'Voices from Japan' exhibit reflects on tsunami

The 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, devastating to thousands of Japanese and others around the world, reaped an emotional toll that continues to be felt today as the country rebuilds.

A photo of a collage by Yoshito Sasaguchi featuring a collection of family photos that were damaged by flooding.

A collage by Yoshito Sasaguchi features a collection of family photos that were damaged by flooding.

A new exhibit opening today at The Art Gallery in the Cesar Chavez Student Center aims to convey that emotional devastation by displaying poems, photographs, thoughts and artwork from Japanese citizens directly affected by the disaster.

"We hope that through this exhibit, we'll be able to share the direct experience and feelings of the Japanese people and provide more emotion than you'd see in a straight news report about the tsunami," said Professor of Journalism Jon Funabiki.

A photo of Jon Funabiki, professor of journalism and executive director of the Dilena Takeyama Center

Professor of Journalism Jon Funabiki.

Titled "Voices from Japan: Tanka after the Tsunami," the exhibit is presented by the Dilena Takeyama Center for the Study of Japan and Japanese Culture, a program focused on U.S. – Japan relations made possible by a generous gift from alumna and professor emerita Kay Takeyama Dilena. Funabiki is executive director of the Center.

The centerpiece of the exhibit, which runs Jan. 28 through Feb. 14, is a series of traditional Japanese poems, called Tanka, which were published in a Japanese national newspaper in the year after the disaster. The 31-syllable poems were written by ordinary citizens -- housewives, farmers and fishermen -- and reflect the country's struggle to come to terms with the scope of loss and the effort to rebuild over the past year.

One such poem reads:


dispatched to build

temporary lodgings

my son returns

with eyes that now take in

much more than in the past

-Miyako Tsuchiya. Kanagawa, September 2011.


"The Tanka poetry that's published in the newspaper really shows the importance of literature and reflection in that culture; and it's all written by ordinary people, which is what's most fascinating," said Carolyn Ho, a creative writing graduate student and Manager of the Art Gallery.

A photo of prayers written by visiting Japanese students that are displayed in front of a shrine.

Prayers written by visiting Japanese students are displayed in front of a shrine.

"Tankas are revered in Japan and normally used to express very strong emotions," said Funabiki. The poems in the exhibit were collected by the Institute for Cultural Exchange in Tokyo.

Also featured are photographs and videos by photographer Darrell Miho, calligraphy scrolls, and a collection of family photographs that were found washed into the streets following the floods. An artist named Yoshito Sasaguchi collected the photos he found, many of which were damaged by water, and assembled them into a colorful collage.

"I like the idea that the water had an effect on these photos in a way that is horrific and beautiful at the same time," said Ho. "It helps people reflect on loss."

The exhibit also displays a series of prayers and messages written by 50 Japanese high school students who were given an exclusive early look at the exhibit earlier this month as part of a cultural exchange program.

Funabiki said that the exhibit's theme exemplifies the focus of the Dilena Takeyama Center, which was founded in 2010 and has also organized conferences, readings, and a Japanese tea ceremony.

"Part of the mission of the Center is to strengthen the relationship between people in the U.S. and Japan," he said. "This exhibit really accomplishes that by focusing on these core human emotions."

Click to RSVP for the free opening reception on Thursday, Jan. 31

-- Philip Riley