on japanese literature and other things
J KEITH VINCENT
Grains of Sand

Grains of Sand

I went for a long walk yesterday and when I got back a very heavy box was sitting at the foot of our mailbox. I assumed it must be for Anthony. Some new rocks for his aquarium?  But then I saw the label from Yaguchi Shoten, a used bookstore in Tokyo’s Jinbochō district, and realized it was the gorgeous new encyclopedia of haiku seasonal words, called a “saijiki” in Japanese, that I had ordered and was anxiously awaiting.

Loofah Day

Loofah Day

the loofah gourd blooms while he chokes to death on phlegm a buddha   Hechima saite / tan no tsumarishi / hotoke kana 糸瓜咲て痰のつまりし仏かな This is one of three poems which Masaoka Shiki scrawled on sheets of paper he used for painting just before he died at around 2 in...

A Wreath of Cloud

A Wreath of Cloud

My copy of Arthur Waley’s translation of the Tale of Genji is the single-volume Modern Library Edition from 1960 and it’s falling apart. I’m teaching it this semester so I was poking around on abebooks.com the other day looking for a used copy in better shape. Waley’s...

Rhyme Finder

Rhyme Finder

The first page of Shiki's "Rhyme Finder," beginning with words that end in "a."Anthony and I drove to Boston last week so he could check on a construction project. I brought back a carload of books that I’ll need for teaching in the spring and picked up a semester’s...

Ducks’ Voices

Ducks’ Voices

In January of 1685, Matsuo Bashō had been on the road since August. He was staying with his disciple Hayashi Tōyō in Atsuta just south of Nagoya when one evening the two men, together with two other local poets, decided to take a boating trip “to see the water in...

Reading Sōseki Now

Reading Sōseki Now

I’m happy to report that the volume on the Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki, which I have co-edited with Reiko Abe Auestad and Alan Tansman has been published as the latest issue of Josai University's Review of Japanese Culture and Society. The publication was so...

Brand New State

Brand New State

For my 51st birthday Anthony took me to see Daniel Fish’s production of Oklahoma! I knew it was supposed to be brilliant, but I had also read that the script was basically unchanged, and having recently rewatched the film version, I was having trouble imagining how it...

A Japanese Classic Illuminated

A Japanese Classic Illuminated

I am writing today because I want to share my excitement about the stunning show now up at the Met in New York, The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated. You may think that you have seen enough old paintings of gold clouds and chubby pale-faced courtiers of indeterminate sex, but this show is something very special. The Tale of Genji, for those who may not know, is a thousand year-old novel written by woman named Murasaki Shikibu that has been as central to Japanese art and culture as the Bible in the West…

An Early Feminist Novel

An Early Feminist Novel

Congratulations to my good friend Dawn Lawson, who has just won the Kyoko Selden Prize for her translation of Nakajima Shōen's 1889 novel, A Famous Flower in Mountain Seclusion (『山間の名花』). Nakajima (1861-1901), also known as Kishida Toshiko, was one of Japan's first...

Shiki’s second haiku

the white cat has disappeared snowy town Shironeko no / yukue wakarazu / yuki no machi 白猫の行衛わからず雪の町 It seems that Shiki was not satisfied with his first haiku about the cat on the roof that was heard but not seen. We know this because four years later, in 1889, he...

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