Akeru's World of Paintings鳥図明児（ととあける）のイラストコレクション
by Akino Yoshihara, The Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
KYOTO--An international couple in Kyoto are turning their cross-cultural experiences into creative works: The husband has invented a new literary form--the "poessay," a combination of poem and essay--while the wife paints pictures of historic houses in her husband's homeland, India.
Joao Barros-Pereira, 60, and his Japanese wife, Akeru, 50, held their first joint exhibition in August at a public gallery in the Kyoto International Community House in Sakyo Ward.
"The exhibition was connected to our lives as a cross-cultural [couple]," Barros-Pereira says. "It was very meaningful [for us]."
The exhibition featured 31 English poessays on such Japanese customs as the obon festival and New Year's Day, and 17 paintings of traditional houses surrounded by coconut and mango trees in Goa on the west coast of India.
Each poessay, with Japanese translation, was attached to a hanging scroll and displayed alternately with the paintings of houses.
Barros-Pereira says he does not know exactly how he came upon the idea for poessays, but thinks it may have grown out of his being from India, situated between the East and West, and living in Japan and teaching English at the university level for several decades.
He says that poessays, which are opinions expressed poetically and indirectly, are a suitable form of writing for Japanese students.
Although the form is minimalistic with no punctuation except the question mark, it expresses critical thinking.
He came to Kyoto, where he later met his wife, in February 1977 at the invitation of an American professor and started teaching English at a university in the city that April.
While teaching English composition, he began to take a special interest in the difference between the English expressions of Japanese students and native speakers or Indians.
"I wasn't bothered by their mistakes, but the flow of their words and the pace was something I'd never seen before," he says. "It's almost like poetry. They're putting images together."
Barros-Pereira has tried ever since to gain a better understanding of how his students think and has concentrated on teaching them how to better convey their feelings in English.
He collected a variety of English materials, including essays and poems, by skilled Japanese writers of English and began publishing magazines and textbooks. Meanwhile, he tried not to focus on syntax, grammar or spelling mistakes in his students' writing and analyzed it from various angles, including its literary aspects.
Poessays evolved as a natural form of writing for Japanese after 20 years of trial and error. In 2000, Barros-Pereira published the world's first book of poessays, "En not Yen," the title of which was taken from a poessay that explained how destiny brought him to Japan.
He now encourages his students at several universities in Kyoto to write poessays based on their experiences.
He says only 1 or 2 percent can write successful poessays, and he has noticed that students who score well on English tests do not always write good poessays, while less advanced English students sometimes have better critical thinking skills and can write good ones.
"You don't have to be good at English to write a poessay, but you need to have interesting insights," he says.
He points out that students are also required to read between the lines, as the main point of a poessay is often implied rather than explicitly stated.
"You might know all the words, but if you can't see what the writers are really trying to say, you won't get the point," he says.
For example, his poessay "Food for Thought" says "the fresher the better" while comparing homework and sashimi. Although the two items would seem to have nothing in common, the poessay subtly urges students to turn in their homework on time.
Barros-Pereira posts his students' poessays on the semiannual online newsletter Communicative Times, while publishing his own poessays under the name Gambari-kun on the Web site Poessayworld and in Goa Today, a monthly English magazine.
The Web sites have attracted the attention of overseas poets, and a poessay written and posted by a Belgian poet has been engraved on the wall of a library in Belgium.
Barros-Pereira's wife, a manga artist known as Akeru Toto, has seen her husband struggle to improve the quality of poessays over the years and has supported him as art director of his publications.
"I understand how much hardship he goes through to write a poessay--short or long--from the perspective of a manga artist who undergoes various processes from conceiving a story to drawing a cartoon based on the story," she says.
She says poessays are well received by Japanese, who naturally use images to convey their views in daily life.
She says this emphasis on imagery is prominent in TV commercials for laundry detergent, explaining that the commercials emphasize white clothes to indicate the high quality of the products rather than trying to convince viewers with detailed data.
"Image-oriented Japanese culture corresponds to the elements of poessays," she says.
In the August exhibition in Kyoto, Akeru's work offered a glimpse at the architectural legacy of the Portuguese colonization of Goa from the 16th century to the 20th century. Many of the houses have porches or extended balconies and arched doorways.
The architecture and beautiful beaches of Goa attract many European tourists. However, it has yet to catch on with Japanese.
"Although [Francisco de] Xavier is well-known in Japan, [most Japanese] don't know that his mummified remains are held [at a church] in Goa," Akeru says.
The Spanish Jesuit missionary (1506-1552) devoted himself to spreading Roman Catholicism in countries in the East, including India and Japan.
Akeru says she was fascinated by the beautiful combination of lush greenery and colonial houses in Goa when she first visited her in-laws' home in a local village 21 years ago.
When she returned a year later, she wandered around the village with her camera, carrying her 5-month-old baby on her back.
Two years ago, she began making paintings based on her photographs and held her first solo exhibition at an open-air gallery on a beach in Goa in 2006, at her husband's suggestion.
"The landscapes are familiar scenes to people in Goa, but they may be able to rediscover the appeal of their communities through my paintings," she says.
Akeru also hopes her paintings will encourage people to preserve colonial houses, some of which have been demolished, and protect the stunning natural scenery of the region.
She believes the recent joint exhibition of her paintings and her husband's poessays reveals the harmony of their creations based on encounters with their partner's culture.
She says, "When two people of different cultural backgrounds meet, something new happens."
The couple hopes to hold similar exhibitions in the future.