Esperanto
Author: David Poulson


A Whisper from a Hurricane: the Story of Verda Majo

Author: David Poulson
Published on: June 23, 2000

A Whisper from a Hurricane

"En pro milito deliranta oriento
Vi paca, kiel sxafo antau lup', serpento,
Kalkulis cxion kun barakto, sed tre brave."
(Elpin, Paca Kolombo.)

I am looking at an old photograph as I begin to write this latest Topic article. It shows a diminutive, young woman, not plain but not pretty either, oh no, not with that very resolute chin, and the slightly turned-down mouth, and the huge, round spectacles. I turn to a second photograph which shows her standing beside her good-looking husband, Liu Ren, barely reaching his shoulder. The woman's given name is Hasegawa Teru but I am going to call her by the name she was known by in the Far East of "Esperantujo". To Chinese, Japanese and Korean Esperantists she was always, "Verda Majo."

The tale of this pair of star-crossed lovers is romantic but sad. To me, Shakespeare fanatic that I am, they are the Romeo and Juliet of Esperanto history and I hope that you will enjoy reading the story of their life and times.

Acknowledgement In 1982 the Chinese Esperanto Publishing House in Beijing published a 500-page, cloth-bound book entitled: Verkoj de Verda Majo. This handsome volume contains an invaluable introduction by Ye Laishi, (aka "Jxelezo"), who was, at the time the book was published, the vice-president of the Chinese Esperanto League. Jxelezo knew Verda Majo very well and it is to him that I am indebted for the information which follows.

The Student

Verda Majo was born in 1912 and her father was a civil engineer who lived and worked in the Tokyo region of Japan. At the age of 17, she passed the entrance examinations for the Women's University in Tokyo, but instead of enrolling there, she chose to begin her tertiary education at a different institution situated in Nara. The reason for this choice was probably the fact that Nara was far enough away from Tokyo to require her to live in a student's hall of residence and thus enable her to stretch her wings a little away from her home and parental control.

Verda Majo became a model student who was seldom seen without a book in her hand and who regularly contributed short literary works to the university magazine. Then in 1932, she decided to learn Esperanto. What exactly prompted her to make that decision at this critical moment, I do not know, but it resulted in consequences which completely transformed her life.

You may wonder why I used the expression "at this critical moment"? Well let's tale a quick look at the political situation in Japan at that time. (I am providing links which will provide much more information for those who are interested).

The world-wide depression of the 1920's, aggravated by the economic consequences of the major earthquake of 1923, left Japan with serious social and economic problems. There was very high unemployment, both in industrial centres and in the countryside. And for ten years, extreme nationalist and right-wing factions in the armed forces and among the very rich had been building a powerful and dangerous opposition to the elected democratic government.

This simmering cauldron of discontent came to the boil in April 1930 when a representative of the Japanese government in London signed a treaty which restricted the growth of the Japanese navy. Immediately, the chief of the naval general staff resigned, and shortly after that the Prime Minister, Hamaguchi, was assassinated.

The political situation got completely out of hand on September 18th, 1931, when the Japanese army in Manchuria, without any authorisation from the government in Tokyo, attacked Chinese troops in Mukden, overran the whole of Manchuria and finally, in January 1932, attacked Shanghai.

During this period, leading critics of the armed forces were assassinated and on May 15th 1932, Hamaguchi's successor, Inukai, was also murdered.

Predictably, the weak liberal government was not able to muster support from left-wing factions on Japanese society and many workers and intellectuals formed their own organizations to promote socialist ideas from the West, and to oppose the rising tide of militarism and nationalism which was sweeping the country to disaster. These left-wing groups were subject to violent repressive measures from the police who were quick to support the armed forces. Nevertheless, they maintained a precarious existence and some of then encouraged their members by arranging classes where their members could study progressive ideas. One of those ideas was Esperanto.

Esperanto had reached Japan not very long after Zamenhof published his first draft of the International Language in 1887, the first Esperanto Conference taking place in 1906. In 1919 the Japana Esperanto-Instituto was founded, the journal La Revuo Orienta first appeared in 1920, and, by 1932, 20 national conferences had taken place. Tokyo was the most frequent venue, but conferences were also held in seven other Japanese cities.

So, when Verda Majo looked for an opportunity to learn and use Esperanto in Nara in the early months of 1932, it is not surprising that she found herself associating with the members of the Kyoto Branch of the JPEU (Japana Prolet-Esperantista Unio). But after a very short while, before she could have made much progress, the University year ended and she had to go home to Tokyo for the summer vacation.

And what a terrible shock awaited her when she came back to Nara, in September! On August 31st, many members of the JPEU had been arrested by the police and when Verda Majo returned to the University, she too was arrested and imprisoned.

To find out what happened next, please make a note to rejoin the Esperanto Topic on Friday July 7th.

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