Retired letter carrier Minoru Ikeda had never written a "tanka" poem in his life, but working to decontaminate areas in Fukushima Prefecture and seeing the reality of the daunting task suddenly inspired him to become a poet.
“Words (for poems) came into (my head),” Ikeda, 61, recalled.
When turning 60 last year, Ikeda retired from his mail carrier's job in Tokyo. He started doing decontamination work for a contractor in Namie, located north of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, raking and collecting mowed grass on riverbanks.
Ikeda sent his newly composed poems to The Asahi Shimbun’s “Kadan” poetry page. Four of his works were chosen and carried on the page this month--two in the May 19 issue and the other two in the May 26 edition.
One of the two in the May 19 edition read, “Josensuru kumade no ueni furu kaben/ Mederarezu chiru Namie no sakura” (Flower petals fall on a bamboo rake that is engaged in decontamination/ Cherry blossoms in Namie fall without being loved).
Another in the same issue read, “Dorekurai josen sureba hito wa kaerudaro/ Jimon wo mune ni karu Namie no soka” (How much decontamination work will be necessary to make it possible for people to return/ Keeping the question in my mind, I mow the grass and flowers in Namie).
Ikeda said he was inspired to write the poems in mid-April, when cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Seeing them, one of his colleagues, who usually didn't speak, remarked, “How beautiful they are!”
However, at the same time, Ikeda saw no one at the nearby Namie High School, because the town had been evacuated following the outbreak of the crisis at the nuclear plant. Feeling pity for those cherry blossoms that would not be enjoyed by local residents and developing a feeling of emptiness, Ikeda started working on the two poems.
He composed them during break times and input them into his smartphone. After returning at night to a prefabricated housing facility for decontamination workers in Minami-Soma, next to Namie, he completed them.
After the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the grim situation in Fukushima Prefecture due to the nuclear plant accident remained in his mind. After reaching the mandatory retirement age at his job in Tokyo, he went to a government-run Hello Work job placement center.
In the facility, he told its staff that he wanted work directly related to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant because he wanted to contribute to the reconstruction of the areas affected by the nuclear accident.
“The issue of nuclear power generation is a focus of today’s Japan. That’s why I thought that I wanted to do something related to the issue,” Ikeda said.
However, his skills were not suited for jobs inside the plant. Therefore, he chose to help with the decontamination efforts around the plant.
In February this year, Ikeda began to work for the second-layer subcontractor of a company that won a contract for decontamination work. His colleagues included workers who came long distances from prefectures such as Aomori and Okinawa.
His job should have continued through the summer of 2015. However, it was suddenly terminated at the end of June due to the change of circumstances surrounding his company.
“We are disposable (workers),” he thought at the time.
The discouragement led him to compose the following poem:
“Ichiji niji josen shitauke wa koma no goto/ Koki ni oware owareba taiki” (Workers of first-layer and second-layer subcontractors for decontamination work are like pieces in a board game/ They are busily completing their work within designated periods, and, after the periods end, they have to stand by for the next work to come their way).
Ikeda visited a bar in Minami-Soma and told its owner, whom he had become acquainted with, “I will return to Tokyo.” The bar owner asked him, “Please come here again.” Ikeda felt that he was being asked not to abandon Fukushima.
Ikeda, who is now in Tokyo, plans to return to Fukushima.