Happy New Year


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

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

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

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

極月や箱階段の薄埃   石田経治

gokugetsu ya hako kaidan no usubokori

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Margaret Chula
from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan

Horikiri iris garden by Hiroshige, 1857 (Wikimedia)


Red piano & others

I made the post below with the picture of Michael Parekowhai’s red piano and woke up this morning and remembered this haiku:

ants out of a hole —
when did I stop playing
the red toy piano?

– Fay Aoyagi, from In Borrowed Shoes (Blue Willow Press, San Francisco) 2006.

Fay’s haiku are always interesting as she ploughs a course different to most with her work. Read her blog, Blue Willow World, where she daily translates a haiku from Japanese into English.

And then this one … (red in her father’s face perhaps)

piano practice
in the room above me
my father shouting

– Roberta Beary, from The Unworn Necklace (Snapshot Press, UK, 2007)

And because it seems right to have haiku in threes, here’s another.

rain at last!
I ask the piano salesman
to riff a little Bach

– Carolyn Hall, The Heron’s Nest XVI: 2 (2014)

It was my pleasure to meet each of these talented poets in Long Beach last year.