The Colônia Man’yôshû

I can’t believe I never heard of this in all those years. This is the Koronia Man’yôshû (that is, Colônia Man’yôshû):

Cover for コロニア万葉集 Koronia (Colônia) Man’yôshû

Back cover for コロニア万葉集 Koronia (Colônia) Man’yôshû

What we have here is a poetic anthology edited and published in March 1981 by the コロニア万葉集刊行委員会 Koronia Man’yôshû Kankô Iinkai “Committee for the Publication of the Colônia Man’yôshû”. In 332 pages it collects some 6634 (!) tanka and haiku by the community of Japanese-Brazilian immigrants. The poems came from local newspapers and periodicals, as well as 私歌集 “private poetry collections”, and regardless of the outward form, the poetry is mostly of a rural, earthbound feeling. The only thematic structure is a temporal division between “before [and during] the War”, senzen 戦前、 and after, sengo 戦後—I think that, psychologically, the end of the War meant the definitive end of any (already fading) hope of returning to Japan, of a gentler true home. The book also includes a short appendix on the history of immigrant poetry and of the anthology itself, plus a glossary of コロニア慣用語 Koronia kan’yôgo “idioms of the immigrant community”—essentially a Portuguese-Japanese glossary in katakana, Portuguese being for koronia-go what English became for modern standard Japanese. (Koronia-go refers to the dying Brazilian dialect, a prewar, rural MSJ sprinkled with Portuguese roots—chave wo trouxe shimashita ka? “did you bring the key?”. Some people call it batchanese, on virtue of it only being spoken by their batchan “grandmas”. The poetry, however, is mostly literary Japanese with some well-behaved Portuguese loanwords for local effect.)

Here’s a half-dozen poems selected more or less at random, with very clumsy attempts at translation:

Before the War


Ie-soba no Kodachi ni ki-naku Binchibii no Koe tooru nari Asa no Shijima ni (Abe Eiko?)

it came to sing
in the grove
next to my house—
the bem-te-vi cry goes on
into the morning silence.

Pitangus sulphuratus has a very wakaish name in Brazil; its distinctive cry is thought to say bem-te-vi, something like “darling, I see you”. I don’t know why the poet chose to render it as binchibii instead of benchibii—I don’t think we usually lower that /ẽ/ in bem, thought it might be a dialect issue. Ki-naku “comes and sings” is a poetic expression used in the actual Man’yôshû, where it refers to the hototogisu. Grove-islands of trees are a typical feature breaking the monotony of Brazilian farming hills.


Ninpura wa Koto mo nage ni Tomo no Hitsugi wo ume-owarite Tabako sui-ori (Ikuta Shizuo?)

having finished burying
their friend’s coffin
are smoking cigars

The poem only says “smoking” but I like to picture straw cigars here.


Gonen shite kaeru to iishi Kokyô ni Rampu no Hikari de kaku Fumi niburu (Yamamoto Misao)

after five years
I’ll be back—
by lamplight,
the letter I write home

A quintessential koronia tanka. The poet uses English rampu for “lamp”, not Portuguese ranpada or something.

After the War


Yûdachi no sugitaru Ato no Kaze taete Aoba Akari ni Ha-ari tobikau (Masaki Shisui)

after the wind that remains
after a sudden evening shower
flying ants fluttering by the glow
of new leaves

I’m not sure if aoba-akari is supposed to mean something other than the literal meaning.


Oto tatete moeru Mimei no Kamado-hen ni Tabidatsu Otto ni Kafê susumuru (Hotta Ryôko?)

by the stove
burning and crackling in early dawn,
my husband’s about
to leave on a trip:
a cup of coffee will go well.

This one might be beyond my level—for one thing, the reading I provided is too long (too many moræ), and I’m not sure this is what she means by “kafê susumu”. It’s no surprise the poet uses the local word for coffee, given its economic importance; farmers from Japan quickly became coffee drinkers, like everyone else here.


Botekin no Aruji no Koshi no Kenjû ga mijirogu-tabi ni nibuku hikareri (Watanabe Masako)

Whenever the pistol
in the waist of the owner
of the pub moves,
it shines

I’m having trouble rendering botequim in English. In a countryside Brazilian context, it has none of the glamour of “bar” or “pub”. Think rather of an earthly, coarse working-class place next corner, open from early morning to late night, tolerating all kinds of people to feed their various vices: children buying overly sweet candy, alcoholic bums having their cachaça, philanderers cheating on wives, gamblers loudly playing truco.

Corrections welcomed as usual.

8 thoughts on “The Colônia Man’yôshû

  1. Corrections? I specialize in beginner’s mistakes, so no corrections, just thanks for yet another great read.

    PS: The bem-te-vi is the cutest bird. Are you sure it wasn’t designed in Japan? ;) It looks as though it should be a mascot!

  2. This is amazing! I just checked Amazon, and they list a “コロニア小説選集” (2 vols) and a “コロニア合同詩集”, published by the コロニア文学会 (but not available through Amazon at all).

    No translations into pt-BR?

    > 音たてて燃える未明のかまど辺に旅立つ夫にカフェーすすむる

    I would read this “oto tatete/ moeru mimei no/ kamadobe ni/ tabidatsu otto ni/ kafee susumuru”. I think that final “otto ni kafee susumuru” just means “offer my husband some coffee”. Interesting mix of classical (すすむる) and non-classical (燃える) verb endings — I wonder if it was just an error or if it actually reveals something about the dialect the author spoke.

    (I see you have adopted the “capitalize the nouns” romanization scheme, too… Excellent.)

  3. Ah, -be, of course. Still 2 extra moræ though.
    I asked a teacher yesterday and she agrees with you, it must be “to offer coffee”—I didn’t know 勧むる、 so I thought it was the classical attributive/rentaikei form of 進む、 which I found in an idiom like “goes well with [food]”. 勧むる’s much more likely tho.

    And there are no translations, no articles, nada! Most of the immigrant production isn’t available in Portuguese at all, which is a shame because I think it has a lot of literary value beyond japonisme and localism, especially the poetry. Prof tells me Japanese-Brazilian studies are actually underrepresented in Brazil itself—people interested in Japanese literature tend to want to work with Japanese literature, so that most work on immigrant lit is done by foreigners. (I only learned of this anthology because a Belgian anthropologist mentioned it in a conference…)

    There is a still-lively community of “colônia” literature—I have some recent issues of the ブラジル日系文学 magazine—but they seem to be mostly estranged from the Brazilian literary mainstream. As a bonus, here’s a tanka from vol. 36, 2010, by Ôno Yoshiko 大濃芳子 from São Paulo:


    Amata naru Dôshi no Henka wazurawashi Ikoku no Kaze ga Peeji ni asobu

    the multitude
    of verb transformations
    is such a hassle—
    the wind of a foreign country
    plays on the page.

  4. > Still 2 extra moræ though.

    By my count, only one, and since “otto” starts with a vowel its first mora isn’t counted. Success!

    I actually meant that YOU should throw in some Portuguese translations, but your response is very interesting. Is Japan the main center of Japanese-Brazilian studies, then, or are there still more countries involved? (Japanese-speaking Portuguese scholars?)

  5. @Castro: I have the same problem. It is indeed exceedingly hard to find. I suspect part of the reason is that the bibliographic information (title, publisher etc.) is, IIRC, only printed in kanji; and most Brazilian librarians and booksellers are not prepared to handle Japanese writing. So your best chance (if you’re in Brazil) is to check out specialised Japanese libraries; I found that copy at the Japan Foundation library in São Paulo. CEJAP/USP might have a copy too.

    What we really need is a hero to digitise the book and upload a pdf to Library Genesis for posterity…

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