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  • Beyond Home And City:Poems By Ishigaki Rin And Shiraishi Kazuko1
  • Mizuta Noriko
    Translated by Eiji Sekine

Ishigaki Rin has a well-known poem titled "The Nameplate":






自分の住む所には自分の手で表札をかけるに限る。 [End Page 120]



It is imperative that I put my nameplate by myselfOn the door of the place where I live.

It is always terrible when someone else places my nameplateAt the entrance of the place where I lodge.

When I was hospitalizedMy nameplate at the entrance of my room read: Ms. Ishigaki Rin."Ms." was added to my name.

When I stay at an innNo nameplate will be put outside of my room.But soon I will enter into a crematoryAnd a nameplate will be placed above its closed door:It will read Ishigaki Rin, Esq.How can I refuse such a plate at that moment?

Neither "Ms." nor "Esq."Should be added to my name.

It is imperative that I put my nameplate by myselfOn the door of the place where I live.

I should also not let someone else place for meThe nameplate for the place where my soul is.

A plate that simply reads Ishigaki RinIs the best one.

This poem is highly acclaimed, to the extent that some critics even insist that Ishigaki Rin was born to compose this very poem. She wrote it in 1968 when she was forty-eight. Her second poetry anthology, including this one, was published in the same year (titled Nameplate and Other Poems) and allowed her to become one of the most well recognized contemporary poets. [End Page 121]

It is often said that the last four lines articulate the poem's theme: The poet declares that her spiritual identity should not be articulated by others; instead, she should be the one who decides and expresses her own identity, which defines her as a simple self with no socialized or honorific titles. Home, hospital, and crematorium are used as metaphors that indicate the concreteness of the place where her soul may be lodged. The hospital and crematorium are examples of the "terrible" places where someone else chooses and positions her nameplate, while in "the place where she lives" her everyday life, she herself sets her nameplate; it is a place of her own and a metaphorical space where her soul resides.

This simple and articulate poem fully displays the poet's clean and firm attitude towards life (she lives with her simple and naked self) and her strong individuality (she does not pretend to be someone other than her natural self). She insisted on her "female" individuality in the sense that women often live with no title and no respect from society, and rarely have a chance to display their own nameplates at the doors of their houses.

However, Ishigaki later confessed that she hesitated to choose "mo" over "wa" to topicalize the "place of her soul" in the final lines of the above poem. Her hesitation is indicative of the concrete nature of the place in which her self lives; that is to say that her "home" is not just simple metaphor for her "soul." The place referred to in the lines, "I should also not let someone else place for me/the nameplate for the place where my soul is," is chosen as another example of a possible space she may be in, similar to other spaces such as home, hospital, and crematory. An explanatory word choice here (lit. "also the place where my mind/spirit exists") sounds almost a redundant addition to the poem's message on the aforementioned places: The use of "mo (also)" indeed helps the lines justify their own significance.

"The Nameplate" marks the beginning of Ishigaki's name recognition as a professional poet, but it is not the first poem she composed; rather, it demonstrates one of the conclusions of her poetic enterprise. Ishigaki Rin was born in 1920. At the age of fifteen, she started to work after graduating from a higher elementary school. She worked for the Industrial Bank of Japan for 40 years; at 55, she reached the age limit and retired. She was 25 when WWII ended. She continued working before, during...


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