A Long Rainy Season

Looking at Women in Japanese Poetry & Short Stories


on the eucalyptus tree
like infinite thought.

--Kimiko Itami

Is the rain "like infinite thought," or is the eucalyptus tree, or the rain on the tree? Probably the last one.

Here is the only time (I believe) that eucalyptus is mentioned in the story that bears the same name, "When that horrible sensation of psychic imbalance overwhelms me, when I become Munch's anguished, O-mouthed woman at this end of the bridge, I lift my eyes towards the eucalyptus trees towering over the terraces behind the mansion, silently praying, O God above the eucalyptus trees...help me, heal me, make me whole..."

As I read the haiku above, I think of the fact that in the story it is a "hot July" and I imagine a sort of cooling, healing rain pouring down onto Toki. The "infinite thought" brings to my mind the elated, gorgeous (and lost) feeling chronicled on page 109, "...days gone by when my heart almost burst with the joy of being alive, when even the dog crud along the sidewalk seemed right and proper." When you get that insanely giddy feeling that everything in the world is amazing, perfect, awe-inspiring...your mind and your heart sort of expand and encompass and except everything.

However, I cannot shake the last sentence, "The echo of her howl comes to us without diminution across the tumult of the ages." Infinite thought on the opposite end of the spectrum.


Here's a very chilling poem. I feel that there are many ways to read this tanka, although I am not sure if the poet intended for there to be a "correct way." Does anyone think this calls to mind one of the stories we've read? And why?

I'll turn to water--
that's when
the blood of my parents
will come to an end.

--Motoko Michiura

I think this is a fun way to get some comments going and see if anyone has remotely the same thought-track about these poems as I do!! If nobody posts in a few days I'll edit this with my thoughts on it!

Way back when...

...remember Child's Play? Of course. Let's dredge up those memories, because here is another lovely tanka to consider:

Gently tying
and untying a ribbon--
why could I tie it
so well before?

--Amari Hayashi

This poem brings to mind the loss of innocence. It also has other, more concrete parallels--the ribbon in the poem and the new hairstyle Midori must wear in the story.

This trying to do something that one could do before with ease...well, to me that sounds like some sort of change happened in the individual. A certain loss of grace and poise comes with the onset of puberty; that gawky, awkward, liminal phase. This is what occurs in Child's Play, isn't it?


Getting allergies just reading this?

So, you may be wondering...why so many flowers?!

I'm sure most of you are all familiar with the term "season word" (kigo) and what importance these words have in haiku, "...the haiku was used to distill the universe through the juxtaposition of dissimilar elements while creating unity through the use of a seasonal word. As seasons are tied to the life cycle, seasonal references give the poem vitality and rhythm."

And why so many cherry blossoms? Did you know that cherry blossoms are such a prominent theme in Japanese poetry that just mentioning "blossoms" in a poem instantly leads the reader to think of cherry blossoms?

Cherry blossoms are definitely a big deal in Japan....

A little bit of background

I thought it would be interesting to write a little bit about the translation of the book, A Long Rainy Season, since mood is so important in translations--and also is a main topic of discussion when we analyze stories.

It is amazing how such brief verses can be translated so many different ways. Here is a poem that is in the collection, as translated by the editors:


bright as a tulip in bloom--
take me
in February.
--Machi Tawara

Translated directly from Japanese, it reads:

tulip flower / bloom like / brightness / you me / carry away February

Another translation reads entirely differently, but don't you think it keeps a similar "feel" or tone?

With the gaiety of tulips in bloom
carry me off--

All of the versions are certainly different. The translators in the book made a point (as stated in the introduction) to really keep the tone and not attempt to force any syllable count, "...the English was not put into a strict syllable count, sicne we felt this would force the works into a straitjacket rhythm rather than allowing the inherent rhythms of the language to emerge."

Ephemeral moods

In class, we talked about the general "feeling" of the stories of Ogawa. We came to the conclusion that they had no real moral or "meaning," but instead gave the reader a sort of dreamy sensation. This tone or mood was also called ephemeral, "lasting a very short time; transient." This is especially true of the woman's odd encounter in "The Cafeteria in the Evening and a Pool in the Rain." This calls to mind a poem in A Long Rainy Season by the wonderful Chieko Yamanaka:

Watching the cherry blossoms shimmer,
break through the sunshine;
I was born to be human
in this dark,
transient world.

We are all most likely aware that cherry blossom viewing time is very much transient and emphemeral. However, it is odd that such a beautiful event makes the speaker of the poem think of rather melancholy, dark thinfgs.

What do cherry blossoms symbolize? In Japan, they are symbolic of life--inevitably ending, but lovely (perhaps because of its impending cessation).

In the "Cafeteria" story, the woman enjoys watching the fog. It is described as a very delicate and lovely fog--not oppressive in any way. These two sentences in the beginning of the story really mesh well with the above tanka:

But for now I just wanted to watch the fog. There was no need to hurry, and I was determined to take full advantage of these last three weeks of my single life."

The shortness of the time before marriage--maybe even before the loss of virginity--is beautiful, is sweet for the main character. This spills over into symbolism of the fog that she seems to enjoy so much.


Pregnant realizations?

Ah, women

walking with ovaries
hanging inside--
the wind blows, the bamboo groves
cry from within.

-Ei Akitsu

This poem realizes the female's sexuality and reproductive capability. It demonstrates a strange awareness of reproduction, since obviously one cannot witness the ovaries in passing women.

I'm posting this poem because of the opposite-but-equal strangeness that occurs in "Pregnancy Diary," with the expecting woman as well as the narrator seemingly unable to acknowledge or realize that there is a budding human life in that belly. Perhaps this poem, with its "Ah" at the opening, is a flash of realization on the poet's part?

In a poem of such brevity, it is essential to analyze each word. I'd like to talk about the symbolic significance of bamboo. Bamboo, being hollow internally, could symbolize emptiness. However, it is also very hardy and durable--powerful on the outside but incomplete on the inside? Shinto shrines are also sometimes bordered by a bamboo grove to ward off evil.

What on earth could the bamboo grove in the poem refer to? Not sure yet...


Translation information!

A good article by the woman who compiled and translated the works in A Long Rainy Season.

It gives a look into how difficult and subjective it can be to attempt to translate poetry.

(This article was only accessible through University computers, but I uploaded it to a server...it takes about 15 seconds of waiting through an ad-filled page, but it's a great article and worth the wait!)



The poem that was the inspiration for the title:

The nuisance
of breasts-
a long rainy season.

--Nobuko Katsura

This short verse can either say quite a lot about the speaker as well as the state of being a woman. Conversely, it may simply be very literal--the physical burden of carrying breasts on one's chest.

a long rainy season

Here's a photo of the book I'll be analyzing:

It's a very interesting anthology, in part because many of the poems have never before been translated into English. It is also interesting in its sometimes shocking subject matter. Do not let the florid, dainty cover deceive!


Gearing up!

In various installments and with the help of many links and books, I will attempt to draw a connections among the mental anguishes of some of the women in the stories we've read, actual psychological conditions, and the material in the A Long Rainy Season.