborted flight but also the history of the Japy family and that of Beaucourt. The two readers, playing as friends in their 50s to 60s, were mutually talking about their dreams for their second stage of life while linking them to Japy’s passion for life and his courage.
The reading performance in Kanzaki was preceded by an opening event, in which 23 Sefuri Junior High students performed a short play depicting how Sefuri villagers, their ancestors, rescued Japy. The school has been performing the play every three years since 1994 as part of cultural festival programs, according to Principal Kazuhiko Kubo.
“We hope that our students will inherit this moving story over years by performing the play,” he said. “The beauty of the town of Sefuri is condensed in the story.”
The year of 2016 marks the 80th anniversary of the incident, which has linked the two municipalities in Japan and France beyond time and space. Nishikawa, a mother of two daughters, is trying to help organize programs in commemoration of the heroic incident for the particular year, soliciting support and ideas from as many citizens as possible. She hopes that the episode will contribute to strengthening friendship and humanity among young people on both sides.