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Crooked Cucumber -- Magatta Kyuri -- Hoitsu Suzuki

Hoitsu Suzuki’s Introduction to Magatta Kyuri
the Japanese Edition of Crooked Cucumber
translated by Fred Harriman


Thoughts to share about the Japanese Edition


There are books on the history of the World, and there are national histories written about countries. And tales of temples and of their origins have also been left to us. It is natural to want to know about the considerable number of people who have had an impact on our world — their character and their humanity. At first, when Crooked Cucumber was completed and a copy was sent to me, I was unfortunately unable to comprehend its contents because it was written in English. Some years after its publication, a few members of the Takakusayama gathering came to visit me at Rinsoin. Among them was Mr. Sadayoshi Asaoka, who upon seeing the newly issued book immediately sat down to read a few pages and then said with a sparkle in his eye: “I really want to translate this — it’s so interesting.” I responded: “Oh please do! I would love it if you were to do that for us.” A few months later Mr. Asaoka’s translation of the book arrived. I read it while revising according to the standard kanji characters and terminology used in Buddhism, and was able for the first time to relate to the book’s contents.

Stanford University Professor Carl Bielefeldt in the United States was the first to attempt to depict a personal history and biography of Shunryu Suzuki, but his work seems to have been premature in various aspects, and it did not reach completion.* Yet David Chadwick would step up, and having understood the manifold wishes and hopes of Americans, he took on this project, and overcoming many difficulties he began work on what would become Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Teachings of Shunryu Suzuki in its original English Edition and later on in this edition translated into Japanese. I am certain that in that path to publication he faced problems that were not to be expected. In particular, I refer to Shunryu’s itinerant days in Japan and his complicated personal relationships. In order to research these comprehensively David traveled to Japan repeatedly, and he probably had to make repeated inquiries in this process. I must take this opportunity to express my respect for his efforts and his persistence.

David’s research described a profile of Shunryu Suzuki that even I as his son and his student did not know about. It was an unexpected surprise. Shunryu rarely attempted to talk to his children about his own past. I cannot say why, but probably, if he were to talk to us about the likely complicated life when he was younger… maybe he thought that the right timing was needed for us to understand things… or maybe he just didn’t know what subject to start with. In any event, Shunryu, my father and my master, was not known to me in any great detail. While I read the translation, the effect of the book was to bring my father Shunryu before my very eyes as he hustled about here and there. I was able to meet Shunryu as a young monk, energetically attending to his projects.

In 1958, two years before my father left for the United States, we took a train on the Tokaido Line to go to Tokyo for my entrance exam to enter Komazawa University. On the way, somewhere as we passed through Hiratsuka, he suddenly murmured: “I was born on the other side of that mountain.” I think I just mumbled something like “Oh…” He didn’t say anything more than that, and I didn’t make any effort to ask about it either. I simply wondered what my father’s childhood days were like, and thought that he was probably musing about all of the ups and downs of that time in his life. And even after he left for America, he spoke little of any sort of difficulties or problems he may have been facing at the time – much less about any successes that he may have been having. He would say simply: “Americans understand and practice Zen well, even better than Japanese do.”

And now, as his student, I am happy to be able to learn more about my father thanks to the publication of the Japanese Edition of Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teachings of Shunryu Suzuki. Furthermore, the book provides not simply a personal history and biography, but it also serves as a collection of sayings thanks to David’s clever style and organization of the book.

Shunryu Suzuki’s existence as a person who practiced and taught about Zen may be talked about in the future. And he may be completely forgotten by all. But I think that he himself did not concern himself at all with such outcomes. The only thing he was concerned about was whether the path of Harmony and Stillness that is Zen will be spread far and wide among the peoples of the World.

As of this writing, twenty years have passed since the publishing of the English Edition of Crooked Cucumber, and it will soon be fifty years since the death of our master Shunryu. A Japanese Edition has now been published and I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the efforts of those who were involved in making this possible. Thank you Kaoru Aragane and Eisaku Kawashima of Samga Co., Ltd.

Their efforts in taking over the dedicated work of Sadayoshi Asaoka in translating the book deserves my sincere respect.


With deep humility,

Hoitsu Suzuki

Disciple and Eldest Son of Shunryu Suzuki and Chief Priest of Rinsoin


*About Hoitsu Suzuki's Introductory Words for Magatta Kyuri, the Japanese edition of Crooked Cucumber - which was featured Saturday Jan. 2. 

In it he wrote in Japanese: Stanford University Professor Carl Bielefeldt in the United States was the first to attempt to depict a personal history and biography of Shunryu Suzuki, but his work seems to have been premature in various aspects, and it did not reach completion.

Nope. I checked with Carl and, as I thought, Hoitsu was thinking about the interviews that Carl, his wife Fumiko, and Peter and Jane Schneider did following Shunryu Suzuki's death. Actually some were done before he died with his visiting family and temple godfather at the City Center. Later in Japan more interviews were done with family and with Noiri, a teacher who revered Shunryu and whom Shunryu greatly respected. Noiri maybe assumed they were doing research for a biography because he talked about how to do a biography of a Zen teacher. So reading what Hoitsu wrote, it looks like he too was thinking they were doing research for a biography. Actually, Peter Schneider had talked some about that. He did the 1969 interviews with Suzuki about his life and encouraged Suzuki to speak to us in a lecture about it. And Peter did other historical research and writing that was reflected in the Wind Bells. When I was working on Crooked Cucumber he mailed me his tapes from Japan. Thanks Peter! Some were damaged in the mail and the tape had to be mounted into new cassettes - but they were all audible. Except for Peter's 1969 interviews with Suzuki, this audio is not on If I ever get back to the US I'll have all the other interview tapes digitized - if they haven't deteriorated too much. But they've all been transcribed and translated. Anyway, all of these interviews were extremely helpful in doing Crooked Cucumber and all can be found now on on the Interview lndex page.

I appreciate the kind words that Hoitsu said about me and the research done in Japan and I think the conclusion is correct if the credit goes to a team of us, as it wasn't just me. It was a number of us who did interviews in the mid 1990s. All are given credit in the Sources part of the End Matter for Crooked Cucumber though. - dc