An interesting article has appeared in the e-zine, Haibun Today. It is called ‘Transmissions of Haibun’ and is penned by David Cobb. In it, he makes the point that at present Japan is rediscovering haibun as an import from abroad (a bold claim, but not without a grain of truth, as so very, very few use the term in Japan today). One exception is perhaps Toshinori (Nenten) Tsubouchi, who has been encouraging the genre these past few years using Japanese language, partly under the stimulus of Hisashi Miyazaki, who in turn was influenced by SHG (Tito) and Ken Jones (both of Britain). At the head of all this sits Nobuyuki Yuasa, whose translations of Basho’s travel haibun (kikobun) and writings on the subject of haiku prose helped to transplant the Japanese tradition to the West. Haibun Contests like the Kikakuza and the Genjuan have been largely the brainchild of NY, too. David’s is not a very long article. If interested in haibun, perhaps you should take a look?
Archive for 俳文
- a haibun by Bo Lille, Denmark -
. Typhoon no. 26 is on its way.
. It is raining and the temperature has fallen from 30 to 15 degrees on this October day, as we walk up the Atago Pilgrims’ Path towards Kyorai’s hut. Our umbrellas are dripping with words, and we are both getting wet. A wetness we like. Learned and nice. We smile.
. Stephen-san quotes fine Japanese poems, mostly tankas and haikus, for he teaches literature at University; and I quote Goethe’s Ein Gleiches, the wonderful poem that marks this finest German poet’s famous turn from the “Sturm und Drang” to the “Classic”. Amongst green mountains Stephen points out places of literary interest.
. Words are dripping. We are dripping. We are smiling. There is Basho in the air; Basho, and other poets besides. Typhoon no. 26 is drawing near, but we are smiling.
. At Kyorai’s hut, we take a composition stroll. I am stunned by the bamboo boar-scarer, a cunning device that makes a regular “click!” and keeps the wild hogs away. I am also fond of the old trees, and the old Japanese style house. Afterwards, we sit down separately, writing notes for haikus. I sit at the doorstep and look at Kyorai’s persimmon tree which has already, much too early, lost its fruits. I think of the story of Kyorai’s persimmons – how he had sold them to a rich merchant, then lost them in a typhoon, and finally had had to pay the money back to the merchant. A sad story of riches that never came to the poor poet. Only a short whiff of money. I wonder if it is the very same tree.
Kyorai’s persimmons –
their dreams falling to the ground
the tree coughs
. We go up into the village for a cup of coffee and cakes sweetened with fresh haikus. Typhoon 26 is approaching. The rain and wind are gaining strength. Poems are dripping from our umbrellas as we go down the path to the station and say good-bye.
. A little later, a friendly Japanese gentleman helps me to my hotel. I leave my umbrella in the umbrella stand and go to my room no. 102 for a cup of tea.
. Typhoon 26 is near.
It was nighttime, two nights ago, the evening of the day Typhoon Wipha struck Tokyo. I was walking home from a (subway) station I never use but had had to because the JR (i.e., overland) lines couldn’t run. It was no longer blowing a gale, but wind buffeted at every few paces in small powerful eddies that lay in wait wherever willed by the city’s stony cast.
It was quite a bright night with just enough room between the half-scattered surging clouds to let the gibbous moon shine through. Head down, just starting to get rained on, I reached Kuramaebashi Bridge.
A still distant
outline of home
October is the driest month since May. And it is starting to get what in Japanese is called skin-cold (hadazamui, as opposed to bone-marrow-chillingly cold, or honemi ni shimiru hodo samui). The enveloping heat of summer that some think of as enervating actually works, I read recently, to increase physical activity. Conversely, lower temperatures make us less likely to jump out of bed. Besides all that is the face of a typical October: that huge languid airiness, that even if clouded is still higher than a paper kite on a lightly tugging string. No more cicadas, no more fireworks letting off, and even the noises that are – of trains, sirens, and schoolyards – seem reduced to the smallness of the details you can now make out in the clearer air.
I yawn with October
This is Japan’s only international haibun contest. Entry is free and prizes include publication in a haibun book next year. This year, we have a new office and officer, and one new judge, Hisashi Miyazaki, who is warmly welcomed as one of Japan’s only active haibun practitioners.
Ideally, there will be one Grand Prix, a number of An Prizes (‘Cottage’ Prizes, highly commended), and some Honourable Mentions, too. The authors of entries chosen for the first two of these categories will receive prizes, and all decorated works will warrant a certificate from the organizers. In the spring, the results will be displayed here on the Hailstone Icebox and elsewhere. Check back in April or May 2014? You can read last year’s winning pieces on a separate page (‘Genjuan Winning Haibun’).
Entries to : Ms. Eiko Mori, 2-11-23-206 Jokoji, Amagasaki-shi, Hyogo-ken 660-0811, Japan (to arrive between 1 Oct. 2013 and 31 Jan. 2014)
Each entry should total 15 to 40 lines (at 1 line = 80 spaces), with title and at least one haiku (no formal restrictions). Print on one side of A4, if possible, with your name and address, tel. no., and email address typed along the bottom. The judges will not get to know your identity until judging is over and the Genjuan Contest office already knows the results.
Judges: Nobuyuki Yuasa, Stephen Henry Gill, Hisashi Miyazaki.
Full details via the page link (top right) ‘幻住庵 Genjuan International Haibun Contest 2014 Guidelines’. Please do take part!
I lived in Osaka for 11 years starting in the early 1990s. Osaka gripped me then with its earthiness and immediacy, unlike the brittleness and coolness of Tokyo that I accept now as adjuncts to other things I have come to value, like diversity, flux and layeredness.
Osaka was where people just came up in bars, clubs and restaurants and talked to you – and where you inevitably got very drunk with them, weekend after weekend.
One of my favorite haunts during my first four years in Osaka was the Doyamacho area, a few hundred meters east of Umeda station.
for echoes, those old
It was at a bar in Doyamacho, I don’t remember which one, that I met my good friend Punch (real name, Fumio) and his friend Wani (“Crocodile” – real name unknown). Both were involved in “design,” which seemed to mean imparting or creating aesthetic advice or decorations on a freelance basis via kone (i.e., “connections,” patronage). Punch was a tough mix of waifish and wizened, lean, sharp-witted, with small black bright eyes, quick with his tongue, and always laughing. Wani was tall, lumbering, lantern-jawed and retiring. Both were about 15 years older than I, giving them something of the status of mentors—people who, although I hardly ever met up with them in daylight, looked out a little for me, or at least let me know what they thought I ought to know.
with a good-for-nothing
to peals of “baaka!”*
Time passed, and the last I ever saw of Punch was when we parted one morning near where I lived. Life had been tough on him and he had always maintained his buoyancy, but the price of it was beginning to show. I was living in a gaijin house, and, after a night on the town, this time he seemed to have nowhere to go. Yet, as we walked from Tennoji station to my place, he wouldn’t calm down, but maintained what had become a manic monologue. At the last moment I had to withdraw my offer to put him up that night and say “I don’t know” to his “What am I going to do then?”
It was perhaps a couple of years after that that I got word from an acquaintance that my old friend Punch was no more. It was sad, but a sadness that lifted when I saw him again.
friend Punch brings
even at his wake
… A small restaurant on Ishigakijima known for its authentic Ryukyu Island cuisine. It’s right beside the sea. We enter.
… Just beyond the entrance hall, a plump man sits on the floor plucking a sanshin banjo. He’s ready to play requests: either old or new Okinawan songs. The place serves up raw sashimi, as well as stewed, deep-fried and grilled fish. They also have noodles, tofu and chanpuru (a stir-fried concoction using bitter gourd).
… Stewed pork, pig’s trotters, and pig’s ears follow. We are now quite full!
… As night wears on and the customers soak up the alcohol, the staff take away all the paper doors dividing one table from another, and we find ourselves face to face with those we’ve never met, all singing along to the songs the sanshin player leads.
… “Naki-nasa-iiii, warai-nasa-iiii; kawa wa nagarete…” (Cry, laugh; the river flows on…)
… “Za-wawa, za-wawa…” (Sweetcorn leaves a-rustling…)
… And there are old island tunes many of us have never learned.
… Somewhat inebriated, we settle our account and duck out of the wooden door. Passing through a dusky grove near the house we emerge in the outer garden, where the lapping of the surf along the coral reef can just be heard. The heavens bristle with stars.
……… slow melody
……… of a sanshin banjo –
……… the Milky Way
(from ZIGZAG, Rengashobo-Shinsha Publishing, Tokyo, 2010; trans. into Eng. with help from SHG)
At an age-old pond,
A frog leaps into water —
A deep resonance.
Basho is believed to have written this poem at his cottage in Fukagawa in Edo (now Tokyo). It is difficult to imagine what kind of place it was. Basho has written several short haibun pieces about this cottage, in one of which he says:
“My grassy cottage is at a lonely place called Mitsumata in Fukagawa where two rivers come together as a fork. I can see Mt. Fuji in the distance, and nearby, large boats sailing to and from far-off places. Morning waves disappearing in the wakes of the boats as soon as they row farther away, and evening winds blowing dream-like through the withered leaves of overgrown reeds make me very lonesome. I sit facing the moon, deploring my always-empty sake barrel. I sleep lamenting the stiffness of my bed.”
Oars hitting the waves,
I feel my guts stiffen in the cold,
Shedding tears at night.
I do not know how accurate this description of his cottage is. Basho is quoting a number of poems from classical poets, both Japanese and Chinese, to emphasize his loneliness. Considering the fact that his cottage was burned down in the Great Fire of Edo in 1682, it may not have been so isolated from other houses. We have no description of the pond by Basho himself, but we know his cottage was owned by his disciple, Sugiyama Sanpu, who was by profession a fishmonger. The pond was originally his fish pond and the cottage was built for its keeper, but it was out of use by the time Basho occupied it. So probably, it was overgrown with reeds and weeds. Actually, Basho lived not far from the estuary of the Sumida. Big rivers tend to form a delta before they empty themselves into the sea, and the whimsical movement of the water creates many ponds. Basho’s pond was probably one of these. A book called Edo Meisho Zue (Famous Sights of Edo) has a drawing of Basho’s cottage by Hasegawa Settan. This book was published nearly a century and a half after Basho’s death, so its accuracy is doubtful. However, it is this book that tells us Basho’ s cottage was once for the keeper of Sanpu’s fish pond.
By a shady pond
I flipped over a black newt —
Its belly was red.
Coupled dragonflies slumber
On water lilies.
Basho’s statue sits
Facing modern high rises
And an iron bridge.
Drops of rain shining
On the blue iris flowers —
A June luxury.
Postscript: This concludes my haibun series, ”The Sound of Water”. Thank you very much for reading them with patience. Thank you, Tito, for brushing up my English. My best wishes for Christmas and the New Year. The world is full of troubles, but let me pray that peace will prevail throughout the coming year. (NY)
I cycled home last night at about 7pm, a taxi was parked in front of our building, driver beside it. What is he doing? He said he couldn’t wait.
his cock half out
my stoppit comes out imsorry
Before bed I wander out to have another look at the crystal dark autumn sky – then again after breakfast this morning.
That pearl in black
this bleached morning
7am. Pesky sparrows that will only shit on the verandah. Wait a minute—they’re in heat!
back on the porch—
I no longer notice
.. Marshes and ponds are found almost everywhere in Japan. At the foot of volcanic mountains, we have large areas of marshes dotted with little pools, which are called ‘chito’ to distinguish them from other ponds. I saw such areas at the foot of Mt. Tateyama and Mt. Gassan. Sometimes these marshy areas are referred to as ‘gakida’ (starving ghosts’ rice-fields). Poor starving ghosts! They would surely not be able to satisfy their stomachs with the harvests of these tiny ponds! Their beauty, however, can fill our hearts, especially at night when the stars are reflected in them. Spiritually, many of us are starving ghosts, and we are healed when we stroll among these ponds admiring their beauty.
.. At the foot of Mt. Hiuchi in Oze stretches mile after mile of marshy land dotted with ponds, where in early spring, mizubasho (skunk cabbages) bear their pure white flowers, and in summer, kisuge (yellow day-lilies) spread their golden flowers. These marshy areas are isolated worlds and very difficult to get to, for cars are not allowed. At Oze, an attempt was made to build a road to improve access, but this was abandoned in 1971. Visitors are requested to walk on wooden planks and not to step on the ground. These marshy areas are extremely vulnerable, so these precautions are necessary to save the natural environment. I visited Oze in late May, but there was still some snow even on the planks. I fell over a couple times. The tour guide, who had told us to be careful, even had a fall! However, I was able to enjoy some early flowers of skunk cabbage. Their beauty, I thought, comes from their strength. It is a wonder to me how they can grow and bloom in the ice-cold water of the mountain marshes.
.. Quite different kinds of ponds are found in rice-growing villages – small reservoirs built to feed water into the rice-fields. Some are made by damming up little streams coming out of the hills, and others, in low-lying places, by building an enclosing bank. These ponds usually abound with small fish, frogs, salamanders, and reptiles. I used to fear these ponds, especially when they were hidden in dark corners. One time, I saw a snake aiming for a frog which was paralysed in fear. Another time, I saw a huge dragonfly called ‘oni-yanma’ claiming the pond as its territory. When it alighted on a bamboo twig, the branch bowed reverently as if to pay the insect homage. In the village where I was evacuated during World War II, big salamanders known as ‘hanzaki’ used to live in the ponds and streams. Hanzaki means ‘half torn’, a strange name for an animal. Nobody knew exactly what the name meant, but it certainly created fear in my mind. It is an ugly animal with a big head and tiny eyes set wide apart. Its movement is very slow, as if it were very lazy, but when it opens its big mouth and swallows a fish, it moves faster than lightning. Another animal that I often saw in these ponds were the frogs called ‘mori-aogaeru’. Just as the name suggests, they are green frogs living in deep forests. In early summer, they make foamy nests on twigs hanging over ponds and lay eggs in them. When baby frogs are born, they automatically slip down into the pond below.
.. This reminds me of the following poem by Basho:
…….. At an ancient pond,
…….. A frog leaps into water —
…….. A deep resonance.
(Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui), to be continued)
This anecdote is hardly on the same scale as Tito’s, but my ‘hair-raising’ travel experience on my recent round-the-world trip was a taxi ride from the base of Diamond Head to Waikiki beach. The touting driver offered to take a bunch of us tourists (three Japanese and me) for 3 dollars each, only slightly more than the $2.50 the bus cost, and a lot quicker off the mark. Then two more tourists joined our group, and he put the price down to $2 a head. We piled into his minivan, all smiles. When the latter couple got out first and handed over their money, the driver yelled that they needed to pay more — it was three dollars a head. I pointed out that he’d said two, and he laughed, saying “How could I charge you less than the bus?”, and claimed it must have been his accent that had caused the ‘misunderstanding’. In the immortal words of Basho: “Yeah, right”. We all heard two dollars. Three dollars was still a good deal, but for some reason he felt the need to scam us….
It is true, of course, that such dubious characters ensure that they do not simply blend into the background of a journey: their dodgy-ness grants them a certain immortality.
to Waikiki –
the revised fare
drops like a coconut
(Other images from my trip can be viewed at kyotosnow.wordpress.com.)
Tito, whatever the state of their vehicle, your driver and his companion at least seemed sincere in their attempts to convey you. I trust your destination did not prove mythical in the end, and will feature in the next instalment!
幻住庵 Genjuan Haibun Contest
Decorated Works 2012
Jackdaws by D J Peel (Takenoko), U.K.
An (Cottage) Prizes:
The Blue Jacaranda by Kala Ramesh, India
Crime and Punishment by Cara Holman, U.S.A.
Yeh Go I by James Norton, Ireland
Kite in August by Carol Pearce, U.S.A.
Gandolph and Merlin by Pearl Elizabeth Dell May, U.K.
The Unstrung Guitar by Patricia Prime, New Zealand
Timeline by Roberta Beary, U.S.A.
Mind Unfound by Sonam Chhoki, Bhutan
.. We received a total of 96 entries from 14 different countries. We are very pleased with this result and should like to thank all the contributors for their warm support. The general level of the works was high enough, but it was difficult for the judges to single out a piece for the Grand Prix. Also, it was equally difficult for the judges to limit the number of Honourable Mentions to five since so many works followed close on their heels. Our hearty congratulations go to the authors of the decorated works.
.. Some works ran over onto a second page, and others were too short. We also received a copy of previously published work, and one entrant wrote his name at the top of the page! All such minor violations of the rules present us with problems. We have slightly revised the guidelines for next year’s Contest, outlined via the page link at top right of this screen. The main change is that in 2113, instead of a length stipulation of anything up to 30 lines, we have made it 20-40 lines. We hope thereby to encourage rather longer haibun. The top four haibun from 2012 will be reproduced on this site shortly, under a special page link, for anyone to read.
.. Several streams of spring water come together, running down a steep mountainside, soon forming a brook, which entertains us with its beautiful cantata as it courses between mossy rocks. Its soprano is like the singing of a dreaming girl, while its bass is like the wailing of a lover. The passing wind also adds a voice, sometimes resembling the soft whispering of a mother while her baby is asleep, and at other times, sounding harsh like a father’s scolding of a mischievous child. Bird songs also provide accompaniment from time to time. The vivace of spring warblers announces the arrival of warm weather. Cuckoos put us to sleep in summer with their monotonous andante. Shrikes warn us with their autumn staccato to prepare for frost and snow. Crows and owls frighten us in winter with their fortissimo. For me, brooks are the source of endless musical pleasures.
.. Here I am reminded of Wordsworth’s description of a ‘rill’ that runs by his birthplace:
…. Oh, many a time have I, a five-years’ child,
…. A naked boy, in one delightful rill,
…. A little mill-race severed from his stream,
…. Made one long bathing of a summer’s day —
.. When I visited Cockermouth, I was impressed by his birthplace, a sturdy stone building, probably the largest in the whole town, but I did not think the rill was deep enough for swimming, nor could I spot the mill. Probably this mill had gone long before and the rill had lost much of its water.
.. I also found ‘a playmate’ in a brook when I was evacuated from Tokyo to a small country village in Hiroshima. I was a middle-school boy, and spent most of my summer days fishing in the brook running by my house. The water was so clear that I was able to see every stone and pebble at the bottom. I could also see fish swimming against the stream, but I soon learned they were not easily caught. In a brook like this, you should hide yourself behind a tree or a rock and cast your line in the foaming part of the stream. If you do this, before the bait sinks to the bottom, you will have a fish hooked on your line. However, I had to spend more than a year to learn this trick. Another pleasure I found in the brook was the fireflies that came out in early summer. I saw them flying in their hundreds above the brook, blinking their lights in unison. They would also sometimes form balls of light on grass leaves. However, it was very sad to see a few latecomers flying away into bamboo thickets at the end of the season. They were like ghosts returning to their graves.
.. As Wordsworth mentions, brooks are often dotted with water mills. Unlike English mills, which are made of stone, mills along Japanese brooks are wooden shacks, and instead of damming the brooks, water is led to the mills via wooden or bamboo pipes. The upper side of these pipes is open, so that you can see the water gleaming as it passes though them. It always amazes me how silently the water can run through the pipes. The mills are equipped either with waterwheels, or with four arms, each with a kind of bucket at the end. While the latter contraptions are more primitive, musically they make more interesting sounds. As the pipe water drops, waterwheels turn with a continuous noise like the rustling of a brush against rough cloth, but the rotating arms provide an intermittent sound as each bucket suddenly dumps its load. In either case, the mills are equipped with wooden hammers that pound wheat or rice. As the hammers rise they squeak, and as they come down, they surprise us with their heavy pounding noise. This is repeated night and day, but the rhythmical sound of such old-fashioned mills never tires our ears.
…. Singing to herself,
…. A girl crosses a log bridge,
…. Leading to a mill.
…. Four flat stepping-stones
…. Split a brook into five streams,
…. Forming a quintet.
…. There was once a boy
…. Who loved to fish in a brook —
…. Swift as a ninja.
…. Dammed by a brocade
…. Of golden and scarlet leaves,
…. The brook stays a while.
…. The brook hibernates,
…. Its stream hardly audible,
…. Laid in snow and ice.