Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Dedicated Hakamaira

From the Japan Times of June 19, 2005:

Tomb raver

Staff writer

Teenage years are often a time of confusion. But for one 37-year-old who goes by the pen name Kajipon Maruko Zangetsu, it was a time of torment due to family problems and a majorly broken heart.

To escape his painful reality, Kajipon sought refuge in the world of literature and art. He read and read, from Osamu Dazai to Goethe, and absorbed himself in the music of Beethoven and Mozart.


At age 19, by which time he was an out-and-out arts junkie, Kajipon flew to Leningrad in the U.S.S.R. (now St. Petersburg in Russia) to visit the grave of the writer Feodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski, whose "Crime and Punishment" had inspired him. "I wanted to thank him in person for saving my soul," Kajipon said.

But Dostoevski literally changed his life.

"As I stood before his grave, his writings became so vibrant. It felt as if he was talking to me," Kajipon recalled. "Until then, he was just a name, but his existence in this world suddenly felt so real."

Shocked but delighted by this realization, Kajipon then hit on an idea that has steered his life ever since. "If this happened with Dostoevski," he explained, "I thought that the same thing must occur with Soseki and Shakespeare. There was no way that I wouldn't visit them, too."

So it was that Kajipon became a pilgrim -- or what he calls a "hakamaira," a word he invented by combining the Japanese word hakamairi (grave visit) with the sound of the English suffix "er" to signify someone who visits graves.

And certainly he's nothing if not a devoted hakamaira, as, since that first pilgrimage in 1987, he has visited the graves of 600 "heroes and heroines" in 40 different countries.


[H]e makes it a strict rule not to visit the grave of anyone whose works he is not familiar with -- or hasn't been impressed by. "This isn't sightseeing; that would be very rude," he insists.


[Read the whole story]

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