Journey To Oiso

December 2003

James W. Hackett – Japan 2002

Journey To Oiso

and the home of R. H. Blyth

James W. Hackett and Patricia Hackett

The World Haiku Festival 2002 afforded James an opportunity to visit the home of his mentor, R. H. Blyth in Oiso, Japan, thirty-eight years after Dr. Blyth’s death. The following is an account of that visit written by Patricia in the ‘voice’ of James.

Background

Blyth’s letters arrived regularly at our San Francisco cottage. They were undated, but always signed “Yours, RHB” with a flourish.

For some five years, my life was graced and inspirited by the friendship and encouragement of Reginald Horace Blyth. I had been planning to pay my respects to Dr. Blyth in Japan. With the plane ticket awarded by Japan Air Lines for their first U.S.A. haiku contest in my hand, I eagerly looked forward to sharing tea and wordless tranquility with Dr. Blyth in his Oiso home.

However, Dr. Blyth died on October 28, 1964, the same year in which I  entered the JAL Haiku Contest primarily to visit him.

Blyth’s Amazing Journey

For those who might be unfamiliar with Dr. Blyth’s history, the  following sketch is offered:

Dr. Blyth’s journey from his Essex, England, birthplace to Oiso included adventures enough for several lifetimes. Born in 1889, RHB lived through two world wars, taught English literature, studied Zen Buddhism, adopted a Korean boy, raised a family, wrote scores of books on Japanese culture, and was able to influence the course of history at the end of WWII.

blyth boy and man

Blyth’s first courageous decision may have been when he registered as a conscientious objector during the 19l4-1918 war— and was imprisoned. After release, he graduated from London University, and in 1924 was recommended for a position in English literature at the University of Seoul. (Korea was at that time occupied by the Japanese.) Thus began the amazing journey that took him from England to Korea, and finally to Japan at the beginning of the Second World War.

While interned as a foreign national in Kobe, Japan, Blyth wrote several of his books on haiku and Zen. He continued his Zen practice (begun in Korea), and mentored fellow detainee Robert Aitken, who later became a Zen Roshi.

Following the war, Dr. Blyth— along with Harold G. Henderson— served as liaison between General MacArthur’s headquarters and the Japanese  Imperial Household as the new national constitution and the role of the  Emperor’s divinity were developed for post war Japan.

Dr. Blyth rejoined his wife and young daughter, Harumi, at the end of the war, reestablishing his teaching career in Tokyo at The Peers’ School (Gakushuin). The family lived in the residence at the Gakushuin. Before long, RHB welcomed a second daughter, Nana, and bought a family home in Oiso.

Blyth and daughtersFrom Oiso, Dr. Blyth commuted via bicycle and train to the Gakushuin, and to a variety of teaching commitments in Tokyo. There he became a longtime private tutor to Crown Prince (now Emperor) Akihito, and to the Empress.

Blyth continued writing his books on haiku, Zen, and Eastern culture during these busy post war years. His lifelong love of music led him to become a self-taught chamber music player, and a sensitive concert-goer. (Blyth even constructed an organ for the Gakushuin campus.) He was in touch with important Japanese, the British expatriate circle in Japan, and he often visited his friend, Zen philosopher Daisetz T. Suzuki, who lived in Kamakura, close to Oiso.

In the autumn of l964, Dr. Blyth was taken to hospital, and he did not survive this final illness that may have been a brain tumor. He had composed the following haiku, knowing it would become his death poem:

I leave my heart
to the sasanqua flower
on the day of this journey.

—Reginald Horace Blyth (1964)

Note: The sasanqua is a camellia that blooms heavily and for long periods in autumn and early winter.

James W. Hackett in Kamakura

It would be thirty-eight years before my visit to Oiso finally takes place. This happens on September 11, 2002, at the gracious invitation of Blyth’s daughter Nana, and arranged by our mutual friend, poet, and researcher of R H. Blyth, Professor Ikuyo Yoshimura of Asahi University, Gifu. Traveling from our home in Hawaii, we arrive in Japan on the night of the 10th. Early the next morning, Ikuyo, Pat, and I meet with Nana at the comfortable, eclectically decorated Kamakura Tsurugaoka Kaikan, the hotel where we stayed in central Kamakura.

Susumu Takiguchi, Debi Bender and several members of the World Haiku Club are already there, some having arrived a few days earlier. In the lobby’s coffee bar, preparations are taking place for the Kamakura Evening event of World Haiku Festival 2002 in which James will speak, Dorothy Britton translating for the Japanese audience.

Nana drives Ikuyo, Pat, and I to a nearby kaiseki restaurant (Hachi-No-Ki) for seasonal, Zen-influenced cuisine. We are joined by Nana’s husband Yuji, and their daughter, Hana (Blyth’s granddaughter). Our multi-course meal is—in the Japanese tradition—fresh, exquisitely prepared and presented, and delicious!:

kaseki trayTokeji and Dr. Blyth

Dr. Blyth’s tomb is a short drive from the restaurant, in the grounds of Kamakura’s Tokei-ji, a temple established in the 13th century. Many important philosophers, writers, and religious figures are interred here. The temple was founded by regent Hojo Tokimune, whose wife established it as convent refuge for unhappy wives who left their husbands. We are greeted by the resident caretakers, who photographed our group.

Slowly, we climb the tranquil hillside to reach RHB’s tomb, adjacent to that of his close friend, writer and Zen Buddhist philosopher Daisetz T. Suzuki.

Bathed in sunlight slanting through aged trees, this occasion is both joyous and somber … much in the tradition of Dr. Blyth himself. It brings to mind a letter he had written to me in the 1960s, in which Blyth described a visit to Dr. Suzuki that embodied RHB’s irrepressible spirit:

Who cares? Who shares?

Yours

RHB

Pausing before going on to Oiso, we admire the beautiful gardens of Tokeiji through glassed engawa windows:

blyth home

The Blyth Family Home in Oiso

Blyth’s traditional style house stands in the wooded hills above Oiso town, a 30 minute drive from Kamakura. I am filled with deep feelings upon entering the home where he lived, wrote his many books, and some of his letters to me. It is a very moving and memorable experience to be there after so many years. I feel joy and humility to be in the home of this amazing, multitalented genius who played such a significant role in my life, and in introducing haiku to the English speaking world.

It is hard to believe I was actually here in Dr. Blyth’s own home…

And how fabulous it is that my wife can honor his beloved J.S. Bach, playing “Goldberg Variations” on Blyth’s well-kept piano!

A glass of juice cools us as we visit together.

After we look at Blyth family photos, Professor Yoshimura plays a Blyth-family home movie, c.1950, which she has transferred to video. We enjoy a rare treat as we listen to her newly-discovered audio tape of Blyth lecturing in the classroom. How marvelous to hear RHB’s expressive voice and poetic intensity.

As we sit in front of the TV, the family dogs are nearby. Nana keeps two. (It seems there was always a dog in Dr. Blyth’s household!):

blyth's dogs“Yes,” I say to myself, “I am really here.” And in retrospect, I feel it was all destined to take place in just this way.

Suddenly, Nana calls from another room, “Pat, telephone for you!”

As a surprise, Nana and her sister, Harumi, have arranged for Harumi to call us from her California home. Our visit is now complete, and includes both of Blyth’s daughters:

Hackett and daughterWe reminisce briefly about Nana and Harumi’s joint visit to our Hawaii home in December of 2001.

Departing

Nana, her daughter Hana, and her husband Yuji, walk us to the door. Ikuyo remarks that “I’ll always remember this magic day we were together in Dr. Blyth’s house, celebrating his life and spirit.”

As we linger, Nana spots a cicada on a doorway shrub, and Pat observes what
will become her very first haiku poem:

Nana Blyth presents
an empty cicada husk
to the aging haijin.

Long have I taken Blyth’s path— and now, have literally walked in his footsteps.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The Genius of Haiku: Readings from R. H. Blyth. (The British Haiku Society 1994). Blyth is introduced to an English literary community that had been unfamiliar with his contributions. A sympathetic, detailed biography is offered by poet James Kirkup, as well as selected articles by RHB on topics such as Basho, haiku, senryu, and world haiku (in which he introduced the work of JWH). Available from sellers of used books.

Ikuyo Yoshimura’s book, The Life of R. H. Blyth (Dohosha 1996), is in Japanese, with many Blyth family photos. (A translation into English is planned.)

California State Library, Archive of American Haiku, Sacramento, California, holds photocopies of the letters from R. H. Blyth and from Harold G. Henderson to JWH.

Robert Aitken’s book Original Dwelling Place contains a segment about RHB, “Remembering Blyth Sensei,” that is memorable for its ‘straight talk’ about, and his deep gratitude to, Dr. Blyth.

Selected works by R. H. Blyth:

Haiku in four volumes (1: “Eastern Culture,” 2: “Spring,” 3: “Summer-Autumn,” 4: “Autumn-Winter”) containing RHB’s translations of Japanese haiku with commentary.

A History of Haiku in two volumes. The final chapter, “World Haiku,” was written by Dr. Blyth (at JWH’s suggestion) in the last days before the book went to press; in this chapter he introduced some 30 haiku poems by Hackett.

book sign“Journey to Oiso” and accompanying color photos are copyright © 2003 Patricia Hackett. All rights reserved. The two black and white photos are © Nana E. Blyth and used here by permission. Pat wishes to acknowledge those who made important contributions to this article: James W. Hackett, Ikuyo Yoshimura, Nana Blyth, Harumi Blyth, and DW (Debi) Bender.

Editors Note : Unfortunately the original photographs are lost and only the thumbnails were available to upload in this article.

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