By Koji Tomita

April 3, 2023

People gather on March 21 to view blooming cherry blossoms and the rising sun along the Tidal Basin in Washington. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post) 

Koji Tomita is the Japanese ambassador to the United States.

In Japan, cherry blossoms have been a favorite subject in haiku. The piece closest to my heart is the one by the 18th-century haiku master Kobayashi Issa:

Under the cherry trees,

None are utter strangers.

I like this poem because it captures the power of the cherry blossom to connect people. In 1912, Japan gifted 3,000 cherry trees to Washington. Those trees are finishing their bloom, and before this season’s blossoms vanish, I want to share a story that, I hope, echoes Issa’s words.

My father, who died two years ago at 95, was a typical Japanese salary man of the bygone days: hard-working, stoic and taciturn. He went to the prewar Imperial Naval Academy in Hiroshima. He graduated just before the conclusion of World War II and saw no action. After the war, he went back to college and then worked for a stock brokerage company.

Being a man of few words, he didn’t talk about his time at the academy, and, to my regret, I never pressed him for stories. But I did know he cherished his friendship with his classmates and often went on reunion trips.

Every spring, I host a small reception for the U.S. Naval Academy graduates taking their first missions in Japan. The aim is to express gratitude for their commitment to our alliance.

A few days before this year’s event, I was shown the pictures of the grove of cherry trees at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. A plaque displayed in the photo said that the grove was a gift from the 75th class of the Japanese Imperial Naval Academy. My father’s class.

This was a surprise. I knew he had visited naval academies in foreign countries during those reunion trips, but I had no idea he had visited Annapolis and had been part of this small gesture of reconciliation.

There was more. At the reception, I shared this discovery with the guests and showed the photo of the plaque to Vice Adm. Sean Buck, the superintendent of the academy. It made clear that the donation had been made to the Annapolis class of 1947.

“That’s my father’s class,” he said as we looked at each other, dumbfounded.

Forging human connection is part of my job. You can’t be a diplomat unless you believe that. Diplomacy is an exercise in human relationships. The connection between our two counties is no exception.

But it’s a hard thing to measure and quantify. It’s not every day that the ephemeral become real. When it does, it’s worthy of celebration.

Remember, there are no strangers under the cherry trees.

UPAYA re-education ~ the haiku sessions

Ah…so that’s IT!…

A blank

piece of paper

Tim Lane (1943 – ?)

OK….Ill send them samples of your creativity on my house and bathroom walls…Youll sure to be a shoe-in

after enlightenment, the laundry?

Edgar Boyles

You got a employee, you’ve got an employee problem …


rÓbert of rŌbear Repor fame will be the guest lecturer, speaking on the use of spiritual guidance and miracle working with the problem employee. He should know, he’s an expert.

próspero año nuevo

Year’s end –

still in straw hat

and sandals.


Come, let’s go


till we’re buried


Wintry day,

on my horse

a frozen shadow.


Through snow,

lights of homes

that slammed their gates on



Deer in rain –

three cries,

then heard no more.


Temple in

deep winter grove,

a bonfire’s glow.


Just by being,

I’m here –

in snow-fall


Winter lull –

no talents,

thus no sins.


Cold, yes,

but don’t test

the fire, snow Buddha.


Such silence:

snow tracing wings

of mandarin ducks.



The winning poem from the Tricycle Haiku Challenge surveys the political landscape of America in 2022.

By Clark Strand


Poems of Protest and Political Conscience
Illustration by Matthew Richardson

frost on the pastures
in rural America
adding to the white

—Dana Clark-Millar

Although haiku poetry is governed by certain time-honored conventions, there is no universally agreed-upon rule about what subject matter can or cannot be addressed within the form. Poets are always testing the limits of haiku, pushing it in new directions to see what can be said using just seventeen syllables.

Japanese haiku took a political turn during the lead-up to World War II. In 1937, the most influential magazine of the day, Hototogisu (“little cuckoo”), created a special section devoted to patriotic haiku—poems that became increasingly militant after 1939. But Japanese fascism was not without its critics. Some poets wrote haiku that opposed the war, and many of these poems are considered masterpieces today.

Saito Sanki (1900–1962) was the nominal leader of the antiwar haiku movement. Here are two famous poems of his:

Machine gun bullets:
right between the eyes a red
blossom blossoming

At Hiroshima,
to swallow a hard-boiled egg
the mouth opens wide

The first haiku is shocking in its nontraditional use of the season word hana, for “cherry blossom.” About the second, written in Hiroshima on a dark night one year after the bombing, it is best to let Sanki speak for himself:

Sitting on a stone by the side of the road, I took out a boiled egg and slowly peeled the shell, unexpectedly shocked by its smooth surface. With a flash of searing incandescence, the skins of human beings had as easily slipped off all over this city. To eat a boiled egg in the wind of that black night, I was forced to open my mouth. In that moment, this haiku came to me.

The Kobe Hotel, trans. Saito Masaya

Sanki was imprisoned by Japan’s Special Higher Police for writing haiku like the first one. The second was published in a magazine but was omitted from Sanki’s second collection for fear that the book would be censored by American Occupation officials, who suppressed information about the atomic bomb.

Political protest haiku have been written in English, too, but they have rarely succeeded as well as this season’s winning poem. The first two lines offer a panoramic landscape of rural America, its pastures covered with frost. The scope is national, not local, as we would ordinarily expect in a haiku. Only in the last line do we understand the significance of that choice. We are being shown not just a visual landscape but a political one.

A good haiku works through the subtle nuances of spoken language, and this one is no exception. Expressions like “killing frost,” “hard frost,” and “frosty reception” inevitably influence our reading of the final line, making it clear that the spread of white nationalism through the American heartland is the real subject of the poem.

A poem like this is unlikely to be met with censorship in 2022 America. But it still takes courage to write it. The chill I felt when I first read it gets deeper with every day.

The Tricycle Haiku Challenge asks readers to submit original works inspired by a season word. Moderator Clark Strand selects the top poems to be published in Tricycle with his commentary. To see past winners and submit your haiku, visit tricycle.org/haiku. To read additional poems of merit from recent months, visit our Tricycle Haiku Challenge group on Facebook.