It is a year since an earthquake brought unimaginable devastation to northern Japan.
March Was Made of Yarn brings together short stories, some poetry and a manga strip, by 18 writers, each reflecting on the lasting impacts of the catastrophe. Some are delicate and discursive, others bring the horror of the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear poisoning from the stricken Fukushima plant into sharp focus.
They range from Yoko Towada's The Island of Eternal Life, which imagines a future where post-industrial Japan is cut off from the rest of the world by nuclear accidents, through to Hiromi Kawakami's gentle but jarring God Bless You, 2011, a clever rewrite which takes her 1993 fantasy about a girl walking into a forest with a bear, forward to a time of radiation fallout and ticking Geiger counters.
The bear was a massive full grown male who had just moved into apartment 305, three doors down the hall from me. As a gesture of goodwill, he had presented the three of us who remained in the building with "moving in noodles" and packets of postcards, a level of formality you don't often see nowadays.
In Sixteen Years Later In The Same Place, Ideo Furukawa is set, strikingly, in the here and now.
How do you convey what roof tiles are like to someone from a culture witthout roof tiles? (They are) a standard element in the traditional Japanese house. In other words they're just up there, on buildings. And now they are in a pile on the ground at my feet. A miniature mountain at the edge of the garden, covered by a plastic sheet. Damn, who'd have thought id ever find myself looking down at roof tiles?
The narrator is visiting his parents in the home in which he grew up.
I knew the town authorities had declared the house half destroyed and my parents had told me over the phone about the fallen walls, but it had never occured to me that it would look like this, that here in a still habitable house there might be gaping holes, emptiness. not just one wall, but two, gone.
In Hiyoriyasma, by Kazumi Saeki, we meet Beppu:
Quite different from his usual "smooth cool" look - he was a fan of Eikichi Yazawa and Tom Waits - Beppu was somberly dressed in jeans and a gray-and-black-checked work shirt... "They are all donations, these clothes."
He lives in a gymnasium with 300 other people.
"This is my house now," said Beppu, indicating the boundaries of a space toward the front of the gym, in the middle of a row close to the stage.
"Yeah, funny isn't? Even in a place like this, people make these neat walkways, dividing the space into sections. See, I'm in District One, Parcel Three."
In Pieces, by Mitsuyo Kakuta, Yuko meets the much younger women with whom her husband was having an affiar on the night disaster struck. Following the earthquake, Tokyo was plunged into darkness by power cuts, and Yuko was thinking about another tragedy that changed her life, which happened long ago, in the year her husband's lover was born...
As she looked out over a city lit up again as if nothing had happened, it finally struck her. In the same way happiness could not be reduced to acquiring, neither could unhappiness be reduced to loss. Loss might sometimes bring unhappiness, but the two were not synonymous.
This is a very powerful collection, featuring some marvellous writing, with the power to make you see the world in a slightly different way.
- March was made of Yarn is edited by David James Karashima and Elmer Luke, who work for the Nippon Foundation's Read Japan programme. All royalties from the book will go to reconstruction charities in Japan.