Friday, October 05, 2012
An Individualist Poem: Me, a Small Bird, and Bell
KANEKO Misuzu was a poet from Nagato in Northern Yamaguchi who lived at the beginning of the 20th century. She had a tough childhood, being sent to a foster home at the death of her father, then re-fostered by her mother's second husband, she found herself treated as a "foster child" even by her, by now estranged, mother. Leaving home, she ran a bookshop in Shimonoseki, the largest town in Yamaguchi Prefecture and wrote poetry, about 500 poems and songs mainly for children, of which 50 were published in her lifetime.
It was after her marriage however that her life became even more tragic in that her husband requested that she give up poetry and concentrate being a "housewife". When she refused, he took to having mistresses or at least prostitutes, and when he gave her a veneral disease she decided to leave him. At first she thought that she would have custody of her children but when they were taken from her, she committed suicide at the age of 27.
I imagine that she genuinely and fervently wished that her significant others would treat her on her merits, rather than according to her station or role (foster-child, housewife), so her most famous poem, in my translation below strikes me as being, very understated.
Me, a Little Bird, and a Bell
Even if I stretch out both my arms
I can't fly, not one flap, in the sky
But the little bird than can fly so well
Can't run on the ground fast, like I
Even if shake my body about
I won't make a beautiful sound
But the bell that can ring so beautifully
Doesn't know a whole heap of songs, like me
The bell, the small bird, and also me
All different, all good.
(It is much better in the original Japanese)
I often assert that the Japanese are just as individual as Westerners. I still think that this is true but it is also true that there are strong philosophical and cultural encouragements to fulfil ones roles. I think that this is because the Japanese are so individualist and full of self-love that their society would fall apart if they did not promote harmony and role-fulfilment. Perhaps Kaneko Misuzu was not so full of self-love. It is clear that she had a strong desire to be appreciated on her merits. I like to think her poems will become popular in the West.
Labels: collectivism, individualism, japan, japanese culture, 個人主義, 日本文化, 集団主義
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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.