Thursday, October 6, 2011

06/10 VOX POPULI: Mankind stands better chance by going back to basics

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.


In Japan, the anniversaries of the death of famous literary figures often have names associated with their works. In the case of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927), it is called Kappa-ki. For Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902), it is known as Hechima-ki. (Kappa is an imaginary creature that lives in rivers and hechima is loofah, a plant used to make sponge.)

Remon-ki, the death anniversary of Motojiro Kajii (1901-1932), is named after "Remon" (Lemon), the title of his novel. Oct. 5 is another Lemon-ki, the anniversary of the death of Chieko Takamura (1886-1938).

"Lemon Aika" (Lemon elegy) that Chieko's husband, sculptor and poet Kotaro Takamura (1883-1956), wrote as she lay in her death bed is well known. It starts: "You had so earnestly waited for a lemon/ On your sad, white and bright death bed."

It ends: "Let me place again today a lemon that coolly shines/ Behind the cherry blossoms before your photograph." Some readers no doubt can recite the poem word for word.

When I think about Chieko, I am reminded of Fukushima's natural scenery. She was born in present-day Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture.

"That is Mount Atatara/ The shiny one is the Abukuma River." "The blue sky that appears every day/ On top of Mount Atatara/ Is Chieko's real sky, she says." These are verses from Kotaro's poems.

Seventy-three years after Chieko's death and 70 years since the publication of "Chieko-sho" (Chieko's Sky), a poetry book by Kotaro, Chieko's hometown of Fukushima is suffering from a nuclear disaster. Tourism also has plummeted. The number of visitors to the Chieko Kinenkan (museum), which totaled 16,000 from March to August last year, dropped to about 20 percent for the same period this year, according to the museum.

Even though this is the season when leaves change color and mountains are painted in autumnal tints, surveys were being done to gauge levels of radiation contamination in the forests. I hear that some fallen leaves have been removed and will not be allowed to decompose so they mix with the soil. I wonder what Chieko and Kotaro would make of this.

In Kotaro's poem, drops of lemon juice instantly revive Chieko and she becomes conscious. Although the comparison is exceptionally beautiful, I think we, too, have awakened to how nuclear energy is not compatible with life. If we contaminate "real sky," we cannot go on living.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 5

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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