Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Winter 2009, vol 7 no 4

Tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima
newly translated by David Callner*

This is the seventeenth in a series of new translations of selected tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima

Why not visit Hawaii this winter as well
and see how my great-grandchildren mature for myself?

(Konoshima lived in Pennsylvania with his youngest daughter's family, usually wintering in Hawaii with his two other daughters, from 1972.)
For it might soothe the tedium of old age
I bring my treasured ancient mirror from afar

(From Philadelphia to Hawaii. After WWII Konoshima began acquiring what was to become a significant collection of Japanese art and antiques, including ancient bronze mirrors, from East-side antique shops in New York City - this collection is now part of the Herbert R. Johnson Museum at Cornell University.)
A flower-embossed mirror buried two thousand years
today soars through the sky
A mirror buried two thousand years - an archeological find
brought to life it no longer reflects
Still alive at eighty-two - now
O that poems might spring forth from inside!
                                        (Welcoming the New Year)
Man and wife through sixty years of vicissitudes
great-grandchildren in our arms we welcome the New Year's sun
Reflecting on the vicissitudes of a sixty-year marriage
I hold my great-grandchild in a garden of never-ending summer
Beyond the green town lies an azure Pacific
the rising sun shines onto Diamond Head
The vivid rainbows now rare
one more Honolulu charm is lost
Driven by the vicissitudes of a society in upheaval
Honolulu's young lose all sense of vision
"After us the deluge"
young people spend their days running after pleasure
Taught to be considerate and to plan for the future
born and raised in Meiji was I

(The Meiji era - 1868 to 1912.)
Tourists pick up the roadside mangoes
that locals do not even notice
Robbery and murder plague Honolulu each day
Paradise is now a Garden of Fear
We suffer the happiness of our daughter and her husband
who visit their grandchildren rather than visit us
Torrentially descending from the hills then off to sea
a squall washes this old man's grumbling away
The squall forms a pillar in the offing
the sun brilliant on Waikiki beach
Good when clear and OK if it rains - by day and night
the Pacific Ocean is my garden
The grimace and the little smile both my nature
now this old man lives at ease in a corner of the world
Where azure sky meets navy-blue sea
a boat peeks whitely along Diamond Head
Diamond Head's Pacific foundation
Honolulu - a miniature garden
People will always follow
you first tread the sandy beaches alone
                                              (To Mitsuko)

(Konoshima's mentor in poetry, Mitsuko Shiga, 1885~1976, was married to the poet Mizuho Ota and collaborated with his literary magazine, Cho-on, the quarterly that published Konoshima's entire opus from 1950 to 1984. Shiga was also a selector of the verses submitted for the annual New Year's Poetry Reading at the Imperial Palace. Anthologies of her poetry include Fuji no Mi - "Wisteria Beans", Asa Tsuki - "Morning Moon", Asa Ginu - "Linen Silk", and Kamakura Zakki - "Kamakura Miscellany". Shiga also published some instructional guides to the writing of poetry, including Waka dokuhon - "A Guide to Waka Verse", and Dento to Gendai Waka - "Tradition and Modern Waka".)
I wish to be a humble bumpkin
and live my remaining days away from society
Alive despite many a hair-raising crisis
I play with my great-grandchildren in a garden of never-ending summer
Each time I go outside I look up at the sky
the simply blue sky
Old women all done up in town
Were they picture brides?

(The term "picture bride" refers to the practice in the early 20th century of immigrant workers - chiefly Japanese and Korean - in Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States selecting brides from their native countries via a matchmaker, who paired bride and groom using only photographs and family recommendations of the possible candidates. Wikipedia.)
Come to marry on the strength of a single picture
the brides now find peace with old age
The feeling called nostalgia still lives
Honolulu with many a hometown reunion

(Reunions for people from certain areas of Japan.)
In the middle of a vast and deeply azure sea
a single boat shines beneath the rising sun
In my window this morning the Pacific Ocean
changes deep blue tones before my eyes
Too long in this town of never-ending summer where flowers never die
I yearn for Kita Mino beneath the raging snow

(Konoshima's native village, Nishikawa-mura, was in an area called Kita Mino, in Gifu Prefecture.)
With four yen passage fast to my breast - off I walked
to seventy years of wandering the globe

(In the postscript to his Hudson: A Collection of Tanka, Konoshima wrote: "In the spring of my fifteenth year I left my birthplace. Unable to give up my childish dream for "Studying Under Adversity and Rising Up in Life", an ideal that was in vogue during the Meiji period, I pressed my father and brothers and got them to raise, or practically bleed out what was then four yen. Putting the money in the light-blue money belt that my elder sister had sewn for me, I fastened it to myself and ventured from my remote village of Nishikawa, near the source of the Nagara river in Gifu prefecture, for Tokyo.")
Soon my wandering must end
When? - I wonder each time something happens
Sadly I leave a San Francisco rich with memories
and fly straight across a continent
Solid white pleats drape this vast land
I soar gazing down on the snow-capped Rockies
Rain or snow? - there must be a storm directly below
the lonely shadow of my plane crosses a sea of clouds
Graves are dug up and buildings rise like tombstones
where people of all ages live crowding together
Two or three apple flowers begin to bloom
and adorn my eighty-second birthday
In the shade of a blossoming double-flowered Japanese cherry tree
I talk with a stranger
A fish jumps raising little ripples on the water
young reeds on the banks seem to sway
Small birds of the forest gather around my feeder each morning
I count more than fifteen species
Some feed leisurely - some with trepidation
funny are the ways of little birds
In color and shape and even in flight
each bird brims with its own beauty - Praise to their Design
Crossing the ridge like a flock of goldfinches
elm leaves flutter
The forest path a varied brocade
I walk rustling - alive this autumn too
Weaving a brocade of fallen leaves across the valley
now seen now hidden runs a needle of water
A pool slack along a bank of tumbling waters
holds each season's flowers in reflection
A pool of water holds flowers - wind-swept verdure - autumnal colors
and in winter eulalia weighed down with snow
A piece of flower slack by the bank of a mountain stream
a little insect clings perilously
A piece of flower with its little insect slack in the shallows
I flip it onto the bank with my cane
Oyster shells each magnificent in color and shape
I choose a few and line them up - and gaze with all my heart
I suddenly see myself wanting to dive
great heights of raging waves bite at a cliff and I stand on the precipice
Unable to sleep I rise in the dead of night
pour some slightly bitter Japanese tea and enjoy being old
Wild geese pass calling to each other in a rainy sky
I tilt my umbrella to follow them out of sight
A soft patter at my window and I hear the drizzling snow
in my birthplace of Kita Mino long ago

*Readers who have enjoyed this series of tanka translations may now add them to their personal libraries in the perfect bound, 136 page book:

Hudson: A Collection of Tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima
Translated into English by David Callner
Tokyo, Japan: Japan Times, 2005.
ISBN 4-7890-1179-8


Kisaburo Konoshima Kisaburo Konoshima was born in 1893 in Gifu, Japan. He left his village for an education in Tokyo when he was fifteen years old, and went on to become a professor of political economics at the now defunct Shokumin Gakkou in Kyoto. In 1924 he abandoned academia for the life of a farmer, and emigrated to California with his wife and children. In 1941 Konoshima was forced off his farm and he and his family were interned in the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming. Following the war Konoshima moved to New York City, where he devoted himself to his children's education and his poetry. In 1950 he joined the Japanese poetry society Cho-on, which published his entire opus of over fifteen hundred tanka in the Cho-on quarterly, from 1950 to his death in 1984.

David Callner David Callner was born in 1956. His youth was spent in France, England, Italy, and America. Since 1978 he has lived in Japan. He has written four novels and teaches English at Nagano University. He is a grandson of Kisaburo Konoshima.