Gendai Haiku Translations
Translated by Richard Gilbert and Itô Yûki
Haiku by Saito Sanki, Woodblock prints by Shodo Iwagaki
Please note that in each case, a form of lineation and punctuation was chosen to best emulate the feeling or power of the original; we were not looking for consistency but rather accuracy and feeling. Where possible we tried to follow the image-story of the original haiku. We also added short notes to a few of the haiku, where necessary or desirable.
daibutsuden idete sakura ni atatamaru
exiting the hall of the buddha
cherry blossoms; become warmer
shungiku wo maki mizu wo nomi sero wo hiku
Note: “shungiku” is a green leafy vegetable, similar to spinach. Note the repetition of the post-position particle wo (linking of verb-object), also there is an abrupt use of three verbs in the original.
hae umare tenshi no tsubasa hirogetari
a fly born an angel’s wings expand
atama waruki hi ya genge da ni ushi abare
stupid head stupid day —
through a field of thistle
bull on a rampage
Note: genge (also known as renge) is Chinese milk vetch, a purple flower planted in fallow rice fields to return nutrients to the soil. As this flower and its purpose are not generally well-known we selected an alternative.
teppan ni iki yawarakaki aogaeru
on a cast-iron griddle
the soft breath of
a green frog
fuyu ni umare batta ososugiru hayasugiru
tekkyuu no katasa aozora no aoringo
hardness of a steel ball
green apple of blue sky
kurisumasu umagoya arite uma ga sumu
a horse stable
being at Christmas
a horse’s home
karehasu no ugoku toki kite mina ugoku
a withered lotus moves
around a moment —
yu no iwa wo aibu su amanogawa no shita
groping a rock
at the hotspring, under
the milky way
chuunen ya tooku minoreru yoru no momo
middle age —
a night peach
ripens in the distance
Note: this is one of Sanki’s celebrated haiku (he also published a book titled “Night’s Peach” (or “Peach of Night,” yoru no momo]). "Night peach"
is an erotically charged image.
kaki muku te haha no gotoku ni kaki wo muku
the hand when
peeling persimmons, like mother
when peeling persimmons
haru wo yami matsu no nekko mo miakitari
sick of spring — fed up with the roots of a pine tree
nigetemo shamo ni nishibi ga betabeta to
escaped, yet —
sunlight of the west sticky
with fighting cocks
mizumakura gawabi to samui umi ga aru
it’s a chilly ocean
Note: Saito Sanki’s epitaph, and a signature haiku.
mozu no koe toufu ni hibiku sore wo kiru
song of a shrike
from the tofu
when it’s cut
Note: mozu (shrike) is a bird of prey which imitates the songs of other birds. In Japanese, the kanji for mozu is “100+tongue” (many-tongued). Its own voice is a sharp “ki-ki” creak, a metallic screech sound. “mozu” is an Autumn kigo.
Saito Sanki was born Saito Keichoku on May 15, 1900, in Tsuyama, Okayama, Japan. He was a key figure in the movement to transform traditional haiku in response both to the West as well as to the realities of modern Japan. He was thus labeled a “thought offender” and subversive during World War II by Japan’s ultranationalist government and, in 1940, put in jail for 70 days. In 1947, Sanki helped establish the Modern Haiku Association. A poet, short story writer, dentist, dancer, bohemian and sexual adventurer, he died on April 1, 1962.
Shodo Iwagaki is a Zen Buddhist monk and artist living in Kuse, Okayama, Japan. For over 30 years he has been living, praying and creating his artwork in Mairai-ji (Mairai Temple). Virtually every wall and ceiling inside the temple is covered with his woodblock prints and carvings.