I thought of putting in some Spring haiku, but we are getting some light snow today, and it has been overcast all day—very wintery looking out there. Here are some haiku from 2006 – 2007 (I don’t think I have shared any of these ones yet):







yuugata ni

machi no hikari ya


Snow clouds

in the evening

the village lights!


I love how the lights of a village or town contrast against the darkening gray overcast sky of an early winter’s evening. Or in the late evening, after the sun has gone down, glow against the low hanging clouds, heavy with snow. Yukigumori could also be translated as, ‘threatening to snow.’







higure ni

toudera no kane


Snow clouds

at day’s end

a distant temple bell







Yuki no asa

nagareboshi no

shizukasa ya


snowy morning

the stillness

of a shooting star!


Most likely this would be in the very early morning before sunrise, though potentially it could be a brighter one in the early light. I have experienced the quiet hiss of a shooting star that many people report (and science can’t quite explain). That hiss is a silence of its own. On the other hand, when they are completely silent, there seems to be something special about that silence too. As it plummets towards earth, you know that a rock travelling at a very high speed, is melting under intense heat into nothing but minute particles of black iron, and yet this climactic event (climactic for the rock), happens in utter silence, and it lasted for only a brief moment.

I actually composed this one after watching a large shooting star fall towards snowy peaks across a mountain valley, when I happened to walk out on a veranda at 2:00 in the morning, while visiting my mom & dad’s condo up in Breckenridge Colorado. This was in October 2007, and I half expected to see one. Because, the year before I had stepped out onto their condo veranda on a Sunday night in October, about the same time, only to see a shooting star. A week later I was up in Breckenridge again and on a Saturday, about the same time, the same thing happened again. That was three times in a row, so I began stepping out more often—but alas, it has never happened again.






Ohyuki no

hito mo naku michi



A big snow

the road void of people



Or another translation:


A big snow

the empty road

touched by the gods


There are a lot of ways we could say kamisabita, and I don’t know if any of them do justice to the word. Kami is god or gods, sabiru can mean mature, or mellow, but it can also mean to rust, and to be lonely. But it can be a very special loneliness connected to the Japanese appreciation of simplicity and the rustic. Sabi, in the latter case, is one of those words that does not have an English equivalent. Another translation for kamisabita is hallowed. Or, I could also use, ‘filled with the gods,’ for the last line.






Omoi yukigumo

sasaeru ka

oimatsu ya


the heavy snow clouds

does it hold them up

–the ancient pine tree?!


Oimatsu is simply a very old pine, another word would be the aged pine tree. In the initial interpretation of this, it is an aesthetic experience of the tree against the clouds. But old trees and other old things of nature, are especially filled with kami—the shinto gods. As an animist belief system, everything has kami within it, but the old things have come into their own way with there kami spirit. Perhaps we could say that they are so filled with kami that they outwardly manifest that in the gnarls of their trunks and branches and the silent strength such old things portray. To hold up the clouds demonstrates that silent, god-filled sense of strength. We could take it even further though—clear across Eurasia, the tall straight pine trees seem to connect with the World Tree, the Axis Mundi—-the celestial center of the world that pierces from the underworld, into our world, and then into the upper worlds. It is the portal of the divine, where spirit connects to us, and we can possibly connect to spirit. The big giant cedar pines in Japan certainly look as if they could be such a portal and universal center. I have a book called Nippon Shinwa (Stories of the Japanese gods) which has the only true Japanese scriptures—the Kojiki and Nihongi—-in it, and explores and discusses these very old myths. As I recall, there is a Pillar God who is connected with the creation of the structure of the universe—-and seems related to these old cedar pines.



There is another form of haiku that is special in Japan. Well-known haiku poets, the classic poets, and even modern day poets and haiku enthusiasts will produce one of these, sometimes there is some confusion and there may be 2 or 3 such haiku poems—-but the concept is that a person will only produce ‘one’ such poem in his or her lifetime.


I am talking about a jisei—a death poem. This is the final poem the artist produces when he knows death is inevitable and soon to be. Fortunately, I am not in that predicament so I will not be sharing my own Death Poem—nor do I even have my own Death Poem. Instead I will share some of the death poems of the classic masters. (These are from a book compiled by Yoel Hoffman, and therefore may be his translations, which I have kept unless I felt it could be translated better).


It is Spring now—but we just had a very cold weekend, and plenty of snow—so here are some winter jisei:


This one is by the poet Wakyu who died on November 10, 1759:


Tsui ni yuku

yuki fumiwakete

fude no michi


Heading to the end

treading through heavy snow

way of the brush


It doesn’t say heavy snow but that is implied—fumiwakete comes from the verb to step (fumu) and spread apart (wakeru), so it could also be translated as to plow through. The way of the brush, refers to the life of a poet. It implies that the life of a poet is a tough one, but he also suggests that the path he must now go on (death) is also a difficult one.


Here is the jisei of Wagin, who died on January 3, 1758:


kuse ni natte

nishi ogamikeri

hatsu ashita


Its become a habit

bowing to the West

New Year’s dawn


Based on Shinto traditions, the Japanese bow to the rising sun on the first morning of the New Years (hatsu ashita–first morning). The West is the direction of the land of the dead, and the Buddhist paradise. As a Buddhist Wagin had become used to bowing to the West. There is a saying in Japan that you are born Shinto and die Buddhist. This doesn’t mean you change religion—if you are born Japanese you are always Shinto, but you also traditionally follow Buddhism. But the Shinto ceremonies tend to be more for the beginning of life—such as numerous ceremonies you take part in at certain ages as a child, or marriage, for example. But a funeral, and the ceremonies on the anniversaries of one’s relative’s death are always a Buddhist affair. But Wagin suggests that he will not bow to the rising sun on New Year’s morning, because he is already ready for the next world.


Tojaku, November 8, 1799


Mu ni kaeru

mi zo

yuki shimo no itoi nashi


Returning to the void

this body!

no longer bothered by the snow and frost


A jisei does not neccesarily have to have a seasonal word like standard haiku. In fact it could be a tanka or another form of poem, though haiku are the most common. (I gave an example of a tanka in some of my earlier posts). Here is a haiku without a seasonal word by Toko who died on Feb 11, 1795:


jisei to wa

sunawachi mayoi

tada shinan


Death poems

are mere delusions.

there is only death


Sugetsu died on November 20, 1830:


tsumu toshi ni

tabiji e

yuki no kareno kana


The years have piled up

on my path

snow on the withered fields!



The famous Basho, died on October 20th, 1694:


tabi ni yande

yume wa kareno o



fallen ill on a journey

my dreams

wander over withered fields


Basho’s death occurred after falling ill on one of his famous journeys–his last one—across Japan.


Another famous poet–Issho, died December 6, 1688. He was hoping to let Basho, who would soon be travelling through his village stay at his home, unfortunately he did not last that long:


kokoro kara

yuki utsukushi ya

nishi no kumo


From deep in my heart

the snow is beautiful!

clouds in the west.



The following Autumn, Basho wrote a haiku of sadness over Issho’s death:


tsuka mo ugoke

waga naku koe wa

aki no kaze


Move you tomb!

the sound of my weeping

the autumn wind


(On the website where I originally posted this as a thread, this particular one was posted on March 9th. Some of you might think, ‘Wow! he gets up early!’ Actually I am a night person, so if I am up at 6:30 in the morning, it is almost guaranteed that I stayed up all night. Though, it was hard to go to sleep with the beautiful winter scene going on outside…)

It is 6:30 in the morning. Denver is supposed to get 9 – 15 inches of snow today. My yard is already covered in white, and beautiful big flakes are falling. The problem is this storm was not supposed to start for several hours yet according to the forecast last night.




shizuku oto
asa no kouhii
ohyuki ya


dripping sound
the morning coffee
Big snow storm!


On a cold winter morning, with heavy snow falling outside, is there anything warmer than a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee? …oh, actually there is:




soto o mite
futon ni modoshi
ohyuki ya


A look outside
returning to the futon
Big snowstorm!


In America, of course, we return to our beds, rather than a futon…


A person’s spirit in Japan is sometimes seen as a small ball of flame floating around. A ghost could appear in this way, or it could be a floating figure without feet, or a full figured apparition, just like anywhere else. There is always the famous ghost story that seems to be popular in Japan and many other countries of a ricksha driver, or a taxi driver picking up a beautiful woman with a depressed demeanor, who then wants to be driven to an address near a graveyard. As they pass the graveyard she disappears. There are people who swear they know someone who this really happened to.

But the little glowing flame floating around is one of the spirit motifs, and it is based on something people actually see: the kitsunebi (fox flame) or onibi (monster flame) are two of the names of this phenomena. In haiku it is a winter seasonal word. I don’t know if they are more common in the winter or that it is because winter has a natural association with death. I suppose we could relate this to glowing swamp gas perhaps? One theory of its origin, according to a Japanese book I have is that these glowing floating apparitions may be the result of decomposing horse bones or other animal bones, that were gnawed on by a fox. (I’m not sure why a fox has a causal effect, if any).

But they are spooky nonetheless. The English equivalent of kitsunebi, or onibi is will-o’- the-wisp, or St. Elmo’s Fire.




yo no mori fukashi
kumo ni tsuki
kitsunebi ya


Deep in the night forest
the moon in the clouds
ah! spirit fire!


Ghosts, monsters, and will-o-the-wisps, make nice creepy entertainment, and the Japanese have plenty of them, but I was never one to believe in such things. That is, until I lived in the Philippines for a while… But that’s another story for another time.




kitsunebi ya
machigai michi ni
furu bonchi


The spirit fire!
on a wrong road
an old graveyard


These are all from 2006. Here is another one that can be disconcerting if you were to ever experience it.




yoru no mori
mizu no oto
Mimitzuku naki ya


The night time forest
sound of water
a horned owl cries!


The owl has a beautiful call, but it is a bit creepy–especially when you don’t expect it. Actually, anytime you walk through a thicket of bamboo at night, you are likely to startle a bird that was resting there–unseen until you stumbled upon it, and it suddenly flies up and away with a flurry of wings and loud alarming squawks. It is very startling as it shatters the silence, even when you know it is likely to happen and try to expect it.

On a different note, the Japanese have a custom similar to the voodoo doll. You had to be pretty upset with someone to do this—because it was dangerous. Perhaps a common reason this would happen would be a broken heart—it seems that women are more likely to resort to black magic than men in Japan (besides, traditionally Japanese men generally try to maintain an air of cold-hearted indifference when it comes to romance)—though, obviously men could get angry enough to do such things too.

This is called a noroi ningyounoroi is a curse and ningyou is a doll. You generally needed something from the person, as I recall, it was usually hair, but perhaps fingernail clippings or something like that could be used. You dressed like a ghost or the Japanese dead, all in white—then at midnight, with a triangle-shaped cloth worn over your forehead like a crown, you would make the doll out of straw and whatever you had off the body of your victim, putting all your evil intention of pain and harm into it. Then you would take off deep into a forest where no one would find it, and nail the doll onto a tree–typically one nail through the heart. By some traditions, you would wear a crown with candles on your head—formed from the kettle stand from a ro stove, placed upside down on your head, and candles placed on the legs. It was risky however, because if it backfired, the pain you intended for your victim could come back to you, but multiplied many times from what you had intended.

This is one I composed this year:




yomori no tsuki ni
furu noroi
ningyou ya


The moonlit night forest
an old curse-doll!


The moon by itself was a fall word, which is to say that this is a fall haiku.


Do you remember the Chinese poem, The Temple Bell, by Yuan Mei (1716 – 1798) that I posted a while back (See, THE BELL IN THE LONELY TEMPLE, CLOUD HIDDEN)? Here it is again:


Ancient Temple, monks all gone
the Buddha’s image fallen


The single bell
hangs high in evening’s glow


Sad, so full of music…
Ah, just one little tap!
But no one dares.


Here is another haiku along those same lines from Oct 2008:




fuyu no yama
kaze ni fukareru
tera no kane


The wintery mountain
blown by the wind
temple bell.


What image did that first bring to mind for you? A cold winter wind blowing on a mountain temple, while monks, bracing against the elements, ring the bell? Or was it a cold winter wind that rings the bell, in an old mountain temple, long abandoned like the one in the Chinese poem? The fact that the second line, blown by the wind, could refer to either the winter mountain, or the temple bell, is a good example of one of the aspects that gives haiku such subjectivity.

Here’s another haiku, this one from November 2006




yuki no machi
yo no shizumari ni
tera no kane


Snowy village
in the silence of the night
a temple bell


Yes, I love those temple bells. People who have never heard a Buddhist temple bell echo through the mountains, or across the fields, or even through the streets of a small village—don’t know what they are missing…

This one from November, 2002 relates to my favorite Chinese poem about being cloud hidden (also in that same previous post):




kumo no naka
yama no iori ni
hatsu yuki ya


Within the clouds
in the mountain hermitage.
The first snow!


Though most of us have never actually lived in a mountain hermitage, cloud hidden, I hope you have at least experienced a snowfall from the warmth of a mountain cabin—such stillness!

Here is one from December, 1999:




kuro yane ni
Omoi yuki gumo
hi no ban ya


Black roofs and
heavy snow clouds.
The fire lookouts!


In Japan in the winter, the men of the local community take turns going out into the cold night and walking as a small group watching for fires, and warning the people of the neighborhood to be careful with their stoves and candles and all. Fire is a big danger in Japan, especially in the winter. Probably at least once a week, if not more, you’ll hear of a tragic death in a fire. There are a lot of wooden houses, and when a fire starts, those houses burn quickly. The fire lookouts (or whatever you want to call them), walk around the neighborhood alerting people with two sticks that are banged together making a large ‘tok’ sound. This is followed by a call to be careful—goyou—but it is called out in a fairly slow rhythm in a chant-like, eerie sounding voice by the whole group in unison: (tok!) “goyohhhhhhh…” (tok!) “goyohhhhhhh…” (tok!) “goyohhhhhhh…”

It especially sounds eerie if you don’t know what they are saying or why. In years past they would stay out till late into the night, and watched for burglars and other night problems. They are probably a cry back to ancient times when the little farming villages needed lookouts for wild animals and enemies come to steal grain. Today they don’t stay out too late, and mainly do this in the winter.

Japanese roofs are all tiled in large beautiful black tiles. You can imagine the contrast between those black tiled roofs and the heavy snow clouds above them in the winter sky.



There is a local photographer whose photos from the mountains of Colorado were made into some very beautiful cards sold here (Not the photo I inserted here–I just found that one). There is one of a snowy river winding through a mountain meadow, there are some pine trees near the shore, some of them fairly scraggly. Mountains rise up into the mist in the background. The sky is a typical misty overcast winter sky you often see in the mountains. It seems like a place I have been; in fact I’d almost place it somewhere in Coal Creek Canyon. I took the photo off the card, and framed it with a haiku written in Japanese below it. (I actually did this with a number of these cards–some are winter, some fall, some summer–but this was the first one I saw and I immediately knew I had the perfect haiku for it).

The haiku is one I composed back in about ’97 or ’98. We were staying in my parent’s condo up in Breckenridge Colorado. It was October, but they had already gotten some good snow that year. The condo—is actually a two-story townhouse, and was a great place to escape the city for a while. There was a cozy fireplace, a hot tub on the porch–everything you needed. The forecast called for more snow that afternoon, and I decided to go out and walk around a bit. Heavy snow clouds hung over the small ski town obscuring the peaks. As I walked, I came across a good sized crow sitting atop a pine tree, looking around, and calling out. The haiku immediately came to me:


kangarasu demo

matsu ka

omoi yukigumo

Even the cold crow


heavy snow clouds

After cutting the photo off of the card, matting it, writing the haiku with some fancy calligraphy below the photo (I cheated—I have studied Japanese calligraphy with a brush in Japan, but I am not good by any means, so I carefully drew it in pencil first and then went over it with a black felt pen) and framing it, I realized that it just happened to be near my Aunt’s birthday. So I put the haiku in another card with the same photo, and then wrote about how I came across it, and then a bit about the inevitability of nature—how both myself and the already cold crow knew the storm was coming, but there was nothing to stop it, all we could do was to gaman suru–grin and bear it, a very typical Japanese concept

I was so pleased with myself that I quickly ran down to the Post Office and popped it in the mail. Only on the way back home did I realize, that I had just sent this to my aunt who was very educated, had travelled around the world, enjoyed world cultures like myself, and had also spent some significant time in the Orient–she was about to have a birthday in her early 70’s. Yes—-if anyone, my beloved aunt, one of the few in the family who I could walk through an art museum with carrying on in deep conversations about the meaning of the art we were experiencing, she would pick up on some of the other meanings implied by the haiku. Meanings that I didn’t think to explore before sending it to her—-meanings such as the inevitability of death, and the fact that we know it is coming, but there is little we can do. A fall haiku could be one referring to one’s elderly age—but winter—–that is really old! …and it wasn’t even a joyous winter haiku at that…

I quickly sent off another card, with a happy spring haiku—and an explanation that I realized too late some of the other implications of the haiku…

The framed photo, and haiku, still hangs in my basement.



The most philosophical seasons for me, are fall and winter. Therefore I tend to like those haiku best. In fact, it is usually in the fall and winter when I really get in the mood to write haiku. As I stated in the previous post, this blog started as a thread on an internet forum around New Years. Therefore, you will have to forgive me if you are already in the mood for Spring—after all it is April. But I will originally draw mostly from that thread, and much of that was posted during January, February, and March, which are still mostly winter months.

Besides, I live in Colorado, and while we have had some nice warm spring days, as I sit and write this, we are looking at the next three days to be filled with snow fall—so you know——winter weather hasn’t really left for me. This is from one of my posts in March:

Denver had its first actual heavy snow of the season last night, all day, and into the early evening. I was up much of the night writing, and took frequent breaks to look out the window. Today I did the same—the Japanese call that yukimi—snow watching—which is the same concept (different season) as hanami (cherry blossum viewing). It was blizzard conditions to the east of us.

It was a good day to stay inside, which I did for the most part. I did come up with a few haiku—not my favorites but—the first one was from the early am, before sunrise when I went to bed:




futon hairi

ware eda no oto

ohyuki ya


Climbing in the futon

the sound of a branch breaking

the big snow storm!


Fortunately that did not happen—but it is certainly a problem during some big snows, and the last thing you want to hear when climbing into bed.



Waga yamaya

kotatsu ni cha

mado ni ohyuki


My mountain home

tea in the kotatsu

blizzard out the window


For anyone who has never been to Japan in the winter you are missing out on the joy that is the kotatsu. Japanese houses are generally built for the hot humid summers. They are not that warm in the winter. The newer condos may be a different story, but the houses are just not that warm. Instead of warming the whole house, families will just warm up the room or rooms they are using. When I lived in Japan, a lot of people still used kerosene stoves to warm these rooms which meant that every so often they would need to open up the shoji, and open up windows and doors to the outside to let fresh air in and prevent too much build up of toxic gases from the stove. You didn’t want to do it–but you had to—and the nice warm room was quickly filled with fresh, but very cold, air.

The kotatsu is a table that has a heater under the table top connected to a frame that connects the legs. A heavy futon blanket fits over this frame with the table top on top of the blanket. (In the olden days, the table was simply put over a cut out space in the floor and a charcoal stove was placed in that). Sitting under the warm kotatsu is a great winter past time in Japan. Around New Years, families will sit around it, legs, feet, and often hands in the nice warmth under the blanket—playing games, watching tv, eating mikan (mandarin oranges), drinking coffee and green tea. It is a very cozy place for lovers to enjoy… It is a feeling of warmth all around.




yuki yande

koi koi to

karasu ga yonde


The snow stopped

Come! Come!

the crow calls


Koi could also mean love, and so this particular haiku could also be of a crow suggesting people to, ‘Make love! Make love!’ On the other hand it also means carp…

We had a smaller storm on the 9th. Early in the morning I looked out my window. The sun was already over the horizon bathing the earth with its morning light, the snow from overnight had ended. There was a flock of crows in the trees across the street, calling out to each other. The sound of crows always reminds me of Japan.




matsu ni tsuki to

washi shika kikan

washi naki


No one heard it

but the pine and the moon and myself,

the eagle’s call


Washi, eagle–is a winter word. Washi is also a lower class way of saying I (watakushi), It is common in country dialects. Then there is ‘Wai‘—-so for all you students of Japanese who want to be rebels in the class room—stop using watakushi, or watashi—just replace it with washi, or wai. Washi was typical in the prewar Osaka dialect—at least among the labor and peasant classes. Wai, as I understand was used especially in the Kawachi Dialect that was spoken closer to the mountains on the Eastern side of Osaka. You can still hear it in the Osaka suburbs in the Kisaichi area (or at least you could back in the 80’s)—just hang out in some of the dirtier bars in Kisaichi late at night and listen to the drunks. Kawachi was considered the crudest, worst dialect, composed of the worst bastardization of grammar, and creating the most profane and rude subculture of all of Japan.

If your teacher complains just say—-Ey  yanke! Wai wa na… Ey nihongo o narateiru sakai ya na… (which in standard Japanese is, ii desu yo! Watakushi wa neee… Ii nihongo o narateiru desu kara ne) (It’s ok! For me… I’m learning some good Japanese). Be sure and really roll your r’s, and make your voice low, and adding a texture of drunken speech helps a lot too. (If your teacher is from Tokyo, she’ll probably treat you with kid’s gloves after that. Though she may try to dig into your background to see if you have yakuza (mafia), or perhaps bosouzoku (motorcycle gang) connections. If you’re female, unfortunately it would be funny and strange to say such things—just stick with atashi.

I composed this one a year ago–for a piece of artwork a friend of mine had created:




Ohyuki ya

mada tatsu ka

yama no oi matsu


The heavy snow storm!

Does it still stand?

the old pine on the mountain


This haiku is one of strength and perseverance. If you have ever been up above timberline, you are probably well aware of the old pine trees that grow out of the rocks and crags right around timberline. They survive through extreme conditions and are almost always twisted and bent by the severe winds that blow across the mountain peaks that high.




asa no koi ya

yuki no tama

esa ni machigae


The morning carp!

mistakes a snowflake

for fish food


When I was married to my Japanese wife, her father kept carp in the garden. The carp pond was between the main house and our room. You could always hear them gulping at the surface of the pond—anything that fell in there they immediately assumed to be food.