The northeastern coast of Japan’s main island was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Under the title Voices from Japan, an exhibition of poems, portraits, and photos conveying the experiences of those who lived through the disaster was mounted in 2012?first in New York, and traveling from there to San Francisco, Colorado Springs, Tokyo, Washington, DC and Pittsburgh. The exhibits included a large number of tanka short poems (Japan’s traditional 31-syllable verse form) composed by men and women of all ages and many different walks of life, accompanied by English translations prepared by three American scholars of Japanese literature. This book selects 90 of those poems by 55 different authors and makes them available to a wider audience. During the show’s Tokyo run, interviews of seven of the authors were also on display, and those transcripts are included in the present volume as well.
The poems about the disaster written both by those directly affected as well as by others from around Japan express much sadness and despair, but are also filled with words of comfort and hope for the future. One American high-school student offered the following comment after viewing the exhibition: “I think writing a tanka is an important tool to give you strength after the disaster. And also, reading tanka is a good tool to connect us with the people in the disaster area. When I read this tanka, I felt sad but hopeful. I wish you the best. Thank you.”
The English translations of tanka in the volume were jointly rendered by Laurel Rasplica Rodd, professor of Japanese at the University of Colorado; Amy V. Heinrich, former director of the C.V. Starr East Asia Library at Columbia University, and Joan E. Ericson, professor of Japanese at Colorado College.
About the Editor
Isao Tsujimoto (1950?) graduated from Waseda University. After stints as director general at both the New York and Los Angeles offices of the Japan Foundation, he is currently director of the Studio for Cultural Exchange.