It's been a little more than a year since the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and residents of the prefecture are still dealing with the aftermath. Some are turning to poetry as a way to stay strong and to heal.
A free iPhone/iPad app that features poems written by children of the Fukushima prefecture has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. The vast majority of the poems in Our Words, from Children in Fukushima, were written for the magazine Blue Window years before the disaster, but the disaster has given them new meaning. Sixth grader Terumi Sekine meant for the line, "I want to appreciate that nothing in particular happened today," to celebrate the everyday. But in the wake of Fukushima, it reads as an appreciation for a simple return to normalcy. In this way, poem after poem speaks to how the event has redefined life in the area.
The Our Words app was the brainchild of Akihiro Takahashi, an employee of Primal Switch -- the company that created the app. Takahashi hails from the Fukushima prefecture himself. He remembered reading the poems in Blue Window years before and thought they might help bring peace to those affected.
While the Our Words app is only available in English, Chikako Kozawa, a student at Tokyo University, is working on a similar project with a more global aim. Kozawa is leading a group that is translating a collection of poetry by people whose lives have been affected by the Fukushima disaster. She aims to translate the collection into 12 languages by the summer.
The poetry at the heart of Kozawa's project was compiled by a Fukushima-based gas company, of all things, and includes more than 400 poems. People as old as 90 contributed, as did a four-year-old, who heartbreakingly wrote: "I love kindergarten. I love flowers. I love slides... I won't give in to radiation."
The gas company president asked Kozawa if she'd translate the book. She agreed, and has brought in volunteers to help with the effort through a University website detailing the disaster. She's translating the poems into Hindi herself. She told the Daily Yomiuri Online, "I hope the translations will show people around the world that residents in Fukushima are trying to live just as they did before the crisis."
It's notable that the only poem on the Our Words app that was written after the disaster -- by a second grader named Rintaro Yamada -- reads, "Let us help each other/for everyone has the strength to live. " Takahashi and Kozawa, with a little help from poetry, are doing just that.