Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Haiku New Year

Approaching new year, I was reading some seasonal Haiku and was inspired by the fact that in Japan it is traditional for boy to be given kites to fly on New Years Day. So I bought my son (and myself, truth be told) some new kites for the new year.

He reminded me I had actually bought him a kite for Epiphany last year - but we had not been successful in flying it, and it had languished in the garage.

I bought two kites, and imagined that he would prefer the tricky stunt kite variety. Instead, actually, he spent hours flying the traditional single-string kite I had bought (while I struggled to get the other aloft even for a few seconds). I was rewarded with his effusive thanks for giving him such a wonderful day! His delight recalled to mind my own happy days with a simple kite as a child. And it made me think about rituals.

Researching a little more into Japanese New Year traditions (since 1873, and the Meiji Restoration, celebrated on January 1 of the Gregorian calendar) there are a number of other traditions, which now I see make sense of various seasonal haiku I have read. Japanese celebrate many "firsts" of the New Year, such as "first sun" (hatsuhi), or "first sunrise" , "first laughter" (waraizome) and "first dream" (hatsuyume).
Other traditional rituals of new year in Japan include sending postcards (nengajo) addressed and handwritten calligraphically. Otoshidama refers to the custom of giving money to children, in small decorated envelopes called "pochibukuro". Mandarin oranges are also traditionally given away to spread happiness all around, as well as sticky rice cakes called "mochi". Bells are rung at midnight in Buddhist temples all around Japan, as a ritual eradication of sins of the previous year, ringing a total of 108 times each symbolic of the ridding of the 108 human sins in Buddhist theology.

Starting the New Year with a smile is considered a good sign. Well, my son was laughing with sheer delight flying the kite today. So no wonder Japanese traditionally fly kites (takoage) with their sons, and play shuttlecock (hanetsuki) with their daughters on New Year Day!

A print by Woodblock Print master Ando Hiroshige - Kite Flying, from his 100 Famous Views of Edo

Knowing all this then, helps underscore the humour in some of the poems of the third of the acknowledged "great" Haiku master's: Kobayashi Issa.

New Year’s Day— 
that I’m still on this journey 

in the New Year's sun...
my trashy hut.

a shiny-new year 
has come again... 
for my lice
First Month— 
recording the cash spent 
on sake

you’ve wrecked 
my year’s first dream! 
cawing crow

a beggar receives 
alms, the year’s first 

New Year’s kite— 
out of green leaves 
then back in

a trendy kite soars— 
a beggar’s hut

catching the kite’s tail
with his mouth... 

(Translations by David Lanoue)

All these thoughts inspire my own poetic reflection on the day.

Playing out the string,
and baiting the wind to bite:
joy of kite flying

Flutter of ribbon - kite tail 
Draws all eyes upward

Copyright © 2013 The Haiku Apprentice

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