Touching the Moon: Twenty-Four Shikishi

First published in Frogpond 41:1, Winter 2018, pages 75–86, in celebration of the Haiku Society of Americas fiftieth anniversary. These shikishi were also exhibited at the California State Library in Sacramento, California, from December 2017 to April 2018 (see photo below). Also see the September 1978 exhibit photos.

        come outside!
        we can almost touch
        the spring moon
                —Teijo Nakamura

On September 17, 1978, for the tenth anniversary of the Haiku Society of America, the society’s annual meeting in New York City was a particularly special occasion. It included a visit by a distinguished haiku scholar and a notable poet from Japan, and the donation of twenty-four shikishi, or poem cards, to the society. The society’s twentieth anniversary book, A Haiku Path, portrays the event as follows (163):

For the annual meeting of 1978, the critic Kenkichi Yamamoto and the haiku poet Sumio Mori were invited by the HSA to come from Japan to speak on haiku. Held on September 17 at Japan House in New York City, this historic occasion was opened by HSA President Cor van den Heuvel welcoming the distinguished speakers and thanking those who had helped make the event possible, especially the co-sponsor, Japan Society, HSA vice president Yasko Karaki, Kazuo Sato of Tokyo’s Museum of Haiku Literature, and Japan Air Lines. [See 1978 exhibit photos.] A short address by Yukio Sugano, representing the Consul General of Japan, stressed the universality of haiku and the value of the HSA’s efforts on its behalf. Yasko Karaki introduced the two speakers. Takako Lento interpreted for them as they gave their talks.

Kenkichi Yamamoto (1907–1988) is described in A Haiku Path as being “the most influential haiku critic and commentator in modern times” (163). Sumio Mori (1919–2010) was editor of the haiku journal Kanrai (Cold Thunder) from 1957 to 1971, and was one of Japan’s leading haiku poets. The talks given by these two poets and scholars appeared in Frogpond 1:4, 1978, and in A Haiku Path (pages 163 to 173).
        As is common among the Japanese, the two visitors came with a generous gift, as described in A
 Haiku Path (174):

Messrs. Yamamoto and Mori brought with them a set of twenty-four haiku written on shikishi by contemporary Japanese haiku poets as a gift from the Museum of Haiku Literature in Tokyo to the Haiku Society of America. A shikishi is a more or less square decorative paperboard and is commonly used by the haiku poet to write his haiku for presentation or display. The twenty-four shikishi were displayed at Japan House during the HSA annual meeting.

Those in the audience each received a copy of Haiku Selected for Shikishi, with one-line translations of the twenty-four haiku by Hiroaki Sato. The booklet was published by Ikuta Press in Kobe, Japan, in an edition of 500 copies, which were also given to current and future HSA members until they ran out. The following poets were represented by the shikishi (names given here in Japanese order, surname first):

        Akao Tōshi, 1925–1981
        Awano Seiho, 1899–1992
        Azumi Atsushi, 1907–1988
        Hirahata Seitō, 1905–1997
        Hoshino Tatsuko, 1903–1984
        Hosomi Ayako, 1907–1997
        Iida Ryūta, 1920–2007
        Ishihara Yatsuka, 1919–1998

Kaneko Tohta, 1919–2018
        Katō Shūson, 1905–1993
        Minayoshi Sōu, 1902–1983

Mizuhara Shūōshi, 1892–1981
Mori Sumio, 1919–2010
Nagata Kōi, 1900–1997
Nakamura Kusatao, 1901–1983
Nakamura Teijo, 1900–1988
        Nozawa Setsuko, 1920–1995

Ōno Rinka, 1904–1982
Sawaki Kin’ichi, 1919–2001
        Takaha Shugyō, 1930–

Takayanagi Shigenobu, 1923–1983
Tomiyasu Fūsei, 1885–1979
Yamaguchi Seishi, 1901–1994
Yamaguchi Seison, 1892–1988

        Over the years, the shikishi were displayed occasionally at HSA meetings, and were featured at the Dalton School in New York City at the 2003 Haiku North America conference. In 2006, the HSA deeded the shikishi to the American Haiku Archives, where they joined the rest of the HSA’s official archives at the California State Library in Sacramento. At about this time, William J. Higginson estimated the value of these shikishi at between $100,000 and $120,000, based on the typical rate at which original shikishi by these famous poets would sell individually. In the decade since then, their value has gone much higher. As a set, their value is now perhaps as much as $500,000, but as a gift their value is priceless.
        On September 26, 1998, HSA president Kristen Deming wrote to Dr. Kevin Starr, California State Librarian. She said “Thank you for your letter of congratulations on the Haiku Society of America’s 30th Anniversary. . . . You can rightly be proud of the Library’s haiku collection, surely the richest and most inclusive in the country.” She also said that the society “has an important collection of haiku shikishi (original calligraphy on special paper display cards) by some of Japan’s most famous haiku poets, which we would like to send to the Archives in the future. Perhaps someday you would like to exhibit them at the Library along with translations and some information about the poets.”
        Kristen Deming’s desire is now reality. In December of 2017, and until the end of April 2018, the California State Library is exhibiting the Haiku Society of America’s twenty-four shikishi
 [promotional image here and exhibit photo below] with new translations by Michael Dylan Welch and Emiko Miyashita. This exhibit helps to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Haiku Society of America in 2018, as do the twenty-four shikishi haiku translations presented here, along with the shikishi images.
        The calligraphy of the twenty-four shikishi contributors varies from simple and utilitarian to flamboyant and decorative. Each poet created his or her shikishi by hand, including brush paintings as well as the calligraphy. These shikishi have importance beyond their significance as artwork, however. In describing this exhibit for publicity purposes, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and current California state poet laureate Dana Gioia said the following:

The great haiku tradition of Japan has been part of California poetry since the beginning when Yone Noguchi arrived here over a century ago to introduce the form into English. The haiku tradition was carried on by Japanese Americans who practiced this exquisite art even in the grimness of World War II internment camps. Today haiku is a central poetic form in English-language literature. The public presentation of these twenty-four haiku on shikishi poem cards has a special resonance for California. They deepen our historic cultural link with Japan and recall our diverse past. There is no way to understand our poetry without recognizing the haiku.

        These shikishi also resonate with importance for the entire United States and beyond. In Japan, the moon is revered as one of haiku’s most important kigo, or season words. Through haiku, Japan has shown the moon to the world in a new way. And through the efforts of countless poets, translators, and scholars, the world can now see haiku. The poems in these shikishi represent not just their authors but also the light of the haiku moon as a gift to the world. As with Teijo Nakamura’s poem included among these shikishi, we are perpetually invited to come outside to celebrate the moon. We trust that these shikishi created by twenty-four of Japan’s leading poets of the twentieth century will continue to inspire all ages of haiku writers in the United States and beyond for many years. The Haiku Society of America and the American Haiku Archives extend much gratitude to the Museum of Haiku Literature in Tokyo and to all the contributing poets for their lasting generosity.

Twenty-four shikishi on exhibit at the California State Library in Sacramento, California, December 2017 to April 2018. Supplementary materials included explanations of haiku, short biographies of many of the poets, and displays of haiku books from the American Haiku Archives collection.

Twenty-Four Shikishi

Translations by Michael Dylan Welch and Emiko Miyashita

Names are given in the Japanese order, surname first. 
Image scans courtesy of the American Haiku Archives, California State Library, Sacramento, California (these are low-resolution versions, but click each image to enlarge slightly).

赤尾 兜子
Akao Tōshi
, 1925–1981

sasanami no kuni no doburoku yoiyasushi

        raw sake
        from Lake Biwa’s shore—
        soon makes me drunk

阿波野 青畝
Awano Seiho
, 1899–1992

kyō no tsuki nagai susuki o ike ni keri

        harvest moon
        I have arranged
        silver grasses

Azumi Atsushi
, 1907–1988

ranpu uru hitotsu ranpu o kiri ni tomoshi

        lamp seller—
        one of his lamps
        lighting the fog

平畑 静塔
Hirahata Seitō
, 1905–1997

hi o takite utsukushiku tatsu izumiban

        building a bonfire
        the keeper of the well
        stands beautifully

星野 立子
Hoshino Tatsuko
, 1903–1984

akatsuki wa yoi yori sabishi kanetataki

        the dimness of dawn
        is lonelier than dusk—
        a handbell cricket

細見 綾子
Hosomi Ayako
, 1907–1997

fudangi de fudan no kokoro momo no hana

        in everyday clothes
        and everyday mind—
        peach blossoms

飯田 龍太
Iida Ryūta
, 1920–2007

nemuru yaya mizu akete iru bara no gotoshi

        like a cut rose
        drawing up water
        sleeping newborn

石原 八束
Ishihara Yatsuka
, 1919–1998

genbakuchi ko ga kagerō ni kieyukeri

        A-bomb site—
        a child disappears
        into the heat shimmer

金子 兜太
Kaneko Tohta, 1919–2018

ume saite niwajū ni aozame ga kiteiru

        plums in bloom
        all over the garden
        blue sharks

加藤 楸邨
Katō Shūson
, 1905–1993

genbakuzuchū kuchi aku ware mo kuchi aku kan

        an open mouth
        in the A-bomb picture—mine too

皆吉 爽雨
Minayoshi Sōu
, 1902–1983

harusame no kumo yori shika ya mikasayama

        a deer out of the clouds
        of spring rain . . .
        Mount Mikasa

水原 秋櫻子
Mizuhara Shūōshi
, 1892–1981

tsuki idete bara no tasogare nao tsuzuku

        emerging moon—
        twilight lingers
        in the roses

Mori Sumio
, 1919–2010

furidashi te yuki furishikiru yamatsubaki

        snow falling
        and still falling
        mountain camellia

永田 耕衣
Nagata Kōi
, 1900–1997

yume no yo ni negi wo tsukurite sabishisa yo

        in this world of dreams
        I grow leeks—
        such loneliness

中村 草田男
Nakamura Kusatao
, 1901–1983

banryoku no naka ya ako no ha haesomuru

        leaves all green—
        my baby’s first tooth
        begins to cut

中村 汀女
Nakamura Teijo
, 1900–1988

to nimo de yo fururubakari ni haru no tsuki

        come outside!
        we can almost touch
        the spring moon

野沢 節子
Nozawa Setsuko
, 1920–1995

shunchū no yubi todomare ba koto mo yamu

        spring afternoon—
        when my fingers stop
        the koto, too, dies away

大野 林火
Ōno Rinka
, 1904–1982

nemuri temo tabi no hanabi no mune ni hiraku

        even while I dream
        fireworks from my travels
        burst in my chest

沢木 欣一
Sawaki Kin’ichi
, 1919–2001

tō futatsu keitō karete tatsu gotoshi

        like cockscombs
        withering and standing still
        two towers

鷹羽 狩行
Takaha Shugyō
, 1930–                          +

matenrō yori shinryoku ga paseri hodo

        from a skyscraper
        fresh green trees
        look like parsley

高柳 重信
Takayanagi Shigenobu
, 1923–1983

oki ni chichi ari hi ni ichido oki ni hi wa ochi

        father at sea—
        once a day the sun sets
        into the sea

富安 風生
Tomiyasu Fūsei
, 1885–1979

hatsufuji no ōkikarikeru migiwa kana

        Fuji viewed at New Year
        from the water’s edge
        so grand

山口 誓子
Yamaguchi Seishi
, 1901–1994

umi ni dete kogarashi kaeru tokoro nashi

        gone out to sea
        autumn’s withering wind
        has nowhere to return

山口 青邨
Yamaguchi Seison, 1892–1988

hina no kuchi beni nururu mama ikuyo heshi

lips of the empress doll
        glisten with rouge
        through how many generations?