BY DAVID GREER
artwork by Tiery Le…
 

To whom would you most like to apologize? If you were limited to what you could fit on a postcard, what would you write? That’s what Yanase Takashi, the creator of the cartoon hero Anpanman, wanted to know when he took his idea for a contest to the Gomen District Neighborhood Association in Nankoku City, Kochi Prefecture. Yanase grew up in the district, whose name, Gomen, is a homonym that shares the same pronunciation as the gomen in the Japanese expression gomen nasai (I’m sorry). To the Gomen District Neighborhood Association, Yanase’s idea was synonymous with attracting publicity, so they pulled ¥200,000 ($1,800 USD) from their coffers and the first annual “‘I’m Sorry’ on a Postcard Contest” was born at the end of November 2003.

“We would have been happy to get a thousand entries,” an organizer said, marveling at the 2,676 cards the event reaped from throughout the country. Preliminary judging whittled the race down to 29 entries, from which Yanase chose the winner and awarded six other finalists. The results, announced at the end of February 2004 attracted nationwide media attention. “I never thought they’d pick my card,” Shiota Rie, a 51 year-old office worker from nearby Kochi City, said when she learned she had received first prize.

While many submissions were written in a humorous vein, Ms. Shiota’s entry, translated below, was deeply personal:

A year after my mother died, I enrolled in a junior college in Tokyo. This happened the summer a year later. One afternoon, while I was home from school, my father came home with a woman I had never seen before. The woman put a bunch of wildflowers, which she had probably picked on the way over, on the table.

Without hesitating, and without even glancing at her, I threw the flowers into the trash. No one said a word, then or thereafter. I think my behavior probably condemned my father to his subsequent life of loneliness. To everyone who silently tolerated me: I’m sorry.

Ms. Shiota received ¥50,000 ($450 USD) in prize money and an all expenses paid two-day trip to Gomen. Her reason for entering the contest, however, was far from pecuniary: “I wrote about something that’s been weighing on my mind for the past thirty years,” she said. “Now that I’ve finally apologized, I feel redeemed.”

 
I would like to express my gratitude to the chairman of the contest organization, Mr. Nishimura Hirotoshi, and to Ms. Shiota Rie for her permission to translate her entry. The finalists’ postcards can be seen by following the link at http://www.city.nankoku.kochi.jp/.

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