Translations and readings of some of the most important modern Japanese poems written for and against war


The subject of modern Japanese poetry written in support of the nation’s wars, long considered a taboo in postwar literary circles, is explored here in historical and cultural context. Steve Rabson presents translations and explications of works by poets who wrote both for and against war, providing background essential for understanding why some of Japan’s most famous writers swung 180 degrees to support or oppose war at different times in their careers. Through examples from American and British poetry, Rabson also shows that this phenomenon of poets changing their views is by no means exclusive to Japan. Exposing the efforts of some Japanese writers after 1945 to conceal or revise their poetry written during World War II, the author discusses assertions by literary critics and historians that poets bear a special “war responsibility.”

Steve Rabson completed a PhD in Japanese literature at Harvard University in 1979. Since that year he has taught at Brown University in the Departments of East Asian Studies, Comparative Literature, and Linguistics. He has published research on the fiction of Ōe Kenzaburō and Nagai Kafū and the poetry of Yosano Akiko, Shimazaki Tōson, and Yamanokuchi Baku. He is the author of Okinawa: Two Postwar Novellas (1989). Between 1966 and 1968 he served in the United States Army, with overseas assignments that included eight months in Okinawa.

 “Eschewing the one-dimensional myths of the Japanese as either inherently bellicose or inveterately pacific, Steve Rabson has written a nuanced but nonetheless provocative account of fluctuating Japanese attitudes toward war as evidenced in their modern poetry. This painstakingly researched but highly readable book is a must for anyone interested in modern Japan, war in the twentieth century, or the problematic role of writers in dark times.”
—David G. Goodman, author of After Apocalypse: Four Japanese Plays of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Long, Long Autumn Nights: Selected Poems of Oguma Hideo, 1901–1940