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

Sea Roar: Spring Dreams

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

Toson Shimazaki (1872-1943) has been considered a founder of Japanese modern poetry. In this poem with beautiful imagery of the sea, not only did he sing about the arrival of spring but also ushered in the new era of poetry with subtle metaphor. So what’s behind the social change and subsequent arrival of the new era?

Just as the tides sweep in, creative minds and sources abound out there. Each of them has unique quality but has stayed dormant. Roars of the sea, rich and resonant, toll the arrival of the new season. Then comes a poetic statement to let open the outlet for new voices, which then merge into one big sonorous roar to let them heard.


This interpretation of mine definitely refers to artistic, social and political changes that often start with one small but sincere, powerful voice. Give a listening ear to voices around you, you will find likely-minded people and then make a difference in the world. Listen. Did you hear them speak out? Appreciating the broad and clear imagery and phonetics of this poem helps us stay generous and broad-minded and appreciate what spring brings.




Sea Roar

From deep waters
Tides rushing
Here and there
Harps singing
Never ceasing
Sonorously speaking
To the streams
And their waves
In the fullness of time
Deep notes wafting
In the clear air
Over the vernal sea

Exuberance and Kanoko Okamoto: Lost and Found

岡本かの子『老妓抄』和歌「年々にわが悲しみは深くしていよよ華やぐいのちなりけり」英語訳(English Translation)

Where does sadness come from? It doesn’t emerge only from the darkness. It is with exuberant vitality. Here we have Kanoko Okamoto (1889-1939), a novelist and a poet, with her powerful poetic statement.


Years pass.
Deeper sadness
Adds a touch of excess
Of existence.

Sadness is generally considered to be a harmful emotion. It is associated with those apparently downhearted and upsets others. It deprives you of vivacity and it is a particular state of mind that you must get out of by all means.


However, this song has achieved inspirational embrace of both sadness and happiness. The deeper sadness grows, the more vigorous life becomes. The more keenly you are aware of vivacity, the deeper you feel sadness. As you get old, everything, from misfortunes to exhilarations, adds to your experience. There’s a bunch of deep emotions, both bitter and sweet, experienced in seeing significant meanings that you were too young to perceive. The acuteness and graveness of sadness emboss and enrich your life. Deep wrinkles make your years of physical experience genuine and real.


Why is it that we feel abundance in seeing wind patterns on the barren desert dunes, bleak heights of the icy mountains? Rich history is alive and felt in the desolation. Abundance of life is also felt in the bleakness. Time you spent, voices you listened to and every possible scenario you speculated. All of these resonate loud and deep in the void left in your heart.


Some people show us that exuberance strikes sorrow into their heart. The world teems with vigour of people. Sadness surfaces when you recognize there are so many different stories that people really have to say. They see great sadness in both themselves and people and their presence takes on limpid depths of beauty. Do you ever feel this thrill every once in a while?


In Retrospect and Michizo Tachihara: Lost and Found


This series aims at visiting our mental “Lost and found,” calling for a poetic help to take back a certain emotion we bury away at some point in our life. We lose some things along the way. It might be what you were as a child. This poem, In Retrospect, by Michizo Tatehara (1941-1939) helps us figure out what to do after tracing back our life journey down to where we were.

In this poem he revisits where he was, including the imagery of younger days along with what he experienced during the course of his life. But he suddenly stops and says “My fancy won’t go any further”, letting his fancy frozen in reminiscence. This can be interpreted as his preparing himself for death because he died at the age of 24.

この詩のなかで、主人公は自分自身の原風景と経験に思いを馳せています。しかし、「そのさきには もうゆかない」と突然宣言し、こうした思いを追憶の中で凍らせ不動のものとします。これを、24歳の若さで亡くなった立原道造自身の死への覚悟とする見方もあります。

It definitely means physical death but it can be also interpreted, in a more positive way, as a mental death and rebirth. We can capsulate in our reminiscence what we have been through, then move on. Opening the door, we walk down the road less traveled. It might be off the beaten track but full of opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise even imagine.


Every now and then we take a trip down our memory lane lined with woods and rivers. After the pastel childhood tunnel unfolds the vivid path of later years. We all have particular life experiences whose brilliance take on their own unique hues.


Whether it be bitter or sweet, what you remember about your early days is definitely a bedrock of who you are, upon which you put pieces of experience as you pass each day. This spade work does you good, but at some point you feel boxed up. A set of mindsets is so deeply ingrained that you can hardly envisage a different life course and the idea of pulling out your keystone sounds like losing a part of you and scares you.


Nevertheless, once you take one single step away from where you have been, the infinity unfolds before you. The galaxy you’re living in is not the only galaxy that exists in the whole universe. It’s hard to leave behind your psychological fauna and flora that you are familiar with as well as the galaxy encompassing your planet where things are laid out in a particular order. The outer space, in contrast, looks bleak and vacant. But that vast space outside of your galaxy accommodates even more galaxies, which await your visit. That’s how you “make your way under the starry skies.”




夢はいつもかへつて行つた 山の麓のさびしい村に

うららかに青い空には陽がてり 火山は眠つてゐた
見て来たものを 島々を 波を 岬を 日光月光を
だれもきいてゐないと知りながら 語りつづけた……

夢は そのさきには もうゆかない
なにもかも 忘れ果てようとおもひ
忘れつくしたことさへ 忘れてしまつたときには

夢は 真冬の追憶のうちに凍るであらう
そして それは戸をあけて 寂寥のなかに


In Retrospect

My fancy always took me
To the lonesome village
To the hills at a distance
To the grass in the wind
To the calm woodland trails
Tireless crickets chirring
In the warmth of the afternoon

Clear and blue was the sky above
The mountain lay dormant
And I was
A tireless storyteller
On isles, waves, capes
All that I have seen
In the sun and the moon
With no one listening to me

My fancy won’t go any further
In the attempt of nullifying
All the memories
But what did I forget anyway?

Let it get frozen in wintery reminiscence!
From the open door
Into the desolation
Under the starry skies
Make your way

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.

Act of Living and Rin Ishigaki: Lost and Found


We’ve been examining how art draws out our innermost emotions. I should definitely introduce another great modern poet. Rin Ishigaki (1920-2004) struggled through painful friction between poetry writing and household burden while she made her living as the only bread winner of her family.


Her life was consumed by spending years as a wage earner and a care giver at the expense of her own creative capabilities.


This poem illustrates the moment of a gushing emotion when she stopped to think. She fought through life with a resigned focus on her household life instead of pursuing her own dreams, interests and creative aspirations. In front of rubbles and debris of her household life, an overwhelmingly painful regret came over and she realized how much she lost. This indescribable sense of anger, defeat or powerlessness drew tears to her eyes.


At times we are overwhelmed by an emotion that we have long harbored but tried to suppress while going through day-to-day challenges. This mixed feeling is not owned by anyone else. Your emotions are to belong to you. It’s crude, genuine and real because it’s safe from someone else’s definition, interpretation or terminology. Poems are supposed to tell something that would be compatible with what you feel deep inside.


Many poets including Chuya Nakahara struggle to strike a balance between two different dimensions of existence – pursuing artistic aspirations and making a living. It’s no easy living up to social expectations while instinctively letting passion veer the course of life. Quite a few fell on the road in the effort of seeking a creative outlet.


Nevertheless, poetic sensitivity plays an invaluable role in finding and creating meaning in what people are not always aware of. It helps us through our life journey, a journey of maintaining decency and making sense of what we do. It also helps us feel assuredly compatible with something deep inside that we struggle to express verbally.




Act of Living

You just can’t live without eating
Money and hearts
I just couldn’t have lived a life
I’m full now
My mouth wiped clean
The kitchen floor in a mess
Carrot ends cut off
Chicken bones
Bowels of my dad
Forty years passed and the twilight came on
First ever came into my eyes
Savage tears

Sadness and Chuya Nakahara: Lost and Found


With tolls of New Year’s bell dispelling earthly desires, people welcome the New Year with a refreshed and invigorated mind. It would be great if we could renew our mind overnight. In reality, however, we can’t. Just as we did yesterday, we still undergo pangs of regret and remorse, or feel a void in our hearts. In front of us emerges something that we didn’t give much thought to while wading through hectic days.

To discuss these emotions, let me introduce one of the most popular poems on sadness. It’s written by Chuya Nakahara. Sadness here is not about what you are crying over at this moment but about what lingers after your tears dry. It’s about your heart aching 1) when people describe your own ineffable sorrow in a clichéd manner, 2) when you are racked with self-doubt over the belief that sadness is experienced by everyone, big or small, and self-doubt over how to argue against the idea that one’s sadness is of great or little value, and 3) when you put too much interpretation on sadness. Let’s see what sadness of ours that “ain’t innocent at all” looks like.


What does it mean, this sadness that “ain’t innocent at all”? Let’s see how it can be interpreted. In the first place, we are not simple-hearted anymore. While small children burst into a fit of laughter in the next moment after throwing a tantrum, we, as grownups, like to make things complicated. We just can’t keep things simple. Not only do we take care of ourselves, we also take into account our family and the communities that impose an ever-growing burden and sadness. We also give too much meaning and interpretation to sadness when explaining, or illustrating, a sadness of our own. It all ends up finding a sadness lost its original sensations or colors. It becomes ugly and gross.


Another cause is disregard of one’s own sadness. Even with life imposing burden and pain on us, most of us believe that we somehow survive. Is it a privilege to indulge in this sadness? Isn’t it more righteous to think about what you can do to others and the wider society? It’s true your sadness is yours and invaluable, but you somehow belittle yourself in awkwardness and feel harder to break out of your ever harder shell as you sink into yourself.


Another possible interpretation is that sadness comes from a sense of being violated and tainted. There is something that you feel authentic about your sadness, but this can be described with worn-out clichés or interpreted within the frame of ready-made ideas. Once you venture an expression, you fear that people are too judgmental. Then you feel intimidated, discouraged and resigned from giving careful explanation in view of possible misunderstanding. Unwillingness and powerlessness overwhelm you.


Art has power to find whatever feelings you suppress, try to forget, or let go. We’re going to examine this role played by art – a mental lost and found.




This sadness ain’t innocent at all
Under another pall of snow
This sadness ain’t innocent at all
Standing stiff as chilly gusts of wind blow
This sadness ain’t innocent at all
A fox pelt is something alike
This sadness ain’t innocent at all
Scrunching down as snowflakes strike
This sadness ain’t innocent at all
Never missing human wishes in their absence
This sadness ain’t innocent at all
Inertly tempted to end this existence
This sadness ain’t innocent at all
Scared and small
This sadness ain’t innocent at all
Stranded as the nights fall


Pilgrim: In Search of Home


Bokusui Wakayama (1885-1928) made lots of songs about and on traveling. Many of his waka reflect the underlying notion about traveling: “あくがる (akugaru)”. This verb originally refers to letting your soul leaving your body, your feeling attracted to something, and your leaving a place you are supposed to be at and starting to roam. Let’s see what he says.

けふもまた こころの鉦をうち鳴らし うち鳴らしつつ あくがれていく

Another mile to go today
Let this pilgrim’s handbell ring
Resonant in my mind
Yearning, roaming

今日も 巡礼者のごとく 鉦(かね)を心に響かせ 道を求めて行こう

What is striking here is a pilgrimage metaphor. Let’s examine here pilgrimage and then its link to the concept of “Home”. Pilgrimage entails the notion of leaving and touring. Many of the people go on a pilgrimage by leaving their normal lives to find new meanings because everyday circumstances and social contexts seem to some people so restrictive that they feel propelled to break away from what is familiar to them.


Pilgrimage in Japan is usually called junrei, which combines “touring (jun)” and “worshipping (rei)”. Pilgrimage routes are not always designed to visiting a single sacred site but contain several spots religiously linked together in a wider area. More importantly, pilgrimage is not necessarily centered on visiting sacred sites or performing the rituals but on journeying on the pilgrimage path. It is viewed as a journey on a spiritual path towards enlightenment.


The items along with pilgrim’s handbell mentioned in the song are useful to think about pilgrimage as a spiritual journey from one point to the other. To mark them out as pilgrims, people travel in particular clothing. They wear white pilgrimage shroud that indicates purity and death. The handbell to pilgrims in Japan is what the scallop shell to those to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrimage shroud and its death symbolism are accompanied by the notion of spiritual rebirth and renewal into this world.


Going on a pilgrimage reflects human condition of restlessness at the root. Pilgrims leave their normal lives and tour around but they are never aimless. They have somewhere specific to get. It will be a physical place or spiritual destination.


The concept of pilgrimage as a life journey helps us understand the concept of “Home”. At some point of your life you might have to leave your home, not knowing if there is any other place like home. You might move out, move abroad. You might not be able to continue to live where you have lived for years. You might leave your family behind. Oftentimes you feel that your body has moved out of your familiar circle but your heart won’t leave and stays there. Practically, however, you need to construct your life at a new location physically and psychologically. You need to move on dragging your anchor.


When you go on a travel, you leave your home, leaving behind what you feel secure, comfortable and attached with. Anticipations of being in a foreign land will cause a contradiction. You are probably excited about new experiences, but at the same time, you expect a dash of familiarity. You often see people stopping at Starbucks or McDonald’s during their trip or Japanese people searching for an authentic Japanese restaurant. You are pulled into two different directions of leaving and staying home all the time.


These inner conflicts are reflected in Bokusui’s works. Despite his love of his homeland, he always wants to see new places. In warmth and comfort you are savoring, you are in throes of seeking new horizons. “Akugaru (leaving and yearning)” can be viewed as shuttling between these two different dimensions, and then being in the attempt.


We have looked into the concept of “Home” so far by several different perspectives and reached the point of seeing another concept “In The Attempt”, which is going to be the topic we discuss in the next series.

ここまで「Home」という概念について様々な視点から考えてきました。そして今、「In The Attempt」という別の概念に辿り着きました。それを次に考えていきましょう。


Series: In Search of Home

Pilgrim: In Search of Home

Prepared: In Search of Home

Away: In Search of Home

Coco: In Search of Home

Moon Palace: In Search of Home

Rappelle-moi: In Search of Home

Fear: In Search of Home

Who Knows: In Search of Home

Anchor: In Search of Home

Home: In Search of Home

Prepared: In Search of Home


Bokusui Wakayama (1885-1928) is one of the most popular modern poets. Many of his waka (short poems) were made during his trip around Japan. He knew there is no end in his spiritual journey but he was determined to go on another journey every day. In that sense he was a modern vagabond.



How many mountains and rivers I need to cross
Before I get to a land where loneliness never prevails?
I’m prepared for this journey just as I was yesterday.

幾つの山や河を越えていけば 寂しさの無い国に辿り着くのだろうか いや無理だろう だとしても今日も旅に出よう

There is an undertone of the loss of or absence of “Home” in his songs too. There is no end in the search of a place where you feel no loneliness, no worries or no frustrations. Samishisa usually refers to loneliness. But here it could mean something different. What feeling this could be?  When do you feel like you reach out only to grab hold of nothing? What do you sigh about? When do you feel helplessness?


When you have some concern over relationships, it might be difficulty in finding people near you with whom you would share anything important to you, in spending quality time with your loved ones, or in stepping further in your relationship. Socially, it might be difficulty in confirming to the crowd, in letting go of mean reactions from thoughtless people, or in getting people to understand what you really mean. When you think about aging, it might be difficulty in accepting the fact that you get old or that your body gets weaker, or in leaving anything meaningful to the next generation. When you think about personal growth, it might be difficulty in curving out time for activities that matter to you, in seeing positive outcome of your efforts, or in finding a balance between benefiting others and nourishing yourself. When you are going through hardships, it might be difficulty in showing resilience or integrity in hard times, or in getting support to your day-to-day survival.


We live our life, entangled in these feelings between sadness, frustrations and helplessness. And we all know well that once you get over one frustrating situation, you will face another very soon. Bokusui sings about the same theme in another song.



I must leave
And I’m sure I’ll find another mountain to cross where I get
Are you really prepared for this hopelessness?

さあ行くぞ 辿り着いたところでまた知らぬ山が現れる そんな寂しさに 君は耐えられるか

It’s like a journey during which you need to cross one mountain after another, one river after another. Right on arrival, something new comes up and breaks your heart. That’s our day-to-day journey. There is no end. This song asks us how prepared we are to take on this journey every day.


Series: In Search of Home

Pilgrim: In Search of Home

Prepared: In Search of Home

Away: In Search of Home

Coco: In Search of Home

Moon Palace: In Search of Home

Rappelle-moi: In Search of Home

Fear: In Search of Home

Who Knows: In Search of Home

Anchor: In Search of Home

Home: In Search of Home

Away: In Search of Home


Here is another great modern Japanese poem. This poem, by Saisei Muro (1889-1962), is from his anthology called “The Lyrical Sketches”. This is also a poem on the concept of “Home” and expresses the pathos that strongly and continuously resonates with many Japanese people. Saisei Muro left his hometown with literary aspirations for Tokyo, where he had a hard time and eventually shuttled between Tokyo and his hometown. This poem was obviously written when he decided to leave his northen hometown, Kanazawa, for Tokyo.


“Home” described here is again tied geographically to land and psychologically to loss. It is not until you are away from it that you can fully understand how significant your homeland is to you. Home starts to bear a more profound meaning when you lose it. In the last stanza he makes a decision to leave his hometown and go back to the big city. With his life driven pell-mell by the hustle and bustle of the city, his deep and desperate yearning for his hometown is something that he survives on.



Home is what you yearn for
When away from your home

Home is what you sing of
In a sad tone

You may sink into penury
On a foreign land

That’s the last place
You would return to

As the twilight comes on
And I’m all on my own

Nostalgia sweeps over
And I feel tears well in my eyes

With my longing at heart
I’ll make another stay in the city
Far from home.



Series: In Search of Home

Pilgrim: In Search of Home

Prepared: In Search of Home

Away: In Search of Home

Coco: In Search of Home

Moon Palace: In Search of Home

Rappelle-moi: In Search of Home

Fear: In Search of Home

Who Knows: In Search of Home

Anchor: In Search of Home

Home: In Search of Home