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I was fortunate to live in Japan for many years and to meet some of Japan’s top haiku poets. One of them was Ishihara Yatsuka, haiku master of the Aki (Autumn) haiku group.
One of my haiku friends, Itsuko Kaya, was a member of Ishihara’s group. She introduced us and I was delighted by the strong interest he showed in the possibilities of haiku in English and other languages. We ended up working together on the organizing committee for the two HIA-HSA haiku conferences that Ishihara led in 1995 and 1997.
In 1997, just before we left Japan, Ishihara presented me with a farewell gift, a little booklet of my haiku, Eyes of the Blossoms, translated and privately published by him. I was surprised, knowing that I was still a beginner, still a “snail trying to climb Mt. Fuji.” But in Japan, sincerity and effort count for a lot.
Sadly, Ishihara passed away not long after we left Japan. At the time, I was serving as president of HSA. I asked several members of the Society to join me in dedicating a cherry tree in honor of Ishihara on the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial where Ishihara had visited in 1995 with his delegation after the HIA-HSA haiku conference in Chicago. Jerry Ball, Lee Gurga, Penny Harter, Bill Higginson and Jim Kacian joined me there.
I sent a letter of explanation and photograph of the tree to Ishihara’s family. They wrote a very touching note in return, indicating they would like to visit the tree some day. The story of the cherry tree was published in a Japanese newspaper, along with a photo of the tree.
“Yatsuka-zakura,” tree number AE-452, stands not far from the Jefferson Memorial. I have visited it several times over the years at blossom time, remembering what a joy the companionship of fellow poets can be.