Rin Ishigaki: “Myself: a far-off island”



The Economy


The phrase ‘economic animal’
I suppose is already fairly old.
Quite a gap exists between
The time when they said we seem that way
And now when we are that way.
Now then we economic animals
Will think about the economy.
From the time that I was born I’ve just been counting money.
That was what we were taught in the home
By the state.
People only count the time they have left
When it has started to run out.
We live terribly impoverished lives.
We die terribly lonely deaths.









At the Bathhouse



In Tokyo
At the public bathhouse the price went up to 19 yen and so
When you pay 20 yen at the counter
You get one yen change.

Women have no leeway in their lives
To be able to say that
They don’t need one yen
And so though they certainly accept the change
They have no place to put it
And drop it in between their washing things.

Thanks to that
The happy aluminium coins
Soak to their fill in hot water
And are splashed with soap.

One yen coins have the status of chess pawns
So worthless that they’re likely to bob up even now
In the hot water.

What a blessing to be of no value
In monetary terms.

A one yen coin
Does not distress people in the way a 1,000 yen note does
Is not as sinful as a 10,000 yen note
The one yen coin in the bath
With healthy naked women.












I am standing in a large mirror.
A solitary
Small island.
Separated from everyone.

I know
The history of the island.
The dimensions of the island.
Waist, bust and hips.
Seasonal dress.
The singing of birds.
The hidden spring.
The flower’s fragrance.

As for me
I live on the island.
I have cultivated it, built it.
It is impossible to know
Everything about the island.
Impossible to take up permanent residence.

In the mirror staring at
Myself: A far-off island.







Rin Ishigaki (Ishigaki Rin in Japanese name-order)

was born in Tokyo in 1920 and died in 2004.

She worked for four decades as a bank clerk, kept

house, cooked, and cared for ageing parents.

Her first book of poems was published in 1959.

Without pretension or preciousness, her poems

are well-liked by people who might normally

steer clear of poetry!

These are thoughtful statements about ordinary life

– written in simple, straightforward Japanese –

and are sometimes used to teach the language to children,

as well as to foreign students.




Translations from Japanese:

Leith Morton


Ishigaki’s original three Japanese poems are featured below.