I bought a book of Japanese poems, Rainbows on Eyelashes (睫毛の虹), by Misuzu Kaneko. The book has the poems in Japanese characters along with English translations and beautiful watercolor illustrations by Midori Yoshida. It is children’s poetry, really, but at my level of Japanese it’s something easy enough to remember and still learn from.
Some years ago I saw a Japanese TV drama about Misuzu Kaneko (金子 みすゞ). She had a tragic short life from 1903 to 1930, and her poems were forgotten until they were rediscovered in 1982. The drama had no English subtitles, but for my Japanese class I looked up the words and learned some of the poems and did a presentation on her in Japanese. I searched for books of her poetry online and wanted this one but at the time it was expensive and had to be imported from Japan. I recently looked again on Amazon and found a used copy in the US for only $2.81 so I got it (in very good condition.) The book’s pages are turned the traditional Japanese way, from left to right. It’s rather small, 8.5″ x 6″, and 68 pages.
The poems have common themes of kindness, empathy, and appreciation for the simple things of nature. The one “Stars and a Dandelion” is my favorite, probably because it has stars in it. I memorized it for my Japanese class.
Stars and a Dandelion In the deep blue sky, Like the pebbles at the bottom of the sea, The daytime stars, sinking until night comes, Are invisible to our eyes. But though we can't see them, they are there. Things invisible are still there. A fallen withered dandelion Silently hides in the cracks of a roof tile Its strong roots, waiting until spring comes, Are invisible to our eyes. But though we can't see them, they are there. Things invisible are still there.
Having studied Japanese, I find these poems don’t have quite the same feeling in English. I don’t think this is the fault of the translator- some thoughts in Japanese just can’t be translated closely (the same with English, I’m sure.) But it doesn’t matter so much with poetry, and the pictures help the translation. These poems would be very good to read to children (and adults) — there are lessons about respect for others, like one where she scolds her cat for chasing a cricket that is missing a leg. But some of the poems are quite sad, like the one about the shopkeeper whose dog died.
There are a couple of poems about fish, which I memorized. Next time I’m in a restaurant having fish with Japanese friends I’ll recite them and see if I can make someone cry, or at least pause.
Fish I feel sorry for the fish in the sea. The rice in the field is cultivated by man, The cows in the pasture are raised by man, The carp in the pond too are fed by man. But the fish in the sea Are under the care of nobody at all And even though they never cause any trouble They're eaten by me just like this. I really feel sorry for the fish.
I really like this book.