Chihayafuru Manga: Poem 129

First, just a notice, because otherwise, it may be missed:

To the guest that has been commentating on a lot of my Chihayafuru posts, please read this reply to one of your comments before you reply to anything else.

edit (2014-05-13): these extensive summaries will be on hiatus for a while, because I don’t have access to the Be Love chapters anymore.

Chihayafuru 129

Suou’s raison d’etre?


In Ōmura City, Nagasaki, Suou’s cousin arrives home (after being accosted on the street by fellow members of the local fire brigade) to find Yukiko-chan trying to figure out if there’s a problem with the TV because the Meijin matches aren’t being broadcast — or perhaps the satellite has fallen out of the sky? Tadashi hurriedly sets up the match on the Nico website for her…and seeing him, she smiles and brings out some Japanese snacks for him.

At the Ōmi Shrine Learning Centre, Yamashiro Kyoko reveals that when Suou visited her to ask for a recording of her voice, back when he hadn’t yet won the title, she’d asked him why he played karuta. Despite his astounding talent, she’d never felt that he actually liked the game, so “why karuta?” To which Suou responds…

If it’s karuta, then perhaps I might be able to make something of myself.

Time flashes back to Suou’s childhood: born to good-for-nothing parents — at least, that’s what it must have been — his uncle had brought him back to the main family’s house when he was but a child, twenty years before. The enormity of the house seemed like a large void, but it was filled with the liveliness of his uncle, aunt and cousins. And Yukiko-chan.

Another aunt who’d returned after a failed marriage, she worked at a sweet producing factory during the week and in the fields of the main house when she was home. And she was the person in charge of Suou, scolding him for reading in the dark, making sure he brushed his teeth properly, and covering his ears to protect them from the noisy summer festivals and their fireworks.

Back then, an eye disease had already started to take her sight away, but even though she’d been an important person to him, it was still someone else’s problem.

In the present, both Suou and Harada miss the card that is read, but it is the latter who recovers to claim it, giving him an eight card lead (20-12). Suou’s follow-up is pretty poor, probably through lack of practice: Harada thinks that this will be his downfall.

For his part, Suou marvels at his opponent’s intense desire to become the Meijin…for it represents something that Suou had never been able to find. As a kid, Suou had been given the chance to try a range of activities: piano, tennis, swimming, ping-pong…he’d been a natural at every one of them, but the only thing that actually kept his interest was always a teacher or girl he admired. But he was also brilliant at his studies, which got him into the prestigious Tokyo University. As he was leaving, his cousins teased that perhaps he’d be more popular there…and Yukiko-chan sent him off with tears in her eyes:

Hisashi, anything will do, just make something of yourself, ‘kay?

But Suou only gazed blankly back. In Tokyo, he joined the karuta club for the same old reason (“Do you have an interest in the hundred poems collection? My favourite is “Ai mite no,” a poem about falling in love.”), and once again rose quickly to the top. But on the day that his new crush introduced him to her boyfriend, he realised that he was losing the edges of his sight. Yukiko-chan’s disease was a genetic one…and he had inherited it too.

When compared to
the feelings in my heart
after we’d met and loved,
I realize that in the past
I had no cares at all.
(Poem #43, Ai mite no, by Fujiwara no Atsutada, translation by Mostow.)

Senpai, knowing can bring light to your life…but it can also bring darkness.
What should I do? How can someone who will someday lose their sight make something of themselves?

Back in the present, Suou starts to catch up, the dwindling number of cards brings his talent’s efficacy to the fore.

This world, where sounds sparkle like little drops of light and hold importance greater than any other, is a place where I can make something of myself.

But it is a boring world, for his talent and blasé attitude soon alienate everyone else in the club, and Suou starts setting targets to challenge himself.

It’s not that I like karuta. I’m an empty shell, a void that can only continue on by consuming someone else’s passion.

He’s catching up rapidly…but Harada is not giving up, attacking hard but able to guard and claim a card on his own side.

As long as you are the Meijin, karuta will weep. I mustn’t give in. The one that will conduct your requiem, is me.


I have to say, I am still really ambivalent about Suou. I feel parts of his back story, honestly I do. Even though his relatives brought him into their warm home, to a certain extent, he may have still felt like an outsider. He’s also inherited a genetic eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, one that will eventually claim his sight. Incidentally, I know someone with this disease, and the restrictions that it has placed on her life are immense, though she has learned to get by very very well. The thought of losing my sight, which I depend on so heavily to live my life, is quite frightening.

But at the same time, there are some things that I feel less empathy about. For example, the fact that no one wants to play karuta with Suou because he’s too strong certainly contributes to his boredom; however, that isn’t the only reason for his boredom. As all his earlier efforts at various after-school activities show, he’s always picked up skills really quickly, but he’s never really liked what he was doing; his motivation was always a crush on someone. The same thing happened with karuta – Suou decided that this was where he could make something of himself, even though he doesn’t particularly like the game, and so he’s forcing himself to continue just for the sake of achieving that goal. In one way, it’s a noble thing for him to try and achieve what Yukiko-chan wanted him to do, but at the same time, it’s clear that he’s not really enjoying it. Like all the other activities he previously tried, he’s unable to feel passionate about karuta; instead, he’s only able to consume the passion of those he plays against, in an effort to fill the void within himself.

This in turn reinforces the disconnect between Suou and other players. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people can tell, just like Yamashiro Kyoko could, that Suou doesn’t really care about karuta in the first place. And that’s why he doesn’t really respect the game or his opponents (that he places Yukiko-chan above the game is somewhat irrelevant). He even tells them that it is boring playing against them, or shows it by ‘toying’ with them as a side-effect of trying to make it more enjoyable for himself. Given all this, I really am not surprised that most other karuta players intensely dislike him: how can someone who doesn’t even like karuta be so good at it? And when they play him, the way he ‘toys’ with them drives away their own enjoyment of the game. In other words, Suou’s interaction with karuta and the karuta community can be characterised as a rather destructive spiral that keeps feeding back into itself…until now, that is. Maybe, just maybe, people like Harada and Taichi will help to change that. To what end, I do not know…

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

3 Responses to Chihayafuru Manga: Poem 129

  1. Guest says:

    Ch. 129 seems like the “Suo Freudian Excuse/sob story” chapter; it’s a too-obvious attempt by Suetsugu to get the readers to feel sympathy for the character, which is another hint for a Suo victory. She did something similar with Harada during the meijin qualifiers, fleshing out his karuta story. Now she’s emphasizing Harada’s dark side, although it’s always been there.
    As for Harada’s dark side, it’s not so much the tactics he uses during the game that are problematic, so much as the nasty tactics he uses outside of it. Skipping the 2nd match during the meijin qualifiers showed contempt towards Arata, a former student of his (the implication being, of course, that he was so confident he would win that he could give away a match); and going out of his way to research Suo’s condition–that is, using his medical knowledge to gain the advantage over someone who is going blind–is at the least a pathetic and petty attempt to gain advantage over Suo, and a possible breach of medical ethics, as well.
    As far as Chihaya is complicit in all this (and I agree with you that she’s not fully aware of the implications of her advice to Harada) I criticize her, as well. And to be clear, I’m only criticizing her for her advice to Harada in regards to Suo. I have no problem with her giving advice (and I do consider it advice) to Arata, I was just pointing out in the 127/8 comment that it didn’t work. As for Shinobu, I agree that it was support and not advice that Chihaya provided, which may have made a difference in the results. Also, Shinobu pointing out that the “people by her side” (Chihaya and her grandmother) helped her win emphasizes that someone can be by somebody else’s side and supporting them even if their relationship’s platonic.
    Chihaya may be good at supporting people, but her advice-giving leaves something to be desired. How she will grow in that aspect will be interesting to see, as well as what Arata learns from the competition he will be participating in soon.
    Since this is going to be your last Chihayafuru related post for a while, thanks for all your efforts at translating Chihayafuru!


    • karice says:

      My apologies for not replying until now. I actually found myself pretty drained by a whole lot of things happening both in the Chihayafuru fandom and the wider ACG fandom, and I’ve been rethinking how I want to be involved in both of them. I’m not sure if you’ll want to comment again, since our last exchanges ended on such a sour note, but thank you for reading and commenting so much until now.

      Just briefly on what you’ve said in this comment. I think I understand where you are coming from, but I can’t say that I agree with labeling the way that Suetsugu has characterised Harada and Suou as ‘Freudian Excuse/sob stories’. I can’t see either character as being completely commendable, but I can’t see them as being utterly deplorable either. I don’t like some of the things they do, but I think I understand why they do it. And that makes them interesting, three-dimensional characters to me.

      To address some very specific interpretations I don’t agree with:

      Skipping the 2nd match during the meijin qualifiers showed contempt towards Arata…the implication being, of course, that he was so confident he would win that he could give away a match

      On the contrary, Harada obviously gave away the 2nd match because that gave him the best chance of winning. If he’d played the 2nd match, I think he’d actually have lost to Arata, because he would have tired himself out. He really got under Arata’s skin by doing that, but I honestly can’t see it the way you do.

      Agreed on Harada’s unethical exploitation of Suou’s condition though, even though I really liked the eventual outcome of the match.

      Chihaya may be good at supporting people, but her advice-giving leaves something to be desired.

      Here again, I really don’t have as many problems with some of the things Chihaya says as you do. I really thought that her observation to Arata about how he still viewed Harada as his teacher was spot-on; the problem wasn’t in the advice, but with what Arata himself decided to do with it.

      Anyways, thank you once again, and I hope you keep enjoying the manga.


  2. Pingback: For the record: かるたしょっさ | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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