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Summer 2005, vol 3 no 2


Feature ~

The World of Kyoshi
by Inahata Teiko

Welcome to the World of Kyoshi! Takahama Kyoshi (1874–1959) is a great haiku poet glowing like the sun in the history of modern Japanese haiku literature. The best way to invite you into the world of Kyoshi is to introduce you to some of his most famous and most interesting haiku. He wrote more than two hundred thousand haiku in his lifetime, so selecting the best haiku among such a large body of work is no easy task. The ones I will present here include personal favorites, those earning longtime admiration from readers, and those that reveal the most about Kyoshi as a poet.

I hope you will enjoy them and that you will develop your own idea about who and what Kyoshi is, and how great and fascinating is his world. I will try to adhere to chronological order, but there will be some that may be out of order.

Tooyama ni hi no ataritaru kareno kana

                                                        The sun shines
                                                        On the distant mountains:
                                                        Withered field                                                                              [He was 26 years old]

This is one of Kyoshi's most famous masterpieces. Far off mountains are seen across a withered field. The mountains are lit by the glow of the late afternoon sun, whereas in the foreground the winter field lies bleak and desolate. The scene is so plainly described that readers can clearly visualize what Kyoshi saw, and superimpose this image over our own memories. The sun-lit mountains at the end of the bleak winter field may give hope and comfort to us, travelers of life.

Shiki yuku ya ju-shichi nichi no getsumei ni

                                                         Shiki passed away---
                                                         In serene light of the moon
                                                         Of the seventeenth night
[28 years old]

Kyoshi wrote this famous haiku of mourning and condolence on the occasion of Shiki's death. Shiki died in the early morning hours of September 19th, 1902. He was thirty-six years old, and Kyoshi was twenty-eight. Shiki was a great innovator of haiku, and a great mentor of Kyoshi and Hekigotou. Shiki helped Kyokudou to found the haiku periodical Hototogisu in Matsuyama, which Kyoshi edited after Shiki's death.

Kyoshi writes in his memoirs about that night: "I went out into the garden aroundmidnight. The beautiful moon was up in the sky above the gourd trellis. Looking at it, my heart was filled with an ineffable emotion." Soon after this, Shiki's mother called him to say that Shiki had passed away. Kyoshi mused that it was as though the departed soul of Shiki were ascending into the sky. At that moment, almost involuntarily, this haiku sprang from his lips. This haiku, created so spontaneously, is nevertheless both solemn and refined. It reflects Kyoshi's affection and reverence for Shiki.

Taikai no ushio wa aredo hideri kana

                                                         The water is deep
                                                         In the ocean;
                                                         Drought in the land
[31 years old]

The first part of this haiku offers us the image of a vividly blue ocean with a long, sun-splashed coastline. But in the last five syllables in Japanese, we turn our eyes to the fields and farms suffering from a spell of dry weather with withering plants and crops. When Kyoshi was a baby, his father decided to become a farmer and tried hard to reclaim land near the Inland Sea for his livelihood. However, after seven years he had to give up his life as a farmer. Kyoshi must have had in his earliest memories a picture of his father's hard work on the dry, barren farm near the blue sea.

Kiri hitoha hiatari nagara ochinikeri

                                                         A paulownia leaf
                                                         Is falling down with
                                                         Sunshine on it
                                                                             [32 years old]

A big paulownia leaf is falling slowly earthward. In the middle seven syllables of this haiku in Japanese, Kyoshi shows how the broad leaf, glowing with early autumn sunlight, glides down to earth. As though caught in slow motion, the sun-lit leaf spirals down slowly, and we are entranced. Then in the last five Japanese syllables, it sinks silently to the ground.

Koganemushi nageutsu yami no hukasa kana

                                                         I hurled it against the night
                                                         How deep the darkness
                                                                           [34 years old]

Hurling a Japanese gold beetle against the dark night, Kyoshi realized how rich and dense the darkness was. He was struck with awe because the bug he had flung out seemed to be swallowed by the fathomless depth of the night. Kyoshi just stared at the dark nothingness spread out before him.

Kono matsu no shita ni tatazumeba tsuyu no ware

                                                         Standing under
                                                         This pine tree
                                                         I am a drop of dew
                                                                           [43 years old]

Kyoshi prefaced this haiku as follows: "When I went to my hometown I visited Nishinoge, where I had spent the first eight years of my life. My old house was gone, and there remained only a small temple on the bank of the river. By this temple stood the old pine tree." Standing under it, Kyoshi may well have recalled those who, like his parents, had passed away. A sense of transience must have settled deeply into Kyoshi's heart, leaving him feeling that he, too, was as ephemeral as the dew.

Koubai no kou no kayoeru miki naran

                                                         Crimson must be running
                                                         Through the trunk of
                                                         This red plum tree
                                                                           [57years old]

This haiku, I feel, is Kyoshi's dedication to the plum tree. The literal meaning is "Crimson plum blossoms are blooming. A close look at the tree shows that its trunk seems tinged with red. It must be because crimson sap runs through the tree." But what he really wanted to say is that he felt the spirit of the red plum tree was coursing through its trunk.

Kyoshi had been brought up with the belief that all of nature was sentient. He thought it perfectly natural that a tree should talk, feel emotion, or express its feelings. His connection with nature was partly instinctive, partly due to his childhood study, and also due to the influence of Noh, in which he was extremely well versed. Not scientifically but in his own poetic way, Kyoshi understood the elegant mechanisms of all natural things.

Tatoureba koma no hajikeru gotoku nari

                                                         Like two spinning tops
                                                         We burst away
                                                         At the slightest touch
                                                                           [69 years old]

Kyoshi dedicated this memorial haiku to Kawahigashi Hekigotou, who had passed away on January 1st, 1937. In his foreword Kyoshi wrote that though he and Hekigotou had been good friends, they had often disagreed over haiku. Like two spinning tops, the two poets drew close in friendship but also sharply repelled each other whenever they touched. Thus, Kyoshi chose the seasonal word 'top' to signify their particular relationship. A top is the seasonal word of the New Year Day. It was a relationship that spanned many years. The two famous haiku poets were classmates at the school in Matsuyama. It was Hekigotou who introduced Kyoshi to his mentor, Shiki. After Shiki passed away, Hekigotou took over his post as haiku senja (selector) for Nihon Newspaper, while Kyoshi became editor-in-chief of the haiku monthly magazine, Hototogisu. Both were exceptional poets and, though they often clashed over their differing views, their friendship continued and flourished throughout their lives.

Teki to yuu mono ima wa nashi aki no tuki

                                                         What we call enemies
                                                         There are now none;
                                                         Autumn moon
                                                                           [70 years old]

This is the haiku Kyoshi wrote on the day World War was over. Kyoshi moved to Komoro, a little town in Shinshu, several months before the World War was over and stayed there till October in 1947. It was very cold there and there must have been a lot of difficulties to live in a provincial small town, but he loved the natural and spiritual features of Shinshu. The time in Komoro in Kyoshi's life is called the "Komoro-Era", when many prominent haiku were created.

After Kyoshi listened to the Emperor's Proclamation of the end of the War on August 15th, 1945, he wrote this haiku in Komoro at the request of the Asahi Newspaper. There is no expression of sorrow, lament, or grief. His belief was far beyond those emotions. When Kyoshi was asked by journalists what kind of influence the war had had on haiku, and how haiku might change thereafter, he answered, "As far as haiku is concerned, there is no change at all. We will pursue the same road of haiku."

Hatsu-chou ku naniiro to tou ki to kotau

                                                         A first butterfly flying;
                                                         What color, someone asks ---
                                                         Yellow, I answer ---
                                                                           [73 years old]

This haiku was written in Komoro in March. We are very happy whenever we see the first butterfly, as it is the symbol of coming spring. In a mountainous country like Komoro where spring comes later, it is easy to imagine how joyful Kyoshi and his guests were when he saw the first butterfly flying on the soft breeze across his garden. Haiku is a literature of monologue. Renku, which is the mother of haiku, is the only poem of the dialogue in the world. Haiku also has the greetings and salutations in its prior character. It asks and addresses people and other beings. Kyoshi who always says that haiku is the poem of asking (sonmon-no-shi), succeeded in showing here the importance of dialogue in haiku.

Chichi o kou kokoro koharu no hi ni nitaru

                                                         My heart longing for my father is
                                                         Something like the warmth of
                                                         "Little Spring" in early winter
                                                                           [72 years old]

The literal translation of "koharu" is "a little spring," which means a warm sunny day like spring in early winter. This haiku was written on Kyoshi's brief journey to visit a place where his father once had visited. On a sunny warm day in early winter he is thinking of his beloved father, likening his love to the peaceful lonesome warmth of the sun. This unique metaphor has given immortality to this haiku.

Thank you very much for coming this far with me on my trip to Kyoshi's world. I hope you have enjoyed this tour. I have arrived at this point via my recent work "Hundred Haiku of Kyoshi", which I write to the periodical Haiku Kenkyu at the pace of one haiku every month. This series started about seven years ago, and I have so far written eighty-three pieces. I have one year and five months to go. I am going to leave this essay here and will finish it in the future when I complete my series "Hundred Haiku of Kyoshi".

In stead of my Sayonara (Good-bye), I will present you one more haiku which will come later in the series. This is the haiku that, I think, shows Kyoshi's world very well:

Kumo ni are ami o kakeneba naranu-kana

                                                         Born as a spider
                                                         No choice but to spin
                                                         His spider web
                                                                           [82 years old]

Kyoshi had been sweeping his garden and getting rid of cobwebs. When he later returned to the garden, however, he found another new spider web had been spun. He was annoyed for a second, but the next moment he recognized that it was simply the spider's natural behavior.

Kyoshi sees himself reflected in the spider. He himself has to keep creating haiku and selecting the haiku of his pupils as long as he lives. This is the life. It tells us more, I think. We human beings are fated to subsist on many other animals and plants, just as a spider is fated to subsist on the bugs it traps in its web. We have to remember, though, that spiders are not greedy. They don't want more than what they really need to live, nor does a spider make more than one cobweb at a time. We cannot always avoid evils and wickedness in life, but Kyoshi takes an affirmative view of human life. It is Kyoshi's philosophy that haiku is the poetry to sing of everything in nature just as we sing of birds and flowers. He also says that haiku is the literature of heaven.

November 29, 2004
Translated by Nagayama Aya

("Hundred Haiku of Kyoshi" by Teiko Inahata will be published when the series is completed. The English translation will also be published in the future. We hope you will enjoy them.)

Inahata Teiko
President of the Japan Traditional Haiku Society
President of Hototogisu

Inahata Teiko is the granddaughter of Takahama Kyoshi. Her father, Takahama Toshio, was Kyoshi's son who took over the presidency of Hototogisu, and Teiko Inahata is one of his daughters who married Inahata Junzou.

Click here to read Inahata Teiko's haiku in this issue of Simply Haiku.

Copyright 2005: Simply Haiku