Poetry can be a vital record of the past. Anarchist and poet Genzo Sarashina (1904-1985) was the son of first-generation Japanese settlers in Hokkaido. Later he became an expert on Ainu culture, working tirelessly to conserve the language, fables and songs of Japan’s indigenous peoples and publishing over 35 books on the topic.

Sarashina’s work is not widely known outside the prefecture, let alone abroad. Japanese history scholar Nadine Willems hopes to change that with her translation of “Kotan Chronicles,” the first of Sarashina’s works to be released in English. The slim volume includes selections from his 1930 collection “Seed Potatoes,” plus writings from the 1940s. Sarashina’s sparse, realistic imagery reveals a majestic, harsh frontier shared by the Ainu, Japanese settlers and representatives of the national government, whose policies aimed always at assimilation and resulted in the callous subjugation of Hokkaido’s indigenous people.

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