Chasing Butterflies

“I would like to make a haiku out of : What touches my life, what my eyes see, ears hear, what my heart speaks to myself in a strong voice…  I want to sketch things that left an impression in the depth of my soul.“     —  from ”A Letter Written In Daybreak, 1922” –  by Sugito Hisajo  (1890~1946)  


Sugita Hisajo was born on 30 May 1890 as the third daughter of Akabori Renzo,  a high-ranking civil servant.  Hisajo was given a good education and  attended Ochanomizu University in Tokyo.    In  1909, at the age of 20 she married the art teacher Sugita Unai.    The couple then moved to Kokura, an industrial town on Kyushu Island.  

morning glories –
smog begins to foul
the town’s sky

Two daughters were born early in the marriage.   Hisajo adored her children but her marriage was not a happy one.     In 1915 her brother Akohoro Getsuken came to stay and taught her how to write haiku.   Despite her husband’s disapproval painting and writing haiku occupied much of Hisajo’s time. 

haiku poet,
caring mother –
this summer I’m a wreck

reading a play
dishes left in the sink
this winter’s night

Despite the constraints of her marriage Hisajo appears to have been a lively, sensual woman.
blossom kimono—
on untying the obi
assorted strings now cling

She  wrote of this haiku –   “A woman  back from cherry-blossom viewing takes off each layer of her best kimono by untying obi and various cords. Each cord clings to her slippery silk undergarments as it falls to her feet on the tatami.  She feels only a little annoyed for she is in a sweet fatigue after being in public for blossom viewing (and being viewed).  Boldly and sensually this haiku describes the sluggish motion of silk cords with their beauty of colors.”

In 1920, after the death of her father she returned to Tokyo and lived with her mother for a year.   During that time she contracted a kidney disease and was hospitalized for an extended period.   Concerned for her health her mother entreated Unai to divorce Hisajo.   He refused and Hisajo returned Kokura.    Although Unai’s work as a teacher supported the family Hisajo taught haiku and took in sewing to earn the extra money needed to provide her daughters with a good education.

mending tabi-socks
a teacher’s wife
has not become a Nora *

From 1917 Hisajo submitted haiku to the influential magazine “Hototogisu”edited by the poet Takahama Kyoshi and in 1932 she began publishing and editing her own magazine of women’s haiku, “Hanagoromo”.     In an article in “Hanagoromo” she explains what she means by ‘a Nora’*    –
“She is in her early thirties with eyes losing the brightness of youth. Mending her husband’s old tabi socks under a dim light, she looks tired. Wives in the transition time who experienced feudalism but awaken to modern values tend to get caught badly in social contradictions and personal problems. She can not easily part with old traditions. She is attached to her children. She keeps on treading on the path of patience and resignation.”

hardly a word spoken
the man and his wife part –
autumn nightfall

During these years writing haiku sustained Hisajo.    In 1934  she contributed an essay to the first issue of Haiku Kenkyu (Study of Haiku) magazine.  In it she wrote –
“I used to consider myself poor and unhappy, but not any more. With no jewels to wear, no knowledge of fashion-trend, I kept on writing haiku. Reflecting on my past days, I am pleased and even happy now. Haiku has given me spiritual strength by encouraging my soul all these years.”

the persistent spirit
of a woman –
indigo-dyed yukata

Despite her enthusiasm and love of haiku Hisajo’s magazine “Hanagoromo” folded in  1936.  In the same year she was suddenly expelled from “Hototogisu” by the editor Kyoshi.   Hisajo was devastated.   Her reputation as a haiku poet was besmirched and she was no longer able to teach.   From that time on she suffered from bouts of deep depression and sometimes behaved very erratically.   She was shunned by the haiku community and rumours flourished that she was a sexual predator who had affairs with male writers.    Although she was outspoken and unconventional there is no evidence to support these accusations.  

At the same Japan was at war and the country was under attack.  Hisajo was often alone during air-raids because of her husband’s war duties.     
 air-raid sirens _
the last to turn off the lights
is a temple with blossoms

Hisajo’s health deteriorated and in 1945 she was forcibly admitted to a psychiatric ward.   She died there in 1946, probably due to malnutrition and kidney failure.    After her death the poet Kyoshi wrote an essay in “Hototogisu” where he declared she was schizophrenic.   He developed this essay into a novel titled “Kuniko’s Letters” in 1948 where he distorted letters Hisajo had written to make her appear to be insane.      These writings so damaged Hisago’s reputation her poetry was disregarded by the haiku community in Japan for many, many years.

In recent years her work has been re-assessed and she is now regarded as one of the finest Japanese haiku poets of the 1930’s and 40’s.   Her haiku style is similar to the Japanese style of painting where details are implied rather than accurately depicted.   What is not said must be filled in by the reader’s imagination.     Hidden metaphors often express her thoughts about the rigid nature of Japanese society in the first half of the 20th century.
stiff as a board-
the tight obi jabbed
by an autumn fan

Prompt:   I found it impossible to pick just one of Hisajo’s haiku for this week’s prompt

chasing butterflies
deep into spring mountains
I have  become lost
                            – Hisajo

lost 1  (digital image – Suzanne Miller)

For this week’s prompt let the life and work of Hisajo inspire your creative explorations of haiku and related forms.   

Please post a link to your response in the comment thread.     Including the  tag      #ontheroadprompts  can help others find your work easily.

picture Also I have created this logo for you to include in your posts if you want. 

Since posting a list of links to recent “On the Road Prompts” earlier this week  two more wonderful posts have been created in response to last week’s prompt –


The  haiku  of Sugita Hisajo used in this post were found on the sources listed below

*   Nora is a character in the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House (1879).    This play was controversial when it was first published because it criticized 19th century marriage norms..

Haibun as a journey within

File:Basho by Hokusai-small.jpg   Basho by Hokusai (image from Wikimedia Commons)

The term haibun was first used by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) to describe the short pieces of prose he wrote about his  travels.   Traditionally a haibun was written in the first person and in the present tense.

“Though Bashō coined the word haibun, the form as it is today existed in Japan as prefaces and mini-lyric essays even before the seventeenth century (when Bashō first popularized the form). After his famous journey to Mutsu, he crafted a sort of guideline to the form in order to plunge deeper into the aware (pronounced ah-WAR-ay) spirit of haiku. Thus, another important feature of the haibun is not simply to provide a writer a shape in which to jot mundane musings of landscape and travel but also to evoke that sense of aware—the quality of certain objects to evoke longing, sadness, or immediate sympathy. ”  from – a  closer look at writing haibun

Basho’s classic haibun is titled “Oku no hosomichi” The author and translator, Sam Hamill translates the title thus: –

“Oku means “within” and “farthest” or “dead-end” place; hosomichi means “path” or “narrow road.” The no indicates a possessive. Oku no hosomichi: the narrow road within; the narrow way through the interior.”   kyoto journal basho’s ghost

Hamill says of The Narrow Road –  “Basho … is not looking outside himself; rather he is seeking that which is most clearly meaningful within, and locating the “meaning” within the context of juxtaposed images, images which are interpenetrating and interdependent. The images arise naturally out of the kokoro or shin — the heart/soul/mind.”


“his journey is a pilgrimage;   it is a journey into the interior of the self as much as a travelogue; it is a vision quest which concludes insight.  The means is the end, just as it is the beginning.   Each step is the first step, each step the last.”

Basho himself said – “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought.” 
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Travelling with the moon

 “The moon and sun are travelers through eternity. Even the years wander on. Whether drifting through life on a boat or climbing toward old age leading a horse, each day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
– from Oku no Hosomichi  (The Narrow Road to the Deep North), Matsuo Basho – translation on Goodreads

Earlier this week on the night of the full moon there was a partial lunar eclipse.   On August 21 there will be a total solar eclipse that will be visible from the USA.  Across the internet there are posts that range from factual information about the path of the solar eclipse to speculative articles about the astrological and metaphysical significance of the eclipses.

In traditional astrology eclipses are regarded as portents of trouble and upheaval particularly when they aspect the chart of rulers.   It is interesting to note that the August eclipses aspect the charts of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.    Whether or not you give any credence to astrology there is no doubt that we live in volatile times.

I can’t find any classic haiku that relate to eclipses but have found many references to viewing the moon in August.   During the Heian period (794-1185) aristocrats would would gather to recite poetry under the full moon of the eighth month of the solar calendar, known as the “Mid-Autumn Moon.”  Festivals where people gather to appreciate the beauty of the autumn moon are still held on the 15th day of 8th month.

Maybe, even in these volatile times, taking time out to bask in the moon’s serene glow can soothe the heart and mind.


For a moment
I forget that there are sins –
this cold moon
                         – Kikusha-Ni

the moon

Like all On the Road prompts there is no cut off date.  Prompts are always open.  Respond when the muse speaks to you.   Please leave a link to your post in the comment section so that others can find your post.   Thank you – Suzanne


Step by Step

Thank you so much to those people who offered me positive feedback on my struggles with writing last week’s prompt.   It’s really gratifying to know you are enjoying the prompts.   That inspires me to figure out a way to overcome the problems I was having writing them.

Inspiration can come from the most unlikely places.   The other night I was channel surfing on TV and happened to land on a subtitled version of the film, Monkey King 2*  just as the Buddhist monk Tripitaka spoke to his companion, Monkey King –

“You don’t find the path, you make it step by step,”  I read.

The words made me think that perhaps I could make a new path into these prompts by creating  a structure I can sustain even when I’m busy or pre-occupied by my personal life.

I’ve come up with the idea that each week I will post prompts that feature haiku written by the masters  together with an image – either one of my photos or a digital image I have created.  I hope this style of prompt captures your imagination and inspires you to create haiku, tanka, haibun and haiga.


Once I calmed down and got over my melt down I had to admit that I had presented myself in a rather melodramatic and self-pitying way last week.    Going back and reading some Basho I discovered that, of course, he’d written of similar feelings far more eloquently that I ever could –

My straw hat was worn out by rain on the way, and my robe too was crumpled up through the storms I had met here and there. My appearance was so extremely shabby that even I myself felt a little sad. It just occurred to me that many years ago a gifted comicverse writer had traveled in this province. Thereupon I too composed a comic haiku:

In the wintry gust
I wander, like Chikusai
the comic poet.
 – from “Matsuo Bashō: The Poetic Spirit, Sabi, and Lightness,” by Makoto Uedo

Feeling extremely shabby and just a little sad I offer this prompt.   I hope it inspires you in your creative explorations of haiku and related forms.   As always, there is no time limit on this prompt.  When you are ready please post a link to your work in the comment section below so that others can read your work.   Thank you once again for your support and patience as I figured out where I was going with these prompts.

prompt:   “You don’t find the path, you make it step by step,” from Monkey King 2


In the wintry gust
I wander, like Chikusai
the comic poet.
Matsuo Basho

                                             winter wanderer (detail from one of my mixed media paintings)

*  The 2016 Hong Kong-Chinese film Monkey King 2 is a fantasy film based on the classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West by Wu Gheng-en.  This novel is in turn a fantasy based on the true story of Xuan Zang, the 7th century Buddhist monk who made from a perilous journey from China to India to recover lost Buddhist scriptures.  In the novel and film Xuan Zang is called Tripitaka.

















–  The Monkey King 2 is a 2016 Hong Kong-Chinese fantasy film based on the classic novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en.