time with Hoshinaga Fumio is like spending time in warm
sunshine, as his beaming smile and youthful energy radiate
expansively. At seventy, among many literary activities,
Hoshinaga leads some dozen haiku circles around our Kumamoto,
Kyushu, area. Over a forty-year career he has garnered numerous
commendations, and was recently selected as one of twenty-five
national poets in Haiku Grove: An Anthology of Meritorious
Haiku (Haiku no hayashi, Honami Shoten, 2003); his knowledge
of both modern and traditional haiku is extensive. Along
with research interests in Japanese language and history,
Hoshinaga has been concerned with the local history and
deep tribal past of central Kyushu, a concern which frames
his latest effort, Kumaso-Ha, a ninth haiku collection
published by Honami Shoten in autumn 2003. The creativity
of the haiku in Kumaso-Ha are striking: many are
innovative in approach, presenting social and philosophical
perspectives with deeply humane insight. Most also use kigo
(though kigo with a difference) and are written in 575
or 17-on form, echoing haiku verities. Hoshinaga often employs
free meter and orthographic fragmentation to create a fusion
of rhythmic elements and psychological concept, a style
unique in his work.
We were joined in our conversation by Shinjuku Rollingstone,
haijin, mutual friend and interpreter, instrumental to our
communication. I wish also to thank Shinobu Yamaguchi of
Kumamoto University, who produced a draft transcript from
the recorded material.
Richard Gilbert: Im looking forward to our talk,
as readers in English are not familiar with your life and
your haiku. Could you say a few words to introduce yourself
and your haiku style?
Hoshinaga Fumio: I began studying haiku in 1967, so its
been about forty years now. In the beginning, I learned
traditional haiku, following and sticking to, so to speak,
a conservative form. At the time I started to write haiku,
avant-garde haiku was becoming a major movement. Especially,
Kaneko Tôta published the haiku magazine Kaitei,
and many young people became intensely interested.
In fact, Tôtas soft-cover book, Todays
Haiku (Kon-nichi no haiku) was something like a bible
for young people. From that book, I began to discover gendai
(modern, contemporary) haiku. I
published my first book of haiku after studying and writing
for just one year. The title is 100/67 that is, one
hundred sixty-sevenths. A one hundred haiku collection
in 67; 100/67 in Japanese is called an improper
fraction (kabunsû), and this term also has
also has another meaning: big head [laughs].
And not a proportionally big head, but a big headout
of all proportion. I felt that I wanted to write haiku from
my heart, not my head; I thought that my published haiku
collections were out of proportion because they were written
more from my head.
Now Ive published nine books
of haiku, and I feel Im getting closer to my heart.
RG: May I ask, what was your experience as a child, growing
HF: I was born in 1933. When I was in the sixth grade of
Elementary school, World War II ended. So until that time
I was a nationalistic, militaristic child in a militaristic
environment. After the war, with the advent of democracy,
gradually I discovered what I had not been able to seewhat
had somehow been hidden behind society. Thats why
I cannot believe anything I see: there must be some hidden
meaning. Thats the way I grew up. Even though I was
writing traditional haiku, I thought there must be something
hidden behind it. So, it was very easy for me to shift over
to gendai haiku.
And, Im an impoverished tenant-farmers son.
I learned after I had become an adolescent that the wealthy
landowner of our farmland was a famous traditional-haiku
poet; this circumstance contributed to my despising such
a sort of representative poet. These are some
of the factors that drove me to write gendai haiku.
RG: What might be frustrating or dissatisfying about traditional
HF: Hmm. Not frustration or dissatisfaction, so much as
antipathy towards authority and power.
RG: Do you mean then, that you feel restricted, concerning
HF: Yes. I have repellence, revulsion exactly against the
formal rules and approach, kigo, and various formal necessities.
[Reads the first poem from 100/67 ]:
ni-ju oku kônen no gishyô omae
twenty billion light-years of perjury: your
blood type is B
HF: I have a lot of misgivings, so I want to make visible
these misgivings in myself. These misgivings are not directed
toward typical persons, but rather towards any kind of authority.
This kind of repellence or revulsion drives me to write
RG: So, in this first haiku, we have the word perjury
. . .
HF: Twenty billion light-years is almost an
infinitely long distance
I had been fooled for so
long, concerning any and every fundamental I had been fooled
for so long, concerning any and every fundamental thing
without knowing any fundamental thing without knowing
any fundamental thing in the first place. Blood type B is
rare in Japan; Type A is happier, but Type B carries a sense
of melancholy. So, I felt my rebelliousness or revulsion
could not be not blood-type Ait must be blood-type
RG: In North America we dont really focus on blood
types, so its difficult to grasp the meaning of this
haiku. The haiku you mention brings up a different question.
In many of your haiku, such as twenty billion light
years, you create a deep, interior psychological feeling,
or seem to allude to a mysterious subject. The power of
psychological allusion seems uniquely creative in your work.
Could you comment on this theme?
HF: I write about or touch upon human heart and feeling,
by creating human mental images. The human mental image
does not have a typical form, such as a cake cut into four
quartersa mental picture is not like thatit
has no form. For example, though I dont like to talk
about this, my mother attempted suicide when I was in my
first year of high school. I dont know the reason.
This was just an attempt, but in the next week something
in her mind or spirit was terribly, unusually troubled,
and at the end of that week she passed away. I have mixed
feelingsboth love and hate. Santôka also lost
his mother to suicide. I cannot cut the love and hate apart,
separate them. And I cannot tell if this light is brightis
dark. When you eat cake its bright, but when I get
a difficult questionits getting dark! [Laughter.]
So that is why my approach may be very difficult to understand
for some people. In any case, theres no doubt psychological
influence is an aspect of my work.
Shinjuku Rollingstone [looking at Hoshinagas first
anthology]: Cho-sen is written in roman letters. This is
challenging in Japanese
cho means butterfly,
doesnt it? What does this butterfly mean?
HF: Cho-sen is the name of my first major haiku
collection. My hometown is named Sen-choand cho-sen
means challenges, as in challenging traditional haiku.
Also, cho-sen means 1,000 butterflies spreading their
wings. Cho-sen also means rebellion, provocation
and additionally cho-sen represents the world of beauty
and the mixed or upside-down (ambivalent) feelings
I have towards my hometownit is also a classic symbol
of Japanese beauty. So, I cannot love purelythere
is both love and hatredIm the kind of man who
cant love that way. I have loved in a circuitous way.
SR: Is that love and anger, or love and sadness? Loveand,
HF: Love and hatred
This book is dedicated to my
wife, who passed away some years prior. To this day: did
I love her, didnt I love her? Maybe I loved her, but
Im not sure. Perhaps I didnt really love her.
SR: Youdidnt love your wife?
HF: No. I feel deeply sorry.
RG: It seems that, in a mysterious way, through your poetry,
ambivalent feelings are fused. From your haiku a deep sense
of harmony arises.
HF: Hmm. Thank you for your compliment. At the beginning,
I didnt intend to write mysterious haiku! Well, in
language words always have an order, and as I mentioned
before, there is also ambiguity (ambivalence). The beauty
of disharmony may appearwhich might seem mysterious
in some sense, but perhaps its not really that mysterious?
Disharmonies lead to harmonies.
RG: Disharmonies lead to harmoniesthats very
HF: Thank you. When I wear clothes, I usually try to coordinate
them. However, some people do not do things this way. Lately,
in a modern fashion trend, with some skirts one side is
short, while the other side is longbut there is harmony:
that is interesting.
RG: Now, Id like to ask two questions regarding your
comment, about the disharmony of words. For instance, it
seems that in a simple sentence like The dog is sleeping,
we dont have a feeling of disharmony, rather the opposite.
But there are different levels to the meaning; we could
say that just by reading this sentence weve made our
world a bit darkerweve eliminated various poetic
realities as consciousness encounters a literalistic sensibility.
In this simple sentence we accept realism. Maybe my point
is that, in a way it seems harmonious but perhaps in a sense,
realism, or literalism, has a kind of disharmony. What do
HF: Yes, I know what you mean: I agree with you. I feel
suspicious towards what is generally believed to be right
RG: So, in your poetry, you dont write the
dog is sleeping,you give us the feeling that
something about language is a little uncomfortablecause
us to feel or sense some disharmony in language.
SR: The way your poetic language speaksit seems that
being language is not easy.
HF: This might be. Words (languages) have been overworking
themselves. Here is part of the postscript I published in
Cho-sen (penned in January 1968):
I do not believe the truth that the sea is blue. That
I believe it is blue: an encompassing state of affairs
that limits as blue, via the comprehension of my eyes:
I believe only that. Though it is inconvenient, I wish
to compose haiku with a free posture towards truth, that
is, with reference to the encompassing situation. With
this thought, Ive been writing haiku freely, selfishly,
for half a year. This is the result of my selfish six
months. . . . As a matter of fact, there is a vast wilderness
of lyricism beyond these haiku: the wilderness I failed
to capture with a dull, sleepy-faced rebelliousness. This
book reminds me afreshI must start again with a
clean slate and to this end, I cast out this book with
So, this is the root-principle of my haiku. As a result,
my order and usage of words, syntax, etc., will change and
diverge from that of ordinary daily usage. I believe it
is both such usage and rhythm that makes my haiku well-balancedeven
though language is, generally speaking, overworked, fatigued.
In any case, rhythm creates balance and helps readers to
understand a haiku. I try to compose in very understandable
rhythms. Definitely, in my haiku, rhythm is a very powerful
and important element.
SR: Does rhythm help sustain a sense of harmony in your
HF: Yes. Even though language has been overworked, through
its just my own opinion, I try to create good rhythm
and well-balanced haiku. That is why I believe that my haiku
SR [to RG]: He has confidence in rhythm in his haikuthats
why English translation is really difficult! [Laughter.]
HF [writing on a piece of scrap paper]: I told my grandson,
if you wish to know my work, please remember only
this one haiku of mine:
ika hakka akadeka hôka kinsenka
[Aside: ika is squid, hakka is peppermint, akadeka
is a communist detective (KGB), hôka is arson,
and kinsenka (Calendula officinalis) is a large bright-orange
marigold, whose petals radiate outward in a striking fashion.
It has been pointed out that when praying to ancestors,
kinsenka is offered; grilled squid was a special
treat (perhaps eaten at an annual festival) during and following
the war when people generally, and poor farming families
particularly were short on food and there were no available
HF: Ika hakka akadeka hôka kinsenka. Reading
this poem, the rhythm of each word was considered carefully.
From the beginning, the first image is white,
then arson, then blooming flower.
This order or connection yields aesthetic feeling (bishiki),
which is pretty strongbut this is just my opinion.
Then, communist, to detective, and then to arsonfinally,
blooming marigold, perhaps like a fireworks. [Hoshinaga
used the onomatopoeic pa for blooming, which connotes a
bursting out; also the words hana (flower)
and hanabi (fireworks) are closely related,
sharing assonance and a common kanji. Peppermint
is a bursting out of flavor, communist detective (Soviet
secret police), implies a bursting out of revolution and
violence; arson, a bursting out of flame and crime; finally,
the bursting out of kinsenka; each phrase connotes
color, from white to red to a metaphoric rainbow.]
As you can see in this haiku, Ive been working very
hard in creating a sense of euphony. Of course, it might
be playful at the same time. One also needs to be shown
how to read detective (deka) as its
an unusual reading of the kanji.
RG: Reading this, first of all, I feel humor: the rhythm
is stable, but concept and image are quite disjunctiveits
the rhythm that causes the images join together, creating
one world: a sense of coherence. There is also an abstract
visual element, which recalls color-field painting. The
literal meaning doesnt seem to make sense, yet you
cant remove a single element.
HF: Thats right. You know, there is the traditional
Japanese song Goodbye Triangle (which everyone
knows) that goes like this: goodbye = triangle; see
you = square; square = tofu; tofu = white; white = rabbit
[sayonara sankaku, matakite shikaku, shikoku tôfu,
tôfu shiroi, shiroi usagi
by sound, or meaning, or shape, etc. I got the idea from
this song. Images are changed one by one, but they also
have various connections, at the same time.
These might be just techniques of language, but I believe
there is also a sense of aesthetic beauty (bishiki)
working within the lines. Goodbye triangle; see you
square; square tofu; tofu white; white rabbiteach
group in this song has a meaningful connection with the
following group. No one knows how long the song will continue
in this cyclical way. I wanted to somehow adopt the idea
into my haiku.
SR: I think your haiku have really got rhythm.
HF: There is rhythm in my haikuyet, language may
be being overworked
RG: This question concerns a completely different topic.
Since approximately ten percent of Japanese people live
in the Tokyo area, and many haiku poets are from that area,
could you say something about being a poet of the southern
island of Kyushu, and how living in Kyushu and Kumamoto
prefecture has influenced your writing?
HF: Haiku is a centralized art. For instance, looking at
the saijiki (haiku kigo or season-word dictionary),
the kigo focus only on the Kyoto or Tokyo (Edo) locales.
There are no local saijiki: you cannot
find local characteristics in the saijiki. Given
such a situation, local people have a sense of inferiority,
when regarding the center of the tradition.
This type of inferiority-complex provides a kind of energy
for my creation. So to wave a flag on Kyushuthis
is how I assert my existence and identity as a local resident
and a living being. The sort of nature that is written in
the saijiki is fake or false; its not real for me.
And, real things I feel in Kyushuno one can take this
awaymy haiku have arisen from this.
RG: I cant say whether every haiku that you have
written has kigo, but it seems that most do. So, since kigo
are found in the saijiki, how do you work with them
or experience them in composing your haiku?
HF: It is difficult to explain. Its going to be a
long story! I believe each haiku represents a slice of life.
To make a cross section of life it must be human, and have
a sense of place and, of course, time. There are reasons
why those three things are necessary. First of all, you
need person to reveal or present a cross section
of life. Then you also need to show the place and period
(time) in which the person lives. In creating haiku, I want
to infuse my work with all three of these elements.
It is necessary to recognize the period in which you livethat
is time. For example, I live now in the Heisei
period in Japan, but if I lived in a certain year in the
Shôwa period, I would need to recognize the period
through myself. One needs awareness or perception of time,
or era. And place: where do you live, where
do you belong to?
First, there is perception of time or era; then, where
you are, where you are breathingand then, how do you
relate to your era and placethis is the essence of
compositional structure or intention; an important matter
for a person, and writer.
Kigo is very useful and convenient for creating
a sense of place (where) and time (when). For example, chrysanthemum
which is kigo. Chrysanthemum definitely
shows a season of autumn. It displays clearlythis
is autumn; the time. In the saijiki, chrysanthemum
belongs to autumn. So you can instantly establish the time,
autumn, and also image a place where chrysanthemum
is in bloom, for example, a house garden or a garden party.
So, chrysanthemum reveals place as well. We
can say that a kigo is just one wordbut this one word
can speak volumes.
Finally, how a person lives in the time and the place;
makes a relationship with the time and placeyou can
describe or express a cross section of life just by identifying
person. I can express a cross section of life
with kigoso kigo make it much easier to compose
haiku. From this point of view, kigo is very useful
and symbolic language. This is why ninety percent of my
haiku contain kigo.
RG: So you dont use kigo so much to reflect upon
or connect to traditional haiku, but more because kigo
have a kind of poetic power, the capacity to evoke the elements
HF: Yes, kigo describes what and where
that I am. This is kigos power or energy.
RG: So, kigo carry a sense of environment, a sense of location
in time and space ... when I look at this poem we translated
nigemizu e sengo no chichi wo oitsumeru
toward the mirage of water
the postwar fathers
after . . .
the kigo we translated is miragemirage
of water,and as you were saying, it gives a tremendous
power to the haiku. Though in English we cant say
what this kigo meanswe dont have a connection
to the various saijiki references (or any standard
saijiki) in Englishyet it seems a central image.
What I want to say is that in traditional Japanese haiku,
this kigo would never be used in the way you have used it.
HF: Yes, this use of kigo is more of a symbolic
RG: Thats what I was musing about earlier, in terms
of finding allusion in your oeuvre. This kigo doesnt
seem real, that is, realistic, as in realism.
SR: You feel kigo through your heart (inner sense), not
through seeing, touching, and so on.
HF: Yes. You have to experience the kigo. If you have never
experienced mirage of water in your life, you
cant have written this haiku. Ive had a lot
of experiences with mirages of water! That is why I can
write this haiku! Especially, while Im driving
When I was small, mirage of water was very mysterious.
I wondered what the forward movement was, but it never reached
an end. Ive had this kind of experience. I have real
experience, real experience of kigo. This is why
I can write haiku. It seems that I make haiku with my brain,
but I can say I make kigo with my real experience,
my sense of reality.
RG: Yes, not from having looked up a kigo in the saijikifor
instance: Oh, today is April so-and-so, Id better
find a spring kigo to use in my haiku. You dont
have that kind of process.
HF: Absolutely not. Never! Ive just written this
hari motte kagayaku nikutai no porutogaru
with a needle sparkling
the metaphysical flesh of Portugal
There is no kigo. I like this haiku, but because
there is no kigo, it doesnt have a sense of scenerythere
is no background behind this haiku. If haiku has kigo,
it can also show its background scene or time. However,
if a haiku does not have kigo, like this one, you
cannot see the background. There is no environmentjust
naked haikunaked myself, in this haiku. I like it,
but I dont write this kind of haiku very much.
RG: So for English speakerswe dont have a saijiki
or a long history of kigo, centralized kigo,
or season words concerning nature that are directly related
to earlier literature. In English, kigo is usually
something not human (or human associated), something from
the natural worlda flower, weather, seasonal imagesome
kind of environmental image, or seasonal reference.
HF: Yes, Ive read many Japanese-translated English-language
haiku, and I often feel that they are naked, without a background,
such as weve discussed, as haiku, in my feeling.
RG: However, we recently translated an English-language
haiku into Japanese, and it had four kigo, one from each
season in it!
HF: Ha-ha! Well you know, you can find the same kind of
haiku in Japanese!
SR: I know a Japanese haijin, Kennosuke Tachibana, who
likes using double-kigo. He just wants to express as much
as he can.
HF: I know what he means.
RG: So, because we use simply a seasonal reference or image
in Englishdo you think that using a seasonal reference
is important in English-language haiku compositionthough,
strictly speaking, this use is not what is meant as kigo
in Japanese haiku? It seems as though youre suggesting
that an environmental quality is really quite important,
and it arrives through kigo. Would you recommend methods
which convey, if not nature, a sense of environment
behind the haiku?
HF: Yes, using a seasonal reference may be a good hint
or suggestion for an English-language haiku writer, but
sometimes you have to write naked.
RG: Traditionally, haiku are associated with nature. Do
you think this connection is important in gendai
HF: Yes, the Japanese sense of nature is in harmony, or
the harmony of - person (human being) and nature [-no separation-]
in its widest sense. Without the sense of harmony with nature,
Japanese literature would become very weak. So to write
about nature - from that position - embodies traditional
haiku, and my position is the same.
RG: This brings up a question, in terms of the sense of,
or need, for harmony. Are there now challenges, living in
our industrial, technological world, in terms of writing
honestly about nature in haiku?
HF: I think perhaps it could be a problem for haiku, specifically
regarding relating with nature, and more generally, any
genre of poetry which takes nature as its subject.
RG: It could be a problem for haiku, specifically regarding
humans relationship with nature, and, more generally,
for any genre of poetry that takes nature as its subject.
HF: This involves kotodama shinkô, the miraculous
power of language: something that is worshiped in Japan.
RG: Oh, really? Could you say more?
HF: There is a saying: There are eight million Japanese
gods. In any aspect of nature, gods exist. For instance,
there is a tree close to this neighborhooda tree known
as ichirigi. A sacred rope surrounds the base of the tree.
Even in the tree a god exists; so we worship this tree.
I dont describe just the tree, but rather the tree
infused with spirit: this involves kotodama. I do not want
to use the word just for describing as it is,
but want to touch behind the word, further, deeper.
RG: The energy or miraculous power behind the wordlanguage,
the word can carry that power
HF: Even when I compose a strongly imagistic (pictorial)
haiku, I want to create a haiku in which the reader can
feel more than a shasei (realist sketch). A deeper perspective.
Is this enough of an answer to your question? I have been
seeking something beyond the merely sketched (described)
RG: Yes, thank you. How can we be sincere to our world,
and still write about nature as pure or beautiful?
I can mention two examples: if we write about a beautiful
dawn, which is also a polluted sky, or that nearby mountain
which now happens to have a microwave towerit seems
that the spirit or energy of nature is somewhat destroyed
in that place.
HF: I can answer the question in this way. You meant, when
you see the beautiful dawn, you also find destruction in
it, didnt you? Well, I could say that I want to rehabilitate
nature using kotodama.
RG: Thats what I was wondering, because I feel just
such a power in your poetry.
HF: Thank you very much. There are many ways to protect
nature, or rehabilitate naturefor instance, social
movements. But in my case, I am a professional of language,
so I want to rehabilitate nature with language.
RG: Maybe also, you want to rehabilitate language with
HF: Yes, definitely! And to rehabilitate nature with language.
I think contemporary American Indians may also act in a
similar regard. They have been able to preserve and revive
their ruined world in the American continent through the
propagation of languagethrough kotodama. I feel some
resonance with contemporary American Indian culture. Now
they are reviving their language, and through this, associations
with nature. Reviving a sense of their real culture.
I mean, their voice has been greatly destroyed to date,
yet they still have faith in their own beliefs, like a kind
of animism, incorporated within their own original language.
I think they re-create (re-make) what they lost, which is
their culture. You know, here in Kyushu, the Kumaso, the
ancient tribe of central Kyushu, have been conquered and
eradicated, but in my haiku, I want to rebuild, revive the
Kumaso worldthe era of the Kumaso and the essential
nature of the Kumaso.
SR: I have a question. I was born and grew up in Kumamoto,
Kyushu, but I have no idea who my ancestors are. I dont
think that people in Kyushu have a Kumaso identity or are
conscious of the Kumaso tribe. That is, I recognize that
I belong, as an inhabitant of Kumamoto or Kyushu, but Kumaso
seems to be a different world which exists only as a myth
HF: This is because you are influenced, even polluted,
by the centralized Tokyo culture.
HF: Kumaso culture has been totally ignored in contemporary
school education. The Ainu people have abandoned their culture
by learning Japanese in the public educational system. In
a similar way, I think the Kumaso people renounced Kumaso
culture. In any case, it is true that we lost Kumaso culture,
but we may still have something that originally came from
the Kumaso, for example, words from the Kumaso dialect.
You know, we can find the sound of kuma even now, like Kuma-gun
(Kuma county) and Kumagawa (Kuma River), which implies that
Kumaso culture still remains. I feel something painful in
my bones, which is caused by the conquest and defeat of
the Kumaso by the Yamato. We were forced to Japanize and
become Yamato, just like the Ainu have been Japanized. I
want to rehabilitate or resurrect our abandoned culture
and nature somehow.
SR: Itsvery interesting!
RG: Could you discuss your new anthology, Kumaso-Ha
in this regard?
HF: Kumaso-ha is a kind of challenge to rehabilitate the
beaten tribes of history. To make a long story short, Kumaso-ha
is my challenge to resurrect ourselves, who were conquered
by the Yamato, through the use of language. [Kumaso-ha
has multiple references, as the name of an ancient tribe
of central Kyushu, Hoshinagas school of haiku, and
a quality of haiku spirit.] You know, the people of Kumamoto
prefecture may have hardly ever considered, or would even
believe, that their ancestors were conquered by the Yamato.
HF: However, it is possible to say that this is truewe
were conquered by other people. When Japan invaded Korea,
Koreans were forced to speak Japanese, so there is still
strong anti-Japanese sentiment. The same situation must
have occurred to the Kumaso as well.
SR: Do you know the people of Amami Island, Kagoshima?
They were not allowed to use more than one kanji character
for their family names. People in Okinawa or Amami also
have the strong feeling that their cultural ancestry was
ruined or destroyed by the Yamato.
HF: Yes, thats true.
SR: I dont know if people in Kyushu have got that
kind of feeling. It may depend on which generation you ask.
HF: I think people in Kumamoto may be pretty tolerant or
generous in a sense, but people in Kagoshima believe that
they were conquered.
SR: Didnt they think they won a victory against the
early Meiji-period government? [The samurai rebellion portrayed
in The Last Samurai radiated from the southernmost
Kyushu prefecture of Kagoshima.]
HF: [Laughs.] No! They surely think they were defeated.
Because they believe their ancestors were defeated; I think
this is the direct cause of the Hayato tribe [Kagoshima
SR: I feel Im a citizen of Kumamoto who has the character
of the Kumamoto area, a so-called higo mokkosu, but
I doubt Im a Kumaso.
SR: So, we are saying that the Satsuma (a.k.a. Kagoshima)
people descend from the Hayato tribe, while Kumamoto people
descend from the Kumaso tribe; and these were two different
cultures. Contemporary Kagoshima people will say of each
other, you are of the Satsuma-Hayato tribe.
They have that Hayato identity. As a Kumamoto person, I
dont have Kumaso identity, but, Hoshinaga-sensei,
I think you do.
HF: I was born near Yatsushiro (about an hours highway
drive south of Kumamoto); this was on the road of return
that the victorious Yamato warriors took after they conquered
the Kumaso. It was on this road that the shiranui [a mysterious
fire rising from the ocean] was seen. So some people may
think the Yatsushiro area does not belong to Kumaso anymore.
The definition of the Kumaso area is a matter of concern
for me. In any case, Kumamoto culture has been conquered
by the center. So I would like to be a Kumaso-ha!
RG: So, it seems that the centerthe centralized concept
or categoryis a kind of death: gray, dark: centralized
ideas, centralized opinions. The heart of poetry, by contrast,
is unique, creative action.
HF: Well, haiku bows to centralization generally. So, I
dont know about you, but Im holding out against
this trendI dont care at all about the center.
RG: Why did you become a haiku poet?
HF: I dont think Im a haijin, because I may
be a haijin: maimed person! [Hoshinaga is punning on a kanji-variant
homonym] [Laughs.] When Im asked about my job, I am
unwilling to say Im a haijin. You know,
there are kajin, which means haijin as
a job title. When I write articles for newspapers, you know
I can say Im a kajin or haijin. However,
I dont really like using haijin for my professional
work. And Im still not sure if Ive become a
haijin or not. I had wanted to be a literary artist
since I was a child. I had always wanted to write something.
During much of my career, when I was teaching in school,
I was unable to write longer pieces. So, early on, I wrote
a radio drama about Santôka, Ushiro sugata no shigure
te yukuka [the title is taken from among the most-famous
of Santôkas free-style haiku]:
a retreating figure: rain drizzling off and on
which won a prize. This was some time before he became
famous [Kumamoto was Santôkas home for some
years]. It was not very common to write about Santôka
or produce radio drama at that time. Then I was asked by
the professional theater group of Kumamoto City to write
a play. It was titled Kiki-mimi kôjintô
[Listening to the Speech of Kôjintô.
Kojin-san is a kami of western Japan, with local
Actually this play was interesting, Im not sure if
you know this or not, but the senain no eki (the
main historic samurai rebellion) occurred in year ten of
the Meiji period. Before this event there was the jinpuren,
another rebellion, which was instigated by the rebel group
known as fuheibunshi, just right here, in Kumamoto.
You know there is the sakurayama shrine around the
corner from here, which was built and founded in remembrance
of the fuheibunshi. The kôjintô no ran
[kôjintô rebellion], which was the original
material of my play, occurred just after the senain no eki
and attempted jinpuren coup détat.
But, the kôjintô no ran did not actually
quite happen, as the group was stopped before they could
commit their action. They prayed to the god kojin-san, and
tried to rebel utilizing the gods power, receiving
messages from the god, which was, by the way, very similar
to the jinpuren idea or belief. Although it was a
small group, they were eager to change society, and remarkably,
allowed farmers to join. Because I myself am the son of
a tenant farmer, I wrote a script which focused on the farmers
in the group. I like the play very much. As you can see,
I had wanted to write something for long time.
As a high school teacher, I found that teaching haiku to
young people was very difficult. Haiku had become senior
citizen genre, and it was very difficult to teach
this senior citizen stuff! If I said kareyama
ni hi no ataritaru (there is the sunshine on the
barren mountain), my students wouldnt understand
such a haiku. So, I decided to study haiku on my own. By
composing original haiku, I was able to teach in a more
inviting way. This was the beginning. It was for this reason
that I joined the traditional (dentô) haiku
group, to begin with.
After six months, I became bored with traditional haiku!
Sometime after I became bored, I found a gendai haiku
group in Kumamoto and joined them. Gendai haiku enabled
me to express all of my ideas or unclear thoughts and feelings.
And so I discovered, Oh, I can write! I can devote
myself and my life! Since that time, I have been composing
RG: I wonder, since you could have written, simply, contemporary
poetry, why did you keep your focus on the genre of contemporary
haiku? Was it because you were very inspired by haiku, or
because it was simply the best possible form for poetic
HF: Well, I wrote contemporary poetry also. I wrote both
gendai haiku and contemporary poetry. Im not
sure Americans can understand this, but in Japanese literature,
there is a kind of caste system of poetry. At the top is
contemporary poetry (shi), followed by tanka, then
haiku, then senryu.
RG: Is this still true?
HF: Yes, to an extent. Haiku will probably never be seen
at the same equal level as shi. However, gendai
haiku has been getting more popular, so it is now considered
to be at a higher level than tanka. [Laughter.] The traditionalist
order has remained, basically, unchangeable. At any rate,
I thought it was amusing and never agreed with that sort
of ranking and, further, wasnt happy about it. I tried
various genres in Japanese literature because I wanted to
do everything equally. I joined poetry groups and writers
groups without caring about the order ranking inherent in
Japanese literature. I just wanted to say haiku is
not in third place, but rather, all genres are
the same. However, I think dentô (traditional)
haiku is still in third place.
RG: There is a kind of discrimination against senryu as
SR: Yes, once I read a haiku by Kitamaru Kigen, for example
(he was Bashôs teacher). Someone said that
is senryu! No, I saidthat is haikaiwhich
came before senryu. Who wrote that haiku? the
person asked. Kitamaru Kigen was Bashôs
master, so there was no senryu at that time, I said.
Then he understood.
HF: Yes, its true. Haikai originally meant
humor, humorous. Haikai is the root of
haiku, but also the root of senryu.
RG: Related to the topic of gendai haiku, in English-language
haiku, we have a young art formthe main tradition
is only about sixty years old. Since being exported from
Japan, there has been a strong focus on the classical masters
while the contemporary tradition has remained largely unstudied.
As a result, there is much respect and honoring of the classical
writers and tradition. Although there has been this respect
for traditional haiku, compositional approaches have been
largely limited to varieties involving pictorial realism.
Can you give some advice as to how one might liberate oneself
or expand beyond the shasei (realistic sketch)whether
one is Japanese or actually, from any country?
HF: I dont know if I could give you advice, but,
sentences will likely become shorter and shorter, especially
in languages used for international communication (Internet,
mail, etc.). Ive been thinking that haiku will endure.
Because, as technology has advanced, time has been disappearingeverything
is becoming shorter and shorterfragmented. You know,
e-mail is very short, isnt it. Shorter sentences (phrases)
will increasingly be used to create uta [song, poetry,
or haiku]. You know, contemporary poetry (shi) has
been falling in popularity recently. In the 1950s, shortly
after the war, people grieved for their lives and for society
and wrote long-form poetry. Well, it could be said this
era was an epitome of modern poetry, in terms of composition
and popularity. Since that time, phrases have become shorter
and shorter, and particularly since the time of the university
disputes, and social repulsion towards public order, gendai
haiku began to increase in estimation. So, I think if you
create haiku or make short poetic phrases, sentences with
confidence, they will in the future become international,
For instance in e-mail, or cell-phone mail, people are
using very short sentences but sometimes also infusing a
lot of meaning. Haiku will be similarinfluenced by
the short poem and such changes in communicative styles.
I think that contemporary Japanese haiku will continue to
have even more commonality with the short-form poem, and
haiku in the future may exist purely (defined) as a one-line
poem, or a short-form poem. So I think Japanese haiku has
commonality with short-form poem or one-line poem forms.
SR: Haiku will be developing purely as a one-line poem
HF: I think so. As a short-form poem or one-line poem.
But the question of how you can infuse the very short form
with kotodamais the key to how much and how
multidimensionally you can express your feeling in haiku,
or short-line, or the one-line poem. I have never tried,
but for example, in e-mail people might just say send
me money! And, a short sentence (short e-mail) is
sometimes enough to express your feelings in a manner equivalent
to a love letter.
RG: If someone wishes to expand their compositional ideas
beyond pictorial realism in haikucould you offer any
HF: This is a very difficult question, so Im not
sure if I can answer properly or not. A short poem is limited
as to words. So, you have to use your intelligence to infuse
a lot of information, meaning, feeling. Well, adopting realism
is okay, but it was a brief, temporary movement. Although
not written, if you use the energy of kotodama, as
I said before, if you use the double sides of
words, the surface and deep world, as in kotodama
shinkô, you can constellate a deep and multidimensional
message, in a short form. The short poem will continue to
exist in this century, with the power of kotodama.
RG: The powerful short poem. So, in a way, could we say,
you dont think: Im a haiku poet,
but rather, Im a poet, and I write in a short
form, is this the way you think of yourself, as a
HF: Thats right. I dont like to use the term
haijin as applied to myself. Simply poet
is enough. If I must choose haiku poet or writer
of short poems, I want to say Im a poet
rather than Im a haiku poet. I am called
haijin, not poet, because my poem style is haiku.
Yet I remain hopeful that we can fairly say that the tanka
writer, the senryu writer, the contemporary poetis
simply the same poet, short or long.
RG: Thank you for speaking at such length and so openly
about your life and career. Your ideas are fascinating,
provocative, and an inspiration.
HF: Its my hope that Japanese haiku may be read by
many people outside Japan, and Im very happy that
some of my own haiku have been translated into English in
Kumaso-ha. I deeply appreciate it.
Recorded January 20, 2004