By Michael
August 2, 2008

Here’s a couple of links before I get started. One to Deep Kyoto and the Cafe/Bar/Knick-Knack shop Smoke Room.

Then up on Pink Tentacle I love these beautiful 19th century Japanese ghost scrolls. Nice and creepy for the Obon season.

Now for today’s message from Hozouji which is a poem by the poet and calligrapher Mitsuo Aida. Mitsuo Aida was (and still is!) a popular poet, who spoke in frank warm terms of our everyday human and emotional quandries. I have a book of his work on my shelf, いまここ:The Here and Now,, that a very kind colleague gave me many birthdays ago. I frequently return to it and flip through it’s pages and find myself thinking: “Yes! Yes! That’s so true!” His work has been extensively translated, so probably this one has been too. That’s not going to stop me having my own little crack at it though. Here’s the poem:

mitsuo aida


Ano kurushimi
kanashimi mo
jibun ga
jibun ni naru tame no
minna hiryou

The poet is talking about sadness and suffering and how they help us to grow and to find ourselves. The implication being, without any suffering we wouldn’t be able to prove ourselves or find out what we are really capable of. We would never really grow up into real adult human beings. For that reason, all that pain and suffering and shit, it’s all 肥料 he says. Now the kanji 肥 (hi) means to enrich, fatten, to make fertile and the kanji 料 (ryou) simply means stuff. What they mean together is manure! Here’s my translation:

That suffering
and sadness too
is all rich fertilizer
to help you grow
into you.

Any thoughts, Masaya?

Comments: 1

  1. admin says:

    Sorry Osamu, but I think that would be wrong. And not just because “want to be” isn’t in the original poem!
    What I want to be (tall, handsome, calm, cool and collected…) is very different from what I really am, isn’t it? In his poetry, Mitsuo Aida often talks about this difference and about learning to come to terms with his real self with all his weaknesses, insecurities and neuroses intact.

    In his poem 性格は直らない he writes


    One day I asked my teacher, “I know I’m somewhat cowardly and timid, But if I meditate continuously over a long period of time, do you think I can overcome it?”

    “No I don’t think so,” he answered flatly. (Translation by Tim Jensen)

    And again he writes:


    This cowardice and timidity
    Were bestowed upon me by Buddha
    With good reason (Translation by Tim Jensen)

    So although, it’s true that “you grow into you” is unclear, the original 「自分が自分になる」is also unclear. It forces you to think about it. What on earth does that mean? What does 自分 or “self” mean? What is my real, true “self”? There aren’t any simple or clear answers to that I’m afraid. We each have to work it out for ourselves. Masaya has some nice ideas about it in my next post however…

    Anyway, thanks for your comment. Though I disagree with “what you want to be”, thinking about why I disagree with it, actually helped me to understand the poem a little better.

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