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The Psycholinguistic Pathos of Everyday Life 11: Japan Redivivus

Finding myself in Japan (the land of my birth) again after a hiatus of seven years, I silently observed the country and the people as I made my way from the airport to Tokyo on the train. The manicured countryside brought to mind an undated poem by my father, Constantine Shapiro (1896-1992), probably written in the 1930s, on the same topic (rough translation follows):

Япония

Япония, страна искривленных деревьев,
Япония, страна улыбок и поклонов,
Япония, за что ты ненавидешь нас?

Япония, где все уныло и угрюмо,
Япония, где даже дети смотрят злобно,
Япония, скажи, за что?

За то ль, что мы пришли к тебе незваны?
За то ль, что мы стальной тебя сковали цепью?
Япония, скажи, за то ль?

Так мы уйдем обратно в свои долы,
Мы не хотим насильно твоей дружбы.
Пусть вновь сияет голубое небо,

Пусть вновь луна взойдет над небосклоном
И пусть, как некогда, в безмолвье недвижимом
Земля уснет и море опустеет.

Japan

Japan, land of crooked trees,
Japan, land of smiles and bows,
Japan, why do you hate us?

Japan, where all is depressing and morose,
Japan, where even children peer angrily,
Japan, say, what for?

Is it because we came to you unbidden?
Is it because we bound you with a steel chain?
Japan, tell us, was it for that?

Then we’ll go back to our valleys.
We don’t wish to have your friendship by force.
Let the blue sky glow once again,

Let the moon rise once again over the sky
And let the land, as long ago, in motionless wordlessness
Go to sleep, and the sea become desolate.

For a person in his seventies, with fourteen years of Japanese life in his mental cupboard (including World War II and the fire bombing of Tokyo) behind him, this poetic recollection of his father’s musing on Japan and the Japanese shortly after taking up residence there as a Russian refugee, emphasizes the fact that the emotional life of one’s parents is essentially and permanently a terra incognita.
MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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