Alan Summers’ Travelogue on World Haiku Festival 2002 (Part 1)


First of all,  I’d like to introduce Alan Summers to you.

He is founder / tutor of With Words which promotes the love of words through a number of inclusive literacy and literature events; courses; activities; workshops; writing walks; and renga projects.


The With Words website:

Alan Summers also has his Blog:

According to his self-introduction, he is Japan Times award-winning writer for haiku  & renga.  He is Joint Co-ordinator for the 1000 Verse Renga.  He is also  Co-organiser for The Summer Japanese Arts & Film Festival 2010 in Bath U.K.


Secondly, we  post Alan Summers’ Travelogue on World Haiku Festival 2002 in Yuwa, Akita Japan.  He kindly contributed his article to our website.


Bullet Trains, Vending Machines and Cicadas

(group photo©Alan Summers/With Words)



L-R standing: Matsuko Teraoka, Deborah Russell, Alan Summers, Daniel Gallimore, Susumu Takiguchi, Debi Bender, Matsuo Basho (statue), Judit Vihar, Bruce Ross.

L-R seated: Brian Selby, David Barsky, Visnja McMaster


World Haiku Festival 2002

The beginning…

I landed at Kansai Airport, Osaka, in early September to be met by friend and fellow writer Maki Nishida, and I stayed at her parent’s house while Maki and myself took in all the sights of Osaka, and Kobe where her family live. My jetlag never stood a chance as over the next two days, we spent anything up to 18 hours a day on each city. The restaurants were good, but they could not get near to the excellence of mood, atmosphere, and culinary experience that Maki’s mother, Akiko Nishida, provided. During the waking hours of those two days, so much was packed in, and although it was not the New Year, we played a game of hyakunin-isshu before visiting Sumadera.

in-between seasons

the tsukutsukubõshi buzz

of “not yet Autumn”


Maki Nishida explained about a samurai legend at Suma Temple about cicadas and their semi-no-koe (chorus), a rasping call that made me think of a single, large bird rather than small insects.  This particular cicada chorus in September is often associated with the ‘official’ end to summer.

So, when the tsukutsukubõshi (cicada species, meimuna opalifera, nicknamed after their sound) give cry, it is the end of summer, rather than the beginning as is the case with all other cicadas; and it also signifies ‘not yet autumn’ at the same time, so says another legend. This is the country of legends, and you never know whether they will remain dormant or not.

The days with Maki and her family set me up beautifully for the rest of my Japan experience which would delightfully end at Akita. There are far too many images of Japan to put down here, though a few would be Bullet Trains, onsen, cicadas and jido-hanbaiki…

vending machines

the hot choice is always out–

Narrow Road to the North

And so, onto the Bullet Train…




a dog shape balloon

wags it tail

…to Kamakura to meet up with other haiku poets for a haiku experience organised through the World Haiku Club by the indefatigable energies of its Chairman, Susumu Takiguchi, and fantastically assisted by WHC Development Advisor, Debi Bender. Throughout this adventure it seemed that both Susumu and Debi worked 24/7 to make sure everything we needed was superbly taken care of.

This was indeed going to be a major expedition where we would retrace some of Basho’s steps, and with the aid of the magical onsen, I was able to recover from a severely swollen ankle originating in England. 

Thanks to Susumu’s perseverance to get me to regularly use the communal onsen ‘hot springs’ at various ryokan (Japanese-style hotels), my ankle quickly became less swollen.  In fact, to the point that I was able to undertake walks up and down hills and mountains that I would otherwise have been only able to view from ground level.

I was looking for Basho, and on our Far North journey, I felt I saw little glimpses here and there…


Toshugu shrine pines

I try to stay as still –

mist and dew


Kamakura was the start of this Basho inspired adventure and the meeting of numerous companions. I was very honoured to meet James Hackett, the famous haiku poet and friend of RH Blyth, with his wife Patricia Hackett, who is a very fine haiku poet too, as I found out at various kukai that were organised. They were the best companions to have on this journey, and I still pinch myself, after having met one of my biggest heroes of Western haiku.

Meeting Dorothy Britton (Lady Bouchier) at Kamakura was incredible too. Dorothy Britton had only just arrived from the U.S.A. and was immediately involved with the WHC Kamakura event, preparing for a talk to a large attentive audience, and also adding simultaneous translation to a talk by James W. Hackett. She looked so fresh and elegant while I was  bedraggled with fatigue.

There were several other Kamakura highlights including sharing a great sense of humour with American artist and haiku writer Deborah Russell, and meeting fellow haijinx online ‘humor in haiku’ magazine colleague, Carmen Sterba.

Carmen and myself temporarily left the WHC crew to take up an opportunity to stay at Kris Kondo’s house; Kris took us back to her fantastic Aladdin’s cave aka apartment. The next day I said farewell to Kris (thank you Kris for being such a fine hostess), all too, too brief a stay, and left with Carmen to catch up with the WHC party starting their next leg inTokyo.

Carmen Sterba and myself had the best of the day together, just two poets strolling around part of Tokyo, and then on to the Basho Memorial Museum where the other poets caught up with us. It is so refreshing to be able to meet up with people you want to meet, but have only ever known via email. I certainly made an effort to make the most of the remaining time to get to know so many haiku poets I might never meet again in person.

I was fortunate to spend time in the company of Visnja McMaster of Zabreb, Croatia, the inventor of the ‘Haiku Cards’ teaching game. Visnja has unselfishly done so much with, and for, Croatian children, proving what a powerful tool haiku can be to lift children away from certain everyday harsh circumstances, including the after effects of the breakup of the old Yugoslavia.

Working with Visnja was a major highlight for me, playing the ‘Haiku Cards’ game with her, and workshopping with several groups of local Japanese schoolchildren in Akita; a time that I shall never forget.

Other poets I met, who are also groundbreaking in their haiku and renku, were Ikuyo Yoshimura and Eiko Yachimoto, great ambassadors, each respectively of those art forms — which brings me to an observation: I have mostly named women!

Other than the exceptions of James Hackett and Susumu Takiguchi, this has been a catalogue of the female persuasion, and so I must make amends.

So, in this spirit, I must tell of a fellow traveller harking from Oxford, who exuded the spirit of Basho that I was so desperately seeking. This traveller was Brian Selby. Of all the people present, he seemed to have that intriguing mixture of pure honesty, gentleness, generosity, sabi and other haikai characteristics about him, that makes me feel that Basho would have liked him very much for a travelling companion. I certainly did. 

Sadly Brian Selby passed away before I could meet up with him again in Oxford, England but I have never forgotten him.

WHC’s Japan experience held many adventures and treats including a trip down the Mogami River…

in-between season

I follow the Mogami River

by riceboat

…and visiting hills, shrines and their flower gardens, and mountains:

moon mountain –

I climb up through all this gorse

into Basho’s Northern Honshu

Gassan (Moon Mountain), Yamagata

Alan Summers


(To be continued)


Last of all, I, Hidenori Hiruta, translated Alan Summers’ travelogue into Japanese.

Would you please read my Japanese translation too?




(グループ写真/アラン・サマーズ/‘With Wordsの写真)



















































Hidenori Hiruta


6 thoughts on “Alan Summers’ Travelogue on World Haiku Festival 2002 (Part 1)

  1. i just started to study english haiku,and am joining world haiku festival 2010, which is held in sasebo, japan.

    i hope i could meet you someday, somewhere.

    camille ayaka.

  2. It’s hard to find experienced people on this topic,
    but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!

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