International HAIKU

Why is HAIKU written in English so popular in Japan?

Students learn Japanese Haiku in Japanese language class usually during the fall term of high school. They study the great Haiku poets of the past 300 years. In Matsuyama they study the modern poets too (1993 was considered the 100th anniversary of modern Haiku poetry and 1994 is the 300th anniversary of Basho's death). The opportunity to write Haiku in English is a novel idea for many Japanese. In a second language, the rigid rules of form and specific words can be relaxed.

The best HAIKU is clearly written; without metaphor, personification and other literary devices. Simple, clear images written in their shortest form possible but arranged so the words last as long as possible in the mind is the power of HAIKU. It can be easily understood from the direct words, but these words often contain a stronger message that has to be searched for. A significant image is produced. HAIKU speaks in parables of life.

Students and teachers of a second language appreciate HAIKU because it helps with listening skills, organizes words, can be used for communicating and it naturally introduces environmental issues. HAIKU poems are so short that if you miss one word you miss the poem. When you recite your HAIKU, carefully enunciate every word keep in the punctuation and pause where the lines naturally break. HAIKU contains one season word. It therefore encourages students to make word sense relations. Words grouped into relevant meaning are remembered. Season words change and current season words are continually being used in new HAIKU. Masaoki Shiki kepts long lists of season words. He introduced baseball to Matsuyama; and into his HAIKU. As a spring season word it is effective. Students of today keep lists of current words for seasonal sports, animals, food, and even music. Students of a second language frustrated by grammar, but eager to share their feelings, are motivated by how a few nouns and verbs can express so much. They are often the start of a pen pal letter. HAIKU exchanges take place all over the world. Here is an example of an unedited letter written by a 12 year old student from Aiko Gakuen Junior High School in Matsuyama, Japan to his pen pal in Brebeuf College in Toronto, Canada:

Dear Canadian Pen Pal,

How are you? I am fine. I'll talk about Japan to you. Japan is a beautiful country of nature, but the metropolitan areas of Japan (Tokyo, Osaka) have many problems. They have acid rain, water problems and dirty air. These cities don't have a lot of nature. But, I hope that you will know that Japan is still a beautiful country in other areas. Please study about Japan the best that you can. This is a HAIKU poem to help you to understand:

The sound of the little waterfall
for a while I am surprised
I continue to hear it

HAIKU poems tell what people think about in very few words. Try to write a HAIKU about what you are thinking in your next letter. I am waiting for you.


Mamoru Fukutome

HAIKU, whether it is written with a season word (Japanese rules) or merely a reference to nature (American HAIKU society rules) naturally introduces environmental issues. Fukutome's letter and especially the crystalized HAIKU thought above allowed him to express his feelings towards pollution and the beauty of nature.

In conclusion, HAIKU written in English, or in any second or foreign language, provides the writer with a challenging art form that must be clear, but that allows the expression of true feelings that can't be matched by pages of grammatically correct sentences.