HSU Don Translates Hiroshima Haiku

Father Eric Freed, director of Humboldt State University’s Newman Center and a lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies, has put into English the story and haiku poetry of a Japanese woman who was a teenager when the U.S. struck Hiroshima with an atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.


Hiroshima poet Hiroko Takanashi in Japan.

The new book, which is illustrated with historical photographs, is titled The Experience of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima in a Poem, as shared by Hiroko Takanashi and Freed.

Now aged 79, Takanashi was 15 years old and a fourth year student at First Hiroshima Municipal Girls’ School when the atomic blast was touched off. She waited until the 50th anniversary of the bombing to write a series of commemorative haiku. They are very short forms comprising three sets of letters in a five-seven-five structure that contains a word specifically identifying a season of the year.

Freed, who lived for many years in Japan and is fluent in Japanese, met Takanashi in 2002. “I believe the feelings of an A-bomb survivor, expressed in lovely Japanese poems, can touch the hearts of Americans.” He visited the bomb sites accompanied by Takanashi.

“The poems capture her feelings and my text includes explanations of certain Japanese words used in the poems, as well as the history of the Municipal Girls’ High School, which lost many of its students to the bombing,” Freed said.

As chance would have it, Takanashi was attempting a rare wartime picnic excursion with friends and was standing at the Yokogawa trolley station near the center of Hiroshima when a great flash of white light engulfed the city at 8:15 on a hot Monday morning. Her next memory was lying face down on the railway tracks, gravely burned, although her incinerated umbrella had protected parts of her body.

Takanashi’s first haiku says, “The atomic museum, the cries in the heart’s ears, the scent of the lily.”

Another says, “On memorial stones, the names of young girls, the tears of the moon.”

The book was published under the auspices of the Catholic Diocese of Hiroshima and is available locally at the HSU Bookstore and at Northtown Books. The suggested donation is $15; Freed’s HSU students can obtain it at cost.

For more information, contact Father Freed at 707/826-5762 or ef42@humboldt.edu.