Is this a Kokeshi doll or some other kind? and is the poem on the body readable?

My dad got this out of a box his customer was giving away. They said it was from Japan but I can't remember if he said they bought it as a souvenir or if it was a gift. I know it was a long time ago. Over 30 years at least.

wood girl wood girl head out wood poem


The doll is a kokeshi; I would not know how else it could be called.

The writing on it is clearly the first half (the first four lines below) of the tanka by naturalist poet 若山牧水. (Personally lovin' that extremely long 「リ」 in the second line.)







Why just the first half? You might ask. That is because in Japanese culture, things left unsaid have just as much or even more 'power' than the things that are said. The reader is expected to finish the poem by himself in his heart, appreciating the act of doing so.

I would rather leave the translation to one of the experts here, but here is one by me for starters. If you know anything about Japanese, the original word order will need to be switched around completely for an English translation.

"I have passed so many mountains and rivers,

Wondering if I ever reach a country

Where loneliness ends,

Here I go hiking again today"

If you translate, it is impossible to say exactly what part of it the writing on the kokeshi corresponds to because of the drastic change in the word order. It is just "about the first half".

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  • 2
    I think that furigana should be「いくやまかわ」. – sazarando Jul 6 '16 at 1:45
  • What do you mean by "switching around the original word order completely"? – sazarando Jul 6 '16 at 2:14
  • 1
    Well, in Japanese the verb comes at the end of a sentence, whereas in English it comes around the middle. That's just one difference in word order between English and Japanese. When you translate the poem to English, the first line of the translation generally will not correspond to the first line of the Japanese original. – Nick Overacker Jul 6 '16 at 14:08
  • Thank you so much! I've been studies Japanese for about 7 years independently :) I've held on to this for a few years racking my brain about it. It is never neat and cute but now that I know the meaning of the poem it's become extremely beautiful! – Kyoumimasu Jul 6 '16 at 22:49


幾山河 こえさりゆかば 淋しさの はてなむ国ぞ けふも旅ゆく

Over river and mountain
I search for a land without longing...
and walk on another day



With each river and mountain that I pass,
I think to myself,
"Perhaps this place is one without longing and want!" (yet, such a place does not exist...)
...and so I travel on

Background info:

At the time of writing this poem in 1927, the author was 23 years old and travelling home during summer break from university through the Chugoku region of Japan to visit his ill father. He deliberately chose a route through the mountains he had not taken before.  

Based on the explanation found here: http://www.kangin.or.jp/what_kanshi/shiika_D13_3.html

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  • Thank you! I will definitely look more into this. The link is much appreciated. "He deliberately chose a route through the mountains he had not taken before." Reminds me of 'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost! One of my favorite poems. This tanka is a nice Japanese equivalent! :) – Kyoumimasu Jul 6 '16 at 22:51

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