Visiting R. H. Blyth's Home

 

 

Following is a diary with 27 photos of the September 2002 visit by James W. Hackett and Patricia Hackett to the home of James's mentor in Oiso, Japan, some thirty-eight years after R. H. Blyth's death. This account is 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 in blue ink:

 

Signature of Reginald Horace Blyth.

 

For some five years before Blyth's passing in l964, 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. The ticket awarded by Japan Airlines in their first USA haiku contest was in my hand, and I eagerly looked forward to sharing silent tea with 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 may be unfamiliar with Dr. Blyth's history, the following information is offered.

 

Dr. Blyth's journey from England to Japan included adventures enough for several lifetimes. Born in 1889 (at Leytonstone in Essex) RHB lived through two world wars, taught English literature in Korea and Japan, and adopted a Korean boy. He studied Zen Buddhism, and wrote many books on Eastern culture and on Zen. Blyth married a Japanese woman, raised a family, and became tutor to the current monarch, Emperor Akihito. And he was in a position to influence the course of history at the end of the Second World War. 

 

                

1, 2  R. H. Blyth as man and boy. 2002 Nana  E. Blyth

 

Blyth's first courageous decision may have been when he

registered as a conscientious objector during the 1914-1918 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 in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War.

 

A British citizen, Blyth was interned as a foreign national in Kobe, Japan. During this period Blyth wrote several of his books on haiku and Zen. He continued his Zen practice (that he began in Korea), and mentored fellow detainee Robert Aitken, who later became a Zen Roshi.

 

Released following the war's end and the 1945 American occupation of Japan, Dr. Blyth (along with haiku scholar Harold G. Henderson) served as sub rosa 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. He then renewed his teaching career in Tokyo's Mejiro district at Gakushuin University that was until 1947 restricted exclusively to the aristocracy. (Dr. Blyth and family lived in the official residence at Gakushuin.) During these years he became a longtime private tutor to Crown Prince Akihito (Emperor since 1989), and later to the current Empress.

 

Before long, RHB welcomed a second daughter, Nana. In 1960 moved the family from Mejiro to a house he bought in Oiso (near Kamakura). From Oiso Dr. Blyth commuted via bicycle and train to Gakushuin, and to a variety of teaching and other commitments in Tokyo.

 

3  R. H. Blyth with daughters Nana and Harumi.

The family home in the 1960s, Oiso, Japan 2002 Nana E. Blyth

 

 

During these busy post war years Blyth continued writing his

books on haiku, Zen, and Eastern culture. His lifelong love of music

(especially that of J. S. Bach) led him to become a self-taught

chamber music player, and a sensitive concertgoer. (Blyth even constructed an organ for 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, not far from Oiso.

 

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

 

I leave my heart

to the sasanqua flower

on the day of this journey.         

 

  by Reginald Horace Blyth

 

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

 

Kamakura

 

It would be thirty-eight years before my visit to Oiso finally takes place on September 11, 2002. Traveling from our home in Hawaii, Pat and I arrive in Japan on the evening of September 10th. We will attend World Haiku Festival 2002 of which I am Honorary President. Later, with a group of haiku poets from around the world, we'll travel through mountainous north Japan, along the route taken by the haiku poet Basho in 1689.

 

But the first highlight of the adventure is my visit to the family home of R. H. Blyth. This is at the gracious invitation of Blyth's daughter Nana, arranged by our mutual friend, poet, and researcher of R H. Blyth, Professor Ikuyo Yoshimura of Asahi University, Gifu. The four of us meet at our hotel, the Tsurugaoka Kaikan in Kamakura.

 

4Patricia Hackett, Nana Blyth, JWH, Ikuyo Yoshimura.

September 11, 2002, Kamakura, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

In the Tsurugaoka Kaikan lobby's coffee bar on the right, preparations are taking place for the Kamakura evening event of the haiku festival at which I will be speaking.

 

5  Nana Blyth, JWH and Ikuyo Yoshimura.

September 11, 2002, Kamakura, Japan @2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

Nana first drives us to Kamakura's Hachi-No-Ki restaurant for seasonal, Zen-influenced cuisine. (Note that trees and shrubs screen the diners from a busy street.) We are joined by Nana's husband Yuji and daughter Hana, who take the photo below.

 

6  JWH, Patricia Hackett, Ikuyo Yoshimura, Nana Blyth.

 Hachi-No-Ki restaurant

September 11, 2002  Kamakura, Japan @2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

Below is the interior of Kamakura's Hachi-No-Ki restaurant.

 

7  Ikuyo Yoshimura and server at Hachi-No-Ki restaurant.

September 22, 2002, Kamakura, Japan @2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

In the Japanese tradition our multi-course meal is fresh, exquisitely prepared and presented and delicious.

 

 

8, 9  Two kaiseki trays at Hachi-No-Ki Restaurant.

September 11, 2002, Kamakura, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

Our group at Hachi-No-Ki includes Hana, R. H. Blyth's granddaughter.

 

10  Hana, R. H. Blyth's granddaughter, James W. Hackett.

September 11, 2002, Kamakura, Japan @2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 
Tokei-ji and Dr. Blyth

 

R. H. Blyth's tomb is a short drive from the restaurant, in the grounds of Kamakura's Tokei-ji, a temple established in 1285. Many important writers and religious figures are interred here. Founded by regent Hojo Tokimune, his wife established it as a convent that was for 600 years a refuge for oppressed women.

 

We are greeted at the residence of Tokei-ji's head priest and our group is photographed.

 

11  Yuji, Ikuyo Yoshimura, Pat Hackett, Nana, JWH, Hana.

Reception area, residence of Head Priest, Tokei-ji Temple.

September 11, 2002. Kamakura, Japan  2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

The instruments shown below are in the main inner temple of the priest's residence. At right below is a hollowed-out wooden gong that comes in all sizes. On the cushions are bowl-shaped bells that are struck with a padded beater, and on the easel are prayer books. The altar (top right) is draped in blue. A statue of Buddha sits atop the altar.

 

12  Instruments for Buddhist services at Tokei-ji.

September 11, 2002, Kamakura, Japan @2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

Pausing before climbing the hillside up to RHB's tomb, I admire the lush gardens of Tokei-ji through the sliding glass windows of the engawa. The engawa is an area beside (or surrounding) the straw-matted floor of a room in a Japanese dwelling.

 

13  James W. Hackett at Tokei-ji.

September 11, 2002, Kamakura, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

Slowly we climb the tranquil hillside to reach RHB's tomb, pausing to view statues and the beautiful natural setting.

 

14  Hana, JWH, and statue of Buddha, Tokei-ji grounds.

September 11, 2002, Kamakura, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

15  Tomb of R. H. Blyth.

April 1993, Tokei-ji, Kamakura, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

James W. Hackett at the tomb of R. H. Blyth.

 

 

James W. Hackett at the tomb of R. H. Blyth.

 

16, 17  JWH at the tomb of R. H. Blyth, Tokei-ji.

September 11,  2002, Kamakura, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

Bathed in sunlight slanting through aged trees, this occasion is

both joyous and somber much in the tradition of Dr. Blyth himself. It brought to mind a letter he had written to me in the 1960s, in which Blyth described a visit to D. T. Suzuki that embodied RHB's

irrepressible spirit:

 

Dear Mr. Hackett,

 

...The other day I went to see Dr. Suzuki, who is now, as you know, 93 years old. I asked him a question, holding a cat in my arms, "Which is more important, to be fond of cats (that is, to write haiku) or to understand Zen?" He answered, "They are one and the same thing", and I said to him, "You  have passed your examination." But I did not really think so. To be fond of cats and to understand Zen are equally important because they are the same thing. Yes, this is so, but at the same time, what is more important is to be fond of cats. Now, you see, I have contradicted what I wrote on the previous page, but

         who cares?

         who shares?

RHB

View a photo of the entire letter above, found in the Links section.

 

                             

The Blyth Family Home in Oiso

 

The traditional style Blyth house is in the wooded hills above Oiso town, a thirty-minute drive from Kamakura. I am flooded with deep feelings upon entering the home where Blyth lived, wrote many of his books, and some of his letters to me.

 

It is a moving experience to be here. I feel joy and humility entering the home of this profound, multitalented genius who played such a significant role in my life, and in introducing haiku to the English speaking world.

 

'Yes,' I say to myself, 'I am really here.' And in retrospect I believe it was all destined to take place in just this way.

 

18  James W. Hackett in the living room of Dr. Blyth's home.

September 11, 2002, Oiso, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

                          A glass of juice cools us as we visit together.

 

19, 20  JWH, Nana Blyth, Ikuyo Yoshimura in Blyth's home.

September 11, 2002, Oiso, Japan  Patricia Hackett 2003

 

 

21    Ikuyo Yoshimura and JWH in Blyth's living room.

September 11, 2002, Oiso, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

22  Pat honors Blyth's beloved J. S. Bach, playing

'Goldberg Variations'on his well-kept piano.

September 11, 2002, Oiso, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

 

Professor Yoshimura prepares to play a Blyth family home movie from the 1950s that she has transferred to video. We see the young daughters, Blyth and his wife, and the family dog.

 

23  Nana and Ikuyo Yoshimura in Blyth's home.

September 11, 2002, Oiso, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

Thanks to Ikuyo, we next listen to her newly discovered audiotape of Blyth lecturing in his classroom. It is marvelous to hear RHB's

expressive voice and poetic intensity.

 

As we visit, Nana's two dogs are nearby. Animal companions seem always to be present in a Blyth household.

 

24  Dogs on the engawa, garden behind.

September 11, 2002, Oiso, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

Suddenly, Nana calls from another room, 'Pat, telephone for you!' As a surprise, Nana has arranged for Harumi to speak with Pat from her home in California. Pat recounts the day's activities for Harumi, and reminisces about Nana's and Harumi's joint visit to our Hawaii home in 2001. The  journey is now complete, and includes both of Dr. Blyth's daughters.

 

25  James W. Hackett and Harumi Blyth.

November 1993, in southern California 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

Departing

 

Nana, her daughter, 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.

 

  by  Patricia Hackett

 

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

 

Hana, R. H. Blyth's granddaughter, honors us as we leave.

 

26  R. H. Blyth's granddaughter.

September 11, 2002, Oiso, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

Our whirlwind visit of just a few hours has fulfilled a dream of many years. Tired but happy, we wait at the station for a late afternoon train back to Kamakura and the evening event of World Haiku Festival 2002.

 

27  Ikuyo Yoshimura, James W. Hackett, Patricia Hackett.

September 11, 2002, Oiso, Japan 2003 Patricia Hackett

 

 

For More Information

 

The Genius of Haiku: Readings from R. H. Blyth. (The British Haiku Society 1994). This work introduced Dr. Blyth to an English literary community that had been unfamiliar with his contributions. A sympathetic, detailed biography is offered by poet James Kirkup. The book also contains selected articles by RHB on topics such as Basho, haiku, senryu, and world haiku. (In the included world haiku chapter of 1964, RHB had introduced the haiku of JWH). Used copies are sometimes available.

 

The Life of R. H. Blyth by Professor Ikuyo Yoshimura (Dohosha, 1996), is in Japanese, with many Blyth family photos. Sold out. Used copies are sometimes available. (A translation into English is planned.)

 

Letters to JWH from R. H. Blyth and from Harold G. Henderson are in the Archive of American Haiku, California State Library, Sacramento, California. (photo copies) (Photos of these letters from Dr. Blyth and Dr. Henderson are posted on an irregular basis in the Links section of this Web site.)

 

Original Dwelling Place by Robert Aitken Roshi (Counterpoint Press, reprint edition 1997) contains a segment about RHB, Remembering Blyth Sensei, that is memorable for its straight talk about, and his deep gratitude to, Dr. Blyth.

 


'Visiting R. H. Blyth's Home' photos are copyright © 2003 by Patricia Hackett and © 2002 by Nana E. Blyth, as shown. All rights reserved. Pat wishes to acknowledge those who made important contributions to this article: James W. Hackett, Ikuyo Yoshimura, Nana Blyth, Harumi Blyth and her husband Yuji, and D. W. Bender, former editor of  World Haiku Review, and now Deputy Chairman, World Haiku Club. Visit: www.worldhaikuclub.org

 

 

 

Website Design by Patricia Hackett
Images Enhanced & Hosted by MauiMacMedic.com 2004©