Tsuchi-no-Ko’s Sweet Potato Dilemma

Recently, I received this haibun-like piece in Japanese from the Karasuma Haigakai’s 土ノ子  Tsuchi-no-Ko-sensei and got his permission to translate it and store it in our Icebox:



“Sweet potato-o-o-o-o-es!”

Behind the hawker’s cry, the calm

Of his steam-whistle.

On composing this, I thought to myself, “I wonder if this sort of haiku is OK?” In haiku, one should respect the conventions of season-words, and I’d been asked to write a haiku on the subject of ‘May’, yet produced this! You see, in my neighbourhood (in Uji), from around the middle of April until the end of May, there’s a been a stone-baked sweet-potato salesman who has been going around with his little van with (oven-induced) steam-whistle. ‘Baked sweet-potato’ is a winter season-word, but I have to say that in the late spring season they taste absolutely marvellous! And the way the hawker calls his wares is so very soothing. The steam-whistle wheezes gently away as a sort of background music. When the sweet-potato man’s cry approaches, I will go to my window, open it, and just listen. Amidst the hustle and bustle of today’s taut world, here is a moment of serenity. Unwilling to let such a rare emotion slip away, I composed the haiku.


6 Responses to “Tsuchi-no-Ko’s Sweet Potato Dilemma”

  1. I may see Tsuchi-no-Ko on Monday 16th in Uji (where he lives and I’m lecturing), and wish to take him some comments on his haibun. Leave a COMMENT, please!

  2. Hisashi Miyazaki Says:


  3. Hisashi Miyazaki Says:


  4. Richard Donovan Says:

    I had a similar season-defying experience recently here in New Zealand. The street sound that evokes childhood memories for the average Kiwi is the tune of Greensleeves emanating from the Mr Whippy van. This promises ice cream delights on hot summer afternoons. Here we are in early winter, and yet just a few days ago the tune drifted over the fields to my place.

    If you haven’t watched Jim Jarmusch’s film Ghost Dog, I suggest you see it as much for its ice-cream van and attendant nostalgic wail (different tune) as for its interesting interpretation of Hagakure (the Way of the Samurai).

  5. on the haiku: the sweet potato seller’s hawking cry, and his steam whistle; what a perfect team of contrasts! the hawker’s pitch presents a “now” moment, and the baked sweet potatoes could be offering their subtle assurances of goodness through the “calm” of the steam whistle. this “calm” seems offer an escape to reflect on just about anything.

  6. Soan Weng Says:

    The hawker passionately calls out to his children, sweet potatoes, their melodiously whistle stroll down the street

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: