The Japanese originals for these poems were first published in various newspapers in the month or so immediately following 3.11.
Jeffrey ANGLES (1971- ), the translator of these poems, is an associate professor of Japanese and translation at Western Michigan University. He is the author of Writing the Love of Boys: Origins of Bishonen Culture in Japanese Modernist Literature (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) and translator of Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Ito Hiromi (Action Books, 2009), the award-winning Forest of Eyes: Selected Poems of Tada Chimako (University of California Press, 2010), and numerous other works of prose and poetry. He also writes poetry in his second language, Japanese.
Aftershocks of 3.11, by Jeffrey Angles
On March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake took place approximately 43 mi off the coast of northeastern Japan. At 9.0 on the Richter scale, it was the largest known earthquake ever to have hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful quakes in the world overall since record-keeping began in 1900. The earthquake was so powerful that it moved Japan’s main island eight feet to the east and shifted the Earth on its axis by estimates of between four and ten inches.
The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami, which reached heights of up to 133 ft. In addition to the quake and the tsunami, the tsunami lead to the now infamous nuclear accidents at three reactors in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster together formed the costliest disaster in human history, with an estimated $220 billion dollars of damage. More important, however, was the human cost. 15,833 people were confirmed dead, and as of November 2011, 3,671 people were still unaccounted for.
Together, the events of March 11 have been called “3.11” in Japan—a term that echoes the language of the infamous September 11 attacks that changed America. There is no question that like 9.11 in this country, 3.11 changed Japan. As it rebuilds, Japan has been forced to ask itself where it has come from and what sort of society it should become.
What follows are a small selection of poems produced by three of Japan’s most prominent poets. As these works show, each poet presents a unique take on the disaster, drawing on different modes of expression and coming to profoundly different conclusions about the aftershocks of 3.11.
It was mankind that defiled the sea
There is no denying that
The fish are probably weeping
The mollusks are probably lamenting
But even so, was there any need
For you to hurt us this badly?
Could you only be satisfied
By knocking down our trees
Washing away our houses
And taking so many lives?
The only place for the sea is in the sea
Please, do not come aboard land
The anger of earth and sea
Destroyed the home of the devil
And not just the sea, but the land as well
Was defiled like never before
The birds will probably suffer
The children will probably live in fear
It was mankind that defiled the sea and earth
It was mankind that built such foolish things
There is no denying that but
Please, let our future be bright
Some of the documents that came today
Were fastened with beautiful staples
The color of dayflowers
For me who had known nothing but gray staples
Their color was fresh and new
Their elegant color made my heart
As heavy as an overcast sky
Just a little lighter
The purpose of staples is to fasten
No need to worry about their color
But somewhere someone dyed them that lovely hue
Somewhere someone chose those staples
And one of them
Made the journey to me
I feel as if I have joined hands
With those strangers
Through a dayflower
It is not just flowers
That calm human hearts
Even small, dangerous things
That cut a finger in a moment of carelessness
Can set our hearts at play
When the sky runs with sunrise or sunset
When the sky is dyed any color but blue
We are filled and stand transfixed