Archive for Tohta

Icebox 10th Anniversary & Tohta’s Passing

Posted in Japanese Modern, News, Tribute with tags , on February 23, 2018 by Tito

Last night, Hailstone Haiku Circle held a Committee Meet in Osaka to talk about such things as sales of our latest book Persimmon, future publications, the Genjuan Haibun Contest (a record 133 entries), and a venue for one of our seminars. It was also pointed out that our Icebox site was launched on 23 February 2008, exactly ten years ago! The recent death of the much-respected poet, Tohta Kaneko on 20 Feb., aged 98, was also mentioned and some appreciative comments passed. So, both a happy and a sad time last night.

Icebox – looking back this February along the path we’ve trodden, I wonder if you’d agree that our main achievement these past ten years might have been to provide a glimpse of what it means to be a haiku poet in today’s Japan, whether you are Japanese or a resident foreigner – and not only ‘at the desk’. It has to be respectful, genuinely creative and fun. Japan is, of course, an ace place to grow rich in haiku and its spirit. ‘Risk’ and ‘wonder’ are also perhaps two keywords, describing both our haiku and our activities as a whole. We have also hopefully given you a taste of Japan’s deep seasons. I see from my WordPress dashboard that we’ve so far had 468 posts from our contributors, almost 3,000 comments (anyone can leave these), created 32 special pages (see top right, on subjects such as haiku, haibun, renga, haiga), added 50 links to other recommendable haiku or related sites (see blogroll), a search facility, archives, a publications page (where you can find out how to order one of our books – including the Kikakuza and Genjuan Haibun anthologies), a poll on what you think are the 3 most important characteristics of English haiku (click on ‘results’ to see how it is going!), an events page (for those of you who can speak at least a little English and are in W.  Japan), and a submissions facility (via the reply box/comments on the Submissions – NEW! page). Yes, you can submit to be included in the regular ‘from the Icebox inbox’ postings! There are also experimental spaces where attendees at our two main seminar groups (in Kyoto and Osaka) can get comments on work-in-progress. After ten years at this game, perhaps you’ll allow the Icebox team a quick “Banzai!” Let me also express gratitude to my fellow editors, Gerald Staggers (aka Duro Jaiye) and Hisashi Miyazaki; to David McCullough for helping to start the site;  and also, to our contributors (notably Nobuyuki Yuasa, or ‘Sosui’) who try to keep this weblog up there with the best haiku sites there are. A timely bow.

With snow all around
The crimson berets of cranes
Stand out in the sun ……………………………….. (Sosui)

Tohta – as many of you will know, he was one of Japan’s  greatest modern haiku poets, a leader of the Gendai Haiku Association, an opponent of war and political revisionism, a charming and humorous man, who had several foreign followers who for long studied under him. I never had that opportunity, alas, as not in Tokyo, but I do have two treasured memories of him, in both of which I can still clearly see the twinkle in his eye and his real passion for the art of haiku. The first was after a paper I’d delivered to an international conference in 1997 attended by most of the prominent poets from the haiku organizations in Japan and America. I was the British interloper who spoke about ‘Haiku as Poetry and Sound’. When I’d finished, from his seat in the front row, he raced up to the lectern and said in a loud, jovial way, “Gambare!” (‘At a boy! Keep it up!) and proceeded to explain that ongakusei (cadence or musicality) was to him one of the three most important aspects of haiku. One of the others, by the way, was fiction, which not many foreign haiku poets believe in – certainly not for haiku! The second vivid memory of Tohta was when I went to interview him for a BBC Radio programme I was making on the recent history of haiku (both in Japan and abroad), Close to Silence Very soon after we got started, he got out a haiku he’d just composed that day and asked me, somewhat feverishly, what I thought about it, as if it was much more important than the interview itself – he, a venerable and well-respected leader of haiku in the Land of Haiku; I, an ex-Events Officer for the British Haiku Society! He was all ears, though.

sangurasu no Paburo Pikaso ni mitsubachi
……… Wearing sunglasses
……… Pablo Picasso, confronted by
……… A honey bee! …………………………………………….. (Tohta)

In my imagination, Picasso must be wearing one of his trademark hooped T-shirts to somehow match the bee! I laughed loudly that day and I still laugh at this now. We will miss him greatly.