First Love and Toson Shimazaki :Spring Dreams

島崎藤村『若菜集』詩「初恋」英語訳(English Translation)

Spring dreams are enchanting, whether they be reminiscence of good ol’ days or aspirations for days to come. This daydream-like poem has made Toson Shimazaki (1872-1943) a poet remembered by many Japanese people.

This poem, “First Love”, contains all we need to get connected with childhood memories, especially of puppy love. The change of hairdo marks a coming of age. A thrill comes by recognizing a slight change in the look of your love interest particularly when it indicates maturity. An act of giving and receiving strengthens intimacy.


The third stanza is quite unique for its sensual tone. It represents growth of love as the stanzas proceed. From an exchange of gaze to gifts, and now the physical distance doesn’t get in the way developing a closer bond.


This poem, First Love, is not just a poem of puppy love but has achieved Japanese phonetic and rhythmic perfection. Fixed number of syllables and phonetic repetition have made this poem  elegant and easy enough to recite, which is why this poem is remembered by so many people.


We can’t live in a daydream. We need to live this moment and live on our lives. Our lives, however, get hard and we sometimes feel disintegrated, fragmented and trapped in negativity. Daydream helps us reconnect with what we have deep down, which sustains us and helps us survive with its magic to unwind our strained thoughts and views on what surrounds us and to shed light on what we hoard in the back of our mind. Those colors of green and red of apple trees, those pain and joy, those bonds you created with someone you really care. All comes up into light when you are in a daydream.







First Love

There you were under the apple tree
You look grown up overnight with your hairdo
And that flowery pin, in the full bloom of beauty,
Just took my breath away

You reached your hand so fair
To give me an apple growing ripe and red
As a token of your love, I do care
But didn’t know what it was like to love somebody

When I’m totally carried away
I’m afraid you might feel my breath on your hair
If my love is like a glass
Your love fills me with intoxicating mellowness

Under the apple trees runs what we call
The path – you ask me, even when you know the answer,
It looks well beaten, but who made it after all?
Which makes me love you more

Young, Reckless and Kandagawa: Spring in your Step

南こうせつとかぐや姫、歌詞(Lyrics)『神田川』(English Translation)

Lyrics stand out when they convey the feel of a certain generation. Kandagawa (1973) by Minami Kosetsu & Kaguyahime is one of the best songs of that kind. The imagery throughout the song is nothing but a young couple spending a certain period of time together, leading a humble, intimate life that simplicity and frugality made possible and eventually breaking up. All the details of lifestyle depicted in this song could be relatable to people of a certain age group as well as modern listeners who know of what it used to be like.

One of the mysteries this song left is the meaning of its lines from the chorus: I was young and reckless, full of conceit/But when you were simply nice and sweet/It felt too mellow/I got cold feet. To put it simply, you feel intimidated when your partner is simply nice and sweet. To explore this meaning, let’s get back to the days when this song was written, days when people always had something to question, challenge and stand up to.


Tadashi Kitajo, a writer of this song, started wading into social activism when he was young. He got home, exhausted after one long day and saw his partner cooking at the kitchen in a calm, homely manner, which struck him alarming because it was something that could pull him out of furious, frantic and frenzied activism and lure him into a rustic, safeguarded and peaceful nest. He was intimidated at what seemed to be too mellow, or a simple way of life, contrary to what he devoted himself to..


Is this because of youth or because of devotion to a great cause at the expense of simple, if not naïve, happiness one could enjoy? The change of seasons never withers the luminosity of a truly relatable song that arouses particular images the moment a certain word comes out. That is why this song really stands the test of time.



Do you remember
With a red towel instead of a scarf to wear
Going to a bath around the corner
Saying you wouldn’t come out any later
But all too often it was me to wait outside
And got a chill with my hair undried
A small piece of soap clattering in the pail
Holding close my shoulder that turned pale
And you said “Don’t you feel cold?”

I was young and reckless, full of conceit
But when you were simply nice and sweet
It felt too mellow and I got cold feet

Do you remember
Crayons in 24 colors you got somewhere
My portraits you promised to draw perfect
Never as good as I could expect
Under the window ran the Kandagawa
My place small as a sheltered bower
With only one single room to equip
Turning your gaze at my fingertip
And you said “Are you feeling sad?”

I was young and reckless, full of conceit
But when you were simply nice and sweet
It felt too mellow and I got cold feet


Who Else and Noriko Ibaragi: Lost and Found


Poetic sensitivity isn’t exclusively owned by poets. It resides in all of us. But all too often we get emotionally worn out while struggling through our pell-mell life. In the course of our day-to-day survival and with disheartening defeats in life, we sometimes feel that we used to be more emotionally available and that we need to identify, or invent, a culprit robbing us of sensitivity. That’s the time to turn to this poem by Noriko Ibaragi (1926-2006).

Repeated questions throughout the poem are directed toward herself. The poet, in later years, tried to clear up the misunderstanding. Her intention was that all the questions are intended to urge on herself, not on readers, the importance of enriching her own heart. The final line, “I know better,” is directed to oneself, meaning we are wise enough not to leave our sensitivity unattended. No one else but you are responsible for enriching your heart and mind. It didn’t go well? Well, you didn’t do it right.

この詩全体を通じて、繰り返される問いかけ、その言葉は自分に向けられています。作者自身、誰かを叱咤しているのでなく、自分に言い聞かせるものだと、後年読者の誤解を解こうとしています。最終行の「ばかものよ」は自分に向けられているのです。ので、”I know better「それほど馬鹿じゃない」”という最終行は、本来できるはずだとの意味を込めた英訳としてみました。心の水やりは誰かに任せるものではない。自分の心は自分で意識的に育てるもの。うまくいかなかったのは、自分のやり方がまずかっただけ。

Sensitivity is our fortress. It’s our own creating project. Sensitivity is the fire to keep burning. It’s like an all-night vigil. Our heart gets worn out through our day-to-day challenges but it’s you who are in charge.


Sensitivity doesn’t necessarily develop by visiting museums but by employing care for and giving thoughts to what makes you happy and sad while leading a life that seems to  consume you. It resides in our open heart. By understanding that people go through ups and downs. By lending a hand to and going shoulder to shoulder with them. By knowing shades of fun and misery.


Then self-questioning moments come: What do I really need to defend even with my back to the wall? What do I really need to take care of even with futile days going by? What makes your mind fresh and fertile? What keeps you moving forward? Just as you sit down and check in with your loved ones, you just need to listen to your heart.







そもそもが ひよわな志しにすぎなかった



Who Else Can Do That?

When your soul is getting dry
Don’t blame someone else
I know I didn’t take enough care
Of myself

When you find yourself fussy and difficult
You can’t possibly blame your friends
Look at yourself
How stony and intractable

When you get frustrated
Don’t point the finger at your parents or siblings
I know I could have done
Much better than I did

When your original passion dwindles
It’s not because of your uneasy life
I know I’ve been only slightly determined
First of all

When nothing is going right
Don’t spit a curse at the time you’re living in
You can’t let go out
That feeble flicker of dignity

Keep up your sensitivity
Who else can do that?
Never leave it unattended
I know, I know better.

Maman: In The Attempt

Louane、歌詞(Paroles)『Maman』日本語訳((Traduction japonaise)

In her song called Maman, Louane, a 20-year-old French singer, sings about how we pass dull, tedious days in resignation and desperation. We sometimes feel so trapped in the net of circumstances that we get passive-aggressive. We get to express indirectly our negative feelings of anger, distrust or frustration by procrastinating, showing indifference to what’s going on around us, or distracting our own attention from what really matters. Then we are led into a cul-de-sac, where we are getting weary of reaching out for what we should be.

In this song she calls on her mother to help her make sense of what she is. She knows this is not right but has no idea what to do. There is good rhyming throughout the lines, but some of them don’t seem to have as profound meaning as listeners would expect. This disappointment listeners experience, however, is the very emotion we are truly exposed to on a daily basis.


Louane – Maman

ホテルで 駐車場で
悩みから 逃れるために
街では 心は 青ざめてる

憂鬱の底から 電話口から
すべてがまた始まる 春のように

地下鉄は 夢を詰め込んで進む
高層ビルは 私たちを見下ろす
まるで 檻の中の小鳥のように

ねえ ママ
わたし 頭がおかしくなりそう
探し求めてる でも何を どうして

バーは 人でごった返している
でも 心は乾ききっている
約束は 交わされる
すぐ 捨てられる約束が

Astray and Izumi Shikibu: In The Attempt


Izumi Shikibu(978?-?) is one of the greatest woman poet in Japanese history. She was the contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu, who is best known for her 54-chapter epic novel, the Tale of Genji. Her waka is characterized by overwhelming sentimental tone in view of the time she lived. She went through a lot of relationship issues, like those described in fairy tales or films, such as romance crossing over differences of social rank and subsequent scandal, and another with her ex’s brother and sudden painful losses of loved ones. But whether having knowledge of her background or not, we all find her songs and herself endearing through her works.

She is well-known for her sequence of affairs at the court. She got married at the age around 18 or 19 to Tachibana no Michisada, who soon became governor of Izumi. While in her marriage, she was in love with Emperor’s son, Prince Tametaka, who died young in the middle of their relationship. After her divorce, she was then courted by Tametaka’s brother, Prince Atsumichi, who also died a few years later. The first ten months of this affair are described in her semi-autobiography, a composite of prose and poetry, Diary of Izumi Shikibu. After having started serving at the court, she married to Fujiwara no Yasumasa, an acclaimed governor, who was about 20 years older than her. It is at this point that she wrote the following waka with the prefatory note saying, “When my lover started getting distant, detached and coming over less often, I visited Kibune and saw fireflies flitting here and there over the creek.”


mono omoheba sawano hotarumo wagamiyori akugare ni keru tamatozo miru

O Fireflies flashing over the stream
I thought of you as my soul straying out of my body
While heartbroken, lost in thoughts


And this is something more than a lovesick song. The first question to be discussed is “soul leaving your body”. It was believed that the soul is capsulated in the body but it flushes out of the body at times of deep and pensive thought. That is called “Akugaru (leaving and yearning)”. How can these stray souls make out the right path then? She had the answer in another waka.


kuraki yori kuraki michini irinubeki harukani terase yamanohano tsuki

We are to walk in darkness
Towards the realm of craving and cluelessness
O the moon peeking over the hills in the distance
Let your heavenly light shine before us

煩悩の暗い道から また暗い道へと入って行ってしまうのだろう
山の端で光る月よ この道を照らしてください

It is believed that she composed this waka in her early 20’s. It sounds like she was anticipating suffering in her later life, where her soul burned with the pain of unassuaged longing. The moonlight symbolizes the Buddhism truth that reorients people from spiritual defilement towards liberation. Those she loved were gone in the middle of romantic relationships. All her longing was on hold and adrift in darkness just as fireflies flitting about. She knew that she had to do something to get back on the right track; but, as the same time, she knew that there was nothing to be done about it. All she had to was look upon the moon and make a prayer.


Another point to be made here is about her second husband, Yasumasa. Some critics argue that Izumi Shikibu didn’t have a happy marriage with him. She composed the song of fireflies when he didn’t frequent her place. Let’s think about their state of love in his shoes. He knew that she was madly in love with brothers of noble family consecutively, which was a huge scandal at the court, and he also sensed that her love and longing were still directed towards those two old lovers, not him. He was great at business, but deep down he would probably feel confused, try to distance himself, pull back. So he was seemingly less interested in their own relationship. This obviously makes for a good amount of angst on both parties. Probably both needed to deal with their own feelings in a way the other just don’t understand. This sounds a universal relationship issue, but that state of uncertainty and hesitancy is the very arena where people care about each other and try to step into vulnerability and possibility beyond.


What makes her poems so attractive is that her life can be seen as a composite of sense and sensitivity, faith and fear, bravery and fragility. Stepping forward while knowing you never get back on the right track, awkwardly reaching out a hand to grab hold of truth, shuttling between two different attitudes towards life, consuming time caring about someone. All that we do in longing, caring are in the attempt.



Incompleteness: In The Attempt


Many songs and literary works have been made in any corners on the planet in history by human longing for home. Home is not just tangible but more psychological and the notion of home is conceivably tied to reminiscences, the act of reaching out, and a restless feeling of incompleteness. We’re going to figure out how to describe these attempts by examining their value and meaning.

Home often takes shape with nostalgia or on being away from it, associated with homeland. Home doesn’t necessarily refer to a physical environment but to feeling anchored and feeling right within your own skin and mind. Home is not a certain existence as people come and go. It is some space for you to fit in in this world where something is always missing. Home can be remembered in relationship to others and can be found in the vision and the process to achieve it. As our existence is constantly exposed to uncertainty, home emerges in the loneliness and in the attempt.


Pilgrimage in Japan is centered on its process and experiences and thoughts you get along the way rather than its goals. You put yourself in the balance between comfortable, pleasant memories and expectations of achievement.


Some points in our life, we all get stuck in the middle of this state of incompleteness between having left something behind and having yet to do. Quitting your job, breakups. It is, however, these experiences that make a big difference in your life. When learning something new, you get excited about broadening your horizons but, at the same time, you feel desperate about your goals in a good distance. In relationship with others, we often get bogged down. We feel hopeless when our love, thoughts or care are all like a question without an answer. However, there are still hope and significance in the attempt at understanding between human beings in a narrow sense and between cultures broadly.


Significance of the attempt lies in the state of this dear “incompleteness” of ours, where both the past and the future are in sight rather than focusing just on this moment or on things withing your arm length. It’s like a jump up into the air. With your feet off the ground and your hands holding nothing. Does it sound too romantic? We’re going to look at examples illustrating this in the next posts.