Eiko Yachimoto, JP




Hisajo in the Light of English Haikai Movement


Prologue: My Courtesy Visit


The former Koromo city with the pride of Koromo Castle was renamed as Toyota city of TOYOTA in 1959. And in April, 2005, several surrounding villages were forced to merge into Toyota city. One such village was the destination of my summer trip.
Ever since Sugita Hisajo (1890~1946), was introduced in World Haiku Review by Debi Bender and myself, I was hoping to pay a visit to Hisajo's graveyard. My daughter and I were fortunate to have caught the bus to Obara considering so little public transportation is available in Toyota city. The bus took us out into the countryside. At the final stop we were "saved" by Mr. Ushida and his silver-gray car. He is the administrator of the Business Promotion Agency affiliated to the former Obara village. (My e-mail worked!) I presented him with my translation of Hisajo's haiku as a token of my gratitude.

Hisajo came here as a 19 year old bride in 1909. She was said to be breathtakingly beautiful in her furisode, a gorgeous wedding kimono. People usually walked a good 10 miles of mountainous path to get here. The Sugitas (the family Hisajo married into) must have provided palanquins for the Akaboris, especially for Hisajo, her mother and her sister. There was neither a trace of Toyota factory nor a railroad connection in those days. The villagers grew rice and tended silkworms, produced rice paper and observed old ways.

Ushida san remembers Hisajo's grandchildren, sons of Masako Ishi, Hisajo's elder daughter. In fact, the elder boy became his playmate as the mother and boys continued to live here even after the end of the war. In fact, they had evacuated their Kamakura house fearing the U.S. air-raids. Unai Sugita, Hisajo's husband (their grandfather) was a seasoned old man of fine manners, in Ushida, the child's observation. "Yes," Ushida san related, "he scolded the boys once in a while, say,
when we broke items of the tea house."  I learned anew that Unai retired immediately after Hisajo's death at the age of 56, that was in the first winter after Japan surrendered. He had been an art teacher in one high school in Kokura city in Kyusyu island, for thirty-seven years and Kokura was the place Hisajo spent the same thirty-seven years of her married life.

As a successor to the Sugita estate, Unai cooperated to the GHQ policy of redistributing land to each working farmer. Ushida san explains that all households in the farming community of Matsuna are now affluent thanks to the Sugitas (and GHQ!).

"Did he," I asked, "ever try to teach art to village children?"

 "Unai sensei was known as art teacher who never paints," he answered, "his spare time was spent hunting in the mountains."

What an enigmatic man.... Hisajo married in spite of her parents' initial opposition. He was the top graduate of the top Art Academy in Japan, having majored in Western Painting. In those, Meiji days he was one of the very few who grasped art in the context of Western painting. Young Hisajo looked up to the young artist-to-be. She was focused in choosing her husband.

One sensational haiku by Hisajo confirms how frustrated she was in her married life.

mending tabi socks
a teacher's wife
has not turned a Nora**

Hisajo 1922

(tabi tsuguya Nora nimo narazu kyohshi-zuma)

The driver of our return bus was the same old man we had in the morning. This must be a one-man operation. And the only other passenger was an old woman we had met in the morning bus. "Sugita-san was our Respected Land Owner," she said, "and I have walked past their impressive gate countless times since my childhood. I did not know tourists visit their estate these days. Their elder daughter, who was supposed to succeed the family, married away, and the house turned like that..."

With Ushida san we did see the gate. We also visited the family graveyard in the back.

Hostas decorated the path along the foothill with their tiny purple bloom. In her long posthumous name inscribed into the tombstone three kanji characters were recognizable: Nil, Sorrow and Blossom...

There no longer stands either a house, teahouse, or workshops. Instead a statue of Kannon, the buddha representing maternal mercy and a haiku stone are there on the main ground. It was Masako who had these impressive monuments built... Masako's respect and love touched me.

My daughter found a tiny green frog jumping along Hisajo's awesome calligraphy carved into the stone. Ushida-san vividly recalled how grand the tatami rooms were and how lively the family life was. He ardently described the majestic carpentry with which the house was built over a hundred years ago. In parting he apologized for the lack of the official pamphlet, saying, "we are still under the transition mess." Our eyes met because he and I both knew it would be extremely hard to create a readable and accurate passage on Hisajo for the public.

Now I set my goal to create that not just for Japanese public but for haiku lovers around the world. Masako, the daughter, had struggled all her life for the cause to fully honor Hisajo in the powerful world of Japanese Haiku. She once responded to my letter saying, "I am trying, but the fire of my life is...." That was when she was 92 years old. She passed away before I was able to introduce Hisajo in the light of English haikai movement. I dedicate this installed series to the spirits of Masako and Hisajo.

clear rock drippings
we see the tea house
when we close our eyes

eiko 2005

(iwa-shimizu omokageni tatsu chajiariki)



**Nora is the name of a woman protagonist in A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

I read a drama
this winter night
dishes soak in the sink




A Wave of Moonlight – Women Poets of Japan

Haiku by Sugita Hisajo

Classified and translated by Eiko Yachimoto, 2001


Group 1: Hisajo’s Feelings and Observations


Fun of writing haiku—
Pine needles smoke
As the fireplace is lit


Each draws closer
Listening to the rain on kudzu
Our umbrellas touch


Spring firelight—
My heart dances as I choose tonight’s Kimono


Into the ignoble crowd
My heart has fallen;
I see innocent lilies



the cicada rain—
I sweep up the yard
bathed in mottled light



Group 2: Hisajo as a Mother


Morning chill—
As I build a cooking fire
My child wakes up and finds me here


While I hand sew
A cranky child shakes my shoulders;
Oh, the hotness!


Enough of kana practice
I let the children shell broad beans


Without a clue
I walk in search of my child—
Obana grass sways


Her feverish eyes look so moist
Poor thing! She sucks an orange



Group 3: Hisajo and Nature


Moistened soil:
All that buds
In Hisajo’s garden


Rich camellia—
On her figure, springtime
Of the mythical past


Skyward flapping of their wings
The power of one hundred cranes


Ling’ring rain yet magnolia
Hasn’t dropped its great white blooms


I grew up
Bathing in the emerald sea
Of everlasting summers



Group 4; Hisajo’s Haiku with Astounding Intensity


Love for the hina doll
Led me to cut and plant
A lock of my black hair


An autumn shrine—
Violently pulling her hair
A woman sobs


If compared with thee
A mum on the field with no blood
Definitely favored


In a screwy spiral
A leaf falls from the cliff
At blitz speed


Satan sticks to me
And won’t leave—
Red spider lilies



Group 5: Hisajo’s light verses


Autumn’s here, I can’t resist
To buy a little sapphire fish


When Mt. Asama’s cloudy
Komoro gets rain; buckwheat’s bloom



Not enough rain has fallen
On this sandy lot
Touch-me-nots bloom



Who stepped on starfish
And sported with crabs?
Jolly, jolly seashore



A raised sail gliding quietly
The lake in autumn season



Group 6: Hisajo's religious haiku


pray tell where... the shady asoka
blooms.........Buddha's birthday



fragrance...of roses
an elegy.....engraved into marble



entering the house...I see lanterns
lit.......for one who died new



.....reading the Bible blossoms fall in the rain



window lights...... on a snowy path
tonight's the night.........of Noel









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