Fukushima survivor: Turning pain into poetry

Ryoichi Wago became the voice of Fukushima as Japan reeled from the sharp blow of its worst nuclear disaster.

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Ryoichi Wago, a Fukushima survivor. Photo by: Camillia Dass

Japanese poet and teacher Ryoichi Wago created his first Twitter account (@wago2828) in Jan 2011.

2 months later, his followers grew in thousands, particularly after the most violent earthquake ever recorded in Japan’s history struck the country, unleashing a deadly tsunami and triggering a nuclear meltdown in the Fukushima Prefecture, where he was born.

What captured his followers’ imagination were his huge volume of emotionally stirring, poetically textured tweets in the aftermath of the triple disaster, which set most residents leaving in droves for safer grounds.

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Some of Wago’s tweets (translated in English) in the aftermath of the March 11 disaster. Photo courtesy of: The Asia Pacific Journal

“My tweets were not poetry. They were actually very messy and simple,” Wago suggested humbly when he’s in town recently for the Singapore Writer’s Festival. “They were mostly observations.”

Nevertheless, his tweets have since been compiled into a book, Shi No Tsubete, or Pebbles of Poetry. And this was just 1 of the 22 books on the Fukushima disaster that the 48-year-old has penned over the last 5 years.

Wago was among the rare few whose family home in Fukushima was far enough from the tsunami-struck eastern coast. Electricity supply to his home remained intact, which allowed him to tweet about life in the devastated prefecture.

“There were so many people who had damaged homes or who were banned from going home because of the radiation. At least I still had a home,” Wago told The UrbanWire through an interpreter.

Wago had wanted very much to follow his wife and son to his mother-in-law’s house, which was further inland and safer. His parents, however, had chosen to stay put as his father had a bad leg. Unwilling to leave them behind, Wago also decided to stay in the fast abandoned “ghost town”.

“Going to get supplies made me feel like a hunter. I would cycle to the supermarket and we would line up and wait. Sometimes we waited for a whole day,” recounted Wago.

On the day the earthquake struck, Wago was in Hobara High School administering an examination.

“Thankfully, there were fewer students in the school than usual as it was an examination day.

“We all had to hold hands and evacuate as quickly as possible. A lot of students and teachers died because they did not follow the evacuation procedure,” Wago recounted his harrowing experience, adding that he then spent 3 days in the evacuation camp before moving back to his home.

Wago has since made it a point to document not only his feelings, but the woes of other survivors as well.

“I feel like everyone is just pushing us to move on but you cannot just expect people to be able to do that.

“Some people really lost everything and it’s not easy to come back from that,” Wago said, adding that many residents have taken their own lives as the loss was too painful to bear.

Wago, who reunited with his family when his son’s school reopened after a month, mentioned that he would continue writing. “Moving on and gaining back our will to live is not easy,” he said.

“I write because I know that literature has the power to help Japan achieve a lot in terms of recovery and I hope I can keep doing that.”

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The panel that Wago participated in with another Japanese writer and a musician for The Singapore Writer’s Festival. Photo by: Camillia Dass

 

About Camillia Dass

Camillia can typically be found with her head in a book. She is constantly living in various book worlds or crying because a mean author killed her favorite character. She loves TV shows that have been off air for years and will personally strangle you if you spoil Grey’s Anatomy for her so don’t do that. She spent 6 months interning at Youth.SG and had an awesome time doing funky things like going for embalming and mocking people you should never mock.