Rin Ishigaki

Rin Ishigaki Poems


A line of a poem floats into my mind
Then suddenly deserts me.
Like the fish that got away
Sometimes it never comes back
There are times days and months later
When it appears right before my eyes.
In June last year
I met by chance in an underwater viewing platform in Okinawa
A fish as big as a parrot-fish.
Staring at me full in face from behind the glass
It departed, completely unruffled.
Appeared again and departed once more.
What was it?
The eye that stared at me?
As far as that fish is concerned
Who can say that I am not words?

In Tokyo
At the public bathhouse the price went up to 19 yen and so
When you pay 20 yen at the counter
You get one yen change.

Women have no leeway in their lives
To be able to say that
They don't need one yen
And so though they certainly accept the change
They have no place to put it
And drop it in between their washing things.

Thanks to that
The happy aluminium coins
Soak to their fill in hot water
And are splashed with soap.

One yen coins have the status of chess pawns
So worthless that they're likely to bob up even now
In the hot water.

What a blessing to be of no value
In monetary terms.

A one yen coin
Does not distress people in the way a 1,000 yen note does
Is not as sinful as a 10,000 yen note
The one yen coin in the bath
With healthy naked women.


In the night I awoke.
The clams I bought yesterday
In a corner of the kitchen
With mouths open were alive.

‘When dawn comes
I'm going to gobble them all up
Every single one.'

I cackled
The cackle of a witch.
From that moment on
My mouth slightly open
I passed the night in sleep.


At the end of the war,
One after another women threw themselves off
A clifftop on Saipan.

For virtue or duty or appearances
Or something.
Pursued by flames or men.

Because they had to leap they leapt.
A somewhere which is nowhere.
(The cliff always turned the women upside-down)

You see
Not one of the women reached the ocean.
Now that fifteen years have passed
I wonder what has happened?
To those

There have been for ages
Objects always placed
In front of us women,
A pot of sufficient size
To match our strength and
A ricepot designed especially for fat
Simmering shiny rice and
In front of the glow from the fire that we have inherited from the
beginning of history
Were always our mothers and grandmothers and their mothers also.

What amount of love and faithfulness
Did they pour into these objects?
At times it was red carrots
Black kelp
Diced fish

In the kitchen
There always occurred the correct preparations for breakfast and lunch
and dinner
Before the preparations there were always rows of
Warm hands and knees.

Ah were it not for these rows of people
How could the women have so cheerfully
Done the cooking time and time again?
This is the face of an indefatigable love
This is the face of service performed day after day so that it becomes a
matter of routine.

The mysterious irony that made cooking
The task of women
Was not ill-fortune I believe
Because of it learning and worldly status
May lag behind but
It is not too late
What is in front of us is
The pot and ricepot and burning flames and

In front of these beloved objects
Just like we cook meat and potatoes
With a deep love
Let us study politics and economics and literature.

Not for the sake of pride or worldly fame but
In order for these things
To be offered to all humanity
To work towards these things with humanity itself as the object of our

I am standing in a large mirror.
A solitary
Small island.
Separated from everyone.

I know
The history of the island.
The dimensions of the island.
Waist, bust and hips.
Seasonal dress.
The singing of birds.
The hidden spring.
The flower's fragrance.

As for me
I live on the island.
I have cultivated it, built it.
It is impossible to know
Everything about the island.
Impossible to take up permanent residence.

In the mirror staring at
Myself: A far-off island.

I can't survive without eating.
Brothers and sisters
Money too hearts too
I couldn't have survived without eating.
With my belly full
When I wipe my mouth
Scattered about the kitchen
Carrot tails
Chicken bones
My father's guts
My fortieth sunset
For the first time the tears of a wild beast filled my eyes.

This summer I went to Kamikochi,

The towering mountains were huge
I was small
The friend who went with me was also small
Everyone was so small
Any comparison was ludicrous.

The trail
Wound round the mountain like a single thread
Finer than a thread
It continued on ever more faintly,

I climbed up the trail

When I came to the summit
I had grown wonderfully big
As big as the mountain
Beneath my friend's feet
The huge mountains went on and on.

The villages and towns were far-off
Indistinct and tiny,

The trail ascending the mountain was narrow but
Good enough for people to follow
If, on the trail I had just climbed
The authorities had placed a single guard
And erected a notice saying
‘No entry beyond this point.....'

Nobody could have climbed one step
Upon that dark trail from the foot of the mountain
Through the striped bamboo-grass,
In the small place at the bottom of the mountain people
Face to face
Would have had to narrow-mindedly compete with each other,
For that reason they would have been deprived in body and mind
They would have forgotten their own potentialities and
The vast sky
And life
With all its prospects
They would have become servile and unhappy.

The field of alpine flowers on the peak
Was shrouded in cloud and mist birds were there too
I believe that if people do not go there
No creature will
It was a quiet, lovely place.

If people don't go there who will!
If even the people who live there don't go there

I was overjoyed by there being no notice
On the trail I had just glanced back at
It was a mountain trail where nothing like a notice should be.

On the mountain top
Where nothing like that should exist
I yelled out without knowing why,
If someone erects a notice here
I'll tear it out
I'll tear it out regardless of the cost!

Mothers need not be as beautiful as flowers.

Flowers blossom so magnificently
That we forget what season it is.
But industry has not progressed
To the point where it can grow hearts in greenhouses.

Washed by the cold waves
Assuming the expression of rocks
Mothers may have the profiles of damp white sand.

Though their gentleness is eroded
Though their love shattered
Though their hopes washed away.

In the solidity of this peninsula
It is fine for you to be a mother.

Connected to the continent of life
Tiny tiny land,
Join your hands together,
I can see a splendid coastline.

For me to be struck with wonder at
Trees that
Keep on standing
For years
Hundreds of years
I had to live for over forty years.

For me to be entranced at
Day and night
How does smallest, most slender stalk
Stand upright?
Took even more years.

The acquisition of this knowledge
Are trees
Is grass.
Came about then.
From there
I passed by everything.

Arriving at the point where
I can glimpse
My future destination
I stop, agitated
"Move faster",
Driven onwards by
The view.

I plucked wildflowers at Marunouchi in Tokyo.
At the end of the 1920's
I was in my mid-teens.

On my way to work
To the Bank
The hem of my kimono-trousers flapping
Just a dash up the embankment beside the footpath
Before my eyes an open field.
Philadelphia fleabane
Wildflowers too poor
To decorate my desk at work.

Its been about half a century since then
Days came when the buildings blazed in the flames of war,
Around the postwar Tokyo Station
Just like a graph of the economic boom
Tall skyscrapers bloomed.

I retired at the mandatory retirement age,
I don't suppose any firms are left which take
Girls straight from primary school.
Even women are questioned about their market value
And ranked accordingly.
Women bloom in competition
But the day has finally come when they cannot possibly be wildflowers.

Farewell Marunouchi
Now no open fields anywhere
The thin green stem that I once squeezed
Was my own neck.


In Japanese homes the roofs are low,
The poorer the home the lower the roof,

The lowness of these roofs
Weighs heavily on my back.

What can the weight of this roof be?
Staring from ten paces away
It is something on top of the house

Not the blue of the sky but
The darkness of the colour of blood.

Something that seizes me and obstructs my future
Something that consumes and imprisons my strength within
The narrow confines of that house,

My sick father lives on top of the roof
My stepmother lives on top of the roof
My brothers and sisters also live on top of the roof.

When the wind blows it makes a popping noise
On that galvanized iron
Roof about the size of two rugs,
When you look
Radishes are also there
Rice is also there
And the warmth of my bed.

Under the weight of this roof
Ordering me to bear its burden
A woman's spring, my spring, comes to a close
Far far away the sun sets.

In recent years
Nothing has been
As good a souvenir.
So lonely
So beautiful
A single phrase.

‘The earth was green'

The astronauts having landed
Quickly got lost in the crowd
The folk in the square clutched tightly
The telescope made of words they had just been given.

— Can you see it?
— Yep
I think so
On an uncertain scaffold.

They discovered for certain
Something there for certain
The language of certainty.

It was almost too far away
Like a vision.

The earth was green.

The phrase ‘economic animal'
I suppose is already fairly old.
Quite a gap exists between
The time when they said we seem that way
And now when we are that way.
Now then we economic animals
Will think about the economy.
From the time that I was born I've just been counting money.
That was what we were taught in the home
By the state.
People only count the time they have left
When it has started to run out.
We live terribly impoverished lives.
We die terribly lonely deaths.

The Best Poem Of Rin Ishigaki


A line of a poem floats into my mind
Then suddenly deserts me.
Like the fish that got away
Sometimes it never comes back
There are times days and months later
When it appears right before my eyes.
In June last year
I met by chance in an underwater viewing platform in Okinawa
A fish as big as a parrot-fish.
Staring at me full in face from behind the glass
It departed, completely unruffled.
Appeared again and departed once more.
What was it?
The eye that stared at me?
As far as that fish is concerned
Who can say that I am not words?

Rin Ishigaki Comments

Fabrizio Frosini 09 January 2019

Ishigaki Rin (born in Akasaka, Tokyo, on February 21,1920 – she died December 26,2004) was a Japanese poet, most famous for her poem 'Nameplate'. After she finished junior high school in 1934, she went to work for Industrial Bank of Japan (her income sustained her aging family through World War II): she never married.

6 0 Reply
Fabrizio Frosini 09 January 2019

She was known as the bank clerk poet because all of her writing was done on the side of her job as a clerk, and her work frequently appeared in her employer's newsletter. Like her friend and contemporary Ibaragi Noriko, she was openly critical of environmental devastation, war, and nuclear power. Some of her poems are used in Japanese language textbooks, and she is therefore one of the best-known contemporary poets in Japan.

4 0 Reply

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