Poetry on Japan

Noh, haiku and poems on Japan


Some poems by Judy Kendall



Kimono Colours

(Heian period 794 – 1185)



willow tree

butterflies spreading their wings


wild pink

yellow day lily

Chinese vine


white oak

sea pine

bell clover


moon grass

cloud and crane

tiny bamboo

An earlier version published in Equinox, UK, 2002

Wa, Harmony


The bell goes and I dismiss my class.

Tired and dishevelled, I start to pack away

my papers, wipe off chalk dust,

roll up the tape-deck lead when, "Teacher, sensei!",


a student hovers, polite, gentle, in need,

at an unobtrusive distance, offering me

a tremulous virgin face while he proceeds

in my hard language to mouth his soft apology


for missing last week's session

because he was unfortunately obliged

(oh teacher, hear out my confession)

to attend the funeral of his grandfather.


His English, slow and careful, broken,

he places in pieces on my gathered notes,

equidistant, partly as if in token

of his loss, partly in the hope


that I will read the spaces in between

the words of me and him, his duty

to the class, his unannounced departure, and fill in

the sadnesses to make consoling harmony,


but, sensing my tiredness and my need to get away

from school at this the end of a long day

and feeling shy, he leaves, and leaves me asking why

in my land we don't make young men this way.



Foreigners are all the same,

exotic creatures

keen on noise.


Doughnut complexions,

and fiery tempers

when not dipped in saccharine.


They prefer flesh to fish.


Filled to capacity

with selfishness,

they look after their own

first. They do not think it wrong.


There is a distinct smell of old milk.


Their sugar levels are uncertain,

liable to explode.


And most of them possess

a careless flair

for turning the neatest room

into dishevelment.


They cannot gauge politeness,

their talents do not extend

to delicate matters.


Their women are loud,

noses mostly irresistible

and faces enviably unflat

(although they wrinkle early).



They cannot sit still

and have a tendency to wriggle.


A foreigner is always big.

You never see a small one.

Published in Ambit, UK

The Most Beautiful

for Yukari


coming weary from the goldstream


       dead ends every where


to the west capital


       maple temples burning

       red in the mixing bowl


       eight thousand four hundred

       taxi drivers hunt the kerb


and you pick out the local guy


       the one that doesn't make up stories

       the one that knows where to find

       the most beautiful tree


over at the palace

down by the gate

he says


       you can't miss it

Published in Indigo, UK (Capricorn International poetry competition)




The bamboo path curves upwards. The maple leaves

have just been touched by autumn.

My favourite teahouse is closed,

the house I want to live in forever.

Gold scatters on the eaves, the roof,

the stone lantern and the doorstep.

The carp swim colourlessly

in the lake, gaping for food.


Eight men in uniform – brown, turquoise, blue

tie ropes around a pole for Yuki-tsuri Day.

In the upper teahouse, the hostess talks of snow

– expected this year in the Twelfth Month.

When she leaves, the room fills with low voices

of men at work, birds, wind, the water's sound

and the clinking of the eiffel-tower

ladders, the rustle of ropes of straw.

Driving to Noto


Men are better says Toshi I know 

no they are not says I (I also know)

and so we argue to the tip of Noto


To Suzu where the wood huts slump in shock

plopped suddenly in frocks of snow

and the sea is whipped to icicles of frenzy


Over a nabe pot of fish and cabbage

(Toshi warns me not to call it cabbage

for it is the vastly superior hakusai)

our host asks me my age


Taken aback

(I`m older than he thought

more single), he inquires

don't you like men?


So I assure him

only frequent country-moving

has prevented me from choosing

one of them


The returning road is white, wide as a field

the ditches spread themselves with frosting

and the windscreen blanks out like a blizzard


Toshi scrapes at the iced-up wipers singing

to himself, waving me in


Midwinter hangs in the boughs

The pine trees are bent nearly in two

laden with second helpings


An earlier version published in Ambit, UK, 2002



One breath

beyond the muffled

silence, and

from somewhere

comes floating

the fragrance

of a hyacinth,



unexpected in the snow.



Information on Judy Kendall


Now I have been lecturing in English at Kanazawa University, Japan, from 1995 – 2002. I used to work in the UK as a writer in residence in prisons, the theatre and the community. I have also spent four years in Zimbabwe as a teacher. I have written poetry, plays and short stories in and about the UK, Zimbabwe and Japan, and am now seeking publication for a book of poems on Japan. I am also working on a collection of translations of Zeami`s Noh plays with Iris Elgrichi, a scholar of classical Japanese. Previously we collaborated on a bilingual edition of haiku (see below for samples!) with the haiku writer, Miyaji Eiko.


What is my focus as a writer? Voicing the unsaid and unexpressed. If I can act as a channel for the voices of others, I am happy.


I have had poems published all over – but most recently in Ambit, still, Equinox, Envoi and Fabric (UK), Plum-line (Canada), and, very soon, on the internet in PROOF – http://www.shu.ac.uk/proof/proof/board.htm – take a look.


My most recent prose is in PN Review and Presence (UK).


My email – saiwaicho@yahoo.co.uk – is accessible from anywhere (I hope).



Thanks for reading.



Selected haiku from


SUIKO – The Water Jar


haiku by Miyaji Eiko

(you can contact the poet at C-miyaji@k2.dion.ne.jp in Japanese, or simple English)


translations by Iris Elgrichi and Judy Kendall


22.  水甕に水の漲る梅ニ月


    the season, the plum

    the water jar, teetering

    on the brink of spring


48.  良寛の書に触れし目を紅梅へ


     turning, my eyes brush

     Ryokan`s calligraphy

     on the red plum blossom


96.  一別の距離たもちるて時鳥


   with the cuckoo

   comes the summer. Yet still distance

   widens between us


133. 雁来紅繰り返し読む唐詩選


     the red Amaranths

     words of the T`ang dynasty

     wild geese overhead


174. 彼れ透きて八木重吉の詩の余白


     bare winter branches

     lines of Yagi Jukichi

     the whiteness between


196. 子の便り殊に短信白椿


     letter from my son

     white as a camellia

     and almost as brief



Ryokan, whose name means "good-large-heartedness" or "gentle tolerance," was a Zen Buddhist monk and poet who lived in Japan from 1758 to 1831. He was also renowned for his beautiful calligraphy

Yagi Jukichi, 1898 – 1927, a sensitive religious Japanese poet.



Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443) is the greatest Japanese actor, playwright, and drama theorist of Japanese Noh theatre. Most of the Noh plays performed today were written by Zeami.


In our translation of Michimori we have gone to the old tradition of English poetry and employed an alliterative structure as our base.


MICHIMORI (extract)




[Every evening, the Wa'ki (a priest) from Awa in Naruto, The Gate

of Sounds, comes to a rocky shore to read the sutras in memory of

the dead. He is drawn here by the pain of the Heike clan who

suffered, were defeated and drowned in this bay.]



  Sat on the stony shore,

  upon the pine rock pinnacle I wait.


  Sat on the stony shore,

  upon the pine rock pinnacle I wait.


  A night skiff, someone calling in the spray?

  I cannot tell.


  A paddle dipping in the foaming deep?

  Suddenly The Gate of Sounds is still tonight.


  A paddle dipping in the foaming deep?

  Suddenly The Gate of Sounds is still tonight.







[The Shi'te and the Tsu're, ghosts in the form of fishermen,

appear in a fishing boat]



  Haaa! from a far-off temple floats the voice of a bell

  sounding as if from this same shore



  It rings in the setting sun. We should move swiftly.



  The light is dwindling fast, darkness is coming.



  Yesterday has now departed,



                             today is changed to dusk



  and tomorrow the same time will have its turn.



  The old cannot make firm their future faith,



  our destinies held in mere handfuls of days,

  how long till we work out our wrong

  ceaselessly tossed by sea gods in a fishing skiff?



  What future is there for the old ones? And what faith?



  All that is left is to live out our days.



  Yet though lamenting, our hearts lighten a little

  our hearts lighten a little

  when the moon is towering at high tide above our boat.

  How breath-taking the face of autumn in the bay! 


  Here, the night waves, the whirling waters,

  skies screened by cloud above The Gate of Sounds.


  There, Awaji island, a desolate inlet, far away


  in a weary world, this profession of woe,

  in a weary world, this profession of woe.


PART 111



  The black waves brew up, burying the moon

  with its translucent light.



  In the little fishing boat the lighted lamps fade.

  Darkness drops.



  Night rain runs through the rush matting, 

  the wind rustles in the shoreline reeds. 

  What sound but these wakes us from our pillowed waves?


  Is it dream or reality, this reading of the sutra

  blending with the blowing of the storm?


  Keep still the sound of the ship's oars,

  keep put the paddles.



  Keep still the sound of the ship's oars,

  keep put the paddles.


  and listen,

  listen for a little while.



  Who can that be? What stirs in the bay?



  A fisherman's raft doomed to roam without mooring.







Zeami`s plays contain highly poetic passages, written to a strict syllabic count, and contain many allusions to and quotations from classical Japanese texts. To give a sense of the effect this has, we have drawn on references to British literature and culture in our version of Kinuta. We have kept to the original syllable count in the poetic passages.


KINUTA (extract)







Here, I present myself as someone who is not a native of these parts, as someone who comes from Ashiya in Kyushu. It is in fact only circumstances of a legal nature that have obliged me to live in the capital. My anticipation was that my residence here would be brief – however, I am already in my third year, and am naturally concerned about the condition of those I have left behind. I have therefore decided to send back the maid, Evening Mist.




So, Evening Mist, out of concern for those left at home, I am requiring you to convey to them the following message. You are to say that I will definitely return by the end of the year.


THE MAID: If that's the case I'd better be off straight away.


  Definitely by the end of the year, the master will appear".





  Get set ready to

  go down these travelling robes are

  bound with strings of days

  go down these travelling robes are

  bound with strings of days

  heap on missed evenings end at

  inn after inn brief

  dreams heaped on borrowed pillow

  talk of the day in

  day out break and end before

  long arriving in

  dust has turned to ashes in

  Ashiya village

  dust has turned to ashes in

  Ashiya village.






Hello. Is anyone there? Can you say it's Evening Mist, back from the capital.








  Under the standing screened from  

  view to bye bye lovey dove`e

  won`t last the night

  falls sad thoughts of lovers parting

  over sweetened  

  pillow talk of the devil take

  your soul mate for life is hope

  dashed by parting waves

  between lovers lasting not 

  even in this world stay

  together for ever do

  not forget me not

  to remember much more can 

  I stand the cries sound

  from my heart on my sleeve leaves

  me in tears overflowing

  in drops of rain that rarely 

  clears in my heart oh.




THE MAID: It's Evening Mist. Hello! Can someone announce me!


THE WOMAN: Did you say Evening Mist? You don't need to wait for an announcement. Come straight in.





Well, Evening Mist. This is most unusual. And I must say I do feel bitter. So tell me, how is it that, even if he has completely changed, not a word of it has reached here from you? There's been nothing, not a call, not a whisper.


THE MAID: You're right. But I did want to come back as soon as I could. It`s just that serving the master left me no time. So, against my will, I had to stay in the capital right up

to the third year.


THE WOMAN:  What are you saying? You were in the capital against your will?




Think about it – in the blossoming capital, with its times of cheer and easy living. Still they say that sorrow is the way of the heart.   



  Here in the back of beyond

  belief shall wither

  to the dregs of autumn leaves    

  no calling cards look

  promising no

  body is left to

  lay my trust ends in dust thou

shalt return again.


  Dick Witting turn three years in   

  autumn's but a dream   

  Dick Witting turn three years in   

  autumn's but a dream    

  if only sorrow would fade     

  away my body

  stays awake not from

  memories of the  

  past has changed no trace remains

  but lies there are so   

  many lies

  I can't imagine

  all the people living in

  pieces of mind his

  words don't fall on what kind of

  world would make one smile and

  smile and be a 

  villain else I am

  too foolish a heart is fooled

  by a trustless thing.


Copyright 2002 Judy Kendall

Copyright 2002 Miyaji Eiko




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