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Spring 2006, vol 4 no 1

An Interview With Tawara Machi
by Michael McClintock and Robert D. Wilson
Translated from Japanese into English by Robin Gill


RW: Almost overnight, it seems, your book, Salad Anniversary, became one of the hottest books to read in Japan. We are not talking about a murder mystery or a steamy sex novel, but a book of tanka poetry. What is it about your poetry that touches the heart of Japan and continues to do so?

あなたの『サラダ記念日』はほとんど一夜にして、日本のもっともホットな本のひとつになりました。殺人のミステリー小説やエロティックな性小説ではない、短歌の本が(ベストセラーになった)のです。あなたのポエトリーで、何が日本(の人)の心を動かし、また動かし続けているのでしょう(いると思いますか)?

TM: 誰もが心に感じたことのある思いに、言葉という形を与えるのが、詩人の役割だと私は考えています。特に日常のなかでの感覚を私は大切にしていますので、多くの読者が共感してくれたのだと思います。

I think that using words to give form to the feelings everyone has sensed in their hearts is the role of, or job of a poet. Because I particularly treasure the feelings encountered in everyday life, I think many readers were able to share my appreciation.

 

RW: When you sit down to write a tanka, what goes through your mind? Is there an inner voice you listen to? And how do you know when the tanka is finished and a keeper?

ひとつの短歌(の作品)を書くために腰を下ろす時、あなたの心を通り抜けるもの(心に浮かぶもの)は何ですか? あなたが耳を傾ける(心の)内なる声というのはありますか? そして、どのようにしてその短歌ができたと知り、書き留めるのですか。

TM: 小さなことでも大きなことでも、心が揺れたと感じたときが短歌を作るときです。言葉の音楽を聴くように、心の内なる声に耳を澄まします。はじめから57577の形になることは少なく、言葉や思いを削りに削り、残ったものが短歌になります。

When something moves me, whether it be small or large, I make a tanka. (Translator's note: In Japanese, haiku and tanka are said to be "made" rather than written.) In order to catch the "word music," I try to keep my inner ears open for the voice from within. Usually, it does not just come out in 5-7-5-7-7 form; I must whittle down the words and thoughts until only the tanka is left.

 

MMc: How do you feel your tanka has changed or added to the traditions of tanka writing in Japan?

日本での短歌創作の伝統(流れ)を、あなたの短歌が変えた、あるいは伝統(流れ)に付け加えたことについてどう感じていますか?

TM: 短歌は古くからあるものなので、古くさいものと思われがちです。わざわざ昔の言葉をつかって短歌を作る人もいます。が、私は、今の自分の思いを表現するには、今の自分の言葉をつかうのが一番いいと考えました。古い時代の短歌も、その時代の人にとっては「今」の言葉で書かれていたわけですから。このことが、多くの人にアピールしたと思いますし、現在口語で短歌を作る人は飛躍的に増えました。その結果、短歌の幅も広がったと思います。

Because tanka has been around for a long time, it is often thought of as an old-fashioned thing. There are people who deliberately use archaic words when they write tanka. But, I thought that the best way to express my feelings and thoughts was to use the language of my time. The old tanka were not written in language that was old at that time but in the language of their time. It was in their "now." I think many people found this appealing and, today, the number of people writing tanka in colloquial language has increased by a quantum jump. As a result, tanka has broadened its style and its base.

 

RW: What tanka poets have had the greatest influence on you and why?

どの短歌作者があなたにもっとも大きな影響を与えましたか? それはなぜ?

TM: 佐佐木幸綱(ささき・ゆきつな)です。大学で彼の講義を聴き、短歌に興味を持ちました。表現形式として、短歌が現代にも通用するものだということを、佐佐木幸綱の作品で学びました。彼は指導者としても優れ、大きな方向を示す以外は、私に自由に短歌を作らせてくれました。

Sasaki Yukitsuna. I became interested in tanka when I heard his lectures at my university. From his work, I came to realize that tanka, as a poetic form, had something to offer us today. He was an excellent teacher, for he showed me the way to go but did not specify the exact route. He let me create my tanka as I wished, freely.

 

MMc: When do you know you are "finished" with a tanka? Do you have poems you have not published because you are not satisfied with them?

ある短歌作品を「書き終わった」といつ知るのですか? 自分が(まだ)満足していないからという理由で発表してない短歌作品がありますか?

TM: 自分の思いが、31文字にぴたっとはまって、動かしがたいものに感じられたときです。ジグソーパズルの最後の1ピースをはめたように、言葉があらかじめそこに用意されていたように感じます。31文字にはなっていても、しっくりこないものもあり、発表していないものは多数あります。だいたい作った短歌の半数は発表しません。

I know they are done when I feel my thought is so firmly fixed in those 31 letters (i.e., syllabets) that it will not budge. The feeling is like putting in the last piece of a zig-zag puzzle. The word seems like it was prepared ahead of time. There are things that just won't fit well into 31 letters (syllabets), so, yes, there are many poems I do not publish. Perhaps half of them.

 

RW: Are waka and tanka the same to you? Why or why not?

<和歌と短歌はあなたにとって同じですか? イエスなら/ノーなら、それはなぜですか?

TM: 同じです。和歌というジャンルのなかの一つが短歌ですし、和歌と短歌は、日本語の歴史のなかでつながっていると思います。

They are the same. Tanka is one genre of waka, and both are closely connected, historically speaking.

 

RW: Would you share with our readers a few new unpublished tanka poems, allowing them the privilege of being the first to see them. An unveiling?

もしよろしかったら私たちの読者に、まだ発表していない新作をいくつか披露し、あなたの新作を最初に見る特典を読者に与えていただけないでしょうか。

TM:  すみません。まもなく新作のしめきりがあるので、それに全力を注いでいます。そこに発表しないものは、つまらない作品なので、それをここでご披露するわけにもいかないでしょう?

I am sorry, but I have a tight deadline and must concentrate on meeting it. My previously written unpublished work is pretty worthless, so it won't do to unveil them, now would it?

 

MMc: Do you see a difference between English language tanka and Japanese tanka?

あなたは英語による短歌と日本語による短歌に違いを感じますか?

TM: 感じます。57577のリズムが心地よいのは、日本語だけだからです。ただ、短い言葉で感情や場面を切り取る短歌の魅力は、英語でも発揮できると思います。

Yes, I do. The 5-7-5-7-7 rhythm only feels really good in Japanese. But using few words to turn a slice of the world into a tasty portion of feeling and scene is appealing. I am sure that tanka work in English, too.

 

MMc: Are there many "schools" of tanka composition in Japan? What are some of their differences and similarities? Are these schools built around a central figure, or a central philosophy?

日本にはたくさんの短歌の「流派」がありますか? それらの流派の違いや相似点は何でしょうか。それらの流派はある中心人物を核につくられているのですか、あるいはある中心となる哲学(考え)が核になっているのですか?

TM: 流派はたくさんあります。もとは、哲学を核としたものでしたが、現在は、中心となる人物に師事する人の集まりというおもむきです。そういう会に所属しない人も増えてきましたが、短歌を作る者同士が、互いに刺激しあい、向上する場として、機能していると私は思います。

Yes, there are many schools. Once they grouped around various philosophies or poetics. Now, they are mostly people gathered around a recognized poet who is their teacher. An increasing number of people belong to no such group, but I think these groups do still serve a useful function. They help people stimulate one another to do better.

 

RW: Do you have any advice for our readers?

私たちの読者にアドバイスがあったらお願いします。

TM: 短歌は短い詩ですが、その背景をさまざまに想像して読むことを楽しんでください。それから、ぜひ、作ってみることをおすすめします。短い詩のいいところは、誰もが作者になれることです。作る側になってみると、作品の読みかたも深まると思います。

Tanka is short as far as poetry goes. When you read them please try to expand them by imagining the situation in more than one way. This will multiply your pleasure. And, by all means, try writing them yourself. The good thing about short poems is that anyone can write them. And, once you have written them, you will get more out of reading them.

 

RW: You have stated in reference to your style of writing tanka, "Something like a mood wavers in our daily routines, like shopping, cooking, and doing laundry. I want to put my hand gently on it and capture it intact. If I also capture the sprit of the age, so much the better." Could you explain further?

あなたは自分の短歌創作のスタイルについて次のように述べられています。「買い物、料理、洗濯といった私たちの日々の行動(ルーティーン)の中に、何か感情(ムード)が揺れおこってきます。私はその感情に優しく自分の手を差しのべ、手をつけないままの形でつかみとるのです。もし私が時代の魂をもつかみとることができたなら、さらによいことですが」。──このことについてもう少し(詳しく)説明していただけますか?

TM: 波瀾万丈の人生を過ごした人や、特別な人間にだけ詩が書けるのではなく、平凡な日常のなかにこそ詩は見つけられる、というのが基本的な私の考えです。「時代」というような抽象的なテーマを、抽象的なままに歌にすると、スローガンになってしまう危険があります。ささやかでも具体的なことがらを歌にすることで、結果として「時代」がそこに反映されていればよいと思います。

My basic idea is that those exceptional people who have lived dramatic lives are not the only ones qualified to write poems. Poems may be found in plain, everyday life. An "age" is a symbolic theme. Deliberately trying to capture the spirit of an Age in one's work, one can end up with a poetry of slogans. It is enough if, in a quieter, smaller way, you sing (trans. note: in Japanese waka, and, sometimes tanka, creation of a poem is called "singing") about concrete things. The Age will be reflected in that.

 

MMc: Many traditionalists like your tanka as well. Why do you think this is?

1)(短歌の)伝統(古典)主義者たちの中にも、あなたの作品が好きな人が多数います。このことについてどうお考えですか?

TM: 私は伝統を破壊しようとか古典を軽視しようとかいうつもりは、まったくありません。時代の息吹を吹き込むことが、短歌を活性化して、伝統をさらに豊かなものにすると考えます。その思いが、作品をとおして伝わっているのだと思います。私自身、古典を若い人に伝えるための仕事(エッセイや評論や現代語訳など)を熱心にしています。

Destroying traditional tanka or treating it with disrespect are the furthest things from my mind. I feel that infusing tanka with the spirit of the times serves to revitalize it and makes the tradition only that much deeper. That belief is, I think, communicated through my poetry. I am personally devoted to teaching young people to appreciate the classics and am writing essays and critiques, as well as doing modern translations* for that purpose.

 

RW: What do you think of haiku and why?

2)俳句について、どう思いますか。それは何故?

TM: かたちは似ているけれど、まったく違うもの。何度か句会に参加して、実際に作ってみて、そう感じました。使う言葉の筋肉が違う。陸上の短距離と長距離ぐらいの差はあると思います。

The form is quite similar to tanka, but haiku is an entirely different thing. I have participated in kukai* on a number of occasions and actually made some and that is what I felt. The muscle of the language differs as much as that of short and long distance runners.

10 tanka of Ms. Machi Tawara that she selected and gives the permission of translation and reproduction (in this order) for your site.

 

何層もあなたの愛に包まれてアップルパイのリンゴになろう

i'd be the apple
filling an apple pie
wrapped up
in layer upon layer
of your love

 

思い出の一つのようでそのままにしておく麦わら帽子のへこみ

A memento,
i am leaving it just
as it is:
that dent still is
in my straw hat.

 

「寒いね」と話しかければ「寒いね」と答える人のいるあたたかさ

How warm
with you here to say
"it sure is!"
whenever i say
"it sure is cold!"

 

「この味がいいね」と君が言ったから七月六日はサラダ記念日

Because you said
"this really tastes good"
on july sixth,
the sixth of july it is:
our salad anniversary

 

なんでもない会話なんでもない笑顔なんでもないからふるさとが好き

Conversations
about nothing, smiles
about nothing
in particular is why
i love it back home

 

四万十に光の粒をまきながら川面をなでる風の手のひら

The cool palm
of the wind caressing
the river's face
as it sows four times
ten-thousand grains of light

 

アボカドの固さをそっと確かめるように抱きしめられるキッチン

As gently as
one checks the hardness
of an avocado
i find myself embraced
within my kitchen

 

生きるとは手をのばすこと幼子の指がプーさんの鼻をつかめり

To live
is to reach out:
baby fingers
have caught hold
of pooh's nose

 

揺れながら前へ進まず子育てはおまえがくれた木馬の時間

Back and forth
going nowhere, rearing
a child is like
this rocking-horse
time you gave me

 

みかん一つに言葉こんなにあふれおり かわ・たね・あまい・しる・いいにおい

So many words
in just one tangerine!
"Skin," and "seeds,"
"sweet," and "juice" and
"smell," a "good smell."

 

Translator's Postword: Some of the translations are not final because the person or number of the noun was uncertain and I do not yet know the intent of the poet.

 


Machi Tawara Machi Tawara is Japan's most popular tanka poet. She's also a critic, author, popular television personality, and translator of Japanese classic literature into contemporary Japanese.

She was born in Osaka, Japan. In 1981, she entered Waseda University. There she was encouraged to write tanka by one of her professors, the poet Yukitsuna Sasaki. Tawara received a BA in Japanese Literature in 1985, and became a teacher at Hashimoto High School in Kanagawa, teaching Japanese until 1989. While teaching, she continued to write poetry and was awarded the 32nd Kadokawa Tanka Award in 1986. Her first volume of tanka, Salad Anniversary, was published in 1987, and became an instant bestseller with more than three million copies in print, earning Tawara the Modern Japanese Poets Association Award in 1988. Literally overnight she was propelled into stardom as a public figure. Tawara's translations of Japanese classic literature into contemporary Japanese include the Man'yoshu (Collection of 10,000 leaves), Taketori Monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter), and Midare Gami (Tangled Hair). In addition, Tawara is the author of several travel and photography books, and has written a series of essays for newspapers and magazines such as Asahi Shimbun Newspaper, Asahi Weekly and Bungei Shunju. A busy woman who has not forgotten her commitment to education, Tawara has also served as a member of various committees in Japan, including the Committee for Japanese Language and the Central Committee for Education.