Ishigaki Rin was born in Akasaka, Tokyo in 1920, the first child of a firewood and charcoal peddler. At age 4 she lost her mother, who had suffered injuries in the wake of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Although her father remarried just three years later, by age 18 Ishigaki had known three step mothers, and seen the death of a younger sibling.
Upon completing her elementary education in 1934, Ishigaki found work as a bank clerk for the IBJ (Industrial Bank of Japan). Just age 14 at the time, she maintained her post at the bank for four decades, working until she reached the mandatory retirement age. During her time at the bank, Ishigaki Rin was active as both a poet and a trade unionist. In 1938 Ishigaki participated in the founding of Danso (“Fault Lines”), an all women’s poetry journal.
In 1943 the Ishigaki family residence was burnt to the ground during an air raid, and her family scattered. After Japan’s surrender, the family was able to lease a small 33 sq m house, and Rin lived there with her grandfather, father, mother, and two younger brothers.
After the end of the war, cultural activities quickly became an important part of Japan’s growing unionist movement. By 1946 Ishigaki was publishing poems in IBJ’s newsletter, in addition to participating in the publication Gingakei (“Galaxy”). When Japanese bank unions came together to publish their own poetry anthologies starting in 1951, Ishigaki’s poems were also included. Ishigaki worked to support her family before, during, and after the war. She never married.
Ishigaki’s humorous, though often starkly frank poetry, addresses such major themes as authority, family bonds, labor, war, the position of women in society, and environmental pollution. Above all, much of Ishigaki’s writing provides brief glimpses into the dark brutality of life, and contains strong reflective undertones that can unexpectedly tug readers to hidden pools of social responsibility.
The following poems are the first 3 in a several post set introducing a range of Ishigaki Rin’s poetry. Enjoy!
(Translations by Zack Kaplan)
1. Picking Wildflowers (「摘み草」）
I picked wild flowers in Marunouchi*, Tokyo.
It was early in the second decade of the Showa period*
I was in my mid teens.
On the way to the bank
During my commute to work
If I ran just a few steps up the side of the road
The hem of my Hakama* trousers fluttering
A field stretched out before me.
All wild flowers too impoverished
To decorate my work desk.
Since then nearly half a century has passed.
There were days when the buildings here blazed with the flames of war
But the area around the postwar Tokyo Station
Is crowded with new sky scrapers
Like a graph illustrating the growth of the economy.
I retired work at the mandatory age
But there probably aren’t any companies
That would still hire a girl out of primary school anymore.
The market value of women is questioned
And they are sorted out.
Finally, a day comes when they can no longer merely be wild flowers, and
They bloom in competition.
That field that is no more
The thin green stems I once strangled
Were my own neck.
*1 – A commercial district of Tokyo situated between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace.
*2 – Showa period (1926 – 1989). Here, the narrator is indicating the mid-1930’s.
*3 – Deeply pleated Japanese trousers worn over kimono. Hakama are tied high on the waist and fall to the ankles.
The roofs of Japanese houses are low
The poorer the house, the lower the roof.
The lowness of this roof
Weighs down upon my back.
What is the weight of this roof?
Looking from ten steps away
Looming above the house
Is not the blueness of the sky
But the dark color of blood.
That thing which captures me and blocks my path,
That which locks my energy into the narrowness of these walls
And exhausts it
On the roof lives my ill father
On the roof lives my stepmother
On the roof live my siblings, too.
That iron roof
That wobbles when the wind blows
Practically ready to fly away
If you look
On top of that measly 10-tsubo* of roof
There are radishes
And the warmth of beds.
It demands bearing.
Under the weight of this roof,
Women; my spring draws to an end
Far, far in the distance, the sun sets.
*1 – A Japanese system of measurement. 10-tsubo is approx. 33m2
I awoke in the middle of the night.
In the corner of the kitchen
The little clams I bought in the evening
Were alive with their mouths open.
“When the morning comes
I’m going to gobble you all up,
Every last one of you”
I laughed the laugh
Of a cruel old hag.
I slept the night away,
My mouth opened ever so slightly.