WHR October 2008

World Haiku Review

Volume 6, Issue 4, October 2008


During one of my many visits to Matsuyama, the Mecca of modern haiku, I was introduced to an old farmer and had an unforgettable evening with him at his idyllic farm house in the outskirt of the city. He was not just an ordinary haijin but a true haiku poet in the true sense of the word.

As he shied away from publicity, I shall call him Mr. Matsuyama, a false name, to protect his privacy and identity. He was of the same generation as Kyoshi Takahama (1874-1959) and knew the great poet closely.

He had many huge Japanese calligraphy scrolls on the wall, something like 6' x 2'. The contents were all classic Chinese poems. I was astonished by the high quality and artistry of all of them and wondered who the calligraphers were. All local people, was his answer. They included the farmer-poet himself but out of humility he declined to identify which works were his. Seeing my enthusiasm he brought up more and more scrolls from a cupboard and inscrolling and putting them up he explained each one engagingly to me. Calligraphy, he said, was his hobby, be it doing it himself or collecting works by others. He only went to school and had no university education but his knowledge of Chinese classic, for instance, was vast and deep. I taught myself, he added, and emphasised that if one liked something one naturally learnt a lot about it. Also, our education before the World War II was far better than that of today, he added smiling.

The same was also the case with haiku, according to him. Mr. Matsuyama said that apart from haiku teachers who made their living out of haiku, no one should really take it too seriously and that therefore haiku should remain strictly as their hobby. In other words, he pointed out, there was no such thing as a professional haiku poet, only an amateur. This was because dilettantism was the essence of haiku, as it had always been. It was when people started behaving like professional haiku poets that a host of problems occurred, such as corruption, useless competitiveness, deterioration or confusion of haiku. He chuckled and added that people got so worked up that they were at each other's throat for such an insignificant thing as haiku. Something has gone crazy somewhere or someone has gone mad and the rest of the people have followed the mad leader.

Mr. Matsuyama said he met Kyoshi on many occasions and learned a lot about haiku from him. However, he never regarded himself as a student of Kyoshi, just as Kyoshi refused to regard himself as a disciple of Shiki. Such a master-disciple relationship was not healthy and no good at all for the student, he added. He said that Kyoshi in turn treated him as a friend. He never contributed his haiku to Hototogisu, which was Kyoshi's flagship haiku magazine, or to any other haiku magazines for that matter. Kyoshi tried to persuade him to allow him to publish some of his haiku but readily accepted that Mr. Matsuyama did not want that. Kyoshi liked a lot of his haiku, he said, and picked quite a few of them, saying these were perhaps better than the haiku by his best followers or by some of other most famous names. Mr. Matsuyama showed some examples of it to me and I more than agreed to Kyoshi's verdict.

So, nobody knows Mr. Matsuyama's haiku except for his close haiku friends with whom he has had ginko, discussion or endless drinking sessions. I did not know why I was allowed to meet him but more than the feeling of the honour and fortune of being granted the audience by him I was first and foremost bowled over by the fact that a man of this cultural refinement and haiku talent could remain a completely unknown and unnoticed haiku poet in the world where even someone of the least or no haiku talent is well-known through his or her self-publicity.

I tried to persuade him for me to introduce him in World Haiku Review and of course his reply was a very polite but definite NO. We both laughed. If he said NO to Kyoshi how would he say YES to the likes of me? Therefore regrettably there is no way for me to show you some of his actual haiku. However, you can take it from me that some of his works I read then were among the very best I have encountered so far in Japan, in the world and in the cyberspace, including classical Japanese haiku.

To Mr. Matsuyama haiku has brought no end of enormous pleasure, best friendship with like-minded people, high quality of cultured life and above all not a small number of excellent haiku. Haiku has taught him humility, peace and happiness in anonymity and humble life and last but not least special sense of humour. Because of his wise policy or self-discipline he has kept away and therefore been shielded from all causes for and the results of negative haiku politics, pointless competition or rivalry, impure ambition for fame or position, all the enemies of haiku such as hubris, aggression or boasting, and above all the corruption, cheapening or dilution of haiku.