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November 2007 Issue VII:4

Tsubouchi Nenten — Haiku Selections
Richard Gilbert and Itô Yûki (trans.)
May 31, 2007

 

Tsubouchi Nenten (坪内稔典1944 - ) Selected Haiku from haiku nyûmon
[Introduction to Haiku], Sekai Shisoushya, Tokyo: 1998, and elsewhere.

 

春風に母死ぬ龍角散が散り
はるかぜにははしぬりゅうかくさんがちり
harukaze ni haha shinu ryûkakusan ga chiri

 

to the spring wind
mother dead, herbal medicine
scatters

 

 

水中の河馬が燃えます牡丹雪
すいちゅうのかばがもえますぼたんゆき
suichû no kaba ga moemasu botanyuki

 

a wallowing hippo
burns —
snowflakes

 

(1) botanyuki are large snowflakes or snowflake clusters, known also as ‘snow flowers.’ botan is a peony.

 

 

バッタとぶアジアの空のうすみどり
ばったとぶあじあのそらのうすみどり
batta tobu ajia no sora no usumidori

 

flying grasshopper asian sky a washed-out green

 

 

桜散るあなたも河馬になりなさい
さくらちるあなたもかばになりなさい
sakura chiru anata mo kaba ni narinasai


cherry blossoms fall —
you too must become
  a hippo

 


春を寝る破れかぶれのように河馬
はるをねるやぶれかぶれのようにかば
haru o neru yabure kabure no yô ni kaba


in the spring —
lying down desperate, as
a hippo

 

In these final two examples, elements of the original Japanese words are retained, in order to reveal qualities of language play, which are important to Tsubouchi’s haiku aesthetic. Unfortunately this type of stylism has stymied attempts at translation. A brief cultural note follows each haiku, giving an abbreviated explanation of the untranslated phrases.

 

三月の甘納豆のうふふふふ
さんがつのあまなっとうのうふふふふ
sangatsu no amanattô no ufufufufu

 

in march
amanatto:
u fu fu fu fu

 

(1) In Japan, March (san-gatsu) is the end of the business year, full of fresh energy, yet somewhat sad with the departure of the old and familiar. There is a saying in this regard: deai to wakare no kisetsu (the season of meetings and farewells).

(2) amanatto —  is a traditional Japanese confectionery, made of sweet, fermented azuki beans and sugar; the word-feeling of ‘sweet natto’ reminds of “natto,” a unique food, with a pungent aroma, which is a kind of “power food” or “soul food” (vitality-enhancing). 

(3) u fu fu fu fu — For us, this onomatopoeia creates an image of a group of older women eating the sweets together—in Japanese “ufufu” is a small laughing voice, made with a slightly opened mouth, that is, a kind of modest, small-voiced chuckle, and one imagines a hand placed at the level of the mouth, hiding it.

(4) The haiku also has a sense of personification: it seems as if amanatto itself is modestly chuckling, in a feminine manner. This haiku is among the most well-known of Tsucouchi Nenten, and is often cited.

 

 

たんぽぽのぽぽのあたりが火事ですよ
たんぽぽのぽぽのあたりがかじですよ
tanpopo no popo no atari ga kaji desuyo

 

    tanpopo no popo :
surrounding, burning!

 

(1) tanpopo is “dandelion.” The popo of tanpopo is a neologistic, onomatopoeic coinage. By utilizing popo, tanpopo, itself, not considered onomatopoeic, becomes so. Literally, the “popo” of “tanpopo” is on fire. In the pun, popo can represent the circumference of the flower, and/or the edge (latter half) of the word.

(2) desuyo is a dialogic part of speech which has the sense of a rallying cry, as if to say, “look at this!”, e.g., “Here is the place of the fire’s energy!” and also, ‘Emergency!’

(3) popo-popo-popo (etc.) is the sound of a steam locomotive; a locomotive engineer is known as a “popo-ya,” and “shushu popo” is a term children use for locomotive. The term poppo can be found in the 1603 Jesuit Japanese translation dictionary, as “the manner in which steam or fire rises.”

 

 

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