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Tiny Moments
by Brandon Oropallo
Intro | Tokyo | More Than Dishware

It's one thing to find your passion. It's quite another to move across the world to chase that passion. When Steve Hanna discovered ancient Japanese poetry, he didn't immediately realize where his love of the art form would take him. "I liked the brief but evocative prettiness of it all," he explains. "The old poems struck me as astonishingly aware. Because they're so short, they tend the take the form of snapshots of tiny emotional moments, occasionally linked to an impressionistic visual image."

Everyone's heard of the haiku and has counted on their fingers the syllables of the tiny poems. The classical form, however, known as a tanka, is thirty-one syllables long, in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern. This was the structure that appealed to Steve, a conception he describes as "little recognizable emotional moments done up in pretty, elegant classical language."

To be sure, Steve doesn't just like this stuff. He loves it. Ask him to name some of his favorite poems and he smiles lovingly. With a slightly melancholy nostalgia, he offers a few miniature love poems by the master Ariwara no Narihira. Hearing Steve speak about the ninth-century poet's works, it's not hard to believe the steps he took to truly understand it.

"I got it in my head I wanted to study this," he says, "but it turned out I had to learn modern Japanese before I could ever learn classical, sort of like you'd have to learn to read Hemingway before you could ever hope to learn to read Chaucer or Beowulf." Realizing that the best way to learn the language would be by totally immersing in the culture, he set off for Japan.

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