Approaching whitecaps coil up
and crash over the reef to a thundering sky

A midday moon in the azure sky?
Trade winds blow autumnally

Fluttered lightly in the trade wind
a tree shines in parts – What is that flower?

Meiji Japan’s rusticity now disappears
yet it can be seen everywhere in Honolulu

Step by step I follow in hope and admiration
your footprints that lead along the sandy beach

(This and the following two poems are in memory of Konoshima’s mentor in poetry, Mitsuko Shiga, 1885~1976. She 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 annual 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”.)

Sheltered from the rain in a cave with crawling snails
you expounded as we awaited our taxi

As she recounts the temple history to young ladies passersby
I note a hint of my grandmother in Mitsuko

(Toukeiji, a temple in Kamakura, nicknamed Kakekomidera – The “Run-For-Shelter Temple” – from the Kamakura period [1185-1382] when it served as a shelter for abused women.)

A boulder crashing down a precipice
the times terrify me as I await the New Year

With nothing to do at home even on New Year’s Day
I roam the streets – for I am a wanderer

Old and nine thousand miles of ocean and mountains from home
yet I never forget my love for the Japanese seasons

My grandson and his bride set out hand in hand
drawn to the land of their forefathers

A mentality developed in post-war poverty and strife
turns into the Lockheed scandal and undermines my native land

(The Lockheed bribery scandals encompassed a series of bribes and contributions made by officials of U.S. aerospace company Lockheed from the late 1950s to the 1970s in the process of negotiating the sale of aircraft. The scandal involved several high-ranking members of Japanese political, business and underworld circles. On February 6, 1976, the vice-chairman of Lockheed told the Senate subcommittee that Lockheed had paid approximately $3 million in bribes to the office of Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka for aid in the matter. From Wikipedia.)

Pondering the adage “Habit becomes a second nature”
I check the leading man’s age

(The age of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka.)

Defeat was a turning point for my native Japan
where the spirit of patriotism no longer exists

Upon the Bicentennial a stain on American history
the Japanese-American internment – is recognized as unlawful

(Japanese-American internment was the forcible relocation and internment by the United States government in 1942 of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese residing in the United States to camps called “War Relocation Camps,” in the wake of Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The internment of Japanese Americans was applied unequally throughout the United States. Japanese Americans residing on the West Coast of the United States were all interned, whereas in Hawaii, where more than 150,000 Japanese Americans composed nearly a third of that territory’s population, only 1,200 to 1,800 Japanese Americans were interned. Of those interned, 62 percent were United States citizens. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized the internment with Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which allowed local military commanders to designate “military areas” as “exclusion zones,” from which “any or all persons may be excluded.” This power was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and most of Oregon and Washington, except for those in internment camps. In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion orders, while noting that the provisions that singled out people of Japanese ancestry were a separate issue outside the scope of the proceedings. In 1988, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed legislation which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation stated that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”. Wikipedia. Directly after landing in America in 1921, Konoshima found work as a laborer on a farm in Stockton, California. He then sent for his wife and four children to join him. After working as a laborer for eleven years Konoshima and his family moved to Santa Clara, California, where he and another Japanese man began their own independently managed farm. When Konoshima’s enterprise had reached the point of being well under way, the Pacific War broke out in 1941. Submitting to the decree that all people of Japanese descent vacate the coast, the partners were forced to “sell” the fruit and truck farm for a pittance. Konoshima’s family was first consigned to a stable at the Santa Anita race track and then moved to the relocation camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. They were confined there for four years.)

Lurking beneath a thirty-three year memory
the stigma of “Enemy Alien” rises vividly clear

Paralyzed grandfather in a cart
two hundred miles they carried him to internment camp

“Okayu with umeboshi – just once before I die”
my old friend perished with those words on his lips

(Okayu is a rice porridge, most popularly garnished with a pickled plum called umeboshi – Okayu with umeboshi would be basic fare in the diet of a Japanese, but not available in internment camp.)

Internment is acknowledged as a national injustice
yet compensation is less than one percent of our loss

Regret becomes pointless – with the changing times
I live on in gratitude

My time for eternal nothingness must be near
the reality of being eighty-three

Preparing each night for the morn I will awake no more
I thoroughly scrub this well-used body

(Thoroughly, in preparation for death – in traditional Japanese culture, perhaps as a remnant of samurai culture, one should always be prepared for death with one’s affairs in order, including one’s personal cleanliness.)

I hear Death’s fast approaching footsteps
yet make light of it to my children

I look back over many mountains crossed
old in America at my wanderings’ end

We laugh at each other’s dotage
and coin a new expression – “double dotage”

(Konoshima and his wife.)

The proverb “Tomorrow is another day” in mind
I talk with a youngster

“Young people these days…” – I grumble
though I too heard it when I was young

Our children and grandchildren pushed by today and pulled by tomorrow tidings for this old couple come few and far between

The memory of London’s bankruptcy still fresh
New York follows the same path

The Union Jack now just a dream on the Seven Seas
eventually the Stars and Stripes will be history too

A Japanese immigrant carrying Meiji ideology into Showa
laments the times to me

(In Meiji period Japan [1868-1912], nationalist ideology consisted of a blend of native and imported political philosophies, initially developed by the Meiji government to promote national unity and patriotism, first in defense against colonization by European powers, and later in a struggle to attain equality with the Great Powers. It evolved through the Taisho period [1912-1926] and Showa [1926-1989] periods to justify an increasingly totalitarian government and overseas expansionism, and provided a political and ideological foundation for the actions of the Japanese military in the years leading up to World War II. Wikipedia.)

Faded creased and torn old photographs
speak of my various wanderings around the world

The friendly African rickshaw man with a crown of buffalo horns
our arms across each other’s shoulders

Once looked upon as little more than cattle – native Africans
now shed blood to become men

Expelled from my boarding house for penury
I spent nights walking up and down the Kamogawa

(The Kamogawa river, in Kyoto. Konoshima enrolled in Kyoto’s Doshisha University in 1913, but was dirt poor. He eventually supported himself through college, as he had in Tokyo through high school, with a milk delivery service, which meant getting up at three o’clock every morning to milk and care for the cows, preparing the milk, and then carrying the milk to his customers with a pull-cart mornings and evenings. Konoshima never forgot the hardships he endured to secure an education, and up to his death he sent money to his native village where he established scholarships for needy students.)

“From our fine friend in Kyoto”
I accept three morning-glory seeds

The forest’s green a more startling sight each morning
a tardy spring’s step is brisk

Down the hill I clear away a thicket and dig up roots
to make a vegetable garden four yards square

Clearing wasteland to sow seeds
I reflect on my forefathers – refugees in Kita Mino

(“Refugees” would mean samurai who had to flee circumstance – defeat in battle, dishonor, etc. – and hide, eventually to become farmers in the Japanese countryside. Konoshima’s native village, Nishikawa-mura, was in an area called Kita Mino, or sometimes Kitano, in Gifu Prefecture.)

Nine thousand miles of sea and mountains away
in these fields and hills my native Kitano green buds forth

A seventy-year memory of lovely budding trees
the faint smell of my native home

“That is edible – Oh and this is delicious” – across valleys
I climb the hills in search of wild vegetables

From peak to peak in Oku Saga
I gathered bracken – now sixty years past

(Oku Saga is an area in Kyoto’s Ukyo-ku ward.)

“Oh won’t you have some hayaguki!” – at my window
the Ohara lass sometimes appears in my mind’s eye still now

(Ohara is a village just northeast of Kyoto, and the lass is peddling pickled canola flowers, hayaguki in Japanese.)

“A morning glory blossomed!” – this grandfather
 proclaims to his children and grandchildren throughout the house

Morning glories of deep purple with white fringe
I name “Sanmi” and admire them each morning

(In the Heian period [794-1185A.D.] the court color for nobility of the third rank – “Sanmi” means “third rank” – was purple.)

All over the fence without a single blossom
this morning glory is charmingly insubordinate

I’ll feed the fish – enjoy morning glories
and watch the garden grow – my day begins

Nostalgically I recognize each insect from the general chorus
by ear – but their Japanese names I have forgotten

Large flowers of purple dapples and crimson
blooming splendidly – a drowsy dream

In deep woods there is a window to an azure sky
one speck of white cloud crosses softly

Random wild flowers gathered and stood in a bottle
I name them “Summer Fields” in memory of my native home

Wild flowers whose Japanese names I no longer remember
yet they awaken a homesickness of eighty years

Instead of calling throughout the hills – merely two
evening cicadas in this foreign land of America

(Tanna japonensis, or evening cicada, is a much-loved cicada that sounds throughout the hills from early evening to sunset in the summer highlands of Japan.)

A stone kicked playfully falls down the hill
sinking away noisily – a country path one fine autumn day

With branches dangling abundant mandarin oranges
my grandchildren bring great-grandchildren and gather for Thanksgiving

Stubbornly clinging to the treetop a single dry leaf
clatters bleakly in the northerly wind

Suddenly remembering the expression “mind’s eye”
I toss aside a book I can barely see – lie down and close my eyes

My sister-in-law passes away
the last person who knew me as a village imp

I lean down to read – tremble when I write – cannot hear
my appetite alone remains in fine condition

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.


Readers who have enjoyed this series of tanka translations may now add another collection of Konoshima tanka 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


About David Callner