Five Poems by Yoshihara Sachiko


Translated by Charlotte Fitt

About the Author

Yoshihara Sachiko (1932-2002), was a prominent post-war Japanese poet. After becoming a mother in 1961 and going through a divorce in 1962, she released her first collection ‘Litany for Youth’ in 1964. Yoshihara was an extremely active writer, publishing eleven poetry collections altogether across her lifetime, as well as numerous essays. She was also an outspoken feminist, and in 1983 founded literary journal ‘La Mer’, which promoted the work of women writers and poets. Of the poems presented here, four are from Yoshihara’s second collection, ‘Summer’s Grave’ (1964), and one is from her third, ‘Ondine’ (1972).

About the Translator

Charlotte Fitt is a young linguist and researcher based in London. She works mainly with Japanese and has a special interest in investigating the links between multilingualism, translation, and creativity.

Notes on the Translation

Yoshihara’s poetry contains a strong visual element – this is most obvious in the large spaces between words and phrases, which are especially striking given Japanese does not usually separate words with spacing at all. From her recordings, we can hear that these are also intended as a guide for reading out loud.

Yoshihara also makes the most of the rich possibilities presented by the different writing systems used in Japanese. For example, she frequently makes non-standard orthographic choices, and even mixes different systems (Chinese characters and the Japanese alphabet) within the same word. Another interesting feature of her work is her use of ‘ruby script’, a kind of annotative gloss usually used to provide phonetic readings of difficult Chinese characters, or in texts for children. Yoshihara sparingly uses ‘ruby’ superscripts to provide alternative readings for characters, often near synonyms. These techniques have no effect on pronunciation when reading aloud, yet their visual impact creates a sense of alienation, and suggests multiple layers of meaning.

It is widely taken for granted in discussion on Japanese-English translation that since there are no equivalents to these orthographic techniques in English, their effects simply cannot be recreated. This has always sounded like a challenge to me, and I believe English language readers would be interested to encounter this unfamiliar and fascinating aspect of Japanese poetry in translation.


Date and photographer unknown. Used with permission of the poet’s estate.

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