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Granddaughter of Man Who Helped Ertugrul Crew Members 130 Years Ago to Hold Charity Event to Support Quake-hit Turkey

Courtesy of Yamada family
Torajiro Yamada

More than a century ago, Tsukiko Watari’s grandfather helped raise money for victims of a Turkish shipwreck off Japan. She is now following in his footsteps by putting on a charity show to help people affected by the recent massive earthquake in Turkey.

Watari has organized a rakugo comic storytelling event to be held Monday at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, or Watari-um, in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

“We want to do what we can to bring smiles back to the Turkish people soon,” said Watari, a staff member of the museum.

In 1890, the Turkish naval ship Ertugrul had ferried envoys to Emperor Meiji when, on its return trip, it ran aground during a fierce storm off the coast of Wakayama Prefecture. More than 500 crew members perished in the tragedy, but 69 survived after being saved and cared for by local villagers.

Torajiro Yamada, Watari’s grandfather, collected donations from across Japan and sent them to Turkey. This chain of events was said to have laid the foundation for friendly relations between the two countries that continue to this day.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Like her grandfather 130 years ago, Tsukiko Watari is looking to help out Turkish people in need of relief.

Her grandfather died before she was born, but Watari grew up hearing of his noble endeavor. Around 2015, she started looking into his life in earnest, and prior to the pandemic, traveled to Turkey once a year for research, where she also deepened ties with the local people. She finally resumed her trips last month, and had only arrived back home when the massive earthquake struck on Feb. 6.

“I had just said to my Turkish friend to be careful as we both live in quake-prone countries,” Watari said. “It’s heart-wrenching to see such devastation.”

In the upcoming show, rakugoka Katsura Shuncho, known for his creative style that delves into life in general, will perform a set he wrote in 2014 that was inspired by the Ertugrul shipwreck and rescue operation.

It was 130 years ago that Watari’s grandfather also arranged performances of rakugo as means of raising relief funds.

“I want to do more than just raise money, I want to do it in a way that connects people’s hearts,” she said.

There will be two performances, at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., but the latter is fully booked. Admission is free, but donations of ¥2,000 or more are requested. The donated funds will be forwarded through the Turkish Embassy. Advance registration is required at 080-3205-7137.