Remembrance Day: Japanese + American poems of war and “peece”

Ouchi Yoshitaka (a “daimyo” or feudal lord, 1507-1551)


Both the victor and the vanquished are

but drops of dew, but bolts of lightning –

thus should we view the world.

.     .     .

Uesugi Kenshin (a “daimyo” or feudal lord, 1530-1578)


Even a life-long prosperity is but one cup of ‘sake’;

A life of forty-nine years is passed in a dream;

I know not what life is, nor death.

Year in year out – all but a dream.

Both Heaven and Hell are left behind;

I stand in the moonlit dawn,

Free from clouds of ‘attachment’.

.     .     .

北条 氏政


雨雲の おほへる月も 胸の霧も はらひにけりな 秋の夕風

我が身今 消ゆとやいかに 思ふべき 空より来たり 空へ帰れば

吹きとふく 風な恨みそ 花の春 紅葉も残る 秋あらばこそ

.     .     .

Hojo Ujimasa (1538-1590)

Hojo was a “daimyo” and “samurai” who, after a shameful defeat, committed “seppuku” or ritual suicide by self-disembowelment.  He composed a poem before he killed himself:

“Death Poem”


Autumn wind of evening,

blow away the clouds that mass

over the moon’s pure light

and the mists that cloud our mind –

do thou sweep away as well.

Now we disappear –

well, what must we think of it?

From the sky we came – now we may go back again.

That’s at least one point of view.

.     .     .

The following poem by Akiko Yosano was composed as if to her younger brother who was drafted to fight in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).  It was never specifically anti-war only that the poet wished that her brother not sacrifice his life.  At the time the poem was not censored but in the militaristic 1930s it was banned in Japan.


Akiko Yosano / 与謝野 晶子 (1878-1942)


Oh, my brother, I weep for you.

Do not give your life.

Last-born among us,

You are the most belovéd of our parents.

Did they make you grasp the sword

And teach you to kill?

Did they raise you to the age of twenty-four,

Telling you to kill and die?


Heir to our family name,

You will be master of this store,

Old and honoured, in Sakai, and therefore,

Brother, do not give your life.

For you, what does it matter

Whether Lu-Shun Fortress falls or not?

The code of merchant houses

Says nothing about this.


Brother, do not give your life.

His Majesty the Emperor

Goes not himself into the battle.

Could he, with such deeply noble heart,

Think it an honour for men

To spill one another’s blood

And die like beasts?


Oh, my brother, in that battle

Do not give your life.

Think of mother, who lost father just last autumn.

How much lonelier is her grief at home

Since you were drafted.

Even as we hear about peace in this great Imperial Reign,

Her hair turns whiter by the day.


And do you ever think of your young bride,

Who crouches weeping behind the shop curtains

In her gentle loveliness?

Or have you forgotten her?

The two of you were together not ten months before parting.

What must she feel in her young girl’s heart?

Who else has she to rely on in this world?

Brother, do not give your life.

Nogi Maresuke / 乃木 希典


Two poems written during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905

– Nogi Maresuke was a commanding general:


Mountain and river, grass and tree, grow more barren;

for ten miles winds smell of blood in the fresh battlefield.

Conquering horses do not advance nor do men talk;

outside Jinzhou Castle, I stand in the setting sun.


Emperor’s army, a million, conquered the powerful foe;

field battles and fort assaults made mountains of corpses.

Ashamed – how can I face their fathers, grandfathers?

We triumph today?

.     .     .

Kenzo Ishijima (Japanese Kamikaze pilot, WW2)


Since my body is a shell

I am going to take it off

and put on a glory that will never wear out.

A popular soldiers’ song of the Japanese Imperial Navy during WW2 in which a Kamikaze naval aviator addresses his fellow pilot – parted in death:

“Doki no Sakura” (Cherry blossoms from the same season)


You and I, blossoms of the same cherry tree

That bloomed in the naval academy’s garden.

Blossoms know they must blow in the wind someday,

Blossoms in the wind, fallen for their country.


You and I, blossoms of the same cherry tree

That blossomed in the flight school garden.

I wanted us to fall together, just as we had sworn to do.

Oh, why did you have to die, and fall before me?


You and I, blossoms of the same cherry tree,

Though we fall far away from one another.

We will bloom again together in Yasukuni Shrine.

Spring will find us again – blossoms of the same cherry tree.


.     .     .


Sadako Kurihara (1912-2005)

Sadako was a controversial poet in Japan, censored during the post-War American Occupation for describing in detail the horrors post-Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima (she was present Aug.6th 1945).  She also took a tough, critical stand toward Japan’s aggressions (sometimes referred to as the Asian Holocaust) against China and Korea.


“ When we say ‘Hiroshima’ ”


When we say Hiroshima, do people answer,

gently, Ah, Hiroshima? ..Say Hiroshima,

and hear Pearl Harbor.  Say Hiroshima,

and hear Rape of Nanjing.  Say Hiroshima,

and hear women and children in Manila, thrown

into trenches, doused with gasoline, and

burned alive.  Say Hiroshima, and hear

echoes of blood and fire.  Ah, Hiroshima,

we first must wash the blood off our own hands.


.     .     .


Hiroshi Kashiwagi (Librarian and poet, born 1922, Sacramento, California)

Hiroshi is a “Nisei”(2nd generation Japanese-American).  He was interned at Tule Lake Segregation Camp from 1942-1946.  Here is a poem he wrote about his childhood in California:


“Pee in the puddle”


Wes was fat, something

of a classroom joke

we laughed when he

was late which was

almost every day and

we laughed when he

came on time.  John

was always so fair

he let me play

Chinese tag with

them on the way

home from school

but I’d like to remember

him as our fourth

grade Santa Claus

though actually he

was slender with

a high nose and

very German it was

he who thought we


should pee in the

puddle. He called

our things brownies

I know he got it

from mine theirs

were white blue

white I wonder

what became of

Wes.  I know John

was killed during

World War II

flying for the RAF

crazy guy couldn’t

wait for the U.S.

to enter the war.

I suppose Wes is

still fat and lazy

probably a father many times


anyway we wasted

a lot of time

after school.  Three

golden loops rising

out of the

brown puddle into

which in time we

all three were

shoved when at

last I came home

crying for my

bread and jam I

was smelling quite

a bit of pee.

Remembering now

I can almost

smell it Wes’s

John’s and mine.

.     .     .     .     .