"Everybody has a tree of life. " Author said.

In 1973 Tajima came upon a turtle in a Tokyo aquarium that inspired him to write the book "Gaudi's Ocean - The Story of a Great Sea Turtle." Tajima watched the turtle, which appeared to be sick, and in a rare and intimate moment of eye contact it seemed to make a plea for its freedom.

The writer's first instinct was to aid the turtle's escape, but recalling events such as the Minamata mercury poisoning incident that disabled a number of residents around the bay in Kumamotoken, Tajima began considering the ethics of freeing the turtle in such a hazardous environment.


In the story, Gaudi, a giant sea turtle that lives in an aquarium on the 100th floor of a skyscraper, dreams of returning to his ocean home of 40 years ago. But when he finally manages to escape, Gaudi finds the sea is lifeless and poisoned by dumped waste and fall-out from nuclear tests. While searching for a pristine ocean, Gaudi meets and marries Lotti, a female turtle weakened by exposure to nuclear testing. Determined to restore Lotti's health, Gaudi embarks on a noble quest to find the "tree of life" that possesses a nectar capable of healing all sickness. But before he finds the tree, Gaudi finds another nuclear testing site.


"A gigantic change is taking place and we do not even realize it. But nature will not expose the change, we must find it ourselves …. Through the eyes of the turtle," said Tajima, who has been involved in developing literacy materials for people in the Asia-Pacific region since 1977.


"Everything is connected to water. And everything we do to the water will come back to haunt us," Tajima said, adding that he has seen growing pollution throughout his Asian travels.
Rivers and oceans have been polluted by chemicals used in agriculture, and the poisoned water eventually began affecting the health of the people eating the produce cultivated by countries striving to feed their economies, he said.
The book has since been published in 27 languages in Asia and Pacific.


Born in Miyoshi, Hiroshima-ken, 70 kilometers northeast of Hiroshima toward the Chugoku mountain range, Tajima said he has been drawn to the ocean as a source of all life. Although he is not from Hiroshima city, the target of the first atomic bombing, he became aware of nuclear dangers as a fourth-grade student in 1954 after seeing a movie about the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident, in which a Japanese fishing boat was exposed to fall out from a hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Island. All 23 crew members fell ill or died from the fallout.
Nuclear testing, a devastated environment and cruelty to animals inspired Tajima to express his sorrow at what we have done to the planet, and as a means to provide the next generation with a greater understanding of their present and future.


It took him 20 years to complete the story, said Tajima, who also authored "The Legend of Planet Surprise", a collection of five short stories published in 1988. "Planet Surprise" has been published in more than 20 languages, including Thai, Indonesian Hindi and Urdu.


He said he had initially intended his "Gaudi's Ocean" to end with Gaudi dying, regretting ever having left the aquarium. But he changed his mind and wrote an ending that could offer some promise of hope. Now his story ends with Lotti's clutch of eggs hatching and the baby turtles scampering toward the sea in search of the tree of life.


"Everybody has a tree of life. It is hope we all keep in our hearts", Tajima said.

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(by Yomiuri Evening News)

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