Kiyoko's Sky:
The Haiku of Kiyoko Tokutomi

translated by Patricia Machmiller & Fay Aoygai

Kiyoko Tokutomi. Kiyoko's Sky: The Haiku of Kiyoko Tokutomi © Nov. 2002. Perfect Bound, (5.5" X 8.5") 128 pages. ISBN: 1-929820-04-6 out of print

Brooks Books is pleased to offer another dual language editions of haiku by the co-founder of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, Kiyoko Tokutomi.

First taking off one
then removing another
warm winter day

"Kiyoko Tokutomi has been writing and teaching the writing of traditional Japanese haiku in Northern California for more than twenty-five years. This book gives us her delicately made haiku and reveals the devotion of her friends and students in the practice of yuki teikei. This is a very moving book and an unexpected bit of literary history."

—Robert Hass, United States Poet Laureate (1995-1997)

“One needs but take these verses to heart, to know the true spirit of haiku.”

— James W. Hacket

ISBN: 1-929820-04-6
out of print

Brooks Books
6 Madera Court
Taylorville, IL 62568

Kiyoko Tokutomi is one of those rare haiku poets who follow yuki teikei (the traditional Japanese form with a seasonal element or kigo) both in English and Japanese. To understand the background of her haiku, we should keep in mind that she lives in Ben Lomond, California, on the West Coast of the United States. I have heard that spring in California comes early, and by mid-February, many people have started wearing short-sleeved shirts. 

Cherry blossoms bloom in full in March or April, the same time as in Japan. Around Ben Lomond communities even hold Cherry Blossom Festivals. The summer in northern California is relatively cool along the coast. In San Francisco, it seems that one needs an overcoat on a summer evening. Though there is no lingering heat like in Japan, there are heat waves, referred to as Indian summer, which come in September and October. Winter is the rainy season, and especially around New Year, it rains often. It is then that you can see a rainbow.

Therefore, “rainy season” and “rainbow” would be winter kigothere.I have just described the physical and cultural landscape in which Kiyoko composes her haiku.

Lingering, the scent
of perfume afterwards
between my fingers

The key phrase, “between my fingers,” leaves us with the feeling that this is a sensitive woman.

At its bottom
all things are visible
winter river

The water of mid-winter is clear. Human beings become tense physically and emotionally in the cold air.  It makes one see things better. We can picture the crisp, cold landscape.
And how does she capture the seasons of the United States?

How painful the water
running over my fingers—
winter’s beginning

Even in the beginning of the winter, the water has to be cold to make one’s fingers ache. 

—Shugyo Takaha
from the introduction

About the Author

Kiyoko Tokutomi (December 28, 1928—December 25, 2002)

In the life of Kiyoko Tokutomi, as in every life, fortunes and misfortunes have occurred. Understanding—and acceptance—of this fact are completely manifest in this small poem. We do not wish that children understood life’s grief, even while we ourselves try not to be weighed down by anticipation of its sorrows. What joy to watch children at play and know that they are not yet burdened with too much understanding.

A child does not know
of life’s melancholy
the loquat blossom

Kiyoko’s own childhood was on Kyushu Island in southern Japan where loquats have been cultivated for more than a thousand years; they are mentioned in ancient poems.

Now that I have spent some time with these translations I more fully understand the respect that other writers and experts on Japanese literature have shown her.

I keep on writing
a letter to my mother
by autumn lamplight

These haiku can be nostalgic, but are never merely sentimental. They demonstrate a mastery of haiku spirit and form gained from a lifetime of practice. The poems are centered in a deep connection to family and in the blossoming earth and the sky. Kiyoko Tokutomi celebrates in these haiku a fiercely quiet, balanced and steady, clear-eyed, hard-won joyousness.

—June Hopper Hymas

About the Translators:

Patricia J. Machmiller is a haiku writer who studied with Kiyoshi and Kiyoko Tokutomi, founders of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society in San Jose, California. Patricia attributes her appreciation of haiku to her childhood in Kennebec, South Dakota, which was an instruction in simplicity in which she came to value the ordinary. She served as President of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society from1978 to 1981; she co-edited with June Hopper Hymas Young Leaves: 25th Anniversary Issue of Haiku Journal; she and Jerry Ball write a regular column of haiku commentary, “Dojins’ Corner,” for GEPPO. Her own book of haiku, Blush of Winter Moon, is published by Jacaranda Press.


Fay Aoyagi was born in Tokyo, Japan. She immigrated to the U.S. and after 10 years in New York City, she moved to San Francisco in 1995, where she started writing haiku and tanka in English.  In 2000, she joined a Japanese haiku group Ten‘i. She supports her haiku life as a freelance interpreter.