Wednesday 2 January 2013

J-Lit Giants: 3 - Ryuichi Tamura

We're into January now, and it's time for another episode of our J-Lit Giants series.  Today's post marks a couple of firsts: Gary, of The Parrish Lantern, is the first guest reviewer to offer up a favourite writer; and his choice (which should surprise nobody) is the first poet in the series too...

The Four Thousand Days and Nights ~ A few words on Ryuichi Tamura
Ryuichi Tamura (田村隆 ~ Tamura Ryūichi ) was born in Otsuka, Tokyo in 1923. He graduated from the Third Tokyo High School in 1940 and entered the Literature Department of Meiji University in 1941. He was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1943, serving at the Yokosuka Second Naval Barracks as an instructor with the Naval Flying Corps. This would have seen him when necessary having also to man one of the gun emplacements in the case of an American invasion and, although this never happened, because of the USA’s nuclear strikes, he had already lost a good many friends in the Kamikaze missions, and his hometown no longer existed - this would obviously have a major impact on his writing.

His career as a poet started before the war Whilst still in his teens, he contributed to the coterie* magazine Shin-ryodo (New Territory**), with Taro Kitamura a fellow student & member of the Arechi (The Waste Land) group. It was in the post-war period, with the revival of Arechi and with Tamura being instrumental in establishing it as a literary magazine with his surviving friends, that his reputation took off. The Arechi poets mixed the influences of T.S Elliot and W.H. Auden with the Existentialist musings of writers such as Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre to express their perception of themselves and through that their country. This featured a harder tone than had been previously seen in Japanese poetry, and perfectly described the sense of dislocation and crisis that was the post-war experience of most Japanese as they tried to come to terms with the destruction and onslaught of a rapid modernisation programme that saw most of what was originally considered to be “Nihon”*** being brushed aside.

The Poet Ooka Makoto, writing about this period, said “The key subjects for poetry in this period were devastation, anxiety, desperation and death; this reflected the social circumstances just as prose writing does. Poets, living in grim uncertainty and suffering the horrifying aftermath of the atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, generally expressed their pessimistic vision of the future of humankind through their works.”

This was the subject matter of his first anthology Yosen no hi no yoru ("Four Thousand Days and Nights", 1956), particularly in the title poem which starts;
In order for a single poem to come into existence
you and I have to kill,
have to kill many things,
many lovable things, kill by shooting, kill by assassination,
kill by poisoning.
He followed this with the publication of his second collection The World Without Words, in 1962 This was to establish him as a major poet and would see him universally regarded as an important figure in modern Japanese poetry. In 1998, Ryuichi Tamura received Japan's highest honour, The 54th Japan Academy of Arts Award for Poetry Later that same year, he died of cancer of the oesophagus.

There are eyes in the stone, the eyes
closed in grief and fatigue.
The man in black passes my door -
You, the Emperor of Winter,
my lonely Emperor, walking to your own
grave in Europe,
your white forehead shadowed by
your back to the sun.
Your self-punishment is so painful,
Flowers! You stretch out your hands to
But universal winter has set in
after the era of reason and progress.
European beauties are nothing but
Who will kiss your hands
whose fated palms are dark and dry and
Flowers! Those scars are flowers.

* Japanese poets usually form groups of like-minded writers with the aim of helping each other to become better poets & they usually publish their own magazines - such groups are called coteries.
** A title in homage to Michael Roberts's anthology of contemporary English poetry New Country.
*** The constitutional monarchy occupying the Japanese Archipelago.

Thanks for that Gary - a great introduction to a writer I hadn't heard of before :)  Has anyone else tried Tamura?  Do you have any favourite Japanese poets?

If you are itching to post on your favourite Japanese writer, just let me know - next time, it could be your post adorning the blog ;)