By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
For Scott Oki, it is important to live a life that is challenging. Since retiring from Microsoft in 1992, Oki has lived by this maxim, continually occupied with charitable endeavors through the Oki Foundation, and challenging himself to grow every day. His latest personal project was the writing and self-publishing of haiku poems.
Comprising four volumes and a total of 600 haiku, these Japanese-style poems penned by Oki give us insight into the daily routines and over-arching interests of one of our homegrown corporate and philanthropic legends.
Oki is known for establishing Microsoft’s international business, and improving its domestic business. With the company since its early stages, he left as its Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Service. It should not be a surprise that someone with this track record of excellence would produce excellent results in other activities.
Oki has produced a fine collection of haiku, although he humbly attests, “I’m anything but a writer.” Oki, nevertheless, set himself the task of writing haiku, and did so over a total of three years. His goal was to finish by this winter, and use the collection in fundraising and donor appreciation activities for nonprofits he supports, such as Denshō, an organization whose mission is “to preserve and share history of the
WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans to promote equity and justice today.”
Oki is Japanese American, born and raised in Seattle. His family came from Hiroshima. While he might have gravitated towards haiku in part due to it being a Japanese art form (he remembers only having written haiku once prior to this, in elementary school), it was more that his parents “provided countless real examples of the haiku,” as he states in the dedication to volume one.
“They were very careful about almost anything, whether it was the use of money or the use of words,” Oki told the Northwest Asian Weekly. “For me, it was a kind of a lesson. I didn’t realize it at the time, because I was too young, but looking back…it’s been a real eye opener, and it’s provided, at least for me, many opportunities to think about some of the haiku I would choose to write.”
Oki liked the “formulaic approach” required for writing haiku. The mathematics of the syllables, arranged 5-7-5 into three lines, appealed to his engineering mind. He found that having rules unexpectedly induced him to be more creative.
“I think the beauty, for me, about haiku is that it’s reasonably strict in terms of its form,” he stated. “Having that constraint…was actually almost giving me freedom to explore, and to do things that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have done.” And, the haiku were a welcome occupation while Oki had paused in writing his memoir (which he now plans to return in full force). In sum, he had the time, and he wanted a challenge.
“There are a lot of ways we can spend time. There are many ways we can live life. I continue to like to live a life that is challenging, and I look specifically for things to do that are a challenge.”
The haiku are arranged into four volumes in an attractively bound boxed set. Each volume carries a separate dedication and 150 haiku, which Oki said are arranged at random, except each volume’s final haiku, which has a completing tone. Yet, the entire experience is open-ended, and the final volume. titled “A Final Chapter?” has a question mark to imply that Oki may or may not publish more. The “O” in Oki, brushed across the spines of the four volumes, calls to mind the Japanese “ensō” symbol – perfect, yet imperfect, complete, yet incomplete. So, too, are Oki’s haiku, as haiku are meant to be, hints of a transitory moment, take of them what you will. As Oki says in the cover description: “Some of the haiku are so personal in nature that you may not understand them. That’s okay!” Several are specific to his own experience. Nevertheless, after reading all of the poems, one obtains a definite sense of Oki’s life and loves.
It’s a Pacific Northwest life, full of concern about our natural habitat, and our urban problems. Oki is preoccupied with Seattle’s homelessness, and our broken education system.
Teachers of color
Mirror students of color
Vast chasm exists
He is stricken by the plight of our wildlife. “We don’t do enough,” he said.
Mourning her baby
The Orca whale baby’s death
Similar to us
Oki suggested activities such as writing haiku as a way to encourage deeper thought and more mindful action.
“I think we all need to take time out on occasion to reflect. I don’t think we do enough of that…If we did more reflection, I think we might end up with more people who really cared about things, and we might see the needle being moved a little bit faster than it is…”
Take care of the Earth
Will life be the death of us?
Abuse it and yes
Next to these troublesome issues are Oki’s day-to-day observations of lighter subjects: his favorite foods, his hobbies, and time spent with his loved ones. There are several haiku that act as travelogues of trips to Italy, England, and Japan. And more than one poem alludes to his career.
Cool nicknames I love
Oki doki and Scotto
Microsoft: The Force
Oki planned the presentation of his haiku with long-time friend and collaborator, Tim Girvin, principle creative director and founder of GIRVIN, in Seattle.
“I’m not an artist,” Oki insists. “I might be able to put the words down, but to reflect the poetry, and make it come to life, for that…I give Tim Girvin and his team all the credit.” Together, Oki and Girvin achieved just the right aesthetic, drawing from both Japanese and medieval tradition. For his part, Girvin was happy to work with Oki again.
“He has a special spirit, deep experience, and an enthusiasm for the exploration of creativity, examination of intention, definition of strategy, and tactical direction…Open. Wise. Energetic. Passionate. He goes with his heart. I follow.”
Over the course of a year, Girvin did the calligraphy for each page of haiku by hand, using bamboo brushes and brush-tipped, broad-edged pens, in honor of Japanese tradition. The spacing of each page follows the mathematics of the golden mean, and of medieval manuscripts. Even the selection of the texture of the covers of the books, and the paper for the pages, was based on these same influences. Kanji characters accompany each haiku, with translations overseen by Chie Masuyama. The resulting boxed set is not only a successful sensory experience, but also, the reading of all 600 haiku is a successful mental exercise, after which you feel as if you have been given a gift—the gift of two people’s intense caring, for art, for each other, for the world at large—and the gift of 600 windows into the life of Scott Oki.
Incidentally, Oki’s haiku set is currently only available as a gift. Keep a lookout in the future, as Oki may include the books as an incentive for giving to one of the organizations he holds dear.
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.