Konoshima's Tanka PDF Print E-mail

translations by David Callner

This is the twenty-third and final set of newly translated tanka by Kisaburo Konoshima (1893-1984).



Honolulu, Hawaii


In rue of passing - in felicity of arrival - New Year’s Eve
fireworks play colorfully about town


Together for Sotsuju on our sixty-ninth anniversary
our family all living and sound 

(Sotsuju is the name for one’s ninetieth birthday.)    


At Sotsuju - together sixty-nine years
side by side we stand watching fireworks


The calm azure sea yonder - a little bird comes to sing
in celebration of my eighty-ninth New Year

(Konoshima’s eighty-ninth year would also be celebrated as Sotsuju, for in Japanese culture one’s age is often counted from New Year’s Day.) 


A long life together under our family precept of humility
O pass this down to our kindred


Vibrant kith and kin aplenty gather warmly
in celebration of our Sotsuju


My children and grandchildren gather warmly for me
and celebrate my eighty-ninth birthday


A bill denouncing the Japanese-American Internment signed
the Presidential pen is bestowed to me by Carter 

(In 1980, Jimmy Carter signed legislation to create the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Wikipedia.
Konoshima and his family were confined for four years in Wyoming’s Heart Mountain relocation camp.)


Proving their loyalty with blood - six hundred young
Japanese-Americans fall in battle

(The 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army was an all Japanese-American unit. They fought primarily in Europe during World War II, beginning in 1944. The families of many of its soldiers were subject to internment. The 442nd was a self-sufficient fighting force, and fought with uncommon distinction in Italy, southern France, and Germany. The unit became the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the United States armed forces, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients. Wikipedia.) 


The Japanese-American Internment annulled and branded unconstitutional
yet history remains tainted - never to be undone


Humiliation and condemnation endured
peace is won - the hostages are free 

(The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States where 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, after a group of Islamist students and militants took over the American Embassy in support of the Iranian Revolution. Wikipedia.)


Patience and self-respect he sacrificed - even re-election
Let us appreciate Carter’s anguish


Carter’s experience with sincere endeavor
yet my one vote was not enough


O citizens drunk with Reagan’s grandstanding
beware the loss of your national policy - Justice


America dances the fool on Khomeini’s string
down the path of a declining nation


The reality of mob rule in Democracy
quickly reveals itself - Reagan is shot


News of an eclipse and I suddenly recall
our myth of Iwato Kakure 

(The Japanese myth of Iwato Kakure, in which the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, upset with her cruel brother Susanoo, hides herself in a cave and plunges the world into darkness.)


Both my village and its memories now are far away
I celebrate my eighty-ninth birthday in Hawaii


My first shelter in eighty years of wandering
appears - a miserable boat house


The rapids slacken blue beneath some cliffs
where little boats are tied along a sign - “Boat House”


Sympathetic and encouraging as I set out
the riverman’s wife is alive in my memory


A caring word of sympathy - “Are you cold?”
and a kindly face vividly come back to me


Neither a where nor a when to die
I live an ordinary life and welcome Sotsuju


Together beyond Sotsuju
O what could be better?


Whenever I respond - “Thanks to you” - with a cordial smile
tears of gratitude well up in my eyes


New tea sent from my native home by a niece - slightly bitter
and astringent - I sip listening to news of a heavy snow


I can picture the heavy snow of my native village
at eighty-nine years old - uncannily clear


Upon news of heavy snow - my birthplace
the Hokuno snowscape howls in my memory 

(“Hokuno” is an old designation for the area that included Konoshima’s native village, in Gifu prefecture.)


Slightly bitter Shirakawa tea from my niece
as I drink - O news of a heavy snowfall 

(Shirakawa is a village in Gifu prefecture, well-known for its tea.)


Snow on our kudzu-thatched roof groans and slides down
mounding up to the windows


Deliberately I sip Shirakawa tea and hold it on my tongue
faintly there wafts the aroma of my native home


“What are you thinking?” - asks my great-grandson
and I awake from an eighty-nine year reminiscence


Sipping tea from my niece I glance out the window
ruddy clouds adorn the Pacific horizon


A lifetime spoken over and over
yet we keep traces of certain feelings secret


Traces when mentioned vanish in laughter
feelings never touched in consideration for each other


Leading each other by wrinkled hand along a country path
suddenly before us - murmuring waters


Scattered along a faintly sounding brooklet
stones are placed as a ford


One set of clothing for outings is plenty year round
Honolulu - truly a comfortable town


Flowers bloom - flowers wither then bloom once more
the town of everlasting summer has lovely seasons too


To the faintly changing season
women bewitchingly match their daily attire


In plants and trees - in the attire of people about town
O faintly appears a change of season


Rushing to work again this morning a woman from the bus
has a bewitching new outfit each day


In a world with no time to catch one’s breath
the young have much to undertake


The day? - the month? - the year? - no point in asking
I live the moment earnestly


“I now begin Sotsuju” - I declare
firmly treading the early-summer ground in serenity


A mere two hundred five years from its founding
young America’s pace invigorates


The pursuit of vital ambition lives
in the first steps towards space exploration


An aircraft flies into space - circles the stars
then returns successfully to fly again they say


Elucidation of the universe is all encompassing
yet wonders remain - let us call them God


My friend’s letter - breaking off after a mere three lines
comes enclosed in a death notice from his widow


“My final message is for you” - he wrote
breaking off after just three lines


Many friends have passed away
yet spoken of they live on in me


A gift of verse to us in hand - my aged wife and I
lose ourselves in reminiscences of Miwako 

(Miwako Idogawa [1908 - 1981] was an editor for the Kamakura poetry society, Cho-on, and author of numerous poetry collections including Toukou Kashuu, “Winter Rainbow”.)


Never forgetting our chance encounter of a lifetime
Miwako often sent encouragement


Gentle and elegant - paragons of Japanese womanhood
Mitsuko and Miwako 

(Mitsuko Shiga, 1885~1976, 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 1983. Shiga was also a selector of the verses submitted for the 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".)


An encounter of a lifetime - Miwako
inspires me as a cherished memory


“Nothing is as pure and simple as death”
Mother often said - and now I understand


My wife and I become the eldest amongst our friends
and live our remaining days in earnest


Both ninety - Our affairs in order?
We take out some dust-covered boxes


Together - soon for seventy years
we both celebrate our ninety-first birthday 

(In Japanese culture one’s age is both counted from New Year’s Day and from one’s birthday, thus Konoshima now calls himself and his wife ninety, now ninety-one.)


O still alive at the day’s end I go to bed
Who knows if I wake to see tomorrow?


Awakening at midnight I feel for her hand - yes alive
perhaps I can sleep again


Alone - the tea I crudely slurp is fragrant
I still live


Soon seventy years together - I know nothing more delicious
than my aged wife’s home cooking


Frustrated over my poem I put down my chopsticks
“Tastes bad?” - asks my aged wife


This morning I stand by the same window as yesterday
O thinking the same thing


A grand landscape of Diamond Head veiled in rain
a sumi-e - adorns my window


Granted I may never see another day
yet I leave today’s plans for tomorrow


I have no words but “Thank you”
seventy years together I come to my wife’s dying hour


My lamented wife’s seventy years of devotion
service and sacrifice came wrapped in modesty


My nature - warm towards others but cool to my own
my lamented wife lived accordingly


“Thank you” - emptying my heart I lay my hand
upon my lamented wife - seventy years


Ruddy glows the Pacific horizon yonder
O the beloved teaching of Paradise





Together for seventy years - my aged wife ultimately passes away
bleak days I live in modesty


Many times in suffering and grief
my aged wife’s ninety years come to a close


“Your last trim” - “My last trim” - we laughed
she trimmed my hair the morning of her death


My lamented wife never boasted but carried her goodness within
such goodness might serve as an example


Accepting me as an amiable man - my aged wife
never saw a moment without spongers


Guests she received with a smile - my aged wife’s
anguish to make shift known only to me


Massaging my shoulders - stroking my back - rubbing my feet
she nursed me despite her own poor health


Her battle for love - self-effacing and subservient
my lamented wife ends in victory


A little cicada shell clinging to a great tree
quietly I live my remaining days


My lamented wife’s old palm-leaf fan
now a keepsake - waves in my hand


Ninety years traveling the world - Hawaii
a good island in old age where I guess I will die


Sweetfish flow in the rapids - people in a hymn of sympathy
so I have learned from eighty years of wandering


My native Meiji Japan still present in Hawaii
helps me recall my birthplace 

(The Meiji era - 1868 to 1912.)


“Refugee” survives in the name “Ochibe
in my hamlet from hundreds of years past

 (Konoshima’s native hamlet probably had its origins as a hiding place for refugee samurai. “Ochibe” means “place of refuge”, and when the kanji for “Ochibe” are reversed they read “Buraku”, or “hamlet”.)


Their castle torched they survive together hidden in a ravine
thus began my hamlet hundreds of years ago


Proud of an ancestral family name
a lifetime spent for that name


Inheriting a name they now call their own
those who live there are people I do not even know 

(The people who now live in Konoshima’s ancestral home.)


From my birth in a snowy Hokuno mountain home
ninety years are long yet brief


With news of the changing season - Hokuno
my Meiji birthplace vividly appears


Buckwheat seedlings part the gravely mountainside soil
their flowers white in the village I abandoned


Cutting myself away from inescapable poverty - I abandoned
the Meiji village where the snow storms in my memory


When closing my eyes to reminisce - I first see
the village I forsook eighty years past


Constant to his family precepts - yielding yet working hardest
Father struggled on through poverty


Paddies were hocked for high-interest cash
to barely support our family through daily life


Aged Father awaits his hato at the hearth
the sake - his daughter’s gift from town 

(A “hato bin” is a pigeon-shaped sake vessel - “hato” means “pigeon” - the tail end of which is set above the charcoal of the “irori” - “sunken hearth” - to heat sake, thus Konoshima’s father would be waiting for his sake to warm.)


“Whoosh whoosh” blows the northerly wind
ever more piercingly through our house


Braving the snowy forest to gather wood and make charcoal
our only way to survive the winter


There the men snap kindling and stoke the charcoal oven
My aged mother grumbles - they have yet to come home


Mother - grumbling at the worsening snow
I still see her rounded back eighty years later


O how many hair-raising times to the verge of life or death?
Yet I live on and celebrate my ninetieth year


A long life together and our ancestral tradition of humility
these I pray our kin might inherit through the ages


A long life together and respect for family tradition
set in verse - a gift for my newlywed grandchild


I wonder at the reality of my life
flourishing through generations


Purchasing two pairs of chopsticks and two rice bowls
we - Grandpa and Grandma - married


The memory of my lamented wife’s gomoku
with Kita-Mino chestnuts never fails 

(“Gomoku gohan”, "five-ingredient mixed rice", typically contains five seasonal delicacies such as chestnuts, matsutake mushrooms, burdock, bamboo shoots, fresh soybeans, etc. Konoshima’s native village was in an area formerly called both “Kita-Mino” and “Hokuno”, renowned for chestnuts, in Gifu Prefecture.)


What were frequent obituaries now are few and far between
my friends are mostly amongst the deceased


An unending stream of family comes to call
a joy indeed - and a burden


Fêted by youngsters
bewildered - I am Meiji born


Modest or haughty - various characters
droll on the morning bus


Shoppers swarm the mounds of items on sale
pushing and pushed they jostle fervently 


With no real intention of buying anything
before I know it I am jostled too


Old after eighty years of wandering the globe
What do I see? - my native Meiji land


Whenever it is I pass away - see me off without crying
I have been more than blessed for ninety years 




This was a delicacy and that was tasty
I hunt fruit in a vision of the Hokuno hills


“Come O fireflies come - here the water is sweet!”
so too sang I some eighty years past 

(“Koi koi hotaru koi - kochi no mizu wa amai zo!” is a line from one of the  most popular Japanese children’s ditties.)


Wishing you a life forever and ever glorious
basked in sunshine - go forth with grace
Your senile old Grandpa of ninety-two 

(From Konoshima to his newborn great-granddaughter, Saya Callner.)


In step with the year-end town folks’ to and fro
unconsciously I bustle along too


I count the days left on my fingers
once again in anticipation - my ninety-second year of rebirth


A doting old man I revert to a child
counting the days till New Year on my fingers


With the year-end countdown of time’s passing
I live to see my ninety-second New Year


In rue of passing - in felicitation of arrival
firecrackers hail people’s deep emotions


A Hachiya persimmon left dangling for the tree
shines still now in an eighty-year memory

(In Japan one fruit is often left on a branch after harvest to “protect” the tree.
“The Japanese cultivar ‘Hachiya’ is widely grown. The fruit has a high tannin content which makes the immature fruit astringent and bitter. The tannin levels are reduced as the fruit matures. Persimmons like ‘Hachiya’ must be completely ripened before consumption. When ripe, this fruit comprises thick pulpy jelly encased in a waxy thin skinned shell.” Wikipedia.)


I imagine a ripe Kita-Mino Hachiya
as I devour an American Hachiya


Photographs from the collection of Konoshima’s first daughter, Toshiko Konoshima.




Konoshima (seated left) with junior high school classmates, circa 1908.


Konoshima, circa 1911.


Konoshima with milk delivery cart, circa 1911.


Konoshima (standing right) with high school classmates, circa 1912.


 Konoshima (standing second from right) - high school graduation, circa 1912.


Konoshima, circa 1912.


Konoshima at high school graduation, circa 1912.


Konoshima (standing right) in first year at Doshisha University, circa 1913.

At the age of fifteen Konoshima left his village for Tokyo to attend high school with the dream to "Study Under Adversity and Rise Up in the World". He took a job in a Setagaya post office for seven sen a day plus food and lodging. About six months later Konoshima heard about the Aoyama Gakusei Roudo-Kai, a Tokyo high school where students could work and go to school. Konoshima worked his way through high school, and later through college as well, delivering milk with a pull-cart mornings and evenings. He would get up at three o'clock every morning to milk and care for the cows and prepare the milk for delivery.


Konoshima (standing arms crossed) at Doshisha University, circa 1913.


Konoshima (bottom row, second from left) at Doshisha University, circa 1914.


Konoshima, University graduation, circa 1916.


Professor Konoshima (right), circa 1919.


Professor Konoshima (right), Kyoto, circa 1919.


Professor Konoshima, circa 1920.


Konoshima (seated center) with his students in Argentina, circa 1920.


Konoshima (left) with ship doctor, returning from South America, circa 1920.


Konoshima with wife and children, circa 1920.


Konoshima (seated right) with former classmates, San Francisco, circa 1920.


Konoshima (seated right) with his students in Peru, circa 1920.


Konoshima (left), Yosemite Valley, circa 1920.


Konoshima (standing), Yosemite, circa 1920.


Konoshima (left) with students in Argentina, circa 1923.


Mr. and Mrs. Konoshima with first daughter and son, circa 1923.



In 1941 Konoshima was forced to abandon his farm. He and his family were 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.


Konoshima with Family, California, circa 1932.


Konoshima at Heart Mountain Internment Camp, circa 1943.


Konoshima with family, Heart Mountain Internment Camp, circa 1943.


Konoshima with wife and grandchildren, Hawaii, circa 1951.


Konoshima with grandchild, Hawaii, circa 1951.


Kisaburo and Yoshi Konoshima, Sharon Springs, NY, circa 1955.


Photo 30 - Konoshima (standing) with his wife, his brother's widow, his two brothers and sister, circa 1960.


Konoshima fishing in his native village, circa 1960.


Following the war's end, Konoshima and his wife Yoshi moved to New York City. Konoshima devoted the rest of his life to his children's schooling and his poetry.





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.






David Callner was born in 1956. His youth was spent in France, England, Italy, and America. Since 1978 he has lived in Japan. He has written four novels and teaches English at Nagano University. He is a grandson of Kisaburo Konoshima.