Inuhiko Yomota: From 'My Purgatory'

Translation from Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

[For many years now Hiroaki Sato has brought the work of a range of Japanese experimental modernists into English, the latest of whom is Inuhiko Yomota, whose book My Purgatory has just been published by Red Moon Press in Virginia.  Sato describes Yomota, a prolific writer in many areas, as follows: “Inuhiko Yomota (b. 1953) aptly calls himself a tuttologista. One of the most prolific Japanese writers on a wide variety of subjects and the most internationally encompassing, Yomota has published more than 100 books covering Japanese film, Asian film, literary criticism, autobiography, arts, music, city theory, cooking, and manga, among other things.”  And Geoffrey O’Brien of My Purgatory’s amazing breadth & scope: “Inuhiko Yomota … has written in My Purgatory a somber, passionate, highly colored cycle of poems, imbued with intimations of ancient suffering and modern-day apocalyptic terror, and candidly confronting the prospect of personal annihilation.  The book’s tragic themes are offset by a bracing and defiant bravura, inhabiting different eras and identities, passing ghostlike through Carthage and Harbin and archaic Thrace, and conjuring with awed detachment the bloody and inextricable histories embedded in millennia of continually resonating language.”  The following is an indication of Yomota’s & Sato’s latterday gift to us. (J.R.)]


But who may abide the day of his coming?
and who shall stand when he appeareth?
for he is like a refiner's fire,
and like fullers’ soap.
                    —The Book of Malachi, 3:2 



People in a small boat,

do not follow my boat any longer,

because from now I must cross those cruel seas

where no one has left wakes;

because I must face the dark expanse

where there are no ropes I’m used to, there’s no celestial body at the northern peak,

where no seagulls scattering goodwill playfully come near me.


So do not follow farther into the offing any more.

I’m going on alone now,

my draft low, my soiled hair wet with briny water,

ignoring various monsters inhabiting the sea,

into the darkness that remains after the star, the divine sign, has fallen,

I turn my cracked keel, unbeknownst to anyone.

Just people,[2] do not follow me further.

Return to the bay and spend your days looking at the quiet waters.


You ask

what lies beyond the dangerous seas,

whether cattle and treasures to be plundered, women to be enslaved, are waiting.

There is nothing, except for what I reach after riding over dozens of nights

will be miserable hidden rocks.

Whenever waves wash over them, seaweeds around the rocks waver a little,

boulders full of holes, the seashore where there are no creatures—

you ask why I’m heading toward the end of such a world.

No, the truth is not even that, because there are

not even hidden rocks, or seaweeds or splashes of waves any more.

There I will continue to wait,

for the length of time equal to my life,

I will continue to stay, utterly inactive.

What will I wait for under the dark canopy?


So never even dream of following me.

No matter how loudly you may call out,

no matter how beautifully you may sing,

in no time

I’ll go where I won’t hear your voice,

beyond the bend of the round earth,

I’ll go out of the outside of time where there are no more seagulls, no more sounds of waves.

When the aim of waiting is known, waiting should be half over,

but I depend only on the cracked keel and sail

and am not permitted to know what on earth I’m waiting for.





stone . . . . .

. . . . . shout . . . .

. . . . hammer . . . .

what a craggy name

whom does it intend to threaten

fading memory

name I cannot remember

crushed eyes


under the collapsing cloudy sky

I feel

the eyes crushed with a stone

the eyes repeatedly flattened, trampled upon

the eyes that continue to stare at me as they I face death


the one staring at me

what is he looking at

with blood accumulating in the eye sockets

what is he looking at

dregs of wax clinging to the candlestick





I want you to cover my body with cow-dung.

I want you to cover my skull, my sunken eyes,

use both hands to put dung over them like clay.

I want you to plaster my bloated belly, my legs grown as thin as bones,

my scrotum between my legs, like withered bulbs,

with the black and ruddy mix that’s in the storing tubs.

Because I am someone soon heading for death,

someone trying to awaken from the silly dream called the present world.


I want you to cover my body with cow-dung.

I want you to blanket with dung not just my body

but also my soul, my memories I’m tired of supporting,

leaving out nothing.

I want you to smear smelly clay

into every one of the innumerable slits that have grown inside my memories.

Because I am now tired of supporting my encephalon,

because my soul has gotten humid and lost its vitality.


The soul is fire,

the soul is fire that flares up airily.

But my body has received too much water,

has gotten as bloated as an oyster’s body,


is ready to wait for a putrefying arrival,

has lost the power of flying up airily.


I want you to cover my body with cow-dung.

Children, I plead with you,

I want you to scoop up the cow-dung in the tub with your clumsy fingers

plaster it into every hole of mine, every dent of mine,

I want you to turn me into cow-dung itself.


When everything that’s smeared dries up,

cracks, and peels away from my skin,

my soul, released from humidity,

will restore its innate cheerfulness.

Now I lie by a Parthenon, fulfilled, splattered with cow-dung

when, children, you’re tired of playing with mud

and think of a new game to play, your unstained souls intact.




1  Alludes to Dante, Paradiso, Canto II, which, in the Carlyle-Okey-Wicksteed translation, begins: “O ye who in your little skiff longing to hear, have followed on my keel that singeth on its way, / turn to revisit your own shores; commit you not to the open sea; for perchance, losing me, ye would be left astray.”


2  Romans I: 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.”


3  Reference to Heraclitus (c535-c475?), a “dark,” “weeping,” i.e., misanthropic philosopher. According to The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius, Tr. C. D. Yonge, Heraclitus either “shut himself up in a stable for oxen, and covered himself with cow-dung, hoping to cause the wet to evaporate from him, by the warmth that this produced,” and died, or “he placed himself in the sun, and ordered his servants to plaster him over with cow-dung; and being stretched out in that way, on the second day he died, and was buried in the market-place.” Another story says that “as he could not tear off the cow-dung, he remained there, and on account of the alteration in his appearance, he was not discovered, and so was devoured by the dogs.”