Songs From a Bamboo Village

This is my 2nd book for Japanese literature Challenge 3

This book is a non-fiction book about one of Japanese Famous Tankaist, Shiki Masaoka. The book consists of 3parts, Introduction, Poems and its romaji renderings, and some notes on the poems. This book is both translated and introduced by Seishi Shinoda and Sanford Goldstein.

For me, this book is a bit hard to read because I don’t really like non-fiction…but this book is a gift from one of my favorite students, so I have to honor her by reading it although it took several months for me to pick it up from my book shelf.

Once I started reading it, beyond my surprise, I can enjoy this book. I will write the review based on its parts and hopefully other people will be interested in reading it.

The First Part : Introduction

In this part of the book, Shinoda and Goldstein wrote about Shiki Masaoka’s incredible life. He was born in 1867 and died in 1902, he lived a short life due to his tuberculosis. His life is full of struggle and determination. He studied in Tokyo Imperial School (To-dai) but he never finished his school. His first job was in a newspaper called Nihon. At first, he focused himself in Haiku. He wrote his own Haiku and he also wrote articles about haiku in the past. In 1898, Shiki started his first critics on modern tankaist, and after that he himself became a tankaist.

The most amazing part of Shiki’s life happened on the last years of his life. If you are touched by Thursday With Morrie by Mitch Albom, you’ll easily fell the same situation after reading Shiki’s life. Shiki had to life his life lying on his bed all day long. Although he couldn’t do a lot of movement he was determined to keep on writing and supervised Hototogisu (a newspaper).

In 1901 he wrote an article called ‘A drop of Chinese Ink’ (Bokujuu Itteki), I was touched by what he had written. “It was four of five years ago that I wished I could walk in the garden. After a year or two, I thought how happy I would be if I could stand up even though I was unable to walk. Telling this to others, I smiled at the modesty of my wish at that time. But from the summer of the year before last, I came to pray to God to enable me to sit even though I couldn’t stand. Now I wish I could lie peacefully for an hour freed from pain

Shiki died at 1 A.M on September 19,1902 after falling to a comma for 1 day. Five days before he died, he dictated “The Morning of September 14”, it consists of these poems of farewell

The towel gourd has flowered:
Here lies a man dead,
suffocated by phlegm

A gallon of phlegm:
Not in time,
the sap from the towel gourd

The day before yesterday,
that day too the sap from the towel gourd
was not collected

The anniversary of Shiki’s death is called hechimaki which mean towel-gourd anniversary.

The Second Part : Poems and its Romaji Rendering

This part is full of Shiki’s poems from 1882 to 1902. I can’t say much about this part because I’m totally blind on poems. Shinoda and Goldstein do not put the poems’ original Chinese/Japanese Characters, they make it easier by putting its Romaji Rendering.

My favorite poem is this one: (made in 1882-1897)

Some persimmons
were sweet,
some bitter –
Those with a trace of bitterness
were better, yes better, in taste

Kaki no mi no
amaki mo arinu
Kaki no mi no
shibuki mo arinu
Shibuki zo Umaki

The Third Part: Notes to Tanka Poems

This part tells people about certain things they might not understand about the poems. Shinoda and Goldstein are more than kind to write notes on all of the poems, which are about 200poems. They also wrote their interpretation on the poems.

The reason why I like the poems above is because it represents life, and Shinoda and Goldstein also thought the same thing. They explained a bit about the characteristic of persimmons and their interpretation. According to them, the poem reflected Shiki’s realization of him being sick for the rest of his life and claimed than the textured life, is more precious, is sweeter, than the modern tendency to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.

It is a very interesting book that can lift your spirit. But since I’m not really into non-fiction, I can only give this book 3 stars (I like it).


  1. This sounds like a very touching book. Did you enjoy reading something different from fiction?

    Novroz’ Answer
    Yup 🙂 sometimes…if I got really lucky I stumbled upon good non-fiction…this is my second review on non-fiction in my blog…but before I have my blog I’ve read some other non-fiction on Japanese life, education, belief and death poems

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