My Trip to the North: 1. Tsugaru Strait

Compelled by my desire to see the Tsugaru Straits, I took a ferryboat from Hakodate to Oma. I first went to look at the Mashu Maru, a retired ferryboat which used to connect Hakodate with Aomori. It was a large boat, but it looked rather lonely moored at a pier. I thought of the tragedy of the Toya Maru caused by a typhoon: the boat sank killing more than one thousand people including the captain. The ferryboat I took was much smaller than the national railway ferryboats, but it was elegantly constructed. The room reserved by the travel agent for our group was an unfurnished carpeted room. I decided to spend most of my time in a chair on the deck. The weather was good. I was able to enjoy the blue sky, the blue sea, and the blue mountains.
Having left behind the red lighthouse standing at the end of a breakwater, our boat sailed along beneath the steep slopes of Mt. Hakodate. The Big-Nose Promontory was a sharp cliff, black in most places but dotted with white spots. I thought it might be made of ageing limestone. The boat went round this promontory, allowing us to see another rocky place called the Stand-and-Wait Promontory, where the famous poet, Ishikawa Takuboku, has his grave. As the ferryboat sailed into the Tsugaru Strait, unexpectedly, dolphins appeared on the port side as if to welcome us. They came and went so suddenly I did not have time to count them, nor to take their picture, but I regarded this welcome as a special bonus.

………. Sharper than arrows,
………. They cut the dark brine, splashing —
………. A pod of dolphins.

(Sosui is Nobuyuki Yuasa)


10 Responses to “My Trip to the North: 1. Tsugaru Strait”

  1. As someone fond of Hakodate and Aomori, I was intrigued to read this piece and its evocation of the nature and history. Now I realise what I missed by taking the train connection through the world’s longest undersea tunnel – not a poetic passage at all, unlike the delights conjured up in the haibun above.

    I liked the colours in the piece, particularly ‘the blue mountains’, and the playful nature of the dolphins. However, one thing that struck me was the fact that the concluding haiku was on the same subject as the prose sentences leading into it. I’m used to thinking that in haibun, as in haiga, the art lies in obliqueness. As it happens, my holiday reading at the moment consists of the informative ‘Genjuan Haibun Contest 2012-2014’ in which Nobuyuki Yuasa as chief judge notes, ‘Ideally speaking, haiku poems in haibun must have a separate entity from the prose.’ This seems particularly apposite in this case because the context takes away the surprise element of the last line of the haiku, ‘A pod of dolphins’.

    I wonder if he’d be good enough to address this point?

    • Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa) Says:

      Thank your for your comment. If my poem sounds like a mere repetition of what goes before, it fails as a poem. My intention is to end my haibun with an image that clinches the whole experience. The prose part is a kind of introduction leading to it. For me, the poem seems to work all right, but you may have a different impression. This haibun is the first part of my fairly long travel record. I am going to adopt a similar structure throughout. I hope you will bear with me.

  2. I agree with John as to the dolphins. Rather than write that the dolphins “unexpectedly” appeared, let the final words of the haiku evoke that unexpectedness.

    Other than that, and recognizing that the haiku is following the 5/7/5 syllabic pattern, I nevertheless find that “splashing” (though it provides the extra two syllables) is gratuitous, unnecessary, and serves to undercut the image of the dolphins as “sharper than arrows”. Quite simply, a sharp arrow wouldn’t splash.

    The descriptions were evocative and very much in the spirit of Basho (or at least as I read him in translation).

  3. I love the imagery of this haiku having experienced similar sights along the Southern coast of Australia.

    Since sharing haiku with a bi-lingual Japanese Australian group I have confined my English language haiku to 3/5/3 syllables. This concise use of words minimises attempts to go 5/7/5 when translation from English to Japanese usually only needs 9-12 syllables.
    For example with Nobuyuki San’s 5/7/5/ in English moving to 3/5/3 could look something like this;

    dolphin pod

    cutting through water

    like arrows

    Just a comment, I love the original

    • Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa) Says:

      Thank you for your interesting suggestion about how to write an English haiku. Comparing your version with mine, I must say that your version sounds very truncated. It presents an image very well, but what is behind the image remains unsaid. Pound and the imagists seem to have influenced western writers of haiku. I think Japanese haiku poets had different ideas. They never thought that presenting an image was enough. I must admit that I am somewhat old-fashioned, but I feel that there is something that should remain unchanged.

      • However, in defense of the principle behind Denis’ emendation, if you’re going to write 5/7/5 haiku (and I don’t have a dog in the hunt as far as that goes), you’re nevertheless going to have to work all that much harder to make every word count. Brevity is the soul of haiku; but brevity isn’t necessarily related to syllable count. If you’re throwing in words to pad the syllable count, then that’s when brevity has been violated.

        As mentioned already, “splashing” is superfluous”. It’s obviously there to pad the syllables; but the third line is the most problematic of all.

        How many dolphins are in a pod? But dolphins don’t live in pods, only orcas do that. Likewise, you may see a murder of crows, but never a murder of chickens (unless they’re for dinner). You used the term simply because “a pod of dolphins” adds up to five syllables. As far as the haiku is concerned “dolphins” suffices — full stop. But that’s only two syllables.

        Sorry to get all workshoppy about this, but it’s not an aesthetic matter, it’s the difference between good or poorly written verse. You’re haiku suffers from too much superfluity — but I like the image behind it. The problem is that you’ve sacrificed function for form.

  4. I must own up to being the main perpetrator of breaking the unwritten code of haibun here. Sosui’s original haiku was in a long tail of haiku at the end of what has become Part !V of this series of instalments, and it was I who had suggested to him that it might be lifted from there into the end position of Part I, where it now presents a minor problem. Solution: in the penultimate sentence, Sosui could perhaps change ‘dolphins’ to ‘some grey creatures’.

  5. If you’re translating (?), and want to be strictly faithful to the original, then it is what it is. You’re stuck with it. Changing it to “some grey creatures” would be — just weird. A bit like writing a haibun about a beautiful woman and ending with “some two-legged creature” — as if the poet were having a senior moment. However, since you already have altered the presentation of the original (?) why not take another liberty and move the haiku forward:

    ….The Big-Nose Promontory was a sharp cliff, black in most places but dotted with white spots. I thought it might be made of ageing limestone.

    ………. Sharper than arrows,
    ………. They cut the dark brine, splashing —
    ………. A pod of dolphins.

    The boat went round this promontory….

    This gives the reveal to the haiku while still keeping a second mention in the prose portion– a little bit of a compromise.

    • Sosui wrote the original in English as a long piece. It is not a translation as far as I know. The haibun could have been posted in its entirety on our ‘Longer Haibun’ page, but it is very long and there it might have languished. Few ever go to that page (see page link at top right). Sosui agreed to the apportioning of the piece into 4 parts, as you will read over the next few months. While it is not really a ‘workshopping’ piece, the nature of a blog allows for such comment. upinvermont’s suggestion of moving the haiku to a position immediately after ‘has his grave’ is another plausible solution to the problem John mentioned. Thanks for keeping the eds. on their toes. Hopefully S himself will have a look at this comments string before too long.

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