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The Spirit of Gambatte-san

Once upon a time, there was a woman named Ms. Gambatte who lived in Little Tokyo. Gambattesan’s home, like many in Little Tokyo at the time, stood in the shadow of a giant mountain. Known as Kajimayama, the towering mountain stood so tall that it blocked out the sun for miles around, forcing Little Tokyo into gloomy darkness. Without the sun’s energy, plants died, animals went hungry, and people’s bodies grew cold and unhappy.

Every morning, Gambattesan asked the giant mountain if he would help bring sunshine to Little Tokyo.

“Good morning Mr. Kajimayama, could you please bend ever so slightly so all of Little Tokyo could feel the warmth of the sun?” she asked.

Kajimayama puffed out its mighty chest and answered as he always did, “Foolish old woman, who are you to ask a mountain, mighty as I, such a request? I am the great Kajimayama and I answer to no one.”

Unintimidated, she called out to the mountain, “I have asked you nicely many times Kajimayama—but if you will not change, then I will change you!”

Then Gambattesan with shovel in hand, began to dig up the mountain with great determination.

One day a small brown sparrow flew by and asked Gambattesan what she was doing. “Is it true you are moving Kajimayama?”

“Yes it is, little one. Would you like to help?” asked Gambattesan.

“Oh, I am too small to be of any help.” chirped the bird.

“You may be small, but everyone has a role to play,” stated Gambattesan. “I have heard your sweet songs and they make the work go much faster.”

Surprised, the small bird began to sing. Seeing how much Gambattesan enjoyed his songs, the sparrow wrote many new songs about life in Little Tokyo.

Soon, a red snake slithered up to the sparrow and complimented him on his beautiful voice.

“I have heard you sing about the day selfish Kajimayama will share the sun’s warmth. I too believe it is possible. But I am a snake and have no arms or legs. Surely, I cannot be of any help.”

“They say everyone has a role to play,” exclaimed the sparrow. “Trust me, you may not have any limbs, but your body is strong. Could you not wiggle through the mountain rocks loosening them so they could be easily hoed?”

“Yes, I could,” smiled the snake. And from that day on the red snake slithered confidently, preparing the ground for others to follow.

Time passed and one evening a golden star descended from the sky to visit the busy red snake.

“Excuse me, red snake. Everyday I watch you widen cracks in Kajimayama’s foundation. And I hear the sparrow’s passionate songs and poems.”

“Please join us,” said the red snake.

“Oh, I couldn’t. I neither slither or sing,” she flickered. “And unlike my great Father, the Sun, I am barely bright enough to appear in the dead of night.”

“We often work late into the night,” said the snake. “And finding our way home is sometimes scary. Could you watch over us and guide us home?”

“Yes! That will be my role,” twinkled the star. “And I will ask my millions of brothers and sisters to do the same.” From that night forward the stars shined brightly on Little Tokyo’s tiny mountain movers.

Over time, the perseverance shown by Gambattesan, brown sparrow, red snake, and golden star inspired others in Little Tokyo. “Gambattesan is right, if we all work together, why can’t Kajimayama be cleared away?” they asked themselves.

Thereafter, trees offered their sweet fruit to nourish the bodies of those digging tirelessly. Thunderclouds took turns raining down on and softening Kajimayama’s hard soil. And colorful butterflies and ladybugs flew from garden to garden spreading the word about the need for everyone, everywhere to come and help.

Watching from high above, Kajimayama laughed arrogantly, “Fools! How silly of you all to waste your time. Don’t you know it is impossible for you to move the great Kajimayama.”

With sweat on her brow Gambattesan replied, “When I die, my children will carry on, and when they die, there will be my grandchildren, and then their children, and so on to infinity. High as you are, you cannot grow any higher. And with every bit we dig, you will be that much lower.”

Having refuted Kajimayama, she went on digging every day of her life, unshaken in her conviction.

Today, Kajimayama still refuses to bend for the benefit of all of Little Tokyo. But the people never forgot Gambattesan’s perseverance or how the sparrow, snake, and star each found their niche in life. To honor them all, people in Little Tokyo now say “Gambatte! or Fight on! Don’t give up!” as they continue to work to move the stubborn Kajimayama.

If you listen carefully with your heart, you can hear them digging away and asking each of us to join them. Because everyone has a role to play.


* Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo on April 1, 1997.


© 1997 Tony Osumi

activism gambatte little tokyo mountains short story