Seasons of Issa     一茶の季節                                           (translated by Catherine Urquhart)




山寺や雪の底なる鐘の声                            Yamadera ya yuki no soko naru kane no koe


Mountain Temple

the voice of the bell

under all the snow



汐浜を反故にして飛ぶ鵆かな                        shiohama o hogo ni shite tobu chidori kana



abandon the salt field




寒き夜や我身をわれが不寐番                     samuki yo ya waga mi o ware ga nezunoban


a cold night

I am my own

night watchman



咬牙する人に目覚て夜寒哉                         hagami suru hito ni mezamete yo samu kana


woken by someone

grinding his teeth

how cold the night!



思ふ人の側へ割込む巨燵哉         omou hito no soba e warikomu kotatsu kana


around the heater

squeezing in beside

the one I love



朝霜に野鍛治が散火走る哉      asa shimo ni nokaji ga chiribi hashiru kana


in the morning frost

sparks from the blacksmith’s fire

running across the field



丘の馬の待ちあき顔や大根引      oka no ma no machiaki kao ya daikohiki


pulling up radishes

on the hillock my horse’s face

bored waiting



朝寒や蟾も眼を皿にして       asasamu ya hiki mo manako o sara ni shite


morning chill

the toad too turns his eyes

into saucers



かれ芒かさり々と夜明たり       kare susuki kasari kasari to yoaketari


withered pampas grass

the day breaks devoid

of moisture



雪とけて村いっぱいの子ども哉     yuki tokete mura ippai no kodomo kana


snow melted

the village full

of children


New Year                  新年


壁の穴や我が初空もうつくしき   kabe no ana ya wa ga hatsu sora mo utsukushiki


hole in the wall

my new year sky

also beautiful



正月やごろりと寝たるとっとき着ぎ           shogatsu ya gorori to netaru tottoki kigi


new year

flopping down on the floor

in my Sunday best


Spring             春


朧々ふめば水也まよひ道      oboro oboro fumeba mizu ya mayoi michi


treading in mist

in water

the wrong road



蛙鳴き鷄なき東しらみけり     kawazu naki tori naki higashi shiramikeri


a frog croaks

a cock crows

the east grows light



田の人の笠に糞してかへる雁    ta no hito no kasa ni hako shite kaeru kari



on the hats of peasants

wild geese returning north



春立や四十三年人の飯      haru tatsu ya shi ju san nen hito no meshi


spring begins

43 years

of meals



梅がかやどなたが来ても欠け茶碗   ume ga ka ya donata ga kite mo kake chawan


the scent of plum blossoms

whoever comes

gets a chipped cup



一日も我家ほしさよ梅花      ichinichi mo waga ya hoshisa yo ume no hana


longing for my own home

even for a day

plum blossoms



春雨や窓も一人に一ツづつ     harusame ya mado mo hitori ni hitotsu zutsu


spring rain

the windows too

one per person



蝶とぶや此世に望みないやうに   cho tobu ya kono yo ni nozomi nai yo ni


a butterfly flutters

as if without

desires in this world



屋根をはく人の立けり夕桜    yane o haku hito no tachikeri yuzakura


someone sweeping the roof

stands up straight

evening cherry blossoms



行春の町やかさ売すだれ売       yuku haru no machi ya kasa uri sudare uri


spring leaves the town

umbrellas for sale

bamboo blinds for sale


Summer            夏


青梅に手をかけて寝る蛙哉         ao ume ni te o kakete neru kawazu kana


frog sleeping

with his hand over

a green plum



更衣しばししらみを忘れたり  koromogae shibashi shirami o wasuretari


changing into summer clothes

lice forgotten

for a while



どこを押せばそんな音が出ル時鳥 doko o oseba sonna ne ga deru hototogisu


where do I press

to elicit such a sound

little cuckoo?



朝やけがよろこばしいか蝸牛  asa yake ga yorokobashii ka katatsuburi


hey snail

does the sunrise

make you joyful?



青あらしかいだるげなる人の顔    ao arashi kaidaruge naru hito no kao


strong summer wind

shakes the foliage

a person’s face looking weary



青すだれ白衣の美人通ふ見ゆ  ao sudare byaku e no bijin kayou miyu


green bamboo blinds

a beauty in white

goes past



馬の屁に目覚て見れば飛ほたる uma no he ni mezamete mireba tobu hotaru



by the fart of my horse

a flitting firefly



芥子の花かうぎに雨の一当り keshi no hana kaugini ame no hito atari



one vigorous direct hit

by a raindrop



涼しさや欠釜一ツひとりずみ  suzushisa ya kakegama hitotsu hitori zumi



living alone

with one chipped cauldron



みやこ哉東西南北辻が花   miyako kana tozainanboku tsuji ga hana



north south east west

flowers on the street corners




































Japan: History and Culture

Junko Saeki

Meguro International Haiku Circle

Tokyo, Japan

April 5, 2019


Today’s presentation is about Japanese history, because it will help you understand Japanese people and culture, which form the background to haiku.



Japanese history usually starts with the Jomon Period, which ran from around 12,000 B.C. to the 4thcentury B.C., and the subsequent Yayoi Period, which lasted through the middle of the 3rdcentury A.D. These periods are subjects of archaeological studies.

Subsequent history is divided into A. Ancient Times: up to the end of the 12thcentury; B. The Medieval Period: through the end of the 16thcentury; C. Modern Times: through the mid-19thcentury; and D. The Contemporary Period: the period since the Meiji Restoration of 1867. I will cover the history up to the Meiji Restoration, because what took place in the Contemporary Period is part of world history.


  1. Ancient Times

Between the second half of the 3rdcentury A.D. and the 7thcentury A.D., tombs with huge mounds were built in many parts of Japan. These mounds, called kofun, are generally in the same style and are believed to have been built by powerful clans. The most famous mounds are those of the emperors, but studies on them have only just begun, because they had always been off-limits.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 538. Following an initial battle between those who were for it and those against it, it was accepted that Buddhism would exist side-by-side with Japan’s indigenous Shintoism. Shinto means “the way of gods” and boasts a myriad of gods in the form of anything from foxes, mountains, trees and those who have fallen in wars.

Thanks to Prince Shotoku, who protected Buddhism and also carried out various reforms, by the first half of the 7thcentury, the country took shape as a feudal society with a system of centralized administration established under Ritsuryo legal codes.


  • Nara Period (710-794)

This is the period when the Imperial Court was in Nara, a city modeled after the Chinese capital. During these 85 years, many Buddhist temples were built in Nara and also across the nation by a succession of emperors, and Buddhism established itself as the backbone of Japanese culture. Important documents, such as Nihon Shoki and another chronicle, Kojiki, were also compiled during the Nara Period.   Nihon Shoki is the oldest existing officially authorized history of Japan, compiled by an Imperial edict and completed in 720 A.D. It is based on the mythology of Emperor Jinmu, a mythical figure who is said to have ascended the throne on February 11, 660 B.C., and covers the period from “The Age of the gods” through Emperor Jito, who ascended the throne in 697 A.D. Japanese emperors are believed to be direct descendants of Emperor Jinmu, and February 11 is still marked as National Foundation Day.

Manyo-shu, the oldest existing collection of 31-syllable Tanka poems, was compiled in 759. The collection contains more than 4,500 Tanka poems composed by people in all walks of life, including noble men and women, as well soldiers who were sent to remote outposts to fight off the “barbarians.” It is believed that these poems were written between the second half of the 7thcentury and the first half of the 8thcentury.


  • Heian Period (794-1185)

In 794, the Imperial Court was moved to Kyoto, marking the beginning of the Heian Period. Heian in Japanese means “peace.” Rich court culture unfolded during these 400 years. “The Tale of Genji,” said to be the oldest novel in the world, was written by a noble woman and court lady, Murasaki-shikibu. It consists of 53 stories, depicting the relationships between Prince Hikaru-Genji and other princes and various ladies. It was written in the early years of the 11thcentury. A contemporary work in the English-speaking world is Beowulf, an epic which is said to be one of the oldest sagas and one of the most important works of Old English literature. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was written a little later between 1387 and 1400 in Middle English.

The colorful costumes which members of the present-day Imperial Family don for their formal ceremonies and rites are all in the style of the Heian Period.

Although elaborate court culture flourished on the one hand, centralized rule by the aristocracy broke down on the other hand, due to the rise of large and small regimes in various parts of the country. The division of power by these military regimes became a characteristic of the subsequent Medieval Period.


  1. The Medieval Period
  • Kamakura Period (1185-1333)

The closing years of the 12thcentury heralded the age of warriors, in which the nation was governed by a Shogun or military general appointed by the Emperor as the administrator. The first Shogun was Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, who was appointed as the Administrator of the Eastern Regions. He established the seat of his government in Kamakura in 1185. This was the beginning of the dual structure of government, in which the Emperor, who remained in Kyoto, appointed the actual ruler. There were constant struggles for power among the powerful clans, and whoever emerged dominant was “anointed,” so-to-speak, as Shogun by the Emperor. The relationship may be compared to that of the Pope and secular kings in the history of Western Europe. However, while many secular kings existed in the West, the Japanese Emperor appointed only one Shogun. This system has allowed the Emperors to stay above the power struggles and remain unscathed regardless of their outcome.


  • Muromachi Period (1336-1588)

The government of a Shogun was called “Bakufu.” The Kamakura Bakufu lasted for about 150 years through 1333, followed by the Muromachi Bakufu (1336-1588), which was founded by Ashikaga Takauji. The name, Muromachi, comes from the fact that Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third-generation Shogun from the Ashikaga family, moved his government to Muromachi, Kyoto. Despite the long duration of the Kamakura and Muromachi Bakufu, the Medieval Period was one of divisions andconstant struggles for power. The warrior class had risen, but the Emperors still retained power in Kyoto, while Buddhist temples asserted their traditional authority. These power struggles and social upheavals brought about the Period of Warring States in the waning years of Muromachi Bakufu.

In terms of culture, however, the 400 years of the Medieval Period have played a very important role. It was during this period that typically Japanese and popular practices even today, such as the tea ceremony and flower arrangement, established themselves as art forms.


  1. Tea Ceremony (Sadoh—The way of the tea)

Tea leaves were first introduced to Japan by a Buddhist priest returning from China at the beginning of the 9thcentury (804), but they failed to make an impact. Early in the Kamakura Period, Eisai (also pronounced Yosai, 1141-1215), who introduced Zen Buddhism to Japan, brought back tea from China and grew it in Kyushu. Tea was also cultivated in Uji near Kyoto. As a result, tea-drinking began to spread. In 1214, Eisai presented the tea along with a book on the manners and benefits of tea-drinking to Shogun Minamoto-no-Sanetomo. Then, the practice of tea ceremony began to spread within the warrior class. Ceramic-making was also introduced to Japan around the same time. The tea ceremony room as we see it today was first built in 1472 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who practiced tea ceremony as an ascetic form of art.


  1. Flower Arrangement (Kadoh-The way of flowers)

Since Buddhism was first introduced to Japan, Buddhists have always offered flowers at an altar. However, flower arrangement as an art form has its origin in the mid-Muromachi Period, when Buddhist monks in Kyoto began to practice it. Since the monks used to live by a pond, even today one of the oldest schools of flower arrangement calls itself Ike-no-boh, meaning, “monks by the pond,” and is headed by a member of the Ike-no-boh family. Like Sadoh, Kadoh had previously been practiced within the warrior class and the rest of the upper class, but it spread to the general public in the latter half of the Edo Period (1603-1867)


  1. Modern Times (1603-1867)

The Edo Period (1603-1867)

The 250 years of the Tokugawa family’s rule is the longest rule by a family in the history of Japan. This period is called the Edo Period, because Tokugawa Ieyasu established the seat of his government in Edo, which is now Tokyo. The Edo Bakufu had firm control over more than 260 feudal lords, as it owned all the land in Japan, which it assigned to feudal lords in exchange for their loyalty and services. It also required that the feudal lords have their wives live in Edo as hostages, while the feudal lords themselves spent alternate years in Edo and their assigned territories. The Bakufu made sure that feudal lords did not accumulate wealth, by constantly requiring them to carry out public works projects, such as building bridges.

The Bakufu also established a class system, consisting of, in order of descending importance, the warrior, farmer, craftsman and merchant classes. During the Edo period, 80 percent of the total population were farmers, which also included those engaged in forestry and fishery. The farmers were required to pay annual taxes and also offer their labor for the various public works projects. The members of the warrior class manned the bureaucracy as well as the military.

In running the government, Tokugawa Bakufu adopted various strategies to keep any individual or clan from gaining too much power, such as making multiple appointments for one job so that the appointees could take turns, for example, by the month to execute the job, or adopting consensus-based decision-making. These practices still have an effect on the way Japanese conduct business today.

However, the most significant policy the Bakufu pursued was its isolation policy, which kept Japan isolated from the rest of the world, except for some trading with the Dutch and the Chinese, which was conducted only in Nagasaki.

Upon adoption of the isolation policy in 1635, the Bakufu placed a countrywide ban on foreign travel and also banned Japanese who were living overseas, mostly in Southeast Asia, from returning to Japan.  Prior to the isolation period, Japanese had on the contrary been very active in overseas ventures, dating back to the middle of the Medieval Period. As a matter of fact, between 1604 and 1635, the Bakufu issued more than 350 letters authorizing trading ships to engage in foreign trade.

The arrival of the “black ships,” or U.S. warships in Shimoda in 1853 and repeated attempts by the Western powers to open Japan’s doors divided the nation into those who were for opening up the country and those against it. After bitter battles between the two camps, Japan finally opened its doors to the outside world. It forced the Tokugawa Bakufu to return control of the government to the Emperor in 1867. This change of regime is called the Meiji Restoration.

The 250 years of Tokugawa rule saw significant development in education and culture.

  1. Education

A noteworthy feature of the Edo Period was the heavy emphasis on education not only within the warrior class, but also among merchants and others. Since there was no war, the only way to get ahead for the members of the warrior class was to also excel in non-military fields. As in the past, all feudal lords encouraged education and research in order to enrich and fortify their assigned territories, by developing farming, fisheries, mining and local industries, be they textiles, ceramics, lacquer-ware, and so on.

Education for town people was conducted by Buddhist temples in their terako-ya, or temple schools, where children learned to read and write and use the abacus, as well as morals from Chinese classics. Therefore, even before the institution of a school system after the Meiji Restoration, Japan boasted a very high literacy rate.

  1. Culture

In terms of culture, the Edo Period made significant contributions, thanks to the rise of the merchants who had accumulated wealth. Although they were at the bottom of the social hierarchy, it was to them that the warrior class, or samurai, had to turn to exchange the rice, which they had received as remuneration, into cash.

Haikai no Renga (Forerunner of Haiku)

In the 16thcentury, along with kabuki and ukiyoe, “Haikai no Renga” became a big trend among the common people. “Renga,” or linked verse, goes back to the 12thcentury, or early in the Kamakura Period; tanka poets would improvise connected verses to create poems of up to 10,000 stanzas. Although they were influenced strongly by tanka, as the aristocracy lost its power in the Muromachi Period, renga was taken up by the common people, who transformed it into a playful game of words.

Haikai” meant offbeat, unusual or avant-garde, and “haikai no renga” sought to be comical and for broad-minded laughs. Although there was a section on “haikai” in a collection of renga compiled as early as 1357, the first collection of haikai no renga was compiled at the end of the 15thcentury (1499).

During the Edo Period, masters of this genre of poetry travelled widely to hold poetry parties. Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) was one of them. His style was to sense yojo, or the implicit feelings and sentiments of the verse, and respond with yojo. Basho used everyday language in his poems following the haikai tradition, but he elevated haikai to an elegant literature which can express emotions as well as tanka or renga does, while keeping intact the humor and surprise of haikai.

It was at this time that the opening stanza of renga or renku, called “hokku” became independent, stand-alone poetry. Later during the Meiji Period, Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) renamed “hokku” as“haiku,” or “unusual verse,” to further elevate it into an established form of literature.


  1. TheContemporary Period (1868- )

After the Meiji Restoration, Japan fiercely pursued a policy to transform itself into a modern state.  It introduced various institutions from the advanced Western nations. These included practically every aspect of the role of government, as well as technology to push the development of the economy through industrialization.

At the same time, and partly because of the Opium War, which broke out in China in 1840, the Meiji Government tried to inculcate nationalism among the Japanese people, emphasizing the “uniqueness” of Japan. For example, it decided to separate Buddhism and Shintoism, which had co-existed in various levels of fusion for more than 1,000 years. The overzealous responses to this government order resulted in the destruction of many valuable Buddhist temples, statues, etc. across the nation. On the other hand, Shintoism, given the status of a “super-religion,” was made the state religion. In 1872, the government adopted the Imperial Calendar, whose year one was 660 B.C., the year in which Emperor Jinmu, Japan’s first Emperor, is said to have ascended the throne. The Imperial Calendar was in use up to 1948, when it was abolished.

These modernization-efforts and the inculcation of nationalism and patriotism were all for attaining the national goal of “Enrich the nation, and fortify its military.” Japan single-mindedly pursued this goal into the 20thcentury, and how it has fared since is all part of world history.

Thank you.







On November 10th, Eskdalemuir Expressive Arts presented a full-day workshop entitled “frost moon haiku workshop”.  Here are some of the haiku composed by participants:

first frost –

and in the kitchen

mouse droppings                           by Adrian Solomon


fallen leaves –

the wind stirs

her memories                                 by Sandra Crawford


snowflake whispers

gently to the ground

“not quite frozen yet”                   by Linda Vickers


night caps drunk

red lipstick smudged

clothing falls

the mountain sleeps                     by Nicholas Jennings


silence –

in the dagger-sharp air

I am revived                                    by Ian Ludlam


frost kissed

fallen leaves

tingling fingers

in pockets deep                                   by Stella M


Camden Station

old friend in winter lipstick

doesn’t see me                                     by Rachel Knox


frosty pillow

next to me

you must hate me                              by Paula Nicolson


winter fur bristling

coal dark eyes ever watchful

hot breath mists the air                     by Eileen Longworth


heat drained sunlight

snow petals glistening

the raven calls                                     by Sue Bradley


misty valley

drops on ducks’ feathers

BANG                                                    by Bernard Provost


Naga’s amber pond

jewelled frogs sky swimming

old mud far below                              by Dolma Jeffrey


plums red fallen

spiced borscht steaming

cold hands – warm bowl                      by Angie Ball


red dawn breaks

fields flooded by

rain-swollen rivers                              by Wayne Foord







An international haiku festival, organized by the Meguro International Haiku Circle (MIHC), will be held from April 1st to 6th, 2019. Timed to coincide with the cherry blossom season, the Sakura Haiku Festival will guide participants on a pilgrimage to places in Tokyo which have connections with the haiku poets Issa, Santoka and Hakyo.

The following activities are planned for the festival: presentations on haiku themes, cherry blossom viewing (both daytime and evening) by the Meguro River, a visit to Hongyoji Temple (connections with Issa and Santoka), cherry blossom viewing in the famous Ueno Park, a haiku walk in Shinjukugyoen Park, a visit to the Meiji Shrine, haiku walks in Jindaiji Temple and Jindai Botanical Garden, a haiku workshop, a party in an izakaya (Japanese traditional drinking & dining bar).

Participation in the festival is free of charge, however, there are modest admission fees to some parks and temples/shrines.  The cost per head for the izakaya party is estimated to amount to ¥2000-¥3000 (approx. 15-20 pounds).

For more information about the Sakura Haiku Festival, please contact Yasuomi Koganei at this email address: yix04102@nifty.com









German haiku poet, Simone K. Busch, upon the recent publication of her bilingual (English/German) haiku book, “sipping from shadows”.


When did you first encounter haiku, and when did you feel that it was a genre through which you wanted to express yourself?

During my training as a teacher of creative writing in 2005, I had to study haiku. As far as I can remember, this was the first time I read works by the Japanese masters. At this time, the poems didn’t really speak to me. Perhaps the German translations were not so good or it was not yet the time. Some years later when I lived in the USA, the anthology “haiku mind – 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart” by Patricia Donegan happened to find me. This book was my longtime companion and I still love it. It is full of excellent traditional and modern haiku from Japanese and non-Japanese authors combined with haibun like prose by Donegan. I was absolutely fascinated at how much truth and beauty one can say with so few words and I started trying to write haiku myself.

How did your four-year stay in Japan affect you as a poet?

This was exactly the question I asked myself before we moved to Tokyo. How will this affect me and my writing? Retrospectively, I feel that experiencing the Japanese seasons gave me more insight into the roots of the genre. It was as if haiku from the ancient masters came to life through personally sensing the scents, sounds and visuals mentioned by them. I was lucky enough to visit some haiku places, like Shiki’s house in Tokyo or spots were Basho was during his journey to the deep north. And though they look quite different now, I could somehow connect with my haiku-loving “ancestors”. My life in Japan also changed the topics of my poems. For example, I studied the meaning of “home” and “homeland” more often than I had before.

Which do you feel personally are your top three haiku in your new book, “sipping from shadows”, and why?

This is a difficult question. Spontaneously I would pick these three:

metro station

a butterfly opens

a girl’s mouth

I actually saw this scene in a metro station in Japan and the words came to me immediately. Later, I realized that by using “metro station” my haiku connects with Ezra Pound‘s Imagist poem “In a Station of the Metro. /The apparition of these faces in the crowd; /Petals on a wet black bough” which was discussed as one of the first haiku in the West. I do also like the sound of the “o’s”, because they fit the described action so nicely.

spring grasses

the dreams of warriors

within children

Studies have found that the trauma of war can be passed down from one generation to the next. And even if children did not experience war by themselves they are affected mentally by the trauma of their parents. Surprisingly, they can dream the experiences of their parents, also. This haiku is my answer to Basho’s summer grasses/ all that remains of soldiers’/dreams. We may not see the wounds because summer grass has grown high above them, but they may still exist in their progeny.

autumn breeze

our words at the pond

meet and part

To me, this haiku has a strong feeling of impermanence and therefore I like it. I wrote it during Meguro International Haiku Circle’s Haiku Festival in October 2013. We visited a traditional Japanese garden in Tokyo and I watched koi slipping elegantly through the pond’s water. This haiku also won first place at the kukai held during this festival.

Which one of the four big Japanese haiku poets, Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki, do you relate to most and why?

Buson was the extraordinary poet painter among those four and he combined perfectly sumie painting with haiku. I do also love this genre so I think I relate to him the most. But as my paintings are seldom satisfying I switched to photo-haiku. A carefully selected photo may add more depth to a haiku or can even point out an additional meaning, just as a sumie painting can. Today, we do also have a wide range of digital fonts. I enjoy choosing one that fits nicely the mood of words and photo and to afterwards find the perfect space for the haiku within the whole composition.

Since returning to Germany which aspects of Japan do you miss most?

I miss strolling through the carefully created Japanese gardens and I do also miss Japanese food. But most of all I miss sitting in a Japanese garden with a box of fresh sushi on my knees.

What benefits do you get from writing haiku?

Haiku writing somehow forces me to appreciate the present moment without judging. I need to step back a bit from the emotions I have, when a haiku-moment occurs to find the appropriate words. This distance lets me see things more objectively and balanced. Besides the intellectual advantage and the joy of playing with words, writing has additionally always been a kind of self-therapy for me. This applies also to haiku.

Many thanks, Simone, for sparing the time for this interview!






Mainichi International Haiku Competition 2016:  Elsie Wall from Edinburgh wins second prize.

The following haiku by Elsie Wall has won second prize in the children’s category of the  Mainichi International Haiku Competition 2016:

spice in the air

unknown languages

hot red floor                                                  by Elsie Wall (aged 10)







To commemorate National Poetry Day 2016, of which the theme is “Messages”, the following renku was composed by Edinburgh Haiku Circle participants John Wall, Miriam Sulhunt and Becky Dwyer.

your face

bathed in moon glow

blinking cursor…


if only I could decode


hands thrust in pockets

an old message:





curled around a lamppost

autumn –

message from winter:

time to leave