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Historic ‘Tanka’ Poem Rises from Japan's Nuclear Ashes
Written by Mari Wakimoto · Translated by Mari Wakimoto On 5 February 2013 @ 5:17 am | No Comments
In Arts & Culture, Citizen Media, Disaster, East Asia, English, Governance, Japan, Japanese, Language, Literature, Weblog
[All links lead to Japanese language pages, except when otherwise noted.]
Striking a match / momentarily / I see the foggy ocean – / is there a motherland / I can dedicate myself to?
This famous tanka  [en], a type of Japanese poetry, is from “Wareni Gogatsu wo ,” the first anthology from Shūji Terayama  [en], a Japanese avant-garde poet, dramatist, writer, film director and photographer.
It was published in 1957 right after World War II  [en], a period of high economic growth. Kenshiro55  [jp], a blogger who reviews Japanese poetry, explains the historical context of this tanka:
The image of a foggy ocean symbolizes the uncertainty or emptiness that was spreading in Japanese society at that time. “is there a motherland / I can dedicate myself to?” : the tone of this question sounds tense, I see the author's feelings of insecurity: there is nothing to believe for his life, including his own country.
On November 4, 2012, Blogger kmirua  adapted the poem to express his feelings towards recent issues in Japanese society. He included a list of words and terms like – evacuation, radiation, shutdown and rumors – which have become contemporary jargon in Japan following the 2011 nuclear disaster:
In the British east coast,
I forgot where it was
Gently I open the door
Silently step out of the kitchen
A dark cloud stagnates the air even more.
The air supposed to be cold
I feel a damp shirt clinging.
feel a humid air on my chest.
Or better yet if I put off my shirt
The air somehow cool,
smelling the salty breeze like sediment,
garbage next door,
and that scent beyond bearing,
I murmur that song.
Striking a match
momentarily I see the foggy ocean
is there a motherland I can dedicate myself to?
Explosive phenomenon  
Planned evacuation [en] 
Cold shutdown  [en]
Radiation controlled area  
Harmful rumors  [en]
Fukushima Health Management Survey  [en]
The Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority  [en]
Kenka no Iroha [the ABC of the fighting ] 
Reconstruction budget  [en]
empty words filled the freight train
Sitting in a cool drizzling German autumn,
I catch a fleeting whiff of that moldy air in the Britain
Are there words I can dedicate myself to?
On her death, I would turn the cardiac monitor off
Without saying so, the doctor reached up
trying to turn it off
The doctor put his hand down in surprise and turned to me,
and said in a low voice,
You wouldn't look at such a machine
I shook my head
I am accustomed to numbers
I treat lives with numbers
That's my job
please don't stop it
Even lives don't have reality.
Are there words I can dedicate myself to?
[note: The hyperlinks in the poem have been added by the author of this post, not by Kmiura.]
What do you see in this modern piece created more than half a century after the original?
When we contacted the Poet to ask permission to place his piece on Global Voices, he asked us to include references to two of his other posts to add context to the poem. One is “Discontinuity and deception ” (June 1, 2012) which takes a doubtful look towards the operations of a nuclear power plant. The other is “She passed away ” (April 7, 2009) on the bereavement of his wife.
 The “explosive phenomenon” is a phrase used by Yukio Edano  , Chief Cabinet Secretary  at a press conference [ja] on March 12, 2011, when nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi power plant underwent a hydrogen explosion after the Tohoku Tohoku Earthquake .
 After the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster  in March 2011, the Japanese government asked people to evacuate dangerous areas  [ja], which is defined as a region where residents are at a risk of being exposed to 20mSv of radiation in a year, (an internationally standard set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection .) Though the government named this area a “planned” evacuation zone, it has been unclear what was actually planned with the gradual extension of the area afterwards.
 Radiation controlled area  [ja] is defined by laws in order to keep people from unnecessary exposure to radiation, where people may not enter. In Japanese, the words sound as if the radioactive emission itself is under control in the area.
 Kenka no Iroha: Meaning the basic fighting skills. This word was used in a provocative remark by Naoki Inose  , the former vice Governor of Tokyo ( he is now Governor), who commented on Twitter in response to the illegal action  of members of the Hong Kong Baodiao movement committee [zh] who landed in the disputed Senkaku Island  (note China refers to the island as Diaoyu, Taiwan as Tiaoyutai ). His remark referred that the basic fighting skills we should be using is to drown swimming people from above the shore.
Article printed from Global Voices: http://globalvoicesonline.org
URL to article: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/02/05/historic-tanka-poem-rises-from-japans-nuclear-ashes/
URLs in this post:
 Kozue Uzawa: http://members.shaw.ca/uzawa/tanka.htm
 Kaleidoscope: http://members.shaw.ca/uzawa/aboutme.htm
 tanka: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanka
 Wareni Gogatsu wo: http://www2.hannan-u.ac.jp/lib/material/recommended/recommend_0805.html
 Shūji Terayama: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sh%C5%ABji_Terayama
 World War II: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II
 Kenshiro55: http://d.hatena.ne.jp/kenshiro55/20110502/1304273896
 Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jrparis/289906547/
 kmirua: http://d.hatena.ne.jp/kmiura/about
 Striking a match / momentarily / Moldy air fills the garden: http://d.hatena.ne.jp/kmiura/20121104
 Explosive phenomenon: http://nettv.gov-online.go.jp/prg/prg4486.html
 Planned evacuation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_reaction_to_Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster
 Cold shutdown: http://www.nippon-sekai.com/main/articles/fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-power-plant-crisis/government-to-define-their-meaning-of-a-cold-shutdown/
 Radiation controlled area: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%94%BE%E5%B0%84%E7%B7%9A%E7%AE%A1%E7%90%86%E5%8C%BA%E5%9F%9F
 Harmful rumors: http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bloomberg.com%2Fnews%2F2011-03-21%2Ffarmers-demand-compensation-as-atomic-accident-curbs-vegetable-milk-sales.html&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFQjCNGZbH9gaxH5NVNjK9D4baiuCYVa7g
 Fukushima Health Management Survey: http://www.fmu.ac.jp/univ/chiiki/health_survey/pdf/en/en_info.pdf
 The Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority: http://www.nsr.go.jp/english/
 Kenka no Iroha [the ABC of the fighting: http://twitter.com/inosenaoki/status/237246862636236801
 Reconstruction budget: http://www.reconstruction.go.jp/topics/20120700_overview.pdf
 Discontinuity and deception: http://d.hatena.ne.jp/kmiura/20120601
 She passed away: http://d.hatena.ne.jp/kmiura/20090407
 Yukio Edano: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yukio_Edano
 Chief Cabinet Secretary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_Cabinet_Secretary
 the Tohoku Tohoku Earthquake: http://globalvoicesonline.org/specialcoverage/2011-special-coverage/japan-earthquake-tsunami-2011/
 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster
 evacuate dangerous areas: http://www.kantei.go.jp/saigai/faq/20110415_1.html
 International Commission on Radiological Protection: http://www.icrp.org/
 Naoki Inose: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naoki_Inose
 illegal action: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E9%A6%99%E6%B8%AF%E6%B4%BB%E5%8B%95%E5%AE%B6%E5%B0%96%E9%96%A3%E8%AB%B8%E5%B3%B6%E4%B8%8A%E9%99%B8%E4%BA%8B%E4%BB%B6
 Hong Kong Baodiao movement committee: http://www.diaoyuislands.org/
 Senkaku Island: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senkaku_Islands
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