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Interview with Emiko Miyashita
by Robert Wilson

Q. You've literally been around the world and have lived on three major continents. How has this influenced your writing of haiku?

A. It gave me opportunities to be exposed to the local languages and cultures, both English / Western and African. I think I was lucky to learn when I was still a child that ours was not the only and the best one on earth. I might have become more judgmental otherwise! When I write and appreciate haiku, I think, I am expanding my own experience and hopefully that of others through each poem.

Q. You have translated with Lee Gurga several important books by famous haiku poets. What led you into the field of translation?

A. I saw a demand for translations of living Japanese poets' works which were in a style that could evoke the same image even after going through the translation process. Some translations I had encountered were either by scholars or by translators who were not haiku poets. So when I compared the translations with the originals, I found that the accuracy was there but my satisfaction as a reader was low. When Lee and I started translating Dr. Akito Arima's haiku in 1997, Lee was the President of the Haiku Society of America. I thought he was the poet to work with!

Q. A follow-up question. Translating a poet's work into English from the Japanese language sounds difficult. What does this entail?

A. Naturally, there are things such as love that can easily penetrate the cultural barrier. We have chosen to publish haiku in this category and did Masajo Suzuki's 150 love haiku to begin with. But also there are haiku which cannot be fully understood without pages of explanations. We tried not to choose haiku which were beyond our skill / knowledge in the first place. And as for the haiku we choose, we try to keep the word order as close as possible to the Japanese original. It is ideal to work in a team representing both languages and cultures. We think the order of images a reader gets from the translated version is very important. And what we wanted to accomplish most of all was to become the invisible translators so that we would not color the original haiku into our color and lose the original flavor; the first-class Japanese haiku should be translated as the first-class English-language haiku, the second class as the second class!Q. Your haiku is beautiful, multifaceted, and a treat to read. What do you look for when writing a haiku?

Q. You have studied haiku under Japanese haiku master, Dr. Akito Arima. What influence has he had on your writing? How has it affected your life as a poet?

A. Thank you very much. I think I am going to answer these two questions at the same time. I was taught by Dr. Arima that the form of haiku could contain only a limited number of words; thus it was fit to deal with beauty of the world we live in and that poets should let more complicated subjects be written in tanka or other forms of poetry. When I write haiku, I try to make it simple, precise, and pleasant (for the readers), because a haiku can only exist if it has a reader/someone to share it. I write haiku in a haiku community, and therefore I cannot write haiku that is too selfish or has too much self-content. My haiku is for the readers and that includes myself as a reader, too. Dr. Arima, however, has many touching haiku about his pain, agony, and distress, and yet are sublimated into beautiful images. In Japanese haiku, we have kigo, seasonal words, which are not only the selected words typical of seasons but also an accumulation of more than a millennium of our poetry. By making use of this kigo, we can convey the feeling of pain and agony in a simple line.

hana nagaku iesu egakare samui kabe

with a long nose
a painting of Jesus--
the cold wall      

Akito Arima

Here samui (cold) is the winter kigo, and it goes beyond the temperature. And here suddenly is my conclusion: I love beautiful things!

Q. What is your definition of haiku?

A. Haiku is a poetry of fixed form with a substantial history in Japan, and a fresh poetry form with a good potential in other languages.

Q. What advice can you give our readers on the writing of haiku?

A. Be honest to your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin and mix it thoroughly with your personal experience since your birth. Think in terms of things, let the things speak for you. Some crystals may emerge and shine not only for you but also for all of us. That is haiku, I would say. After all, haiku is about the encounter of the world and ME, shared with YOU. Keep writing! Keep sharing!


Emiko Miyashita was born in Fukushima, Japan, on September 6, 1954. She grew up in Urbana, Illinois and in Accra, Ghana, and studied English Literature at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. Emiko began writing haiku in 1993 under the tutelage of Dr. Akito Arima. She lives with her husband, Susumu; son, Manabu; and daughter, Sai, in Kawasaki, Japan. Emiko is a dojin (leading member) of "Ten'i (Providence)" Haiku Group led by Dr. Akito Arima.

Emiko Miyashita's translations with Lee Gurga are:
Love Haiku: Masajo Suzuki's Lifetime of Love, Brooks Books, USA, 2000: Einstein's Century: Akito Arima's Haiku, Brooks Books, USA, 2001; Tsuru; Yoshiko Yoshino's Haiku, Deep North Press, 2001; [*Einstein's Century and Tsuru won the Merit Book Award for translations from HSA in 2002.]; Haiku (100 haiku selected and with commentary by Mutsuo Takahashi and photos by Hakudo Inoue), P.I.E. Books, Japan, 2003; Wagashi (100 Japanese confectionery, commentary by Mutsuo Takahashi with photos by Hiroshi Yoda), P.I.E.Books, Japan, 2003; Shiki Haiku Calendar 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 (Selected by Ganiya Nishimura, commentary by Mamoru Murakami, produced and translated by Nanae Tamura and us), Shiki Project, Japan.

Emiko Miyashita's translations with David Cobb: Noh (A guide book of Noh written by Mutsuo Takahashi with photos by Toshiro Morita), P.I.E.Books, Japan, 2004 -----coming out in February!

Emiko Miyashita is the author of: The New Pond: An English-language Haiku Anthology, Hokumeisha, Japan, 2002; Tachimachi (Emiko's Japanese haiku collection), Shoshi Ringoya, Japan, 2003

Emiko is a member of the Haiku International Association (Japan) and is the managing editor for HIA Haiku Contest of their homepage. She is also a member of the Association of Haiku Poets in Japan, the Haiku Society of America, and the British Haiku Society.


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