When Tuna Die

Posted in Haibun, Japanese Modern, Translation with tags , on November 25, 2015 by Hisashi Miyazaki

Nenten Tsubo’uchi’s haiku group, Sendan, held a Japanese language haibun contest to run parallel with the Genjuan one earlier this year (Judges were NT, SHG, HM and two others). The winning piece, by Haruaki Kato, has now been translated into English by the author himself with help from SHG. We hope you will find reading this recent Japanese haibun both interesting and enjoyable.


…. “People say that tuna have to keep on swimming because they’d die if they stopped. I wonder what exactly happens, though, when a tuna dies of old age?” If my wife had not said this to me one day in a low, tired voice, I suppose I wouldn’t have thought about this issue so seriously.
…. We had just heard the news about the ‘mass death’ of tuna in a gigantic tank, the main feature of a famous aquarium. They were saying that the cause of death was still under investigation, and that a wide variety of hypotheses— including virus, stress, and even radioactivity— were flying about. For me, to be honest, the cause of the death didn’t really matter: I was shocked by the event itself. It was the simple realization that tuna die, just as we do, that had made me upset. I suppose the word ‘tuna’ had always conjured up to me either the image of a great shoal of them swimming freely across the ocean, or the vision of something being taken out of the freezer ready to be served as delicious sashimi. I had really never thought seriously about how fish passed away. And it was not only fish, but with any kind of wild animal, I’d always supposed they must die in a dramatic incident—being preyed on, perhaps, by a ferocious natural enemy or caught by a brave hunter or fisherman—just like I’d seen in art-house films.
…. Yet it is not like that at all. They might actually die, say, of liver disease, or of unfortunate food poisoning, or perhaps by bumping into a rock in an accident. It is simply the ego of humans, who desperately desire a peaceful ending of their own lives, to imagine other animals die in dramatic fashion. And it’s also true that most of us aren’t particularly concerned about the deaths of ordinary, inconspicuous creatures, for whom a dramatic end might seem rather out of place.
…. Death is all around us, and countless are the lives being lost at this very moment. The only way for us to survive in this world is to ignore such deaths, just as we do not consider the air as we breathe it in. Only occasionally might we bring to mind a highly dramatic or a deeply peaceful death and be moved thereby. This is rather like whales, still surfacing for air time and again, although their ancestors chose to give up the land for the ocean long ago. We need to think of death sometimes so as not to drown in life’s breathless waters.
…. Anyway, that is what I thought to myself as I stood there in a supermarket at the corner of the seafood counter, holding packed shelled oysters which were floating inside their sealed bag filled with water. The oysters appeared to me as if they might be enjoying zero gravity while refusing to ‘belong’ to either life or death. They seemed so calm in the airless tension.
…. When I looked up from my reverie, my wife was already in front of the meat counter far ahead. I put the packed spacewalking oysters back onto the counter, and weaved my way over to her through the crowds.

The oysters, too—
their spirits prepared
for whatever may come

Autumn Haike 2015

Posted in Autumn, Event report with tags on November 17, 2015 by Branko

Compared with last year’s Autumn Haike–-a four-day muscle-straining event on and around Mt. Tsubakurodake in Nagano–-this year’s, held on October 31st, was a low-key affair, and a very pleasant one at that: a day’s climb up and down Mt. Bunagatake, one of Japan’s 二百名山 (200 Famous Mountains). Its popular trail begins about an hour’s drive to the northeast of Kyoto city.

Following some last-minute cancellations and adjustments, we find ourselves a party of nine, arriving from different directions (Kyoto, Osaka and Shiga) huddled, respectively, into three vehicles. Five of us travel in a van: Stephen (driver), his wife Kazue, Richard Donovan, Kumiko and myself. At about 9:40 we pull into the car park, nestled in the gorgeous Hosonogawa valley. We seem to be the last to get here and are promptly told the car park is full! Stephen gives it a try anyway, and after some wheeling around the lot, he spots a narrow opening between two SUV’s. The van just fits!

We put on our hiking gear, double-check the contents of rucksacks, adjust the length of trekking poles, take a sip of water for luck. As promised, Stephen lends me his wooden stick, and, for the day at least, I fancy myself a wandering Bashō.

Before starting the ascent, we walk past some pretty wooden houses. A woman is washing daikon radishes in a clear stream. We proceed over a red wooden bridge and past some maple trees beginning to turn orange.

The path is suddenly constricted by the low buildings of Myōō-in temple. Here, there is a water-basin (chōzubachi), enveloped in moss, and a moss-capped lantern (ishidōrō). Under an eave of the main sanctuary hangs a massive hornets’ nest no one dares approach. Some of our hikers are already moving up the hill, so the rest of us try to catch up, only to realize this mountain is not to be taken lightly!

Fluffy dog:
an all-important guide
up the staircase slope

……………………………. Kumiko

P1010223 stephen rich

Bright leaves on the ridge —
there is one mikan
deep in my pack
……………………………. Richard

P1010268 leaves

Making a dash
across fallen red maples …
a monkey brat!
……………………………. Tito

a bright tinted beech forest
after the dark cedar slope:
……………………………. Hisashi

It takes most of us two hours of trekking through dense woodland to reach the top of Gotenyama. Here, at long last, we are able to appreciate panoramic views.

not lonely at all
but filled with a hum of voices,
autumnal peak
……………………………. Hisashi

Five of our entourage choose to remain here, while the ‘shifters’ trek on towards Mt. Bunagatake’s crest. I stay with the ‘loungers’, blaming my untrained legs. We savour lunch packs as rays of sunshine warm our wind-thumped backs.

P1010303 writer

The windy summit…
you walk over, slide the hood
over my shaven head
……………………………. Branko

On their return from Bunagatake peak, the ‘shifters’ tell us of a 360-degree vista which included the vast blue expanse of Lake Biwa. They have even witnessed the celebrity, Youki Tanaka, summitting, together with a camera crew, no. 184 of the 200 Famous Mounts he is running up.




The descent–often the more perilous part of tackling a mountain–shows us the world in a rather different light.


A bending cedar
creaks like a rusty door:
and I’d thought that trees
couldn’t speak!
……………………………. Branko

We notice photos of a hiker gone missing a week or two ago pinned here and there along the trail. He’s probably in his late fifties, and his face looks grim. What on earth could have happened to him?

To an uprooted tree
still clinging onto
its root-trapped stones,
Halloween breeze
……………………………. Tito

Apart from minor slips, the descent goes smoothly… and, one by one, all of us reach the valley floor in one piece. As the sun sinks behind the western mountain ridge, the temperature suddenly drops. At Chizuru’s recommendation, we drive off to a restaurant in Katata: an opportunity to revitalize and share some of the day’s haiku.

On the way back home, winding along the pitch-black mountain roads, some of us remember ghost stories. Just ask Kazue. She will surely tell you a spine-chilling one!

Journeys 2015

Posted in Book, Haibun, News with tags , on October 29, 2015 by Tito

We seldom advertise others’ books on this site, but, given that two Hailstones (NY and SHG) and one recent visitor and Genjuan Haibun Grand Prix-winner (MC) are featured, we thought we would make an exception for ‘Journeys 2015’, which contains no less than 145 haibun, some published for the first time. Journeys 2015If we look down the list of contributors’ names, we must conclude that this is sure to be an excellent collection of contemporary world haibun and fortifies the mission to make haibun a genre of world literature, one of the twin objectives of the Genjuan Haibun Contest (the other being to re-introduce the genre to its mother nation, Japan).

Tirelessly edited by Angelee Deodhar in Chandigarh, India. Hopefully, the collection will gain a large Indian readership, not to mention many others around the world. For a list of contributors please go here: http://contemporaryhaibunonline.com/pages113/A_News_Journeys2015.html and for ordering details, here: http://www.amazon.com/Journeys-2015-Anthology-International-Haibun/dp/1515359875

212 new Buson haiku discovered!

Posted in Book, Japanese Classic, News with tags , on October 18, 2015 by Tito


Tenri Library (near Nara) announced on 14 Oct. that they had discovered two new books of original haiku by Yosa Buson: one volume of Spring & Summer poems, the other of Autumn & Winter ones. Altogether, they contain just over 1,900 haiku, of which 212 are previously unknown! The name of the missing collection is Yahantei Buson Kushu. ‘Yahantei’ (Midnight Teahouse) was an alias inherited from his teacher, Hajin, which, later in his life, he used alongside his better-known one of ‘Buson’ (Turnip Village). Above is the first page of the Spring volume, bearing critical marks said to have been made by the poet himself. The book was once owned by his Kyoto disciple, Hyakuchi. They will go on show at the Library, along with many other Buson-related works, until Nov. 8. Hailstone is planning a trip there on Oct. 25 (Sun.). Free entry. Contact SHG (Tito) for details, or leave a message in the reply/comments box below.

To put the find into some sort of context, Stephen was interviewed over the phone by BBC Radio 4 on 16th and you can hear the resultant 3-4 min. passage in the arts programme, ‘Front Line’, (available on the i-player: wait until it has loaded, then fast forward to 17:48′) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06gxysv.

One of the new haiku is:

karakasa mo bakete me no aru tsukiyo kana

The torn paper umbrella
has just become a ghoul …
with moonlit eyes!

(trans. SHG)

For John

Posted in Renga, Tribute with tags on October 6, 2015 by Tito

British renku master, John Carley, who died on 31 December 2013, is commemorated in a new page here on the Icebox: “Memorial kasen for John Carley”. Please click this https://hailhaiku.wordpress.com/memorial-kasen-for-john-carley/ to read the linked verse composed by 10 international poets led by Eiko Yachimoto using a haiku of John’s as its lead verse. If you have any comments, you can either leave them beneath this announcement or at the foot of the kasen page itself. Enjoy it, please!

Belek Diary – Day 5

Posted in Haibun, Summer, Travel with tags on September 28, 2015 by Branko

Today we take a roundabout way to the beach. At the outset, the mostly concrete path is walkable. The flora left and right ranges from oriental hickory to soft-needled pine to all kinds of fern and thicket. There are cacti in bloom, green banana clusters, sweet-scented citron trees, all looking sharp and well looked after.

As we move closer to the coast though, the vegetation grows wilder, messier. We pace down a footpath flanked by a freeform hedge that has forgotten the last time it was trimmed. There is an odd, rhythmical sound coming from behind dense leafage to the left: difficult to pinpoint its source. I mention to Luke that it was here the other day that I had seen a couple of large grey seabirds. ‘It looks as if here might have crept all sorts of furry paws’, I say. The next thing we know, a huge—and I mean huge—rat hurries down the track in front of our very noses, promptly vanishing under the hedge.

…….. A rodent scuttling
…….. across the path – appearing
…….. double size!

The by-now unsettling noise does not cease with the rat’s disappearance. In fact, it seems to be getting louder: schrum…schrum…SCHRUM… Is there a whole army of belligerent beasts lying in ambush? And what if they decided to go for an all-out attack! Oh boy, are we relieved once we reach the end of the footpath when rows of lawn sprinklers suddenly come into view.

…….. Here the ocean breeze
…….. and loose sand, our legs
…….. our only guide


Footnote: Belek is a coastal village near Antalya in southern Turkey. 

Thames Way : Ulster Way (brown to blue)

Posted in Book, News, Walking with tags , , on September 21, 2015 by Tito
Former Kyoto-based Hailstone, Diarmuid Fitzgerald, launches his first haiku and tanka collection the Irish Writers’ Centre, Parnell Square in Dublin from 7pm on 22 Oct. Anyone in the area is welcome to attend, but should contact Diarmuid first. The collection is based on a long-distance walk he made along the Thames Way in Southern England. Published by Alba (Kim Richardson).
…………………………. fields of barley
…………………………. shift of hue
…………………………. from yellow
…………………………. to brown
…………………………. clouds pass
………………………………… DF, on the …
Thames Way
Icebox contributor, David McCullough, who has just begun a year’s sabbatical in his native Belfast, guided Tito recently along a stretch of the Ulster Way long-distance footpath in Antrim.
brown eyes of heifers
gazing at the ocean –
two jet trails
…….. DMcC, on the Ulster WayKC4F0045
……….. On an offshore islet
……….. a man reclining
……….. in a brown coat –
……….. the seal!
………………. Tito, ditto

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