Summer Haiku 夏季の俳句

An older colleague had invited me to join his weekly tennis group. They play every Sunday, all year around. Of course in the winter they play indoors, but spring, summer, and fall are spent playing up in the Taiheizan mountain-area. I drive though a few little rice farming communities to get there. It’s really quite a scenic drive.

Paddies lush and green–

White crane standing elegant.

Late June breezes blow.

(Taiheizan–Akita, June/ 2013)

From pink to green in the blink of an eye,

And the breeze–from cold to hot.

(Taiheizan–Akita, June/ 2013)

Dangling on a leaf,

Little green catepillar–

Where sakura were.

(Tegata–Akita, June/ 2013)

Rain drops like diamonds on

broad green lilypads.

Dazzling sunlight.

(Akita City, June/ 2013)

Passing through verdant, mid-summer rice fields, a tall crane in the middle of the field catches my eye.

A slender white flame

amongst dark green stalks.

The sun grows hot in late June.

(Taiheizan–Akita, June/2014)

Autumn Haiku 秋季の俳句

This weekend I headed down to Yamagata with members of the aikidō that I belong to, for a special weekend training. I hadn’t been out of the city for a few weeks. I was surprised to see that the rice fields, that were  so dark, dark green just a few weeks earlier, had now become brown and dried, like hay.

From deep green to gold–

rice fields turned an autumn hue.

Driving to Tendo.

(Between Akita & Yamagata, 9/27/2014)

 

I live in faculty housing located in a rather residential area. At the corner of my street there is a small park. I pass by it everyday, whether going to my office or going to the grocery store.

Above me blue sky

under foot crisp leaves crumble.

Children laugh and play.

(Tegata–Akita, 10/26/2014)

In Rausu I used to see fish and squid hanging outside people’s houses drying in the sun. That was a fishing community. Now, in Akita, an agricultural community pink salmon, silvery mackerel, and pearly squid have been replaced by orange persimmon and white daikon hanging outside people’s homes and from their sheds. In both cases, the purpose is the same: to prepare for a ling, harsh winter when food is scarce.

Daikon, persimmon–

hanging drying in the sun.

Winter soon will come.

(10/26/2014)

The silver crescent

moon hanging low in the west.

Mt. Taihei’s foothills.

(Taiheizan–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

Farm life is so connected to the seasons. Living in the country so close to farming communities has really intensified the changes each season brings. In the fall, people pull up Japanese radishes, daikon, and tie them in series using twine. Then, they hang the daikon outside from their windows or from eaves/ overhangs to dry them out for winter. Daikon look like massive, white carrots, and grow like carrots, too. Whether or not a lot of daikon stay in the ground and go unharvested is unknown to me. What I do see though, as I drive around are persimmon, or kaki, trees with loads of perfectly ripe persimmons still on the branches and littering the ground below. How can they let such good fruit go to waste? Isn’t there anyone to eat them all?? Actually, Akita’s population is the quickest declining population in Japan. So, perhaps there really isn’t anyone to pick and eat these persimmon.

Branches bending low

by the weight of persimmon.

Families grow fewer…

(Taiheizan–Akita, 10/27/2014)

Spring Haiku 春季の俳句

The past couple years I’ve been teaching a spring-semester class on the medical campus. I avoid walking down the main street with all the store fronts, and take a back road. The back road is really narrow and is lined with homes. A lot of these homes have really nice gardens, so walking by them early in the morning is a nice way to start off the day.

Now, a layer of pink petals on

sidewalks, once buried in white snow.

(Tegata–Akita, Spring/2014)

Many of these haiku I have had saved on my phone, computer, or on paper for a long time and am only now re-reading them, organizing them, and  ‘putting them out there’. I may not remember the exact dates I wrote them or where I was at the time.

 

Drinking fine sake

Under the sakura tree–

Still wearing our suits.

(Senshū Park–April, 2014)

Fallen pink petals

floating in a garden pond.

The end of April.

(Tegata–Akita, April, 2014)

An open sewer–

White cherry blossom petals

float by one by one.

(Tegata–Akita, April, 2014)

Haiku inspired by Dylan Thomas

October 27th is Dylan Thomas’s birthday. He would have been 100 years old. 100 years old is a little too old for most people. On the other hand though, DT died when he was only 39, which is way too young, for most people.

In many circles, the word ‘poetry’ or saying that you like to read poetry sounds kind of snobby, or maybe it sounds like you are a recluse or introvert. I think that poetry really is ‘the people’s entertainment’ though. It is not as inaccessible as people often think. You don’t need batteries for poetry, or need to worry about fiber optics. If anything, it is technology that is more of a social divider than poetry.

Any how, I was reading a lot of DT poems the week before the anniversary of his birthday. And I do mean ‘reading.’ I read them out loud, line by line, over and over again. Verbalizing the poems made me discover more intricacies within his lines. It made me question his word choice more often. It also helped me understand the respective poem’s rhythm more deeply; especially poems that tend to have more ‘drive’ behind them, rather than just sing-song rhymes. Oh–and I began to pay  more notice to his interesting use of punctuation, too.

Both Dylan Thomas’ word choice and punctuation usage are very relevant for those who wish to write haiku in English. This gave me the idea to use his poems as material for expressing my own feelings/ thoughts about this beautiful place and this beautiful time of year in which I found myself. I searched a few of DT’s poems for 5 & 7 syllable word strings, then used those strings to create poems, or haiku, of my own. It being autumn, the haiku I wrote have mostly autumn imagery.

Feel free to comment below, whether on DT or my wannabe haiku, and let’s start a discussion…

 

(from reading ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’…)

 

Autumn breezes blow

gentle into that good night

Friends, laughing, part ways.

(Akita, 10/25/2014)

 

Harvested rice fields–

shadows stretch at close of day.

sun slowly setting.

(Akita, 10/25/2014)

 

Red and yellow leaves

dance, dance in the autumn wind–

the end of the week.

(Akita, 10/25/2014)

 

Geese on their way south

because the seasons have changed.

Here, I’m far from home.

(Akita, 10/25/2014)

 

If time had stood still

our frail love may have lasted.

Turn, turn the seasons.

(Akita, 10/25/2014)

 

Flowers, in the end,

fade into earthly colors.

My friend’s wife gives birth!

(Akita, 10/25/2014)

 

Apart, our lives have grown.

The changing leaves remind me

how old I’ve become.

(Akita, 10/25/2014)

 

Persimmons, pumpkins–

burn orange in the fall sun.

My fleece keeps me warm.

(Akita, 10/25/2014)

 

Hanging persimmons

drying in the autumn breeze.

October harvest.

(Akita, 10/25/2014)

 

(from reading ‘And death shall have no dominion’…)

 

 

This autumn palette–

fields once wet and filled with rice,

now dry vacant.

(Taiheizan–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

The moon in the sky

but a silvery crescent–

Fall in Akita.

(Taiheizan–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

Mid October and

the fields are reaped clean.

Rice to fill our bowls.

(Taiheizan–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

October’s brisk breeze–

Fruits and flowers withering,

they shall bloom again!

(Taiheizan–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

No more do bees buzz.

No more do mosquitoes bite.

Autumnal respite.

(Taiheizan–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

Noon in Tegata–

Children playing in the park,

Leaves crunch at their feet.

(Taiheizan–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

‘Til the sun sinks low

we enjoy this autumn day.

Hiking Mt. Taihei.

(Taiheizan–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

After the harvest

fields are empty, we are not.

Blessing of the land.

(Taiheizan–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

Walking home at night.

Geese honking loud above me.

Winter’s on its way.

(Tegata–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

Maples, elms, spruce, oak

lose their leaves to the fall wind.

Stroll through Tegata.

(Tegata–Akita, 10/26/2014)

 

(from reading ‘Clown in the moon’…)

 

Like the quiet drift

of summer into autumn,

another birthday.

(Aqula–Akita, 10/27/2014)

 

Sad and beautiful–

verdant forests turn red, brown.

Drive through Akita.

(Aqula–Akita, 10/27/2014)

 

So tremulously

leaves quiver on dry branches.

A warm wind picks up.

(Aqula–Akita, 10/27/2014)

 

My graying brown hair.

Autumn evenings spent with you

are so like a dream.

(Aqula–Akita, 10/27/2014)

 

Hearing of your news,

so sad and beautiful.

seasons turn and turn.

(Aqula–Akita, 10/27/2014)

Heian Poetess Breaks into Pop Culture

Once in a while on Facebook some headlines or links pop-up that catch my eye. I was happy to see this one the other day from a website called Tofugu:

http://www.tofugu.com/2014/10/10/the-standard-of-japanese-female-beauty-ono-no-komachi-and-the-akita-bijin/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+tofugu+(Tofugu)

Usually Japanese blogs/websites are really pop culture focused or are about all the weird things in Japan. I was pleasantly surprised to see this one about the classical poetess Ono no Komachi 小野小町. I’m currently teaching an introductory Japanese literature class, so anything that I can show my students that makes classical Japanese poets/poetry “cool” is fine with me!

I have to admit, before moving to Akita I really did not know too much about the Heian era poetess Ono no Komachi. While living in Hokkaidō, my co-worker Iba-sensei gave me a book to borrow, a new translation of the Ogura hyakunin isshu by Peter McMilan. Ono no Komachi is one of the 100 poets who appear in that poetry anthology, so I was familiar with her because of that book (which I really enjoyed reading and strongly recommend to all readers–fans of J-lit or not!)

In Akita City, Ono no Komachi’s image is everywhere and her name is used to advertise and market just about everything. I’ll have to start posting pictures of all the places that I see her image/name being used. It would be an exhausting effort, but I’d like to show just how ridiculous this Ono no Komachi branding has become.

I have not been in Japan long, but I suspect that the Ono no Komachi branding in Akita started because of the isson ippin 一村一品 movement of the 80’s. Back in the 80’s local campaigns meant to revitalize small town economies started popping up all over Japan. Isson ippin means “one village, one product.” The purpose is to take a product and market the hell out of it in an attempt to get people to buy it, and blow some life into the economy. This movement is not limited to solitary products, but also includes towns building and marketing the hell out of places like museums or aquariums, and slapping images of famous personalities all over the place.

 

Akita (like almost everywhere else in Japan) is “known” for its “delicious” rice, which has been come to be known as… <drum roll>…”Komachi rice.”

10 kgs of Akita Komachi rice, featuring the name of Ono no Komachi, and the image with which she is closely associated with these days, a bijin 美人 (“beautiful woman”).

 

What is “Komachi rice”? Is it a whole different genetic strand of japonica rice (one of the two most widely harvested rices in Asia)? Regardless, here, with the rice, is one example of the one village, one product movement. Rice is rice–who cares?! But when you tag “Akita Komachi” to the front of it, you’ve got an Akita brand. People buy this rice as souvenirs to take back to Tokyo or wherever, restaurants advertise that they use it in their food, and I imagine that it is exclusively sold in Akita or by specialty shops in other cities that sell only Akita goods, which I sometimes see.

The kicker is that it is unknown where Ono no Komachi is from, she may not even be from Akita. She may just as well be from northern Yamagata, or Fukushima, or Tokyo. Even the dates of her birth and death are unknown. What has happened though is that Akita has appropriated her image and myth and has claimed ownership of it.

However regardless of where she is from, she is an important figure in Heian literature, Japanese women’s literature, and Tohoku regional literature.

Enjoy the Tofugu article!

Bashō is all over the place today!

While looking for an article about English language education in Japan, I saw the photo accompanying this article:

http://thediplomat.com/2014/09/history-and-the-possibility-of-taiwan-japan-relations/

It’s a photo of former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui visiting a Bashō monument. If I’m not mistaken it’s the monument on the Sumida River footpath just behind the Bashō Kinenkan in Tokyo’s Koto neighborhood. The last time I was there was 5 years ago when I traveled in  Bashō’s footsteps with a group of teachers from America, my grad school advisor, Dr. Laurel Rasplica Rodd, and my “classmate” Kaori Miyashita-Theado. We took a group photo there–but I don’t have a copy of it for some reason. Here’s a photo I took though:

Bashō monument along the Sumida River by the Bashō Kinenkan

Bashō monument along the Sumida River by the Bashō Kinenkan

It’s cool to see world leaders visiting sites like this. Actually, I can not think of anything else in this neighborhood that is worth visiting or “famous,” which makes me think that he went specifically to see this, but who knows…

Haiku Poet Bashō in the BBC

I feel like there have been so many articles and what not recently in the news that feature Japanese literature. For me that’s great for two reasons: I really value Japanese literature and am happy to see it popularized, AND I can show these articles to my students and say, “Look! It’s alive and well! It’s cool and exciting!” Too often these days people question the relevance of literature and the rest of the humanities, so I look at these articles as hard evidence that Japanese literature is very relevant in present society and global culture.

The most recent mention of Japanese literature in popular media is here:

Man Booker Prize winner Flanagan: ‘This was the book I had to write’

This video link may not be available for long, but it’s about this year’s Man Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan. His novel is called The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Flanagan’s title is a popular English translation of the title to Bashō’s collection of haiku/ travel tale, Oku no hosomichi 奥の細道.

I have not read Flanagan’s book, so I’m not sure what other allusions to Bashō’s work there are (if any). I would be interested in finding out though.

Oku no hosomichi

In the spring I teach an intensive course called “Journey to the Interior” (kind of a boring title, I’ll have to work on that!) All of the students are Japanese. They are familiar with Bashō of course (being forced to read about him in primary & secondary school), but have no idea how revered he is outside of Japan. They find it interesting when I show them how popular Japanese culture is outside of Japan, so I’ll definitely show them this clip next spring.

Go read a book!