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The Writing of Disaster - Literary Representations of War, Trauma and Earthquakes in Modern Japan


Leith Morton

This book analyzes the literature that emerged from World War II. It also examines the literature that resulted from the two major earthquakes that have struck Japan over the course of over the last hundred years. The small number of volumes previously published examining the literature of war and earthquakes in Japan have almost always focused exclusively on fiction while this volume focuses mainly on poetry. This volume breaks new ground in its attempt to draw together and analyze the literature produced by these tragedies as a single phenomenon. It provides a new template for the literature of trauma produced by such events as the earthquake that accompanied the tsunami and nuclear meltdown in northeast Japan in 2011.

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9. Trauma and Catharsis: The 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Traditional Genres of Verse

Chapter Nine


From Terui Midori’s collection Ryūgū (Palace of the Dragon King, 2013)

As documented in the previous chapter, the March 2011 earthquake in northern Japan was the one of the most violent earthquakes experienced on the Japanese archipelago since ancient times. It resulted in overwhelming tragedy: nuclear reactors melted down, a massive tsunami hit the region, hundreds of thousands of dwellings were destroyed and over thirty thousand people lost their lives. How did the two major traditional genres of Japanese poetry—tanka and haiku—deal with this tragedy: that is, how did they document this event, and represent or dramatize or even catharsize the trauma that ensued in the lives of millions? Because millions of amateur Japanese compose verse in traditional forms, I will examine some examples of amateur verse in anthologies compiled soon after the event. I will also subject to scrutiny a selected sample of verse pertaining to the event by well-known haiku and tanka poets, including books of poetry written by poets who personally experienced the event. By a careful reading of these poems I seek to answer some fundamental issues raised by poetry produced under extreme circumstances: how does poetry deal with tragedy on such a monumental scale? Is the metapoetic meaning amplified, enhanced or fundamentally transformed by this experience? What exactly do these texts articulate? How do traditional metrical forms address and express such an event; to be more specific, in what way do the compositions of traditional poetry genres differ from free...

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