An Introduction to the Haiku of Kōno Saki
Translations, Annotations by
Profs. Richard Gilbert, Itō Yūki, David Ostman, Masahiro Hori
Kōno Saki (神野紗希, 1983 —) is a haiku poet and scholar born in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture. During high school she founded a haiku school club and won the 2001 Haiku Kōshien Grand Prize (the National High School Haiku Contest). In 2002, she won the Shiba Bukio Haiku Award (Tsubouchi Nenten Encouragment Prize), and published her first haiku collection The Starry Map [Hoshi no chizu]. From 2004, she acted as a chairperson of the NHK-TV program Haiku Kingdom [Haiku ōkoku]. In 2010, with two other female haiku poets, Noguchi Ruri and Etō Hanako, she founded the online haiku-journal Spica. In 2012, The Starry Map was revised and published as a new haiku collection with the title The Bee Absorbed in the Light [Hikari mamire no hachi], thereafter regarded as her “first” collection. In 2013, she married haiku poet Takahashi Katsuhiko. In 2014, she entered into the PhD program of Ochanomizu Women’s University and became a part-time lecturing professor at both Meiji and Tamagawa University. In 2015, she became a director of the Youth Department of the Modern Haiku Association (Gendaihaiku kyōkai).
Etō Hanako’s commentary on Kōno Saki (extract):
“In the haiku of Kōno Saki there is a kind of deformation or twisting. This deformation causes her readers to feel out of place, or creates a sense of discomfort — yet this sense forces readers to reconsider their everyday lives, providing the clarity of fresh and original viewpoints.” It can be noted that Tanaka (to be profiled in a subsequent post of this feature) and Kōno are consistently quite different in tone. In contrast to Tanaka’s repeated sexual imagery, Kōno repeatedly evokes nostalgic images of childhood experiences that are immediately comprehensible to anyone who has grown up in Japan. While Tanaka plays with sexual imagery, Kōno is very clearly not talking about sexual encounters. (Etō, H., “An Attractive Sense of Discomfort [Iwakan to iu miryoku],” Shinsen 21: Selection Haijin Plus, B. Tsukushi, Y. Tsushima, & R. Takayama (eds.), 2009, 90. Japan: Yûshorin.)
犬の脚人間の脚クリスマス inu no ashi ningen no ashi kurisumasu dog legs human legs — Christmas
Kigo: kurisumasu (クリスマス), Christmas; winter. Meter: 5-7-5. This haiku evokes imagery of the hustle and bustle of Christmas, with a focus on the multiplicity of legs. For this reason, we have used the plural “legs.”
白鳥座みつあみを賭けてもいいよ hakuchôza mitsuami wo kakete mo iiyo under the Northern Cross — i’ll take the bet; even my own braided hair
Kigo: hakuchôza (白鳥座), Northern Cross; autumn. Meter: 5-5-7. The stars of this constellation form the shape of a swan, hence the name in Japanese (swan/cygnus; hakuchôza 白鳥座). The stars form a long swan-like neck that corresponds with the poet’s long, braided hair.
The friendly bet alluded to may be one between friends or lovers, as to the identity of the constellation that they are gazing into through the night sky. However, in this context, the woman says that she can bet her own braided hair. The saying is a colloquial expression with a hinting at a seductive tone. In this haiku, a teenage girl says something to a boy under the starry sky. She offers her promise as an innocent girl; at the same time, such innocence can be sexual. This saying kakete mo iiyo (賭けてもいいよ) is used in common speech to insist on one’s own innocence: “I am not guilty.” And, “braided hair” may be seen as symbol of innocence (of a youthful girl, here). An innocent teenage girl with braided hair says: “I can bet” “I am okay” — there seems sexuality in this innocence. (Itō)
“I’ll bet ya” (kakete mo ii) is something only young people say to each other, and this is key to this imagery. Two young people, possibly a boy and a girl, but equally possibly two girls, are walking under a starry sky — they look up, and see the constellation. They disagree about which constellation it is, and the girl, as young people are wont to do, expresses her confidence by offering to bet the other person about it. We think Itō is overly preoccupied with sex, and wonder about his home situation. (Hori & Ostman)
Please don’t read into the word sexual overmuch. And I should say that I read this haiku as a symbolic rather than actual scene because I esteem the suggestive or allusive power of kigo. Of course, we can imagine the two people under the starry night sky; however, this might be symbolic scenery, as with the “Night on the Galactic Railroad” aka “Galaxy Express” of Miyazawa Kenji. (Itō)
天道虫死んではみ出たままの翅 tentomushi shinde hamideta mama no hane a ladybug dead its hindwings remain stuck out
Kigo: tentomushi (天道虫), ladybug; summer. Meter: 5-7-5. Note here that tentomushi is a particular pronunciation of tentōmushi in the haiku. A clear, vivid image.
雷や波打ち際の砂の城 kaminari ya namiuchigiwa no suna no shiro lightning — at the water’s edge a sand castle
Kigo: kaminari (雷), thunder and lightning; autumn. Meter: 5-7-5. Night imagery. The lightening flash (without rain) illuminates the sand castle, constructed during the light of day, at the point where the waves are beginning to dissolve parts of it back into the sea.
平面に立体を描く寒さかな heimen ni rittai wo kaku samusa kana on a flat surface drawing a cube — getting cold
Kigo: samusa (寒さ), coldness; autumn. Meter: 5-7-5. A challenging haiku, with nuance. Perhaps a poetic attempt to convey the appearance of something without the attendant reality. In other words, what appears to exist (the cube) does not in fact exist; not unlike presenting a hungry person with a picture of food. Note: Traditionally, the kigo samosa means not only coldness. Rather, it implies the atmosphere is becoming cold in late autumn.
我が影や花柊の根に及び waga kage ya hana hiiragi no ne ni oyobi my shadow reaches out to the roots of a flowering holly olive
Kigo: hana hiiragi (花柊), holly olive blossoms; winter. Meter: 5-7-5. The leaves of this tree are notoriously pointed.
凍星や永久に前進する玩具 iteboshi ya towa ni zenshin suru gangu frozen stars — ongoing; eternally a toy
Kigo: iteboshi (凍星), frozen stars; winter. Meter: 5-9-3. The image of a winter star, clearly seen on a cold night. Despite the star emanating brightness, it also emanates an icy coldness.
蝶ひとつ表と裏のように飛ぶ chō hitotsu omote to ura no yō ni tobu just one butterfly flies as one side / the other side
Kigo: chō (蝶), butterfly; spring. Meter: 5-7-5. In this poem the author is not talking about ageha (swallowtail) butterflies, or those varieties of butterflies that flutter gracefully in a set direction. Rather she is referring to those butterflies (esp. some of the tateha butterflies with jagged wings) that zig-zag through the air, moving as much from top to bottom/side-to-side as they do in a forward direction. From experience, I can tell you that these critters are extremely hard to catch, and one often sees them at the edges of the butterfly seasons. (Ostman) (Who takes after Nabokov in this obsession, Gilbert knowledgeably opines.) Note: the swallowtail butterfly (ageha) is a kigo of summer, not spring.
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 College, Saitama; Dr. David Ostman, who researches the role of empathy in intercultural competence, holds a similar position at Gakuen University, Kumamoto; Dr. Masahiro Hori, a world-class linguist is a senior professor also at 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.