HAIKU IN CONTEXT
A column by Robin D. Gill
In the Shadow of a Kettle:
Tsukuma Matsuri — Where Haiku and Senryu Meet
"If the festival
of Tsukuma in Omi could just come early so I could see the number of pots on
that bad girl's head!"
(A prosaic translation of a poem from The Tales of Ise, early 10c)
I have never found a definition of haiku or senryu which I
completely agreed with. One reason is
that the variety of each is such that any definition would, by definition, be
wrong. The variety of which I speak is
especially large if we look at these forms over the centuries, going back to
when haiku were not called haiku and senryu were not called senryu.
There is no question that early haikai is
full of both. It also has ku which work as part of the
linked-verse in which they appear but are properly neither haiku nor senryu, and others that could be either one.
This last variety survived even after senryu and Basho-inspired
“pure” ku of the type we now call haiku drifted apart, and flourished in those themes that were common to both
One such theme is the Tsukuma Matsuri.
Held at a Shrine in what is now called
Maihara Town, Sakata County, Shiga Prefecture, this pot-wearing festival is
considered one of the three most famous odd festivals (chinsai), the other being a carnival-like Kurayami Matsuri
(Pitch-black festival) where part of Kyoto went into darkness and sexual
license was permitted and the buttocks whacking festival, I forget where, but
probably for fertility more than anything else. With other festivals where men
risk sudden death riding enormous logs down hills, or drowning by wallowing
naked in mud, etc., I do not know how the rankings are made.
In Japanese, there are many verbs meaning “to wear”
depending where or how something is put on. In this case, the pot or pots were
worn on the head. I always imagined
them carried as vessels usually are, open-side up, but all of those I have seen
pictured show them upside down covering half the girl’s face.
Why do girls wear them?
Because the enshrined deity is what might be
called a food god, one theory is that the original practice was undertaken by
newly wed parishioners to make offerings of the first food.
The date of the festival, early summer certainly
fits that, but if that was once the case it has long since been forgotten as all
of the literature tells us the same thing: women were supposed to walk with the
sacred float wearing one pot for each man they slept with that year.
We will explore further together with the poems.
tsukuma matsuri mo nabe hitsotsu kojin 1691
In our lord’s time, just one pot each,
Even for the old Tsukuma Festival!
This ku is almost
always the first found in haiku saijiki. Because the poet was a student of
Basho’s, it is easily found on the
internet, too. The comment on the times, using a phrase that, mentioning the
ruler, generally implies a favorable evaluation, is very common in Issa’s
journals. He has scores of them. Like
Usanians in the 20c, Japanese in the middle part of the Tokugawa Era sometimes
exhibited a smug sense of superiority vis-a-vis foreign countries, and that
could include the foreign country within, their own past.
Note that because Kojin’s ku is seasonal and true, it is haiku –
yes, when I skip the particle, I use haiku like one might use the word kosher – but, the comment on a
well-known practice makes it also
hetsui ni [?]nabe
no kazu min neko no tsuma futo 1679
Just count those pots on the stove!
One for each of our pussy’s loves!
daga neko zo tana
kara otosu nabe no kazu sentoku c 1690
Whose cat is that? That is a lot
of pots knocked off the shelves!
These ku, the
first definitely earlier Kojin’s ku, are
more clearly haikai, in that they
take a romantic – or, at any rate, human sex-related – theme and hand it over
to the cats, whose early spring (now, winter) love-making would become a
top-five-hundred, if not top-hundred seasonal theme. As tsuma can also be a snack, the pots on the stove may contain food
for the cat.
tsukuma no nabe no ware o ikutsu me
A headful of Tsukuma pots, how far
From the top is the one that’s me?
This 7-7 ku is
one of the oldest senryu on Tsukuma and is rare for having a first-person in it.
But, the Japanese first-person functions much like the English second-person:
in other words, it may be read as a male response. At first, I thought of the Tale of Ise’s protagonist, but that
context, if I recall correctly, has him assuming a woman he had high hopes of
introducing to sex was inexperienced, then hearing she had secretly had a tryst
with another. The poem speaks of a “heartless/faithless/cold person,” not a
slangy “bad girl,” as I translated. A much later senryu (19c) would strike back
at this Don Juan presumptuous enough to criticize a would-be lover for her possible loves: “We’d like to see / Narihira wear them himself – / Tsukuma pots! (Narihira ni kabusete mitaki tsukuma nabe 140-11),
and another throws in the far more gracious romantic hero of what some have called
the world’s first novel – I, personally, see it as a cross between Tristram
Shandy, a soap opera and a Harlequin Romance – as well, “Prince Genji, too! / You’d like him to wear / Tsukuma pots! (genji ni mo tsukuma no nabe o kabusetashi ya
159-20). This sort of playing literary
figures against the concept of a festival is one place where senryu splits from
haiku. With Mutamagawa’s earlier ku, it
is hard to say, for if you were to grant “the one that’s me” to be a genuine
observation/thought, it could be haiku. As we will see, however, the festival
as depicted by Narihira was long defunct.
nabezumi ya hage o
kakuseshi tsukuma hime gonsui 1681
Kettle black! The Tsukuba princess
Has no trouble hiding her bald-spot!
Kettle black! How the Princesses
In Tsukuba cover their baldness!
This is by a well known haiku poet, but had the ku been published in a book of senryu,
it could be one. Bald? Explanations of the
festival mention young women. Must we imagine the inverted pots themselves as
bald heads with the soot giving them hair?
kyo ichido baba mo
kabure-yo tsukuma-nabe issa d.1827
Gramma, too, show us your mettle.
Today, for once, Tsukuma kettles!
Today let all old ladies show they’re hot:
You, too, show off your Tsukuma pots!
Here, old women are brought in for good. It is hard to find
a better example of why the necessity to indicate number in English can spoil
poetry than in my first reading of Issa’s ku,
his best known for this theme. The “today”
is what makes Issa’s ku work as a
haiku. Before explaining why, let me introduce Issa’s first and least known
Tsukuma ku, where he first got that
kyo koso wa nabe-kaburi-hi zo yuri-no-hana issa
Hey, lilies! Today is it;
Your day to wear pots!
Lilly, hey, today’s the day,
For you to wear your pot!
This ku was in a somewhat risque verse-jam.
A lily is standard trope for a sexy walker. A century later,
Santoka was to haiku “a maiden with a pail on her head walking voluptuously” (musume
tarai o atama ni ura-ura aruku) The
adverb (uraura) in it suggests Spring, but I would guess it dates to within
days of the Tsukuma Festival, which came at Summer’s start. Back to Issa. Real
lilies might also be in bloom at this time and we could imagine someone joking
about covering one, but what matters, again, is the “today,” for bringing the
time of the festival home with him (or wherever Issa was) is what makes the ku real instead of an imagined happening
at Tsukuma. Years later, when Issa was almost sixty, he finally
added a missing age group:
kowarawa mo kaburitagaruya tsukuma nabe issa
Little kids also want to wear
There are two naturals here. First,
children copy us. It’s called wanting to grow up. A famous senryu has samurai
children teaching commoner playmates to play harakiri and less often
encountered one has children pretending to commit an, romantic (and illegal) double suicide.
Issa’s ku could as
easily be senryu. Second, children enjoy costume. A bowl over the head is just
that. By this time, the festival was a
remnant of what it once may have been and only a small number of young women wore
bowls. How young, I do not know, but two and a half centuries earlier, a shrine
document records the girls were up to and including 15 years old (jugo-miman).
And, today, can you guess? The girls are eight!
That is right, eight 8-year-old girls parade on the 8th day of what
was the 4th month, which is the date of Buddha’s birth! (Another
source says the 3rd day). Originally, the festival was held in the
dark of the moon, on the first day.
tsukumabito kazashi no hana ya shinchu-nabe hihei? 1681
Brass kettles! In Tsukuma,
They call it dressing up!
“Dressing up” is a creative
translation. The original uses the expression “ornamental (for wearing on the
head) flowers.” The typifying cast of the ku
marks it as the type haikai soon be called senryu.
Originally, the pots were earthenware. Issa most
probably enjoyed food from such a pot, for he has a ku about “running across earthen pots, too, in today’s festival” (tsuchinabe mo kyo no matsuri ni ainikeri).
A senryu jokes about there being more pot
than hatchet stores in Tsukuma (onoya
yori nabeya no ooi tsukuma mura ya 113-18). But the truth is that festival
aside, the area was known for its stew.
It is also possible Issa happened to see a woman carrying a right-side-up
pot on her head. While Japanese never
carried as much on their heads as Koreans, they probably did use their heads
more often in Issa’s day than most people today might imagine. The mo, or “also/even” in Issa’s ku and the cast pots in the older ku tell us that artificial pots – today
they are paper-mache – were already
used. If the large size of today’s “pots” are any indication of those hundreds
of years ago, they were probably very thin to keep the weight minimal. But,
maybe not. Maybe the weight was part of it. As one 1771 ku put it, “Even one lies
heavy on the head: Tsukuma pots” That ku could
be a senryu as easily as a haiku and having little in it tempts us to play:
hitotsu sae omoki koube ya tsukuma nabe sencha 1771
Even one makes a heavy crown –
the earthen pots in Omi town!
Tsukuma girls find even one pot
a heavy cross to bear . . .
Because Sencha’s ku was in a haiku anthology, I am
tempted to believe him literally. He held a pot and found it surprisingly
heavy. The word he used for head, koube,
something like “noggin” supports that, but there is still room for a figurative
reading, which would make it more senryu.
nabe kaburu matsuri mo hito ga nie-kobore ya c.1820
At a festival of pot-wearing,
how crowds boil over
A pot upon head festival: women are boiling-over
Our people boil over for
pot-wearing festivals, too
With the first two translations
of the 19c senryu, I picked up the metaphor but probably lost the point of the
senryu which, as we have seen, is usually the case with haiku, lies in the
“mo,” meaning “even” or “also/too.” With further thought, I think the “too” alludes to the far more common
and always popular festivals where phalluses are paraded through the fields and
otoko ni nabe o kisete mitagaru mu 1760
She’d like to try putting
Those pots on the men!
surikogi o sasu beki hazu o nabe kaburi ya?
While it should be pestles,
What they wear is kettles!
surikogi no kazu nabe de shiru omatsuri-fuda??? ya?
How to divine the number of
From the kettles tallied by the
These are senryu. The first does
not say “she” but I believe that is the poet’s intent. Mutamagawa senryu
sometimes could take the woman’s point of view. The second could as well have
been haiku, for it is a perfectly natural observation. Japanese didn’t need
Freud to tell them the implications of the concave and –vex. and
convexity. Another less poetic version
of the same: “Pestles rather than pots, will make a better God-thing [Shinto
rite]” (nabe yori mo surikogi de ii
shinji nari ya c.1830). The third seems like logic for the sake of
logic. That was acceptable with senryu,
not for haiku.
tsukuma matsuri nabe wa hajikakidogu kana issetsu
Tsukuma Festival: Those pots with
Fine tools to display a thing
Those pots give Tsukuma a bad
Tools for Fools to
display their shame!
The original, from an early haikai collection the name of which
translates as Laundry, points out
that the pots are the equivalent of what we might English as doing one’s
laundry in public. My readings fill in: “Tsukuma
festival pots-as-for, shame-scratching-tool!” The odd “shame-scratching-tool”
(hajikakidogu) is actually in the
dictionary! It reminds me of an
imaginary tool in a book I have long wanted to translate.
One side is a scratcher made from
poison-wood and the other a spongy head with powerful itch relief cream. The
idea is to always have a scratch for
your itch and vice-versa. It is a sort of perpetual motion machine of animal
pleasure. But, to return to the ku. If it were not for the
exclamatory/interrogatory kana –
midway between a “Eureka!” and “Could this be it?” at the end (note: kana was not just a caesura), the ku could be
a senryu. It also raises what is, for
me, the central question about Tsukuma’s custom. But, first one more ku:
adahito yo uso na tsukuma no nabe no kazu kakuro 1777
Fair liars who laid around come
Or Tsukuma’s pots will tell on
Heartless girls, you had better
And I’ll tell you why: Tsukuma
This ku, in early haikai style,
combines an obsolete literary grammar for a negative request with a partial pun
upon the name Tsukuma (the explanation eventually, when this is made into a
book). I hinted at the reason his idea of telling the girl’s not to lie has
validity. A Shrine report dated 1568 explained that if the young maidens had
violated their chastity (committed lewdness), they will “surely be found out
when their pots fall.” To me, this suggests that by this date, multiple pots
may already have been a thing of the past and the whole idea was to use
religious belief to shame teenage girls to keep chaste until marriage!
Not knowing this when I first read about
Tsukuma in the Tales of Ise and in
Issa’s ku and the tiny editor’s note with them, I thought the Festival
reflected old Japan’s free attitude about sex, with women out there proud to
strut their stuff. Maybe it once was like that, but it surely was not so at the
time haiku and senryu were born. Coming
of Age in Japan, like in Samoa, probably never was simple, even if it might
have been a bit more sane than it was in Europe at the time!
tsukuma nabe henoko o kaete omoku nari ya 19c?
Tsukuma pots are a sort of levy
Change cocks, they grow heavy!
Had I only seen senryu mention
more than one pot, I would think the poets had their heads still stuck back in
the olden times of the Tales of Ise.
mono iwa de kiru ya tsukuma no nabe futatsu seibi d.1816
Saying nothing, she wears them
Two Tsukuma pots
She never said a word, just puts
Her two Tsukuma pots
But we have already seen numbers
of pots mentioned in haikai and even Issa’s teacher Seibi mentioned a properly
moderate post-Basho sort of number, two. It makes us think. Did she have one
boyfriend, then marry someone her parents thought better? Did one die? If it
were three, four, a handful or more, our thoughts would be less. I will have to test out my two readings on
an educated Japanese audience. While my second reading seems too dramatic for
haiku, who knows! (A ku from Haizange,
an anthology by Oemaru to which young Seibi contributed also has two pots: “Wiping off sweat / It starts in Tsukuma
after / the second pot” (ase fuki ya tsukuma no nabe futatsu yori.
Oemaru? 1790) Doubtless, there are more two-potters out there).
soushuu ni tsukuma matsuri ga aru naraba ya?
Now if there were a Tsukuma
Festival in Soshu . . .
I would not be surprised if this
simple senryu became a woodcut print or vice-versa, for Soshu is also known as
Sagami, and Sagami was, according to the world of senryu, home to girls who
were all what Occidental psychiatrists would later call nymphomaniacs. We can
imagine pots piled up as high as the Eiffel tower.
One never hears of the Sagamis in haiku – in senryu, people often
stereotyped were called by their types, “dowry” for a woman so ugly she had to
come with a big one, "Shinano" for the ravenous country bumpkin from
that region, etc. – or, for that matter, another of my favorites, the "Ikebu-kuro,"
maids (sometimes brides) from that locality, held to cause what
parapsychologists call poltergeist effects!
Imagine them with all those
pots (I would bet someone has!).
kaburazu ni tsukuma matsuri o komachi-suru ya c 1820
No more pots: So Tsukuma
festival is Komachified?
Bare-headed, A Komachi does her
stuff at Tsukuma.
Bare heads at Tsukuma – Girls doing
Komachi is Japan’s most famous
female poet of love. There are scores of senryu about her; almost all concern
one thing. Or, rather, no thing. The Elizabethans made a big
ado about nothing – a euphemism some
feminists, who rightfully think it some thing, resent – but in Komachi’s case, there was literally
nothing between her legs! It is hard for me to tell if this senryu is by
someone who 1) noticed women did not carry all the pots they used to at Tsukuma
and regretted the change 2) noticed a girl in the procession, potless, or 3)
many girls. If the ku were by a female haikai
poet rather than a senryu, it could be translated in the first-person. Note that Japanese nouns do not verb, like
English nouns can, from position alone, but must use a helper verb, suru, or “do.”
Here, with a parade involving special walking, it does sound,
especially in translation, a bit like a
type of dance, doesn’t it?
tanabata ya nisen jonen no hitotsu nabe 1801
The loving stars . . .
Over two millennia
. . . with one pot.
This ku is probably by Oemaru, a humorous and unpretentious poet Issa
studied under. Like many of his ku, it is hard to say if it is brilliant
or utterly worthless. The Herder and Weaver Stars are said to cross the Milky
Way (in China, the woman travels, in Japan, the man) and renew their vows once
every year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, which was the start of
Fall but is now in the summer, at least in Japan. Most thought once-a-year sex a
very lonely proposition, but Lady Ukyo Daibu (12c) confessed to being jealous
as she was involuntarily chaste, which is to say, going to waste (Right now,
after almost a decade of the same, I can see her point!).
But love poets and loving stars, even
introduced in jest, whitewash the ugly truth:
waga koi o hito ni
shirareru oressai ya?
In public, our private loves
are weighed – a pot parade
kasaneta yori mo de-nikugari ya?
The first pot makes a girl blush more
Than stacking them high as a whore!
More ashamed with that first pot
Than older girls (who boast a lot)
First-pot girls have a harder time
Coming out than those with nine
It was not just a matter of embarrassment for sleeping
around. It is just the idea of going public that made it true for some – at
least in the mind of whoever wrote the senryu – that many pots are easier to
carry than the first. But the idea of
numbers appealed to senryu. Nabe no kazu,
literally, “pots’ number” may be the most common phrase found in these ku.
waga koi o mina
buchi-makeru nabe no kazu ya?
Every scrap of private love cast out by kettles, count
ga matsuri no nabe de shire ya?
You may not swell, but if you snacked, the pots will tell!
ikunin ni saseta
mo shireru matsuri nari ya?
A festival, this, to know how many men knew them.
(Or) A festival to learn how many men made them.
Call this sacred rite a cross between a wordless Public
Confession – perhaps bringing some absolution for those who had doubting
relationships, or at least preventing a dangerous build-up of suspicion – and what
might be called a Love Inquisition, though the only punishment was mental.
nabe matsuri tanin no kuchi ni futa wa nashi ya
Pot festival / where people's
mouths have no lid
This senryu is wittier than it
looks, for in a pot = woman context,
a lid usually means a husband.
atama e haji no furikakaru nabe mu 1760
Those pots pouring shame down
upon the head
nabe no kazu kabutte kao ni hi ga moeru ya 1791
Numerous pots! How luminous, how
hot, those cheeks burn!
kao ni hi o taite matsuri no nabe no kazu ya 1804
indling fires upon faces, the
festival with pot upon pot!
Fires go under pots, but the “pouring”
in the oldest Mutamagawa senryu
indirectly suggests that the pots were already worn like caps, upside
down. But flames and love have long
been a pair in Japanese for punning reasons (omoi = omohi=hi) I will not explain now, so the poets needed them
right-side-up. Unlike classical fires in the heart, the pots call for blushing,
i.e. flaming faces and that puts a new tooth on the old saw.
nabe kamuru yoku
no matsuri ga yome zuutsu ya?
Tomorrow’s pots give the Tsukuma bride a headache
ona ni go o hatakaseru
shinji nari ya?
A sacred rite to pound a woman’s karma into her
omatsuri ga iyasa
ni mino e yomeri suru ya?
Hating that festival, she marries into the rival town
Needless to say, the burden of shame in this festival was
lop-sided, unfair for women. The first of these senryu needs no explanation. The
verb in the middle of the second is hard to guess. The closest thing to it means pound, but the syllabet count is a
bit off, suggesting a possible error in the transcription. Could it be,
perhaps, a rite making the woman’s karma – meaning both place in life and sins – naked to the eye (hadaka ni saseru), i.e. patent?
Regardless, the wit lies in the observation of a Shinto rite is aimed at making
women good Buddhists! That women, or
some women, at any rate, were not only ashamed but unhappy with that is made
clear from the third ku. The original
gives the name of the town, Mino. It
lies next to Omi (now, Maihara?), home of the Tsukuba shrine. The wit lies in
an allusion to a saying about the
closeness of the two towns divided by administrative fiat: “Mino and Omi’s Bedtime Tales.”
With the paper-thin border, the residents of one town can hear those of
the other talking through the walls as they lay in bed.
In a sense, those pots told “tales of sleeping”
(nemonogatari) so there is a secondary reason for the allusion.
Evidently, girls in Mino were not pressured
into participating in the festival.
nabe no kazu oya no kao made sumi o nuri ya c 1830
So many pots! The soot even shows on her parents’ faces!
So many pots, her sins are
apparent, even to . . her parents
wa nabe mo kabusetashi ya?
A parent’s heart: if it’s one, they want her wearing a pot!
Pot-luck festival: Both parents prefer one . .
. to none!
Though senryu are largely the literature of single men,
they had parents and do not forget them. The first ku needs no comment.
The second, showing the parents’ other
worry is also clear.
nabe no kazu itadaki matsuru tsukuma kana sansei
Tsukuma! Where we’re given
a number of stew-pots to fest!
By the Grace of God, we learn the Number
Of pots to celebrate! Ah, Tsukuma, so odd!
With haiku, the vista broadens. I think the point here is
how funny it is to make a big thing out of not only something as humble as a
pot but of something less substantial yet, their number. That makes this
typical pre-Basho-style light and logical haikai.
The God and his rhyme in the second reading is indeed odd, but English has no
good verb for receiving something as a
gift is received from on high. Some
of the wit is lost in translation because “celebrate” is not as meaningful in
English as in Japanese, where it includes an element of worship.
koronda o e ni mite hisashi nabe matsuri otsuni
Again you see
her tumble down that hill –
the kettle festival
Here again to see
fallen women made concrete –
the pot festival
Recalling our love
for the first time in a while .
That pot smiled
Otsuni is a well-known poet and
his actual metaphor, which translated too long to use is that he could see
[her] tumble as if seeing a picture of it.
Maybe, I should add a “clearly” to the “see” to match its meaning. To tumble was idiom for sleeping with
someone and standard for dancing girls sleeping with their clients.
For the first reading, I thought of “take a
spill” but tossed it out and kept the rhyme-found hill, so at least anyone who read about the roots of Jack and Jill
could chuckle with me. For the second
reading, “fallen” has too much
Christian baggage and “concrete” sounds too modern, but the general idea that the poet has found a way to poeticize
his seeing the Festival for the first time in say, five or ten or twenty years
is more likely than the last, erotic reading.
musubanu o kami no ginmi ya tsukuma nabe somaru 1712-95
Where the gods check over
Virgin girls? tsukuma pots
Again, we have one of Issa’s
teachers/employers, Somaru. Like Issa,
he was not shy of using senryu vocabulary. The word used for “check” ginmi, implied the careful scrutiny of
people, usually women, attempting to sneak out of pleasure quarters or cross
fiefdom checkpoints in disguise, or dealers in women giving their equipment a
once over. This ku seems like a
senryu in its ironic if not satirical slant, but if we take the ya as not only a caesura but a
rhetorical question, there is something serious in his humor, namely, Somaru
notes the incongruity of the Festival
as it is explained and as it appears. At this time, I would bet there were no
longer any women with lots of pots but a parade of innocent little girls,
halfway between the fifteen-and-under maidens of the 16c and the eight
year-olds of the 20c. Senryu, content with their stereotypes, never could let
go of the titillating and/or misogynist fiction. Actually, I exaggerate a bit,
for I know of at least one exception:
nabe hitotsu teijo ga kamuru shinji nari ya?
A sacred rite, it is, where hot women
through the streets wearing
nothing but one pot
While Issa, in his journals,
does mention a Lady Godiva drawing vast crowds into an understandingly popular
Buddhist temple (before the authorities cracked down, probably at the
instigation of the competition), I really overdid that translation (don’t you dare quote it anywhere!). The original,
in the undated copy I found, means: “It’s
a sacred rite where chaste women carry single pots.” If I am not mistaken,
the shinji in the senryu should have been
written with phonetic syllabary, rather than characters, leaving open the
possibility of the “god-thing” (sacred rite) also meaning one of its homophones: “my body / one’s own self” –
for without that much wit, it is as good as dead – but I could not translate that.
yaburi-nabe no fuchi mo medetaki matsuri kana seibi 1790
Such a festival
joyful even to the rims
of the broken pots!
This ku by the third and last of Issa’s teacher-employers, Seibi is the last of eleven Tsukuma Matsuri ku found in Shiki’s huge Categorical
anthology. Following the critical takes on the pot festival we have been
reading, such a savoury is just the thing, is it not?
I think we already have a remnant of a festival and girls too
young to really have to worry about anything. But broken pots does not seem like paper-mache.
Could there have been some short plays on
the side? Or was the practice of throwing pots off the mountain (See the
description in my recent book Cherry
Blossom Epiphany) enjoyed here as well? If historians need poems, poems
need historians and I will have to find someone in Japan (or with access to
resources such as J-Stor, which I do not have) to make more sense of these
things. All I can say is that Seibi’s
approach reminds me of Chiyo’s New Year ku,
where she found even the dust from the straw something worth celebrating (See
my other recent book, The 5th
nabe nuide kike ya tsukuma no hototogisu taigi d.1800
Take off your pot and bend an
Is that a Tsukuma cuckoo I hear?
Off with that pot, girl, bare
The Tsukuma cuckoo is coming
That is clearly haiku (Note, this Taigi is “big-ant,” not the famous
Taigi). The cuckoo once was trope for a
lover who flew from nest to nest if it were, but with the young age of the
girls at this time, we may imagine an older poet who is sympathetic to the
girls with their heads buried in their bucket-sized pots. Sumer is icumen in. It
might actually be hot.
kaminoke ni kuse
mo tsukuma no matsuri sugi ya c.1830
Her hair indented for days
after the tsukuma matsuri
hitomura arau nabe no shiri ya?
The real party comes the next day,
a whole village cleaning pot butts!
The first late 19c senryu is a fine detail for something
that came from the imagination alone. I wish I had a date on the second senryu,
which, if a real observation, might have been a haiku and makes a perfect
I am happy to be back after time-consuming family and
publishing and computer-related matters took too much of my time to allow this
luxury. But, I barely made this
deadline and have only cooked those stewpots for a couple days, so there are
many haiku and senryu I have not yet had time to solve or find someone to help
me solve. For example:
hosomichi tsuyoshi nabe-matsuri ranko d.1799
Piling up seven or eight, the narrow way is strong, pot
Hairpin turns, seven, eight – the curves energize the pot
On the winding way to the pot festival we find our second
The winding paths of lovers bear heavy traffic: seven pots,
This is a well-known Basho-school haiku poet. I am torn
between a dozen possible interpretations, from Tsukuma Festival mimicry by
young-crowd (gays), as the “narrow-way” could refer to male-color, as
homosexual love was called, to an old poet who likes walking winding roads, to
an allusion to the “night-crawling” path of a lover. If senryu are hard to
start reading because of the allusions to stereotypes and the specialized
vocabulary, haiku can be hard to finish because they are just too damn subtle.
Here, for contrast, is an early 19c senryu
otoko da to kama o
kabuseru matsuri nari ya c.1830
If men took lovers, would the Gods
Of Tsukuma settle on an iron kettle?
Homosexuals, which in Japan did not mean the heterosexuals
who sometimes slept with them, but those on the receiving end (the attitude was
Greek or Spartan), were called Okama, or Honorable
Kettle. The difference between a
kettle and a pot is so small that I have used the former for the latter in some
of my translations, but in Japanese, where kettles are always metal, one must
be careful not to confuse these metaphors! (Honorable
is an affected translation, the result of English lacking a less explicit
honorific. If you are interested in such things – the reason things must be
lost in translation – please read Orientalism
& Occidentalism, one of my many books that do not sell.)
Speaking of things lost in translation,
there are those lost for never being translated. Obscene senryu are one:
tsurai koto henoko
o kaburu matsuri nari ya 1786
What’s really painful: a festival
With a cock on her head
Because I was interested in showing where haiku and senryu
came together, I did not give any examples of the type of senryu none have
dared to translate (never fear, I will publish the first book of the real thing
in September [write me if you want an alert]).
The above senryu, which, by alluding to the Tsukuba festival, is a
Tsukuba festival ku, is gross. It
does not refer to the fertility festivals with enormous phalluses shouldered
about town. (Those rites still bring people great joy today.
Little children shout with glee and everyone
laughs. Can you imagine what would happen if such were paraded in the USA?
(Macy’s would be the perfect place –
skyscraper meets phallus!) Does that
not say everything about our culture? But the senryu really is about a horrific
event, or possible event, which was reported by Carletti around 1600, that is,
on the tail of the savage warring era, where an adulterous woman was made to
parade around town with the severed penis of her partner in crime on her head
(while he, also paraded, had to wear her vulva, so this cannot be called misogynous!).
Carletti added, lest his readers thought the Japanese barbarous, that the
Portuguese were worse, for they killed their women at whim, based on mere
suspicion of adultery (that is misogyny). With something that happened in the Tale of
Ise offered up as recent news
(breaking a pledge of chastity, he got locked,
like a dog, in intercourse) by an astute 18c German traveler, one can never
tell about such stories. If the fiction
was believed by foreigners, in many cases, it was because it was believed by
the Japanese who told it to them. For
more of Carletti’s story, the relationship of the sexes and the position of
women in Japan from 1500-1900, see ch. 2 of my Topsy-turvy 1585).
no kami no tame naraba ikutsuka nabe no kazu wa irubeki
What’ll we do?
I haven’t the
on how many pots
we are supposed to
for the god/s of
This waka by
Fujiwara Akitsuna was poem #1098 in the Goshui-waka-shu, published c.1005, about
ninety years after the Tales of Ise,
when the festival first appears, and contemporary with The Tale of Genji, 1005.
If my quick read of the explanation accompanying it on-line is correct,
the poet was in charge of some office for supply and requisitions and supposed to
supply the women in charge of the Imperial kitchens earthen pots to the number
of one for every man the women in the palace had slept with, which would later
be presented to the Shrine. It was important to get the numbers right because a
correct votive offering would bring good health to the woman while a mistaken
one would endanger the same. But it was
not easy to guess how many pots would be needed and the women were not eager to
say anything ahead of time. So he was stymied. What I don’t get is that some of
the language suggests that women made their own pots. Did they? If so, was the
poet’s concern more with some odd requirement that he make a forecast? Or, did
he need to go out to dig up clay somewhere? Or, nothing has been said about
food, but seeing the head of the kitchen was involved, is this proof the pots
were originally carried right side up and bearing food? In that case,
comestibles must be gathered ahead of time. I’ll bet dried sea-cucumber was in
those pots! The missing pestles! Hah!
no nabe no au koto o ware ni wa nado ga kasanezaru ran
Tsukuma Pots make me furious all the same
– Not a pot on that stack that bears my name!
That is a rough translation of a line from an early 16c poem/song
about various workers (nanajuichi-banshokunin uta-awase). And, in Bunsei 3,
which is to say 1820, the same year Issa joked about little kids wanting to
wear Tsukuma pots, a famous actor in Edo sang a song (naga-uta Asazuma-bune) from a woman’s point of view with the line that
questions why the Gods of Tsukuma should allow men (only) to get away with
anything (tsukuma matsuri no kamisan mo
naze ni otoko sore nari ni). To fully understand where haiku and senryu
come from, such sources outside of conventional poetry also must be studied and
I have hardly begun.
Perhaps, by the time this once-over article is shaped into
a chapter for the Haiku In Context book (By 2010, maybe?), some of these
questions may be answered. Yet, it is possible I will make little progress, that
my few hours of googling and yahooing got me all the information to be found.
Once standing up in the Kitazawa bookstore in Jinbocho, Tokyo, reading from the
Loeb classics, which I could not afford to buy and still cannot afford to buy,
I recall coming across some fragments about the relationship of crows and
marriage and, perhaps, special slippers or something, definitely some odd
charm-words that the author, probably a Roman, confessed to not understanding.
He wrote of going back to the oldest mention of the practice in Greek and finding
that author himself said that the practice came from ancient times so the
meaning of the words was lost . . . All
of my readers have doubtless come across the expression “turtles all the way
down” – if not, you are not reading enough – explaining the final ground upon
which the Cosmos stood; but, here I am thinking of something far more nebulous,
and it is a world of nonsense without end. And yet, we can always make some sense of nonsense.
Isn’t that why we continue to culture it?
Abbreviations: mu means
the Mutamagawa senryu, sometimes
considered proto-senryu and on the whole more tasteful than the slightly later
and longer continuing ya = Yanagidaru
senryu. The “ya?” senryu were
found in an online anthology and I am not yet sure if they are Yanagidaru or not for my index only goes
up to book 24. To buy the whole
collection costs about $300 the last time I checked and I can not afford it.
Some may come from other senryu collections.
Romanization. Sorry, I did not mess with diacritical marks for long
vowels this time. I will add them in the book. I may have stuck on a few long
vowels. It is hard to say what’s best.
Translations. All are tentative in form as well as content. Some names
and other Romanizations of the Chinese characters may be wrong (not too many I
hope). These will be fixed and the
Japanese originals of all poems provided when this becomes a book, at which time,
multiple translations of single ku will
be arranged in good-looking one-two and three-column clusters rather than in
serial, and word-by-word English glosses will be given for all poems as is the
case for all my other books, which may be found at Google or Amazon or my