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  • A Parody in the RuinsA Translation of Irisawa Yasuo’s Waga Izumo, Waga Chinkon (Part 1)
  • Scott Mehl (bio)

Waga Izumo, waga chinkon わが出雲・わが鎮魂 (My Izumo, My Requiem; 1968), a long, self-annotated poem by Irisawa Yasuo 入沢康夫 (b. 1931) on folkloric themes relating to the region of Izumo in Shimane Prefecture, has had vocal partisans ever since its publication. When the work won the 1968 Yomiuri Prize, the poet Kusano Shinpei 草野心平 (1903–1988) lauded Irisawa in the prize citation as “one of the most radically adventurous . . . of the new postwar poets.”1 Another poet, Miyoshi Toyoichirō 三好豊一郎 (1920–1992), concluded in his 1968 review of the text, “It is hard to find words of sufficient praise for this work, rare both in its ambition and its success.”2 In 1994, the poet and filmmaker Suzuki Shirōyasu 鈴木四郎康 (b. 1935) called My Izumo, My Requiem “the masterpiece of postwar Japanese poetry.”3

From the appearance of its first published versions in 1966 and 1967, however, the text has also been deemed a mondaisaku 問題作, a controversial or debated work: In the December 1967 issue of Gendaishi techō 現代詩手帖, writers were asked to identify the most debated poetic work of the year. Irisawa was spotlighted more often than any other poet, with three of the twenty respondents singling out works of his; of those three, two named My Izumo, My Requiem.4 The work’s reputation for controversy has [End Page 31] not lessened: poet-critic Nomura Kiwao 野村喜和夫 (b. 1951), who has written several essays about Irisawa, stated in 2002 that My Izumo, My Requiem was “the most debated of all postwar [Japanese] poems.”5 The reason for this assessment of the work as a mondaisaku lies, to a large degree, in its unusual composition: in its final version, the actual poem—titled My Izumo—is complemented by 161 explanatory endnotes, which are collectively titled My Requiem. With their citations from ancient Japanese chronicles and many allusions to modern literature, the notes dwarf the poem they purport to illuminate, running to some five times as many words.

In the afterword, Irisawa characterizes the poem-cum-notes as parodic, calling his own work “a parody of a parody.” However, because the tone of his self-annotations is at times jarringly different from that of the poem itself, it is quite difficult to ascertain what he intends to parody. As this introduction will argue, there may be multiple targets, principal among which are postwar studies of Japanese myth, especially of the ancient myths of the Izumo region, where Irisawa was born and raised. Yet at the same time that the annotations seem to parody the compendiousness of postwar mythography about Izumo, they present the myths themselves, which concern the ancient feud between Izumo and the eventually victorious Yamato region where the early emperors of Japan consolidated their power, straightforwardly without parody. By casting ancient Yamato in the role of villain against a heroic but finally defeated Izumo, Irisawa’s text joins other postwar Japanese works of literature and philosophy that suggest a critical view of the Japanese imperial institution.6 Another target of Irisawa’s parody is T. S. Eliot’s (1888–1965) The Waste Land (1922), which, being itself a fusion of poetry and commentary, was an inspiration for Irisawa’s work.

To facilitate the reception of this important and controversial work by a wider readership, I here present for the first time a full translation of My Izumo, My Requiem in English, after first placing the work in its historical context. Despite his standing among Japanese poets and poetry critics, Irisawa himself has been the subject of only a handful of studies in English.7 Likewise, in the half century since its publication My Izumo, My Requiem has appeared in only a few brief scholarly mentions in English and, in 1993, an abridged translation by Leith Morton.8 In Japanese, meanwhile, [End Page 32] My Izumo, My Requiem stands in high repute and has received far more scholarly attention.9

In the pages that follow, I will first reconstruct the milieu within which Irisawa came to prominence, sketching briefly the immediate postwar trends in Japanese literature and society that had the greatest bearing on...


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