February 13, 2012

Hayashi Fumiko

Hayashi Fumiko [Japan]

Born in Meji in the extreme west of Japan, Hayashi Fumiko was unacknowledged upon her birth by her father, thus leaving her and her mother in the position of being outcasts. Without the father's registration, she was left to her mother's registry, a position in Japan that ostracizes individuals from social acceptance or family inheritance.

     She spent most of her early years as an itinerant peddler. As her father developed his business, moreover, he brought home a geisha to live in the house. Fumiko's mother was left with her child and the father's chief clerk, whose lack of business sense further contributed to their destitute condition. They finally made a home in the town of Onomichi, on the coast of the Inland Sea. At nineteen, Fumiko left home to go to Tokyo, hoping to marry her fiancé. Although she supported him with low-paying jobs, the family refused to approve the marriage, and Fumiko was left on her own.

     During these years, however, she began to write a poetic diary, which would eventually become Hōrōki (Diary of a Vagabond). She worked as a maid for the writer, Chikamasu Shūkō, and then as a shop attendant, waitress, factory work, and in other positions. Hoping to become an actress she arranged a meeting with the actor-poet Tanabe Wakao, and their relationship developed into a brief romantic affair. During the time she was with him, however, she made contact with the modernist poetry circles, where her straightforward behavior and refusal to behave in the role of a Japanese housewife, shocked some, but won friends of others.

     The political and social discussions of these groups highly influenced her work. But the poetry she created came distinctly from her own condition and spoke of her role, partly fictionalized, partly based on fact, as an outsider. Linking her work to the plight of common workers and the destitute, she forge a poetry that refused to defer to the patriarchal system of Japan.

     Diary of a Vagabond sold more than 600,000 copies upon its publication in 1930, and resulted in her literary fame. Her other major work, Aouma wo mitari (I saw a Pale Horse) was published in 1929.


Aouma wo mitari (Tokyo: Nansō shoin, 1929); Hōrōki (1030); Hayashi Fumiko zenshū. Vol 1 (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1951); Hayashi Fumiko zenshū, Vol 2 (Tokyo: Sinchōsha, 1951).


I Saw a Pale House and Selected Poems from Diary of a Vagabond, trans. by Janice Brown (Ithaca, New York: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1997).

Under the Lantern

If you give me ten cups of King of Kings to drink
I shall throw you a kiss
ah, what a pitiful waitress I am.

Outside the blue window, rain falls like drops of cut glass
under the light of the lantern
all has turned to wine. 

Is Revolution the wind blowing north...?
I've spilled the wine
opening my red mouth over the spill on the table
I belch fire.

Shall I dance in my blue apron?
"Golden Wedding," or "Caravan"
tonight's dance music....

Still three more cups to go
How'm I doing? you ask
I'm just fine
although I'm a nice girl
a really nice girl
I scatter my feelings
generously like cut flowers
among petty pigs of men.
Ah, is Revolution the wind blowing north..."

—Translated from the Japanese by Janice Brown
(from Aouma wo mitari, 1929)

Taking Out the Liver

In the chicken liver fireworks scatter, and night comes
ladies and gentlemen! hear ye, hear ye!
the final scene with that man has come slowly but surely
in his bowels
sliced open with one sword cut
a killfish swarms smartly.

It's a fetid, stinking night
if no one is home, I'll break in like a burglar!
I'm poor
and so that man has run from me
it's a night that wraps me up in darkness.

—Translated from the Japanese by Janice Brown
(from Aouma wo mitari, 1929)

I've Seen Fuji

I've seen Fuji
I've seen Mount Fuji
there was no red snow
so I need not praise Fuji as a fine mountain.

I'm not going to lose out to such a mountain
many times I've thought that,
seeing its reflection in the train window,
the heart of this peaked mountain
threatens my broken life
and looks down coldly on my eyes.

I've seen Fuji,
I've seen Mount Fuji
Fly across that mountain from dome to peak
with your crimson mouths, give a scornful laugh
Fuji is a great sorrowful palace of snow,
blow and rage
Mount Fuji is the symbol of Japan
it's a sphinx
a thick, dream-like nostalgia
a great, sorrowful palace of snow where demons live.

Look at Fuji,
Look at Mount Fuji
in your form painted by Hokusai
I have seen your youthful spark.

But now you're an old broken-down grave mound
always you turn your glaring eyes to the sky
why do you flee from the murky snow?

Birds, wind
rap on Mount Fuji's shoulder
so bright and still
it's not a silver citadel
it's a great, sorrowful palace of snow that hides misfortune.

Mount Fuji!
Here stands a lone woman who does not lower her head to you
here is a woman laughing scornfully at you.

Mount Fuji, Fuji
your passion like rustling fire
howls and roars
until you knock her stubborn head down
I shall wait, happily whistling.

—Translated from the Japanese by Janice Brown
(from Hōrōki, 1930)

Reprinted from I Saw a Pale Horse and Selected Poems from Diary of a Vagabond, trans. by Janice Brown (Ithaca, New York: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1997). Copyright (c) by Janice Brown. Reprinted by permission of Janice Brown.

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