Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Autumn 2005, vol 3 no 3


Naoki Kishimoto
An Interview by Robert D. Wilson
Translation by Kishimoto Naoki with co-translators, Robert Wilson and Emiko Miyashita

RW: Mr. Kishimoto, your writing style is known for its simplicity. Tell me more about it and the journey you took to develop it.

KN: I try to write haiku using a minimum of adjectives and verbs. For me, the ideal haiku is one without verbs. A haiku consisting of nouns is my ultimate goal. Adjectives and verbs make haiku loud and talkative. If I can compose a haiku with a minimum of nouns, the better. The haiku then becomes simple, steady, and robust.

After examining my haiku repeatedly, and discussing them with my haiku friends, I have concluded that the most powerful force of haiku originates in its simplicity. If I select the nouns properly, use few adjectives, and rarely use verbs, the style of haiku becomes simpler and simpler.

RW: You have studied haiku under some of the best poets in Japan including Dr. Akito Arima. Tell us about this experience.

KN: Among the poets I have studied under, Mr. Hatano Sôha is the most important. I met Mr. Hatano when I was 20 years old. I studied under his tutelage for 10 years until he passed away at the age of 68. Mr. Hatano was a disciple of Mr. Takahama Kyosi. Perhaps you have heard of him. He was one of the most important modern haiku poets in Japan. ("Modern" means "in and after the Meiji Era, 1868-1912, in Japanese history.")

Mr. Hatano's style is known for its objectivity and sensitivity. Please allow me to introduce to you my favorite haiku by Mr. Hatano:

Nisibi sasi, soko ugokasenu Mono bakari

the sun penetrates from the west
from there is nothing movable

Mr. Hatano lived near Kyoto while I lived far away in Yokohama near Tokyo. We met therefore, only once or twice a year. I sent my haiku to him monthly. He selected my good pieces and abandoned the bad ones. We discussed haiku mostly over the telephone. When he died of cancer, I felt a need to become independent as a poet. Mr. Hatano was also in his thirties when his teacher, Mr. Takahama Kyosi, passed away.

RW: You've stated that you were inspired by Mr. Akutagawa Ryûnosuke's haiku. How did his haiku inspire you and what is it about his haiku in particular that you admire? Can you give us examples?

KN: The following haiku by Mr. Akutagawa inspired me:

Kogarashi ya Mezashi ni nokoru Umi no iro

winter blast;
preserved in dry sardines
the color of the sea

Mr. Akutagawa's haiku here expresses the cosmic relationship between the slight signs of life in the dried sardines and the dynamic energy of the wintry blast.

RW: What is it you look for when composing a haiku?

KN: I hope that a haiku can awaken the reader's feeling that everything - insects, grasses, human beings, and all - has equal value in the haiku world.

RW: Does social context figure into your work?

KN: No, it does not. Of course, I live in social context as a citizen, but I am not especially interested in social matters as a poet.

RW: I understand you have written haiku since you were in junior high school. The last thing a lot of children that age want to do is to read or write poetry. What was it about haiku that caught your eye, that caused you to jump into Bashô's pond, that sent you down a road usually traveled by adults?

KN: I was interested first in nature, with an emphasis on living things; secondly, I was drawn to literature, especially Japanese classical poetry; and lastly, fine art, with a focus on painting. I had ambition to create something unique. Through haiku, I dreamed of creating a world that included all of my interests. Haiku was the most suitable vehicle for me to accomplish this, in spite of my young age.

RW: What differences do you see between Japanese and American haiku? What similarities?

KN: Syllables in the Japanese language are different than those used in the English language. Simplicity is the core similarity between Japanese and American haiku, and I guess the themes and motifs can be common to both schools of haiku as well.

RW: What advice do you have for those new to writing haiku?

KN: My principle advice is as follows:
        Trust the imagination of readers.
        Compose a haiku dedicated to the most excellent.

Kishimoto Naoki Te wo tsuke te Umi no tsumetaki Sakura kana

As I dip my hand
The coolness of the sea
Cherry blossoms

Mushishigure Neko wo tsukame ba atatakaki

Crickets singing like rain:
Catching a cat
Catching the warmness

Hito yukite sukoshi Nai aru Aki no Yowa

After he passed away
A slight earthquake
Autumn night

Hachi wo kaku shidai ni Cho ni nite kitaru

I'm drawing a bee . . .
The bee becomes more and more
Like a butterfly

Haka ni Kao araba to omou Nowake kana

I wonder how it
Might be if a face were on a tombstone
In an autumn storm

Yakiimo no Yuge mite toru Todaiji

Looking at the steam
From a baked sweet potato
I pass the Todaiji Temple

Naoki Kishimoto (1961- ) was born in Okayama Prefecture. Inspired by Ryunosuke Akutagawa's haiku, he began writing haiku in junior high school. As a student at Tokyo University, he joined haiku groups led by Tetsuo Kosada, Akito Arima, and Seison Yamaguchi.

He won the Shinjinsho ("New Voice") Award from the Association of Haiku Poets (Haijin Kyokai) in 1995. He has published three haiku collections, Keito ("Cockscomb," 1986), Shun (name of an ancient Chinese king, 1994), and Kentan ("Healthy Appetite," 1999), as well as two books of essays on haiku. He is a leading member of the Ten'i ("Providence"), Yane ("Roof"), and Yu haiku groups. His writing, following the traditional style, is known for its simplicity and plainness.

Copyright 2005: Simply Haiku