Welcome to Japanese poetry - January 2006



But what is Japanese poetry? Asked that question, one would most likely think of the Haiku or the Tanka, two kinds of traditional fixed-form verse. In fact, a quick search in Google with the key word ‘Japanese poetry’ gives you 9.5 million results in 0.21 seconds, but the first 20 entries are all devoted either to the Haiku or the Tanka. Is there any Japanese poetry which is written in contemporary spoken language and ‘free’ in style as well as in spirit? The poetry equivalent of Haruki Murakami’s novels or Takeshi Kitano’s films perhaps? Or even of Japanese animated movies such as Pokemon and Yugio?

Of course there is! No human society, however industrialized and post-modern as 21st century Japan, can live without expressing itself through poetry. For the past one hundred years or so, the Japanese have been writing and reading a free-style form of poetry called Kohgo Jiyu Shi. This new poetry, sometimes simply referred to as Gendai Shi (Contemporary Poetry), is based on spoken Japanese and addresses the changing realities of modern Japan which are quite different from those depicted in traditional Haikus or Tankas. This form has given birth to fresh, new Japanese voices, and verse more urgent, daring, and sensitive than the traditional forms. It is the richness and the diversity of these voices that we will try to introduce through this domain; our focus being on Japanese poetry written after World War II.

In this first issue of PIW Japan, we have decided to introduce the poetry of Rin Ishigaki whose work exemplifies one of those rare and happy cases where high quality poetry was written for and is widely enjoyed by ordinary folk in modern Japan. The Australian poet, Leith Morton, has contributed the introductory essay and translations true to the music of the original poems.

So click on the link to Rin Ishigaki and enjoy her poems both in print and as read by her. We hope you will like it.

© Yasuhiro Yotsumoto  
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