Archive for the Japanese Classic Category

The Spirituality of Haiku

Posted in Event report, Haiku, Japanese Classic with tags on October 31, 2011 by John Dougill

I wonder if I could draw members’ attention to a piece on my blog… It includes a short account of the classical-style renku session at
Kitano Tenmangu last Saturday, put on as part of Kyoto City’s Bunka-sai, followed by a quotation about the spiritual nature of haiku which I think practitioners might find inspirational.
Please see here. Thank you, JD.

Kikakuza Haibun Contest ’09-11 anthology available

Posted in Haibun, Japanese Classic, News with tags , , on September 28, 2011 by Tito

 An anthology of decorated haibun from the three years that the Kikakuza International Haibun Contest has been held is now available to anyone attending Hailstone events and seminars this autumn. Price ¥1,000. If you live abroad and would like one sent, kindly make contact via the comments button below or on the Publications page at this site (via link at top right). Or you may contact either of the compilers direct. There may be a small postage charge added. All contestants have already been sent their own copy of the book. It contains 33 contemporary haibun (from 11 countries) + 4 classical haibun translations, judges’ comments, and a Tohoku Earthquake solo shisan renku by Sosui.

 The Contest is to continue this autumn and winter under the new name of the Genjuan International Haibun Contest with rules and deadline unchanged. Full details are given on the page entitled ‘Genjuan Haibun Contest Guidelines’ (see link at top right). The famous haibun Basho wrote while residing at the Genju Cottage in Shiga (幻住庵記) in 1690 is translated into English in this publication.

The Sound of Water (I): Springs and Fountains

Posted in Haibun, Japanese Classic, Tanka with tags , on September 18, 2011 by sosui

Let me begin with the famous poem, traditionally ascribed to Saigyo, in which the poet describes the sound of a spring.

Ceaselessly swelling
Out of a crack in the rocks
A spring trickles down,
Whose water is more ample
Than I can use in my hut.

In the original poem, the poet uses the onomatopoeic expression, ‘toku toku’, which I translated as ‘ceaselessly’ above. Admittedly, this is a very feeble translation. The closest to this expression in English would be ‘drip drip’, but ‘toku toku’ has more force. It conveys the power of nature behind the birth of a spring.

I have seen many different types of springs in the mountains. Some of them just drip down from wet moss and grass. They make a subtle music like the strings of a harp touched lightly. Others swell out of the earth with a heavy sound like the throbbing of a heart. In a way, it is an awe-inspiring sound, for we feel that some mysterious being is pushing up the water. It announces the birth of a river.

A Chinese hermit
Washed his ears in cold water
To forget the world.

Let me vitalize
My whole being with a sip
From this icy spring.

Fountains in Italian cities are completely different. Water gushes from the mouth of animals or some mysterious beings. For example, the Fontana di Trevi has Neptune at its center under a triumphant arch, led by Pegasus and two Tritons, and water spouts out of the animals that follow him. I have also seen a fountain where an ugly human face is pouring out water from a pipe in its mouth. Perhaps, the most extreme case is the Pissing Cupid. No one, I think, wants to drink from him. I suppose his role is purely ornamental. What does all this mean? In my view, it means that fountains in Italy are used as a symbol of civilization. Italian fountains are not at the beginning, but at the end of a long duct which stretches many miles through mountains and valleys. Their position signifies they have been installed for the service of man.

Fontana di Trevi,
Fully dressed women come and go
Chatting and laughing.

In a hot piazza,
The splashing water comes down
With a pleasant noise

Looking for Basho

Posted in Film, Japanese Classic, Summer with tags on September 4, 2011 by Tito

Here is a short film recently made by Hailstone, Lawrence (Jiko) Barrow. When you have watched it, if you have a comment or question for Jiko, please post it here through the ‘Leave a Reply’ box. 日本語でもいいです。Enjoy it!

Finding Haiku in Ishikawa

Posted in Haipho, Japanese Classic, Spring with tags , on February 27, 2011 by Tito

The dust so deep
on the Chiyo-ni postcards –
first visitor of spring.

(Shokoji, Matto, Ishikawa, 23.2.11)

梅が香や何処へ吹かるる雪女 (千代尼)

The scent of plum-flowers –
the snow-woman’s ghost,
to where has it blown? …. (Chiyo-ni)

With Kaz, I recently visited several haiku sites in Ishikawa prefecture  – Yamanaka Onsen, where Sora left Basho after months of travelling the Narrow Road 奥の細道 together; Matto, where Shiko’s disciple, Chiyo-jo (later Chiyo-ni), lived and wrote; and Osugi, where our playwright friend, Gart Westerhout, has been rewriting all the haiku history of his area with a series of musicals, the latest of which is to be performed in Gateshead, UK on March 22nd. In it, thanks to Sora’s intervention, a novice Matsuo Basho wins a prize in the Ito-en Oi Ocha New Haiku Contest! (and see Others’ Contests/Promotions page).

The Meaning of the Mount

Posted in Japanese Classic, Japanese Modern, News, Winter with tags , , on February 8, 2011 by Tito

Here is the link to click for a listen to Stephen’s BBC Radio programme about the literary heritage and present grim state of Japan’s Mount of Poetry, Mt. Ogura in Kyoto. This mountain was the subject of Hailstone’s most recent book, One Hundred Poets (see Publications page). The name of the programme is The Essay: The Meaning of Mountains: 1. Japan, for it is part of a five-part series. You can probably hear them all at this site for another week, possibly more. The programme itself begins 1 min. 15 secs. in (fast forward) and lasts just under 15 mins. Please enjoy listening to waka and haiku by Tsurayuki, Saigyo, Teika, Basho, Shugyo Takaha, Sachi Amano, and three Hailstones – Nobuyuki Yuasa, John Dougill, and Tito!


About the necks
Of stone Buddhas in a line,
Winter wind
Whistling like a flute.

鷹羽狩行 Takaha Shugyo

Audio haiku with stones

Posted in Haiku, Japanese Classic, News on January 16, 2011 by Tito

モノケイロケモノ展 MONOKEIROKEMONO, a multi-media 3-man exhibition evoking the spirit of things, opened at the Tokyo Gallery in Ginza yesterday. Hailstone Stephen is contributing audio haiku with ‘live stones’ (生け石). The other two artists are Takahiro Kondo (ceramic/glass) and Hiroshi Onishi (computer images). Nobuyuki and Shigeko Yuasa came to the opening on Jan. 15 , at which Stephen read haiku and a haibun piece about stones. The exhibition is free, and open 11-7  (11-5 Sat.) through Feb. 12. Closed on Suns., Mons. and Feb. 11. Two of the audio haiku to be heard in the gallery are:

石に詩を題して過ぐる枯野かな (蕪村)

Composing a poem / about a stone, / then walking on / across the winter moor  (Buson)

大岩双つ8の字にめぐれば遠雷 (ティートー)

Walking a figure of eight / around two boulders – / distant thunder  (Tito)

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Back from abroad

Posted in Haibun, Japanese Classic, Tanka with tags , on July 2, 2010 by Richard Steiner

Was out of Kyoto avoiding the street fighting and burning flares, went over to Matsumoto to thrash around the castle at the carp, so innocent looking in the moat yet at heart, as mean as megalithic whales, and was attracted to a Young Thing in her late 20s, at the latest, whom luck favored to draw us together for a nonce, until I noticed her undercovering colors, which make me flee for my life to the safety of the zoo.

her face, so pretty
her hands, nicely soft.
her legs, just right,
her tattoo…

Hopping the nearest Jin-riki-sha, I returned to the country we all love and know best, Kyoto, and discovered that Mt Ogura needed some revision in our thinking. We all know and love Mt Ogura, and some of us (but not me) have spent time cleaning up the trash there. I found out in my investigation that Old Ogura has always been a collector of castaway and useless objects, now as back then.

Ogura, hill of abandonment;
before, minds and hearts,
now, just garbage

Long ago, the rejected priests, poets and princes made their abodes there, huts, hideaways, hermitages all over the place. The poems they wrote make one weep just as they wept.

“Hearing a stag calling, I look into my heart, living alone at the foot of Mr Ogura.” Priest Saigyo

“Even living in a hermitage on Mr Ogura, not a single day passes without my crying about this world along with the deer.” Takakura

On Mt Ogura, morning after morning a drizzling rain; yesterday maple leaves all around were tinged in faint colors.” Teika

“So desolate is this wintry mountain village, autumn remains only in the sound of a stag.” Prince Kakusho

cleaning up Mt Ogura,
first, junk and garbage,
but next, minds and hearts?

Kikakuza Haibun Contest 2010

Posted in Autumn, Japanese Classic, Submissions on August 28, 2009 by Tito



秋の空 ……..The autumn sky

尾上の杉の .Has distanced itself …

はなれたり ..From the ridge-top cedar.

(其角 Takarai Kikaku, Basho’s senior Edo disciple; scroll painting in the collection of Jogyoji Temple, Isehara)

Kikakuza will be open to receive entries for both its Japanese and its English language Haibun Contests 2010 between 1 Oct. and 31 Jan. The guidelines and address for entry will be displayed on a new page (top right) on this site from mid-Sep. Anyone is welcome to enter. You can read this year’s winning pieces now by clicking on the words ‘Kikakuza ’09 Winning Haibun’ at top right.


Posted in Haiku, Japanese Classic, Summer on June 21, 2009 by Tito

Although not his death verse, the last haiku Basho completed during his lifetime was 清滝や波に散り込む青松葉 Kiyotaki ya, nami ni chiri-komu, ao-matsuba

..Ah, Kiyotaki!

..Scattered in your swirling waters

..Pine-needles’ green

revised on his deathbed in Osaka from a version composed at Kiyotaki a few months before. The Kiyotaki stream is only a couple of miles from my house in Kyoto, and I took Nobuyuki Yuasa there on Thursday for an evening visit to hear the singing of the 河鹿 kajika frogs from its shingle.

……………………………………………Creeping in the dark

……………………………………………Toward’s Basho’s monument,

……………………………………………A lone firefly ………………………(Sosui)

……Descant warbling

……Of the river-deer frogs –

……A roofless twilight inn ………………….(Tito)

Alive, grateful

Posted in Japanese Classic, Summer, Tanka on August 2, 2008 by Tito

Through most of Japan, now is the period of terrible heat. We are grateful for small mercies. To bear this out, an old poem:


inochi nari wazuka no kasa no shita-suzumi

…………..Oh, life!

…………..The tiny pool of cool

…………..Beneath my travelling hat……………(Basho)

In the relentless heat of summer, the traditional kasa must have indeed meant life! Nonetheless, Basho was also alluding to the philosophy expressed in another verse composed five hundred years earlier on the Tokaido road in Shizuoka at Sayo no Nakayama, where there was a famous rock:

…………..年たけてまた越ゆべしと思ひきや いのちなりけり小夜の中山

toshi takete mata koyubeshi to omoiki ya inochi narikeri Sayo no Nakayama

…………..Weary of years,

…………..Yet I find myself

…………..Climbing once again

…………..The Pass of the Crying Stone –

…………..How wonderful is life!……………….(Saigyo)

I find this Japanese sense of gratitude appealing. Don’t you?

錣 Neck-plates

Posted in Japanese Classic, Spring on April 24, 2008 by Tito

Lectured to 90 foreign students yesterday on the subject of haiku. One example poem used:

伏勢の錣にとまる胡蝶かな fushizei no shikoro ni tomaru kochou kana

Perched on the neck-plates

Of the warrior in ambush –

A butterfly! ……… (蕪村 Buson)

We agreed this haiku has great tension and a wonderful image contrast. I wonder what Japanese feel about mentioning the word ‘ambush’ in the translation? Is it implicit in the word 伏勢? Does it improve the haiku?