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Errata & Lacuna for Mad In Translation

If you wish to print out this and paste it in your book, by all means do so. If you wish to quote something,
please give the title and author (also "the translator"), Robin D. Gill.  If space permits,
 also mention Paraverse Press and how cheap the book is ($37 for 740pp).

"To Pluck the Form of a Soundless Zither"

All the errors noted below were corrected and the revised book (same ISBN) uploaded to the printer in Autumn.

As far as I know, only one large mistranslation was missed and, as luck would have it, not only is the poem a chapter head, but the first sentence of my explanation is "My inability to do justice to this poem hurts."  And, now, that pain is excruciating! So you may call my failure to catch a major pun not only embarrassing but ironic. The Chapter (pg.84-5) is titled "To Pluck the Form of a Soundless Zither" and the first word of Shokusanjin's poem, yaminureba puns on the woman being sick. I caught all the classic allusions to Genji, but having found the poem without the accompanying preface, indicating that the poet lay next to a sick woman, caught only the old double entendre and missed the missed the main, third one. And I still thought the poem a masterpiece!

Yaminureba is “sick” (becoming sick if/when, or “having become sick (she) fell asleep)!  Perhaps the current translations could be replaced with,

She lies sick and silent, a zither without strings . . .
and all I can do is try stroking her or something

Sick, she sleeps, a zither without strings, & what
can I do but gently caress her, though for naught!

"How much trash and how many mounds"

I also have a probable misreading of a poem with a fine translation:

p. 129  “suggests to me an awareness of the mounds left by the ancients . . . " blah, blah, blah, but I now think  

How much trash and how many mounds must pile up before
Our country becomes a world that stays forever more?

iku chiri no yama o ikue ni kasanete mo ge ni kuni wa ugoki-naki yo ni

should be read as a lament for political instability!

"My poor potted children!"

p. 696. I mistranslated Ryoukan/Ryokan's forgotten begging bowl (hachi no ko) as "potted plants"  and "my poor potted children." Finally, reading a whole anthology of Ryokan, I found over a dozen versions of the poem. Only a couple have him engrossed in the sumire, or violet/s that led me astray . . . And, as it turned out, someone searched for him to return the bowl, which confirmed his belief in human goodness, hence so many versions, some very long.



Errata for the reading copy first edition (less than 100 copies out there) in easy-to-follow page order follow this sampling.

* (8/13) Special Bulletin. On page 455 I misattributed a paragraph beginning and ending as follows:  Donald Keene, perhaps the most conspicuous of the previous generation of scholars, apparently was not too fond of kyōka, . . . so often resorted to parody.”  -- to M. Kei (who writes beautifully on kyoka in English), when it should have cited Behold My Swarthy Face, a blog & a Modernologist's  rough draft titled Ishikawa Jun’s “Moon Gems” Saturday, January 26, 2008.  Also, I mistakenly called the misattributed Kei a poet and a captain when he is a poet and a deckhand on a Chesapeake Oyster-boat.  Apologies to both parties!

** (8/3) Special Bulletin, a most important error addition:  Getsudokan should be Getsudoken. He is one of my favorite mad poets but a non-entity on the internet, so I would hate to start him off wrong!


First a probable error

I hope you, dear reader, will find these for me, but, in this case, I found it myself (on pg. 522). 

A misreading of fifteen or twenty years stuck in my head – call it “cognitive dissonance”  –  corrupted my ability to read what was there, once again, before my eyes. Two days after the pdf was sent to the printer, as I was gathering the best poems, looking at the Japanese alone, I suddenly saw what was what.  Perhaps, sending the book off to the printer broke my links to the material in it and allowed me to finally edit myself as another might. Note that all the Japanese originals are in the book (visible at Google Book) but not here for most browsers cannot read Japanese.

        samazama ni omoiyaritsutsu yoso nagara nagamekanenuru hoshiai no sora  Lady Daibu 12-13c

My previous translations -- all three -- that you will find in the book are all more or less this: 

          The many things I imagine must be going on – I’d view!
          But as a stranger to the Stars, ‘tis not a proper thing to do!

But, I now bet it must be this, instead: 

         I cannot view those Loving Stars as if they are out there,
         when my heart is torn & things that hurt are everywhere.

Either way, the waka questions the usual perspective on things and is, to my mind, kyoka-like though, perhaps not quite so mad as I made it.  For this and other translations in the book, I am always happy to receive the opinion of others which may be sent to Uncool Wabin (combined as one word without caps) at hotmail dot com.


Second, a translation that escaped me. 

Errors do not bother me much for I make no claim to be omniscient. But coming up with a better translation for a poem of long acquaintance shortly after printing a book hurts as much as the heart of the person unfortunate enough to finally marry a second-best the day before their old sweetheart comes back to town in one of those country weepers that can do in three minutes what takes an opera hours to accomplish (pardon my prejudice). And, in this case, what is worse is that it is the first damn example in the book and by the poet  I know best, Issa:

shômotsu mo nokorazu bô ni furu^sato no hito no shimijimi nikuki tsura kana
 print-matter even remain-not pole-on-swing/hometown's folks' keenly:paperfish spiteful faces!

Papa’s papers, saved for me, the fruit of his hard labor –
Gone!  My hometown’s motto? “Silverfish thy neighbor!”

Well, what do you think?  While I never could match his Tom Swifty -- turning silverfish into an adverb (shimijimi) -- and this fails to save the detail  (the spiteful faces of townsman recalling silverfish in the poet's eyes), by verbing silverfish and playing on a proverb, the level of wit final approaches the original.  Unless you can come up with something better, please print this out or scribble it into your copy of Mad In Translation! You are free to change details. For example, some might prefer "My hometown's motto is ~ " rather than my interrogative.  When a close translation is impossible, such matters can not be objectively settled one way or another. Here is the Japanese for Japanese or other Japanese readers who might not have my book, as the original has not to this time been put on the web unless I drank too much and shared it (contributed it to some blog), for when I am in a good mood I want to show and tell.


Third, another translation that also escaped me. 

In this case,  the following poem was not up front. It started the only other chapter about mad poems that were actually mad in the sense of being angry other than Issa's silverfish chapter. It is important because the poet is often called the first kyoka master and for being so outrageous and yet justifiable in a righteous way. Before introducing my new translations, here, following the poem, are the translations in the book  for your comparison:

nyôin no gozen no hiroku naru koto wa  kyôgetsu-bô ga shiji no iru yue   kyôgetsu-bô d.1328
Empress’s hon.+front’s wide become thing-as-for A.-monk’s private-land’s enter/acquire because

                       The Empress’s Garden                                                                 The Empress’s Vagina
                     is wider by the acquisition                                                         
is wider by Monk K’s privates
                  of Monk K’s private grounds.
                                                                having entered It.

A short explanation. She requisitioned part of the Monk's property (he, too, was of Imperial blood) to expand her front garden. “Private-ground” (shiji) was once slang for a man’s privates and gozen – literally “honorable front” not only refers to the Empress and her garden but  her privates.  In other words, he got his metaphysical come-uppance.  The original combines both of the above in one pun-enabled poem.  Alas, I failed to find a way to integrate the two in time. But after coming up with the Silverfish solution, I decided it might be a good day to see if I could do it.  And, in a matter of minutes, got this:

The next monk she fucks with will slip right out and beg her pardon – 
How wide it is now after taking in mine, damn, the Empress’s garden!

There are two things wrong here. It is too obscene – not because I wanted to be dirty, mind you, but because the rhyme “pardon” had to justify itself.  Rhyme, now as ever, is a dangerous thing (Look what rod did to the poor copyright ditty writer in Orwell’s 1984 who could not help mentioning god!).  My second effort pegged it:

The Queen whose garden ate his messed with the wrong monk-bard:
Kyôgetsu left hers so damn wide she’ll never take another yard!

 This is exactly like the original.  The poet refers to himself in the third-person and  the word referring to the male member is now obsolete.  Yard was once a common word for it.  Cotton Mathers, an admirable preacher and physician who worked harder than anyone else to stop the executions of so-called witches in Salem, treated an unfortunate with a hole in his (other than the normal one in the glans). No, I do not look up these things: I corrected the translation of Chadwick Hansen’s moving book (Witchcraft in Salem) – which I had scouted and recommended to my employer, a Japanese publisher – which had a hole dug in the garden.  Mistranslations as funny as this stick in the mind; and, speaking of yards, as I write this, I recall a kite nailed to a barn-door in an 800-page biography of Darwin I corrected. The idea of displaying an ornithological culprit to scare off others did not occur to the translator, for he was a biologist and not a farmer, so when I found it, the kite was a species of the paper family in Japanese. 


Fourth, a poem that escaped me. 

This sort of miss is also hardly a matter for the typical Errata. I miss it because I thought the following poem was in the book. I’m sure it was, but vanished in the process of moving from note to text or vice-versa when something interrupted me and only now, a half year later the day after I uploaded my pdf’d text to Lightning Source, as I collected the most interesting hundred or so poems in the book did I come to realize, gasp! it was nowhere!  As I reread poems about the horrors of dry wet-nurses by the kyôka-master Shokusanjin and by Issa I recalled that I had a milder wetnurse complaint a thousand years older, a great pair of dueling kyôka between a scholar spouses Ôe no Masahira no Ason ( ) and Akazome Emon ( )published in the gsis (#1217). When a woman who came to serve as a wet nurse produced only a thin stream of milk, the husband, Ason raged, in Cranston’s translation,

“What a scatterbrain –  / To think she could squeeze by /As a wetnurse here /In a learned doctor’s house: /Little learning and less milk!” (Waka vol. 2A pg 552).

The mad poem plays on some one hakanaku, i.e., frivolously, lacking milk=chi=learning  coming to a hakase, or scholars’ house for employment. In my mad translation, that is not so close to the original (hakanaku mo omoikeru kana chi mo nakute hakase no ie no menoto sen to wa) as the professor’s, but might amuse you nonetheless, it is:

A wet-nurse, with no more brains or milk than a tit-mouse?
How unwise for wizened dugs to shame a Scholars’ house! 

The wife’s good-tempered reply (sa mo araba are yamatogokoro shi kashikoku wa hosoji ni tsukete arasu bakari zo) , again, in Cranston’s translation,

“Let’s be satisfied / If at least her native wit / Deserves respect – / Scant schooling and thin milk, no doubt, / But enough to squeeze her in.”  (#1218 ditto)

Here, too, the main pun is on the same knowledge/milk which modified by hoso=scant/thin is pronounced ji rather than chi.  I recall that I did a translation which made Japan “Big Peace,” but it, too, is lost.  Before doing it, I wrote Professor Cranston to express my enthusiasm for his book and, as is my wont, question him where I entertained doubt.  Here, for example: “I suspect the yamatogokoro is used as rhetoric for the attitude her hubby should take and may not, as you write, be defending the wetnurse for having native wit/japanese spirit.”  In other words, I felt she was saying that he ought to be more “big-peace” (how Yamato was often written)  in spirit even if that meant reading arasu as arazu.

What she is she is –  does not our native wit set us free
Not to nit-pick like Chinese, but let the little things be?

Cranston thanked me for the additional reading  (the general idea, I just cooked up the above translation, about as loose as they come) but stuck to his grammar and his guns:  “I still think yamatogokoro applies to the nurse.”  Things are more complex and there is an in-between reading

She is what she is and wisdom born of our Big Peace way
Would not make an issue of two-bit tits: let her stay!

But, suffice it to say that this example of what can only be called an exchange of kyôka should have been in my book! With the rhetorical usage of yamatogokoro, I would hope the interpretation of the poem would interest other scholars of both ancient Japanese literature and politics and look forward to hearing from them.

Perhaps I should add that I may well have lost not only my writing on this poem but a whole chapter, as each chapter in my book is only two-pages. Microsoft’s automatic updates sometimes caught me by surprise and I came back from chores (feeding the cows and cat and crossing the rail-track for the mail) to find an entire day’s work destroyed.  The professor’s translation “what a scatterbrain” applies well to me for when such a thing happened (I think it happened thrice in the last year), I could not recall what exactly was lost!


I beg your pardon if  any misses irritate you, and yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

Overall.  Because I had no way to search all the files, I have irregular corrections.  I have found at least one place (p.538) where "Sugimoto and Hamada" is not corrected to Hamada and suspect there are more (Only one of two book editors did the annotations I often refer to). I forgot to correct some romanizations I learned were wrong (eg. ashibiki-yama is still ashihiki-yama somewhere). Now I can search the book so these will be fixed if/when a new edition comes out.  Most of such mistakes are unimportant because the Japanese is supplied. Please tell me about bigger misses, such as the first mentioned above, or weigh in on matters such as the second one mentioned if you can. And, of course, surprise me with an honest-to-god correction and I and my readers will be forever grateful!

Page-by-page Starts Here Below

p.8   Oops. I know i forgot to close a parenthesis on the copyright page -- it made the line jump and I intended to rework it but forgot --

p.35.  Mitoku playing with Ariwara no Motokata's in/famous first poem of the Kokinshu.  The present two readings will be replaced by the following, better for the rhyme and for covering all of the basic reading possibilities.

toshinouchi no haru ni mumaruru midoriko o  hitotsu to ya iwan futatsu to ya iwan   mitoku

year-within’s spring-in born infant+acc one+emph say=celebrate-should, two+emph say=celeb.


A child born in the spring within the year – what can we do?

We want to call him “one” and we want to call him “two!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ or ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We cannot call her “one” and we cannot call her “two!”

p.86  Ryokan’s wingless tofu poem.  The second line of the second five-line translation has been altered – a good case of ambiguity as the soul of wit:

Geese & duck
I am out of luck.

Geese & duck
fly & I am out of luck.

p.92. & 486Stylos galore. There are a word or two changed in all the translations and the explanation split between the text and the notes for this poem by one of the top two female kyoka masters was not that great either.

ukauka to nagaki yosugara akugarete  tsuki ni hanage no kazu ya  yomaren    fushimatsu no kaka



Lolling about the whole night long I’m smitten by the moon;

Handsome will count the hair in my nose and leave me in a ruin.


Forgetting yourself the whole night long, besotted by the moon

soon she’ll read your nostril hair and you will play her tune!


Lolling about from dusk to dawn in love that’s how it goes,

In the moonlight, one can count every hair within a nose!


Putsing away a whole night in adoration?  Take care,

in moon-light, the girls can read your nostril hair!


Absentmindedly, all through the night, admiring

the harvest moon can count your nostril hairs.



The last, by Rokuo Tanaka, I deparsed.

Nostril-hair-counting means paying rapt attention to one’s superior, or in a mistress’s case, one’s sugar-daddy. Why so many readings?  Because the identity of the counter is ambiguous if not contradictory.  A moon-viewer looks up at the beloved heavenly body from the lowly perspective of the hair-reader. On the other hand, moon light shines down or rather up the nostrils, as looking up we lean back. Reading 1) assumes the poet Fushimatsu no Kaka, or The Unkempt Wife, one of the top two female Tenmei era kyôka-masters, is the protagonist and the moon a fair man, the man in the moon 桂男 (katsurao) was considered to be dangerously good-looking lady’s man. The ruin is purely rhyme – but doesn’t staying up all night do that to you?  Reading 2) assumes the poem is addressed to the poet’s husband, Akera Kankô, for male poets tended to stay up all night moon-viewing. The language (yosugura) can not help but allude to Bashô’s well-known haiku of all-night (yomosugura) moon-viewing while circling a pond, and thus kiddingly wonders if the nature of her husband Akera Kankô of Revealing-loin-cloth fame and his friends’ moon-viewing was not less pure than that of the famous aesthete.  Reading 3) is left personless but based on a guess the poet recalls moon-viewing with her husband.  Reading 4) is the preferred reading.  The moon, like Autumn leaves, was an excuse for men to go out and paint the town and Kankô’s cool kaka, ever the sophisticate in the good and not bad meaning of the word, was cleverly warning him not to paint himself into a corner with some coquette.  Reading 5) is by Rokuo Tanaka (2006). His translation does not quite match his preface: “she is bantering with a flirting man” but Tanaka has done something fascinating here. His “harvest moon” – the unspecified moon is by convention that of mid-fall – serves as the object of admiration and a seeing subject, in turn. That is, he reproduces a Japanese-style pivot-word, though, to be fair to the poet, the original does not require one to ignore grammar.  In the end, none of the five readings captures the fine way the Unkempt Wife plays with “moon and blossoms” (tsuki ni hana), a combination suggesting the lifelong aesthetic pursuit of the poet (favoring readings that it is addressed to her husband), before the would-be blossoms become a nose for the hair that follows.  But the biggest problem is sexing the moon.

Forgetting myself the whole night long I’m stuck on one so fair,


The moon, my Laurel Man, must have read my nostril hair!


Forgetting yourself the whole night long stuck on one so fair;


My man, beware, your Luna reads your every nostril hair!

p.94 Insufficient explanation. The underlined part needs to be added though it will be hard with the page packed tight!

A gloss in the 1589 book says “I have not read anything at all about Izumi Shikibu having a bad odor, but one can hardly criticize such an okusetsu (
deep/obscure-theory). Hoh! The gloss itself puns. Oku is slang for a woman’s private part and implies the name of the place she worked, the inner palace


p.115. Improved translation. One of Saigyô’s poems on drowning in one’s own tears is translated:  “Shed long enough / desire’s tears crest higher / than the River Styx // That is they fill a deep pool / to drown your love-sick fool. and  “Longing for love /  tears rise and, by and by / The River Styx! // Water so deep you can / kiss your ass goodbye!”  I used too much slang, born of frustration at not being able to recreate the pun on the name of the river crossed on the journey to the underworld, Mitsusegawa, where  Mitsu is a homophone for “to deepen.”  This would be a better translation:

mono-omou namida ya yagate mitsusegawa hito o shizumuru fuchi to naruramu

Tears shed of longing pool and by and by leave one in a fix
Deep enough a man can drown and cross the River Styx.

p.121Improved translation. Having grown-up by the sea, the translator could not help adding said body of water to both readings of Jakuren’s masterpiece: “A River of Tears swept me downstream, then out to Sea – / Beached, I awoke with nothing but the detritus of dreams. and,  River of Tears, it carries you out to sea, but then you wake /alone with nothing but the flotsam and jetsam of dreams.”  Is the new translation below better?

namidagawa mi mo ukinu beki nesame kana hakanaki yume no nagori bakari ni jakuren

Down a river of tears I float and waking find I’m washed ashore

Alone with the detritus of my dreams and nothing more.

p.124. Is this better? Absent a word comparable to minare, “used to being waterlogged” this folksy Tear River gave me trouble in translation. My earlier try “I may be soaked already but . . . Someone, won’t you call a boat! / I’d cross this stream – and go tell my Dear that here on tears I float!” 

minaregawa watasu o  fune ni kotozuten   namida ni uku to kimi ni shirase yo    akitsuna

I’m stuck in a river,  the river is me, won’t someone call a boat!

And tell my love her sweetheart upon his tears doth float!

p.158-9.  This is more a stylistic improvement in the paragraph following the translations of a favorite 17c free-thinking poem.  The three translations are all different from the ones in the book, too, but that is just because every time I read a poem I want to retranslate it! (to paraphrase e.w. in Nineteen Ways, I cannot read the same poem twice)

nenbutsu o shiite môsu mo iranu mono moshi gokuraku o tôri-sugitte wa  monk tôsui

Making light of blockheads who pray day and night.

With prayers, pushing it too much may prove unwise
 I’d take care if I were you not to overshoot Paradise!


‘Tisn’t wise to overdo your prayers, for you might die,
And waking, find you passed it, Paradise, right by!


Overdoing your prayers, my friend, is a bad habit
You might miss Paradise, just shoot right past it!

Taken literally, religion is a blast, a magazine – in the old meaning of the word – full of ammunition for humor. Popular Buddhism, like Catholicism, stereotypically prospered by providing people with concrete ideas of Paradise and the itinerary taken to get there, then charging them and their surviving family hefty fees for safe-passage. The kyôka is not about indulgences per se, but the frame of mind in which they thrive. Though not by Ikkyû, this is the sort of witty free-thinking rationalism usually identified with . . .

p.164. New translations. Here is one poem from the prose text that was referred to but only explained as a sucker (the good ones you lick or suck) is not a homophone with heaven and no other pun could be found.  At present, my printer cannot go more than 740pp. but some day these translations may be added if . . .

muzukashiku toitari mata wa yawaraketsu hitomi no ame o neburasarekeri  genin 1679

Rather than trying to explain what’s hard or make it easy

Give them Heaven on a Stick: it will soften as they lick!


Rather than explain what is arcane or make it explicit,

Give them a taste of heaven, a pun to help them lick it!

The second reading is what might be called a meta-translation. I suppose that this is what Japanese call an omake for people considerate enough to visit this page. 

p.176. The underlined is new. The first poem is a stylistic redo to improve the rhyme/wit and the second is the sort of guess that would benefit from the opinions of experts of 18c Japanese literature. In the book, the poem is only noted in the text . . .

. . . Shokusanjin would later garnish “a picture of a female geisha (performer)” with a corollary:

Curved soles are fine, but keep a corner clean:

Pony geta too round tumble too easily, I mean

maruku to mo hito-kado are na komageta no amari maroki wa korobi yasuki ni shokusanjin
round even one corner be-let! pony-geta too round-as-for tumble easier though

Round they are but there is a corner still on pony geta

Were they rounder yet she’d roll over even betta!

In the original, Shokusanjin only alters the second poem from the Chikusai book by a few words in the middle, the “human heart” is changed to the beveled-front pony-geta worn by dancers whose tumbling was often deliberate, i.e., sleeping with a customer. The second reading assumes that the amari, or “too/excessive” in the vernacular was also used as an intensifier meaning “very,” and that this reading was also intended. (Experts! Speak up or forever hold your peace.

p.177.  Oops! The gloss for the first part of a poem used that of the poem next to it by accident. (This is a computing typo caused when a piece of something is copied to save time with setting font size and spacing parameters and not redone because someone or thing steals the attention of a writer with a poor short-term memory)

kata-fuchi ni mi o nagen to wa omoedomo
body/self+acc various countries+acc circle training
out-of-the-way-deep-spot-into body/self throw-would-as-for think-but

Note: it will end up a bit different because only two and a half inches of space are available as the poems are side by side.  English’s lack of a single word for a deep-spot in a river good for committing suicide makes a short gloss hard to say the least! FYI, the trans. says a "deep river bend."


pg. 207  I am afraid my translations of Shikibu’s love–like-a-burning-moth waka may have been too mad.  The second reading which took “to mienu bakari zo” as negative, with its “~ you would think / We had never seen moths burn or smelled that stink” is so much fun it will stay, regardless, but I am considering changing the two positive readings to:

We may give up our lives for love, and that in plain sight
as the luna moth that burns without, lighting up the night
That a human may give up her life for love is just as plain
As the luna moth that flies openly into a flame.

Or, does that make them too humdrum even if more accurate?  Scholars of ancient Japanese, any opinion on the positive vs negative reading of mienu here?


yamazato wa nerarezarikeri yo mo sugara matsu fuku kaze ni odorokasarete

Mountain hollars! I couldn’t fall asleep at all last night
The wind in the pines brought me fright after fright

Shikibu had a child without a father and left it with a guardian sword in the Gojo area.  Years later she was enjoying a country outing and by chance ended up lodging at the house of a commoner who had found her daughter.  The wind that night was strong and she composed the above poem.  The girl in the house overheard it and asked if she might compose a reply, and using the parrot-repeat method:

yamazato wa nenu to iedomo nereba koso matsu fuku kaze ni odorokasarete

This mountain hollar kept you awake? Forgive me if I scoff
but to start at the wind in the pines one must first doze off

Shikibu was impressed and asked what sort of person she was and hearing the whole story knew without doubt that she was her daughter.  One story has it that she was the one who would later become known as Ko-Shikibu, or little Shikibu.

p.214.  Unsure. When doing the short version of the book, for better or worse – what do you think? –  “& bed” was just pegged on the end. You can scribble it into your copy or leave it out.

hikoboshi no hiku teu (to iu) ushi no yodare yori kono chigiri koso nagatarashikeri  shokusanjin

Long kept – longer

by far than the slobber

of the Oxen led

by our Cowboy Star –

Their Wedding Vows & bed.

p.214.   The  stylistic revisions are underlined. “But” and “welded” improve the sound of the poem, despite the latter making the last line 4-beat, a bit too long. “Them beans” was horrid but there were too many the’s and “what” did not pop into a mind too intent on explaining a poem with a content too language- and culture-specific to really translate. But even when translation is impossible, a reading should sound decent.

tanabata no hiyoku no tori no tamagozake renri no eda no mame ya kuu ran

Give me wine w/ eggs  /  from stellar birds that flying  /  use one wing each,
And them beans we popping eat /  from the fused limbs of trees
Give me wine w/ eggs /  from stellar birds that flying  / use but one wing each,
And what beans we popping eat  /  from the welded limbs of trees

p.215.  New translation. A Poem in the text that was not translated but only explained.  Just translated for the short version of the book.

hikoboshi no kubeki yoi nari sasagani no kumo no ito yori hosoki sômen   teiryû
herder-star’s come-should eve becoming spider’s thread-more-than thin noodles

The herder star will come tonight, for only a spider could spin

 noodles as thin as these prepared while she waits for him

p.225. Just one word has been changed here:  “energy” in the main text is now “drive.”

kyô sake ni kiku mo hitasanu fujômono nakanaka inochi nagaku arubeki tatsunomi

He who today lacks even the drive to steep ‘mums in wine
Will probably be the one to stay alive a long, long time!

p.232Unsure. Your translator, for all his mad translation, tries to maintain consistency of form, i.e., relatively uniform visual  line length. Sometimes that backfires.

 sutehatete mi wa naki mono to omoedomo yuki no furu hi wa samuku koso are  Saigyô 
sutehatete mi wa naki mono to omoedomo mara no tatsu hi wa shitaku koso are   Gennai

I like to think / the world & I no longer / hang together
But when it snows, I feel / ev’ry bit as cold as ever!

I like to think / the world & I no longer / hang together
But when my dick rises / to the occasion, so do => would I!

The “do” rather than “would” was used because otherwise the last line (when parsed into five) looked longer than that of the poem it parodied.  Rereading, the translator changed his mind.  “~ so would I” is better, regardless.   Or, is it? Opinion, anyone?

p.275. Stylistic revision. This 19c spook kyoka  ends “~ terrified her self to see.” On reflection,  it is more effective to lose the rhyme or rhyme early and leave "herself" for last as underlined below.

atama naki bakemono nari  to rokurokubi mite odorokan onoga karada wo   ng  kyôka - hyakumono

A headless spook? What in the world comes after me!
Looking back, a long-neck is terrified to see . . . herself.

p.282 The underlined stylistic revisions are being considered. As the translator is not a confident poet but merely one trying to show off the wittiness of the original as best he can, he welcomes opinions and suggestions on how to improve individual translations. The third translation below is brand new.

noki chikaki tonari ni dani mo towareneba bin hodo fukaki kakureya wa nashi  musen

Even your good neighbors knock no more  upon your door
No hermitage hides you like simply being poor.

Even old neighbors knock no more upon this door
No hermitage hides a man like simply being poor.

Even neighbors  take great care to pretend you are not there
No hermit lives so deep in the hills as poverty.

Even neighbors take care pretending not to notice me
No hermit lives so deep in the hills as poverty.

When you’re down, you’re out.

Even neighbors never call when poverty comes to stay
No mountain retreat keeps the world half so far away!

p.283.  I have it Yes in the book, but hell if I can decide which is better.  It alludes to both a Kokinshu waka that held this to be a world of falsehood and Teika's waka where the cold rains of that month proved true to their reputation by showing up on time. I now favor "no" as covering both allusions better, but experts are welcome to chime in.

itsuwari no aru yo narikeri kaminazuki  binbôgami wa mi o mo hanarenu  yûchôrô 16c

No, it is indeed a world of falsehood, this Gods-gone Month
The God of Poverty just won’t let me be!

I suppose the bright thing would be to not say "yes" or "no" but it would be a shame to lose the emphatic (it is my way to peg the narikeri) -- would anyone prefer, say, "Verily it is . . ." -- or would that be too affected?


p.306. New translation. I give translations for the more famous improved variation of this poem by Hakuin, but the earlier poem by his friend Hannyabo is left to the prose. If room can be made to add a translation, this might be it:

waga yado no kaki no moto made yake-kuru o  hannyaku bô nite uteba hi tomaru   hannyabô

 K A K I N O M O T O  H I T O M A R U

When the flames reach the base of the wall of my dwelling
Hanya thumps his staff and, lo, the fire stops, no telling!

Hannya punning his “monk” suffix into a staff is clever and his name meaning prajna also has power, but such detail works against the poem as a charm. And maybe it is too boring in English to be worth any space, you think?  On the other hand, the underlined are two additional readings of Hakuin's famous poem. I believe the present tense with future possibilities will make it a better charm but am unsure of the grammatical justification or lack there-of and welcome advice from my betters.

jômô ga kaki no moto made kitaredomo akashi to ieba koko ni hi tomaru  hakuin  d.1768

Though conflagration licked the Kaki fence, dawn brings proof
This is where the fire stopped – Hitomaru saved our roof.
Though flames may lick this Kakinomoto, dawn bring proof
That this is where the fire stops – Hitomaru save our roof!


Though all beyond this fence is left in ashes and the flame
red as persimmon, the fire will stop if you read his name!

p.316. Bad explanation improved.

toshi koete hana no kagami to naru mochi wa kabi kakaru o ya kumoru to iu ran  hoyû 1666

The mirror mochi we made last year blooms in the new:

Mold has formed, or, should we say aloud, “It clouds?”

The second is witty partly because the New Year is full of taboo words, i.e., charming words replacing the usual one, but “overcast?” never! Even old eyes must more lyrically haze or mist-over. Wait. The main pun is on blossoms as “clouds.”

p.323.  Not knowing that rice was used to ferment fish before vinegar, etc. was, I chose the wrong translation for “ihi,”  a channel. It should have been rice. Let me try a new translation while I am at it.

kodomo o ba sushi ni suru hodo mochitaredo ihi ga nakereba hiboshi ni suru  anon
children+emph sushi-into make amount have but channel rice not-if dried pilchards-into make

On seeing poor people with many children

Not to kid but they have enough to make sushi of them;
Or, lacking a channel to the sea, dried pilchards maybe?

The idiom has a “packed like a sardines” feeling, for though fish was sometimes eaten raw, most sushi was pressed and fermented before refridgeration. Wealthy people in Osaka had ponds linked to the sea, so fish could be kept alive for cooking or for sushi. Adding the dried pilchards turns the poem into A Modest Proposal.

Not to kid but they have children enough to make sushi!
Or, lacking rice, sun-dried might do, though I like juicy!

As sushi was pressed, the image is close to our “packed like sardines.” Rice, a grain the poor often could not afford, was used as a fermenting agent, mixed in with fish before vinegar (made from rice) came to be used. “Sun-dried” fish is generally small fry.  This Modest Proposal provides methods to keep a large catch.  The idiom of kids as sushi is worked in many comic tales but the “juicy” preference (for sushi) is mine/rhyme’s alone.

p.331.  Q for U.  re Getsudokan's sexy going wild-pinking down past the navel poem.  Knowing full well, we are talking about a girl-friend or "baby," I used "sis" to translate  “imo to waga nuru” to japanese it a bit and am having second thoughts. Maybe I will just make it "she." Opinions are welcome and they need not be from experts for this one.

p.342. New translation. The first translation is in this book.  The second is new and for the short version. The idea of making the forked road of desire in the original split ends of a hair allowed it.  Closer to the original, it is the better re-creation.  If the reader can come up with just the right idea to improve a translation, by all means do so.

hiku-ushi no hanage ni tonbo tsunagu to mo negai no ito wa kakenu futa-michi   getsudokan

pulling-cow (herder star)’s nstrl-hair-to drgnfly tie evn wshng-thread-as4 hang-not forkd-rd   c.1700


On Hanging One’s Wish Out for the Stars


Though I could tie a  dragonfly to a hair in the Cowherd’s nose,

My desires are a wishbone: Must I split and not keep both?


Though I could tie a  dragonfly to a hair in the Cowherd’s nose,

Like split-ends, the thread of my desire, forking, goes nowhere!

p.349. Hopeless? I did not even try to make this counting kyoka (playing upon Saigyo's waka about life passing as fast as a stone is chucked into a hole) by Issa the haikai master into a poem. Should i add the following if the book ever gets space to grow more, or better to leave it out so a loss in translation does not become a bore for my readers?

ishinago no ochikuru tama no hi fu mi yo itsutsu mutsu nanatsu yakamashi no yo ya
pebble-game falling stones/jacks’ one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight
=noisy world!

In the time a jackstone takes to fall?
“One!” “Two!” “Three!” I hear them bawl
“Four!” “Five!” “Six!” Why must they yell?
“Seven!” rhymes heaven but noise is hell!

p.385.   Big improvement? In the book, the first translation ends “so only haikai remains!” and the last three lines of the second are “my underarms // make sure I’m on fire / then sell me to the ash-man” and the last two lines to the last (for those who have not read the book: all of which is beautifully squared by adjusting the font) are “Turned to ash, just think / You will have my haikai.”

p/hokkuri to shinaba waki yori hi o tsukete ato haikai ni nashite tamuware  sôbô  p.1666

If I should up & / die, mates, use the hair / below my arms //
for kindling: Set me afire / turn me into pure haikai!

If I should pass / away tonight, just light / me armpit first, //
& what is left you might /  sell to the ash-man


a haikai master’s deathbed




Let my death  be hokku

&, when I go in a blink,

Be  my Second, cap me

w/ a waki, light my fire:

Turned to ash, I shall be

Off upon my last haikai!

The explanation is also improved:

Hair is not mentioned, but if you recall the Manyôshû waka about mowing a man’s armpit,  it is clearly the tinder in this untranslatable kyôka with not only hokku, the lead-off ku in link-verse from the honored guest, but tsuke, i.e., tsuke-ku, or seconding ku by the waki or second, usually the host, and haikai punned into the text, itself ambiguous. The translator favors punning the penultimate 7 as “ato wa ikai ni,” where ikai means “big” or “many” and, idiomatically, lots of work for you guys, thanks! (i.e., お世話になり) but his respondents favor ato haikai ni nashite, punning ato, hai ni nashite, or “afterward, (I/it) become/s ashes.”  Haikai may also pun as a derelict to be thrown away 廃壊and the ash-man 灰買, who would be perfect here if there is a chance the nashite (becoming) tamuware is dashite (putting out or selling) tamaware.  A handwritten and are damn close and such would surely make a good mad ending!  However, as one respondent argues, the idea of making the poet’s life becoming=nashite haikai includes the nuance of putting it into a linked sequence, not tossing it out.  That would bring out the endlessness of haikai, which is, after all, homophonous with wandering. (Expert comments on reading would be appreciated for this one!.)

p.387.  On second thought. The following loose translation (as Hoffman has a fine one that holds the line) was partly first-person (for the loose vowel rhyme of “dying” and “mine”), but is probably better uniformly third-person:

Raizan is dying: / call it his punishment / for being born.
The fault is his, he leaves / in peace.  Don’t mourn!

p.392A revision of one of the totally unsatisfactory translations for a very colloquial kyôka death poem that predated the birth of Edoite machismo.

wanzakure funbaru beika kyô bakari ashita wa karasu ga kakkajiru bei  yamanaka genzaemon d.1645

“ Wanzakure!  Funbaru bei ka! ”

Make my day!  Bring it on today, boys – I can hardly wait!
Watch me fall upon my blade: tomorrow, crows, don’t be late!

p.399.  Not so much a mistranslation as undertranslation of Yomo no Akara’s "yamazato ni shirigomi" poem because your translator was too fixated on re-creating the flatulent puns. The following are new and the old ones are in the paragraph below. [note: my respondent does not feel I under-translated but may be thinking too much here. That, too, is possible. Experts! Please weigh in!]

yamazato ni shirigomi shitsutsu irishi yori  ukiyo no koto wa he to mo omowazu  akara
mountain home/town-in hesitantly do-while entered-there-frm floating-world-things-as-for  fart even think-not


On the Mind of One Leaving the World Behind


Since he retired while holding in mixed feelings like a fart,

He no longer gives a shit for the city or so he tells his heart


Since retiring in the hills with mixed feelings, God was kind:

you would think he never gave a shit for what he left behind


Up the mountain he goes, unsure he would retreat: a blast

proclaims that the old fart’s love for the world has past.

“God” in the second reading means what is more commonly called cognitive dissonance.  In retrospect, the reading seems easy enough, but the reading copy of the 740-page monster translates the Aire for a Buddhist Hermit in the following ways: 1) Turning tail on man / he lives behind the times back / up a windy hollar; //  & for the world or mighty / Dollar does not give a fart;  2) And backing into / the hinderparts where even / rumors slip not past / / He cuts no slack nor gives / a fart for the entire world.  Do you see what happened? Play too much with figures of speech and you can lose the larger picture.


p.467. Minor improvement of poem playing with Ariwara no Motokata's in/famous first poem of the Kokinshu. The last line of the third reading of Mitsutoshi’s poem was slightly altered to improve the ambiguity:

kurehatenu toshi no owari ni haru tachite  sadamekanetaru waga yowai kana   mitsutoshi
setting/ending-exhausting-not???-year-end-on spring arriving settle-cannot my age ‘tis!

That spring came before year’s end is no secret;

but now I really can no longer tell my age!

pg. 467 & 609.   Nijô Nyôbô (or ~ Yoshimoto 1320-88), whom I called delightful and so gentle I thought he might be female also had some wild flourishes I should have picked up like "mochii zo ni tsuki" or falling on my butt. And I finally came up with not one but two readings of the poem in the Sake Mochi Awase playing with Ariwara no Motokata's in/famous first poem of the Kokinshu:

toshi no uchi ni mochi wa tsukikeri hitotose o koz/so to ya kuwan kotoshi to ya kuwan
year-within-in mochi (sweet-rice)-as-for beat+emph. one/whole-year+acc???
 last-year-as/with roast=>eat-would  this-year as/with roast=>eat-would

Rice cake pounded within the old year  –  What, then, is true:

Would we roast the last year now or should we toast the new?


When we beat this sweet-rice into cake the year was old;

Is the next one here? Let’s eat! Or is the last on hold?

The biggest problem are pun allusions.  Eg. yaku is the usual verb for toasting mochi, but there is no wan emphatic (wai in some dialects, but not wan), so we need to read it ultimately as an emphatic ya followed by kuwan, or “would eat.” With the first reading, roast and toast can both mean yaku and they imply eating.

p.467-468.  I was wrong to write "Arakata's poem appears with no change" in Laughs to Banish Sleep. And wrong again to write "the only change is in the mind's eye," for iwan changes to iiwan (ihiwan). Also "Arakata" is the oddest typo I have ever made! It should be Motokata's, short for Ariwara no Motokata!  Also, I should have discussed the iwamu => iwan phonetic(?) and orthographic change that allowed the pun in the 17c. Iwamu could not have been punned into a rice-bowl.

p.473.  Minor mistranslation. Here is an honest-to-goodness error followed by a tricky question for experts in ancient Japanese poetry to ponder.

kimigayo wa chiyo ni hitotabi iru chiri no shirakumo kakaru yama to naru made
lord’s reign/times-as-for, thousand-reigns/generations/ages-in once is dust
white-clouds touching/positioned mountain-as/into become until

May you reign until dust makes a mountain crowned with sages
and white clouds as happens but once in a thousand ages
 May you reign until dust grows into a lofty mountain
covered with white clouds, once in a millennium!

This is the first item in the Ryôjinhisshô, an anthology of 11-13c popular poetry and song. Too late, I see I mistranslated it by putting too much effort into the wording and too little into reading. While volcanoes may indeed sprout up once per thousand years in the Japanese archipelago, what the poem really said was this:

Until fine dust, each thousandth year adding but one grain
Builds a lofty cloud-covered mountain – may you reign!

That is a cross between a kalpa (see the bk for that) and a Chinese saying elaborated in the  preface to the Kokinshû mentioning dust and dirt rising up from the fumoto (base, or skirts) to build a lofty cloud-covered mountain (How a yet-to-be mountain has a fumoto to grow from is beyond me and the whole idea seems even less probable than pebbles growing into boulders, but the idea did not suddenly appear from out of thin air.  It follows . . .). The question I want experts to slowly ponder follows

May my Lord’s Reign so free of dust that only one grain
appears in a thousand years
, last until a mountain rises
high into the clouds from an accumulation of the same!

Rereading that first poem of the Ryôjin-hisshô (Credited to Ôe Yoshitoki 大江喜言in the 1086 Goshûishû 後拾遺集), it dawned on me that there are better ways to express “a grain/speck of dust per millennium” than the verb iru stressing the existence of one (grain of) dust per thousand years than chiyo ni hitotabi iru chiri and that made me wonder whether that once–in-a-thousand-years idea might not have something more hidden between the lines. The new reading, above, takes an extra line to make it explicit. I hypothesize that the mention of dust, a dirty thing sullying the clean shining mirror of Shintô or sinful desire clouding the bright moon of Buddhist Law, in a poem serving as a benediction and indirectly, perhaps, a dedication, required some qualification or reframing of dust, namely “if you grant we find but one speck of impure matter once per every thousand years in your brilliant realm” and, then pivots to use that impossibly rare pristine condition to build his cloud-covered hyperbolic blessing.  This is not only sublime but sublimely clever.  So clever, I am afraid,  that no one I consulted or annotation I read even considers such a reading . . . .  Am I nuts?  The following from Tales of Eika is translated sketchily in the text. Space permitting, I would free it up as follows --

watatsumi no kame no senaka ni iru chiri no yama to naru beki kimigayo kana

Like the chiri on the back of the turtle afloat on the main
that became the mountain of youth, so, too, Your Reign!

p.486.  See p.92 re Fushimatsu no Kaka’s poem and explanation. They are combined.


p.536 Minor improvement. It was “blooming branch” but an association, or conceptual rhyme, trumps alliteration. Oddly, the “last,” below, was “bottom.”

waga omou hito eda ta-oru mono naraba yubi o mo kiriteyari ume-no-hana 

If the one I love should break a blooming limb for me, his point

known, I’ll be his sugar plum and pledge my baby finger joint!

Most of my readers will know courtesans sometimes gave clients the last joint of their baby finger as pledges,...

p.555. Major mistranslation.  On more careful reading, the underlined translation, replacing another mistranslation (!) already crossed out, was itself a mistranslation. I am betting on the new one below it.  Two lines have been added to the crossed-out explanation, now partly irrelevant but still entertaining.  The lines removed for space for the addition said presciently that I really should have bounced the poem off my respondent.  Indeed. The preceding sentence is "It so happens that in the 1679 Silver Leaf Savage Songs, where we find poems by his teacher Shinkai, we find a kyôka pole-bearing love as well!"

suterarenu shudô nyodô o ninahinaba koi no omoni ni bô ya orenan shunjô

If you must bear the burden of loving boys and women
Break it off, break the pole which makes you carry them!
If you can give up neither your longing for boys nor for women,
Love’s twin burden will break the pole by which you carry them!

While a phallic overtone is to some degree unavoidable, misreading the obsolete grammar (sure looked imperative) side-tracked my first translation and explanation (Unlike China and Italy, Japan was not big on eunuch culture, and almost never went all the way, as Chinese did, by removing the “pole” as well!  But, as you can read in my book of dirty senryû, there was one example of it and some poets did consider how it affected urination., but one does not speak of breaking-off a pole from a tree. So, my second, phallic reading stands. Getsudôkan who did not wish to be a monk, kept that pole, but admitting that love was not free, let his tears as poles bear his burden.  Viewed that way, his tears are as manly as those coursing down the faces of the macho fools engaged in chili-eating contests, as described in exquisite poro-poro mimetic detail by Issa).

p.580.  New, improved "Eureka!" translation. Despite the traditionally propitious significance of every feature of the ebi=shrimp, embodiment of the most valued of all treasures, longevity, one 17c man had the freedom of mind to play objectively with its symbolism. I have his poem but suddenly, too late, many more translations! Here are two of them:

ikabakari ebi o tori-kuu mukui araba   tsui ni wa oi no koshi ya kagaman   takuan

If we must pay for each shrimp we eat then in the end
Is it any wonder that with age our backs must bend?
One can hardly eat a shrimp without causing any hurt;
After years of eating them a crooked back is just desert!

p.609. See 467.

p.622. Minor mistranslation. I failed to notice that in the Kansai area a dorobo could be a lazy-bones rather than a thief, as in Edo, so the final rhyme was "and meekly kneel / it rather makes us steal." A couple more possibilities follow:

ue yori wa sunao ni nare to furu suna ni warera gotoki wa dorobô ni naru 

Sand from on high says “be sunao!” truthful, admit defeat:
In that case, me and my ilk must call ourselves deadbeat!
Falling from high, sand says be yourself? Who’d have thunk
That a literal reading would make a ‘thief’ of this monk!

This kyoka squib is from Asahi Bunzaemon's (sometimes rendered Monzaemon's) Parrot-Cage c.1700. It is a delightful perversion of the way volcanic sand suna coming down from on high was apparently said to signal the folk to be sunao, i.e., honest, unpretentious, and docile in the face of authority.  That is, if I read it right. If anyone has a record of such a reading of the sand-suna-sunao which the squib might react against, I would love to see it!

p.624. Improved translation. From squibs in Bunzaemon's journal again, this is after Kyoto suffered a catastrophic fire. I am afraid my first reading is incomprehensible. The double "they" in the revision bothers me, but it still seems better.

hi no moto no aruji narubeki shirushi ni wa mazu ôyake o shiroshimesu kana
sun(=fire)’s origin’s owner/lord is confirmation-as-for first big-burn+acc show-off!/?

Lords of the Land of the Rising Sun, or are we the Spark of the Earth,
Must first prove their mettle by burning down the larger part of it?

Lords of the Land of the Rising Sun, or are they the Spark of the Earth,
That they must first their mettle prove by burning down so much of it?

p.626. Just added a third reading.  Reader, are multiple readings more fun to have or less? Useful or not useful? Comments on that and everything you like and hate or wonder about, please.

tenka toru koto wa kirai de owari ni wa iejû no mono o toru ga suki nari

heavn-below conquer thing-as4 hate-so owari/end-in-as4 homeall-thngs+acc take like


Seizing the whole damn country would be too much hassle,

So our rulers stay home to steal from everyman’s castle!


Owari, the tail of the earth would not be the head of it:

We stay home to empty yours, leaving but the edifice!


Why go out to conquer and rob the ends of the earth

When loot’s close at hand in the land of your birth?

p.680.  New translation and new explanation. What do you think?

 sazare-ishi no iwao to narite ke ga haete sore o shiraga ni miyoshino no haru  getsudôkan

~ Asked by Naokiyo for something on Spring at Year’s End ~

The little pebble became boulder and grew hair – obscene,
But that became white crowned mi-Yoshino in the Spring!

The little pebble became boulder and grew into a hairy thing,

That has become white crowned mi-Yoshino in the Spring!

Yoshino tended to have snow for the New Year so the early solar spring was combined with what would seem to be  the pebble-to-hoary-boulder-as-Old-Man-Winter.  Obviously, my “obscene” goes too far, but calling moss hair is halfway there. => Yoshino, the hills not far from Kyôto famed for (cherry) blossom-viewing,  tended to have snow at New Year, so the early solar spring was symbolically combined with the old year.  Japanese do not have as anthropomorphic an Old Man Winter, but calling moss “hair” gets us there.

p680. I have made 3 more translations which will not fit in the book. Your reward for reading this far. Does this c.1700 poem not represent the mad-poem spirit?

yomu uta o kiku hito goto ni hiyasarete  hiya-ase kakeba koko zo nôryô   getsudôkan

On being told by Naoshige that he was having trouble writing a kyôka on the

theme of obtaining the cool [in the heat of mid-summer], I sent him this:


Read a bad poem & ridiculed by all, suffer to become a clown;

The cold sweat upon your skin will surely cool you down!


Reading a bad poem, ridiculed by one and all who hear:

To chill a mad poet, his own cold sweat beats beer!


Each time I read a poem  they never fail to laugh, you see

So cold sweat breaks out and helps me beat the summer heat!


 Whenever I read they laugh at my poems and hating defeat

Cold sweat visits me and then and there I beat the heat!


 Each time I read a poem  they never fail to laugh at me

And with my own cold sweat I beat the heat easily!

As to the underlined words maybe "keeping cool" will do it! Of the translations, what of keeping just the first of the old and the last of the new above? And read "easily" slowly:

All translations copyright robin d. gill, but you can quote them all you want without asking so long as you give my full name, including the middle initial so I will not be conflated with the English theologian Robin Gill. And, if you have space, mention the book's title, Mad In Translation, too.  Thank you. rdg