Podcast: Food, humor, and gender in Ishigaki Rin's poetry

24 May 2017



Associate Professor Tomoko Aoyama 


From her first collection of poems, Watashi no mae ni aru nabe to okama to moeru hi to (In Front of Me the Pot, Ricepot, and Burning Flames, 1959) onwards, food-related motifs permeate the works of ISHIGAKI Rin (1920-2004).  As widely recognized in Japan and at least in Japanese literary studies, food in Ishigaki's texts is linked to gender issues faced by women and girls in diverse roles and situations -- as survivors of the war, as workers, daughters, (step)mothers, single women, or ageing women. This paper identifies the links of Ishigaki's "written food" with other prominent examples of food in modern Japanese literature, and clarifies the originality of her poetry, with a particular focus on her humor.

Unusually for a poet, especially for a woman poet, Ishigaki worked full-time in one of the major banks in Tokyo, the Industrial Bank of Japan, from the age of fourteen until the mandatory retirement age of fifty-five. Her working life coincided with Japan's military aggression, defeat, and postwar democracy, economic recovery and expansionism, all of which was deeply connected to the question of food production and consumption. In the postwar period Ishigaki was involved in the bank workers' union movement, and published socially engaged poetry on topics ranging from atomic bombs, wars, pollution, poverty, and industrial accidents. Food and family in Ishigaki's works are often confrontational rather than comforting, and associated with exhaustion, solitude, death, and the "abject". While a search for liberation from family is a recurrent theme of her poetry, we also find poems that celebrate women's work and solidarity. Ishigaki's humor is not always dark and sarcastic; it is often warm, gentle, and approachable. 


Tomoko AOYAMA is Reader (Associate Professor) in Japanese at the University of Queensland. Her main research interests include: gender, humour and ageing in contemporary Japanese culture; parody and intertexutality in girls' and women's texts; and food in modern Japanese literature and girls' manga. Her publications include: Reading Food in Modern Japanese Literature (2008), Girl Reading Girl in Japan(2010, co-editor: Barbara Hartley), and Configurations of Family in Contemporary Japan (2015, co-editors: Laura Dales and Romit Dasgupta). She has also translated two novels by Kanai Mieko (Indian Summer with Barbara Hartley and Oh, Tama! with Paul McCarthy) and essays by Mishima Yukio, Shibusawa Tatsuhiko, Honda Masuko and several others