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From the Edges of Disaster: Tanaka Takuya’s Tanka on 3/11 and Tōkaimura


Tanaka Takuya’s eyewitness accounts, in tanka, of the 3/11 disaster, and the 1999 nuclear accident at Tokaimura, expertly rendered by Edith Sarra and Yasuko Ito Watt.


Tanaka Takuya, schoolteacher and prize-winning tanka poet, began writing poetry seriously at the age of sixteen, and produced his first privately published collection two years later. After college, he continued to publish tanka while pursuing a teaching career at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. In the two tanka sequences translated for this volume, the poet documents disasters as they unfolded in the city of Mito, on the southern edge of Tōhoku, an area “safely distant” from Tokyo, for the construction of nuclear power plants. Today, the region is still struggling from the devastating consequences of the triple disasters — earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown — that unfolded in March 2011.
Tanaka was standing at a blackboard, teaching a middle school class in Mito when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. In “3/11 Temporary Shelter,” he describes the unfolding of that disaster in the classroom, schoolyard, and school gymnasium that served students and fellow teachers as an emergency shelter. In “Blue Flash,” written eleven years earlier, he chronicles the experience of the shelter-in-place order imposed on the city of Mito in late September 1999, hours after the onset of a lethal criticality reaction at Tōkaimura, a nuclear processing plant nestled in a Mito suburb.
Tight, spare poems that hew closely to the genre’s aesthetic of brevity, Tanaka’s tanka sequences pack a punch far beyond what many readers might expect. Grounded in a specific locale — the city of Mito, and the neighborhood of Tōkaimura — they bear witness to the existential crisis confronting all of us, who stand now on the edge of disaster, as resources shrink and the planet undergoes cataclysmic, human-generated change.

Translated by Edith Sarra and Yasuko Ito Watt with an Introduction by Edith Sarra.

yokoyure no
nochi no hageshiki
tateyure ni
taetsutsu kyōshitsu no
tobira o hiraku

the room reels sideways
then jolts violently
up and down
I keep my footing and slide open
the classroom door



kurayami de
neiki o tatete
seito o tsutsumu
yowa no reiki wa

in the pitch dark
the frozen midnight air
envelops the sleeping
students, their
quiet, rhythmic breathing



hanki sazameku
kokudōzoi no
kaku nenryō
kakō shisetsu ni
awaki hi ga sasu

a flag flapping
at half-mast
by the highway
at the uranium re-processing plant
pale shafts of sunlight

ISBN: 978-1-947271-86-9
Pages: 154
Size: 5.5″ x 8″
Binding: perfect softbound
Year Published: 2022

Additional information

Weight 0.00 lbs

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