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.

The taste of haiku

Finding myself with some time on my hands I thought I would explore haiku that deal with our senses beyond sight. So there will be a themed post once a week for the next four weeks. I’ve had fun finding and selecting these poems, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

Taste and scent are and likely the most difficult senses to weave into a haiku. I catch myself writing ‘the taste of …’  far too often so then must stop and figure out another way of saying exactly that. It’s been fun discovering or re-discovering taste-sense haiku where the authors have found ways of making their poem bold, fresh and vivid.

oozing from a fig
indian summer

Harriot West
from The Wonder Code (Girasole Press, 2017)

mononofu no daikon nigaki hanashi kana

the bitterness of pickles
in the talk

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

The translator’s note for this haiku written in 1693 says Basho has chosen to pair ‘daikon’, a large radish that is often pickled, with ‘nigaki’, meaning ‘bitter’. Both the pickles and the military men’s stories left a bitter taste. She believes the haiku also references the Japanese proverb, ‘the ambitious man eats strong roots’.

shimmering pines
a taste of the mountain
from your cupped hands

Peggy Willis Lyles
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

wood smoke
a little something extra
in the tea

Adelaide B Shaw
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

Valentine’s Day –
a cherry tomato
bursts in my mouth

Michael Dylan Welch
from Haikuniverse, Feb 14, 2017

carnival day
candy-floss kiss
on the ghost train

Ron C Moss
from the ‘Freshly Caught’ sequence, Kokako 2 (2004)

the way English tastes
on my tongue

Chen-ou Liu
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

no longer friends
the aftertaste
of imported ale

Polona Oblak
from A New Resonance 9 (Red Moon Press)

lovacore market
notes of diesel
in the chilled cherries

Lew Watts
from a hole in the light (Red Moon Press, 2019)

waga aji no zakuro ni hawasu shirami kana

this pomegranate
tastes like me
enjoy it, little louse!


Translator David Lanoue says: In the prescript to this 1820 haiku, Issa recalls the legend of a mother demon who went about eating children. The Buddha recommended  she switch to a diet of pomegranates, which supposedly taste the same as human flesh. See R. H. Blyth, Haiku (Hokuseido, 1949-1952/1981-1982). In this hard-to-translate haiku, Issa catches one of his lice, and, instead of killing it, places it on his surrogate, the pomegranate.

Load of bull

in a bull’s eyelashes
spring drizzle

Paul Chambers
from The Heron’s Nest 22.1 (2020)

I’m reading Field Notes from the Edge: Journeys through Britain’s secret wilderness by Paul Evans (Rider Publishing, 2015) and was pleased to be safe in my bed when reading this description of a tense bucolic encounter after the author allowed his attention to wander.


He may not have been the biggest bull but he seemed massive to me. A head the size of a washing machine, huge neck and shoulders, long back, all deep russet red and rounded muscle – a brick shithouse of a beast. I looked into his eye.

This eye was unlike the oxeye daisy, which is really a pastoral joke in which the ox is prettified and conforms to a bovine ideal of cud-chewing reverie and disinterested stare. He was also not the snorting, charging, angry bull of cartoons. He was watching me closely with his robin redbreast-coloured eye, perhaps with a flash of gold in it. The eye lay at the forward edge of a body that could flatten a wall, not with a furious charge but with a mindful harnessing of colossal weight and strength of will. He was considering what to do. This bull was dangerous.

He began to eat, ripping up hanks of grass with his tongue whilst walking slowly but never diverting his eye from me. This grazing was subterfuge, getting me to think he was not charging while slyly gaining ground. I had heard of bulls working out how to kill someone and this felt premeditated. Perhaps it was payment for some mistreatment he had experienced; perhaps his hormones were pumped by the cows and his blood was up; perhaps something had woken inside that boulder of a skull, some wild bullness was taking over from thousands of years of domestication. It was going to be existential for both of us.


The stand-off fortunately ends peacefully. The author, heart pounding, manages to assert the farmer’s ‘ancient claim’ to authority and sends the bull on his way.

spring fever
the farm gate swung wide
for the bull

Michele L. Harvey
from The Heron’s Nest 19.4 (2017)

This in-your-face haiku was written by Issa in 1812:

yamabuki ni burari to ushi no fuguri kana

in the yellow roses
the bull’s balls

Translator David Lanoue says: “Here, as often in Issa, we find a startling juxtaposition. Fearlessly and without self-censorship, he presents what he sees. And also, as often is the case, after the initial shock of the image wears off, we find deeper connections to ponder. The bull’s testicles and the roses, after all, are sex organs.”

While researching for a forthcoming post, I discovered that in Japanese literature ‘yellow roses’ are understood to be yamabuki flowers (Kerria japonica), not a rose at all and without any thorns! (Which was worrying me a bit about the image above …)

vacation’s end
sunlight catches the ring
in a bull’s nostrils

Polona Oblak
from The Heron’s Nest 20.4 (2018)

‘Boy on Ox’ is a woodblock print by Ogata Gekko, made in about 1890-1910. Image: Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Estate of Dr Eleanor Z. Wallace

Like Paul Chambers’ haiku that opens this posting, American poet Richard Wright subverts the typical view of a bull as one of uber-masculinity.

Coming from the woods,
a bull has a lilac sprig
dangling from a horn

Richard Wright (1908-1960)

Japan holds regular bullfights (togyu), held in front of paying crowds, which are a recognised folk custom. Unlike Spain however, there are no matadors and picadors; the bulls simply lock horns with one another and push. The bouts are run along the lines of sumo wrestling matches and no animals are put to death as part of the spectacle. Indeed, it seems the bulls are fed well and treated better. Read more here. The Choju-giga scrolls, painted from the mid-12th century to the end of the 13th century, are the earliest record of bullfighting in Japan.

small country town
the bull’s rosette
in the butcher’s window

Pamela Brown
from another country: haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer, 2011)

noon sun
the bull
in a knife’s reflection

Mary Weiler
from Presence 55 (2016)

One thing + another thing

I bought this postcard while in Japan last month.


Fireworks at the Ryogoku Bridge, an 1858 woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige, from his series ‘From One Hundred Famous Views of Edo’. Image: Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The text on the MIA page says: “Situated on the shores of Edo Bay, the city of Edo [renamed Tokyo in 1868] was defined by a network of rivers and canals. Bridges became vital links for travel and communication and also gathering places comparable to the plazas of Western cities. Erected over the Sumida River in 1659 or 1661, Ryōgoku was Edo’s second major bridge. In the early 1730s, the government sponsored an event commemorating citizens who had died in a cholera epidemic. The memorial, which included a display of fireworks, became an annual observance. Hiroshige devoted more than half of this composition to the night sky, illuminated by sparkling fireworks. On the river below, pleasure boats from which people view the pyrotechnics are festooned with red lanterns that form tiny points of light on the deep-hued water. At first glance, Ryōgoku’s broad arch is a dark silhouette against the river, but a closer look reveals a crowd of tiny figures, each casting a fleeting shadow.”

The Japanese word for fireworks is hanabi, which translates to fire flowers. The season for fireworks is summer – July and August – when big public shows are put on. Apparently, the Sumida River in Tokyo was first chosen as a site for fireworks because of the reflections on the water and the cooling breezes that might be had during the city’s hot, humid summers. The first public display was in 1733. Here’s a nice blog post about attending a fireworks display in Japan.

Hiroshige is one of Japan’s most famous woodblock artists. Here’s a brief profile of him. Interestingly, his father had been a fire brigade warden! Serious fires were so common in the city that the locals had a saying, “Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo”.

ichi mon no hanabi mo tamaya tamaya kana

even one-penny
fireworks …
ooo! ahh!

Issa, tr David Lanoue (written in 1825)

From David Lanoue’s website, Haiku of Kobayashi Issa, comes this extra information: Tamaya is the name of a company that made fireworks in Issa’s day. Praising the fireworks, the crowd shouts, “Tamaya!” Issa’s humour lies in the fact that even cheap fireworks that cost only one mon are praised wildly. (The mon was the basic currency of Issa’s time, a coin with a hole in its middle so it could be put on a string. In Issa’s day six mon could buy a bowl of rice.)

I took this photo at an exhibition in Melbourne last year.

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Fireworks, a 1933 lithograph print by M C Escher. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The accompanying text said: “For this lithograph, rather than building the composition with black lines and shading on white, Escher began by spraying a tint on to the entire surface of the lithographic stone, resulting in a smooth black finish. He then scratched away the lighter parts of the print – the flares of the firework piercing the night sky and the people below who look up in wonder at the spectacle, briefly lit by its glow. This unusual method was taken up by Escher during a period of experimentation with the lithographic technique and is well suited to depicting dark interiors and night scenes.”

The photo has been taken at an angle to avoid light reflection off the surface of the print.

To my eye Escher had more than a bit of a Japanese aesthetic about his work. Read more about the life of the Dutch artist, famous for his mind-bending illusions.

suddenly the ocean wind
is warmer

Jane Reichhold, from A Dictionary of Haiku (2013)


Watching four or five monarch butterflies dance around our swan plant (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) last evening was a delight – sadly though, unless I intervene, there likely won’t be a new generation as nesting wasps consume any caterpillars until about the end of February when the predator’s diet changes.

Leaving that unfortunate thought aside, I thought I’d browse my bookshelves for butterfly-related haiku and there in the first book I opened, on the first page I looked at was …

on the manuscript
the shadow of a butterfly
finishes the poem

Nick Virgilio
from naad anunaad, an anthology of contemporary world haiku (2016)

Heartened, I continued …

summer butterfly
between my fingers the thickness
of a playing card

Katsuhiro Takayanagi (tr Koko Kato)
from A Vast Sky, an anthology of contemporary world haiku (2014)



Monarch  butterfly. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Two from the internet:

my son noticing . . .
the attention i pay
to butterflies

John Stevenson
from The Heron’s Nest 1.1 (1999)

kiiro-gumi shiro-gumi [chô] no chidori keri

yellow gang, white gang
the butterflies claim
their turf

Kobayashi Issa, written in 1820 (tr David Lanoue)

At his website, David Lanoue notes: Chidori is an old word, a form of the verb chidoru, which means to measure out a lot on which to build a house.

And back to the bookshelf …

blue butterflies
a knife without a handle
on the lichened stone

Peggy Willis Lyles, 1939-2010
from Haiku 21 (2011)

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Long-tailed blue butterfly (Lampides boeticus). Photo: Sandra Simpson

first white butterfly
my cabbages
not yet planted

Elaine Riddell
from the taste of nashi (2008)

traffic lights
all eyes follow
the butterfly

Belinda Broughton
from Third Australian Haiku Anthology (2011)

Paulownia – the haiku tree

The paulownia trees are flowering just now – they always catch my eye because the purple flowers seem such a long way up. We used to have one on a boundary with a neighbour but it’s not so much the flowers I remember from that tree but the sound of sparrows rattling the seed pods.

Paulownia (empress tree, foxglove tree) is named for Anna (1795-1865), the daughter of Tsar Paul 1 of Russia (1754-1801). Courted by many, including it’s said Napoleon Bonaparte, she married the future King William II of The Netherlands, who stayed with the Russian royal family for the best part of a year before she agreed to the match. In The Netherlands, she was known as Anna Paulowna, which gives us the tree’s botanical name. Read more of this story here, as well as some botanical background.

Just about past, the blossoms of a paulownia tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The faintly perfumed wood is traditionally used in Japan for clothes chests, particularly kimono, as it contains a natural insect and mould repellent, and is slow to burn (a big consideration when everyone lives in wood and paper houses). Read more about Japanese traditions associated with the paulownia here, including the planting of a paulownia when a daughter is born.

Underlining its treasure box status is the fact that in The British Museum is a set of four calligraphy albums featuring haiku by Basho – one album for each season and each album stored in a paulownia box.

I wasn’t able to find any haiku about paulownia blossoms – only the tree’s leaf fall in autumn which has significant, and ancient, connotations for Japanese and Chinese poets.

hitoha chiru / totsu hitoha chiru / kaze no ue

a leaf falls
Totsu! A leaf falls
on the wind

– Hattori Ransetsu (1654-1707), tr William Higginson
The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology (Courier Corporation, 2012)

The notes with the haiku say this (in part):

The term ‘one leaf’ in a Japanese haiku is code for paulownia (kiri in Japanese).The fast-growing tree’s leaves drop throughout the year and symbolise loneliness and connote the past. The large, purple flowers are deeply associated with haiku because they hold 3 prongs of 5-7-5 buds, respectively. The blooms and their bracket of leaves form the crest of the Empress of Japan. Totsu is an exclamation uttered by a student of Zen Buddhism when enlightenment is achieved – it is also said to be the sound a paulownia leaf makes as it hits the ground upon falling.

Sourced from the Old Pond Comics website.

naku semi mo tsurete fuwari to hito ha kana

with a singing cicada
one leaf falls

– Issa, from Haiku of Kobayashi Issa website.

David Lanoue’s notes say: The phrase, “one leaf” (hito ha), specifically denotes a paulownia leaf in the shorthand of haiku. Shinji Ogawa notes that naku semi mo tsurete means “together with the singing cicada”. The falling leaf has a passenger!

The footnote to another poem amplifies the power of ‘one leaf’: Shinji Ogawa comments: “In a Chinese book, Enanji (in Japanese pronunciation) published in the early third century, it is written that when a paulownia leaf falls, the world’s autumn is known. The ‘world’s autumn’ implies the changing of the dynasty. Since paulownia leaves are the crest of the Tyotomi family that ruled Japan in the sixteenth century and was ruined by the Tokugawa, the word hito ha (“one paulownia leaf”) implies a sort of sadness.”


The symbol of the Japanese empress – three paulownia leaves – is seen on a roof tile in the Imperial Palace, Kyoto. (The tadpole-type symbols on the other tiles are apparently water drops that act as a ‘charm’ against fire.) Photo: Sandra Simpson


making sure we know 
that autumn is here, a leaf
from the empress tree

– Den Sutejo (1633-98) tr Makoto Ueda
Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women (Columbia University Press, 2012)

An editor’s choice!

Lovely to be included in the Editor’s Choices for the latest issue of The Heron’s Nest. Amazingly enough – to me anyway – this is the first dragonfly haiku I’ve had published!

torpid heat the small breeze a dragonfly makes

– Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest, 18.3

Another nice surprise came through the ether all the way from Angelee Deodhar in India, who created this haiga:

Beautiful photo, isn’t it? My attempts at dragonfly photography are very mediocre by comparison.

The appearance of a dragonfly in Japanese haiku tradition is a signifier of autumn but as you can see from my poem, I haven’t necessarily bothered about that. It might be high summer, it might be an Indian summer, you figure it out!

a round melon
   in a field of round melons
          – resting dragonfly

– Robert Spiess (1921-2002)
from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years

Number one on a list of 14 ‘fun facts’ about dragonflies is this: Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, some 300 million years ago. Modern dragonflies have wingspans of only two to five inches (5-12cm), but fossil dragonflies have been found with wingspans of up to two feet (61cm). Read the rest of the list here.

the dragonfly
on mother’s gravestone
something of her

– Jane Reichhold (1937-2016)
from A Dictionary of Haiku: Second Edition

We have a ‘giant’ dragonfly in New Zealand (Uropetala carovei) which has a yellow and black body that can be up to 86mm (3.4 inches) long, with a wingspan up to 130mm (5 inches). Read more about it here and listen to a radio talk about it and our other large dragonfly here (11 minutes 30, not all dragonfly). And no, I’ve never seen one.


tombô no hako shite iru ya kiku no hana

the dragonfly
takes a crap …

– Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)
translated by David Lanoue and from his website Haiku of Kobayashi Issa

Another Issa haiku to finish – the cartoon by talented Canadian Jessica Tremblay from her Old Pond Comics collection.

Sharp blades drumming

Yesterday turned into a wet day (much, much worse further south on the island so not complaining) so I dived into the video store and hired some DVDs.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) is a delightful documentary looking at the work (which it turns out is also the life) of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master who has three Michelin stars for his nine-seater restaurant in a Tokyo railway station. A food writer says dining there may take 15 minutes – which probably makes it the most expensive restaurant in the world. Although no mention was made of whale meat, there was plenty of discussion about tuna. Anyway, it seemed serendipitous to discover this haiku, new to me.    

                     whale-meat market 
sharp blades

– Yosa Buson (1716-1784)

The translation is by Stephen Addiss and appears in his book The Art of Haiku (Shambhala Publications, 2012). There are amazingly sharp blades featured throughout the film.

morauta yo tada hito kire no hatsu-gatsuo

my portion
just a tiny slice …
summer’s first bonito

– Issa, written in 1824

Translated by David Lanoue and from his Haiku of Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828). This note also appears: Shinji Ogawa explains, “Bonito swim along the Black Current (or Japan Current), from the Philippine Sea to the northern sea around Hokkaido. They pass near Tokyo (Edo) in spring [old calendar = summer] on their way north. They return to pass Tokyo in the fall on their way back to the south.” In haiku, bonito is a summer season word.

Horse Mackerel and Prawns, a woodblock print by Hiroshige. Image: Wikipedia.

Towards the end of the film Jiro, who was abandoned by his family when he was seven years old, and his older son Yoshikazu bemoan the small numbers of fish available, and that the quality is more variable than in the past. They believe part of the problem is the proliferation of sushi bars throughout the world (I had the impression they didn’t much care for the conveyor belt outfits).

sakura ebi sushi ni shirashite kyoo arinu

cherryblossom shrimps
sprinkled on my sushi —
what a fine day!

Hosomi Ayako (1907-1997)

Translated by Gabi Greve and taken from her World Kigo Database page for Raw Fish, which includes this note: The shrimps are a speciality of Suruga Bay, Sagami Bay and a few others, where they are caught and dried on the shore, with Mt. Fuji in the background … Eating them brings the pleasant feeling of spring, even in winter.

Bowl of Sushi, a woodblock print by Hiroshige. Image: Wikipedia.

Mid-winter evening,
alone at the sushi bar —
just me and this eel

– Billy Collins, from Modern Haiku 35.3 (2004)

Hitomi moto / shôkaki narishi / fuyu-aozora

eyes used to be
digestive organs —
winter blue sky

– Yukihiko Settsu (1947-1996)

Translated by Keiji Minato and taken from his essay Notes on Modern Haiku, section 3.

Gochisōsama deshita! (Said after a meal by those who have enjoyed eating it – I hope you like / enjoy these haiku as much as I have.)

Soaping Fabulously 4

Yet another from the back of the wardrobe (still not my wardrobe, honest) is “luxury English soap” Bronnley Merry Christmas which comes in a box with a holly pattern on it, reminiscent of a Victorian Christmas card. At the time the box was made the company had warrants from HM Queen Elizabeth and HRH the Prince of Wales, but its website now displays only the former.

From a little bit of surmising I would say the soap was purchased in 2008 (the website has different Christmas soaps now available) but it had lost none of its soapiness or its scent – apple and cinnamon, which yes, did remind me of Christmas, a bit. A pleasant soap to use, a decent-sized bar and it lasted for a good length of time.

Although this particular soap is no longer available, on the basis of how much I enjoyed it, I would try a Bronnley soap again.

Cost: $9.90 for 100g. Rating 4 stars.

Also coming in a box (actually, there’s something a bit special about soap in a box) is Linden Leaves aromatherapy synergy in love again. My first recommendation is to this New Zealand company is to come up with a snappier name! The soap is branded as “vegetable soap” (large print on the front) and is certified organic (small print on the back), while the box itself is printed with “vegetable inks” and is “attractively packaged in a paper-based wrap”. Okay, I added the hyphen, I couldn’t help it. What’s “paper-based” mean, do you think? Some paper and some other yukky stuff we don’t want to mention? What’s wrong with using 100% recycled paper?

Back to the small print on the back – besides the rosehip oil and avocado oil there are  things with numbers and chemical names on the list of ingredients. I guess we have to figure that if it’s certified organic (why isn’t that on the front in big letters?) it’s all good.

The soap itself was pleasant enough, but it is one of the pricier ones I’ve used and that extra cost didn’t really stand out in terms of scent or skin feel. In fact, it was probably a bit less fabulous than the six-year-old Bronnley soap. This soap is tagged as having a scent of neroli, vanilla and sandalwood (although the box shows an orange and orange blossom, which is just plain confusing). You all know how I am about vanilla and, once again, I have been disappointed. Pleasant but not nearly what I wanted or was expecting. See the full range of Linden Leaves soap.

At the same time I bought the soap I also purchased a bottle of Linden Leaves ginseng and orange blossom bath salts, which smell divine. Oddly, there is no soap to match.

Cost: $14.99 for 100g. Rating 3 stars.

Haiku Husband has been gallivanting and one of my proceeds from a recent trip was a bar of Honey I Washed Teh Kids (sic) from a Lush outlet in Dubai. Here’s a link to the New Zealand branch of Lush, which is a UK-based company.

The soap is advertised as “toffee and honey” and the bar comes with a honeycomb effect on top of the slice. It does have a scent, but I clock it as something spicier than either toffee or honey. I’ve always wanted to love Lush products but often feel let down when I use them. The fun names and the unique look of the stores usually don’t translate into the same fun at home (website slogan: “magic is something we make”).

The soap lathers okay, but being brown the soap isn’t so pretty to look at and the “honeycomb” on the end is sharpish and/or falls off … and this stuff isn’t cheap! Not one I’d try again.

Cost: Dhr410/kg or $NZ140/kg (Dhr42.65 for my block/ $NZ14.61). Rating 2 stars.

Read Part 3
Read Part 2
Read Part 1

kakurega wa yuami sugi keri matsu no semi

secluded house –
a hot bath
and cicadas in the pines

– Kobayashi Issa, written in 1804.

This haiku (both Japanese and English) is from David Lanoue’s amazing site, Haiku of Kobayashi Issa.

Plum blossom season

“Blossom” is synonymous with spring but, traditionally, “plum blossom” in Japanese haiku is a signifier for late winter and, as that’s where my part of the world is at, it’s timely to shine a small spotlight on this flower.

Probably my best effort at plum blossom. Artwork: Sandra Simpson

Several years ago I joined a Chinese brush-painting class where we worked through the “four gentlemen”, starting with bamboo before moving on to orchid, chrysanthemum  and finishing with  plum blossom.

Our teacher, Sally, had a magnificent scroll painting of plum blossom she had bought in Hong Kong. It was enormous and masterfully done. Painted images of plum blossom often show snow on the branches too, reinforcing the late winter season.

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Billington is the first plum variety to crop and these blossoms were out with the magnolias in a Tauranga garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

home village
all the potholes
patched with plum blossoms

– Ernest Wit, Asahi Haikuist network, February 1, 2013

sute ôgi ume nusubito ni modoshi keri

abandoned fan –
I return it
to the plum blossom thief

– Kobayashi Issa (tr David Lanoue)

Read more of Issa’s plum blossom haiku.

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Plum blossom in Japan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I visited Japan in April 2012 and while the cherry blossom was opening in the lower areas, in the higher country we were still in late winter. This photo was taken in the Fuji Five Lakes national park (Fuji-Goko).

Gabi Greve, writing about plum blossom on her World Kigo Database website, says plum blossom viewing was a popular pastime, particularly in the Heian period (794-1185), but was done more on an individual basis than by the big groups who undertake cherry blossom viewing – red plum blossoms  remind the viewer of the coming spring, while white blossoms are a reminder of the snow that may still be about or still to fall.

plum blossoms everywhere …
I should go south,
I should go north

– Yosa Buson

While looking for haiku for this post, I came across this one in Haiku Before Haiku by Steven D Carter (Columbia University Press, NY, 2011):

plum branches –
umbrellas taking shape
in the rain

– wife of Mitsusada (1583-1647)

A note with the haiku says the wife of Sugiki Mitsusada was “often called the first female haikai poet” … so I did a little online research and found this from Far Beyond the Field, Haiku by Japanese women, compiled by Makoto Ueda:

The earliest documentary evidence for female authorship of haikai is  … Enokoshu (The puppy collection, 1633), which collected verses  written by poets of Tei-mon, the oldest school of  haikai. [It] contains works by a person identified only as “Mitsusada’s wife”. Of the 178 poets represented in the anthology, she was the lone woman. That statistic, and her being listed under her husband’s name, suggest the kind of status to which women were confined in haiku circles during this seminal period.

Read a sample from the book.