ISHIGAKI RIN (1920 ~ 2004) Pt. 1

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.


Musical Discoveries and Two Translations

Just recently I watched the first two installments of the new Ghost in the Shell OVA (titled “Arise”). One of the many great aspects of the new OVAs has been the outstanding musical selection. Today I’d like to introduce two songs (artists) from the series (both EDs) and my translations of the lyrics.


Miyazawa Kenji, Strong in the Rain


(Image: Bricks with ceramic fragments, Arita, Japan)

While interpreting for some visitors from the USA recently, Miyazawa Kenji’s poem 「雨ニモマケズ」(Strong in the Rain) came up in conversation–as one would expect, they had never heard of it. The poem, which had already been a widely-known perennial favorite in Japan for decades, became almost ubiquitous in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake.  As simple as the poem is, I decided I would just jot down my own translation. And, having already gone that far, I thought I would also upload said translation here.

Sketch of a Mental Image: Spring and Ashura

Sketch of a Mental Image: Spring and Ashura*


The phenomenon of myself
is a blue illumination from a
temporary organic alternating current light bulb.
(A compound of every transparent spirit)
A blue illumination
from a karmatic alternating current light bulb
burning so certainly yet
flickering restlessly, restlessly
along with landscapes and all things.
(The illumination is preserved       the bulb is lost)

This is a faithful sketch of a mental image
twenty two months
from the direction I perceive to be the past
each individual chain of shadow and light
(All things flicker with me
And everything perceives simultaneously)
preserved until now
in lines of paper and mineral ink.

People, galaxies, Ashura, sea urchin—although these
consume the dust of the universe        breathing air or salt water
and a vivid ontology could surely be conceived for each
in the end they are nothing more than a landscape of the spirit.
Yet each of these faithfully recorded landscapes
is just as it has been recorded and
if that is nothingness than this is just as nothingness itself is and
it is shared to some degree by everything.
(Just as everything is all that is within me,
it is also all that is in each and every thing)

But contained in the Holocene epoch of the Cenezoic period’s
enormously bright accumulation of time
within the light-dark shading that is equivalent to no more than a mere point
(or a billion years of Ashura)
these things which were supposed to be so faithfully recorded
already change their structure and disposition.
Yet nevertheless it is possible
that myself and the printer have a tendency
to perceive these things as unchanging.
Just as we perceive our sensory organs and
landscapes and people
And just as we merely perceive in common,
Records and history            geological history—
the various data of each—
(according to the limitations of karmatic space and time)
amount to no more than our perception.
Perhaps in another two thousand years
a geology two thousand years different will develop
according to overwhelming proof that emerges steadily from the past
and we will think that roughly two thousand years ago
the blue sky was filled with colourless peacocks
and up and coming collegiate scholars will excavate exquisite fossils
from among the frozen nitrogen in
the top layers of the atmosphere
or perhaps even mankind’s enormous invisible footprint
will be discovered
on the face of layers of sandstone from the Cretaceous period.

Each of these hypothetical propositions
will be asserted within the fourth continuum**
as the nature of the mental image or even time itself.

January 20th, Taisho 13 (1924)

Miyazawa Kenji

Translator’s notes:

*Ashura – One of the six domains within the realm of desire from buddhist cosmology (part of the 31 paths of rebirth); the beings within this realm. Asura (jealous gods), like humans, are both part good and part evil. Their life is more pleasurable than that of humans, but they are plagued by envy, etc.

Order of the domains within the cycle of reincarnation, according to Japanese Buddhism:
Tendo – God Realm
Jindo – Human Realm
Shurado – Asura (jealous-god) Realm
Chikushodo – Animal Realm
Gakido – Preta (hungry ghost) Realm
Jigokudo – Hell Realm

**The Fourth Continuum – this term appears to involve Kenji’s original interpretation of the sutras and buddhist teachings. Mindstream = Buddhist moment-to-moment continuum of awareness

Original Japanese Poem:

(ひかりはたもち その電燈は失はれ)


宇宙塵をたべ または空気や塩水を呼吸しながら

記録や歴史 あるいは地史といふものも



Classical Japanese Literature and the New Year

The past few months have gone by between the pages of a number of philosophical texts and books on literary theory, in addition to my usual fare of modern and contemporary Japanese fiction. I don’t have any prior experience with literary criticism as a discipline, so reading about the history of literary theory has been new and challenging. Equally new and challenging, I could say, have been my little forays into more classical Japanese literature since the start of the New Year holiday.

In Japan there is a well known New Year’s game called Hyakunin Isshu (百人一首) or Uta-garuta (歌ガルタ) [see here] which uses a collection of 100 classical poems by the same name. Each poem is divided onto two cards. The goal of the game is to match the phrases correctly. This is done by first arranging all the cards that display the bottom phrases of a poem on the floor or a table. Then, one player reads off the upper half of a poem, and the other players compete to claim the bottom half of the same poem from the pile.

I first heard about the game in high school, and was totally blown away by, well, how cultured it seemed. My admiration remains, although I still haven’t even gotten around to reading, let alone memorizing, the collection of poems. Both Y and I have been interested in learning how to play, and during our stay with her former host family in Sasayama in late December the topic came up. Y’s host mother jokingly suggested that we all play a round–an idea that was quickly chuckled away. But then, Y’s host mother introduced to us one of her favorite poems from the collection, and it quickly became a favorite of ours as well. (Poem 15, by Koko Tenno)

君がため 春の野に出でて 若菜摘む
   我が衣手に 雪は降りつつ

kimi ga tame   haru no no ni idete   wakana tsumu
waga koromode ni   yuki wa furitsutsu

As for the meaning, while I’m sure a quick search would lead to many professional and amateur translations, I decided to just make two poetic translations of my own. Of the two, the first one below recreates, in my mind, an atmosphere closer to that of the original poem, while the second rendition protects the meter (because why not?). In both renditions I’ve moved the first phrase and placed it after the third.

Out into spring fields
I go to gather herbs
   For you

Upon my sleeves
Snow falls gently

Out into spring fields
I venture to gather herbs—
A present for you

Upon my outstretched sleeves, look:
The snows gather quietly

In addition to this poem, Ghibli’s newest animated film, Kaguya-hime no Monogatari, has also piqued my interest in classical Japanese. I went to see the film yesterday evening, and was not only extremely impressed, but deeply moved. It’s the kind of film that I want to show to my (currently nonexistent) children some day. As soon as the film ended I ran over to the bookstore and picked up a copy of Taketorimonogatari (the original story) that contains both classical text, notes, and a modern translation.

Before going to see the movie I had tried to explain to one of my friends what the original story was about. It had been years since I read an abbreviated version in English, and I did a horrible job relaying the tale in Japanese. I’d like to spend some time memorizing classical stories and poems this year, not only as a way of improving my Japanese, but as a way to spend more time with oral narration in general. It’s a great tradition, and it feels like something that has less and less of a place in people’s lives these days. At the very least, it has steadily disappeared from my own life over the years.