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In Memoriam Shinkû Fukuda

Shinkû Fukuda, original name Fukuda Masahisa (in Japanese order), was born on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture in 1935. Throughout his career, including his long-term position as a professor of Japanese literature at Kokushikan University in Tokyo, he maintained a connection with his hometown, Hatano, Sado. There he formed the Amanogawa Renkukai (River of Heaven/Milky Way Renku Club), which from its rural location became a center for international renku.

A scholar of Japanese literature who devoted much of his life to understanding Bashô as a human being, Prof. Fukuda wrote three books about the master. The last, published in 1977,  The Heart of Bashô (Bashô no kokoro), summarized his thesis that Bashô's final poem, or actual death verse, is not the maudlin "dreams go wandering" verse, but the last verse he actively worked on before he died, a drastic revision of an earlier piece. It goes:

kiyotaki ya nami ni chirikomu aomatsuba

Clear Cascade . . .
dropping into the waves
the green pine needles

As a result of Prof. Fukuda's work, this poem is now inscribed on a poem stone near that Clear Cascade, on the outskirts of Kyoto not far from Kyorai's Cottage of the Fallen Persimmons, where Bashô stayed when visiting the area. (This is where he wrote the famous "poem-card torn from the wall" verse.) As Prof. Fukuda makes clear, the "green pine needles" specifically refers to those tender bits of new growth at the tips of pine branches, that so easily snap off in the breeze.

In the late 1980's, Prof. Fukuda came to the United States for the first time, primarily to present a talk on Bashô during a haiku retreat at Daibosatsu Zendo in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. In 1992, he was a leading member of the delegation of Japanese renku masters and poets involved in Renku North America, leading renku sessions with visiting Japanese and American and Canadian poets at several cities across the continent.

Throughout the 1990s, his group, the Milky Way Renku Club (Amanogawa Renkukai), composed international renku by fax with other groups across the globe. Also during this decade he wrote several scholarly articles and books published in Japan detailing the worldwide spread of renku and the collaborations of Japanese and foreign renku poets.

In 1994, Shinkû Fukuda published his first personal haiku collection, Amanogawa (The Milky Way—literally, the River of Heaven); many of its poems are homages to Bashô and to places linked with Bashô or other figures in the haikai tradition. Here are a few of his own favorite verses:

hatsuyume ya sekai ni kakaru niji no hashi

first dream
the rainbow
that bridges the earth

irokusa ya gakuen no asa sugasugashi

colorful grasses
a refreshing morning
on campus

hatsubare no kodama ni kotau kodama kana

first fine day
an echo responding
to an echo

—These from Stardust from Milky Way, a small pamphlet privately printed, with the author's translations.

The title of his first trade book (popular, as opposed to academic books) on his efforts at spreading Bashô's ideas abroad, also published in 1994, could serve as a motto for his life:

Bashô to the World (Bashô Sekai e)

In 2000, Prof. Fukuda and his close friend Prof. Shôkan Tadashi Kondô organized the first Global Renku Symposium at Kokushikan University in Tokyo, bringing guests from North America, Europe, East Asia, and all over Japan to discuss the development of modern renku in Japan and the spread of renku around the world. He drafted the Tokyo Declaration for Global Renku, which may be read at <>.

In 2002, Prof. Fukuda published another popular work, Let's Enjoy Global Renku (Chikyû Renku o Tanoshimô), which characteristically begins with a renku involving participants from Germany, Japan, America, China, Romania, Ireland, and England. His opening chapter sets the tone, entitled "From International Renku to Global Renku". The point being to bypass even the concept of international boundaries, and make renku a worldwide phenomenon, accessible to anyone, anywhere.

Also in 2002, a scholarly press brought out On the Essence of Language As Demonstrated in the Man'yôshû (Gengo honshitsuron Man'yôshû ni yoru jisshô), a compendium of his life-long study of the first, and some still believe the greatest, anthology of poetry in the Japanese language.

In addition to his teaching, writing, presiding over his own renku group, and fostering global renku, Prof. Fukuda was president of the China-Japan Comparative Poetry Society of Beijing University, a member of the UNESCO Professor's Club, and a member of the board of directors of the Renku Association, Japan. He served as a judge for the Haiku Society of America's Bernard Lionel Einbond Renku Contest in 2000 and 2001.

Today, 25 October 2005, Shinkû Fukuda passed away. A quiet, modest person, Prof. Fukuda was a driving force in the creation of renku, both in Japan and around the globe. He will be missed.

Memories of Shinkû Fukuda

From Shôkan Tadashi Kondô, Japan:

Fukuda-sensei spent most of his life fighting for his theory about Bashô's death verse: "Kiyotaki ... / falling into the waves / green pine needles". He developed his theory when he was in graduate school. He was 33 when he published his first book on Bashô's death verse. When he was 35, he came to visit Shiranshi at Rakushisha to manifest his theory. I met him then for the first time. The poem stone was built the following year. It was an uphill battle, since he had to fight many old scholars who have a different belief. But he had on his side many good friends, including Shiranshi, Yasuda-sensei, Hamachiyo-sensei, Okabe-sensei, Yanai-sensei, among many others. The Poem Stone Festival, which he started and organized every year, has been a good meeting place for many people who gather around Bashô's spirit. Fukuda-sensei was happy when Rakushisha decided three years ago to take over the Poem Stone Festival as one of their formal memorials. Thus, we can get together every year to remember Fukuda-sensei, Shiranshi, and other people.

Fukuda-sensei's theory about Bashô's death verse has historical significance, since nobody else said so for 300 years after Bashô's death. It is commonly believed that Bashô's death poem was "fallen ill on the journey / my dream keeps wandering / over the withered field". Fukuda-sensei denied this romantic theory, and instead argued that Bashô passed away with a peaceful mind in the state of spiritual salvation. His theory helps us to see the last few peaceful days in Bashô's life.


From John Stevenson, America:

Professor Fukuda was an energetic, inspirational promoter of  international renku and will be gratefully remembered by many Western practitioners of the form.

My first individual renku partners were Ion Codrescu, Christopher Herold, and Fay Aoyagi. I heard about Shinkû Fukuda from each of them and when I had the opportunity to work with him I was eager to do so. After participating in perhaps a dozen renku, I was invited by him to lead a series of international renku. I think I must have been very earnest about this in the beginning because I vividly recall Shinkû-sensei reminding me that, though the rules are very important, the first thing is that renku must be enjoyable. If the participants like renku enough to continue with it, they will almost certainly learn more of the rules over time.


From Ion Codrescu, Romania:

Prosessor Shinku Fukuda and I have travelled to some parts of Japan including Sado Island, his native place, during a renku festival held on the "exiles' island" as it is known—that famous island from Basho's haiku on the Milky Way. Talking with him, exchanging ideas about  renku, nature around us, art and many other things, I always had the impression that I was talking with a person from the old time that I admire so much. . . . Such people are more and more rare in our century. His death is really a great loss for the renku world.

Dear Bill,
I am very sorry to hear about Professor Shinkû Fukuda's death.
He was for me more than a renku teacher... a good friend, a gentle person with a large heart.
I will pray for his peace in Heaven.
He will miss us.
                 In haiku spirit,

The Map of My Left Flank

                        Lament for Shinkû Fukuda, after Buson*

                                    Stormy sea . . .
                                    reaching out over Sado
                                    River of Heaven

You passed on this morning
            this afternoon     heart shattered
                        how distant . . .
Thinking of you
            I go to the shower     water pouring
                        pouring on my flank     tears in the shampoo
Chrysanthemums blooming
            out there in the yard where we planted them
                        last spring
I think of the chipmunks
            so quick to disappear . . .
                        had a friend
                                    lived across the sea
The River of Heaven flows above
            as water streams onto my left flank
                        mapping the places
                                    without feeling
Had a friend
            lived across the sea
                                    water drums without feeling
You passed away this morning
            this afternoon     heart shattered
                        how distant . . .
The death of my left kidney—
            no feeling on that side—
                        an opening into space
                                    where everything pours away
                                            with the River of Heaven.


*This poem follows the form of, and in several instances paraphrases parts of, a long poem Buson wrote in Japanese free-verse, Hokuju Rôsen o Itamu (Lamenting Hokuju Rôsen). Buson's poem was translated by Tadashi Kondô and William J. Higginson, and appeared in a special supplement of Haiku Magazine in 1976, while Kondô was living with Higginson in Paterson, New Jersey. (Return to top.)

First posted 26 October 2005; last updated 13 April 2006.
Copyright ©2005 by William J. Higginson. All rights reserved.