About the Heart Mountain Bungei

What is the Heart Mountain Bungei?

The Heart Mountain Bungei is a Japanese-language magazine that was published by the Japanese Americans confined at the Heart Mountain camp during WWII. Bungei (pronounced boon-gay; 文藝 or 文芸 in Japanese) roughly translates to “arts and literature.” The magazine featured poetry, zuihitsu (short essays), and short stories.

The Heart Mountain camp had a vibrant Japanese literary arts community, with many Issei (first-generation immigrants from Japan) who had worked as writers, publishers and editors in the many Japanese newspapers on the West Coast. Many of them founded poetry clubs at Heart Mountain. Eventually, a group of these writers, led by Iwamuro Yoshiaki and О̄kubo Tadashige, decided to collect the work produced by these clubs, as well as essays and short stories and works by independent writers, and published them as a literary magazine.

The Heart Mountain Bungei ran from January through September of 1944, for a total of six issues. The first four were published every month; the second two were published in July and September, as members of the editorial staff left the camp or passed away.

Translating the Bungei

In January of 2020, with the help of a grant from the Japanese Embassy, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation set out to translate the first two of the five available volumes in the Foundation’s archives. Our goal was to make the first-person voices of the immigrant Issei generation and the other Japanese-language writers in the Heart Mountain camp available to the wider English-speaking public, many of whom have never had access to these works before.

To accomplish this project, and in the spirit of the original magazine, which was itself a collaborative project between many authors of different talents and interests, we worked with a team of translators to transcribe the text of the Bungei to digital form and translate it.

In this digital exhibit, you can view the original text of the Heart Mountain Bungei, including any accompanying illustrations, and view the contents online either in translation or in the original Japanese. It is our hope that these documents will provide new insights into life at the Heart Mountain camp, and offer visitors new ways to explore the emotional and intellectual life of the Japanese American community during World War II.

What is in the Bungei?

The Heart Mountain Bungei includes both prose and poetry, as well as artwork by Estelle Ishigo and Paul Motoyoshi. The prose sections include short pieces on philosophy, literary criticism, geology, and art, as well as zuihitsu (personal essays) reflecting on the writer’s personal experiences. There are also some short stories. The poetry includes both verse-form poetry and three traditional genres of Japanese poetry: haiku, senryū, and tanka.

Haiku: Haiku is the version of Japanese poetry most familiar to English speakers. It is a very short form of poetry consisting of a 5-7-5 syllable structure. It is distinguished from senryū by the use of kigo, or season-words, that link each haiku to a particular time of year. Haiku traditionally are expected to evoke a sense of the human condition by capturing a particular moment and avoiding the use of personal pronouns like I, we, you, us, etc. Haiku are also supposed to avoid using metaphor.

Senryū: Senryū uses the same 5-7-5 syllable structure as haiku, but instead of focusing on kigo and evocative abstract imagery, senryū has sometimes been called “comic” because it focuses on capturing vivid moments from everyday life and commenting on human foibles.

Tanka: Tanka is a slightly longer form of poetry, based on a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable structure. It is based on an older form of poetry that developed into haiku and senryū, and was enjoying a revival in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One of the characteristic traits of tanka is a “pivot” that happens between the 5-7-5 and the 7-7 sections. Historically, poets would sometimes play games where one poet would write the first part, and another would write the second in a way that twisted the meaning of the first part unexpectedly.

Did you know? Although Japanese poems are typically divided into separate lines when translated into English, this is a translation convention. Haiku, senryū and tanka are usually written as a single line in the original Japanese. Many of our translators chose to keep the single line format, but not all of them did.

Note on names of contributors:

Some contributors to the Heart Mountain Bungei used their real names, but many used pen names. While the real names in these translations have been verified against camp records from the time, the pen names are a more complicated story. Following the norm for pen names in Japan, in this publication they are typically made up of two characters taken from a classical Chinese source and are often (but not always) used in the place of a given name along with the writer’s real surname. On the other hand, some are a pure invention of the author. There are numerous conflicting conventions surrounding different types of pen names in Japan, so there is often room for ambiguity of the actual pronunciation of the pen name, and there may even be more than one accepted pronunciation of a given pen name.

In translating the Heart Mountain Bungei, we have done our utmost to confirm personal names and readings, but we were unable to verify everything, so we have applied a simple system to indicate the level of uncertainty for each name reading.

1. Names that have been fully verified using camp records or other authoritative sources are not marked in any way.

2. Names for which we were able to find people with the same surname in the camp but where a pen name may have been used (and we were unable to fully verify the reading of the pen name) are marked with a dagger (†).

3. Names for which we were unable to find even a matching surname in camp records are marked with an asterisk (*), and the reading given in the translation is the “best guess” of the translation team based on conventions, but should not be relied on as authoritative.

Finally, the names used in the translation adopt standard romanizations of the Japanese readings as shown in the text and thus may vary slightly from the actual spellings used by the writer in English contexts.