A foreigner’s thought on “HAIKU” and “Japanese haiku”
Chiau-Shin NGO (
(Translated by Chiau-Shin NGO and Anthony WU, from Japanese version)
It is always a question a foreigner who is going to learn Haiku for the first time might encounter. It might also occasionally cross the mind
s of a Japanese haiku poet (haijin) who considers the haiku more deeply.
It has been over 100 years since the Haiku was introduced to foreign countries, and the problem of composing the haiku has occasionally become a topic, but at the same time it has never become a kind of formal academic study. It has been handled as anyone likes to and ended without any definite conclusion. Since the internet,
so convenient but dissolute media has come to daily use for 16 or 17 years, and 「HAIKU」 and 「Japanese haiku」 have become the objects of being able to express anyone’s own opinion freely without stopping, regulation, censorship, and complaint, irrespective of age, gender, social standing, occupation, party, and education. Nowadays, we can observe and hear various kinds of thoughts which one can not think of solely by oneself, and begin to be able to consider the future of the haiku.
A 「HAIKU」 means the so-called haiku which is composed in foreign language including 「kango haiku」 (Chinese haiku), and a 「haiku」 means the commonly known Japanese short poem of fixed-form which should include a seasonal word.
However, the trouble appears on a problem on the word 「haiku」. The word 「haiku」 was originally named by Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902) in the middle of Meiji era (Japan). It has been meant to indicate the sentence 「hokku」 - a sentence for the first position of linked verse (renku) - when read separately and independently, and the inclusion has gone back up to Basho‘ｓ independent hokku（starting verse）.
The haiku separates to two main streams. One stream is called 「traditional haiku」 which must be read in 575 fixed-form and accompanied with seasonal word, and should be limited to the rule of Shiki’s description or Kyoshi’s objective description or Kacyohuuei (the beauties of nature) as the key poetic theme, and the other stream is the haikus not composed along with the above-mentioned conditions. In fact, the other haikus are usually called as: “free style haiku” and “no seasonal word haiku”, or according to its content, feature, character, social back ground as: “new trend haiku”, “social haiku”, “avant-garde haiku”, “proletarian haiku”, “war haiku”, “human being search haiku”, “root haiku”, “popular haiku”, “molding haiku”, “art haiku”, “international haiku”, and “world haiku” etc.
Recently, for “HAIKU” or the other “haiku”, there are some new names like: “haiku ni nita mono” （what is like haiku）, “haiku sou bou haiku” (haiku imaging haiku), …etc. Furthermore, there is a fact that the Haijin Association sent a request to providers of elementary and middle school textbooks to strictly obey the rule of kigo and 575 fixed form concerning the selection of haiku examples in the textbook.
For a foreigner to learn the haiku, the first thing to learn is a fixed-form and kigo, the so-called 575 syllables and season related word promises. This is not only for a foreigner, but also for a Japanese person to learn haiku in elementary and middle school and social haiku group.
Then the problem occurs. Although it is advocated that haiku composition must obey to the rule of fixed-form and relate to the season, many famous haikus that are not according to fixed-form nor including seasonal word have appeared in the textbook and haiku books. However, in kessya (group of haiku composition), the master usually edits the works of pupils with the comment of “jiamari” (too many character), “jitarazu” (short of character), “no seasonal word”, and “overlapped seasonal words”.
On the other hand, as long as it was the work of a famous haiku poet, it would be OK, with or without seasonal word, or free style of without 575 fixed-form, and they would usually be interpreted or appreciated as you like. And if it was a work of an obscure poet, not only would no attention be paid but it also might be severely criticized. For instance, you can see the famous work of Shiki ‘s “keitou no zyu si go hon wa …”, because of a work of Shiki, although it was not appreciated at first, but afterward it was appreciated particularly with special interpretation (although some people will not agree with). I have noticed on the net, that a father complained that “my son always got award in the contest of haiku in the middle school and high school days, but after joining the kessya after his graduation from high school, he had always been criticized severely by the master, and finally he was left in despair and finally gave up to compose the haiku”. This is a real scene of the haiku world in
. Isn’t it natural and certain that a foreigner would get confused? Japan
The standard of a haiku taught by the master or at the school is different from that which is to be evaluated. The haiku learned is a “traditional haiku” and if not, it will not be admitted as a haiku, however, as long as you have the fame of a haiku expert, your haiku work will be appreciated with any reason even if it was not a traditional haiku. Although, it was an old story that the professor Takeo Kuwahara’s “the haiku is a second art” talking had proved it.
(Prof. T. Kuwhara, a professor of French literature, criticized haiku as “if a novel and a theater are the first art, then the haiku is a second class art, not a literature ”, in 1946. He selected 10 and 5 haikus each from the works of expert and non-expert haiku poets, and let people to choose out the works of the expert, but none succeeded, with this result he concluded that a haiku is a second class art.)
The impression and perception of a phenomenon is different between a composer and a reader. The experience of human life is usually completely different between a composer and a reader, thus it is not agreeable to criticize other’s impression carelessly. One year ago, there aroused a social movement called “mammoth judge” by students in
. Its meaning is somewhat different from that of “mammoth parent” in Taiwan , but it occurred in order to reject a wrong judgment caused by the different experience of human life. Japan
How and why the HAIKU, but not tanka (short poem with syllables of
57577 in Japanese) nor senryu (another short poem of 575 without kigo in Japanese) , spread worldwide and welcomed and composed with all kinds of languages have long been discussed, however still no conclusion seems to be obtained.
From the point of view of a beginner, I’d like to express my opinion. The HAIKU is an extremely short poem with the style of concentrated to its extremity and unable to make it a bit shorter, and it can not express its entire picture because of its shortness, therefore leaves blanks like that of a drawing in Indian ink, and the reader may appreciate it with his own impression as he likes by the reader’s own experience in his life.
By the way, 1. the shortest poem, 2. uncompleted integrity, 3. leaving blanks to be appreciated by the reader according to his/her own experience, these three conditions are surely a feature not to be owned by other form of poems, therefore it must be a poem welcomed by both moody poets and general publics and will be most easily composed with any languages. At the same time, the appreciation of the haiku is left free to the reader’s own thinking. With all these conditions, it is natural and certain that the HAIKU will be welcome and accepted worldwide.
By the way, let’s think about the situation of the haiku in
. There is no problem concerning a shortest form of a poem. Japanese is a flat language, so each tone has the same length, an isochronic language. Therefore, Japanese has no rhyming nor pitching of those in Chinese, and nor the accent of those in English. Japan
The 575 fixed-form really is the most suitable rhythm for Japanese, but there is also no reason for its absolute necessity. Concerning the musicality of a poem, there are some selections such as: rhythmical, rhyming, pleasant to ear, easy to speak and etc. The count of rhythm in Japanese is expressed by mora (a short syllable). One Japanese kana tone is counted as one mora, and 5 and 7 mora are the most comfortable rhythm to speak and pleasant to ear. It is as like as the fixed 5 and 7 word in Tang poem of
Each piece of poetry or song in
Japan and has its own rhythm of “internal rhythm”, therefore it is not necessary to follow strictly to “external rhythm”. The only problem is that the internal rhythm is not so easily noticed and also different between each piece of poem and readers, that to follow generally to plain and easy to understand 575 fixed-form is reasonable. However, to follow strictly to the fixed form is questionable too. I think whether it is the haiku or Chinese poem, as long as it is easy to speak or pleasant to the ear, then it has its root of musicality. If it has rhyming or correspondence it will be better. The 575 fixed-form for the haiku, as mentioned above, is the problem of the musical rhythm of Japanese. As all the languages of the world have their own musical rhythm for their own languages to be pleasant to the ear, it is good enough just to be suitable to the musicality of each language and not always agree with Japanese 575. China
Kigo (season word in haiku) is the word of greeting of the Japanese custom, so it is usual to be present in Japanese haiku, but it is also not peculiar when it is absent. Therefore, there have been many excellent haikus without kigo.
The above mentioned three conditions: 1. to make it as short as possible, 2. being uncompleted perfection, and 3. to leave blanks, are no problem for any language to compose a HAIKU.
Then, the 575 fixed-form haiku is just for the Japanese haiku, so there is no necessity for all languages of the world to follow. As for the kigo, it also is a particular greeting custom and culture background of the Japanese. The similar greeting words in English “how do you do?” or “how are you?”, and in new Chinese word “ni-hau” (are you OK?), and in Taiwanese “chia-bah-bue?” (have you finished meal yet?) all are the same daily custom greeting words in different languages when you meet an acquaintance. As a result, the use of the kigo usually in Japanese haiku is understandable, but for the foreigners with different customs, they may feel somewhat strange and difficult to understand.
Therefore, the “HAIKU” may accept all the above-mentioned conditions of 1, 2, and 3, and the presence of the 575-fixed-form and kigo might be better, but if not it does not matter. On the contrary, sometimes the absolute obedience to the rule will become a problem. For instance, in Chinese haiku, if you follow strictly to the 575, there will give rise to “kanpai” with the amount of content equal to that of “tanka”. That amount is too much for haiku and is against the first rule of the “shortest” of the haiku. If it is composed in 343, 234, or 334, then you may compose a beautiful Chinese haiku with Chinese rhythm and also may translate excellent Japanese haiku into Chinese haiku. In fact, there are many such excellent Chinese haikus translated from Japanese. When you translated according to the rule of 575 Japanese haiku into Chinese, they will give rise to so-called “kanpai” with the Chinese adverbs of “excessive flowers on elegant clothe” or “draw feet on snake”, not a real Chinese haiku. However, “kanpai” is a short and simple rule poem as compared to old Chinese poem, so it has been accepted and welcomed by the general public in recent 20 years in
. In fact, the “kanpai” is not a “HAIKU”, just a new type of short Chinese poem. China
The poetry begins in impression. The impression is an emotional reaction to phenomena which happen in the everyday life of a human being. An animal may express its emotion in a variety of behaviors, but it can not express it in symbols like human beings. If an impression is the reaction to all phenomena (natural circumstance, humanity and duty), the poem should include all the human feelings (visual, auditory, touchy, taste, and olfactory) and personal, esthetic, logical, and philosophical feelings, and should also include both subjective and objective views, but not limited to only visual feelings.
In the earlier era, the traditional haiku is composed in written language. On the other hand, the use of Japanese kana is standardized by the Ministry of Education as “new kana use”, and the style of the use of kana in pre-war era was disused as “old kana use”. Afterwards, the use of spoken language has become common in composing writings, and the modern Japanese has developed largely toward katakana foreign language (Japan-made katakana coin words), and so on. This phenomenon proves that in actuality, even the language and the traditional haiku as the art of a language, are unable to go against the change in the stream of the era. Every thing on the earth is changing eternally without rest, certainly the culture and thinking are also unable to be out of this rule. Isn’t this phenomenon a supporting evidence for the impossibility of the adherence to the customs and traditions? Therefore, is not it quite natural to compose haiku in foreign languages?
Why does only the haiku among many types of poem get the interest of all human beings? Why does only the haiku spread into all kind of languages? After all, couldn’t it be ascribed to the shortness of the work, easy composing of the matter occurring in daily life, and the blanks left for the imagination?
Concerning the easy composing of the haiku, even the children and the elementary school students can compose it. There are only differences between the “easiness” and “difficulty”, and “simplicity” and “deepness” of the content of the work. There is no complicated rule so that even the elementary school pupils can use the simplest words and phrases in composing what he/she saw or met in their daily lives, and the grown-ups can compose the haiku according to their own life experiences and inherited sensitivities of different depth, and enjoy and appreciate it.
Nowadays, the elementary school children learn HAIKU in school in the
A. However, in Japan, the origin of the haiku, there are still some people who reject this glory of national culture, and insist on what is not traditional haiku is not a haiku, and I feel deeply confused about it. U.S.
Concerning the rules, Shiki has sorted those haiku works which were composed not according to the rule into the miscellaneous group, but still included it in the category of the haiku. However, some of posterity pretend to not know of this fact.
The “objective description” of Kyoshi is a rule for getting around the difficulty of understanding of “subjective impression” for the general public and not a meaning of forbidding to compose the haiku with subjective feelings. In fact, Kyoshi himself has composed many haikus with subjective phenomena, and many of the other haiku composers have done the same too. Therefore, this explanation is said to be for the sake of defending Kyoshi’s assertion of “objective description”.
All the rules are “artificial” and are under the situation of variability. Moreover, when we consider whether Shiki did or did not, or could or could not anticipate present progress of the haiku, we could not consider what Shiki had really intended and developed to do for the reforming of the haiku. I doubt if Shiki has not been so short lived, who would dare to say, with Shiki’s smart and reforming character that he would adhere to these rules forever and would not reform the haiku furthermore.
Recently, Zyunnosuke Imaizumi indicated in his newly published writing 《What did Shiki bury?》 (2011.9) that Shiki’s discourse: “There have been none good haizin in the era from Edo to the middle of Meiji, after Buson and Issa, and the haiku works composed in this period were all 〈fairly conventional〉” is incorrect. And, thinking of another fact that Kazuo Ichikawa has also said the same opinion in his writing 《the dawn of modern haiku》 in 1975, but it was neglected because of his assertion of none-season, free-type and colloquial haiku under the big circumstances of traditional haiku supremacy, we have to admit the misfortune of the influence of the adherence of habit on the culture. When we know that the winner of the Nobel Literature prize in 2011 is Thomas Transtoroma who is a good composer of a short poem, HAIKU, how should we consider it?
As long as the HAIKU is in agreement with the above-mentioned substances of the haiku, it is really a haiku itself, and it can be composed with all the different kinds of languages. Therefore, as the haiku works composed are the shortest, impossible to be condensed more, responding to momentary impression, and leaving blanks to allow the readers to explain or decipher by themselves, I think they are all haikus whether they are subjective, objective, about great nature, personal, or social poems. Every language has its own style or form, for instance, Japanese has a “575-style”, a phonetic language has a “three line poem”, Chinese has a “kango haiku” (Chinese haiku), and free style is one of the other styles of them.
The “kire” marks the end of a sentence, and is the way of an expression in Japanese. Every language has its own way of expressing an end of a sentence, and every language may use its own method of expressing the end of a sentence. There is not any problem, I presume.
Then, as the rules of 《season word centralism》, 《objective description》, and 《kachohuuei》 (the beauties of nature as the key poetic theme) are rules by one person’s assertion, it should not become an obstacle for the development of the haiku. Everything has its creation, development, and reform stages, so that nothing could limit and obstruct the development and reformation of all the things. They are rules of an inner circle limited within a small range, and also a temporary ruling. Accordingly, in the field of haiku we could not add any rule of a group to the whole haiku field too. We respect the rules of the traditional haiku, however they are after all the rules of the traditional haiku only in its field.
Originally, the poetry is a composing of the impression, and the impression is different by the social background of the times. I don’t think that it is good to compose poem only on the things concerning nature. There was a good example in
. It was the famous event of “54-culture reformation movement” occurred about 90 years ago. Before that time, most Chinese poets composed only poem concerning nature and love daily. They were attacked by the students who want social reformation as only “moaning without sickness”. Afterwards, the poem in China has changed to the thriving of a colloquial language modern poem without any complicated rules. However, so many modern poets have composed the poem of too “flight of idea” that is difficult to be understood by the general public, and finally, the poem composing has led the general public away. Although, it is still a mess at present, it seems that the colloquial language modern poem is the form of a poem which would be most accepted by the general public. China
Surely, the impression of visual sense can flight to the thinking of the philosophy. Then what about the impression by other senses, composing with blanks left, and let the readers to appreciate it deeply and fascinated by their own impression obtained from their own experiences. The impression of the composer and the reader are not always the same. Isn’t it good enough? It is truly a case of killing two birds with one stone.
Everyone has their different experiences of life. One person’s experience is not the same as others. A haiku composed by one person is not always fully understood by others. Particularly, an impression obtained by a person with special sense or particular experience is not easily understood by others.
I would like to leave narrow-meaning of “haiku” for Japanese haiku to express respect for it, and mean to include all of “traditional” and so-called not traditional: “non-seasonal”, “free style”, “social”, and “exploring human being”……. Then, the name “traditional haiku” will be left solely for those haikus that strictly obey Kyoshi’s three rules. It is a sub-group under “haiku” item, on the same level as: “without season”, “free style” or “human nature exploring” etc. Any comment?
The origin of haiku is from
, therefore, concerning the substance of haiku, we ought to follow died young Shiki’s reforming spirit, respecting the old but developing the new. Japanese ought to explore actively to accomplish the great haiku reforming work of Shiki. Japan
The above description might be an immature thought of a foreign beginner of the haiku, and might be laughed down or neglected.
The above writing is a summary of my original writing “《haiku》, 《world haiku》, 《kango haiku》”, with 80,000 words. If you have interest in details you may go over to it (Japanese).