The brilliant triumph of Japan’s “economic miracle” represented a dizzying rise from the poverty and hunger of defeat to the heights of capitalist luxury. By the end of the war, many of Japan’s cities had been reduced to so much rubble and ash. Millions of people had been displaced due to devastating air raids, and food and material shortages were dire. Japan’s economy was in shambles.
What would follow were several decades of rapid growth, fueled by heavy industry, construction projects, and a wide-open American market. Just 11 years later (1956) the Japanese government announced that the country had fully recovered, declaring in an annual economic report that it was “no longer the ‘Post War period.'” By the 1980’s, the Japanese economy was the 2nd largest in the world.
But nothing works without fuel. The gargantuan Post War socio-economic apparatus consumed and exploited just as it brought wealth and glory. Ishigaki Rin’s poetry carves out an emotional space for that which was both overshadowed and silenced by Japan’s startling economic success.
(Poems translated by Zack Kaplan)
Monthly Pay Envelope (「月給袋」)
20 cm tall
14 cm wide
I receive that dark brown envelope once a month, on payday.
One month’s labor on a scale; a thickness that matches the weight
Stoutly gives balance to my daily life.
Those bills and coins are like weights,
The envelope is a precious treasure that
I open and close restlessly from the time it enters my hands.
Like the night and day that visit my world in turns
When I pull out an old paper bill from the envelope
Today’s blue sky unfolds above my head.
The eaves of the city stores stand in a line,
Although stacked high to tumbling, their goods
Are all gold in an invisible safe. Over
Freshly laid eggs
A mountain of sardines that look to be fresh from the sea,
Something is keeping watch
That won’t forgive even a child’s mistakenly outstretched hand. . .
Something like the footsteps of a guard patrolling a bank’s hallways
Echoes constantly up and down the street.
That’s when, from my monthly pay envelope,
I withdraw another bill.
Holding the face up to the keyhole
I can open that invisible vault
And the smiling mouth of the sales person, too.
Just as I’m crumpled up in the rush hour trains
These bills, too, grow sullied by the day
Worn out like their owner.
And when the last coin has been used up,
When the time comes that the envelope can be thrown away,
And I peek cautiously inside to see if anything’s left—There they are! There they are!
Sitting on 12 worn out tatami mats
My elderly parents and younger brothers are inside.
They whisper to me,
Good, good, now go back to work for us again tomorrow.
How could I ever throw it out?
On that tiny paper envelope
Is an iron roof ready to fly off with a breeze;
From out of the kitchen spill carrot tops and fish bones.
A monthly pay envelope is neither magic nor slight of hand
And yet, where are all the days and months I poured into it?
Whenever I start searching for them
One empty paper envelope
Is all that remains in my hand.
You buy a bouquet of flowers,
Tie it with string, and hang it upside down.
Somewhere with good circulation. Close to the ceiling where the AC blows.
She smiles as she says it.
You leave them there and wait for them to dry,
The flowers don’t wither
Their color doesn’t fade.
Left perpetually in bloom
Only the life is blown out of them.
You can make a whole pile of the prim and economical “dry flowers”
That are all the rage.
Away from the heated summer of the outside world,
In this large enterprise’s
Women’s break room
Dried out soon enough,
The flowers, just as planned
Are returned to their normal position, and there they bloom.
The next to be hung upside down
And shake with laughter are these women themselves
The fingertips that made these new flowers
Twitching and fluttering.
A Living (「暮らし」)
You need to eat to live:
Money and hearts, both—
Without eating I never could have lived this long.
When I hold my full stomach
And wipe my mouth
Laying scattered about the kitchen are
The bones of birds
My father’s intestines
The sunset of my 40th year
My eyes, for the first time, overflow with the tears of a beast.
Another One Today (「今日もひとりの」)
Buildings spring up
Spurred on by the common reason
—There aren’t enough offices—
Droves of buildings spring up throughout Tokyo.
Amongst the echoing racket
“Another person died at a construction site”
The topic of idle chatter
From the dangerous scaffolding of that living
Lighter than a leaf
Heavier than a bird shot out of the sky
Thump. They fell to their death.
“Well you know, for most buildings
It tends to happen”
Everyone writes it off, a part of daily routine.
Against the cruelty of the modern world
Must we nod powerlessly in agreement?
Eyes that contain suns
Chests that harbor oceans
A warmth of heart
That can foster flowers and trees;
That shouldn’t be lost so carelessly
For just any purpose
Are so easily denied.
For one building
Or one large project
To call such a thing “unavoidable”…
This is why
People can say things like
“Fighting for peace.”
The steel rods laid out on the road
Rise up and lock together like a living thing.
Carved into each and every one of its builders
As a hope
And a goal
So as to give them both life and heart—
Could there be no such human work?
For if there were
Oh, the history we would leave behind with these buildings
Just think how bright it would be.
Another person fell from the scaffolding today
When they climbed up to those dangerous heights
It wasn’t because they wanted to build a building
It was so they could eat
Or so they could let others eat.
Another person died today.
Phantom Flowers (「幻の花」)
In the yard
This year’s chrysanthemum has bloomed.
When I was a child
The seasons were right in front of me
Only one ever unfolding at a time.
Now I can see them:
Last year’s chrysanthemum.
The chrysanthemum of two years past.
The chrysanthemum of ten years past.
From far off
The phantom flowers appear.
I can see them
Leading away this year’s flower.
Oh, this chrysanthemum too!
And so we part
Myself also being pulled along by some hand.
This is the second to last post in my series introducing the poetry of Ishigaki Rin. I’ve tried to introduce poems grouped around certain themes, while also providing one slightly more “internal” or stylistic poem per post (ex: “Phantom Flowers” above).
The series will come to an end with Part 4 (In the Shadow of the Economic Miracle: Environmental Pollution).