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Translation of Ten Japanese Haiku

Updated on January 18, 2018
juneaukid profile image

Richard F. Fleck was an exchange professor at Osaka University in Japan where he lived for one year with his family and climbed Mount Fuji.

Bosha Kawabata's Fiddlehead Haiku in Kanji and Romaji

Fiddlehead Haiku in Kanji
Fiddlehead Haiku in Kanji

Translation of Ten Japanese Haiku

Professor Minoru Fujita and I worked together on translating four Japanese haikuists from the original Japanese into English back in 1983. These poems have never appeared online but originally were published in Paintbrush: A Journal of Poetry, Translation and Letters (Spring&Autumn, 1983 issue). However, I am providing a copy of our worksheet for Bosha Kawabata's delightful poem "Fiddleheads" that did not appear in Paintbrush; it is hoped that this sample worksheet shows the process of translation effectively.

Bosha Kawabata: 3 Haiku:

A drop of dew;

an ant recedes from it


In glimmer of moon

scars of deep snow

cannot be hidden

Gentle fiddleheads

sprout like no characters

in earthly paradise

Seishi Yamaguchi: 2 Haiku

Even disappearing tip

of tail is still nothing

but a snake's body

What a crunching sound

praying mantis makes

with bee's head

Shuson Kato: 2 Haiku

Eyes of pheasant

shine forth brilliantly

while sold away

A frogfish

frozen to the bone

gets all chopped up

Hakyo Ishida : 3 Haiku

A grapefruit split open

bursts forth like joy,

its color and smell

For but an instant

setting sun transfigures

with gold a burnt land

Waiting for a bus,

I cannot doubt coming

of spring to wide boulevard

These four Japanese poets are all deceased. They lived in the early to mid-twentieth century. I first met Professor Fujita in 1981 when I taught American literature for one full year at Osaka University. He is an eminent Shakespeare scholar but loves contemporary Japanese haiku for its stark and surprising poignancy. He and I spent several months working on this translation. His English is at a much higher level than my Japanese but he respected the fact that I am a poet who wrote a collection of poems Bamboo in the Sun (1983) in a Japanese manner.

See also:


Ideally, a translation from Japanese to English should be made by a team of two. One should be fluent in Japanese and proficient in English and the reverse for the other person. Both should be engrossed in the subject matter.

© 2010 Richard Francis Fleck


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    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      6 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thank you ignugent17, I appreciate it.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I always admire the beauty of haiku and the translations are all amazing.

      Thanks for sharing. :-)

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      7 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thank you Truckstop Sally and thanks for following my hubs

    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for sharing these beautiful poems . . . and a bit of the culture too. The praying mantis and bee's head sure paints a picture!

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      7 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thank you Emily for your comment--translation is more like transliteration.

    • Emily Hopkins profile image

      Emily Hopkins 

      7 years ago

      These are great, thanks for posting. And yes, translation will never be the same as the original, and interpretation is always left to the whims of the translator. I remember translating Latin poetry into could translate the entire poem incorrectly if you didn't recognize the subject was written half way into the poem.

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thank you, Sligobay!

    • sligobay profile image


      8 years ago from east of the equator

      "A grapefruit split open" is my favorite. There is such joy in its smell and taste. Thank you for a lovely hub.

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thanks Pearldiver. It is a very hard task, indeed.

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 

      8 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      Interesting that the passion needs to be lost either way in translation.. I personally would tend to question the ability of the translator to relay the passion in the same degree as the poet projected it... A very hard ask when done beyond the grave.. Maybe I should write my haiku in both kanji and english. Thanks for sharing.

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thank you both Suzie Q and maven101 for your appreciative comments

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great site. It's nice to see real poetry amid all this junk on the Internet!

    • maven101 profile image


      8 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Now that is interesting...To the French, the Marseillaise would indeed project the southern flavor... Thanks, Larry

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thank you Larry for your comments particularly on Basho. Translation is really transliteration. I remember Gilbert Chinard lecturing on the difficulties of translating Faulkner into French. He managed to get the southern accent by utilizing Marseillese.

    • maven101 profile image


      8 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Interesting translation, but seemingly lacking the passion and imagery of these great poets....Perhaps the Japanese haiku form does not lend itself to English translation...

      I note that Basho's famous haiku " frog jumping into pond " has over 31 recognized translations, running from the exquisitely simple " Old pond

      frog leaping

      Splash ",

      to the profound " A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps . . .

      Apart, unstirred by sound or motion . . .

      till..Suddenly into it a lithe frog leaps.",

      to the sublime " There once was a curious frog

      Who sat by a pond on a log

      And, to see what resulted,

      In the pond catapulted

      With a water-noise heard round the bog."

      I have never read the Japanese translations of John Keats, but I would imagine such would be the case there, also...

      Thank you for this interesting Hub...Larry

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thanks Dohn121. You can get used copies of Bamboo in the Son by Richard F. Fleck (Kobe: SU Press, 1983) from Alibris or other online used book dealers. Thanks again

    • dohn121 profile image


      8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Excellent painstaking work, juneaukid. I'd love to read your book someday. Is it available still? I'd like to also get back into writing haikus again as well. Thanks as always.

    • Moulik Mistry profile image

      Moulik Mistry 

      8 years ago from Burdwan, West Bengal, India

      Beautiful haikus - I love haiku, thank you for sharing...

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thank you both Pamela99 and Hello, hello.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Wow, juneaukid. This is a very impressive hub and I thank you for it.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Very nice poems and a tribute to those they have passed on. Good hub.


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