Sunday, March 13, 2011

Beginning Or End Of The World: Japan

The above image, "Dragon of Smoke Escaping from Mount Fuji," was painted by the great Ukiyo-e artist, Hokusai, towards the end of his long life. It symbolizes strength, vitality and rebirth ascending above the trauma of a cataclysmic event. That is Japan; its people will endure and overcome this catastrophe.

"Asakusa, Tokyo" by Yuko Kootnikoff
The weekend started in catastrophe and hasn't yet ended. The tsunamis have ebbed, but the tremors continue and reports are there is a 70% chance of another major quake in the coming weeks. Yuko and I are so lucky and extremely thankful that none of our immediate family members or friends were seriously affected.

On Friday, the day of the earthquake, Japan literally came to us - two of Yuko's friends arrived from Tokyo for the weekend. They were in the air when the quake struck and didn't hear anything until after landing. Such is the wonder of modern life.

That evening, I attended the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. I had tickets to see Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate of the U.K. from 1999-2009. He started with a few from his "Harry Patch" series, based on the oldest living veteran of World War I who has since died. The theme appeared to be one of "war." But there was one other poem written about Bella Chagall, the painter's first wife, which included a line that rang like a bell:
"Was it the beginning or the end of the world?"
After seeing video and images of the tsunami clotted with debris and rolling like spilled water across the rice paddies and fields of the Tōhoku region of Japan, it seemed like the only question worth asking.

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