Nanao Sakaki

Nanao Sakaki grew up in Japan, came to adulthood as a drafted radarman in the Japanese Army during World War II, and after the war became known as a poet and friend to American poets, a wilderness walker, environmentalist and counterculture leader, founder of the Tribe and Banyan Ashram.

The following is excerpted from our correspondent Taylor Mignon’s 2002 portrait of Sakaki written for the About Poetry Museletter:

Yaponesian Global Guerrilla Poet Nanao Sakaki:

If you have time to chatter
Read books
If you have time to read
Walk into mountain, desert and ocean
If you have time to walk
Sing Songs and dance
If you have time to dance
Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot

I first met Nanao Sakaki in 1993 at the Kyoto Connection, an eclectic event of the arts headed by Ken Rogers, managing editor of Kyoto Journal. At that time I was editing the bilingual literary journal, The Plaza, and I asked him if he could send work. Though he never sent anything — it could be difficult to pin him down sometimes as he’s such an inveterate wanderer — I’d often go to his reading events.

Renaissance Wild Man:

Nanao, a walking collective call of the wild man, commune cofounder, scholar of languages and aboriginal culture and tribal traditions, troubadour to hang out with, lover of ’shrooms and the herbs, movement maker, The Tribes, homeless (except for the cabin in Shizuoka), green guru guy, activist, translator of haiku, mantra sutra rapper using the 5/7/5 syllabic meter.... Nanao is also better known in the US than in his home Yaponesia. My poet friend Kijima Hajime, a Walt Whitman scholar, didn’t know about Nanao since he’s more associated with the Beats and the Hippies.... Japan’s first Dead Head?

“Break the Mirror”:

So Kijima included Nanao’s poem “Break the Mirror” in the bilingual booklet Over the Oceans: Contemporary Poetry from Japan (Doyo Bijutsusha Shuppan Hanbai, 2000), which he re-envisioned for both English and Japanese versions. Also in 2000, Blackberry Books, Nanao’s main publisher in English, put out an anthology of writings on him entitled Nanao or Never: Nanao Sakaki Walks Earth A, by such as authors as Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Joanne Kyger and myself. Blackberry Books also published Nanao’s poetry volumes Break the Mirror (1996) and Let’s Eat Stars (1997).

“Let’s Eat Stars”:

His poetry is infused with homegrown, funky, direct appeal. The first poem (untitled) in Break the Mirror tells us — not didactically — to take it easy. “April Fool’s Day” in Let’s Eat Stars is sharp-tongued in the eighth stanza:

To make schooling more efficient
The Ministry of Education wants
that all grammar schools & junior high schools
should be reorganized into three categories
A, Elite course.
B, Robot course.
C, Dropout course.

He has also done English translations of haiku by Kobayashi Issa in Inch by Inch: 45 Haiku (La Alameda Press, 1999), which has the Japanese and English printed in Nanao’s script.

With Gary Snyder:

In Yaponesia his main publisher is Studio Reaf, which publishes the activist journal Ningen kazoku (“Human family”) — in 2000 Studio Reaf released a video of Gary’s reading selections from Turtle Island and Axe Handles followed by Nanao’s translation — Gary Snyder: Sing the Mother Earth, in Shinshu, 1991. The Japanese language Kokopelli is a collection of poems containing the poem "Just Enough” in several languages, including Ainu, Ryukyuan, and English:

Soil for legs
Axe for hands
Flower for eyes
Bird for ears
Mushroom for nose
Smile for mouth
Songs for lungs
Sweat for skin
Wind for mind

Books by and about Nanao Sakaki:

  • Break the Mirror, poems by Nanao Sakaki (Blackberry Books, 1996)
  • Let’s Eat Stars, poems (Blackberry Books, 1997)
  • []Inch by Inch: 45 Haiku by Issa, translated by Nanao Sakaki (La Alameda Press, 1999)
  • Nanao or Never: Nanao Sakaki Walks Earth A, edited by Gary Lawless (Blackberry Books, 2000)