The Most Dangerous Games: Tomino’s Hell

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*Warning* Japanese tradition says to read the following cursed poem ONLY in ones head. Do not read it out loud, to someone else or even in a whisper. It could have potential deadly after effects. Read beware

Tomino’s Hell

Elder sister vomits blood,
younger sister’s breathing fire
while sweet little Tomino
just spits up the jewels.

All alone does Tomino
go falling into that hell,
a hell of utter darkness,
without even flowers.

Is Tomino’s big sister
the one who whips him?
The purpose of the scourging
hangs dark in his mind.

Lashing and thrashing him, ah!
But never quite shattering.
One sure path to Avici,
the eternal hell.

Into that blackest of hells
guide him now, I pray—
to the golden sheep,
to the nightingale.

How much did he put
in that leather pouch
to prepare for his trek to
the eternal hell?

Spring is coming
to the valley, to the wood,
to the spiraling chasms
of the blackest hell.

The nightingale in her cage,
the sheep aboard the wagon,
and tears well up in the eyes
of sweet little Tomino.

Sing, o nightingale,
in the vast, misty forest—
he screams he only misses
his little sister.

His wailing desperation
echoes throughout hell—
a fox peony
opens its golden petals.

Down past the seven mountains
and seven rivers of hell—
the solitary journey
of sweet little Tomino.

If in this hell they be found,
may they then come to me, please,
those sharp spikes of punishment
from Needle Mountain.

Not just on some empty whim
Is flesh pierced with blood-red pins:
they serve as hellish signposts
for sweet little Tomino.

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1. The term here translated “hell” is “jigoku,” the Buddhist hell complex into which very sinful people can be reincarnated. Note also that the poem follows a 7-7-7-5 syllabic pattern, evocative of most traditional Japanese verse.

2. What is happening here isn’t immediately obviously, but clearly Tomino’s sisters are suffering while he is not.

3. Apparently the lashes Tomino is receiving on his way into hell are deserved (although another possible reading of the Japanese might be “the purpose of the scourging worries him,” suggesting possibly that he doesn’t know why he’s being punished. To me it seems he knows.

4. The poem reveals that Tomino is headed to “mugen jigoku,” the Japanese translation of the Sanskrit “Avīci,” or “waveless.” Avīci is the lowest of hells in Buddhism, one whose torments last so long (aeons and eons) that souls seem to be trapped there for eternity. There are five horrible sins you can commit to end up in this place: creating a schism within the community of Buddhist monks and nuns, shedding the blood of a Buddha, killing an enlightened person, or (AHEM) intentionally murdering one’s father or one’s mother (!). Holy crap, I think we might have just figured out what Tomino did!!!! Of course, that’s reading the poem literally, about which see note #7.

5. It strikes me that the sheep and nightingale are symbolic of Tomino’s sisters.

6. Needle Mountain (Hari no Yama) is another lovely feature of Buddhist hell. This is where the tormentors of the damned get their spikes.

7. Another possible translation would be “Not just on some empty whim / will I pierce with blood-red pins / the marks upon the body / of sweet little Tomino..” Either way, the conclusion is chilling! Now, given that the poet had a predilection for symbolist poetry, it’s very likely that all this talk of Tomino’s descending into hell is mere metonymy, and that some other sort of earthly hell of interpersonal relationships is being described. The Japanese Wikipedia article on Saijō suggests that he wrote this poem upon the death of either his sister or father; given the aims of symbolist poetry (to avoid to describing things themselves and instead describe their effects), it strikes me that the poem is meant to show Saijō’s emotional distress upon someone’s death, comparing his survivor’s guilt to a journey into hell.

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Original Japanese:

トミノの地獄
Tomino no Jigoku

姉は血を吐く、妹(いもと)は火吐く、
ane wa chi wo haku, imoto wa hihaku,

可愛いトミノは 宝玉(たま)を吐く。
kawaii tomino wa tama wo haku

ひとり地獄に落ちゆくトミノ、
hitori jigoku ni ochiyuku tomino,

地獄くらやみ花も無き。
jigoku kurayami hana mo naki.

鞭で叩くはトミノの姉か、
muchi de tataku wa tomino no ane ka,

鞭の朱総(しゅぶさ)が 気にかかる。
muchi no shuso ga ki ni kakaru.

叩けや叩きやれ叩かずとても、
tatake yatataki yare tatakazu totemo,

無間地獄はひとつみち。
mugen jigoku wa hitotsu michi.

暗い地獄へ案内(あない)をたのむ、
kurai jigoku e anai wo tanomu,

金の羊に、鶯に。
kane no hitsu ni, uguisu ni.

皮の嚢(ふくろ)にやいくらほど入れよ、
kawa no fukuro ni yaikura hodoireyo,

無間地獄の旅支度。
mugen jigoku no tabishitaku.

春が 来て候(そろ)林に谿(たに)に、
haru ga kitesoru hayashi ni tani ni,

暗い地獄谷七曲り。
kurai jigoku tanina namagari.

籠にや鶯、車にや羊、
kagoni yauguisu, kuruma ni yahitsuji,

可愛いトミノの眼にや涙。
kawaii tomino no me niya namida.

啼けよ、鶯、林の雨に
nakeyo, uguisu, hayashi no ame ni

妹恋しと 声かぎり。
imouto koishi to koe ga giri.

啼けば反響(こだま)が地獄にひびき、
nakeba kodama ga jigoku ni hibiki,

狐牡丹の花がさく。
kitsunebotan no hana ga saku.

地獄七山七谿めぐる、
jigoku nanayama nanatani meguru,

可愛いトミノのひとり旅。
kawaii tomino no hitoritabi.

地獄ござらばもて 来てたもれ、
jigoku gozaraba mote kite tamore,

針の御山(おやま)の留針(とめはり)を。
hari no oyama no tomebari wo.

赤い留針だてにはささぬ、
akai tomehari date niwa sasanu,

可愛いトミノのめじるしに。
kawaii tomino no mejirushi ni.