Happy New Year


Haiku writers in Japan have five seasons to choose from when writing their poetry – with New Year’s Day being considered a season all of its own. William J Higginson in his 1996 book The Haiku Seasons (Kodansha International) has this to say:

“In the old calendar [New Year’s Day] was about the beginning of spring, and considered a doubly auspicious day. Now moved to January 1 as a result of the new calendar, New Year’s Day is still treated as the beginning of spring by some haikai poets.”

April is such a busy time in Japan – cherry blossom viewing, the start of the new school year, people changing jobs and homes – and before 1873 it was also the start of the year! (Spring seems a much more logical time to celebrate a new year, doesn’t it?)

In readiness for New Year’s Day Japanese people clean their houses (oosoji / susuharai):

極月や箱階段の薄埃   石田経治

gokugetsu ya hako kaidan no usubokori

            year-end month —
            thin layer of dust
            on the box steps

                     –  Keiji Ishida
from Blue Willow Haiku World, translator Fay Aoyagi

New Year’s Day
dawns clear, and sparrows
tell their tales

Hattori Ransetsu, 1654-1707
from The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse, translators Geoffrey Bownas & Anthony Thwaite


Yuzu is a kind of citrus that in Japan is not only used for culinary purposes but on the winter solstice whole fruit are a vital ingredient … in a hot bath, whether at a public onsen (hot spring) or at home. The aromatic oils released from the skin of the fruit are not only said to protect from colds and flu, but are also good for chapped skin. Read more here.

Or you could try the annual New Year’s Day ice bath held at a shrine in Tokyo – although the photos in the link show men only, women also participate while wearing a thin, white robe.

The first sunrise of the new year is believed to have special significance and praying at sunrise for health and happiness is widespread.

it’s play for the cranes
flying up to the clouds
the year’s first sunrise …

Chiyo-ni, 1703-75
from The British Museum Haiku, translator David Cobb

Japanese attach special significance to the first of many things they do in a new year. Some traditional firsts that are notable are kakizome (first writing), hatsuyume (first dream), hatsumōde (first shrine visit), hakizome (first house cleaning), and hatsuburo (first bath). Read more about the many traditions here.

the first dream of the year —
I keep it a secret
and smile to myself

–  Sho-u
from The British Museum Haiku, translator by R H Blyth

Dondoyaki (about January 15) ends the New Year observances when people take last year’s talismans and New Year decorations to their local shrine where they are burned (so no symbolic fir/pine trees hanging around until April!).

  • This posting is dedicated to the memory of two lovely men lost to the world of haiku and renku in these past 12 months – John Carley and Martin Lucas, both of Lancashire in England.

remembering those gone
thankful to be here —
pond of purple iris

– Margaret Chula
from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan

Horikiri iris garden by Hiroshige, 1857 (Wikimedia)


Flash sale!!

For anyone who is a registered “follower” of this blog – as a thanks to you for your support over the year – my calendar will be $NZ10 plus P&P (and as an extra deal for followers in New Zealand, I’ll make the postage up to Fastpost).

Price details and a sample image in the post below.

Email me or phone 07 577 6676 to place an order.

(If you sign up as a follower now, you can also get the discount. Just hit the “follow” button on the top of the screen and I’ll receive an alert with your details.)

Don’t delay!

I still have a few calendars in stock – so do contact me if you’d like one. The closed calendar is A4 and is designed to be hung. The photos are high-quality full colour and the calendar has been printed professionally. Eleven of the photos show nature or landscape scenes from New Zealand, the other is from Kyoto in Japan. Each image is accompanied by a haiku poem.

Here’s the image for May.

calendar may


Within New Zealand: $15 each + $2.50 P&P = $17.50. You can order up to 4 calendars for the same P&P (ie, 4 calendars come in one envelope so 2 calendars would be $32.50, etc).

Australia: Add $3.50 for P&P = $18.50.

Rest of the World: Add $4 for P&P = $19.

If you would like to purchase by PayPal, please let me know. If you would like to send cash in your local currency let me know and I’ll convert it to that day’s rate. Email me for further details.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

The tree’s gone up …

Some cards have arrived, the stores are full of things with which to part us from our money, and we’ve dotted a few festive ornaments about the place … it must be Christmas. Actually, I’m not that much of a Grinch about Christmas (just Halloween!) and spent last Saturday wrapping gifts for posting and doing some cards while listening to suitably Christmassy music.

Click here to listen to one of my favourites, a classic by Eartha Kitt from 1953.

The next day we went to lunch with my extended family. And I do mean extended – second cousins, third cousins and even a woman I’m not directly related to but who’s part of “the family” (which she can also say about me). Oh, all right. She’s my grandmother’s brother’s wife’s sister’s daughter!

The past couple of years have not been kind to two of the older women, but another has bounced back after surgery and looks better than I’ve ever seen her. Everyone, even the now largely mute cousin, was in the Christmas spirit and there was plenty of chat and laughter.

And I think that’s what makes Christmas special – the gathering of people, whether related or not, and the warmth that follows. Haiku Husband and I spent many Christmases in foreign lands and always managed to be among friends. My favourite Christmas song from the 1980s when he was arriving home, at that time in London, from overseas just before Christmas. (The lyrics are a bit loopy but the sentiment and the music are lovely.)

So spare a thought for those who will have an empty place or two at the table, whether through loss of a loved one during the year, or loved ones being too far away to make it home. I’m in both boats this year and, while I have a certain amount of sadness, there is also a renewed awareness of the love that surrounds me. A smile and a hug can mean so much.

To close, a traditional Christmas carol from an unlikely source – Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. Heard about the group’s 2003 Christmas album on the radio this week! Or, my favourite carol, Good King Wenceslas, performed by my favourite Christmas group, a brass band. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one that I liked enough so instead I’m linking to a version by Bing Crosby.

Good thoughts, prayers and blessings to everyone.

Doctor, doctor

If you’re expecting a gag punchline then I’m afraid you’re out of luck. One of the reasons I’ve been a little absent has been a week of pain, not the searing sort, but the uncomfortable sort. And it arrived just in time for some paid work that required me sitting at a desk for prolonged periods …

Anyway, back to the doctor this afternoon (I’ve seen more of him in the last 3 months than I have in the last 3 years). He has his suspicions and I have a docket for an ultrasound. If that proves inconclusive I have a second docket for something a bit more complicated, but let’s not talk about that yet.

at the risk
of a relapse…
plum blossoms

– Christopher Patchel, The Heron’s Nest XVI:4 (2014)

My doctor told me a terrible story about someone (with what he thinks I have) who almost died! And then said that wouldn’t happen to me because I was sensible – a very heavy responsibility, given I tend to think things will be “all right” and generally only realise how sick I’ve been afterwards. What’s normal, again?

paper-bark daphne –
my fever breaks
under a crimson quilt

– Sandra Simpson, A Hundred Gourds, 2.1 (2012)

Fortunately, my doctor is a good diagnostician. He listens and he thinks and he’s not afraid to poke and prod. But he seemed a little flat this afternoon, not his usual bouncy self, so I asked if he was all right. “Yes, yes,” he said, “I’m just a little distracted because there’s someone in the corridor having a heart attack.

“Do you want to go?,” I asked (thinking I’d just been sitting there with three people and none of them appeared to be doing that). “It’s okay,” and he grinned a bit. “She’ll be fine.”

sunlight through leaves
the nurse in search
of a vein

– Alison Williams, A Hundred Gourds 4.1 (2014)

when I am unwell
how small life becomes –
pink cherry blossoms

– Kirsten Cliff, Pulse, voices from the heart of medicine (April, 2014)