Haiku with pacifist message sparks war of words in Saitama

by Atsushi Kodera

Staff Writer

An unpublished haiku has triggered an outpouring of words in its defense.

Its subject — a group of women protesting against efforts to reinterpret war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution — proved too touchy for a community center in Saitama to publish in its newsletter. And the center has received over 180 calls, emails and faxes complaining about its decision.

The poem was submitted in late June by a haiku club at the Mihashi community center, for publication in the July issue of the center’s monthly four-page newsletter.

The poem (“Tsuyu no sora/’Kyujo mamore’ no/Josei demo”) was supposed to be featured as the haiku of the month. But the community center decided not to publish it because “(a subject) on which public opinion is divided is not appropriate for the monthly,” officials at the center said.

The poem can be translated:

“Under a rainy-season sky

‘Protect Article 9′

Female demonstrators cry out.”

The haiku’s author, who asked not to be identified, said: “I think they have gone beyond the scope of their responsibility. If this becomes standard practice, it would be horrifying.”

Despite media coverage and pressure by a citizens group to publish the haiku, the center has not budged. The city’s top education bureaucrat and the mayor are standing with the center.

“If we carry an opinion on one side of an issue that divides public views, it would lead to the mistaken belief that it’s the city government’s official view,” Saitama Mayor Hayato Shimizu said at a July 17 press conference.

“It couldn’t be published because the issue of collective self-defense was behind (the haiku),” said Yasuhisa Inaba, the city’s top education bureaucrat, during a regular press conference on Tuesday.

In response to media reports, Satoru Takeuchi and some 20 others joined forces to pressure the Saitama Board of Education to explain why the poem was rejected, publish an apology and run the haiku in the Mihashi community center newsletter.

“If we allow this decision to stand, all the other community centers will be too afraid to do otherwise in a similar situation,” Takeuchi said.

A board official met with the group on July 15, and said the board would consider introducing guidelines for what’s permissible to publish in the city’s community center newsletters.

But Takeuchi was not persuaded.

“If they create a manual and make the officials say the same thing, that’s not what I want them to do,” he said. “We want a sincere apology, and we don’t want to allow them to set a (bad) precedent.”

According to the author, the haiku depicts a rainy day in early June, when she came across a group of women who were marching in the street in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district.

“It was the rainy season, and the rain was heavy, but there were women of all ages, including white-haired ones like myself, mothers pushing strollers, chanting for the protection of Article 9 of the Constitution,” said the woman.

She added that she believes Article 9 has kept the country out of wars and should not be tampered with.

“I think they may have been from citizens groups or attorneys, but I didn’t really know who they were. But I was so excited, and the next thing I knew I was marching with them,” she said.

“But I don’t think the community center would have invited criticism or protests if my haiku had been published in July,” she said.

“They can always say something like, ‘It’s not what the community center wrote,’ can’t they?”

  • warota

    Freedom of expression in a democracy?

    I’m just waiting for all of the freedom of expression advocates of ultranationalist demonstrators in Shin Okubo and Tsuruhashi to chime in here for their favorite cause.