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Autumn 2009, vol 7 no 3

Tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima
newly translated by David Callner*

This is the sixteenth in a series of new translations of selected tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima

Where jade sky joins azure sea
a single boat shines beneath cumulonimbi        (Honolulu)
The ocean blurs behind recurring showers
two rainbows straddle the town
Cleansing the town from the hills then departing off to sea
the showers wash away this old man's melancholy
All noise surrounding my house on the hill dies away
leaves whisper from the window
Awakened by rain pattering the broad leaves
I listen in remembrance to the Ashiya rain from my native country

(Ashiya is a city in Hyogo prefecture, Japan.)
Enclosed by mountains rising one over another
as though with no way out - my native Hachiman

(Hachiman, in Gifu prefecture, was the city closest to the village called Nishikawa-mura, where Konoshima was born.)
With sweetfish uruka from my niece comes nostalgia
I break a ten-year abstinence

(Uruka is a preparation of the internal organs of ayu, or sweetfish, preserved in salt.)
Outside the hospital window gigantic palm leaves
do a hula dance beneath a downpour
Someone famous must be ill
beautiful flowers and exotic plants surround a sickroom
A tidal wave of Japanese tourists surges in
and everything in the marketplace is swept away
Japanese come to sightsee - and they buy toilet paper
a new expression - "The Sightseeing Animal" - is born

(Both Hawaii and Japan suffered a shortage of toilet paper due to panic buying and hoarding related to the 1973-74 oil crisis.)
Wynnewood - after William Penn's physician
on the hill thus named an iron sign is old

(Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, is a suburban community outside of Philadelphia named after William Penn's physician, Dr. Thomas Wynne. Konoshima lived in Wynnewood with his youngest daughter's family, wintering in Hawaii, from 1972.)
Perhaps William Penn raised his head to gaze at this huge tree
in a Philadelphia suburb the decaying trunk remains
Adorning the forest where spring buds green
dogwood and rhododendron bloom
My daughter travels five thousand miles to visit
I reward her with choices from my ripe vegetable garden
As evening wears on deer and fox and raccoon
roam about my garden - holding a demonstration
Maybe I'll plant wild bracken in the corner of my garden
to remind me of my native home
No fish is fine - a catch even better
I sit by my son on the pebbles of Shelter Island

(Shelter Island, New York.)
They live in the world without profit or harm
how grateful I am that my children are ordinary
My children all surpass their parents and rise up in the world
I offer prayers of gratitude with all my heart
Patches on the rear of new pants with torn cuffs
young people's fashion is beyond me
Young men flaunt shabby worn-out clothes
Are you rebelling against society?
Shabby clothes - unkempt hair - stinking of sweat
we too rebelled in Meiji society

(The Meiji era - 1868 to 1912.)
Profiteering - a conspiracy between government and corporations
some say this is the oil crisis
Mother Nature - the home of wild birds and beasts
violated by man to create a different wilderness
Morality crumbles - financial power alone abounds
the President and Vice President are cut down in scandal
The President's corruption is exposed and he is forced to resign
praise for the triumph of democratic America
While extolling democratic America it is fair to ask -
Who elected a corrupt President?
To teach the world about government without morality
a perfect example - Watergate
"Be no more than one hour" - my aged wife tells me
forlorn I walk a country path the fine autumn day
I follow a country path the fine autumn day
gun shots - hunting season must have begun
A breeze rustles through woods the fine autumn day
yellow birch leaves fall onto my shoulders
My old friend's letter cuts off after three lines
and becomes a death notice by airmail
Knowing he would die he tried to say farewell
I read in friendship and raise my head in reverence
Was my friend consciously giving us mementos?
Upon parting last year he gave me a gem
Aware the end was near he designated his own death-name
another remaining friend passes away

(A kaimyou is a name given posthumously to a deceased person in Japanese Buddhist culture.)
I put out the light and my friend's visage comes back to me
turns into dreams and speaks of our youth
Just two thousand dollars changed into yen
gives me the illusion of having become a rich man    (A visit to Japan)
Because she earnestly devotes every day to poetry
my teacher lives to the ripe old age of ninety

(Mitsuko Shiga, 1885~1976, was married to the poet Mizuho Ota and collaborated with his literary magazine, Cho-on, the quarterly that published Konoshima's entire opus from 1950 to 1984. Shiga was also a selector of the verses submitted for the New Year's Poetry Reading at the Imperial Palace. Anthologies of her poetry include Fuji no Mi - "Wisteria Beans", Asa Tsuki -"Morning Moon", Asa Ginu -"Linen Silk", and Kamakura Zakki -"Kamakura Miscellany". Shiga also published some instructional guides to the writing of poetry, including Waka dokuhon -"A Guide to Waka Verse", and Dento to Gendai Waka -"Tradition and Modern Waka".)
Scarlet little persimmons densely dangle
as I walk the valley to visit a new shrine
A mountain stream weaves through flaming autumnal colors
rocks jut white and the blue waters swirl
Scattering eulalia strikes my window like swirling snow
and the autumnal kudzu seems to tremble with flames

*Readers who have enjoyed this series of tanka translations may now add them to their personal libraries in the perfect bound, 136 page book:

Hudson: A Collection of Tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima
Translated into English by David Callner
Tokyo, Japan: Japan Times, 2005.
ISBN 4-7890-1179-8


Kisaburo Konoshima Kisaburo Konoshima was born in 1893 in Gifu, Japan. He left his village for an education in Tokyo when he was fifteen years old, and went on to become a professor of political economics at the now defunct Shokumin Gakkou in Kyoto. In 1924 he abandoned academia for the life of a farmer, and emigrated to California with his wife and children. In 1941 Konoshima was forced off his farm and he and his family were interned in the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming. Following the war Konoshima moved to New York City, where he devoted himself to his children's education and his poetry. In 1950 he joined the Japanese poetry society Cho-on, which published his entire opus of over fifteen hundred tanka in the Cho-on quarterly, from 1950 to his death in 1984.

David Callner David Callner was born in 1956. His youth was spent in France, England, Italy, and America. Since 1978 he has lived in Japan. He has written four novels. He teaches English as an adjunct at Nagano University.