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Author Min Jin Lee in New York



Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn


Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko

PachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an Ex-Pat who lived in Japan for 32 years, I am very aware of the Japanese prejudice towards Koreans. Most people think that the Japanese take over of Korea began during WWII, but Japan annexed Korea in 1910. Min Jin Lee created very interesting and true-to-life characters, who made up four decades of a family from the poverty to riches. The essence of the novel is the strength of the great-grandmother, Yangjin, from Buson, Korea, her daughter Sunja, the grandchild Mozasu (Moses), and the great-grandchild Solomon. When the women moved to Japan they were able to endure selling their food in carts on the street. Their purpose was to feed and safeguard their family. The boys grew up around their modest pastor father, Isak (Isaac) and a stranger unknown to the boys who left a shadow in the family. Sunja’s son Noa (Noah) was a scholar whose Japanese language was so good that he was able to hide that he was Korean and attended Waseda University in Tokyo. His younger brother, Mozasu hid his nationality when he became a pachinko manager where there was corruption at the top, but he was a compassionate, truthful man who became successful. He helped to bring up his son Solomon who graduated from a college in New York. When Solomon returned to Japan he had to make a choice of where to live and what to do.

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Lian Hearn author of The Tales of Otori published another thrilling fantasy series that mixes fantasy with the samurai years of Japan. The Tale of Shikanoko includes four books.


The Tale of Shikanoko by Lian Hearn

I have been drawn to so many of Lian Hearn’s characters. Just when I thought I had met all of them in Book 2 of The Tale of Shikanoko, she kept inserting new characters that pull at my heart. Such favorites are Hina (Yayoi), Shikanoko, the Autumn Princess, Yoshimori, Gen, Mu, Kinpoge, and Tadashi.

Instead of revealing the plot to readers, I will introduce courageous Hina. She was full of grief for the death of her father, Lord Kiyomori, but she had a gift of discernment so she knew what to do to escape her father’s enemies and save baby Yoshimori, who was meant to be Emperor. When her family’s enemies came closer, she tried to jump in a boat with the baby in one arm and a magical book in the other. Her heroics remind Japanese history buffs of an amazing story in the medieval classic, Tales of The Heike, which has a chapter on how an eight-year-old emperor drowned with his grandmother Tokiko as she held on to him with one hand and the other the sacred imperial jewel. Were Hina and Yoshimori saved? And what will happen to the very individualist underdog Shikanoko, who has lost his strength and hope?

Carmen Sterba


Today, I created a new blog, Kamakura Mirror Micropoetry for haiku, tanka and other short poetry.

Nighttime in Nagoya

It’s good I added Nagoya to my tags for my review of Haruki Murakami’s newest novel. Your blog reminds me of arriving in Japan and taking in all the new sights and sounds when I was 18.

Drawing Cows in Bruges


The street lights may block out the stars but the moon rabbit is forever peeking out at us.

Although next week there will be a lunar eclipse!

This photo is taken over the houses of my new neighbourhood in Nagoya, Japan. I’m getting settled in now, and I’m very excited to be exploring the area over the next few months.

For more information about the weekly photo challenge, click here.

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(photo from

Kobo Abe’s novels as well as Franz Kafka’s novels come to mind when I think of the universality and genius of Murakami. The majority of Haruki Murakami’s novels are stripped of familiar culture and sensibilities of the Japanese, but Norwegian Wood (1987) and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage (2014) are full of associations with modern Japanese.

Murakami’s newest novel impacted me more than all his other novels, except Norwegian Wood. I felt such a familiarity and nostalgia of Japanese sensibilities within the pages he wrote. Norwegian Wood was inspired by Murakami’s life as a student at Waseda University. I read it remembering my experience as an international student at Waseda at the same time Murakami was there. His new book is populated by a younger generation in Nagoya, but the sensitivity of the characters are true to my experience, also.

Tsukuru Tazaki’s four best friends inexplicably broke with him at the end of their college years. After falling into a depression, a woman and a younger man gave him some clues to what he needs to do. Nudged by the woman, he sets out to meet his four old friends, and finds it was an excruciating secret and an abominable lie that caused Tsukuru to be shut out of their lives. His ‘pilgrimage’ is to find some sense out of what happened, and ends with him visiting three of his old friends, and traveling to Sweden

In Nagoya, Ao (Blue) confessed to Tsukuru, “You know, in a sense we were a perfect combination, the five of us. Like five fingers,” he added. “The five of us all naturally made up for what was lacking in the others, and totally shared our better qualities. I doubt that sort of thing will ever happen again in our lives.” Ao concluded by saying that he does not have the same spontaneous, pure feeling for his family.

After meeting Aka (Red) and Ao (Blue) in Nagoya, and then traveling to Sweden to see Kuro (Black), Tsukuru was able to find understanding: “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds.”

Ukiyo-e by Hiroshige  Library of Congress, U.S.A.

Ukiyo-e by Hiroshige
Library of Congress, U.S.A.

by Carmen Sterba

American Commodore Matthew Perry’s black ships reached Yokohama during 1853, when Japan was isolated for 250 years from any kind of interaction with the West, including trading. Soon after Perry negotiated trade treaties with the Tokugawa government, ships came from Britain, Russia, Holland, France and elsewhere to sign treaties for trade and to allow Westerners to live in Japan. Fifteen years later, the Tokugawa shogun retired under pressure, the new Emperor Meiji moved into the Shogun’s castle in newly named Tokyo and the Meiji Era began. Modernization hurled ahead at astounding speed. One of the biggest changes was the adaptation of new technology from the West. Among many other changes was the establishment of schools for girls and young women.

First Japanese Girl’s School Founded in Japan

Famous Translator in Meiji Era Japan

Famous Translator in in Meiji Era Japan

The first girl’s school was founded by Mary E. Kidder, an American missionary in Yokohama in 1870. The first graduate of Ferris Girl’s School was translator and writer Wakamatsu Shizuko (1872-1895). Her life is the saga of an orphan from a proud samurai family. She was educated at a Christian school, learned English, became a teacher at Ferris, and found that translating Western literature was her forte.

Wakamatsu was her hometown, so Shizuko later chose this name for her pen name as a translator. The truth is that her name had been changed several times once she became an orphan. Her father had fought with the Aizu Clan against the imperial forces during the Meiji Restoration, was defeated, imprisoned and believed to have died. When her mother died two years later, Shizuko was adopted by a family in Yokohama.

Missionary Mary Kidder’s Favorite Student

At that time Miss Kidder taught English lessons in the home of the missionary James C. Hepburn who published the first Japanese-English dictionary and translated the Bible into classic Japanese. Later, when Shizuko’s father surprisingly returned alive, she began to board at Miss Kidder’s school. According to author and Japanese literature professor Rebecca L. Copeland, “[Mary] took special care of Shizuko, inviting her into her home and giving her a taste of the maternal love the child had craved. Moreover, Christianity gave Shizuko a sense of familiar fellowship and self-worth.” After graduating, Shizuko first taught at Ferris.

Modernist Meiji Literary Circles

Copeland reiterates, “Shizuko’s life resembled a random interweaving of various cultures. beliefs, classes and circumstances.” With her bi-lingual education, knowledge of both Japanese and Euro-American literature, the life as a writer and translator suited her. Soon Wakamatsu Shizuka became known in the Meiji Literary Circles among Koda Rohan, Higuchi Ichiyo, Mori Ogai, Miyake Kaho, and others. S

Wakamatsu the Translator and Children’s Literature

Wakamatsu had definite goals in her article writing and translations. As a writer, she was influenced by the morals of Chinese Confucianism and American Puritanism. She chose themes and books for translation which would inspire Japanese girls and women. Her most famous translation was Little Lord Fauntleroy. And, though she also translated portions of Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher-Stowe, Longfellow and other luminaries, she preferred children’s literature. Since Wakamatsu had lost her childhood during a time of unrest, it must have been a solace that she could use her talent for poetical English and classical Japanese in her translations. Her greatest legacy is how she inspired the new genre of children’s literature in Japan.

Christians in the Meiji Era 1868-1912

In addition, she began a column for foreign missionaries in Japan to nurture their understanding of Japanese culture. Wakamatsu’s life and work was one of sensitivity and moderation between Anglo-American and Japanese cultures. Although she was educated in a progressive style for women of her time and held strong Christian beliefs, she was always proud of her Japanese language, classics and traditions. She became a role model on how to balance the lure of Western culture and not lose the best of Japanese culture in the midst of modernization. As a historian, Anna Hartshorne wrote during the Meiji era, “the country [Japan] can make such radical changes and yet retain its own intense individuality.”

In 1889, Shizuko married Iwamoto Yoshiharu. It was a modern ‘love marriage’ and they had much in common since they were both writers and Christians. E.S. Booth, a principal at Ferris observed that Shizuko “was a new woman in the highest and best sense.”

Ferris University in a New Era

Even now, the Christian schools that began with the wave of Japanese modernism are still standing over one-hundred years later. Ferris grew to be one of the most respected female educational institutions. The legacy of Mary E. Kidder is now both Ferris Girl’s School and Ferris University. During the four years I taught at Ferris University in Yokohama, I admired the president of the university, Mr. Toru Yuge whose speeches at graduation inspired the women graduates to have high standards and exceed their expectations; Kidder and Wakamatsu would have approved. The motto of Ferris University is “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4.


Copeland, Rebecca L. “Behind the Veil: Wakamatsu Shizuko and the Freedom of Translation,” Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

Hartshorne, Anna. Japan and Her People, eds. Brent Massy and Christopher West, Jetlag Press, 2007.

Workshop at Sakura Con, Seattle, WA – April 20, 2014

Carmen Sterba, former secretary and vice president of the Haiku Society of America and an editor for haijinx, an Online journal.

Writing a successful English-language haiku has a lot to do with resonance because the reader’s enjoyment of the haiku depends on subtle or common associations and uncommon expressions. The poet hopes to compose a haiku that will not be forgotten.

First of all, there is flexibility in the form of English-language haiku. Though Japanese haiku are written in 5-7-5 short Japanese sounds, English syllables are often longer and may bog down the brevity and lightness of haiku. Poets often say a haiku should be read in one breath with one pause between the two parts. What all haiku poets can agree on is that it is preferable to compose haiku of less than 17 syllables.

Consequently, after 100 years of haiku being written in English and other languages, haiku has fanned out into three styles: contemporary, traditional and innovative. Within contemporary, the three-liner has evolved into one to four lines with approximately an average of five to twelve words. The Traditional style continues the three-line structure only and keeps the strict form of 5-7-5 syllables of the Japanese haiku, though it might be 2-3 syllables short. This style has clarity, which is relatively easy to understand. The innovative style is more radical than contemporary, just about anything goes and it does not look like traditional haiku. In fact, in extreme cases, it might be considered merely haiku-like.

The late British poet Martin Lucas suggested to create a poetic spell with “words that chime, words that beat, and words that flow.” He gave high praise for the following contemporary one-liner by Stuart Quine:

Sharpening this night of stars distant dogs

Who or what is sharpening that night? The stars? The dogs? Most likely the stars and howl of the dogs are colliding in the reader’s senses by juxtaposition, the contrast of two images. Our sharpened focus on the stars pierces through us as we hear the dogs howl and at the same time there is a heightening of the connectivity of the vastness of the star-studded night.

Former Modern Haiku editor, Robert Spiess, wrote a series of ‘Speculations’ on haiku, which includes the following: “Juxtaposition of entities in haiku cannot be simply the throwing together of just anything, the poet must have the intuition that certain things . . . have a resonance with each other that will evoke a revelation when they are juxtaposed in accordance with the time-tested canons and aesthetics of haiku.”

a speedboat slices
our lake in half

Carmen Sterba The Heron’s Nest, 2009

A common sound heard in the summertime in the Seattle area is speedboats. The engine evokes a hint of bravado and recklessness as the waves powerfully rock other boats. In this contemporary haiku, the movement and sound of the boat transfers in our memory to the sight and sound of lapping waves, which continue to reverberate. And the word ‘slices’ may cause the reader to feel danger lurking there.

heat lightning –

all the way into Mexico

the mountains rise

Michael McClintock, The Heron’s Nest, II:5

At night, flashes of light transform a landscape temporarily. When each flash of lightning strikes, the silhouette of the mountains is reveled in an instant. This repeats again and again. Without the word Mexico the mountains would still rise in the flash, yet the addition of a direction in which to move increases the power of this haiku. It is 15 syllables; close enough to be a traditional haiku, which will never age.

pig and i spring rain

marlene mountain, Frogpond II:3-4

In this innovative haiku, there is a relationship between the pig and the poet because both depend on each other in some ways. After all, the pig is most likely a pet, or at least a prospective blue ribbon winner. The addition of the key word (kigo) ‘spring’ unfolds a variety of associations for the reader. The open-ended style allows room for the reader to complete the haiku.

As a former editor for the Online journal haijinx, I found out how important it was to read each haiku several times before selecting individual choices for publication. I needed to evaluate each haiku on various levels, but the bottom line always remains whether the elements of the haiku collide in a fresh but appealing way and hold the possibility of stirring up the reader’s memory. This may involve both juxtaposition, a careful choice of words, resonance and so many other possibilities that would entail many more workshops.

Haiku Hints

• seasonal word (optional)
• present tense for immediacy
• two parts (images)
• subtle emotion
• open-ended, room for the reader
• musicality, alliteration
• allusions
• one, two, three or four lines
• less than 17 syllables

Haiku Cautions

• not a sentence
• show, don’t tell
• not a chance for a bully pulpit


Lucas, Martin. Stepping Stones: a way into haiku, British Haiku Society, 2007.

Mountain, Marlene. “’The Japanese haiku’ and so on,” Haikumainia, 2004.

Spiess, Robert. A Year’s Speculations on Haiku, Madison, WI: Modern Haiku Press, 1995.

The Haiku Foundation.“HaikuNow! Contests.” 2014, retrieved from


Why is haiku so alluring to each of us who enjoy reading and writing it? For haiku lovers, writing what one considers a successful haiku is likely to create a cathartic response. Once again, the poet hopes to compose a haiku that will not be forgotten.

We often hear that juxtaposition is a key to successful haiku. The contrast of two images in haiku is most often instrumental in creating resonance. Robert Spiess, the beloved editor of Modern Haiku, had this to say in A Year’s Speculations on Haiku, “Juxtaposition of entities in haiku cannot be simply the throwing together of just anything; the poet must have the intuition that certain things, albeit of ‘opposite’ characteristics, nonetheless have a resonance with each other that will evoke a revelation when they are juxtaposed in accordance with the time-tested canons and aesthetics of haiku.”1

As an editor for the online journal haijinx, I found out how important it is to read each haiku several times before making individual choices. I need to evaluate the haiku on various levels, but the bottom line is whether the elements of the haiku also allow the reader to relate to a new way of seeing. This may involve both juxtaposition and an open-ended style, besides a careful choice of words. Here’s some contemporary haiku that are subtle or surprising in their juxtaposition. The first is an example of how juxtaposition creates synesthesia by combining more than one of the senses. 

night of stars

all along the precipice

goat bells ring

– an’ya 2

On an especially clear night with bright stars overhead, mountain goats move along the mountain trail with their heavy burdens as their hooves come dangerously close to the precipice. Each goat bell rings and the stars seem to ring, also. This is an excellent example of synesthesia.

full moon mist 

from my whisper on her
silver earring

– William Cullen Jr. 3 

This haiku is visually provocative in a refined manner. As the wee circular puff disappears (in imitation of the full moon) the repetition of i and s in the words mist, whisper and silver adds to the sense of intimacy and creates a delicate synesthesia.

the piano hammers

barely moving …

night snow

– John Barlow 4

Instead of a focus on the music, the poet zeros in on the hammers of the piano. The tempo of the hammers, and thus the unmentioned tune, is gently transferred to the tempo of the falling snow. Barlow’s control of the technique of transference is exquisite. I have noticed this to be true in many of his haiku.

sunlit jar

the beekeeper’s gift 

on the doorstep

– Carmen Sterba 5

First, one imagines an empty jar filled by the sun, but the mention of a beekeeper suddenly fills this jar with fresh honey in this example of transference.
If Gallagher had chosen a different first line, how different this haiku would be. The act of love reverberates in the bite of the cherry tomato. It is all so succinct and evocative.

after love 

the sweet burst

of cherry tomato

– G. Claire Gallagher 6

If Gallagher had chosen a different first line, how different this haiku would be. The act of love reverberates in the bite of the cherry tomato. It is all so succinct and evocative.

heat lightning – 

all the way into Mexico

the mountains rise

– Michael McClintock 7

At night, flashes of light transform a landscape temporarily. When the lightning strikes, the mountain seems to move towards Mexico. Without the word Mexico the mountains would still rise, yet with the addition of a place name, the poet gives the mountains a direction in which to move, and that extends the movement. 


we wade into the current

of a great river

– Kirsty Karkow 8

Karkow’s coupling of honeymoon with a great river adds the exhilaration and the weight of a major commitment. This particular river changes into a river of life and lends substance to the haiku for each reader to reflect on in their own way. This is a successful transference link. All these haiku are examples of some of the techniques that the English-language poets have learned from the translations of Bashô’s different techniques for juxtaposition.

Basho said: “The hokku has changed repeatedly since the distant past, but there have been only three changes in the nature of the haikai link. In the distant past, poets valued word links (kotoba-zuke). In the more recent past, poets have stressed content links (kokoro-zuke). Today, it is best to link by transference (usuri), reverberation (hibiki), scent (nioi), or status (kurai).”9

In Bashô’s time, these kinds of links were used in haikai no renga (popular-style linked verse) which is now called renku. All the techniques mentioned above are used in renku today. However, transference, reverberation, and scent link techniques are the most useful and effective in haiku juxtaposition. 

I have focused on the techniques of transference and reverberation in this article. A status link requires using words that give a clue to the class of people or places. This is appropriate in renku, but not common in English-language haiku. Examples of scent link are those with a typically quiet, meditative and lonely mood (sabi). It is a popular style in contemporary haiku in all languages. 

Another method that Bashô used at the end of his life is the technique of lightness (karumi). This implied the “recovery of youthful playfulness, spontaneity, naturalness, and a fresh perspective . . .”9 This kind of lightness is definitely alive in English-language haiku.

Lastly, a word about haiku with one image: marlene mountain pointed out that though juxtaposition is a technique, “non-juxtaposition is not the opposite and needn’t be compared” for it is “a technique too. 10 And Bashô and his disciples would have agreed, though they called it a “single-object” poem.

Basho said: “A hokku that moves smoothly from the opening five syllables to the end is a superb verse”.
Kyorai said: If a poet composes by combining separate things, he can compose many verses and compose them quickly. Beginning poets should know this. But when one becomes an accomplished poet, it is no longer a question of combining or not combining.”9

In the hands of a highly skilful haiku poet, one-image haiku can be exquisitely successful. Nevertheless, experimenting with different types of juxtaposition may add the depth that creates a memorable haiku; one that does not fail to reverberate again and again.

1: Spiess, Robert. A Year’s Speculations on Haiku, (Modern Haiku Press) 1995.
2: The Heron’s Nest, II:2.
3: Frogpond, XXIX:1.
4: Robert Speiss Memorial 2006 Haiku Awards, Second Place.
5: The Heron’s Nest, III:6; sunlit jar, 2002-5.

6: How Fast the Ground Moves, 2001.
7: The Heron’s Nest, II:5.

8: The Heron’s Nest, IV:2; Water Poems: Haiku, Tanka, and Sijo, 2005.

9: Shirane, Haruo. Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and Poetry of Bashô, (Stanford University Press) 1998.

10: mountain, marlene. “the Japanese haiku and so on,” Haikumainia, June 16, 2004.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Simply Haiku Vol 5:3, Autumn 2007 and has been revised by the author in June 2011 for Haiku NewZ.

Carmen Sterba lived in Japan for 31 years before returning to the US in 2004. She is a founding editor for haijinx (relaunched in 2010), former haiku columnist for The Haiku Foundation’s Troutswill Blog and for the North American Post, a Japanese-American newspaper in Seattle. She has previously servied as both secretary and first vice-president of the Haiku Society of America. Carmen’s haiku appeared in A New Resonance 4, Emerging Voices in English-language Haiku in 2005 and her chapbook, sunlit jar was first published in 2002. Locally, she is active in Haiku Northwest and is a co-founder of Commencement Bay Haiku in 2012.

Novelist Ha Jin