Poem without an Author, or rather the Wind…
May 3, 2008
“Who wrote the miracle poem?” draws the potential buyer on the blurb of “I am a Thousand Winds” (千の風になって), written by Arai Man (新井満) , sparking instant recognition to one of the most fantastically successful songs of the decade in Japan, having sold more than 1.5 million copies. Already a “dai-sensei” spokesman on the subject, with any material devoutly desired and immediately lapped up by the public, no matter based on whatever flimsy premises, he authored two picture books about the relatively short poem that has been a comfort to many since the 1930’s, at least in the English-speaking world.
The Japanese public is informed that “many experts have searched up the author and came back empty handed”. Right, only if they wanted to.
A lone feather graces the cover of the above, oblongish book that will have more than symbolic significance inside, as pastel pictures of Native Americans that form the bulk of the contents are shown peregrinating between bare rocks of what seems to be the Grand Canyon. There is a small frowning portrait as well on p.19 of what seems to be a soldier from the Civil War era but not wearing a wide hat as in the menacing picture facing it, with lightning and men on shadowy horses. The implication is those nasty white people who allegedly drove these particular Natives from their homes. But one is not sure who or what the tribes are except they wear bandanas and blankets, and seemingly live in a “log house” delicately sketched on page 32 (17th edition, Lironsha publishing).
The question should also have been asked what Native Americans have to do with poem attributed to Mary Frye, “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep”, except in the most superficial, naive interpretation of the multiplicities of their cultures. By the way, according to the weather records of the past few hundred years, it doesn’t SNOW in the Southwest around the Grand Canyon. Linking up 19th century soldiers driving Native Americans from their homes is an absurd, unrightful association derived from the poem’s somewhat animistic tone. But Mary Frye herself was squarely a Christian and also regretfully, perhaps for those who wrote, published and bought the book, Caucasian.
Skillfully weaving around the question of authorship, but never really answering it, under a version that is not even allegedly the original, simply has “author unknown” on page two. Not a lot of scholarship must have been invested in such a search since there are online obituaries of Mary Frye that name her as the poet. * She didn’t want any money for the this poem, incidentally. At least give the lady credit, or make an effort to find out? You all have internet in Japan and can read English?
Instead, on the blurb, the “mystery of many years is unlocked”, maybe for those who think a poem can actually emerge from the sky. (Something that can make so many millions of yen may as well be a windfall!) On page 9, a mysterious hand emerges out of the indigo and orange clouds, as though the “wind itself” is writing the poem.
One would have to be pretty credulous to accept that plus the girl with the lavender hat eating purple grapes on the cover of his “children’s” book on the poem published by Kodansha, would have just about ANYTHING to do with this composition.
And what does Mr. Arai’s own “log house” after his stellar success in launching his song based on this poem have to do with Native Americans?
THAT is a mystery….
For the record, here is the original version, considerably gentler in tone:
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I did not die.
March 28, 2010 As an update to the original article here, two years later, it seems that the Japanese public are not all sheepish idiots who accept everything their conglomerate media churns out. It is still the case that Western culture is translated by the so-called experts and can put any slant or interpretation they wish. Even Japanese have access to the internet and check what the rest of the world is doing.
Therefore there have been recent complaints and sneering over the commericializaion of “Thousand Winds” pizza, sake, mailboxes, gas balloons, shoe polish, bonsai and trips sponsored by Arai Man, the alleged Dai-Sensei of the poem that generated an incredible amount of hype and money over there. (Scroll down for the girl with the purple grapes.) 1000の風』と『千の風になって
Please remember that he ONLY TRANSLATED a 16 line poem into a 12 line Japanese verse that he wants to make a monument (!) of in his hometown of Niigata. Of course the locals would love to lap up any and attention and tourism that this would generate.
On NHK, the National Broadcasting TV station of Japan had an INCREDIBLE psychologically twisted documentary of high school student in Niigata being asked to draw a picture of something they treasured. They did not know that these pictures would be burned and they would asked “how they felt”!!! You see, Arai Man is supposed to be the Sensei of matters having to do with death and loss. If they just aired this stupid program in Japan, maybe they could have kept their stupidity to themselves but they had to broadcast it on their international channel to make a spectacle of how ridiculous and dangerously manipulative they are.
Remembering the “Anne Frank” sanitary pad scandal back in the 60’s, nothing over there seems to be sacred and immune to bad taste, especially if the subject originates outside Japan. But voices are speaking out now about the ridiculous “Thousand Wind” commercialization.
The Takarazuka gold and glitter extravanganza is as far from the original poem as East is from West but was actually taken very seriously by the public over there to the tune of over 300,000 hits on youtube.
If I died and woke up to crossdressing “men” in tuxedos with the one real guy soft curls crooning while overly made up women with sickly smiles were swaying about, I would think I went to hell instead.
There IS a history to the dissemination of the ENGLISH poem in Japan however that is now coming out.
It was read at the funeral of Kyo Sakamoto, the famed singer of “Sukiyaki” who died in a tragic plane crash in 1985, passed on by an English speaker resident in Japan, read out in Japanese.
Mr. Hae Shii published a short, modest picture book, “1000 winds” (1000 の風) in 1995, that now he claims was the basis for the poem translated by Man and made into a mega-business. The song became a phenomenon in the national end of the year song contest in 2006 with the singer Akizawa.
The weekly Shincho 週刊新潮magazine for the week April 1st published an article FINALLY questioning all this ado about a simple poem that did not even benefit the author. The sponors, the largest newspapers and TV companies, like the New York Times, revealed an appalling lack of integrity.
Hopefully, the Japanese public, like the rest of the world, can bypass these dinosaurs, expose them for what they are, prostitutes for money and fame, and get the truth without being filtered by their self-appointed dai-sensei’s