Tsubouchi Nenten — Haiku Selections

Richard Gilbert and Itô Yűki (trans.)

May 31, 2007



Tsubouchi Nenten (坪内稔典1944 - ) Selected Haiku from haiku nyűmon

[Introduction to Haiku], Sekai Shisoushya, Tokyo: 1998, and elsewhere.











harukaze ni haha shinu ryûkakusan ga chiri


to the spring wind
mother dead, herbal medicine







suichû no kaba ga moemasu botanyuki



a wallowing hippo
burns —




(1) botanyuki are large snowflakes or snowflake clusters, known also as ‘snow flowers.’ botan is a peony.







batta tobu ajia no sora no usumidori



flying grasshopper asian sky a washed-out green







sakura chiru anata mo kaba ni narinasai

cherry blossoms fall —
you too must become
  a hippo




haru o neru yabure kabure no yô ni kaba

in the spring —
lying down desperate, as
a hippo





In these final two examples, elements of the original Japanese words are retained, in order to reveal qualities of language play, which are important to Tsubouchi’s haiku aesthetic. Unfortunately this type of stylism has stymied attempts at translation. A brief cultural note follows each haiku, giving an abbreviated explanation of the untranslated phrases.







sangatsu no amanattô no ufufufufu



in march


u fu fu fu fu




(1) In Japan, March (san-gatsu) is the end of the business year, full of fresh energy, yet somewhat sad with the departure of the old and familiar. There is a saying in this regard: deai to wakare no kisetsu (the season of meetings and farewells).

(2) amanatto —  is a traditional Japanese confectionery, made of sweet, fermented azuki beans and sugar; the word-feeling of ‘sweet natto’ reminds of “natto,” a unique food, with a pungent aroma, which is a kind of “power food” or “soul food” (vitality-enhancing). 

(3) u fu fu fu fu — For us, this onomatopoeia creates an image of a group of older women eating the sweets together—in Japanese “ufufu” is a small laughing voice, made with a slightly opened mouth, that is, a kind of modest, small-voiced chuckle, and one imagines a hand placed at the level of the mouth, hiding it.

(4) The haiku also has a sense of personification: it seems as if amanatto itself is modestly chuckling, in a feminine manner. This haiku is among the most well-known of Tsucouchi Nenten, and is often cited.








tanpopo no popo no atari ga kaji desuyo



    tanpopo no popo :

surrounding, burning!





(1) tanpopo is “dandelion.” The popo of tanpopo is a neologistic, onomatopoeic coinage. By utilizing popo, tanpopo, itself, not considered onomatopoeic, becomes so. Literally, the “popo” of “tanpopo” is on fire. In the pun, popo can represent the circumference of the flower, and/or the edge (latter half) of the word.

(2) desuyo is a dialogic part of speech which has the sense of a rallying cry, as if to say, “look at this!”, e.g., “Here is the place of the fire’s energy!” and also, ‘Emergency!’

(3) popo-popo-popo (etc.) is the sound of a steam locomotive; a locomotive engineer is known as a “popo-ya,” and “shushu popo” is a term children use for locomotive. The term poppo can be found in the 1603 Jesuit Japanese translation dictionary, as “the manner in which steam or fire rises.”