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Creative Blooms 18: Tsugawa Eriko

An Introduction to the Haiku of Tsugawa Eriko


Translations, Annotations by
Profs. Richard Gilbert, Itō Yūki, David Ostman, Masahiro Hori

Tsugawa Eriko (1968 -) (family name: Tsugawa)

Born in Akashi City, Hyogo Prefecture. Graduated from Kwansai Gakuin University. In 1991, joined the haiku journal-group South Wind [Nanpū] and studied with the haiku poets Washitani Nanako and Yamagami Kimio. In 2006, published her first haiku collection, Harmony [Waon]. In the following year, she won the 30th New Poets Award of the Association of Haiku Poets. In the same year, was awarded the 53rd Kadokawa Haiku Award. In 2011, her haiku works were gathered in the new‑generation haiku anthology Hai-kore: Haiku Collection [Hai kore]. In 2013, her second haiku collection was published, The Tree of the Beginning [Hajimari no ki] and the Collected Works of Tsugawa Eriko, First Volume [Tsugawa Eriko sakuhinshū ichi]. In the next year, won the 4th Tanaka Hiroaki Prize, and the 1st Hoshino Tatsuko Award.

suzu furu yōni mabikina no tsuchi otosu
as if ringing a bell
casts off soil from
thin white radishes

Kigo: mabikina (間引菜), thin white radishes; Autumn. Meter: 7-5-5.

Notes. Mabikina usually refers to those radishes that grow between evenly planted ones. They are pulled at an early stage, to ensure that the larger radishes receive more nutrients. Mabiki refers to the practice of pulling out smaller plants between larger plants to aid in the latter’s growth. Hori thinks that this is haiku is of an amateur farmer painstakingly working in a hobby farm, and not a professional farmer (Hori/Ostman).

utsusemi wo takusan tsukete shizuka na ki
empty shells of
cicada, worn in plenty
a tree of silence

Kigo: utsusemi (空蝉), empty shells of cicada; Summer. Meter: 5-7-5.

chenbaro no kogane no oto no kugatu kana
golden notes of a
      september . . .

Kigo: : kugatsu (九月), September; Autumn. Meter: 5-7-5.

Note. Chenbaro (Cembalo チェンバロ) is German for harpsichord. Kogane is usually written with different kanji (黄金). This is an autumn image, and gold is the color of gingko leaves when they change color. The harpsicord is also golden, in that it is often decorated or gilded with gold paint (as here) (Hori/Ostman/Ito). For Hori, the golden sound, rather than appearance is the key to this haiku. For whatever reason, the sound of the instrument evokes a golden fall color, similar in sensation to the gold color of the autumn gingko leaf.

kishimitsutsu hanataba to naru chūrippu
wrapped into a bouquet:

Kigo: chūrippu (チューリップ), tulip; Spring. Meter: 5-7-5.

Note. The image is of tulips being bunched into a bouquet and wrapped in moist paper (usually newspaper). In this way, the sound may be more like a crinkle (though there is no exact translation). Rather than “turning into a bouquet” we could also suggest “bunched into a bouquet.”

hatsusemi ya mori no fūin tokaretaru
first cicada sound —
the forest seal

Kigo: hatsusemi (初蝉), first cicada sound; Summer. Meter: 5-7-5.

Note. We translated tokaretaru (解かれたる) as “broken” (i.e. “unsealed, unraveled”), as this is the image of silence being broken — as a seal would be broken to reveal the contents of a jar, or letter.

kuchibashi no ichigeki fukashi jukushi kana
a beak strikes deep — 
ripened persimmon

Kigo: jukushi (熟柿), well ripened persimmon; Autumn. Meter: 5-7-5.

nani taite kono koki kemuri jūnigatsu
what are you burning?
this dense smoke —
        december . . .

Kigo: jūnigatsu (十二月), December; Winter. Meter: 5-7-5.

Note. This is a straightforward image of the practice of burning weeds, branches, bamboo, etc., built up over the course of the year, known as 農焼き(noyaki). In the Mt. Aso area (Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu), farmers usually do this late November or December, following the harvest.

miesō na kinmokusei no ka narikeri
almost seen . . .
the pungent scent 
of olives  

Kigo: kinmokusei (金木犀), Orange osmanthus (“olives”); Autumn. Meter: 5-7-5.

Note. There is a question, how to translate kinmokusei (“olives”). (Here’s what the plant looks like.) “Orange osmanthus” is more accurate, if not evidently communicative, or poetic. The scientific nomenclature derives from osmanthus fragrans. In our understanding, this pungent plant has traditionally been planted around the house to ward off evil spirits (厄除け). The fragrance is very strong, so perhaps the poet “almost sees” the plant, in that she can smell it distinctly and perhaps knows its location based on smell alone.

funsui no ochiyuku kairaku arinikeri
a fountain
of fall
a pleasure

Kigo: funsui (噴水), fountain; Summer. Meter: 5-7-5.

sarubia ya suna ni shitataru gogo no kage
scarlet sage
drips into sand —
afternoon shadow

Kigo: sarubia (サルビア), salvia flower (scarlet sage); Summer. Meter: 5-7-5.

Note. The verb, shitataru (“dripping”) is often collocated with blood—dripping blood. The vivid red sarubia (scarlet sage flower) may explain this word usage (see also here).

As longterm members of the Kon Nichi Translation Group, Kumamoto University, founded in 2006, these four denizens of Japan with joy, patience and determination, have continued to devote spare months, hours and days co-translating gendaihaiku. Presently, Dr. Itō Yūki, a Yeats scholar, is an assistant professor at Josai University, Saitama; Dr. David Ostman, who researches the role of empathy in intercultural competence, holds a similar position at Kumamoto Gakuen University; Dr. Masahiro Hori, a world-class linguist is a senior professor also at Kumamoto Gakuen University; Dr. Richard Gilbert is professor emeritus, Kumamoto University.

Creative Blooms will appear every other Tuesday. Three poems will be provided with commentary, and an additional three offered for creative interaction by our readership. With every third installment, Gilbert will introduce a largely unknown Japanese poet, translated into English with annotations, for the first time. We look forward to a lively discussion of these fascinating and challenging poems.

Richard Gilbert, professor of English Literature at Kumamoto University in Japan, is the author of Poetry as Consciousness: Haiku Forests, Space of Mind, and an Ethics of Freedom (illustrated by Sabine Miller, Kebunsha Co. Ltd., 2018, ISBN 978-4-86330-189-4), The Disjunctive Dragonfly (Red Moon Press, 2008, rev. 2013), and Poems of Consciousness (Red Moon Press, 2008), among others. He is also director of the Kon Nichi Translation Group, whose most recent book is the tour de force Haiku as Life: A Tohta Kaneko Omnnibus (Red Moon Press, 2019). In January 2020, he announced the creation of Heliosparrow Poetry Journal, an evolution of the Haiku Sanctuary forum.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Thank you for introducing Ms. Eriko Tsugawa’s haiku. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

    I would like to share my thought about her tulip haiku.

    wrapped into a bouquet:

    The original text in Japanese has no mention of paper or wrapping. And fresh tulips actually make squeak like sound when you bunch them up.

    My provisional translation is:

    with squeaks
    they turn into a bouquet,

    I sensed the writer’s affection to the fresh flowers and imagined they were chit-chatting and crackling like a group of of school girls.

    As English is my second language, your feedback is most appreciated.

    1. Thank you Rachel Enomoto for sharing your thoughts about the haiku:

      wrapped into a bouquet:

      Tsugawa Eriko

      I loved your take – the image of the tulips chit-chatting and crackling like a group of school girls.

      My take on the haiku involves a bit of wordplay on the word tulips vs two lips. I like to think of the haiku as representing someone whistling (whistling is kinda like squeaking, at least when I do it) – the person purses/bunches their lips together to whistle, thereby the two lips become a bouquet.

  2. After reading Jacquie Pearce’s new translation, with Rachel Enomoto, of Eriko Tsugawa’s haiku, I am enchanted by the idea of the motion of shaking a little bell -suzu – very much like the gentle shaking of soil from a vegetable such as a radish or carrot which is being thinned. Ayako Nakashima pointed out to me the joyful tone in this haiku, from this playfulness one associates with a child or something innocent.
    I might translate it as:

    like jingling a bell
    shaking the soil
    from the thinnings

    If the bell is a large bell at a shrine, and I imagine shaking its thick rope before praying, I might feel a tender appreciation of those baby vegetables, pulled up and discarded. I might translate it as:

    as if ringing a bell
    for the thinnings
    removed from the earth

    The ambiguity in this haiku adds to its appealing quality.

  3. One more thought about the first poem:

    suzu furu yōni mabikina no tsuchi otosu

    as if ringing a bell
    casts off soil from
    thin white radishes

    If “suzu” is possibly a tiny bell (like the ones on charms, for example), shaking soil from the radishes could be seen as a smaller, more intimate action (perhaps the poet in her garden?). I’m wondering why “casts off” was selected rather than “shakes off” and whether it might be more accurate to say the vegetables are “thinned” (weeded for spacing) rather than “thin.” An alternative translation idea (after discussion with Rachel Enomoto):

    as if jingling a bell
    shaking the soil
    from the thinnings

  4. This woman poet surely knew the sociohistorical meaning of the word mabiki, and that is the emotional weight of her haiku.

  5. The notes to the haiku clearly state that we’re talking about a farmer who is shaking off soil from radishes.
    The motion is that of a bell ringer. Why leave out ‘he’? No point in being obtuse, it’s nicely layered as it is.

  6. 空蝉をたくさんつけてしづかな木
    utsusemi wo takusan tsukete shizuka na ki

    empty shells of
    cicada, worn in plenty
    a tree of silence

    Tsugawa Eriko

    There are so many haiku about empty cicada shells – what new/fresh can be said?! Oddly this one reminds me of a Christmas tree decorated with those little golden colored bug exoskeletons. Since this haiku refers to

    a tree of silence

    perhaps we can imagine that all of the cicadas were female, as only the males sing in an attempt to attract a mate. In the Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, the title character poetically likens one of his many love interests to a cicada for the way she delicately sheds her robe the way a cicada sheds its shell when molting. In this respect the haiku reminds me of the Forbidden fruit – a name given to the fruit growing in the Garden of Eden which God commands mankind not to eat. In the biblical narrative, Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and are exiled from Eden. As a metaphor outside of the Abrahamic religions the phrase typically refers to any indulgence or pleasure that is considered illegal or immoral. In Western Europe, the fruit was often depicted as an apple. I read that ‘shizuka’ means quiet, calm, but also shizuka is an apple cultivar in Japan – perhaps it is a play on words – ‘a tree of silence/apples’? representing a temptation succumbed to.

    Of course this is a very alternative interpretation, coming from a western perspective, as I have very little knowledge of what the empty cicada shell symbolizes in Japan. Hopefully there will be others who will share their impressions of what the haiku means to them.

    1. Creative Blooms is back! Thank you to the Kon Nichi Translation Group, Kumamoto University, for your work on our behalf. And congratulations to Richard Gilbert on your retirement, as I see you are listed as Professor Emeritus.

    1. In my interpretation “casts off” refers to the process of ringing the bell. I would not change the poem.

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