The Season of 'No-Season' in Contemporary
The Modern Haiku Association Muki-Kigo Saijiki
Richard Gilbert, Yūki Itō, Tomoko Murase, Ayaka Nishikawa
and Tomoko Takaki
Faculty of Letters, Kumamoto University, March 2006
Publication: Simply Haiku Journal 4.2
This article is an online
compliment to the Introduction by Tohta Kaneko found in the
above-referenced Muki Saijiki, which was translated by the authors and
published by the Modern Haiku Journal. Additionally, this article compliments
a second article composed of the authors’ interpretations of several haiku
found in the Muki Saijiki, which has been published by Simply Haiku
Journal. All three works were completed in March, 2006.
Please see the quick links at the bottom of
this page for the related materials.
In 2004, a
remarkable work in five volumes was published by the Modern Haiku Association,
the Gendai Haiku Saijiki ([Modern Haiku Season-Word Compendium] Tokyo: gendaihaikukyoukai, June, 2004). In these volumes, perhaps tens of thousands
of haiku can be found, associated with a revolutionary saijiki
(season-word comopendium). In this paper, we would like to offer the reader an
introductory look at the most unique of the five volumes, the 'no-season' or Muki
Saijiki, which represents a great innovation in modern haiku.
Haiku diverged in
two opposite directions after the death of Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902), the
founder of modern haiku. While one main school espouses fixed styles of
verse—the use of kigo and 17-on form—the other main school respects
freedom concerning both the form and use of kigo. The former school, known as Hototogisu,
has been a strong cultural influence and both the poems and perspective of this
school are recognized as orthodox haiku; some of these classic styles are
taught in primary schools throughout Japan. Due to such strict and
old-fashioned rules, haiku has become something overly serious and far from
enjoyment. As a result, it seems that most Japanese—particularly young
people—tend to stay away from haiku. Although orthodox haiku might yield a
quiet and nostalgic feeling to readers, it is necessary to consider
contemporary haiku, which connect with universal concerns and the manifold
phenomena of contemporary life. The Muki Saijiki has been created in
order to introduce contemporary haiku with muki-kigo. A kigo is a form
of poetic language indicative of a manifold historico-literary culture which
Japanese people hold in common—connoting an image, feeling, and environment of
some particular season. And kigo is precious because it is a word which can
connect our mind (heart) with the natural world. However, following the 'true
intention' of kigo, a much more extensive vocabulary is needed to genuinely
meet the contemporary era, as Tohta Kaneko explains in his Introduction to the
volumes; found in the 'keywords' of muki-kigo. The Muki Saijiki
compiles keywords of natural phenomena, geography, humanity, daily life,
culture, plants and animals, as 'non?season' season words, and thus exemplifies
the contemporary haiku world.
As the Muki
Saijiki is divided into six major categories, we have taken one haiku from
each, and collaboratively translated and commented on the haiku, as a sort of
cross?cultural experiment in communicating how at least a group of Japanese
readers experience a sampling of gendai (modern) Japanese haiku. We have
attempted to translate the original Japanese haiku without losing the image and
language that they contain. Rather than to leave the reader with a translation
only, our intention has been to consider what might be absent from an English
translation, and offer some added images, analyses and contextual information
which might help the reader get closer to the original haiku, as experienced
within its original culture and language. Following this section, we offer a
brief introduction to the sensibility of the Muki Saijiki and its
historical context, followed by a translation of the entire Table of Contents
of the volume. [Editor's note: This will appear in the next issue of Simply
Six Haiku from the Muki Saiji, with Interpretations
天文 （てんもん） tenmon:
影 （かげ） kage:
影法師 （かげぼうし） kage-boushi:
hito o matsu kage ga kite kage funde yuku Ichihara
while waiting -
whose waiting shadow
The narrator waits for someone in a crowded place. Strangers are coming and
passing by. They are stepping on shadows—the shadows of the narrator and each
others' shadows as well.
A person is waiting interminably for someone to arrive, in vain. Strangers
approach and pass stepping on the waiting person's shadow. The individual never
arrives, and the protagonist continues to wait.
1. The narrator is perhaps at a train station. People going on their way are
indifferent to each other, and they are "passing over" each other's
shadows. Perhaps they are arriving for meetings, like the narrator. All of
these people are just shadows. It reminds us of Ezra Pound's poem:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
In addition, it is
only the narrator that has a moment of pause and becomes aware of the shadows
being stepped upon. It seems that this poem recommends we take the time to stop
in the present moment so that we might see the world from a new aspect. There
is a philosophical perspective in this haiku similar to Plato's theory of
perception. Nothing in this world is real, and what we see are as if shadows of
pure reality. The usage of "shadow" implies the shadow on the wall of
2. The narrator
feels sad and lonely, because the person they are waiting for does not arrive,
and others pass by without noticing. When the narrator sees his/her own shadow
being stepped on by others, he/she feels as if his/her own heart were being
stepped on by the feet of others.
The kage-fumi (shadow-treading) game.
In childhood, we play a kage-fumi game. It is a type of tag game, in
which the tagger has to step on the shadow of other players in order to change
places with them. This is a common child's game throughout East Asia, usually
held in the late afternoon or twilight, when shadows become long. Japanese
adults may recollect this play with innocent joy; however, this play also has
ancient-magical roots. In ancient times, we find a belief that our shadows are
the evidence of the soul's existence. According to this belief, if our shadow
is stolen, we could die—and if our shadow becomes vague, this indicates
approaching death. Even today we feel a spiritual aura and meaning in our
shadows—they are more than just a phenomenon produced by light. Moreover,
twilight is a mysterious time between day and night, so that stepping on
someone's shadow can be a curse: a form of sympathetic magic.
The figuration of
"human shadow/silhouette" also reminds us of the classical-haiku
theme of kagebōshi (the silhouette).
Some Japanese people receive an internal perception or image of orange from
this haiku, since children play kage-fumi in the late afternoon, when
the street turns orange in the twilight. Twilight shadows are much longer than
those of midday, and are also fading out. These settings evoke the color
orange. As well, the time-period of returning home—putting these images
together, we can realize a complex feeling of melancholy mixed with ease.
湖沼 (こしょう) koshō:
lake, pond, marsh
shounen no baiku damu-ko o katamukete Miyoshi
a youth on a motorcycle:
the dammed lake tilts
A young man is riding a motorbike around a dam. When he enters a narrow curve,
he leans his bike over. To his eye, the dammed lake water seems to be tilting.
It is the young man who's tilting but the author says the dam is tilted by him.
It seems that the young man is trying to resist something—a huge power, like a
natural law. As well, he is not riding around a natural lake but rather an
artificial, dammed lake. A dam is a wall which stops water flowing, so
"dam" indicates the stagnated society to which he belongs. This poem
indicates a young man's rebellious spirit pitted against the adult world, and
his attempt to disrupt or challenge such a society.
A young man blissfully speeds along on his motorbike, which is not all that
large (400cc at most), among the greenery of woods and lake. He is traveling
through a deep valley, then around a dammed lake. The touring road winds but it
is a good motorcycle road. He leans his bike and body through a curve and the
dammed lake water is tilted with a sense of intense speed, driving beyond the
edge of control. His driving is reckless but energetic, just as this haiku is
sharp and energetic.
This haiku suggests the young rider's unlimited possibility, because the
subject, 'young rider's bike' causes a lake to tilt-a much bigger object than
the rider himself. A young man's ambition is seen here.
body (common use)
dosyaburi no karada no naka ni machi kuroku
within the body
heavy rain body
within the dark street
The narrator is wandering around the street in heavy rain, without an umbrella,
depressed, helpless, and gloomy. The street is as dark as the narrator's heart,
and probably deserted.
In spite of the expression "heavy rain," it is not really raining in
front of the narrator; rather, the haiku refers to the narrator's tears and
sorrow. The narrator's dark internal emotion leads to a perception of the
street as dark.
It is pouring with rain, and the narrator is sobbing. This feeling crosses over
the street scene, heavy with rain; the narrator sees this vision within his
very flesh and bones. With the mysterious overlap between the narrator's feeling
and the outer scene, this haiku becomes darker and darker.
Cultural/Historical Comment 1
In Japan, there are several words that mean "body." When we see this
we pronounce it as "shintai," and it has a medical-scientific
(objective) nuance. Importantly however, "shintai" is 4-on in
length. So, in this haiku, if we were to pronounce these kanji in the typical
way, we would have an extra sound (an 18-on haiku). There is another,
much more common kanji for body, which is "体," and we pronounce it as
"karada." This kanji is 3-on in length, and so fits into the
17-on haiku form. By using the less usual and specialized collocation of
"shintai," and it being outside the norm of 17-on, the author
skillfully infers or leads the reader towards the kanji-idea
"karada." This example reveals a form of poetic creativity utilizing
the unique ideational qualities inherent in Japanese kanji, which contain
multiple sound/sense relationships. As a result, the two different ideas
expressed by the different kanji combine, giving us an image of both a human
body, and a more clinical sense. This usage is useful for expressing a mixed
subjective melancholy, which also has a cold (e.g., objective, scientific)
Cultural/Historical Comment 2
Here, the kanji "町"
is used, but we have another kanji with this same pronunciation, 街 (machi). Both 町 and 街 mean
town, but with slight differences. 町 is used for the district of a local
community, while 街
indicates a downtown area, where many people, shops, and restaurants are found.
By using 町
instead of 街,
this haiku is indicative of the narrator standing in his own neighborhood;
hence, the translation of "street." As well, we note the use of 町,
rather than michi (lit. 'street'), which unavoidably connotes 'way,' path, or
direction, in addition to 'street,' in Japanese.
seikatsu: daily life
kotoba: language, word(s)
kotodama: word-spirit, 隠語（いんご） lingo: slang/secret language/jargon, 文字（もじ）
moji: letters (orthography), 手話（しゅわ）
kimi ni fureta kotoba no hashi ga kiban de yuku Ito
the ending of language
The edges of words are turning yellow when they touch on "you." These
words are spoken between a man and woman, and the couple's relationship is
getting worse. Their conversation is not as fresh as it used to be.
This poem indicates the fading love between a couple. It is not only their love
which begins to become worn out, but also their speech is gradually losing its
power and its meaning.
The man does not want to say anything to his partner, but he has to do so, as a
duty. The edge of his language is becoming a dirty yellow, as though the
language he uses towards her contains a feeling close to hatred.
When a person wants to speak, before utterance, the words exist in the heart.
Such words are also warm, because they come from the breast, the soul. When
these or any words are actually uttered, they enter into the air on the medium
of the breath. The breath keeps the words' warmth for a moment, but after
utterance, words can lose their warmth. And if one's heart does not have love
for one's partner anymore, those words within the breast are not warm. And,
when these are spoken, they become that much colder. The cold, loveless
conversation is like something which "turns yellow," which is
out-of-date and stale.
This haiku also reminds us of the haiku by Bashō:
mono ieba kuchibiru samushi
aki no kaze
lips feel cold -
Cultural Comment 1
In Japan we seldom call each other "you," and tend to avoid using the
subject in a sentence. When we use "you," there are two main forms of
(anata) and きみ
(kimi). In this haiku, the latter きみ is used. When using あなた,
there is a closer relationship between "you" and "I" than きみ.
On the contrary, きみ
suggests a more formal relationship, and so there appears some distance between
"you" and " I."
Cultural Comment 2
Concerning the meaning of "fureru" (ふれる is the
attributive or past-tense form of fureta). Regarding fureru, it
could be interpreted as having two different meanings in this poem: one is
"to touch," that is, "to feel or make contact with
objects," and the other is "to refer to" someone or something.
Cultural Comment 3
In western philosophy, 'word' (the essential connotative, conceptual particle
of language) is strongly related to logos and reason. There exists a
sensibility that "word" is highly connected to 'truth' or 'idea.' One
could say that the western attitude to "word" is logos-centric.
However, in Japan, 'word' is definitively regarded as "koto-no-ha"
(a margin of a fact), and so is neither logos nor reason. "Word"
could be a way to truth or idea, but it is not highly connected to these. The
Japanese attitude to "word" is thus not logos-centric. Additionally,
in Japan, there is a belief that 'word' has spiritual power. This power is
called "kotodama" (word spirit). In Shintoism, our world is
full of word spirits. Word spirits are not only possessed by human beings but
also word spirits belong to animals, plants, stones, mountains, rivers, seas,
etc. All sounds in the natural world are likewise word spirits, and so they are
also seeds of poetry. This belief is animistic. (c.f. Japanese Mythologies in
the Kojiki, and ancient Japanese poetry in the Man'yōshu,
also Noh plays such as Takasago.)
Cultural Comment 4
In Japanese, "kotoba no hashi" (ことばの端
the ending of language) also means "trivial, superficial words."
Cultural Comment 5
"Kibamu" (黄ばむ) refers literally to "getting
yellow," (as with leaves) but we often use the expression for clothes and
paper. It implies that the subject is getting old, worn-out, passing away after
a long time.
Cultural Comment 6
Yellow as a color was not mentioned in the Kojiki (712 C.E.). The kanji
existed, but with a variant concept. In the Man'yōshu (759? C.E.),
the earliest extant anthology of Japanese verse, yellow (黄) is mentioned
as a color close to red, in that yellow refers to the color of the Japanese
maple, in autumn. So it seems that historically a color of autumn was yellow,
though this seasonal usage is now deprecated.
gendai-shi: modern poetry, 詩集（ししゅう）
wasureteita shishyu no kami de yubi o kiru Doi
cut a finger
on neglected poems
the edge of a page
of a forgotten poetry book
cuts my finger
The author finds a forgotten poetry book, and the edge of a page cuts her
1. "Poems" (shishū) are, especially, haiku, and this poem
shows the revenge of haiku. Words have power. Each poem contains a poet's soul,
so an anthology would be a collection of poets' souls.
2. A paper cut is
trivial, but yields a sharp and surprising pain. This sharp and unexpected
feeling implies the piercing, moving feeling when we read poems.
3. An old poetry
book was taken from a bookshelf or somewhere similar, and it cut the author's
finger. The pain is a reminder of youthful innocence; of poetry and dreams.
4. The poetry book
may not be a real book, but rather, poems existing in the author's mind. She
may recall her sad poem or just a memory then experience a painful feeling, as
if she had injured her heart instead of her finger.
doushokubutsu: plants and animals
kyozō: enormous elephant
shi no toki o shiritaru kyozō ushiro mizu Takaya
knowing its death
an enormous elephant:
not looking back
An enormous elephant doesn't look back, knowing its own moment of death.
1. The elephant has nothing to regret in its life knowing it is soon to die, so
it lives in dignity and peace, without unease. This elephant indicates a
masterful older person (man) who has lived his life powerfully.
2. The elephant in
this poem is described as an animal with a strong will and a dignified
appearance. He accepts his death calmly. There is neither regret for the past
nor fear of dying. This poem can be interpreted as a question which the author
asks—how will we act in our last moments. An animal is closer to nirvana than a
3. Elephants do not
inhabit Japan. However, the image of elephants was imported from India and China as connoting one of the mythical animals of ancient times. In India, elephants are believed to be holy — in Hinduism Ganesha is a deity with an elephant's
head and human body — called Ganeza in Sanskrit, which means "the
lord of the people." In Buddhism, the deity is accepted as one of its
guardian deities. In Japanese Buddhism, it is called Kangi-ten, which
means "a deity of love and pleasure." This deity also celebrates
sexual pleasure. Therefore, in Japanese Buddhism, the deity is represented not
only as a half-elephant deity but also as a man and a woman making love.
There were no
elephants in Japan before the medieval era, but there are some place names that
derive from elephants. Zōzusan (elephant's head mountain) is one of
them. In 1766, the great haiku poet Buson visited this place and penned the
zō no me no waraikaketari yamazakura Buson
an elephant's eyes smile -
mountain cherry blossoms
This haiku is written with inspiration from the place name, and its
geological shape. The shape of Zōzusan is that of an elephant's
head, and the shrine on the mountain looks like an elephant's eye.
It was in 1408 (the shogunate of Ashikaga Yoshimochi) that the first elephant
came to Japan from a Spanish or Portuguese ship which had been routed through Southeast Asia. Later, some elephants arrived in 1597 (the reign of Kampaku Toyotomi
Hideyoshi), and again in 1602 (the shogunate of Tokugawa Ieyasu). In 1728, two
Indian elephants landed in Nagasaki, and Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune ordered his
followers to take one to Edo, and he viewed it there. The event very much
impressed people at that time, and many pictures and books of elephants were
consequently painted and published. By 1888, two elephants had arrived at Ueno
Zoological Gardens in Tokyo.
In Japan, the elephant is a popular animal among children and regarded as strong and warm?hearted. Most
zoos in Japan have elephants. Among these, Ueno Zoological Gardens is the most
famous. This zoo, and elephant, remind us of the sad story, A Pitiful
Elephant (and the film version, A Zoo without an Elephant, 1982).
The plot relates an event of the Pacific War, when the Japanese government gave
a command to "kill all wild animals" in all the zoos. Through this
device, the tragedy of the war, and a hope for peace is expressed.
In working to translate the haiku, we began by individually
writing down the images and language that each haiku offered. After discussing
our own images, analysis, and various cultural aspects, we collaboratively
translated the haiku into English and then researched historical, cultural and
lexical ideas which arose from the readings. Inevitably most of the haiku have
yielded several images and analyses, as each reader added his/her own
responses. We have found it interesting to learn more about contemporary haiku
through this compositional process, and would be very pleased if this work
gives readers in English a taste of contemporary Japanese haiku.
Quick link to A
New Haiku Era: Non-season kigo in the Gendai Haiku saijiki
(Introduction to the Muki-Saijiki, by Tohta Kaneko)
Quick link to Kigo Without
Season: A Presentation of the Japanese Muki Saijiki
(Our introduction, written to
accompany the Table of Contents exposition, below)
Quick link to the Muki-Saijiki:
Table of Contents (in PDF form)
Quick link to The
Season of 'No-Season' in Contemporary Haiku: The Modern Haiku Association Muki-Kigo
(Examples and interpretations of selected haiku from the volume)
Quick link to Kigo
and Seasonal Reference: Cross-cultural Issues in Anglo-American Haiku
(An examination which distinguishes between (Japanese) kigo and (Non-Japanese)
season words in haiku)