The pre-Modern Kawakami Mieko

Since KAWAKAMI Mieko's being promoted as the "modern HIGUCHI Ichiyō", I thought I might translate at a couple of Higuchi's waka.

mushi naraba/ oto ni arawarete/ mie mo sen/ nururu tamoto wa/ tada hitori no mi

Were I an insect/ this would come out as a cry/ and so be known/ Instead, I dampen my sleeve/ all alone.

Hard to believe that one wasn't done in some Heian anthology, really.

Here's another entitled "Old Woman" (老女).

Sarashina ya/ Ubasute-yama no/ tsuki fukete/ waga yo no aki ha/ miru hito mo nashi

Sarashina--/ over Mt Ubasute/ the moon; the night is deepening/ Nobody is here to see/ the autumn of my life

(If you didn't bother to click the link, "Uba-sute" means "old woman-abandoning". The idea of an uba-sute mountain is widespread across Japan; Sarashina/Nagano happens to have a mountain officially named Ubasute.)

Popularity factor: 7

Paul D.:

Pardon my ignorance; why is "uba-sute" associated with mountains?


Never mind the "modern HIGUCHI Ichiyō", what about the real Higuchi Ichiyō? Am I going to have to translate the rest of Takekurabe by myself? Believe me, with my extremely rusty Japanese, the result will *not* be pleasant. ; )


Patrick: Good question -- I guess because if you live inland and you have to take old women somewhere to die, it makes sense to take them somewhere that feels distinctly separated and mystical, and that's a bit of effort to get to (or back from). Ancient Japanese culture's tendency to consider mountains as the abodes of gods or as actual gods themselves probably also helped. Makes it feel less like murder and more like "giving them a lift home".

patrick: What, the tanka aren't enough? Ah, pressure!

Vilhelm S:

I remember reading somewhere a suggeston that due to the geography of Japan, "mountain" holds to same position as "woods" does in Europe -- it is the opposite of village/farmland/human population.

So while in Europe, Hansel & Gretel's father would take leave them in the woods, in Japan he would take them "into the mountains", simply since that's where you end up if you walk away from the house.

Perhaps someone more familiar with Japanese culture (*looking at Matt*) could comment?


Don't look at me, I already commented!

Now that you mention it I do recall hearing that before, and it is true that the wilds in Japanese fairy tales are "the mountains".

Paul D.:

Vilhelm: that makes sense.

Speaking of which, I once had an argument on sci.lang.japan where I insisted that the word/character "mountain" in a lot of Japanese compounds actually meant wilderness, and not specifically "mountain".


Hmm, examples?

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