What I Think of Subway by Etsuro Sakamoto

I recently studied a Japanese poem entitled Subway, written by Etsuro Sakamoto. Here is the poem:

Everyday I step into a coffin
With strangers.

Nailing hurriedly,
My own coffin

I go toward the city
To be buried alive.

The poem is entitled subway because the word coffin, located in the first line, pertains to a subway because when you enter a subway you are surrounded by strangers or people whom you’ve never met before. The writer used the word ‘everyday’ to bring emphasis that the man is doing this on a daily basis. It made a big contribution to the meaning of the poem because it help the readers understand that the person is living life like a cycle or routine. A subway also has a route of its own and everyday the subway just goes around just like his life, it never changed nor contained excitement or thrill. He lived a life full of dullness, boringness and gloom, therefore he felt his life was already lifeless. He felt dead. In the second couplet, you can see that he is nailing his own coffin that symbolizes he was rushing his own death. His destination, the city contributes to the fact that he wants to die, since internally the city buries him alive. In the city, he only feels stress and restlessness and he wants to end his life knowing when he dies, he finally acquires peace.

I can relate this poem to a Japanese ritual namely, Seppuku. Samurai committed seppuku for a number of reasons, including personal shame due to cowardice in battle, shame over a dishonest act, or loss of sponsorship. Often times samurai who were defeated but not killed in battle would be allowed to commit suicide in order to regain their honor. Seppuku takes place when a samurai has lost his battle or any other thing that caused him extreme shame, dishonor or defeat. The samurai would simply use his short sword or dagger to disembowel himself, and then a kaishakunin would decapitate him. He’d rather kill himself than to struggle the rest of his life in the hands of his conquerers. Just like the man in the poem he wanted to end his life because he thought his life was not worth living due to the stress and struggles that he feels.

Here is a link on Seppuku: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zar65GaOoc0

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