3rd Pacific Rim Haiku Conference, Matsuyama, Japan, April 2007

Report: Beverley George

President
Australian Haiku Society (HaikuOz)

Through haiku composing, you can exchange your way of thinking and deepen your understanding about the people beyond the borders, isms and religions. Kanda Sosuke.

It is impossible to imagine a more idyllic and appropriate setting for a haiku conference than in cherry blossom season at Matsuyama, the birthplace of the poet, Masaoka Shiki where this year marked the 140th anniversary of his birth.

Matsuyama is a castle city on the island of Shikoku and it is also famous for its ancient onsen (hot springs). It was in this city that the Matsuyama Declaration was signed in 1999 to establish the Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Research Center. The Declaration signifies the generous intent of Japanese people to share haiku internationally.

Haiku Pacific Rim Conference 2007

The conference was held in various spaces within the modern and versatile Shiki Museum, beside Dōgo Park, where cherry blossom ‘rafts’ float on the river at this time of year. A hut in Dōgo Park has life-sized statues of a group of renga players. Stones bearing Shiki’s haiku are placed in various locations around the city

Kukai were conducted both in the Museum and in the grounds of Matsuyama Castle. Kukai are when a number of poets write haiku at the same time then post them up anonymously for judging. [Most people writing haiku in English would be aware of the ‘Shiki Kukai’ convened on the internet by Robert Bauer and Jennie Townsend which works in much the same way.]

Delegates to the conference came from the host country Japan, and from USA, Canada, India, Australia, Croatia and Sweden. Among the delegates were two deaf poets from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology and their teachers. Their presence added a further positive dimension to the conference and for me it was a personal privilege to experience haiku without sound, as these young poets communicated their poetry.

The Conference was convened by Noma Minako san who was indefatiguable in ensuring every delegate enjoyed a memorable and engaging experience. In this she was joined by a band of willing helpers who were always on hand to inform and guide us.

Activities included an escorted tour, in small groups, of the Shiki Museum, a ginko in Dōgo Park and two picnics under cherry blossoms, one by day and one in the evening with koto entertainment. A cultural exchange event gave us the opportunity to experiment with ikebana, calligraphy, brush painting and origami (in the form of doll-making).

The formal day on April 8 was attended by a large audience in the Conference Hall of the Matsuyama Municipal Shiki-Kinen Museum. All papers presented on that day are still available on the web and initial transmission problems have been addressed. If you wish to listen to my paper Haiku in Australia please be aware that it took a little time on the day to set up powerpoint so please wait patiently for two minutes or so until the camera moves off the two empty microphones and my talk begins. Go to http://hpr-conference.com/ and select from options for broadband or dial-up access. We are all indebted to Yoshino Hirofumi san who not only acted as emcee and expertly organised the audiovisual practicalities of the presentations of the day but who later archived all of them for access by internet. My heartfelt thanks to the many Australian haiku writers who contributed information for my presentation on your behalf. Thank you.

There were so many special moments that sadly, it is impossible to share them as I would like to, but three that stand out for me were when:

    • Noma Minako san led me to the ancient forest just behind Matsuyama Castle so that I could imagine from the past the shuffle of straw sandals on leaf-littered paths

 

  • Jack Williams, a deaf poet from Rochester, NY., described, with hands and heart, the waterfall we were both seeing,

and

  • when I first heard a Japanese water harp and while listening through a hollow bamboo stalk , sprinkled a little water on stones above where the harp was buried to hear it play even more exquisitely. (We Australians do have one of these harps deep in the Kodama Forest in southern Tasmania, as mentioned in my paper.)

–oh sorry, a fourth I absolutely must include; Jerry Ball kneeling between two musicians who were wearing exquisite spring kimono, and playing koto – harmoniously .

History of the Pacific Rim Conferences
Getting Started:

The idea for a series of Pacific Rim Haiku Conferences occurred during a stroll through the Imperial Palace Gardens in Kyōto, when Jerry Ball and Kanda Sosuke san conceived the idea that it would broaden the understanding of haiku internationally if meetings could take place ‘to gather together haiku writers from all countries around and near to the Pacific Rim.’

The Intention:
Jerry Ball’s intention, as described by Kanda Sosuke san in Kanda san’s opening speech at the Matsuyama conference was for
1) a ‘people to people’ meeting, rather than lectures by haiku authorities from various kessha (haiku groups). A conference where delegates had ample opportunity to speak among themselves and in which ‘the main actors are the participants’.
2) a conference for the people of Pacific Rim countries, focussing first on Japan and USA but quickly flowing to other countries
3) a conference that surmounts the difficulty of inadequate sponsorship/funding

Conference Locations to date:
1st Conference 2002: Long Beach California US at the campus of California State University. Instigated by Jerry T Ball with the endorsement of Kanda Sosuke san and accomplished with the assistance of Yoshimura Ikuyo san, professor of Asahi University.
Conference theme: ‘Haiku without borders’.
2nd Conference: Ogaki, Japan. Ogaki city was the final destination of Bashō, Matsuo in his journey, “Narrow Road to a Far Province.” Yoshimura Ikuyo san was the conference convenor and the theme was “Present from Basho”.
3rd Conference: Matsuyama, Ehime-ken, Japan. As described above. The convenor was Noma Minako san and the theme was “Haiku is my friend, your friend.”

At the 3rd Pacific Rim Conference, Kanda Sosuke san voiced what many of us believe:

Through haiku composing, you can exchange your way of thinking and deepen your understanding about the people beyond the borders, isms and religions. This internationalism of haiku is something Basho and Shiki may not have thought of.

Personal Travels
I was fortunate to spend 10 days in Matsuyama, arriving in advance of the conference to explore some of the surrounding countryside as well, under the expert and generous care of members of SGG (a volunteer guiding group).There is much I would like to tell you about my delightful time in Imabari, Uchiko and Ozu and overnight at a mountain ryokan at Ishidatami but for the purpose of this report I must discipline myself to mention only events directly concerning haiku.

I was invited to converse with senior students of English, their principal and class teacher, at the Imabari Minami High School – a very pleasant experience. Later that day I was invited to workshop English versions of haiku written by the talented and welcoming SGG haiku group.
You can imagine I had some hesitation about teaching elements of haiku to Japanese writers! but like everything else planned for me, this turned out to be a wonderful experience too.

It was a little daunting setting off by train to unknown places and relying on the time on the carriage’s wall clock to know when to get off but the warm welcomes the other end made everything worthwhile.

My especial thanks to the following people although there are many others I would like to mention. Matsuyama: Noma Minako san, Yoshino Hirofumi san, Yamada Masayuki san (Master potter –Yamada Kiln), Nonaka Hiromi san Imabari: Tomita Shigeo san, Higaki Shie san Uchiko: Sone Toshio san, Kameda Minoru san Ozu: Sone Toshio san, Kando Mitsunori san
Further reading from Matsuyama: two suggestions
If you are inspired by any aspect of this report to read a little more about haiku in Matsuyama may I recommend two books to start with:

1) Yagi, Kametaro Haiku– Messages from Matsuyama Edited by Oliver Statler
Rochester, Michigan, Katydid Books, 1991 isbn 0-942668-29-4 (pbk)
[I obtained my copy in Australia through China Books]

The book is a series of essays by Professor Yagi. Quoting from the preface by Oliver Statler

Professsor Yagi ‘ wanted haiku in English to flourish, but to flourish as true haiku, worthy of the name and heritage.’

One of my personal favourite quotes comes from the chapter ‘Kite Flying and Children’s Haiku’, mostly because I respect the precept and partly because I was fortunate to visit the kite museum at Ikazaki. This is where they follow the age-old custom of kite-fighting – cutting your opponent’s kite string with a hook-shaped blade attached by a line to your own kite.

Yagi, Kametaro: ‘Haiku should always embody one’s personality and way of life. Bashō said little about technique, but he emphasised the mind. To him the quintessence of haiku was sincerity. To write good haiku one must be sincere toward man and nature. That is why the haiku of children please me. I hate manipulated haiku.

2) If Someone Asks…Masaoka Shiki’s Life and Haiku. translations by The Shiki-Kinen Museum English Volunteers. Matsuyama, 2001

In this remarkable small book, sixteen poets, who first spent 2 years studying Shiki and his life under the instruction of the Museum staff began to translate their knowledge into English.
From the 23,600 haiku Shiki wrote, 116 are presented in the original Japanese, the English translation and the romanized version of the Japanese. This is followed by the season; the season word and the age at which Shiki wrote the haiku.

It’s an invaluable book for those truly interested in haiku and provides insight into the complexities of translating Japanese into English.

Enquiries: sikihaku@city.matsuyama.ehime.jp or write to
The Shiki-Kinen Museum English Volunteers/ the bookshop/
Matsuyama Municipal Shiki-Kinen Museum
1-30 Dōgo Kōen
Matsuyama City 790-0857
Japan