In April 2006 I traveled with my good friend Ruta to visit her son Erik in Tokyo.  The prose and verses below offer my scattered impressions of this complex island nation.

14 hours toward tomorrow


from a journey to



by JoAnne Growney


Through rice paper

onto tatami--

the light touch of light.

Morning thoughts spiral

toward the distant center

of our small room

Subway crowds swim

as fish in a river--

and I am flotsam.

Commuters wear

surgical masks, grey suits,

shoes with pointed toes.

Cherry branches arch

across a stream.  Blossoms

float away.

Above picnics

and blossoms, on balconies

 laundry hangs to dry.

Because I can't read

I follow a sign

to the trash barrel.

Because I can't read

I put my umbrella in

someone's shopping cart.

Sidewalk machines

vend heated cans of coffee,

cold beer.

April 1,

no Fools' Day games in Tokyo--

quiet watching.

Old American men

with young Japanese women--

can they understand?

Public bathroom stalls

have floor to ceiling doors--

no one may count feet

Photo shoots

detain us more

than crowds.

Northern lights increase

Japanese fertility--

an Alaskan tall tale.

Men speak softly

and chew food quickly

with open mouths.

Women smile

without parting their lips--

bite unseen.

Japanese breakfasts:

bright color and design--

a happy meal.

The restaurant loo

has heated seats--

I rest a while.

Rows of bonsai pines

surround the royal palace--


One butterfly

on moss where summer heat

will bring a million.


raked in gravel calm the mind

of she who rakes.

Japanese gardens

have the natural beauty

of a disciplined child.


is quiet, like the fall

of cherry blossoms.


Travel bombs my senses with more than I can easily assimilate. Now back home I am aware that anytime after ten o'clock in my morning it is tomorrow in Japan.  New awareness of time is but one small step toward understanding of this productive and polite island nation.

Over my trip to Japan in April 2006, I have superimposed a Japanese tradition of composing Haiku as I traveled. The spare imagistic Haiku style is difficult for me, but I am helped by the match between form and subject.  Following a convention for Haiku written in English, my stanzas my contain fewer syllables than the traditional 5-7-5 count since the Japanese onji that are enumerated in Haiku are like English-language phonemes, sound groups shorter than syllables.

           Not marching

           as English syllables do,

           these sounds ripple.

If my verses capture Japanese perspectives, it's fortunate--and defies probability.  My travel companion was a friend from Pennsylvania and we stayed in her son's tiny Tokyo apartment   I spoke beyond formal greeting with only six Japanese people. 

Japanese toilet handles turn two ways --  for light or heavy flush. Crime is low in Tokyo -- -riders park bicycles unlocked all day near the subway station.   Many restaurants have sample dishes, covered with clear wrap, on display out in front.   At Japanese temples there are ceremonies, like drawing incense smoke to oneself or striking a gong, that offer good luck to participants.  There also are coin-machines that dispense fortunes.  By these machines are racks to which a dissatisfied fortune-seeker may tie the paper with an unfavorable fortune and leave it behind. 

          In this latter tradition we are united -- Japanese and American and those in time zones between -- we all seek to leave bad fortune behind us to disappear with the wind.

       I walk with

       blossom snow in my hair

       and memories  . . .

 I have been tempted to add clarifying explanations to my verses; but have resisted--for likely it would be me and not Japan that I'd explain.

JoAnne Growney  Silver Spring, MD  October 2006