Tanka poems by readers of The Asahi Shimbun about the Great East Japan Earthquake will be displayed with portraits of 1,000 disaster victims at an exhibition in New York.
The "Voices from Japan: Despair and Hope from Disaster" exhibition at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine will open on June 15 and is intended as an expression of gratitude for foreign support following the disaster.
Organizer Isao Tsujimoto was working in New York as head of the Japan Foundation office there when the disaster hit, but said he had been brought closer to the experience of the calamity by readers' tanka poems published by The Asahi Shimbun.
One poem by Keiko Hangui of Fukushima Prefecture went: "My home place/ has become a town/ without voices, without humans/ it is as distant/ as the end of the Earth."
Overcome with emotion as he read the poem a few weeks after the disaster on March 11 last year, Tsujimoto, 61, said he felt the poems should get a wider audience.
"Expressing their emotions in the 31 sound units of the tanka is what the Japanese do. I wanted to transmit those voices to people abroad," he said.
Tsujimoto, who returned to Japan shortly after the disaster, was looking for something to do after his retirement, and a friend who was a Japanese literature academic at the University of Colorado at Boulder wanted to translate the poems.
Tsujimoto got into action. "I felt that was what I could do at a time when Japan was facing a difficult situation," he said.
He flew to the United States in September and began rounding up friends and former colleagues to support the exhibition.
A Japanese painter living in the United States and photographers in Japan and the United States joined in and more than 20 locals helped with fund-raising and publicity.
Seventy-five tanka poems submitted to The Asahi Shimbun were translated and made into a book. The originals and the translations of 35 poems will be displayed at the exhibition, which runs until Aug. 8.
"This exhibition will be the response of the Japanese toward the assistance given from around the world," Tsujimoto said. "It is something that I was able to put together with the help of Americans."
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine is at 1047 Amsterdam Ave. in New York.
More information about the exhibition, including some of the tanka poems, is available in English at (http://www.voices-from-japan.org/en/index.html).
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