Saturday, 29 September 2007

Haiku Today

Haiku Today

1. Introduction

“No other people love poetry than the Japanese. Both the old and the young compose haiku and tanka. I can truly say that Japan is the land of poetry,” once said Hasegawa Kai, a famous Japanese haiku poet .

Today, the haiku population is said to be somewhere from one million to ten million. Until now, many haiku poets belonged to haiku associations which publish haiku, and contribute haiku to the reader’s column of newspapers. However nowadays with the development of the Internet, anybody can easily set up their blog or homepage on the Web and this has led to the explosive increase of “places” to introduce haiku. As a result, the haiku population is thought to be increasing steadily even today. Since a haiku is a short form of expression, it seems to go well with digital media and a new type of kukai (haiku gatherings), known as Web kukai are increasing at rapid rates and haiku poets compose haiku under common themes at these virtual gatherings.

Haiku can be traced back to haikai-renga in the Muromachi era (14th century) but what kept haiku alive from such an old age without bringing it to an end? And how does the Internet influence haiku?

2. What is a haiku?

What kind of literature is haiku in the first place? These days, the name Bashô is as a global standard as Shakespeare. It is true that Bashô’s haiku is a standard for many contemporary haiku poets, but rather than a haiku poet, Bashô was actually a haikaisi
(俳諧師), who made haikai (the predecessor of haiku.) It was not until the Meiji era (19th century) that haiku was born when Masaoka Siki cut off a hokku (発句)from a haikai. It is the hokku which came to be known as haiku.

Siki incorporated the realistic way of Western paintings into haiku. He established a new approach to writing haiku and created a method which expressed things as they truly appeared. As a result, people were able to appreciate haiku without having extra knowledge of the classical literature that Bashô often used in his haikai.

Siki innovated haiku, but there are some characteristics of haiku which remain since the Bashô age. One of them is a kigo(季語 “seasonal words”. In short, kigo are particular words and phrases that reflect Japan’s four seasons. However, it is not merely a symbol but involves the history of interactions between the Japanese and nature.

音もなくしろくつもれるゆゑに雪     斉藤美規

Otomonaku                  Saitoh Miki

All the more for
Snowing silent and white.

The author is a haiku poet living in snowy country. Snow is a thing of beauty but at times, it also takes one’s life. This haiku expresses such fear and beauty of snow.

落葉松はいつめざめても雪降りをり       加藤楸邨


Karamasuha                Katoh Shûson

Snow is falling
Whenever I wake up.

The author was recovering from illness. All he saw through his window was the snowing larches. He slept, he woke, and he slept again. Soon, he found himself unite with the larches. At this moment, the author’s life joined with nature.

As mentioned above, many aspects of human experiences are condensed into a kigo of snow.

There is another feature of modern haiku that has been passed down from haikai in the time of Bashô. It is a form of grammar called kireji(切れ字: a cutting word. A kireji, which is represented by ya(や), kana(かな), and keri(けり) literally cut a haiku literally to create a pause.

三月やモナリザを売る石畳          秋元不死男              

Sangatsuya                    Akimoto Fujio

“Mona Lisa” is sold
On a stone pavement


The kireji “ ya(や)” is used in this haiku. In this translation, the “ya” is translated into the blank space between “On a stone pavement” and “March”, and “March” is placed at the end of the haiku. This is because a kireji always relates to the mind of the author. In other words, this author felt March in his mind when he saw replicas of “Mona Lisa” being sold on the stone pavement. The cool feeling of a stone pavement reminded him that the early spring is still cold. And Mona Lisa’s tranquil and erotic smile gave him a hunch of “life’s spring” and its peaceful coming.

When talking about the essential of a haiku, there is another feature that must not be forgotten. A haiku is not prose but verse. “Logic”, “meanings”, and “explanation” are important to prose. Japanese prose has continued to be shared since the Meiji period through the process of translating Western sentences into Japanese. While Japan created modern social institutions guided by many translated books, it also modernized the Japanese language itself. Typical prose includes newspapers, business documents, and social and natural books. Therefore the highly-modernized world (today so-called “the globalized world”) such as business, education and technology can be said to be dominated by prose way of thinking. A haiku, on the contrary, opens up one world at the different dimension from the logical world. Let’s take the following haiku as an example.

古池や蛙飛び込む水の音        芭蕉

Huruikeya                 Bashô

A frog jumps in,
The sound of water

The old pond

According to Hasegawa Kai, this haiku expresses the pond appearing in Bashô’s mind when he heard a frog jumped into the water. The haiku does not explain the fact that a frog jumped into an old pond, which thus led to the sound of splashing water. This grammar of a haiku portrays one world on a different dimension from that of the logical explanation in prose.

It is through this nature that haiku reaches the height of the universe and the depth of life.

3. Haiku and Society

It is said that good haiku writers are children and the elderly. There are many reasons for this. But the main reason would be that generations between young and elderly are mostly the productive generations. In most cases, those belonging to the productive generation belong to productive organizations. Productive organizations are controlled by the logic of prose and it would be difficult for them to change their prose ways of thinking into verse. Meanwhile, prose-thinking have influenced the expression of haiku itself.

限りなく降る雪何をもたらすや        西東三鬼

Kagirinaku                   Saitoh Sanki

Endlessly falling snow
I’m wondering
What it brings us?

This haiku dictates the author’s thought. The kigo(季語) is snow, but its feeling of seasons is weak. Furthermore, there is no kire(切れ)in it. You couldn’t distinguish this haiku from the opening sentence of a story. This haiku seems not to be written by the grammar of a haiku but to be influenced by a story. The haiku has become “prosed” with the modernization of our society.

When you think about the relation between haiku and society, you should contemplate the influence of the Internet to a haiku. Igarashi Hidehiko, a haiku poet living in Sapporo city, warns that the nature of a kukai(句会)is changing. Kukai is the meeting where haiku poets come together to make and select haiku. As Yamamoto Kenkichi, a famous literary critic, pointed out, a haiku is the literature of greetings. It is based on greeting other haiku poets at kukai as well as nature. However, on the Web kukai, Igarashi comments that some participants only criticize or applaud each other’s works without any meaningful review. Furthermore there is apparent plagiarism seen on the web as well. This can all be traced back to the nature of Internet that allows users to participate anonymously. As Igarashi mentioned, the result is the decline in quality of haiku made on the Web kukai. The Web kukai is easy to access and convenient for those who compose haiku purely for enjoyment, but, on the other hand, there are issues to be solved when considering the future of haiku.

4. The future of a haiku

Several important aspects of social change must be examined when thinking about the future of haiku. First of all, in the process of modernization, globalization, and urbanization the seasons felt in kigos are becoming lost and our everyday life is starting to become detached from what kigos express. Furthermore, global warming is making the turning of seasons less apparent than before and kigo is impacted the most by these social changes.

Shimizu Akira, a famous Japanese poet and haiku poet, talked about kigos as follows. “On kigo, haiku poet should treasure all kigo registered in the saijiki (歳時記): a collection of Japan’s seasonal word and standard for making haiku. I find beautiful Japanese words becoming lost with every new edition of saijiki. It is unfortunate that only seasonal words used in society today are adopted in the saijiki while those in ones’ memory are erased.” Meanwhile, he also said, “Haiku is the literature of children and the elderly, because a saijiki is constituted of obsolete words the old know and new words the young know.”

Bashô’s philosophy of a haikai was “Eternity and Transient(不易流行).” It is a kind of guidance for composing a haikai, and means there are elements that change with the times and those that remain in a haikai. A haikai should pave its own path without being swept away by the times or being left behind. It seems as though the saijiki observes this idea. If there were to be a problem, it would be that our lives would become more rationalized with every year and older kigo come to vanish only because they are irrational.

Another example of “Eternity and Transient” can be found in an episode of the Pacific War. Japanese troops were forced to fight a harrowing war in New Guinea Island in the last days of the Pacific War. Many soldiers were losing their lives every day. In this situation, a project was suggested that brought together former and amateur actors from every unit and presented a play in order to get rid of soldiers’ terror. This project was very successful and many boys at the front who could die tomorrow crowed into the play every day. One day one of such soldiers said, “I want to see my hometown’s snowfalls before I’m killed on the field.” The acting company fell snow made of paper on the stage to meet his expectation in the south island. All who saw the play wept bitterly. This true story shows seasons are not only united with lives, but also with souls. Kigos connected with souls cease not to exist on the world, even though they vanish from a saijiki.

As modernizations, globalization, and urbanizations of societies progress, the social meaning of haiku is increasing. This is because it can present the ideal world where human beings are reconciled with nature. The picture of the world shows not only the future of a haiku, but also of mankind.

‘ Predicting the future haiku population in Japan’, HAIDAN(September, 2002).

Hasegawa, K (2005), A haiku guide for a hundred million readers, Tokyo: KODANSHA.

Hasegawa, K(2005), Did a frog jump in the pond? , Tokyo: Kashinsha.

THE EAST Vol.42 No.6


Past the window pane
A solitary snowflake
Spins furiously.

I think this snowflake has very close resemblance to a petal of cherry blossoms, because it falls this way without wind. However many of Japanese Haiku poets wouldn't use the phrase "spins furiously". Haiku expresses good of all beings positively. In that context, the expression of this work might be close to that of poems.