Wednesday, July 10, 2013

One Man's Maple Moon: Steaming Breasts Tanka by Ei Akitsu

English Original

After my bath
I dry
my steaming breasts
as if wiping
my soul.

a long rainy season: haiku & tanka

Ei Akitsu
trans. by Leza Lowitz

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Ei Akitsu was born in Kukuoka Prefecture, Japan in 1950. She has published many books of tanka, including To Lily Magnolia, Opium, and Faint White Light, all to critical acclaim. For more information about her work, see a long rainy season, pp. 77 - 98.


  1. The shift in theme and tone at the end of the poem elevates the opening image from a sensual level to a metaphysical level, provoking the reader to ponder what female breasts signify.

    I think the quality of sexiness comes from within. It is something that is in you or it isn't and it really doesn't have much to do with breasts or thighs or the pout of your lips. -- Sophia Loren

  2. The most famous "female breasts" tanka was written by Yosano Akiko.

    Below is excerpted from Awakening Female Sexuality in Yosano Akiko's Midaregami (Tangled Hair) by Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase

    Pressing my breasts
    I softly kick aside
    the Curtain of mystery
    How deep the crimson
    of the flower here
    [trans. Janine Beichman]

    (chibusa osae shinpi no tobari sotokerinu
    kokonaru hana no benizo koki)

    Throughout Midaregami, such imagery as breasts, lips, skin, shoulders, and hair are emphasized, symbolizing femininity and women's sexuality. This femininity, however, is different from that of old times. It is completely new, recreated by Akiko for the women of a new age. The woman in the poem touches her breasts, opening the door to a sensuous world. The woman is probably a young maiden like Akiko who is excited about her first experience of love. Women, particularly unmarried women, at that time, were taught to be modest and passive about sex, and were supposed to hide their sexual desires. The woman (Akiko), however, does not hesitate to reveal her curiosity for the world of Eros and dares to break the taboos in poetic expressions.

    The image of a maiden touching her own breasts in a shy manner recalls the Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus." The body of a woman is glorified, mythologized and treated as if it is that of Venus. Before the Meiji era, feminine beauty and sexuality were considered to be the province of courtesans. In portraits, these beautiful women were always decorated with gorgeous kimono and beautiful hair styles: feminine beauty was sophisticated, yet artificial. After the Meiji era, however, Western art was introduced and nudity became an obsession among Japanese artists. The cover pictures of Myojo magazine employed the Art Nouveau style, and their bold and sensuous depiction of female bodies shocked the Japanese, even creating a debate called "ratai ronso" (debate about nudity). It is obvious that Yosano Akiko was influenced by modern art. In fact, the cover picture of Midaregami is strongly reminiscent of a painting by Alphonse Mucha (a picture of a woman with a long hair framed in a heart which is struck by an arrow).