On March 11, 2011, a devastating earthquake struck northeastern Japan triggering a massive tsunami and the now infamous meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant. One year later, on March 27, 2012, the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit held a memorial service at the Michigan State Capital’s Rotunda to commemorate the lives that had been lost and to showcase recovery efforts in the devastated region of Japan.
Dr. Jeffrey Angles, the director of Western Michigan University’s Soga Japan Center and an associate professor of Japanese, appeared alongside the Consul General of Japan Kuninori Matsuda, the mayor of Lansing Virg Bernero, and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder at the memorial service.
The Consul General Kuninori Matsuda extended a special invitation to Angles, who was in Japan during the earthquake and lived through all the anxiety that followed, because over the last year Angles has translated and published numerous poems written by various poets about their experiences during and after the March 11 disasters. For his contribution to the memorial service, he read English translations of three poems.
The first, “Do Not Tremble,” was written by the feminist poet Toshiko Hirata during a time when the aftershocks were still rolling through northeastern Japan. The second, “Thoughts Before a Blackout,” which Angles originally composed in Japanese, was written during the rolling blackouts and frightening uncertainty that followed the aftermath of the disasters. The third, “Words,” was by Japan’s most popular poet, Shuntarō Tanikawa and optimistically describes the power of language and communication in helping to overcome the trauma of the disasters. The final poem appears in the newly published collection “March Was Made of Yarn: Reflections on the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown.”
The memorial service was attended by about two hundred people. Afterward, numerous people approached Angles to tell him how moved they were by the poems he read.
“One person told me that he especially appreciated them since the other speakers had emphasized the infrastructural and economic devastation of the disasters,” Angles said. “That listener told me he felt it was the poems that really gave the most dramatic, human face to what had happened. It was also wonderful to hear that ordinary Michigan residents, including elementary school students, had donated $268,000 to the Japanese Consulate’s office for the recovery efforts.”
“The 3/11 disasters seem to have changed the way that many Japanese people think about their own lives,” Angles said. “Many people lost their lives. It will probably be well over a decade before northeastern Japan has fully recovered. Our thoughts are with the people of northeastern Japan as they rebuild.”