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Volume 33.3
Autumn 2002

book review

Chado, The Way of Tea:
A Japanese Tea Master's Almanac

by Sasaki Sanmi


reviewed by Lee Gurga

Chado, The Way of Tea: A Japanese Tea Master’s Almanac, by Sasaki Sanmi, translated by Shaun McCabe and Iwasaki Satoko (Boston: Tuttle Publishing, 2002). 742 pages, 6.375" x 9.375", clothbound. ISBN: 0-804832-72-2. $75.00 in bookstores.

This opulent and encyclopedic volume presents the first translation of a Japanese tea master’s saijiki into English. The book has a chapter for each month of the year, as well as some introductory material that includes glossaries of names and terms. Each monthly chapter contains the following nine sections: Chashu (Features of the Month), Gyôji (Events of the Month), Kishin (Memorial Days), Chabana (Flowers for Tea), Kashi (Cakes), Kaiseki (Meals for Tea), Shokumi (Foods for the Month), Kigo (Words for the Month), and Meisû (Single Items). For haiku poets, the Kigo section will probably be of most interest. There are also fifty-seven pages of appendices, with tables of such things as "Monthly Names for Water" and "Names of Monthly Trees."

The book contains translations of both haiku and waka. The poems are presented in the original Japanese, rômaji, and English. The translators write, "The translations are not in poetic form because our primary aim has been to make the meaning of the poem clear. To achieve this, in many cases we have sacrificed beauty and rhythm for clarity." This is a somewhat disappointing approach; one is particularly puzzled by the suggestion that poetic translations are by their nature unclear.

The translations of haiku are presented in one or two lines of prose, mostly as complete sentences. Here are two of Bashô’s haiku, the first translation of each from the book being reviewed, the second from Makoto Ueda’s Bashô and his Interpreters [Stanford, 1992]:

The mud and the morning dew on the gourd looks fresh and cool.

in the morning dew
spotted with mud, and how cool—
melons on the soil

In the first haiku, McCabe and Satoko’s translation it is the mud and the dew that are cool, while in Ueda’s—and Bashô’s—it is the melon. One wishes the translators had made the additional effort to provide more poetic—and accurate—translations, or sought them out. Fortunately, not all are so hideously done, as the following shows:

The harvest moon! Around the pond I wandered all night long.

the harvest moon—
I stroll round the pond
till the night is through

This compares favorably to Ueda’s. Some might even prefer "all night long" to "till the night is through."

Each chapter presents between twenty-three and fifty kigo with an explanation of each and, in most cases, one or more haiku or waka quoted. Here is the entry for natsu no asa (summer morning), lacking the Japanese for the translated terms:

Natsu no asa (Natsu no akatsuki, Natsu no akebono), In the cool and refreshing air, the season of asa-cha (tea gathering held early in the summer, natsu; morning, asa) is about to get started.

Susamaji ya / tomoshibi nokoru / natsu no asa                Tôra

How dreadful! Summer morning, and the light is still burning.

The price of this book may put many off, but for those interested in how the Japanese tradition of the seasonal almanac might be adapted to contemporary world haiku, it is worth a look.

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