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Introduction

1. Introduction

 While reading Takuboku Ishikawa’s Romaji Diary and Sad Toys on the train home from Osaka to Kishiwada it occurred to me that it would be fascinating to do something similar. That is, to record my final, maybe, year in Japan via diary style musings and Tanka style poems.

 Takuboku was a pauper poet whose pride and dedication to poetry saw great productivity but also poverty as he single-mindedly followed his aspirations (and got himself into a lot of trouble in doing so). He died an early death of Tuberculosis in 1913. The Romaji Diary follows his life from the April to June of 1909. Sad Toys is a collection of Tanka.

 A proper note on Tanka shall be written at a later date once the properties have been suitably weighed. Though it is nice to consider adding this 31-syllable poetic form to those at my disposal already. Those being Haiku, Senryu, Chokka, Waka and Katauta.

 There is a certain peace to the simplicity of Japanese style poems though writing them in English requires certain changes. These can be reducing the number of syllables to capture the contained nature of the Japanese poem or these can be by keeping the syllabic nature and using English’s more exuberant style.

 Mine shall mix between the two for now and see if any one form shall make itself dominant. The poetic form will not be exclusively Tanka and many others will find their ways inside.

 It would be nice that this log from now until next July will find its way into print. The growth in interest in Japanese culture is bound to expand away from the current obsessions with manga and anime towards the more traditional art forms.

Makoto Ryujin
Translated by Wulfstan Crumble

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2. Tuesday, 4th of November.

 Sunshine replaced Monday night’s cold. The leaves around my school have not yet turned nor dropped. The day started with thoughts of going to Taketomi-jima to meet a friend in February. A small island in the deep south with beautiful surroundings sounds idyllic for a short trip.

01
Of the many things dreamed;
How many
Have lasted beyond a day?

                        02
                        Sitting atop a cliff
                        Green below
                        Blue around,
                        Setting future tanka,
                        While a friend works
                        And I
                        Am just imaging this; again.

 The usual morning fog, especially that of a Monday (or some other first day at work) lifted by lunch. The morning’s two classes were a usual breeze of studying and a game thought up on the hoof then scribbled down on a piece of paper. Is it a sign of declining interest or a supreme ability to teach without preparation?

 Two teachers, one cute and well dressed (in a casual manner) and the other a brunette Barbara Windsor talked about jimin. Jimin, which my computer corrected as jiminy, is not in my Japanese dictionary. It translates as pride. Pride is devolved into two words in Japanese; or at least two gestures. Tengu, a form of spirit with a big red face and a big long red nose (as found on Mt. Kurama), gave birth to the gesture for noisy or boastful pride. Pinocchio’s growing nose gesture relates to lying but here means pride. Quiet pride has a kind of Chaplinesque finger wiggle under the nose about it.

 As usual the word in my dictionary, hotori, did not come up in conversation.

 The source of the pride was in having completed my five classes worth of composition marking before anyone else. These formed part of a multitude of tests the third-graders face while trying to prepare for their high school entrance exams. These were not the official SAT tests but were prefectural ones. The English was sloppy. So sloppy one composition required the student to begin a sentence with “My memory is about…”

 Worse, they required us to mark incorrect answers as being the opposite if they looked vaguely right.

 This kind of mentality could have caused Toshio Tomogami to win the “true modern history” essay contest last week. His essay denied Japan’s role as a wartime aggressor and its atrocities in China, Korea and so on. He also believes all progress in human rights in Asia is due to Japan’s occupation. Looking at China, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and North Korea it is obvious to see where he is coming from.

03
Tanka diaries
Return me to an ethereal plane
To dream of Taketomi-jima.

 My apartment is quiet once more. My tummy is empty yet dares not rumble. The Science of Sleep has finished and there will be no one to talk to till the morrow.