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The Creativity of Artist Wesley Yamaka and Japanese Poet Tachibana Akemi

John loves writing about history and culture. Some of his favorite themes are the American frontier, the Civil War, and Asian culture.

"in full bloom a flower that yesterday was not there." A portion of print by artist Wesley Yamaka interpreting a poem by Japanese poet Tachibana Akemi

"in full bloom a flower that yesterday was not there." A portion of print by artist Wesley Yamaka interpreting a poem by Japanese poet Tachibana Akemi

There is something about Japanese and Asian artistry that strikes a deep chord within me. I don't know exactly what it is or where it comes from. For example. One of our favorite original pieces of art is a small silk screen print by Wesley Yamaka, illustrating in a few strokes and colors a beautiful poem by Tachibana Akemi.

Wesley Yamaka

Wesley Yamaka (1928-2015) was a Japanese-American artist who as a teen was interred with his family in an internment camp during World Way II. Later, he became a United Methodist pastor. He cared deeply about people, their problems, and their needs, and helping them to discover their own inner creativity.

Yamaka lived in Columbia, Maryland for many years. He was part of the Columbia Cooperative Ministry in the early years of the development of Columbia. He once hosted a workshop on Creativity for a group of congregants where he brought out the creativity in each person through their writing and poetry, and where he created for each member of the group a numbered and signed silkscreen print inspired by the Tachibana poem featured in this article.

Yamaka's silkscreen prints seemed almost transcendent. He would select poems, quotations, or topics that had a special meaning to him and create prints that were inspired by his interpretation of their meaning. His colorful designs were both unique and memorable.

Artist Wesley Yamaka at work. Photo by James Ferry.

Artist Wesley Yamaka at work. Photo by James Ferry.

Later in his career he transitioned from the life of a pastor to that of a full time artist. With friend and fellow artist John Levering he opened a studio in the old stone servant's quarters of historic Oakland Manor in Columbia, Maryland. They named their studio "The Eye of the Camel." His prints became very popular among Columbia residents and even today are prized possessions.

My special treasure is one of his prints of a classical Japanese poem by Tachibana Akemi.

Tachibana Akemi

Statue of Tachibana Akemi in his home town of Futui,

Statue of Tachibana Akemi in his home town of Futui,

Tachibana (1812-1868) was a Japanese poet who wrote in the classical style of Japanese poetry.

He was a contemplative person who first studied to become a Buddhist priest but would become a poet living a simple life. Tachibana's home was in Fukui City, Fukui Prefecture. The City looks out on the Sea of Japan not far from Kyoto. Fukui celebrates the life of Tachibana with a stone statue and a number of other memorials to their famous resident poet.

He wrote about whatever was on his mind. "Some of his most endearing poems," according to renowned Japanese scholar Donald L Keene, evoked the "little pleasures of a poor scholar's life."

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Tachibana wrote a collection of 52 short poems called Poems of Solitary Life. Each poem celebrated in poetic language the simple events in his life which gave him pleasure.

Among his pleasure was in discovering "in full bloom a flower that yesterday was not there."

That became the theme for poem number 9 in his Poems of Solitary Life, perhaps the most celebrated of Tachibana's poems.

Classical Japanese poem by Tachibana Akemi, translated by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite, and interpreted in a print by Artist Wesley Yamaka

Classical Japanese poem by Tachibana Akemi, translated by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite, and interpreted in a print by Artist Wesley Yamaka

During his lifetime, Tachibana's poems were known mostly around his home city, reflecting his humble personality and reclusive nature. It was not until 1899 that national attention was brought to his collection of poems

There have been a number of Japanese-to-English translations of his work. Translation of poetry is an art form in itself. One can translate a thought in straightforward language. Or the translation can convey in the poetic English language the depth of feeling in a poem and its Japanese poetic style.

The translation selected by Wesley Yamaka for his simple but masterful print was translated by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite. It is included in The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse, From the Earliest Times to the Present translated by Bownas and Thwaite.

Yamaka and Tachibana, Together

Wesley Yamaka print signed and numbered

Wesley Yamaka print signed and numbered

Here is the Tachibana poem on a framed, signed, and numbered print by Wesley Yamaka. It's a small piece, 11"x14" in size. It hangs on our wall at eye level. One must be fairly close to view it in all its artistry.

When I study the print it reminds me of Yamaka, of the beauty of a single flower that just emerged from its green parent plant. The fence in the background adds a touch of Japanese style to the design. The beautiful poem by Tachibana reminds me of the simple things in life that delight and please the soul.

To me this print is priceless.

More about Yamaka, Tachibana, and Japanese Poetry

  1. Wesley Yamaka. Obituary in Legacy,com. Salem OR.
  2. Wesley Yamaka. Obituary in The Baltimore Sun.
  3. Wesley Yamaka. Drawing Connections, Columbia Association.
  4. Tachibana Akemi. Wikipedia.
  5. Tachibana Remembered in Futui, Japan.
  6. The Penquin Book of Japanese Verse From the Earliest Times to the Present
  7. Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture, Columbia University.
  8. Donald Keene: In Memoriam. Columbia University Press
  9. Donald L. Keene. Obituary in Columbia College Today

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 John Dove

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