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Summer 2008, vol 6 no 2
 
 

Poems of War and Peace: Voices from Contemporary Japanese Poets
by Chikurinkan
A Review by Robert D. Wilson

 

Father's war trauma
repeated everlastingly
frozen winter moon

Ikumi Yoshimura


The Japanese have strong feelings about war and the need for peace, having endured the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki .To end the Second World War, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on both urban centers, killing and maiming tens of thousands of innocent civilians, leveling both cities. Nothing like it happened before and, hopefully, nothing like it will occur again. America, under President Harry S Truman, unleashed a monster that today threatens to destroy the entire world. Says Naoshi Koriyama in the preface to Poems of War and Peace, "We know that apes like gorillas and chimpanzees fight in a group but they don't have any systematic, tactical, and strategic methods of fighting. It is only human beings that have worked out various methods of killing their own species most efficiently, using most sophisticated methods, which is war." Adds Koriyama, "The purpose of this book is to expose the evils of war, to emphasize the importance of peace, to stress the preciousness of peace in the world . . . poets all over the world should now sing out loud, condemning the evils of war. . . . We should now all realize that we are at a critical point in human history."

Although an anthology comprised of both long and short form poetry, the tanka, haiku, and haiga in this book are exceptional, meriting perusal and study.

Migrating bird ---
soldiers' graves look toward
their mother land

Ikumi Yoshimura

The Philippines was conquered and occupied by Japan during a portion of World War II. It was a brutal occupation. Filipinos were mistreated, forced into prostitution, and tortured, and slaughtered. When the United States, under General MacArthur, attacked the Japanese occupation forces, the warfare was prolonged and harsh, killing and maiming thousands of American and Japanese troops. War brings out the worst in some soldiers, being young and exposed to horrors no one should be exposed to or have to endure. A soldier's never the same after a war. Soldiers fight wars, but it is politicians who make them happen; and where are their sons? Ikumi Yoshimura, a well known Japanese poet, author, and professor, had the opportunity to travel to Manila, the Philippine capitol, and visit a graveyard for Japanese soldiers during her stay. It was a poignant moment for her and the students she'd traveled with. These soldiers never came home. They reminded Yoshimura of a migrating bird longing to return to its nest, and able to do so via their prayers, the soldier's spirits on the wings of memory.

A Japanese college girl
puts her spring-colored lipstick
on the wooden grave


Japan will never forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A blinding flash, grumbling earth, bits of hair, broken teacups, dismembered limbs, shattered dreams to make a point, to end a war that will never end as long as politicians put wealth and power above human life.

Under the oleander flowers
a body's shadow stuck to the stone
deepens in Hiroshima


Goro Ihara, a retired university professor and award winning haiku, tanka, and haiga poet, speaks out passionately against war, affected by the current condition of the world in the Middle East, his memories of a Godzilla-like monster that threatens to return and reek a greater havoc, the end of life on earth.

Says Ihara, "I hate war that turns a good man into a cruel beast, I reject war that deprives children and women of their warm homes and life. . . . We Japanese, after the Second War, established a constitution based on the realistic utopian dream of pacifism, namely 'The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of nation, and the use of force as means of settling international disputes' . . . the means determine the ends, and the ends achieved by war is not peace, but more war, more hate, at the end both the victors and the defeated become exhausted, and they sign a peace agreement, but all the pain and tragedy remain."

The cicada's chorus remind
Each generation of the tragedy
Of Hiroshima



The cry of a rooster
Echoes
In the village
Deep in the mountain of Haruna
Before daybreak

All the people fishing for ayu
Are cut in half
By the flowing river

A dog frolicking
In the new snow
Has no shoes on

In the new year's madder red sky
An American bomber
Looking for Afghan game

How much I wish
Only I could occupy
That full moon's heart

Having been both conqueror and the conquered, the Japanese people have a unique understanding of war. Regardless of one's political leanings, the book is a good read with poetry that will affect readers profoundly.

 


Poems of War and Peace: Voices from Contemporary Japanese Poets
by Chikurinkan
2007
ISBN 978-4-86000-128-5