Black Ant's Journey to Japan:
A Modern Tanka Journal


Randy Brooks

Lee Gurga

Published by AHA Online Books

© 1998 Randy M. Brooks


In April of 1997 I had the honor and opportunity to journey to Japan as a member of a delegation of poets and editors invited to attend the 2nd International Joint Haiku Conference sponsored by the Haiku Society of America (HSA) and the Haiku International Association (HIA).

My trip began in Chicago, where I stayed with Lee Gurga (the President of HSA) at his mother-in-law's house the night before our thirteen hour flight to Japan. I dedicate this journal to Lee, because of his tireless efforts to organize international exchanges between the Japanese and English language haiku writers. If not for Lee's vision of an international conference, I'm sure I would still be dreaming of going to Japan in some distant future. Well, the dream took off on April 16, 1997.

The first few days were spent in Tokyo, where we gave talks on the history of haiku and participated in a "kukai" haiku writing experience (in which everyone submits one anonymous haiku to be translated and selected by judges) at Kiyosumi Garden, the beautiful location for the international haiku conference. We also visited the Museum of Haiku Literature, enjoyed a penthouse banquet at the top of one of Tokyo's skyscrapers, and participated in a reception for haiku writers, translators and editors at the U.S. Ambassador's residence.

Our second leg of the adventure in Japan was to join several of the Japanese haiku poets (led by Sensei Yatsuka Ishihara and Mr. Okada Ritsuo) on a bus trip to the mountains in Nikko, where we visited the Toshogu Shrine and the Nikko Botanical Garden. And after a traditional Japanese meal with all of the haiku poets, and after a good night's rest, we visited the famous pottery area of Mashiko.

Some of our group flew to Matsuyama, hosted by Sensei of the Hoshi group, Yoshiko Yoshino. Of course, Matsuyama has a great deal of haiku heritage, being the home town of Shiki, Santoka and many other famous Japanese haiku writers. After speeches, haiku readings and luncheons in Matsuyama, and a visit to the Shiki Haiku Museum, we enjoyed a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, a visit to Matsuyama Castle and the legendary Dogo Spa hot springs bath. Many of us also visited Buddhist shrines and temples in Matsuyama.

This journey was a dream come true for me, and I continued to dream I was in Japan for over a month after my return to Illinois. I could hear the melodic Japanese language in my sleep. Finally, a summer head cold occupied my head, and my dreams faded away. This tanka journal contains the impressions and memories that will remain with me. I trust you can see that the little black ant remain puzzled, but forever changed, by his journey to Japan.

--Randy M. Brooks
April 4, 1998

Publication & Award Credits:

EPIC International Haiku Salon, Gendai Haiku International (Kiyosumi-Teien Kukai), Heron Quarterly, Hoshi, Kusamakura Haiku Contest (Third Place), Matsuyama Castle Post Haiku Award, Modern Haiku

The Sun Never Goes Down

across the windshield,
her goodbye
kiss already long-
he's retired.
I follow him
to the basement
ah, a lithograph
snorting and coughing
all night . . .
come morning
he complains
I snore
spring rain
the airport runway,
my narrow road
to Japan
in Decatur . . .
I'm still riding
the sun out
my airplane window
not asleep . . .
slight breeze
of the stewardess
my seat

Tokyo Breeze

the haze
of a Tokyo morning . . .
Mt. Fuji
a lone goose
over the imperial moat . . .
in my bus window
in front
of the minister's door...
a gloved policeman
sweeps the entrance
white scooter
through the traffic
her lipstick
very red
sensei nods
to the speech . . .
the haiku museum
window open
for the April breeze
maple leaf
folded over
the foamy treat . . .
which part
do I eat?
my notebook
kept shut
in the haiku museum
they might discover
tanka in here

Hotel Pastoral

and belt
on my hotel bed . . .
spring evening
tangled sheets . . .
my wife's legs grow longer with
steamy water
to the top
of the deep tub . . .
I ease myself
flashing blue
of the alarm clock:
what day
is it?
spring sniffle
I lift
the miso
to my lips
museum kanji-
I understand
the red hand
for a signature
waving us
on the bus
off the bus
no time
for spring

Kiyosumi Garden

stepping stones
to the teahouse . . .
turtle slips under spring clouds
no crumbs left,
the girl continues to reach
carp's open mouth
stone path
along the pond's edge . . .
cricket in the foxtails




pair of sunken boats
in Kiyosumi Garden . . .
ah, green tea
shoes off . . .
stone steps
into the teahouse
through my socks
bento lunch
each bite
in its own
one thing
at a time
a bite
of bamboo shoot
my whole tanka
Japanese lute-
I clear my throat
the applause
walking stick?
Emiko winks
it's his

Ambassador's Reception

thirty fifth
over Tokyo
sun sets
in red wine
sensei says
his haiku
are no good.
his sushi?
the best in Tokyo!
chopsticks . . .
the lady haiku poets
show me how
to hold
she's not
going to,
oh no, she did . . .
cherry blossom butt

Road To Nikko With Sensei Ishihara

of white water below . . .
sensei balances
on the exposed roots
of a tree
bus motor's vibration . . .
tour guide's hand
each one
of us
on the shrine
see, speak, hear
no evil . . .
American poets
azelia tree
at the Shogun's shrine . . .
haiku lady's lavender
glasses up it
cool haiku stone-
black ant down and out
of the kanji
mountain river . . .
black ant feels the air
for summer

Matsuyama Under Yoshino's Star

morning sun
through the tatami room doors,
wisteria frond's bow
white heron
at the peak of the spa . . .
not a drop of rain
Buddhist shrine
at the top of the hill . . .
left, right,
spill a little
on the dipper
Dogo Spa changing room.
he has
a wife,
she has
a husband
people say
I laugh all the time . . .
they're not with me
now that I'm

Matsuyama Castle: Wisteria's War Cry

on tiptoe
to smell wisteria . . .
bumble bee backs off
touching the grooves
of her name . . .
wisteria over the tombstone
tatami mat room
doors left open . . .
full moon over the wisteria
up the castle keep . . .
I teach another
lullaby to
my housewife guide
open mouthed
museum glass
samurai's war cry
chair lift
to the castle gate . . .
bumble bee
humming up
with me
what's the rush?
tilt of my head
under the wisteria moon

Pine Mountain Pilgrimage

moist sushi . . .
lips part with the taste
of the green leaf
begging bowl
behind shrine glass . . .
only dust in
his sake cup
one cut
beneath the drip . . .
her grin
raises freckles
Buddhist temple,
someone gently shoos a fly
off my shoulder
sumie painter's frail
hug . . .
some day she's going
to puff herself
pulling back
the temple bell
easy now,
temple rope gate.
he rubs his thighs
to show
its healing
tea ceremony whisk . . .
one peony bud
the whole arrangement
black ant steps back
off the tea ceremony tatami
with his shoes
still on
in the heart
of the temple
tunnel . . .
my kigo?
namu amida butsu . . .
forgive me
my debts
zips up . . .
crows talking
in Tokyo
Narita Airport
mother breasts,
the sleeping child

Other Side of the World

curly red hair
my wife's . . .
airport jeans
going home,
in the airline toilet
now mine
back home
from Japan . . .
my daughter
hangs from my neck
and won't let go
asking my wife
to translate for me,
she moves
to the living room couch
with her pillow
full moon
the kitchen window-
two aspirins
in the palm of my hand
no more
in Japanese . . .
my snorting, sneezing
daffodils up . . .
my wife
puts my hand on
the small
of her back
seasons will come
and go
without me . . .
petals in
the paper weight

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Black Ant's Tanka Journey to Japan © 1998 Randy M. Brooks
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