One thing + another thing 2

Hiroshige’s most popular prints were produced in the tens of thousands and, after the opening of Japan post-1853, were also popular in Europe where they had a huge influence on Impressionist artists.

The ‘One Hundred Views of Edo’ [Tokyo] series was produced between 1856 and 1859, with Hiroshige II finishing it after the death of his father in 1858. The print below is the 30th in the series.

The Brooklyn Museum website says the image is of the most famous tree in Edo, the celebrated ‘Sleeping Dragon Plum’ of Kameido. Known for the purity of its double blossoms, which, according to one guidebook, were ‘so white when full in bloom as to drive off the darkness’, the flowers’ powerful fragrance were reputed to have lured in the 18th century the shogun Yoshimune as he passed nearby.

“The unusual pattern of the tree’s growth is seen by the low branches entering the soil and re-emerging at a distance to create new trunks, thus, the tree was constantly rejuvenated and had spread over an area of some 50 feet square [4.6 square metres]. The image of the ‘sleeping dragon’ came from the way the branches looped across the ground. It was surrounded by a low fence to keep people from pressing too near.”

The tree survived until 1910, when it was killed by a flood.

Wikpedia’s entry for this image notes: “The series was commissioned shortly after the 1855 Edo earthquake and subsequent fires, and featured many of the newly rebuilt or repaired buildings. The prints may have commemorated or helped draw the attention of Edo’s citizens to the progress of the rebuilding. The series is in portrait orientation, which was a break from ukiyo-e tradition, and proved popular with his audience.”

futamoto no ume ni chisoku o aisu kana

two ume trees in my garden
bloom at a different time;
how dear the difference!

Yosa Buson, tr Shoji Kumano

Ume is the Japanese word for both plum tree and the fruit it bears.

hiroshige plum blossom

Plum Park in Kameido, an 1857 woodblock print by Hiroshige, part of his series, ‘One Hundred Views of Edo’. Image: Wikipedia

One of the painters upon whom this print had a profound effect was Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh who made this oil painting which is more a copy than an ‘inspired by’ homage.

plum-van gogh

Japonaiserie Flowering Plum Tree, painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1887. Image: Wikipedia

The van Gogh Gallery website notes: “When van Gogh moved to Paris in 1886 he was introduced to Impressionism and also explored Japonisme. Van Gogh admired the bold designs, intense colors, and flat areas of pure colour and also appreciated the elegant and simple lines. Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, ran an art gallery in Montmartre where Vincent was brought into contact with ukiyo-e [woodblock prints], and his apartment was next to the Bing Gallery where owner Samuel Bing had thousands of Japanese prints for sale. Van Gogh spent a great deal of time in the gallery admiring and studying the characteristics of Japonaiserie and became a collector of ukiyo-e.

“The influence of Japonaiserie and specifically Japanese prints is still evident in van Gogh’s later works reflecting the Japanese culture and tradition with his strong outlines; the use of black contours is an element typical of Japanese woodblock prints. Also his use of color contrasts and cropped compositions reveals the Japanese influence on his work.”

Dr Lawrence Marceau of Auckland University’s Asian Studies Department was kind enough (in 2015 when I inquired) to provide his thoughts about the Japanese characters van Gogh has added to the sides of the painting.

Van Gogh’s Japanese writing on the sides of several of his renditions of Japanese woodblock prints is quite famous in Japanese art historical circles … he had actually copied inscriptions of print titles and publisher data. The copies he made were from prints other than the one he was adapting into an oil painting.

I can’t read all of the text (some of it may be garbled), but along the right side of the image it says, “Shin-Yoshiwara hitsu dai chome Yagi (?)” (= the Shin-Yoshiwara licensed pleasure quarters, “by the brush of”, “great”, “city block” “establishment/shop” “wood/tree”). It seems that he starts out with a title, and then ends up with the character after the designer’s signature “hitsu”, and probably part of the publisher’s address. On the left it says, “Daikoku-ya Nishikigi Edo-machi itchome” (= The Daikoku-establishment, Nishikigi (personal name?), Edo-machi 1st block. I believe Edo-machi was one of the blocks of the Shin-Yoshiwara licensed quarter, and that the Daikoku-ya was the professional name of one of the bordello establishments there.

The cartouche in the upper right of the picture says “Shin-hyakkei” (New 100 Views) and some other characters in the yellow box that don’t make much sense to me.  The red signature box in the lower left also doesn’t make much sense … In short, it seems to be a combination of words and phrases taken from other prints, and individual characters written just because Van Gogh liked them, apparently. They really have no meaningful relationship to the content of the image, the plum blossoms at Kameido.

perfuming the man
who broke its branch
plum blossoms

Chiyo-Ni (1701-1775), tr Jim Kacian


Recent publications

UK haiku journal Presence is always a good read and Presence 63 is no exception with 105 pages of poems, haibun, essays and reviews. It includes the results of the 2018 Martin Lucas Haiku Award, which I can now reveal that I judged!

the dead owl
mostly soil

Brad Bennett, First

Judging contests is easy compared with the ongoing, laborious work of editing a journal. I daresay there’s some fun to be had too, but hearing Stanford M Forrester (editor of bottle rockets press) say he’d changed his posting address to an anonymous box number due to receiving death threats from a disgruntled submitter put a whole new light on what editors have to deal with!

The process of putting together number eight wire, the newly published fourth New Zealand haiku anthology, prompted me to write a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) piece for Haiku NewZ, Learning Better Habits.

breech birth
the old cowhand
unbuckles his belt

Lew Watts

relapse –
through an icy blast
bleat of a lamb

Andre Surridge


in my prayers –
linnet song

Mary White

swapping seats
on an empty train
afternoon sun

Debbi Antebi

cross-country train –
the little place where we stop
being strangers

Sandra Simpson

Creatrix is the online quarterly publication of Western Australia Poets, with the journal being split into two – one link for ‘regular poetry’ (submissions open only to financial members) and another for the haiku section (open to all).

The only odd thing about submitting to Creatrix is that no one tells you if you’ve had anything selected, you have to wait for the journal to appear to find out! Given they have three selectors and a submissions manager that seems a little, well, poor. If anyone knows of a good reason why this happens, I’d be happy to hear it.

first light
gum branches
tangle the mist

Gavin Austin

country cemetery
the last shop in town
boarded up

Louise Hopewell


floating dandelion
all the locked windows
at the hospital

Bee Jay

end of summer —
the hurdy-gurdy cries
of gannets

Sandra Simpson

And in the past few days I learned that one of my poems has judged a Haiku of Merit in the RH Blyth Haiku Award (UK). Read all the winning entries here.

Persian garden —
every avenue lined
with bitter oranges

Sandra Simpson

Read more about ‘narenj’, the bitter oranges of Iran, used to scent gardens and flavour food.

Happy Birthday Kokako!

Kokako 30 landed just before I headed off to Japan, a good read as always. If you’re reading this in New Zealand and don’t subscribe to Kokako, what are you waiting for? Find details here.

The first issue of Kokako appeared in 2003, under the helm of (the late) Bernard Gadd and Patricia Prime, who is still co-editor, now with Margaret Beverland. Kokako grew out of winterSPIN, an annual publication of SPIN poetry journal and focusing on the Japanese genres and short poetry. SPIN editor pnw donnelly encouraged Catherine Mair to edit winterSPIN from 1995-2001 with Bernie helping out from 1998. From 2003-2006 Kokako appeared once a year, then moving (by popular demand) to twice a year.

In her editorial to mark the thirtieth edition, Margaret notes that in the beginning most of the submissions to Kokako came from within New Zealand, but now most come from overseas.

If you’re interested in reading more on the history of haiku in New Zealand, click on the link to read an essay, prepared by me for The Haiku Foundation and published in 2016.

Here is a selection of haiku by New Zealand authors from Kokako 30.

flight of a fantail …
we each scatter his ashes
between spells of rain

Kirsten Cliff Elliot (Hamilton)

kowhai2 - Copy

Photo: Sandra Simpson

family sorrow
the yellow kowhai
pays no attention

Tony Beyer (New Plymouth)

not speaking
the cherry on the fence line
in full bloom

Barbara Strang (Christchurch)

marae concert
a small hole in
the cellist’s sock

Sandra Simpson (Tauranga)


6am flight!
watching the sun take off
on its own journey

Keith Nunes (Pahiatua)

how to smile
at people you don’t like

Jenny Fraser (Mt Maunganui)