Something Lost, by Shuntaro Tanikawa

I’m getting tired of the Tsukuru translation (it’s a lot of work and I’m not sure how much more of it I will be doing), so I decided to try and translate a poem by my favorite contemporary Japanese poet, Shuntaro Tanikawa. I hope you enjoy. Anyone reading who knows Japanese, feel free to make any suggestions! I’ve actually never translated modern poetry, so it’s been remarkably difficult.



Something Lost

By Shuntaro Tanikawa

I lost an utterly trivial item.
Nothing that would trouble me greatly not to have
nor something I associate with fond memories.
The corner store sells them should I want a replacement,
but, just the fact that it’s no longer there
has turned all the drawers into eternal labyrinths
that I’ve already wandered for three hours or so.
At my wit’s end, I retreat to the garden and look up to the evening sky
where near the eaves the first star has begun to shine.
What am I living for?
This quite unrelated doubt floats to mind.
It’s been many decades since I considered it,
but surely there was never a satisfactory answer.
At least I can search for that item thoroughly, throw my clothes into disarray again—
thus I muster the courage to go back indoors and it strikes me–
will all my familiar household items perish in the thin veil of darkness?







Acknowledgements: A special thanks to Terry for giving me some comments and chatting with me about whether or not to use punctuation. I opted ultimately for naturalizing the English to make it more readable, and thus I have used punctuation.

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7 Responses to Something Lost, by Shuntaro Tanikawa

  1. Terry Dassow says:

    Poetry must be pretty hard to translate, which is why I give you a massive amount of credit for doing it! I`m not saying I`m a poetry expert, but I do have a background in it and write and read poetry regularly, so I naturally have some ideas for you about how to select words to produce desired images that bring forth the effect intended by the author. These are just ideas. Each poet develops their own style which incorporates word choice, grammatical patterning, usage of punctuation, and so on, so I can only imagine that replicating this in a translation must be even more challenging than producing an original.

    I wondered very deeply about the original Japanese when I read the last line which ends with: `perish in the thin veil of darkness`. The last words of the translation left me feeling strange, as if they didn`t quite truly express the ending imagine intended by Tanikawa. The original Japanese is directly translated as, `fading dim light`, so how about using something more like, `in the falling darkness`?

    Also, I am consistently grappling with appropriate word selection when I translate short stories, an experience which has made it easier for me to see instances when others may be grappling, as well. I felt a little awkward with the phrase `household items`. How about using the word `posessions` instead?

    Really great job. I`m glad I have a chance to read some Japanese poetry out of the blue!

    • poncho131 says:

      Hey there Terry! As always, thanks for the comment! Your initial comments on the process of writing poetry and writing translations were intriguing. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of one being more challenging than the other though. I just think that in both cases, there is never a sense of perfection. There’s always a better, more ingenious wording, whether you are writing an original work or trying to translate the subtleties of another work. 😛

      Concerning your comments on the poem itself, I like “falling darkness” too. It seems more natural in English. I did kinda like the image of the “thin veil of darkness” though. When I thought of it originally I was uber excited. 😛

      Your second suggestion is also quite useful. I felt “household items” was kinda weird too. Possessions is probably better, and that they are kept in the house is assumed and could be connected to the speaker/poet’s lost item pretty naturally.

      Thanks again for the comments. Insightful, as always.


  2. Sasameyuki says:

    Wow. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Naoko says:

    Nice!! I love Tanikawa Shuntaro!! Thanks for sharing. I’ve been doing a lot of translations of Tanikawa’s poems for fun lately. It’s so challenging but it’s also addictive! 🙂 If you’re interested, here is my blog:

    My latest attempt is a translations of his poem, あいしてる. He doesn’t use any complicated words but I still found it difficult to find the right words in English. For example, I’m not really happy about the last sentence of the first stanza, ぺろっとなめたくなっちゃうかんじ. I translated as, “And feeling tempted to lick”, but it just doesn’t sound right…I would really appreciate it if you have any suggestions!

    Thank you very much!

    • poncho131 says:

      Thank you so much for the comment, Naoko. I don’t have much time at the moment, but would you mind if later in response I wrote my own translation of the poem and posted it here on my blog? I think your translation is very good and now I feel like writing my own. The biggest difficulty with that poem I think is the backwards grammar– ie. everything from ならんですわって to なめたくなっちゃう all modify かんじ at the end of the first stanza, which is difficult to achieve in English. I’ll give some thought to なめたくなっちゃうかんじ. I’m very excited to have found a fellow translator. 🙂

      • Naoko says:

        Hi Chris, of course!! Please translate it, and I’d love to see how you translate. The original poem in Japanese has a very very nice happy rhythm. It makes me want to skip. It’s so unfortunate that I can’t transform the rhythm into the English version. I’m excited to have found a fellow translator as well! Nice to meet you!

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