Dry summer

Not just the heat that settles on us daily and is parching gardens and lawns, or the kind of dry that makes people feel noble because they give up alcohol for a month, but the kind that results in blank pages, unused pens and a creeping feeling of terror.

What if it never comes back again? What if the last haiku I wrote (not very good) is the last haiku I’ll ever write?

Reading my work in two recent publications hasn’t stimulated me much, nor has participating in two kukai. I can only admire the wonderful efforts of others, and wonder what’s happened to my ‘haiku muscle’. Too long unused and it may wither and die.

Meantime the deadlines of two journals I submit to regularly are fast approaching and I haven’t anything new to send. In the past, I’ve been happy enough to go back through my files and see if there’s anything that can be reworked or used as a springboard for a new poem.

Instead, I’m trying to sort out cupboards and store rooms, keep up with the emails that flow in, write some context for a family history project, drinking copious amounts of chilled water, and reading (light fiction) late into the night – and in the shadows are all the things I should have done but haven’t got round to yet.

There doesn’t seem to be any room for haiku, and I’m sorry about that. This should be a season of bush walks, swimming, hammock in the garden … soaking up nature and storing it for sessions with a pen and paper.

Here are three haiku by three New Zealand women – who all live reasonably close to one another – from the latest issue of Presence journal (UK). We all clearly also like the drama of an ellipsis …

the way a storm wave
flings it up …
milky way

Jenny Fraser, Presence 68

spa pool …
soaking in the light
of countless stars

Elaine Riddell, Presence 68

prolonged heat …
a clapper bridge sinks
into the pasture

Sandra Simpson, Presence 68

Some summer haiku from the online Australian journal Echidna Tracks 6, with the theme ‘shelter’.

young pine cone
the tiny hatches
I keep shut

Mira Walker

santa cave . . .
the mechanical monkey band
of my childhood

Sandra Simpson

wedding marquee
the tickle of an ant
over my ankle

Vanessa Proctor

Fingers crossed, the dam will burst – maybe when the rain comes!

Bookshop surprises

On my recent tour of the top of the South Island I discovered some fun little bookshops – with the funnest having to be The Custard Square Bookshop, a decent collection of second-hand books housed in a little yellow caravan parked in front of The Arts Centre in Christchurch.

Owner Cathleen Murphy, who bears more than a passing resemblance to author Fiona Farrell (at least, I think so and had the day before spent some time studying Fiona’s face), was having a cuppa with The Wizard of Christchurch round the side of the caravan when I visited, talking about the Word Festival that was taking place.

The Custard Square is a bookshop on wheels. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Inside the Custard Square is a notice that says something like, ‘tall or short, fat or thin, everything $5’. Cathleen commented positively on my picks – Margery Allingham, Edmund Crispin and a thoroughly enjoyable oddity, Who is Sylvia? The Diary of a Biography by Lynley Hood (John McIndoe, 1990), the companion volume to her acclaimed biography of Sylvia Ashton-Warner (published 1988), and which turned out to be a great read.

25 July, Wellington: Aunt Maude greeted me in Wellington by criticising the content and punctuation of my Listener obituary [Sylvia had died on April 27].
When I showed her the programme for the biography conference she said, ‘I think I should go to help you.’
‘I don’t need your help, thanks all the same.’
‘Oh, you do need help. You need a great deal of help and counselling and guidance. Who’s going to read through your draft, chapter by chapter?’
Not you Aunt Maude, that’s for sure.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner (1908-1984) and her husband, Keith Henderson (1908-1969) had taught at Bethlehem Maori School (Bethlehem is now part of Tauranga) and in 1965 built a home they named ‘Whenua’ (land). Adding another layer of interest for me was the fact that in the early 1990s I discovered I was working with their daughter and granddaughter.

Back to the bookshop! You can read more here about the morphing of a caravan into a bookstore. The day I visited a small yellow van was parked alongside, a shopfront for Canterbury Cheesemongers. I have no idea if the two arrived/left together.

The other secondhand book recommendation is Somebody’s Treasure, a general secondhand shop in Murchison, which has an excellent collection of non-fiction books about New Zealand. I picked up the original edition of Katherine Mansfield’s New Zealand by Vincent O’Sullivan (Golden Press, 1974) and The Suffrage Trail by Jill Pierce (National Council of Women, 1995), ‘a guide to places, memorials and the arts commemorating New Zealand women’ and could have bought more and, yes, I came home with more books than I left with!

My final surprise was walking down the main street of Kaipoi to find on a stand outside an otherwise unremarkable Paper Plus, I’d Die for You & Other Lost Stories, a collection of previously unpublished work by F Scott Fitzgerald edited by Anne Margaret Daniel (Scribner, 2017). And at a knockdown price!

Kanikakuni ceremony

In the Gion area of Kyoto on November 8, a tanka poem is celebrated in the Kanikakuni ceremony when geiko and maiko (geisha and apprentice geisha) gather at 11am at a poem boulder to offer white chrysanthemums. Later there is a reception where matcha (green tea) and soba noodles are served. Read more about the geiko tradition in Kyoto.

The poem boulder in Gion, a translation may be seen further down the page. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The poet being honoured is Yoshii Isamu (1886-1960), who was also a well-known novelist and playwright – and a bit of a lad who enjoyed all that the entertainment area of Gion had to offer!

Born in Tokyo, Yoshii dropped out of university in 1908 to join the Tokyo Shin-shi Sha (Tokyo New Poetry Society), and began contributing tanka to the society’s literary magazine, Myōjō (Bright Star). He then formed a new group, Pan no Kai, and in 1909 helped edit a new literary magazine, Subaru.

In 1910, Yoshii published his first tanka anthology, Sakehogai (Revelry), describing the joys and sorrows experienced by a young poet given to wine and women. Later collections included Sakujitsu made (Until Yesterday), Gion kashu (Gion Verses, 1915), and Tokyo kōtō shū (Collection from the Tokyo Red-Light District, 1916). Read more about his life here.

The poem boulder in Kyoto can be found near the Tatsumi Bridge that crosses the Shirokawa River. It was installed to celebrate the poet’s 70th birthday on November 8, 1955. The name of the ceremony, Kanikakuni. translates as “no matter what happens” and comes from the first line of the poem carved into the rock:

Kani kaku ni
Gion wa koishi
neru toki mo
makura no shita o
mizu no nagaruru

No matter what happens
I yearn for Gion
even when I sleep
the sound of water
flows beneath my pillow

Yoshii’s tanka was written in 1910.

The boulder stands where the poet’s favourite tea house, Daitomo, used to stand, a meeting place for writers which was built out over the river. In the early 20th century, the proprietress was Taka Isoda (1879-1945), a retired ‘literary geiko’ who cultivated friendships with writers and who is described by John Nathan, the biographer of the novelist and haiku poet Nasume Soseki (1867-1916), as having ‘seductive charm’.


Taka Isoda, the famous mistress of Daitomo teahouse. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Soseki has his own poem boulder in Kyoto, unveiled in 1966 to mark 100 years since his birth. His poem is about Taka Isoda (this is about the only readable translation I can find and comes from the Kyoto Soseki Society):

A man and a woman separated by a river in spring 

Soseki visited Kyoto four times, with his final visit in the spring of 1915. At the time, he was pursuing a friendship with Taka Isoda. One day, the two had a slight falling out and Soseki wrote his poem while thinking about Taka, who was in Gion, across the Kamogawa River from his lodgings.

Daitomo was among the buildings demolished at the start of World War 2 to create a fire break. Tea houses, by the way – and if you hadn’t guessed – were about much more than just tea!

It’s still possible, just, to imagine what the pre-war teahouse area was like, even though buildings on the northern bank were cleared in World War 2. This photo was taken near Yoshii’s poem boulder. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Haiku of the moment, Part 2

American poet and editor Scott Mason has produced, in The Haiku Hecameron, another outstanding hard-cover collection to follow his delightful The Wonder Code (2017).

Inspired by the 14th century book The Decameron, a collection of stories told over 10 days by 10 young people who were isolating to escape an outbreak of plague in Florence, Mason offers 100 days’ worth of reading (each day a double-page spread) of work by 100 poets with the subtitle, Gratitude in the time of Covid-19.

full moon
my daughter reads me
a bedtime story

Vanessa Proctor, Australia

While the majority of the collected works are haiku, the book, which is dedicated to English poet Stuart Quine, who died of Covid-19, also contains haibun, linked verse and haiga.

“Attending closely to what is (and who are) immediately around us constitutes our most basic act of respect,” Mason writes in his Introduction. “Gratitude naturally follows.”

even this spring
embracing the drain-spout
a burst of daffodils

Penny Harter, USA

early days –
a lone goose picked up
by the skein

Sandra Simpson, New Zealand

Later, Mason writes: “Ultimately this collection could be read as a time capsule from a highly unusual chapter of our very recent past … For months now we’ve been at sea – all of us in the same boat. These works welcome us home.”

closer & closer
the mountain’s silence coming
into view

Gary Hotham, USA

attic sunshine
there is nothing
we want to get rid of

Marcus Larsson, Sweden

Mason’s Introduction is dated “June 2020” but waymarking emails to contributors shared the rigors of trying to print and dispatch pre-orders around the world with all human endeavour slowed down, if not stopped. However, the post finally came through and my copy arrived in mid-October.

The vast majority of the haiku are about personal experiences that coincided with or were created by the time lockdown offered and although a few overtly mention coronavirus and its associated vocabulary, Mason has, I think, got the ratio nigh on perfect.

do-it-yourself masks
complete strangers sharing
a secret smile

Michele Root-Bernstein, USA

time for a walk
I explain coronavirus
to my dogs

Rosa Clement, Brazil

Until the end of November, Mason is offering a generous deal – buy two copies and receive a third free (all must be shipped to the same address). To place an order visit the website and scroll to the bottom.

Haiku of the moment, Part 1

Two great new collections of haiku have managed to wend their way across the world to my letterbox, both apposite for differing reasons.

For The Signature Haiku Anthology (Middle Island Press, 2020), editor Robert Epstein invited submitters to send the one haiku, senryu or tanka, published or unpublished, that they would like to be remembered by, and any comments they would like to share about the poem (although this remained optional). The only criterion Robert insisted on was that each submitter should have had at least one poem previously published.

The resulting 251 pages of poems and commentaries is a great read – there were many well-known names included, but also many that were new to me. Sometimes the commentary, if there was one, made me re-read the poem and helped deepen the experience of the haiku. Most of the poets are from North America, but there’s a good sprinkling of those from other countries too.

As if to emphasise his “democratic view of haiku poetry”, Robert, who has now edited many themed anthologies of haiku, does not include an index or list of poet names in the volume. Instead, he lets the poems speak for themselves. See what you think …

so much to do
my son points out
the lightning

Alice Frampton (US). She writes: I wrote this poem in a hurry, composing it actually as the events were happening. It always reminds me of how, in a crazy-busy life, we can miss, or almost miss, the most important moments.

our garden gate
once it gets cold

Igor Damnjanovic (Serbia)

Crescent Lake in Washington State. Photo: Sandra Simpson

the depth of the lake
still in question –
autumn chill

Angela Terry (US). She writes: When I was growing up we spent a few weeks every summer at a cabin on the shore of Lake Crescent in Washington’s Olympic National Park. The lake was icy cold even in midsummer and the rumour spread that the lake was bottomless. Fast forward 50 years, and I chanced to read a newspaper article stating that the lake’s depth was still not agreed upon. And with that, the haiku pretty much wrote itself.

snowy owl
I’ll leave this world

Gregory Piko (Australia)

gathering light
at the tip of an acorn
yesterday’s rain

Yu Chang (US). He writes: A poem of self examination and awakening, a delicate dance of light and shadow, ying and yang, for a better self in harmony with nature.

I turn my back
an instant –
blossom everywhere

Elise Mei (New Zealand)

I have a haiku included, although my country of residence is printed as ‘Australia’!, and am pleased to see a smattering of other New Zealand writers there, as well as Elise (who also suffers from a proofing error) – including Barbara Strang, Elaine Riddell, Patsy Turner, Keith Nunes and Ann Curran.

The book may be purchased via Amazon for $US20.

Recent publications

Kokako 33 landed in my letterbox yesterday – 76 pages of good reading. The editors have recently changed to PayPal to receive overseas payments for journal subscriptions so a year’s sub (2 copies) now costs $NZ36 for Australia and $NZ40 for the rest of the world, airmail post included. Contact Margaret for details.

winter the snow white sheets in the ambulance

Catherine Mair

laundry day
pairing the matching socks
wondering why


Embed from Getty Images

shearing day –
the men take turns
with the moccasin needle

Sandra Simpson

flu jab wind whirls the pine needles

Nola Borrell

As well as haiku, there are tanka, linked verse, haibun and book reviews.

Presence 67 is another recent arrival, this time from the other side of the world so the image of a frigate bird on the cover – the photo by managing editor Ian Storr – seems entirely appropriate. This is another journal that contains a wide variety – haiku, tanka, linked verse, haibun and book reviews, plus a featured poet in each issue and short articles.

This issue of Presence also includes a tribute to Stuart Quine, the English poet who died of Covid-19, with underlying health complications, in March.He was 57. Kokako notes his passing as well, in the context of Stuart having a boulder poem on the Katikati Haiku Pathway.

always alone
the white-faced heron
in the river

Elaine Riddell

overcast sky
a goldfinch leaves behind
her song

Claire Everett

a jumble of books
outside the old police station
the odd summer cloud

John Barlow

mango season
licking the juice
to my elbow

Adjei Agyei-Baah

Wild Geese: A Cultural Exchange

By Sandra Simpson

Japan’s contact with Europeans dates back to the 16th century, initially Portuguese traders who arrived in 1543, quickly followed by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries and including St Francis Xavier, who arrived in 1549 to establish a mission station.

Named Nanban-jin (Barbarians from the South) by their hosts, the Portuguese supplied  Christianity and firearms, among other things, and while the latter were embraced, the former was viewed with suspicion with edicts regularly issued banning Catholicism, although to little effect initially.

In 1634 the shogun decided to put the Portuguese into a form of confinement, ordering them all on to a specially built fan-shaped island in Nagasaki Harbour, complete with strict rules about entering (for the Japanese) and exiting (for the Portuguese). However, the Nanban-jin were expelled just 5 years later on suspicion of supporting Christian rebels during the Shimabara revolt.

So tiny Dejima island – “82 ordinary steps in width and 236 in length through the middle”, according to Dr Engelbert Kaempfer, who spent two years there with the Dutch East India Company (VOC) – became vacant. The shogun saw an opportunity to keep tabs on the other group of foreigners who in 1609 had been permitted to establish a trading post on the island of Hirado and in 1641 ordered the Dutch to move there – and pay an annual rent for the privilege. Once there, the inhabitants of Dejima were confined to the island unless permission was granted to leave.

With their interest in trade, and no interest in proselytising, as well as their political hostility towards Spain and Portugal, the Dutch became the only Westerners allowed to remain in Japan during its closed period (sakoku) from 1641 until it was forced to re-open its borders from about 1853. Thus, Japan’s only window to Europe for 200 years was a Dutch one.

oranda no moji ka yokoto amatsukari

wild geese write a line
flap-flapping across the sky …
comical Dutch script

Nishiyama Soin (1605-82), tr Peter Beilenson 1

Oranda (Holland) is the Japanese word for the Dutch, both people and language. Nishiyama Soin was the founder of the Danrin School, which liked to push the envelope on topics used in poetry. When the poet Saikaku began to write verses that to his friends seemed outlandish and eccentric, he was given the nickname ‘Oranda’, an indication of how the Dutch were viewed by their hosts.

deijima map

An imagined bird’s-eye view of Dejima’s layout, copied from a woodblock print by Toshimaya Bunjiemon of 1780 and published in Isaac Titsingh’s ‘Bijzonderheden over Japan’ (1824/25). Image: Wikipedia

Trade with Japan was valuable for the Dutch, initially yielding profits of 50% or more, although that declined in the 18th century when only two ships a year were allowed to dock at Dejima. After the bankruptcy of the East-India Company (VOC) in 1795, the Dutch government took over the outpost and times were especially hard when the Batavian Republic (Netherlands) was under Napoleonic rule – the chief Dutch official, the Opperhoofd (Dutch name) or Kapitan (Japanese name), had to rely on locals for his food and clothing. During this period all ties with the homeland were cut and, for a while, Dejima was the only place in the world where the Dutch flag was flown.

kimi ga yo ya karabito mo kite toshi-gomori

Great Japan – 
a foreigner also attends
the year’s end service!

Issa, tr David Lanoue 2

The translator’s note says of this 1793 haiku: ‘Great Japan’ is my translation of kimi ga yo, a phrase that refers to the emperor’s reign and begins the Japanese national anthem. Issa would have known the lyrics, though not the current melody which came after his time. In 1793, Issa visited the port city of Nagasaki, where he encountered, possibly for the first time, a European – most likely a Dutchman.

Despite the restrictions, Dejima was a popular post among VOC employees. One reason being that the Japanese Government gave permission for limited personal trading, which provided employees with additional income, sometimes reaching levels of more than 20 times their normal annual salary. The Kapitan, whose salary was 1200 guilders a year, was recorded as making as much as 30,000 guilders.

Every year the Kapitan and a party from the enclave visited the emperor in Edo (Tokyo) in March to pay their New Year respects and offer special and expensive gifts (exotic animals, medical instruments, telescopes, books, etc), an exciting spectacle for the Japanese – and a journey that could last 3 months and comprise a procession of 150-200 people, including  translators assigned to the Dutch and civil servants from Nagasaki. ‘Oranda wataru’ (Dutchman travels) became a spring kigo for haiku. 3 In Basho’s time the Kapitan was Johannes Camphuys.

kapitan mo tsukubawase keri kimi go haru

even the captain
bows down before
the lord of spring

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold 4

Written in the spring of 1678. The translator’s note says: On New Year’s Day, the captain was required to make a formal visit to the emperor. For this visit he had to dismount and bow down before the lord or shogun (kimi).

The following haiku was quoted by King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands during a state visit to Japan in 2014. The annual tributes from the Dutch continued until 1790, whereafter they took place every fourth year.

Oranda mo hana ni ki ni keri uma ni kura

Hollanders too
have come for the blossoms – 
saddle a horse!

Basho, tr. Makoto Ueda 5

A note in the source document says of this 1679 haiku: “Basho received notice that the Dutch merchant delegation were out looking at cherry blossoms, so he told his servant, ‘Hurry up, get the saddle for my horse!’.”

RH Blyth, who for this haiku translates ‘oranda’ as ‘red-haired people’ says: The saddle is used, as in Yorimasa’s waka, which the haiku is based on, to give the aristocratic flavour, to express the feeling of urgent desire, and in the haiku also perhaps because the Dutch saddle was different from the Japanese. 6

Oranda go kuchibiru usuki Fuji no yama

on seeing Mount Fuji
the thin lips of the Dutch
become thinner

Anonymous 7

Already considered thin by the Japanese, Dutch lips seemed even thinner when they first saw Mount Fuji during the court journey.

Deijima, perhaps measuring 120m by 75m, was not only home to men and cargo, but the Dutch also kept cows, sheep, pigs and chicken on one corner. Water for cooking came in bamboo pipes from Nagasaki and had to be paid as a separate item. The number of Dutch inhabitants fluctuated from no fewer than 15 to no more than 40 (most crew members of Dutch ships were not allowed to step ashore), plus a few slaves from Bengal or Batavia (Jakarta), and an unknown number of Japanese workers who returned to the mainland at night. For instance, the Dutch were obliged to use official Japanese interpreters – generally complaining about their abilities and behaviour – who numbered 140 in the 1850s and 1860s.

kogarashi ni kusu-kusu buta no netari keri

in winter wind
the pig giggles
in his sleep

Issa, tr David Lanoue 8

The translator’s note with this 1807 haiku says: This is only the second haiku that I have translated by Issa that mentions a pig. Shinji Ogawa notes, “From China and Holland, pigs were imported to Nagasaki in the middle of the Edo period but propagated only sporadically until the Meiji period because they belonged to the ‘foul food’ category (any meat of a four-legged animal was considered ‘foul food’).”

Hiroshi Kobori comments on the word, kogarashi (“winter wind”). In early Japanese poetry, this refers to the wind that blows through trees, breaking branches and turning the leaves brown. By Issa’s time it means “a dry windy day during the late autumn-deep winter season.” It is classified as a winter season word.


A Nagasaki-e woodblock print made about 1810-20. The figures are thought to be the successor to Hendrik Doeff, Jan Cock Blomhoff, his son Johannes, and either his wife Titia Bergsma or the boy’s nursemaid Petronella Muns. In August 1817 Titia became the first Western woman to step foot in Japan for any length of time (three Dutch women evacuated from Taiwan briefly landed in 1661). After a stay of 3 months her visa was refused and she left for The Netherlands, never to see her husband again. Her arrival was such an event in Japan that a portrait was made and copied and re-copied throughout the country. © The Trustees of the British Museum, used with permission

The presence of the Dutch inspired Nagasaki artists to produce woodblock prints that became known as Nagasaki-e, dealing with life in the port city, but more particularly depicting the lives of, or portraits of, the ‘exotic’ Dutch and Chinese traders.

It’s also known that in 1822 the famous Japanese artist Hokusai was commissioned by two Dutch traders for four scroll paintings which he delivered in 1826 to Dr Philipp Franz von Siebold and Kapitan Willem de Sturler. In his 1896 book Hokusai, Edmond de Goncourt writes, “And when Hokusai delivered his paintings, the kapitan gladly paid the agreed sum of money, but the doctor, pretending his salary was lower than that of the kapitan, only wanted to pay half the money.”

The first and fifth of the official ‘Regulations concerning Dejima-machi [Dejima ward]’ which were posted at the small stone bridge connecting the islet with the mainland, read:

It is forbidden:

1. For women to enter with the exception of whores (keisei no hoka onna iru koto)
5. For Dutchmen to go outside Dejima without permission (kotowari nakushite Oranda-jin Dejima yori soto e izuru koto).

Maruyama, the licensed brothel quarter of Nagasaki, provided the lonely Dutchmen at Dejima – also known by locals Oranda heya (the Dutch lodge) or Oranda yashiki (the Dutch mansion) – with companions for their many idle hours.

Maruyama no koi wa ichiman sanzenri

love at Maruyama can sometimes bridge thirteen thousand miles

Anonymous 9

The prosperity of Maruyama went up and down in proportion to the trade with China and The Netherlands. For instance, in 1680 there were 74 brothels housing 766 girls, while by 1692 a peak of 1443 prostitutes was reached. At the end of the Edo period in the 19th century business was slack, and in the Ansei era (1854–60) there were only 28 brothels with 487 girls.

Because of the special conditions in Nagasaki the girls were — in contrast to the inhabitants of the licensed quarters in other cities — allowed to leave Maruyama. They were divided into three categories: Oranda-yuki ‘those going to the Dutch’, Kara-yuki, ‘those going to the Chinese’, and Nihon-yuki, ‘those going to the Japanese’. In the Meiji era (1868–1912) the term Kara-yuki-san was applied to foreigners’ concubines in general.

Maruyama ya onna ni yomenu fumi ga kuru

Maruyama —
where letters come to women
which they cannot read

Anonymous 10

Kapitan from 1827 to 1830, Felix Meylan, a German, wrote: “Although […] no Japanese is allowed to live on the Isle of Deshima, the Japanese Government permits wenches or so-called wh… to enter the service of the Dutchmen, and these are allowed to stay day and night on the island — on condition, however, that they appear once a day before the Banjoos [bansho, guard] on duty as a proof that they are still there …  there is a regulation that [male servants] are not allowed to remain overnight. If it were not for these wenches the Dutch people at Deshima — where there is otherwise not an overabundance of company — would have to remain without any service from sunset until late after dawn and would not even be able to get some tea water boiled, a great discomfort in the long, cold nights of winter.”

Maruyama de kakato no nai mo mare ni umi

on Maruyama
it can sometimes even happen
that one is born heel-less

Anonymous 11

A note or two about this senryu amounts to: For some reason, Japanese thought Dutchmen had no heels, perhaps because of the boots they wore (which had heels added to them). ‘Heel-less ones’ later became slang for all Westerners.

By the beginning of the 19th century — and probably even earlier — visits by the Dutch to the Maruyama brothels were tolerated. Children born to Japanese mothers and Dutch fathers were allowed to be nursed in the father’s home but after that were subject to the same restrictions of other Japanese in meetings with foreigners (although this changed over time). It is widely held that the Dutch saw these liaisons as unofficial marriages and it was customary for them to financially support any resulting children.

Hendrik Doeff (1764-1837) lived on Dejima between 1799 and 1817 – one of the longest stays of any Dutchman – working his way up from clerk to Kapitan in 1803. His sojourn as Kapitan coincided with the French occupation of The Low Countries and the English occupation of Java, a Dutch colony. In fact, so few ships were arriving that Doeff had to rely on the Japanese for his food and clothing.

Oranda no toio ni hae no tsuite kite

the Dutch,
the flies
follow them

Anonymous 12

The note with this senryu says: The Japanese bathed daily, the Dutch felt that this was unnecessary or unhealthy, so “the flies chased them”.

Doeff fathered at least two children while in Dejima, a daughter Omon who died in 1811, and a son Jōkichi. Knowing he couldn’t take the boy back to The Netherlands he asked to put in place an annual payment for him and this request was granted by the Shogunate in October 1815. In 1821 Jōkichi was granted the family name Dofu and was appointed an expert on foreign goods. Sadly, he died in 1824, aged just 17.

Cornelis van Nijenroode, Kapitan from 1623-32, had two daughters with local courtesans (while the VOC base was still at Hirado). After their father’s death in 1633, the girls – Cornelia and Esther – were taken in by the VOC and placed in an orphanage in Batavia (Jakarta). Esther married an English lieutenant and Cornelia a Dutchman, Peter Knoll who became director-general of Batavia and extremely wealthy. Read more about her interesting, though rather tragic, life.

Dutch_at Dejima

This painting by Kawahara Keiga shows Philipp Franz von Siebold with a telescope (teresukoppu), Dutch personnel and Siebold’s Japanese wife Kusumoto Otaki with their baby daughter watching an incoming Dutch ship at Dejima. The ship is towed by rowing boats. Image: Wikipedia

Dr Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796–1866), a physician employed by the VOC in Japan from 1823, came from an illustrious German medical family. Initially, von Siebold’s contacts with Japanese physicians were minimal, although under the guise of being “translators’ assistants” they would visit Dejima to hear von Siebold give medical lectures. Soon, he was allowed to attend patients in Nagasaki, an extraordinary concession. He gathered medicinal plants and established a physic garden on Dejima. In 1824 at Narutaki (“murmuring waterfall”) at Nagasaki he established a medical school that is today the site of the Nagasaki-Siebold-Memorial Hall.

From a relationship with a Japanese woman, von Siebold had a daughter, Ine or Oranda-Oine, born in 1827. Although there was a strict ban on children being born on Dejima, it seems von Siebold’s daughter may have been born in his clinic with the local authorities looking the other way. In any event, it was well known that von Siebold’s partner had not been a prostitute when she met him.

When von Siebold was accused of espionage and forced to leave Japan in 1829 (Ludwig I had the sentence commuted from death) he made provisions for the child and her mother.


Ine Kusomoto, daughter of Philipp Franz von Siebold, became Japan’s first female obstetrician. Image: Wikipedia

As his ship left Nagasaki, it was accompanied a short way by a boat carrying his lover and their child. He carried their images and locks of their hair with him to Europe and in 1859, after 30 years, von Siebold received an amnesty and returned to Japan where he met his former lover (they had both married in the interim) and Oine, whose career he was able to help. Von Siebold returned to Munich in 1860, dying there a few years later. Oine became Japan’s first female medical doctor (an obstetrician) and was invited to Edo to practice at the Imperial Court. She died in 1902 aged 76 and unmarried.

The eighth shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751) was interested enough in Western knowledge to allow from 1720 the importation, through Dejima, of books for translation, including on astronomy, medicine (one on anatomy became a standard Japanese textbook),  natural history, shipbuilding and glass making, although none on religion were permitted. This became known as rangaku (or Dutch learning, the ‘ran’ from ‘Oranda’). However, the shogun’s government (bakufu) took a dim view and many rangaku students were arrested and jailed, including Nozawa Boncho, a doctor, haiku poet and editor of a collection of haiku (died 1714).

Here’s one thing he’ll understand without interpreters!
The kapitan hears it –
the bell of Kochucho

Sobun 13

Kochucho was home to the Dutchmen’s Edo (Tokyo) residence, and also to the city’s main time bell.


A portrait of Hendrik Doeff by Charles Howard Hodges. Image: Wikipedia

The first haiku known to have been written by a European was penned by Hendrik Doeff. He had learned Japanese quickly and worked almost daily with the VOC Japanese interpreters to teach them Dutch. Together they worked on a Dutch-Japanese dictionary, started in 1811 and completed just before he left Dejima in 1817. To get round the ban on the Dutch being allowed to learn too much about Japan, Doeff emphasised that it was a book to improve Japanese knowledge of the Dutch language. He left the text behind (but smuggled a copy out, see more later) and this was revised and improved several times. The dictionary was officially presented to the Shogun in 1833 as Oranda jisho wage (Dutch Dictionary for Japanese) and quickly became an important book.

While still in Dejima, Doeff wrote in Roman letters a postface for, and contributed a haiku to, Misago-zushi compiled by Ōya Takuzō (1788–1850). His two surviving haiku were composed in Japanese, later translated into Dutch by Frits Vos and then into English by Max Verhart.

inazuma no kaina wo karan kusamakura

lend me your arms,
fast as thunderbolts,
for a pillow on my journey

Hendrik Doeff, tr Max Verhart 14

This haiku supposedly refers to a young lady he saw slicing tofu very fast, while he was in an inn during the journey to visit the shogun.

harukaze ya amakoma hashiru hokakebune

a spring breeze
hither and thither they hurry
the sailing dinghies

Hendrik Doeff, tr. Max Verhart 15

There is no evidence that Doeff continued his interest in haiku after he left Japan.

During his tenure Doeff fought off a British attempt to take Dejima, the invaders led by Thomas Stamford Raffles, later founder of Singapore. Raffles had moved from Calcutta, where he was working for Britain’s East India Company, in 1811 to become lieutenant-governor of the East Indies (Indonesia) after British forces ousted the Dutch.

Raffles sent two ships to Dejima in 1813, the party ostensibly led by a Dutchman but who was, in reality, a cover for British trading interests. Doeff persuaded the man actually in charge of the party that having the British openly trade from the island would endanger the ships and their crews. With the connivance of Japanese interpreters trade carried on under Dutch colours and Doeff remained in place. Raffles tried again in 1814 but with no success and London began to lose interest in Japan. Doeff, who had previously lived in Batavia (Jakarta), was decorated for his loyalty and courage in refusing to surrender.

Upon his departure in 1817 Doeff smuggled out a copy of his dictionary. Unfortunately, this text – and his entire collection of artifacts and scientific papers – were lost in a shipwreck during his 1819 voyage from Batavia to The Netherlands. The passengers, including Doeff’s pregnant wife, were rescued by an American sealing ship off Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Tragically, his wife died on the next leg of the journey.

Doeff also wrote a memoir, Recollections of Japan (published in 1835 but since 2003 available in an English translation).

tarai kara taranai ni utsuru chimpunkam

tub to tub
the whole journey
just hub-bub

Issa, tr Lewis Mackenzie 16

From one tub until moved into the other – it’s all double Dutch to me!

tr Max Bickerton 17

This is often claimed as Issa’s last poem, found under his deathbed pillow in 1828. He refers to baby’s first bath after birth and the final washing of the corpse. Chimpunkan is a colloquialism for what can’t be understood. Max Bickerton, knowing Issa had heard Dutchmen speaking in Nagasaki, chose ‘double Dutch’ to convey ‘jibberish’ and Issa’s idea that all he had written was meaningless in the face of death.

David Lanoue, the Issa authority who has translated thousands of his haiku, does not believe this haiku was composed by Issa and even Bickerton seems doubtful, saying in his translator’s note, that local disciples had gathered around the bed and asked for a last verse. Issa opened his eyes and murmured this poem. “To use such slang on the edge of the grave shows admirable self-control – if it is true.”

The 1853 arrival of American Commodore Matthew Perry with his fleet of black ships led to the opening and modernisation of Japan. In 50 years the country changed from a feudal society to a modern Western democracy. The exclusive role of the Dutch ended, though close contacts between the two countries continued. In the beginning Dutch was the language used in official contacts with foreign countries, so the first meetings between the Americans and the Japanese were conducted in Dutch!

Ho no ōki oranda-bune ya kumo no mine

A Dutch ship
With many sails:
The billowing clouds.

Shiki, tr. Blyth 18

Now part of the Nagasaki mainland after repeated reclamations, Dejima is being restored to its 19th century state with buildings reconstructed using period methods and furnished based on drawings of the island and models of its buildings that are preserved in The Netherlands. Exhibitions include artefacts found on the site and the history of Dejima and Western learning.

* * *

End note: (Carl) Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944), an author of early haiku and tanka in English, was born on Dejima to a Japanese mother and German father. Sadly, his mother died shortly after his birth and his father arranged for Carl to attend a naval training academy in Germany. But the boy ran away and in 1882 was sent to distant relatives in Philadelphia where he promptly befriended Walt Whitman. Hartmann’s first collection, Poems, appeared in 1889 but there is no knowing if it contained haiku. But he did include several tanka in his 1904 book of poetry, Drifting Flowers of the Sea, and in 1915 published Tanka and Haikai. He reworked and reissued these images for much of his life.

White petals afloat
On a winding woodland stream –
What else is life’s dream!

Sadakichi Hartmann 19

Poem References:

1: Japanese Haiku Series 1 (Peter Pauper Press, 1955), accessed June 22, 2020.

2: Haiku of Kobayashi Issa, accessed June 23, 2020.

3: Fay Aoyagi, in the HSA newsletter, 31.3, 2016. Accessed June 23, 2020

4: Basho: The Complete Haiku by Jane Reichhold (Kondansha Press, 2013).

5: World Kigo Database, accessed June 23, 2020.

6: Oriental Humour by RH Blyth (Hokuseido Press, 1959). Accessed June 25, 2020.

7: Some Senryu and Haiku about Dutch people from the Sakoku period, accessed June 24, 2020. The English version is my own.

8: Haiku of Kobayashi Issa.

9: Forgotten Foibles: Love and the Dutch at Dejima. Accessed June 22, 2020.

10: Ibid.

11: An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750-1850 edited by Sumie Jones, Kenji Watanabe (University of Hawaii, 2013).

12: Some Senryu and Haiku about Dutch people from the Sakoku period.

13: An Edo Anthology.

14: Tracks in the Sand by George Swede (Simply Haiku 4:2, 2006) accessed June 22, 2020.

15: Ibid.

16: The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology, edited by Faubion Bowers (Dover thrift editions, 1996).

17:  Issa’s Life and Poetry by W M Bickerton (Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, 1932). Accessed June 23, 2020.

18: World Kigo Database.

19: Tanka and Haikai, Japanese Rhythms by Sadakichi Hartmann (author’s own edition, San Francisco, 1916). Read the book here.

Cited Sources

An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750-1850 edited by Sumie Jones, Kenji Watanabe (University of Hawaii, 2013).

Forgotten Foibles: Love and the Dutch at Dejima. Accessed June 22, 2020.

Great Britain and the Opening of Japan 1838-1858 by William G Beasley (Routledge, 2013). Accessed June 22, 2020.

Hokusai’s ‘Dutch’ courage, The Japan Times, Dec 20, 2007. Accessed June 24, 2020.

Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 by Gary P. Leupp (Bloomsbury, 2003).

Introduction to Dutch Trade in Asia, Part 1: Papers of Hendrik Doeff, accessed June 24, 2020.

Kingdom of The Netherlands website, accessed June 23, 2020.

matsuo-basho-haiku website, accessed June 23, 2020.

Philipp Franz von Siebold: A Medical Pioneer of the 250-Year Holland-Japan Legacy. Accessed June 22, 2020.

The ‘Floating Life’ on Deshima Island: A Gloomy Side of Dutch-Japan Relationship during the Tokugawa Period, 1715-1790, a 2015 paper by Abdul Wahid (University of Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta). Accessed June 23, 2020.

The History of Ophthalmology in Japan edited by S. Mishima (Wayenborgh Publishing, 2018).

The Unexpected Import: A disquisition on the days of proto-haiku by Brett B Bodemer, California Polytechnic State University, 1999. Accessed June 22, 2020.

Uncharted Waters: Intellectual Life in the Edo Period, edited by Anna Beerens, Mark Teeuwen (Brill Publishing, 2012).

Visible Cities: Canton, Nagasaki, and Batavia and the Coming of the Americans by Leonard Blussé (Harvard University Press, 2009).

Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems by Stephen Addiss, Fumiko Yamamoto and Akira Yamamoto (Shambala, 2009).

Author’s note: This article was written especially for Haiku NewZ and was published there in July 2020. It may be found in the Archived Articles list.

Basho in Leiden

Doing some research to finish an article about the Dutch in Japan during that nation’s closed era (about 1641 to about 1853), I came across a photo of a Basho haiku painted on a wall in the delightful city of Leiden in The Netherlands – and now can’t remember whether I walked past it 2 years ago or am now just thinking I did!

The Basho wall haiku in Leiden. Image: Tunbantia, via Wikipedia

ara yumi ya sado ni yokotau ama no gawa

a wild sea, 
and stretching out towards the Island of Sado,
the Milky Way

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), tr RH Blyth See more translations here.

This website about the Wall Poems Project has a page dedicated to Basho’s 1689 poem, which was painted by Jan Willem Bruins in 1994 using a paper version in Japanese characters as his guide. “While he was painting, he was spotted by a group of Japanese passers-by. Filled with adoration, they stopped to watch Bruins apply the characters in a slapdash fashion. They asked if he had ever done a calligraphy course. When he said that this was his first try, they paid their respects to the painter with a deep bow.”

The Wall Poems Project ran from 1992 to 2005, and includes this very graphic 1966 poem by another Japanese poet, Seiichi Niikuni (1925-1977).

Kawa mata wa Shū by Seiichi Niikuni. Image: David Eppstein, via Wikipedia

The two characters translate as ‘river sandbank’ with the left line being ‘river’. Niikuni was a longtime creator of concrete poetry.

The smell of haiku

The power of scent to raise a memory has been scientifically proven, as has the link between scent and emotion, one that perfumiers strive to tap into. This article in The Harvard Gazette explains the science: Smells are handled by the olfactory bulb, the structure in the front of the brain that sends information to the other areas of the body’s central command for further processing. Odours go directly to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory – and the oldest parts of the human brain.

And although we list taste as one of the five senses, science says that everything we taste is by way of being smelled. No sense of smell, no sense of taste.

Here are some haiku I think convey the sense of smell very well, even if they almost all use the word ‘scent’! I hope you’ve enjoyed this four-part look at haiku that engage with the senses beyond sight, I’ve had fun putting it together.

fallen eucalypt …
the scent
cut into stove lengths

Jo McInerney
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

gentle rain
scent of the seedbed turning
a deeper brown

Katrina Shepherd
from Before the Sirocco (NZPS, 2008)

yellow roses
at Uji the fragrance
of roasting tea leaves

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note to the haiku, written in 1691, is that as yamabuki flowers (Kerria japonica) have no fragrance, they must borrow smells from the roasted tea.

Uji was once one of the most important tea-growing areas in Japan. Read more here. It’s interesting to note that although the yamabuki plant is not a rose, its name is often used to mean ‘yellow rose’ in Japanese literature!

migrating geese –
her scent finally gone
from my pillow

Stephen Toft
from another country: haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer, 2011)

in the alleys
orange blossom scent . . .
the rest escapes me

Luci Cardillo
from Autumn Moon 2.2 (2019)

otoko kite heya nuchi suisen no nioi midaru

a man enters
the room, disturbing the scent
of daffodils

Yoshino Yoshiko, tr Makoto Ueda
from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women
(Columbia University Press, 2003)

two boys giggle
as he enters the bike shop …
onion seller

Alan Summers
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

family reunion
bad breath
has a name

Roberta Beach Jacobson
from H Gene Murtha Senryu Contest, 2019

summer breeze
setting aside the book
to smell her hair

Makarios Tabor
from The Heron’s Nest 22.1, 2020


The touch of haiku

The sensation of touch – whether we’re touching something or someone or we’re being touched – is often an unrecorded sensation. We’re much more likely to respond strongly to taste or smell. But from the moment we’re born our vulnerable skin is wrapped in a textile or fibre, and we do that until we are dressed for the final time and our earthly remains commended to the elements.

Our skin is our largest organ and is constantly absorbing and classifying contact sensations. As I type this only my face and hands are exposed and I realise that I haven’t for a long time considered how my fingerpads feel the keyboard keys and what messages they’re sending to my brain. Given that I’ve been using typewriters and keyboards for more than 40 years, I might be forgiven for falling into non-observance but it’s a timely prod that I could well do to examine this facet of my haiku writing.

feet up
toes spread wide
I catch
8 tiny summer breezes

Anita Virgil
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

cat’s tongue
licks the Atlantic
from my damp skin

Doris Lynch
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

summer morning
the riverbed stones warm
beneath my feet

John Barlow
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

yu no nagori koyoi wa hada no samukara n

tonight my skin
will miss the hot spring
it seems colder

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note to this haiku, written in autumn 1689, is that the poet gave the haiku to Toyo, the son of the innkeeper, as he was leaving the hot springs resort at Yamanaka, near Kanazawa. In her introduction to this section of haiku, Reichhold notes that Basho had become ‘infatuated’ with the young man.

drafty temple –
only the buddha
not shivering

Stanford M Forrester
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

mother’s ashes
the mountain wind
on my hands

Meg Arnot
Morika International Haiku Contest, 2019

my thumbprint
on this thousand-year-old pot
fits hers

Ruth Yarrow
from Montage

haguki kayuku chikubi kamu ko ya hanagumori

gums itching
the baby bites my nipple –
spring’s hazy sky

Sugita Hisajo, tr Makoto Ueda
from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women
(Columbia University Press, 2003)

summer haze
on the small of my back
the feel of his palm

Patricia Prime
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)