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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column


This month, we feature poetry in Nihongo (with English translation) from Tomiko Matsumoto and Gennosuke Matsumoto, who were both originally from Chiba and eventually married there, before living in Seattle and later imprisoned in the Heart Mountain, Wyoming concentration camp during World War II. Their poetry here comes through that lens—two short tales of lamentation.

—traci kato-kiriyama

Gennosuke and Tomiko Matsumoto

* * * * *

Tomiko Matsumoto was was born on August 30, 1900 in Nakano (current Kimitsu city), Chiba Prefecture, and immigrated to Seattle in the early 1920s. She and her family were imprisoned at Heart Mountain, Wyoming from 1943 to 1945. There, under the poet Shasui Takayanagi, poetry editor of the Kashu Mainichi (California Daily) newspaper, she began studying tanka poetry. In 1955, one of Tomiko’s poems was selected to be read at the utakai hajime, the Emperor’s annual poetry party. Tomiko joined the Uta to Kansho poetry society in 1958, and in 1960 she and her husband Gennosuke published the tanka anthology Mishigan Kohan (By the Shore of Lake Michigan). Her granddaughter, Nancy Matsumoto, has edited the forthcoming English-language translation of the book.

filtering through the trees
onto a clear, flowing spring—
such serene beauty
cannot be found in this country

           (konoma gakure
           waku mashimizu ni
           gekkō no
           sugashiki sama wa
           kono kuni ni mizu)

*This poem was originally presented at the Emperor’s annual poetry party in 1955, for which the theme was “water spring” (izumi). It was published in the tanka anthology Mishigan Kohan (By the Shore of Lake Michigan) in 1960, copyright Nancy Matsumoto. 


* * * * *

Gennosuke Matsumoto was born on August 1, 1889 in Fusa, Chiba Prefecture, now part of the town of Abiko. As a young man, he immigrated to Seattle, Washington to work for an import-export store. Some time later, he began a correspondence with the sister of his friend Taisuke Takahashi, a fellow immigrant from Chiba Prefecture. This led to a trip back to Japan to marry Taisuke’s sister, Tomiko. The couple operated a fruit market in Seattle, and after the Depression, a grocery story in downtown Los Angeles. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, they, their three children, and Tomiko’s mother Iku, were forcibly removed to Santa Anita racetrack, then to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. There, Gennosuke began writing poetry under the pen name Ryokuyo Matsumoto. He was a member of the Araragi poetry society.

Defeat in war, Chicago, August 1945

What secretly
I have prayed for
has now become only a dream—
my native country’s defeat
brings tears to my eyes

           inorishi koto mo
           yume nari shi
           sokoku no haisen
           ware wo nakashimu)

*This poem was published in the tanka anthology Mishigan Kohan (By the Shore of Lake Michigan) in 1960, copyright Nancy Matsumoto.


© 1960 Nancy Matsumoto

camps chicago Gennosuke Matsumoto heart mountain Japanese Mishigan Kohan Nikkei Uncovered poet poetry Ryokuyo Matsumoto seattle Shin-Issei Tomiko Matsumoto war

About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.

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