Oshin, the Japanese serialized morning television drama, was originally aired on NHK television from April 4, 1983. Although, it did not garner much attention at the start, the drama gained
popularity as time passed by and word spread. Later every morning of the week except Sunday, Japanese people from all walks of life turned on their television sets after finishing breakfast to watch the struggles of a poor little girl (Oshin) who overcomes numerous hardships to become a successful businesswoman. As the program gained in popularity ‘Oshin’ became a heroine and the show became one of the most popular programs in Japanese television history
Over the years the name Oshin has worked its way into the Japanese vocabulary, as a synonym for patience and endurance. ‘’Be like Oshin,’’ people urge often in Japan and elsewhere in the globe as well where the drama has gained high popularity. It is said that
there is a full array of Oshin dolls, Oshin posters, Oshin songs and even Oshin sake in Japan. Even foreign leaders, who have visited Japan, have not forgotten to mention Oshin as a symbol of Japan’s postwar emergence from devastation.
Oshin is based on the fictional biography of a Japanese woman, modeled after the mother of Kazuo Wada, a Japanese businessman who created Yaohan,
a Japanese supermarket chain. It is said that the structure of the
story was developed using a collection of anonymous letters assembled
by Japanese Script writer Sugako Hashida.
Oshin has been aired in more than 70 foreign countries, with subtitles and dubbing. Rupavahini is the first Sri Lankan channel to telecast foreign tele dramas. The most popular of them was Oshin, dubbed in Sinhala. Oshin was first brought to Sri Lanka by the veteran artiste Henry Jayasena from Japan in 1989.
The task of dubbing the program in Sinhala was assigned to Titus Thotawatte, a man in abundance of innate skills, a veteran of Sinhala cinema.
Titus and his colleague Athula Ransirilal with a team of 250 dubbing artists did the job to a level which was eventually admired by all Sri Lankan television viewers.
The Sinhala dubbed version of Oshin has enthralled Rupavahini viewers for almost three decades and when it comes to foreign TV dramas dubbed in Sinhala,
Oshin’s popularity is unsurpassed.
The young Oshin was played by an unbearably cute 10-year-old named Ayako Kobayashi. Kobayashi, now 45, was in Sri Lanka last Friday for the opening of Japan Expo Premier Sri Lanka – 2017 at the BMICH, which showcased both Japanese business and culture.
Kobayashi was one of the star attractions of the exhibition and she also spoke with fans before the film Oshin was screened at the main theatre at BMICH on Friday morning. Here are excerpts from an interview with Kobayashi.
Q: It is many years since you gave life to the childhood character of Oshin. Yet the character is still alive in the memory of fans all over the world. Did you ever imagine that Oshin would become a household name in Japan and abroad?
A: I am surprised actually. I never thought Oshin will be so famous in the first place. But today I am very happy about it. Oshin was shown here in Sri Lanka more than 20 years ago. Before coming here I did not have a good idea about how famous Oshin was in Sri Lanka.
But when I got here and got down from the plane I was surprised by the reception I got. The people I met had big smiles on their faces and they greeted me with much enthusiasm and affection. I had to take a lot of pictures with most of the people I met.
I only played the childhood character of Oshin. Now my appearance has changed a lot.
But people tell me that when they see me they see the cute little face of Oshin.
In Sri Lanka I have been quite moved and delighted by the warmth and love shown to me. Now I have a clearer idea of how famous Oshin is in Sri Lanka.
Q: What is the purpose of your visit? Is it only for the Japan Expo?
A: Yes, it is for the Japan Expo. I was invited and am very happy to be a part of this great event. I was able to promote the newly released version of the Oshin film here too. I was able to talk with fans at the opening ceremony. They were thrilled to meet me and I was thrilled to meet them. I will be carrying home both fond memories and new friends.
Q: How can serials like Oshin develop links between Sri Lanka and Japan?
A: I think programs like these are very important to build strong links between two countries both culturally and otherwise.
I think Oshin has helped us to show the life style of the Japanese people, the resilience we showed to rise from the devastation of war, our history etc.
After visiting your country for the first time I think Oshin has definitely helped to strengthen friendly relations between Sri Lanka and Japan.
Since I got down from the plane I never felt like a stranger here.
The warmth I have been received with has left lasting impressions.
From the moment I got down from the plane I got the feeling that I am among old friends.
Q: What are your thoughts on Sri Lanka and its culture?
A: From the information I have gotten you have a rich cultural heritage like in Japan.
I did not have much time to visit a lot of places in Sri Lanka as this was a very short visit. However, I saw beautiful beaches, trees and a lot of nature from the plane. It is really amazing!
I also like the buildings and structures here.
They are very lovely. Most of all I like the Lankan peoples’ affection and their hospitality. Sri Lankans are very warm people. I am impressed with their lovely smiles as well.
Q: What is your fondest memory acting in Oshin?
A: I will never forget my first shooting as Oshin. It was a very emotional scene.
In that scene little Oshin has to be separated from her mother at a river bank. The parting between the mother and daughter was very emotional.
The shooting was done in deep snow at Yamagata in the northern part of Japan. It was so cold. I can still remember it very vividly.
Q: What was the most challenging scene you had to take on?
A: The most challenging was to play Oshin in the cold river waters in Yamagagata in the dead of winter.
I was very small and the water was freezing.
Q: Oshin was later made into an animated movie. And you did young Oshin’s voice. Tell us a bit about that experience.
A: I did not have any difficulty although I was much older at the time. I always remembered the role I played as little Oshin. It all went very smoothly.
Q: What is the response you get from people in Japan.
A: Oshin was telecast in Japan more than 30 years ago. But still people there relate to me as little Oshin. The show is still famous in Japan.
Q: Have you been involved in any Sri Lankan TV or film productions?
A: I was involved in a joint production by Sri Lanka and Japan. There was some shooting in spring and winter. This morning I met the director who made the film. I was very glad. [Kobayashi was involved in the film Kandak Sema based on a novel by Sumitra Rahubadda]
Q: Do you have a message for your Sri Lankan fans?
A: It may surprise you when you see me as an adult and not as the little child you have seen. But still I am the ‘little Oshin’ that you loved dearly. I will be very happy if ‘Oshin’ helps build a bridge between Japan and Sri Lanka.