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Tosa Motokiyu

Now I must wash my yellow body:
seven early letters of Araki Yasusada

edited by Kent Johnson and Javier Alvarez

You can read six different articles on the Yasusada phenomenon here in Jacket.

Yasusada image

IN THE POETRY WORLD, it is by now generally known that Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada is a fiction created by its "primary translator" Tosa Motokiyu, the pseudonym of a writer who requested, before his passing in London in 1996, that his legal identity never be revealed. The following seven pieces are taken from a group of twenty letters by Yasusada to an American pen-pal (or "pal-pen", as Yasusada puts it) named "Richard." A short time before his death, Motokiyu indicated to us that these letters, along with other materials comprising Yasusada's juvenilia, were to be excluded from Doubled Flowering and only published after the collection's appearance. All of the letters are in holograph and most are in a state of "editorial disrepair," with marginal notes and numerous and often-contradictory bracketings and arrowings to indicate shiftings of sentences and longer passages -- much akin, interestingly enough, to Motokiyu's description of the original condition of the letters within Yasusada's notebooks. Thus, we are working with care to make sure these epistolary imaginings, to use Moto's phrase, are finally presented in accurate form. Here for the first time then, with Motokiyu's faux editor's note and footnotes -- for he originally intended the letters to appear as Yasusada's, "translated" by himself and his invented collaborators, Ojiu Norinaga and Okura Kyojin -- are the first seven entries to be assembled by us. January 5, 1926 is the earliest-dated letter in the group of twenty; the letter of November 17, 1926 is the penultimate one. Though not belonging to the series, another previously unpublished letter from Yasusada's youth can be found at The East Village Poetry Web at, with commentary on it in an interview with Kent Johnson at Gary Sullivan's, at

Kent Johnson and Javier Alvarez



[In holograph fair copy, inserted into the notebook
containing the letter drafts. KJ, JA]

THE FOLLOWING twenty extraordinary drafts of letters from Yasusada to a mysterious "Richard" constitute perhaps the most interesting writing from Yasusada's pre-war period. The letters are vertiginous in the multifaceted readings they make available: On the one hand (because there are no letters from him inserted in the notebooks as is the case with a variety of other correspondents), it is not possible to know if "Richard" is an actual person to whom fair copies of these drafts were sent 1, or whether he is Yasusada's invention -- a foil of permission, so to speak, to justify the writing of letters to oneself. On the other hand, the strictly textual status [sic] of these pieces (in state of editorial disrepair as they are, with arrows and interjections everywhere) is a true enigma: Although Yasusada began studies in Western Literature at Hiroshima University in 1925, we have no knowledge of his English skills at the time of composition (nor do we have evidence that he was taking the English classes which, as he suggests on January 13, are the "assignment-source" of these letters). Thus, the fault-line here between the innocencies [sic] and ungrammaticalities of his evidently infant English on the one side, and his bizarre and biting lyricism on the other, is thrillingly indeterminate and shimmering. Nevertheless, it is clear that in these letters (or epistolary imaginings -- whatever they may be) transgressions of grammar assume, purposely or not, the function of a certain seduction: a "skin" pulled back, to use Yasusada's phrasing, showing the "rising sun" of an eroticized and culturally-doubled libertinage. Thus, these pieces, written in Yasusada's 19th year, show him deploying, very early on, the idiosyncratic conceptual feints and shadowings that mark his work following the bomb.

Tosa Motokiyu, Ojiu Norinaga, Okura Kyojin

1) Indeed, if Richard is real, one can only begin to guess at his bewildered reaction to his pen-pal's mailings -- a state of confusion that Yasusada clearly, and progressively, toys with, until losing his patience with "Dick" altogether in the last quarter of the correspondence.


January 5, 1926
Dear Richard:
I am writing the letter from this class of English. I am hope you are feeling lovely. Do you have a wife? Inside your nation I know there is hotness in months of August and July. Particularly there is hotness in my nation when in August 1. Now there is coolness. And much snow. I enjoy to travel upwards in mountains (yet especially downward on long boards!) and also the study of your tongue, English. Never the more, when I say words it is like a bush of thorns barking. That is our saying. Do you like animal hunting?
It is tragedy for me to write and I am full of shamefulness. Never the more, as you see, language is some smoke or geese going. I am pitiful to be not clear. Some is on purpose, like cooking of noodles, or war; other is order of words, which is one accident I pleasure by. Please be a friend in this brokenness.
Do you have a wife? A question is repeated! Not I. I love a girl on a street of shops, third floor. In the later letter I will say of her. For presentness, I will tell you: her sexual hair is a whole forest, smelling after rain falling. It is very dark within there. A bird is singing. Bodies in piles are burning.
Good bye. Here is my image 2. I am sincere.
your pal-pen,
                              Araki Yasusada

1) The coincidental reference here is darkly ironic, to say the least.
2) Perhaps a reference to a photograph included with the letter.

*   *   *

July 24, 1926
Dear Richard:
I am just reappeared from work and covered with so many lily pollens. Achoo! May three boddhisatvas go into an orifice of you. Thank you. 1
In this little town, children are in madness over the spinning tops. My father ferry-crosses with horses to Koyama, never back-looking. Goodbye sad father. Goodbye for always.
Do you have a spinning tops? A blacksmithy with breasts all sooty was gay to me, hammering iron rings around her. Soaked in salty water, iron eats wood, going in. Spinning, spinning, my father turned to dust. Achoo! My champion tops was by name of Saturn's Rings Vast and Ghosted. Thank you, father, sooty blacksmithy.
Airplanes in my little town are rare and lovely. From many distances people ride in horses to see, mat-spreading to eat and sake-drink. On a day, one airplane of yellow went falling, falling. Kaboom! From the distances a pilot went running, running, grabbing in vermillion hand that arm which had fallen from him. Help me, help me, he said. Some people ran away, so frightened. Ah, water, please, ah help me, help me (faintlier, faintlier . . . ) Thus died a pilot in a lily field.
Boiled tortoises are made to cool. Giggling geishas lift bones with tweezers. Red dace make eggs in mussel shells. Eels are sliding in baskets of bamboo. A carp goes eaten by the bride. Inside Fujiwara and Manabe there are bandits. This is one silly song sung while tops are spinning.
Goodbye father, goodbye for always. Until soon, Richard. I request you soon to write me. Now I must wash my yellow body.
I am sincere. Your pal-pen
                              Araki Yasusada

1) In the notebooks there are numerous pieces of blank stationery with letterhead of the Sawara Greenhouses and Nurseries, leading us to believe Yasusada may have been employed there around the time of these letters.

*   *   *

November 17, 1926
Dear Dick:
Thank you that I am asked to write in your intimate name. Thus I will answer your interesting question: Yes, in Japan we have books. Never the more, not so glorious like in your country. But sailor-found, the skin of our island slides back for you. A sun rises. Can you see?
Clad in azalea yellow or vermillion cloaks over white robes, ink is carefully crushed, small and strange machines fly in an air. A thought is in my brain now, Dick: On a day my mother died, my father entered pearls in each body hole of her. Beautiful or nausea-making, that is a custom 1. I pine for her very much. One time in dreaming she yelled like a lion to me: "While boating, simply relax." What can this mean do you think?
Now, as I was speaking of it, in our skinny literature there are six eras or menstrual stages 2: Antique, Heian, Kamakura, Muromachi, Tokugawa, Meiji. Here is a Heian Lady Murasaki, who scribbled in diary. It shall be stupid for me, but for you I will best myself to English a little:

My room is unlovely, smoked to black. My koto has thirteen, sixteen perhaps strings, and I pleasure myself in the play of it. Soft rainy, soft rainy, I am torporous to unjamb bridges. Stayed there, the koto starks, like the rotting lover between cabinet and doorless portal. On side of koto stands biwa. [please forgive me, I do not find in English, but likeness to tiny koto] And giant containers with millions* of books. In poems and romances worms are living. Cherry blossoms and prince-ghosts are eaten. Cacoon, cacoon, are you woven from dead dreams? (Yes, yes, whispering the cacoon, in dreams of poetry squirms the worm.) 3 Terrored by books, which are likened to corpses, they stay dark and unplayed [ . . . . ]

[unreadable passage follows, brushed-over
with white-out in original. KJ, JA]

'Why do you read Chinese language?' say my maids, grass-chewing.
'My little cattle,' I say, 'It is far from certain that she who does nothing forbidden enjoys heaven.'
Before this time, Sutras were a male thing. [this means until foreskin of Heian, Dick.] Pretty and coy, sight-dissolving, hermitting, proudly, romance-liker, bitch and poetic, gazing in downwards direction at others. Thus I am thought. Yet know me and you say: 'You are wonderfully gentle to meet with; I cannot identify you with that imagined one.'4

Do you like it, pal-pen? Although it is like a tribe of primitives these words and also my English! Here is my question of goodbye until then: Do you like the music of American Negroes? Let us write of music in our letters of the future.
I am sincere,

                              Araki Yasusada

1) Yasusada is being fanciful here, as this is not a Japanese "custom."
2) i.e. "periods." Yasusada is either working with mistaken results from a thesaurus or being complexly playful with his correspondent.
3) There is no parenthetical interjection of the kind in the original passage from the Murasaki Diary. Indeed, much in the passage here goes beyond "mistranslation" to become obviously wilful invention.
4) The "translated" passage is carefully printed out by Yasusada in block letters.
* [Possibly "millstones," as the ink here is partially streaked. KJ, JA]

*   *   *


April 7, 19251

Dear Richard:

Yesterday, I drank sake with Hosai,2 my deep friend.3
Today, in the boiling sun, men heat lead.

I am sincere,

                              Araki Yasusada

1) An error by Yasusada. The letter dates from 1926.

2) No doubt Ozaki Hosai (1885-1926), the famed and hard-drinking haiku poet and Zen monk. Yasusada came to know him as a teenage member of  Ogiwara Seisensui's Layered Clouds poetry group.

3) Given Yasusada's English, it is difficult to determine if "my deep friend" refers to Hosai or to Richard. We believe he refers to the former.

*   *   *

May 7, 1926

Dear Richard:

What was there before your birth?

What was there after your death?

Who or what is it, at this moment, that is reading?

How can we have the apricot blossoms perfuming the whole world?1

I am sincere,

                              Araki Yasusada

1) In our opinion, as editors and translators, this is the most mysterious and beautiful of all the letters.

*   *   *

August 30, 1926

Dear Richard:

Are you that man in an ocean's center whom is screaming there is no water? Right or wrong, you must swim, even if swimming is not. Are you that man whom is holding a pipe in smokeness so dreamy? Right or wrong, stripped bare of its pipeness, even, you must smoke, even if smoking is not. More or less, Dogen Zenji1 said so. But maybe my grammar makes the lover's eyes fall out. 2

No, I am not "pulling my leg," pal-pen: In Nagasaki there are Christians like an ant hill. Dronily, dronily, Buddhists spill ten thousand believings about them in chanting, building termite towers to the clouds. In the autumn, great cliffs with golden leaves are matted. It is a pleasant and pubescent town. Though confusing in its religion, mountain azaleas burn above the lava.

Thus, on one day, says Ippen,3 a great light will happen there. Forever and forever, ants and termites shall be one. All races, all creeds, shall be happy. Dogs and carp shall be men. No one shall burn in any Hell, except for peoples whom destroy sentient beings. Dancing at the aerodrome is to happen.

That is the vision of religion, of course. In realness, in a world so dirty, I am sorry for this language, which is rags around a body that is not. I wish grammar is a doorway to God, even if grammar, in an addition, is not. Even if it is not either, I mean. Watch your head, please.

Yes, I am fine, thank you. What are you doing now?

I am sincere,

                              Araki Yasusada

1) 13th century founder of the Soto Zen sect.

2) The sentence is a direct quote from Dogen's Mountains and Waters Sutra.*

3) Contemporary of Dogen and revered missionary of Pure Land Buddhism.

*[Motokiyu is being purposefully inaccurate here. The phrase is undobtedly culled from one of Jack Spicer's 1965 Vancouver lectures. KJ, JA]

*   *   *

September 30, 1926

Dear Richard:

I am fearsome that my letter is in a flatness you are sleeping. Please let mountains rise in the dream you go dreaming. Everything is visible, nothing is hiding. A storm is falling. Blossoms go flying. I am rainy, Richard, all over my body. Is there wetness where you are lying?

When fresh and sliding, eel is most inviting. Thus, not delaying, to your questions I am responding. For examples:

"What is the Orient like?
What is the nature of its people?
What are its daily activities, Mr. Yasusada, in a nutshell?
And I was wondering-- Do you have national political parties as we have in our country?"

I will answer to you, pal-pen: The Orient is a land so fair. White and not yellowed are the men of the Court, but especially the women; for they during the hot season live underground in places that are very cold. Above, the country people who dwell in the villages and desert places, wear nothing but the stag's skin upon their middles. Plates fashioned of tin and brass cover their privations. Huge and amorous balloons are drifting.

Many houses are beautiful and delicate, transparent is their paper. Everything is visible, nothing is hiding. Nine rivers, as veins, bring the comeliness of barques. Incense, flowers, and radios go gifted to the King in a coding. On the docks, so many people happen, the sun blinding on their tins or brasses. Many voices are excitedly speaking: Hello Ryojin Hisho. Good Morning, Captain of the Naruto. How are you, Yoshida Kenko. Good bye, Seami Motokiyo. Take it easy, Ihara Saikaku. Don't be sad, Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Please join the Communist Party (Red Flag Tendency)1, Mizuhara Shuoshi . . . .  Of course, persons must be fragile while cooking, for fire could radiate the riot to a paper city.

Now many consignments of cherry saplings make their way up the veins. In a shops we buy beddings, stag-skin and plates, salt, sugar, katsuo bushi,2 medicines for mind, shoes of grass. Like a phantasm, sea shells are money in a hand. A man with a fan blows some buttocks. A little girl is sold to the militarist forever inside the rain. In the stomach of the dung-seller a furnace is burning. The comprador bourgeoisie, servile and stunted, is clapping. Everything is visible, nothing is hiding. From a book, which is flat, I sometimes am copying. I am in a wetness, Richard. Will you not please wake up. The night shall be beautiful after a bombing.

I hope your neck is no longer swollen.

I am sincere,
                              Araki Yasusada

1. The reference is interesting and raises the possibility that Yasusada was active in leftist politics in his youth, certainly a possibility [sic], as Hiroshima University was a hot-bed of Marxism in the 1920's. Indeed, a dog-eared copy (in English) of Lenin's pamphlet Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder was found among his manuscripts, one of only a handful of books present there. The Communist Party (Red Flag Tendency) was a short-lived faction of the Japanese CP that advocated armed propaganda actions. Interestingly, its two primary leaders died in 1945 as kamikaze pilots.*

2. A traditional fish flavoring used in soups.

*[Perhaps Motokiyu's invention. We have been unable to find any evidence of organizational divisions within the Communist Party of Japan before the 1929 formation of the Revolutionary Communist League, a Trotskyist splinter group. KJ, JA.]

*   *   *


Kent Johnson teaches English and Spanish at Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois. He is translator of a book manuscript of poems by Jaime Saenz, Bolivia's leading writer of the 20th century, selections of which can be found at Jacket #8.

Kent Johnson’s author notes page gives more recent information.
Jacket’s ‘author notes’ provide direct links to various pages in the magazine that feature more of an author’s work, reviews of their books, and interviews.

Javier Alvarez has been active as a composer since 1974. Born in 1956, he studied clarinet and composition in his native Mexico City. In 1980 he moved to the USA. He has lived in England since 1981, where he has been active as a freelance composer and animateur. He was a founding member and a past Chairperson of Sonic Arts Network and was the Artistic Director of the Society for the Promotion of New Music during the 1995-96 season. He currently holds the position of Visiting Composition Professor at the Malmö Music Academy in Sweden and is Reader in Composition at the University of Hertfordshire. International honours have included the 1987 ICEM prize, and numerous awards include prizes at the Bourges Competition and at the Prix Ars Electronica, UK Arts Council Composition Bursaries, the Mendelssohn Scholarship, the Lionel Robbins Memorial Award and the Gemini Fellowship. In addtion to other CD's, Papalotl, from Saydisc, gathers a number of his compositions, including Temazcal, the partial score of which was reproduced in Doubled Flowering.


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