Terebess Asia Online (TAO)


Essays by Takiguchi Susumu (1944-)

Table of Contents

Haiku As a World Phenomenon
The Development and Nature of Haiku in Japan
Haiku Poems after Taneda Sant
Hino Sôjô (1901-1956) - The life, loves and sad fate of a haiku rebel
Can the Spirit of Haiku be translated?
Sense of Humour – A Forgotten Prerequisite of Haiku
The Future of World Haiku and Hope for India


Susumu Takiguchi is a haiku poet and critic, artist and essayist, with various other interests. A Japanese national, residing in the United Kingdom for nearly thirty years, his interest in haiku began with a study of Matsuo Basho while he was Lecturer in Japanese Language and Civilisation at Aston University in Birmingham, England. This interest continued to grow until
now when he is engaged in the international haiku movement. The prime example of this is the World Haiku Festival 2000 organised by him in London and Oxford 25 - 30 August 2000. In 1998 he established the World Haiku Club which manages the Festival and its numerous events including world-wide haiku networks on the Internet.

He was born in 1944 in Japan and studied at Waseda University, Tokyo and the University of Oxford. He has had a wide-ranging career, including financial reporter with Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei); Editor-in-Chief, The Art Market Report; art critic and part-time lecturer at Oxford University; lecturer at Aston University in Birmingham; Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Research, Nomura Europe PLC. He is currently Director of Ami-Net Oxford International and occasional lecturer at Oxford Brookes University. He is Chairman of the World Haiku Club.

Publications include Kyoshi - A Haiku Master (Ami-Net International Press), Ushizu no Zaregoto (an anthology). He has also translated The Fake's Progress by Tom Keating, Geraldine Norman, Frank Norman (Shincho-sha), Naked Came I (the life of August Rodin) by David Weiss (Futami-Shobo), Towards The Tamarind Trees by Anthony Trew (Hayakawa-Shobo), Modesty Blaise by Peter O'Donnell.


Haiku As a World Phenomenon
by Susumu Takiguchi

Article from the Ginyu No. 5.

"...After about twenty-five years of English language haiku do we know what haiku is?"(1) It is refreshing to hear such a modest remark as this from such a doyen of haiku poetry as Cor van den Heuvel. The remark was made nearly fourteen years ago. Are we any wiser? The lack of general consensus on this question looked to him to be "a sign of its health and vitality".
Are haiku poems written today not only in English but also in all other languages in good health and full of vitality? Do we retain van den Heuvel's humility?

Some say that they are now tired of this "What is haiku?" question repeated countless times. Others still insist that this and other fundamental questions on haiku "have not become old questions" (2). In a similar vein, is the question "What is time?" boring as opposed to the question "What time is it?", which may be boring?

While not only Japan but also the rest of the world seem to be enjoying an unprecedented popularity and proliferation of haiku, there are some worrying signs as well. The history of haiku is a succession of prosperity followed by decline. So, the ups and downs of the haiku movement are nothing new.

What is different in today's haiku scene is that prosperity and deterioration are there simultaneously. It has been pointed out that symptoms of the deterioration include stagnation of existing haiku movements, lowering of the standards and quality of haiku, commercialisation of haiku, factional rivalries, self-aggrandizement and deterioration and corruption generally. They have been seen to be sapping the health and vitality of haiku and yet precious little seems to be done about it. How has this state of affairs come about and how can we possibly free ourselves from this situation?

"Fueki ryuko" (3) is an answer. This is one of the essential principles of what I call Basho's dialectic poetics. It should be given much greater significance than was originally perceived. This is because it now applies to almost all aspects of modern Japan where the balance between fueki, or permanent values, and ryuko, or changes, is shaky. A similar situation is also seen elsewhere in the world.

The two words can be interpreted in more ways than one. Fueki, for instance, can represent unchanging tradition while ryuko can represent changing fashion. Since the two are contradictory there should be a kind of creative tension generated between them. This tension should keep haiku fresh, creative and interesting. If people cling to tradition and neglect newness (or atarashimi) inherent in fashion, then haiku could become stale, imitative and boring. If, on the other hand, people indulge in newness without tradition, haiku could become gimmicky, incomprehensible and nonsensical. Needless to say, fueki should be genuine fueki, and ryuko should be genuine ryuko. And here starts one of the most important arguments, "What makes fueki and ryuko genuine?"

Another answer would be "Kogo kizoku". This is also a principle of Basho's dialectic poetics and means "obtaining high enlightenment but coming back to the populace". There has been a tendency to polarise these two essential factors so much that they have lost their vital link. Some people have become "elitists", armed with their own creed and are negligent of kizoku, or addressing plebeian needs. Others have gone the opposite way and vulgarised haiku by neglecting kogo. Again, we need both of these factors interacting and forming creative tension.

If we are blessed with kogo at all, then that is better than nothing. However, we have witnessed the deterioration of the quality of kogo. Some haiku debates are perceived to be nothing but poor and often empty rhetoric. Even worse, some others are taken to be merely a collection of dogmas, or misconceptions.

The third answer may be found in the teaching of Basho, "Don't follow ancient masters, seek what they tried to seek". We see people blindly following not only ancient masters but also modern masters without knowing what they tried to seek. What this means is that we are in need of going back to basics and deepening our thought and understanding of the fundamental issues still to be addressed. One way of doing so may be for us to do an honest and critical review and reassessment of the current haiku movements, including their well-established canon. Only then will we be in a position to discuss the fundamental issues of haiku and to find ways in which haiku will be allowed to develop further in good health and vitality.

Now that haiku has spread across the world, we might as well do such a review and reassessment on a worldwide scale. In this regard what is painfully lacking is the true communication between Japan and the rest of the world. This is regretable for both parties because Japan could gain some insight and inspiration from the way haiku is written overseas in order to break the stalemate which her own haiku world seems to be experiencing. Also the rest of the world could learn whatever it has not yet learnt from Japan and could correct whatever misconceptions it might have developed in the absence of the true understanding of Japanese haiku.

Outside Japan, communication among haiku people is much better by comparison but it is by no means adequate or perfect. More co-ordination and exchange is needed. Regionally, things are improving through such means as international conferences, mutual exchange of information and people and last but not least through use of the Internet. Ideally, efforts in this direction on a worldwide basis need to be made. World Haiku Festival 2000 which the present author is organising in Britain for the year 2000 is the world's first event of its kind. If the "Prelude to HAIKU2000" which started in 1998 and the "Epilogue to World Haiku Festival 2000" planned for May 2001 are included, this project spans four long years and involves a great number of haiku events for the purpose of disseminating and developing haiku at the same time.

The most important characteristic of World Haiku Festival 2000 is that it looks upon haiku not as a product of one particular country, or of a group of countries but as a literary and cultural phenomenon of the whole world, a standpoint which has never been taken before. It does not mean, however, that each constituent country is not important. On the contrary, each haiku country is put in the world's perspective and studied more vigorously than before. World Haiku Festival 2000 is a worldwide network which transcends factionalism, nationalism, imperialism and any other undesirable rivalries and disputes as well as any hindrances to positive, constructive and friendly relationships among haijin of the world.

It is very exciting that similar movements, aimed at making haiku a world phenomenon, are beginning to emerge in different parts of the world. If this becomes a strong and concerted trend, half the battle is won. Those people who are spearheading this type of movement are hoping that haiku clubs and associations in different countries and, most importantly, each haijin everywhere in the world will join in this movement. However, they will only be able to do so if they are prepared to overcome their narrow-minded factionalism and personal self-aggrandizement and take a humble and friendly stance.

We need to draw a world map of haiku. We also need to write a history of haiku from the world's perspective. In this way, we share our resources and drive and avoid wasteful overlapping. We may also be able to overcome the aforesaid damaging rivalries and narrow-minded isolationist attitude and a host of undesirable human foibles all of which are observed in the modern haiku scene. Many leading haiku poets in the world with whom I have made friends as I prepare for World Haiku Festival 2000 are seriously seeking the right way, or a likely way, in which haiku can develop in the future. I call them 'haiku thinkers' and they can make an enormous contribution to the advancement of world haiku if their efforts are co-ordinated. All too often it is pointed out that in such efforts, sadly, the Japanese are conspicuous by their absence.

We also need to compile a new classification of haiku which has reached a stage of such diversification that we constantly run the risk of talking cross purposes if we just use 'haiku' as a general term. At this stage, the classification need not be too elaborate or detailed as in the case of Masaoka Shiki's efforts. Avant-garde haiku poets cannot possibly be speaking the same language as fundamentalists of the traditional haiku school. In paintings, we accept the co-existence of the Old Masters, religious paintings, landscapes, still lifes, seascapes, figurative, abstract, surrealism, conceptual art, pop art, minimalist, Japanese paintings, African art, or whatever. There is no point in denying somebody else's haiku as being not haiku, when we have such varieties of haiku poems in over seventy different languages (4).

Ultimately, we are after truths. If St. Augustine said that poetry was devil's wine (5), it must be that poetry is a powerful wine. One reason why it is powerful is that "in vino veritas". A poet said that wine was bottled poetry (6). Then the essence of poetry must be truths, and universal truths at that. As Aristotle put it, (Bwhile poetry is concerned with universal truths, history treats of particular facts." (7) When Basho talks about fuga no makoto, this is normally interpreted as poetic sincerity. However, makoto also means truths, or true words, or true things. In ancient times makoto referred to man's spiritual state where shin (truth), zen (goodness) and bi (beauty) were integrated. In terms of poets, makoto is that which springs from their magokoro (true heart, or soul). Haiku is certainly capable of (local, particular) truths. Sometimes it is capable of universal truths and that is when great haiku poems are born.

Poetic truths, then, must be a criterion against which inferior and dubious haiku poems can be weeded out. Haiku is part of the haiku poet's way of life. Haiku is partly what he or she is. If he or she is not truthful his or her haiku cannot be good poetry. In today's climate where haiku values are confused, it is important for us to go back to such stringent criterion as poetic truths.

This point has been eloquently described by our contemporary haijin Jim Kacian in a recently published book entitled KNOTS with a hole in the middle of it, through which one passes a string and tie the book by making a knot. It goes, This is what is indestructible in haiku, what has made it grow from one nation's cultural export to a world's form of choice to reveal the truth and beauty of the deep moments, the connected moments, of our lives." (8)

Though fuga no makoto must not be taken too narrowly, it is instructive that it relates to truths first and foremost and not to beauty. Basho was not a mere natural poet, a point which should be brought to the attention of some haiku poets of the traditional school of haiku, who emphasise natural beauty to the exclusion of other haiku values.

There are a great deal more things that Japan and the rest of the world can and must do to move on and find the way forward in the interest of the further development of world haiku. World Haiku Festival 2000 aims to provide some of the answers and also tries to encourage haijin from all corners of the world to join in the movement it has started. The readers of this pioneering haiku magazine are welcome to discuss these matters with.


(1) Preface to the Second Edition, "The Haiku Anthology, Haiku and Senryu in English, Simon & Schuster, 1986, p 19.
(2) Lee Gurga, "The Midwest: Cradle of American Haiku" , 5 July 1999.
(3) Fueki ryuko is one of the key concepts of Basho's poetics.
(4) There is no "official" statistics. This figure is only according to an estimate.
(5) "Poetry is devil's wine", Cntra Academicos, St. Augustine (AD 354-430)
(6) Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
(7) Poetics, Aristotle (384-322BC)
(8) Jim Kacian, "Tapping the Common Well", Knots - The Anthology of Southeastern European Haiku Poetry, Tolmin, Slovenia, 1999



The Development and Nature of Haiku in Japan
by Susumu Takiguchi

World Haiku Review, January 2010, Volume 8 Issue 1 - January 2010

Here is a reprint of my early paper which I present in this issue in lieu of Editorial in the hope that it would still be useful especially for haiku beginners. The paper has subsequently been included in my book: Kyoshi - A Haiku Master, Ami-Net International Press, 1997.


If you ask the question “What is haiku in a nutshell?” then you already have the answer. Haiku is the shortest form of Japanese poetry, whereby poetic ideas and feelings are compressed within an extremely small space, like the inside of a nutshell. The nutshell in haiku terms is only seventeen syllables long. It is because of these limits within which a haiku poet must compose that certain beneficial devices have evolved, making the writing of a haiku poem possible without losing any depth or scope of expression.

These devices include seasonal references, e.g. kidai (season themes), kigo (season words), or kikan (seasonal feelings) which give the reader an instant sense of common experience and perception associated with each seasonal reference. Also, there is the device known as kireji (cutting words), which may best be described as punctuation. They give a haiku poem a sense of completeness as well as accentuation and articulation. Kireji can also single out a part of the haiku, separating it from the rest and emphasizing it, thus creating a dramatic effect.

The seventeen syllables which fall naturally into a 5-7-5 rhythm, a seasonal reference and the use of cutting words are the three most fundamental factors of haiku without which, some assert, haiku is not haiku.

As we have seen, these devices facilitate the composition of haiku rather than restrict it. For physiological and diachronic phonological reasons, five and seven syllables have an innate appeal for the Japanese speaker. They give a natural, comfortable and even pleasurable length of articulation and breathing. Such has been the case since before the very first anthology of Japanese poetry, the famous eighth century Manyoshu, that to speak in phrases of 5 or 7 syllables has become a part of the mental faculty for the Japanese(1).

Similarly, the seasonal references and cutting words cause no problem to a Japanese poet, for virtually every Japanese is keenly sensitive to all elements of the seasons, especially the transition from one season to another. He or she also knows all the cutting words by heart (there are only about eighteen) even if they are now archaic after the inevitable but sad modernisation of old Japanese in late 19th century.

Compared with the complicated prosody and metre of English poetry, haiku rules are surprisingly simple. It would be a poor excuse of the lesser poet to assert otherwise. There are no bad haiku rules, only bad haiku poets.

Armed with the devices mentioned above, haiku can be a profound and sophisticated form of poetry in spite of, or perhaps because of, its brevity. Complicated human thoughts and feelings can often be reduced to a few words. These words, however, must be the very best words and must be put in the best order. This is why it is easy enough to write a mediocre haiku and yet it is so extremely difficult to write a good one. Deduct the number of syllables needed for a seasonal reference and for cutting words from a haiku and you are left with an even smaller number of syllables with which to express all your perceptions and emotions. For this reason it is the quality and originality of your perceptions and the choice of right words put in the right order that will distinguish good haiku from the mediocre.

In this creative tension lies the secret which can give a haiku incredible power and profound meaning and enable it to reach eternity “through the evanescent”(2), realise universality through the specific, and to grasp providence “through the commonplace”(3). This is not confined to Japanese haiku, for William Blake could see “a World” and “a Heaven” in “a Grain of Sand” and in “a Wild Flower”, and hold “Infinity” and “Eternity” in the “palm of your hand” and in “an hour”, respectively(4) and Hamlet bantered he could be “…bounded in a nutshell…” and could count himself “…a king of infinite space…” (Hamlet Act II Sc.2)

Haiku, then, is an art, as Donald Keene succinctly puts it, “… expressing much and suggesting more in the fewest possible words.” A good haiku is a demanding and conscious form of poetry, positioned somewhere nearer to silence than to speech. Moreover, by ostensibly presenting a microcosm, a good haiku can actually depict a macrocosm. It is a rare art form, whereby the bare essentials of a poem are expressed “before” rather than “after” all is said and done, making the “saying” and “doing” a rather superfluous and even harmful activity. If talking is needed, the haiku in question cannot amount to much.


Modern Japanese haiku began in the middle years of the Meiji era (1868 ~ 1912) with the reform of traditional haiku by Masaoka Shiki (1867 ~ 1902). His reform began to take effect in the early 1890s. Until then traditional haiku had slipped back again to a low ebb and was in no way capable of dealing with the changing requirements of the modern era, still less with the strong Western influence which was fast engulfing this young and eager nation. Helped by his closest friends and followers, Shiki set about elevating the status of haiku from a vulgar level to the status of proper literature. This proved a formidable task, not only because Shiki and his fellow haiku reformers had to make sure that this old-fashioned form of poetry made sense in the changed and changing condition of modern Japan, but also because, for the first time, it was necessary to divest haiku of its connections with renga, or linked verse. Right up to Shiki’s time it is the renga that had been the mainstay of the past haiku masters, of which Basho is a supreme example, and commonly haiku had first been conceived as the opening verse (called hokku) of a renga, and only later come to have a separate existence. With the advent of modern Japanese society the renga had all but vanished as a viable poetic form. Haiku now had to stand on its own.

Freeing haiku from its previous tendency of subjective indulgence and decadence, Shiki advocated the importance of objectivity and the modesty with which the haiku poet should “sketch” what is out there in nature rather than exercising poetic licence subjectively.

In forming his poetics, Shiki drew inspiration from Buson (1716 ~ 1783), whose paintings and haiku he admired. Although Shiki could not complete the haiku reform because of his early death in 1902, subsequent developments of modern haiku in Japan have revolved around his initiatives. For the rest of this century haiku has been progressing along many avenues. However, even the most bigoted and most avant-garde haiku poets have been unable to ignore the orthodox movement which was promoted by Shiki and his prominent followers, most notably Takahama Kyoshi (1874 ~ 1959).

The scope of this paper does not allow us to follow the haiku movements after Shiki in any detail, nor the numerous personalities who led them. Broadly, however, we can see a division between traditionalists and anti-traditionalists. The former uphold the haiku rules we have already seen and poetic values of a traditional nature such as poetic sincerity, love of nature and man’s involvement with all that happens in the universe. The latter, on the other hand, regard the traditionalists’ way as being too restricted and stifling. They see it as killing the free spirit and broader inspiration of the poet, struggling to liberate haiku so that it may become something more than the strictly traditional form of poetry. They often deny the 5-7-5 format, seasonal references and other grammatical rules like kireji. Instead, they advocate free-verse, subjectivity more than objectivity, human-orientated rather than nature-orientated viewpoints. They add thought and inspiration derived from sources other than nature. These might include broader literary movements such as naturalism, political creeds, human conscience and psychology, or metaphysical and religious quests.

Kyoshi led the traditionalists, who form the mainstream of modern Japanese haiku to this day. Based on haiku clubs and associations, they publish their works and views on haiku in various haiku magazines. The most notable of these are the Hototogisu, or common cuckoo, and the Tamamo, or sea-weed. Apart from a few poets who broke away, such as Shuoshi (who ran the magazine Ashibi) and Kusatao (who ran the Banryoku), the traditionalists have kept their solidarity, which has led to their unprecedented popularity. An imposing array of talents have sprung from the Kyoshi School. Among these were Toshio and Tatsuko, Kyoshi’s own children. Also, there arose such distinguished followers as Seishi, Seison, Bosha, Dakotsu and Teijo, all of whom started their own schools, spreading Kyoshi’s teachings still further afield. Two outstanding students already mentioned, Shuoshi and Kusatao, became great modern haiku masters in their own right, spawning their own followers, such as Hakyo and Shuson. The Kyoshi school has been the most stable and consistent of all the modern haiku schools. His disciples and descendants are numbered in their millions. His own great grand-children are in the front line of these.

The anti-traditionalist movement was started by Kawahigashi Hekigodo (1873 - 1937), Kyoshi’s friend, who was with him another follower of Shiki. His movement came to be known as Shin Keiko, or New Trend but soon collapsed, partly because of its too rapid and radical departure from tradition, but more importantly because of the internal divisions which imploded, creating various splinter groups. Some of these groups, such as Seisensui and Ippekiro succeeded in creating their own schools. Among Seisensui’s many well-known pupils, Santoka was unique.

The Haiku poets who followed this anti-traditionalist line are too numerous to deal with here but one name, that of Kaneko Tota (1919 -) should not be ommitted. He belongs to the Shuoshi School and studied haiku under Shuson but his greatest contribution has been to generate the “avant-garde” haiku and as a leading figure in today’s haiku circle in Japan he is helping to foster contemporary haiku, influencing its future direction.



Let us look at some of the criteria for composing and appreciating Japanese haiku by quoting actual works by modern Japanese haiku poets. The criteria reflect traditional practices but there are now different schools of haiku which do not follow them. The following sections are presented as an introduction to the former and not as a denial of the latter.

[ 1 ] The 5 - 7 - 5 Format (seventeen syllables)

(a) Examples following this rule

• Ka-ki ku-e-ba/ ka-ne ga na-ru-nari/ ho-u-ry-u-ji

5 7 5

(Eating a persimmon/ temple bell is ringing/ from Horyuji-temple = Shiki)

• Ki-ri hi-to-ha/ hi-a-ta-ri-na-ga-ra-/ o-chi-ni-ke-ri

5 7 5

(A single leaf of paulownia/ Has fallen:/ catching the sunlight/ As it went = Kyoshi)

• Tsu-bo-ni shi-te/ mi-ya-ma no ho-o no/ha-na hi-ra-ku

5 7 5

(Arranged in a vase/ deep mountain magnolia/ blossoms open = Shuoshi)

(b) Examples slightly breaking the rule (hacho)

These are called jiamari (excessive syllables) and jitarazu (insufficient syllables). They have been seen since before Basho’s time.

• A-ka-i tsu-ba-ki/ shi-ro-i tsu-ba-ki to/ o-chi-ni-ke-ri

6 7 5

(Red camellia blossom, then/ White camellia blossom,/ Both fell to the ground = Hekigodo)

• Ya-ma no i-ro tsu-ri-a-ge-shi a-yu ni ugo-ku-nana

5 8 5

(The colours of the mountain move as I fish out the ayu-fish that I’ve just caught. = Hara


• Su-mi-re ho-do na/ chi-i-sa-ki hi-to ni/ u-ma-re-ta-shi

6 7 5

(I wish I could be born again a person as small as a violet. = Natsume Soseki)

• Ya-ku-so-ku no/ka-n no tsu-ku-shi wo/ ni-te ku-da-sa-I

5 7 6

(Please cook for me the winter horsetail as you have promised. = Kawabata Bosha)

• U-sa-gi mo/ ka-ta-mi-mi ta-ru-ru/ ta-i-sho-ka-na

4 7 5

(Even a rabbit’s ear is bent, what heat! = Akutagawa Ryunosuke)

(c ) Examples completely ignoring, or denying the rule

• Na-tsu-a-sa hi-n-mi-n no ko ga hi-ki-ka-ka-e-ta-ru hi-to-tsu-no ky-a-be-tsu (26 syllables)

(Summer morn a child of the poor/ tugging and hugging/ a head of cabbage = Ippekiro)

• Se-ki wo shi-te mo hi-to-ri (9 syllables)

(coughing, even: alone = Hosai)

• To-ma-to wo ta-na-go-ko-ro ni, mi-ho-to-ke no ma-e ni, chi-chi-ha-ha no ma-e ni (26


(with a tomato on the palm of my hand, my only offering, do I pray in front of Buddha, and in front of my dead parents = Santoka)

• Wa-n-ky-o-ku-shi ya-ke-do-shi ba-ku-shi-n-chi no ma-ra-so-n (20 syllables)

(Bent and burnt/ the atomic-bomb site/ a marathon race = Tota)


[ 2 ] Season words

There are more than ten thousand season words and average haiku poets are estimated to use 500 to 1, 000 of them regularly. In the following examples, the underlined season words correspond with the underlined part of the English versions.

(a) Season words expressly mentioning a particular season itself

• Are kuruu umi wo wasurete fuyugomori (winter)

(Oblivious to the raging sea I am keeping indoors for the winter. = Ikeuchi Takeshi)

• Endai ni ushirode wo tsuki aki no kumo (autumn)

(Sitting on a long stool and leaning backwards with my hands placed behind me, I look at

autumn clouds. = Tomiyasu Fusei)

• Kamogawa no mizu no kokoro no dokoka haru (spring)

(Somehow the soul of the water of Kamogawa River tells me that spring seems to be with us

somewhere. = Nomoto Eikyu)

• Aiida wo kikite Roma no natsu no tsuki (summer)

(Listening to Aida, I look up the summer moon over Rome. - Nishikawa Hiroko)

• Ikko no hitori ga kakuru nisshabyo (summer)

(One person is missing from our group, sun stroke = Bojo Toshiatsu)

• Waga koe no fukimodosaruru nowaki kana (autumn)

(My voice has been blown back by the strong autumn wind. = Naito Meisetsu)

(b) Season words as a symbol of a particular season, or events during that season

• Furu yuki ya Meiji wa tohku narinikeri (winter)

(Falling snow/ Ah, the Meiji era is now far behind! = Nakamura Kusatao)

• Hisho no ko ni uma yo bohto yo pinpon yo (summer)

(My daughter is enjoying riding a pony, rowing a boat and playing pingpong,

summer holiday. = Inahata Teiko)

• Tsuku tsue ni ho wo sasowaretsu ume biyori (spring)

(My steps are enticed by the walking stick towards plum blossoms on a [spring] day. = Ogata Kukyo)

• Himosugara sagiri nagaruru tani momiji (autumn)

(All day long thin fog flows along the red and yellow leaves of the valley. = Kawamura Saishu)

(c ) Season words inducing associations and inspiring imagination

• Usumetemo hana no nioi no kuzuyu kana (winter)

(Even thinned by hot water the arrowroot starch gruel has the smell of cherry blossoms. =

Watanabe Suiha)

• Toku obi no ashi ni matsuwari hanazukare (spring)

(Undoing the sash that coils round [my] legs, I am weary having been to a cherry blossom viewing. = Mihara Sokyushi)

(d) Season words which are concrete “things”, or objects

• Hito taki ni kikuna no kaori iya tsuyoku (spring)

(The smell of chrysanthemum coronarium becomes even stronger as I give it a boil. = Takahama Toshio)

• Uchiwa tome nani ka kokoro ni todometaru (summer)

(Waving of a fan stopped, something has occurred to me. = Mashimo Masuji)

(e) Historically well-established season words

• Ichi no yana, ni no yana Hida no akifukashi (autumn)

(Going from one weir to the next deeper into Hida mountain the autumn is ending. = Saito Hachiro)

• Yukuharu no mado ni taretaru tamoto kana (spring)

(Spring is ending, someone’s sleeve is hanging across the window. = Nomura Hakugetsu)

(f) Season words with double meaning

• Basu ware wo kareno ni hitori nokoshi saru (winter)

(The bus has dumped me and gone, leaving me standing all alone in the withered field. = Iwakiri Tessho)

The withered field, being a winter season word, also represents the feeling of loneliness, desolation and decay in Iwakiri’s heart.

• Banshu no hei no tsukitaru hitorigoto (autumn)

(End of autumn, end of the stone wall, too, I talk to myself. = Kimura Shigeo)

Here, end of autumn also indicates the end of the wall, and in turn the end of the poet’s linkage with his fellow human beings.

• Mizubana ya hana no saki dake kure nokoru (winter)

(It has all become dark except the tip of my dripping nose. = Akutagawa Ryunosuke)

This haiku has a zensho (or, brief foreword), saying “self mockery” and is regarded as the jisei no ku (or, death poem) of this talented but tragic novelist. The drip sitting on the tip of his nose is the winter season word but Akutagawa, soon to commit suicide, compares his desperate and meaningless self to it, sitting useless on the useless nose which is malfunctioning like his life itself.


Some of additional points on season words

• Other functions of season words are universality, commonality, depicting broader meanings in a compact way.

• Kigasanari = using more than one season word in a single haiku, which is to be avoided. If there are two, one becomes the leading season word.

• Kichigai = using words of different seasons in a haiku, which also should be avoided.

• Muki = using no season word, either by design or by default


[ 3 ] Kireji (cutting words)

Since kireji is purely a Japanese practice based on the linguistic and grammatical features, there is practically no way of demonstrating it by trying to find the English equivalent. There are, however, ways of gaining similar effects in English, such as the use of commas, semi colons, dots etc. but this is not within the scope of this paper. (For basic understanding of kireji, see Higginson (4).)


[ 4 ] Other features of haiku

(a) Nouns, verbs, adjectives etc.

The general point to observe is to secure concreteness and immediacy and to avoid abstraction and conceptualisation. Nouns are much more important than verbs or adjectives. Avoid abstract nouns expressing such notions as beauty, happiness and honour. Names of actual flowers, birds and places give immediate impact. Adjectives are a problem. Rather than “sad”, use concrete things to express sadness.


(b) Particles, or “te-ni-wo-ha”

Japanese particles play an important role in haiku, clarifying direction, relationship, tense, spatial positioning, subject/object articulation and all other grammatical inter-relationships. They therefore play the same role as English prepositions, and word order. Being short, normally just one syllable (e.g. ha, ga, ni, te, wo), the Japanese particles are ideal for haiku and are sometimes critical for the success of a haiku.


(c ) Rhythms

The main source of haiku rhythm is the 5 - 7- 5 syllable format already discussed. It can be grouped in one or other of two ways, i.e. either 5 + 12, or 12 + 5, but even then there is a notional pause between 7 and 5, or 5 and 7 within the 12 syllables.


(d) Sound properties

The sounds in Japanese are simpler and less varied than those in English. They also have much less accent, stress and intonation, giving a somewhat monotonous, soft and flat impression. There are only five vowels and in theory consonants are always followed by a vowel. Certain English sounds are absent in Japanese, such as v, f, di as in dim. Other English sounds, most notably r and l, are bundled together in a single sound.

The five vowels, a, i, u, e, o, are said to have the following “feelings”: -

a: grand, rich, bright and positive

i: light, sensitive

u: calm, melancholic

e: mild, elegant, sharp

o: bold, majestic

The rest of the fifty plus one sounds, which form all Japanese sounds, are created by adding these five vowels to consonants, k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r/l, w. The last sound is a soft, nasal version of n. They are said to have the following feelings: -

ka, ki, ku, ke, ko: strong, clean

sa, shi, su, se, so: sharp, soft

ta, chi, tsu, te, to: heavy, thick

na, ni, nu, ne, no: sticky

ha, hi, ju, he, ho: light, open

ma, mi, mu, me, mo: rich

ya, yi, yu, (ye), yo: cloudy, closed

ra, ri, ru, re, ro: fluid, smooth

(la, li, lu, le, lo)

wa, (wi), (wu), (we), wo: loud, open


(e) “Rhyming”

Rhyming in haiku is neither as prominent nor as important as in English poems. Its abuse could even make a haiku gimmicky and artificial but used well it can help create a sophisticated and dramatic haiku. Its position is not restricted to the ends but frequently found within the lines. In this sense haiku rhyme is more like refrain explained in the next section and perhaps should not be called rhyme at all in the sense used in English or Chinese poems.

• Yama mata yama yamazakura mata yamazakura

(Mountain after mountain, mountain cherry trees after mountain cherry trees = Awano Seiho)

• Ikikawari shinikawari shite utsu ta kana

(generation after generation cultivate these rice fields = Murakami Kijo)

• Chiru sakura umi aokereba umi e chiru

(Falling cherry flowers fall into the sea - that sea which is blue = Takaya Soshu)

• Koineko no koisuru neko de oshitohsu

(Cats in love will persist as cats in love = Nagata Koi)

• Ajisai ya ao ni kimarishi aki no ame

(Hydrangea has settled its colour to blue; autumn rain = Shiki)


(f) Refrain

• Yuki naran sayo no Nakayama yoru naran

(It must be snowing at Sayo no Nakayama, it must be night. = Hekigodo)

• Samukaro, kayukaro, hito ni aitakaro

(You must be cold, you must be itching and you must be wanting to see other human beings. = Shiki)

• Kono aki no uragareno yuku karenoyuku

(This autumn I am crossing the desolate fields and going across the desolate fields. = Kyoshi)

• Uragaeshi mata uragaeshi taiga haku

(Sweeping a big moth, it turns one side up and then the other side up. = Maeda Fura)

• Kanbotan sakishiburi shiburi keri

(Winter peonies, reluctant to flower, very reluctant to flower. = Hino Sojo)

• Monono me no hogure hogururu asane kana

(Buds are opening and opening; I am still in bed in the morning. = Matsumoto Takashi)

• Tsuki ichirin toko ichirin hikariau

(One moon, one frozen lake, shining at each other. = Hashimoto Takako)



Last but not least, some useful guidelines can be gleaned from the various teachings and advice given by three centuries of haiku masters and practitioners, from Basho to Kyoshi.

• Try to write a haiku only about what actually happens to you (i.e. avoid fictitious, or imaginary renderings).

• Try to write a haiku, only when you have been deeply moved, strongly inspired and poetically touched by the subject matter (i.e. do not “fake” poetic feelings).

• Try to write a haiku immediately after the haiku feeling has hit you and do not leave it for too long. Alterations and changes are an essential part of haiku-writing process but do not linger or elaborate. If it does not write easily, leave it and do something else.

• Try to reject clichés, hackneyed expressions and words, or even deep feelings if they have been used time and time again by countless haiku poets.

• Try not to use embellishment, or lay it on thick, even if you have hit on a brilliant idea. Be honest, simple, clear, straightforward and modest.

• Try not to “explain”. Haiku is not science and should need no explanation if it is good.

• Try not to “conceptualise”, “intellectualise”, “philosophise”, “moralise”, or “theorise”.

• Try not to “report”. “Express” it.

• Try not to be “clever”, gimmicky, over-witty, artificial, presumptuous, too precious, mysterious, esoteric. Just be “natural”.

• Try not to express your raw and subjective feelings such as being “happy”, “sad”, “lonely”, “glad” in so many words. Express them by presenting some concrete actions, objects etc. (e.g. Even coughing, I do all alone.) and let the concrete image speak for itself.

• Try to keep some detachment even in the most dire circumstances and preserve always a sense of humour. Haiku is not in the business to be cold or unkind but it is not about wallowing in raw sentiments in misery either. Always remember that haiku originated from haikai no renga (or, comic renga) and the sense of humour remains a prerequisite of the haiku spirit.

• Try not to explain the minutiae but the essentials and leave the rest to the readers’ imagination. If your haiku feeling is deep your haiku will be deep. If you are deep so much more will be your haiku. Good haiku comes from your whole being like a good singing voice from the singer’s whole body and from his mind and from his entire life.



(1) The crucial question is whether to speak in English in phrases of 5 or 7 English syllables would equally be easy and natural for a native speaker of English. This would challenge the validity of writing haiku in English by automatically and possibly uncritically employing 5-7-5 syllable format without any regard to the linguistic differences of the two languages. Efforts need to be made to find the right length of haiku in English as well as the number of lines, which would be most natural and satisfying for the native English to say or hear. The Japanese format should serve only as a basis or guideline for such an exercise. This is why the polemics over whether haiku in English should be of three lines or four lines sometimes sound like missing the point. Maybe the best guide would be Pound’s belief “in an ‘absolute rhythm’ …in poetry which corresponds exactly to the emotion or shade of emotion to be expressed.” For some hints, see pp. 100 - 106, particularly p. 105 of The Haiku Handbook - How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku, William J. Higginson, Kodansha International, 1985.

(2) Classic Haiku - A Master’s Selection, Yuzuru Miura, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1991, p. 7

(3) op.cit., Yuzuru Miura, p. 7

(4) The original verse by Blake goes: -

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

(Auguries of Innocence, William Blake 1757-1827)


Haiku Poems after Taneda Santoka
by Susumu Takiguchi


The literal meaning of haiku poems written by Santoka Taneda (1882-1940) is not that difficult to convey in translation into different languages. This is mainly because his words are clear, specific and plain. However, the style, choice of words and the rhythm of his haiku so distinct in the original Japanese get largely lost in translation. They are so distinct that ironically it is not difficult at all to create Santoka-like haiku in Japanese.

As far as I know, there has been little attempt by any Japanese haiku writers to compose haiku in the style of Santoka or even by imitating his works. In his days there were obviously poets of the vers libre school such as the group called Soun, who wrote haiku poems similar in style to Santoka, and of course there was Hosai Ozaki (1885-1926). This is somewhat puzzling when compared with poets like Kyoshi Takahama (1874-1959) in whose style millions of Japanese haiku poets have written their works. There are millions of copycats for Kyoshi and none for Santoka.

Among the reasons for this strange phenomenon I can think of, the following seem most important. Firstly, though the technical side of Santoka’s haiku (e.g. style, choice of words or ordinary events etc.) may be clear and therefore easy to imitate, the deeper meaning and philosophy of it are not easy to fathom or grasp. Secondly, it is not easy and may even be impossible for anyone to write Santoka-like haiku by mimicking him superficially without leading a life half as much desperate, poverty-stricken, reliant on other people’s alms, self-indulgent and self-mocking as Santoka’s. In short, they may imitate his haiku but can they be beggars?

Whatever the reason, it is odd that no one seems to be interested in writing haiku in the style of Santoka in a country where so many other things get copied almost overnight. My own strong feeling is that Santoka alone could write haiku that he wrote. Even stronger is my conviction that there just isn’t any point in producing imitations of Santoka’s works in the same sense as there is no point in producing imitations of Picasso’s works.

I wish to prove the two observations I have made by creating my own versions of Santoka-like haiku: (1) It is easy to create Santoka-like haiku; (2) However, there is absolutely no point in doing so.

The first ten haiku poems were written by me on 2 May 2000 after Santoka. They were written in Japanese as Japanese haiku and then translated into English.


winter rain in the mountains
my ankles are also wet


lying down
my friends are but fireflies


hopeless me
looking at violets


I can die any time now
walking along the rice paddy foot-path


the body that cannot die
is it going along the straight road?


hill after hill have I come
delicious water


picnic lunch with pickled vegetables
what blue sea!


even if they are withered still they are weeds


are they hails
that are making noises on my kasa sedge-hat?


back in hometown
no friends
tsukutsuku-bohshi cicadas

Some additional examples (from No. 11 to No. 30) were written on 25 and 26 October 2003 while travelling the Island of Hirado, Nagasaki Prefecture.)


aki no umi migi to hidari, yama he modoru

the autumn sea, right and left
I climb back to the mountains

Note: Santoka is said to have disliked the sea


shima dakara moh aruku saki ga nai

as this is an island
no more road to walk on


shi no tabi ni dete mata nonde iru

on a journey to death
I am still drinking


asa kara shigurete suso ga nureta

winter rain since morning
the bottom of my robe’s got wet


youta ato ni mizu wo itadaku

after becoming tipsy
I drink water


sake wo nomi amadare no oto wo sakana ni

drinking sake
with the sound of raindrops
as my companion


shima wo dete mata ayumi tsuzukeru

leaving the Island,
once again I go on walking


kono michi wo aise-nai jibun ga aruku

I who am unable
to love this road


shima zutai ni aruite wa ike-nu

I cannot walk on,
hopping these islands


massugu na michi wa kono shima ni nai

no straight roads
on this Island


aki ni natte kono hashi wo futatabi watatta

I have crossed this bridge

Note: Santoka wrote a haiku poem talking about never crossing a bridge again.


nohkotsu no hokora no naka wo akikaze ga fuku

into the hollow
where the ashes are about to be placed
blows autumn wind


karasu ga hikuku tobu yo

crows flying low


taigan ga aru-kara aruku no da

because there is that opposite shore
I am walking


shi no yuwaku ni mo yoru no hoshi

temptation to take my life,
night stars


shima ni kite mo shi ga semaru

even coming to this Island,
death is just behind me


shine nai jibun ni nani ga dekiru

what can I do
who cannot even


nugi-suteru koromo mo nai

no clothes
even to cast off


hai ni natte shimaeba sono mama

once ashes
that’s it!


kusatta karin wo mite sabishii

gazing at
a rotten quince,
I feel lonely



Hino Sôjô (1901-1956)
[5-7-5] / The life, loves and sad fate of a haiku rebel
by Susumu Takiguchi

Yomiuri Shinbun, 01/09/2006

We saw in the last Go-Shichi-Go how Shuoshi Mizuhara started his haiku career as a darling student of Kyoshi Takahama, and ended up rebelling against him. This month we will look at another haijin who met a similar fate.

Sojo Hino (1901-1956)

beni-tsutsuji/hana michite ha wa/kakure keri

red azalea...
as its flowers bloom fully
the leaves get hidden

As it gets warmer in April or May, depending on where you are in Japan, you will notice the bright green leaves of azalea begin to appear. The next thing you see is that these same bushes have become covered with flowers almost overnight. The transformation is spectacular, especially at a time when people are missing the recently fallen cherry blossoms. The world now seems to be suddenly more optimistic, joyful and merry. Such emotion is what makes this rather statement-of-the-obvious haiku remarkable. Also, his attention was more on the leaves (which people normally overlook) than on the flowers (the conventional focus of attention).
Sojo was a talent whose achievement may have been underestimated. Let us see if we can give him a proper reappraisal.

haru no kumo/nagamete oreba/ugoki keri

spring clouds...
as I am watching them,
they've moved

Spring is a sleepy, milky and relaxed time. Clouds often seem stationary. However, this is conventional wisdom. Sojo seems to have accepted such conventional views, but has given them a twist (the surprise at seeing what seems stationary start to move). That was his art and it was his way of life, too.

matsukaze ni/sasowarete naku/semi hitotsu

a single cicada...
enticed by the wind in the pines,
begins to cry

Using ingredients from classical Japanese poetry--the wind blowing through pine trees and a cicada--Sojo focuses on the fact that there is only one cicada (it is rare to hear only one cicada). This is his twist, however mild it may be.

Whether the wind actually lured the cicada into its singing is a moot point. It is more likely to have been a reflection of the author's own sensibility. However, what is most important about this haiku is that in a subtle way Sojo was comparing himself to the lone cicada. Unlike Shuoshi, who put nature before man, Sojo put human affairs, especially his own, at the heart of his haiku-writing.

kuchishi mune/kujaku to shite/fuyu-gomori

my rotten chest...
all empty and forlorn,
winter hibernation

Sojo suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis (then called consumption) from the age of 44--an illness that four years later forced him to resign from his job at a leading insurance company where he had worked for the previous quarter of a century. Many haiku he wrote regarding his illness are moving and sometimes even painful to read. His best haiku can be found among these poems, as well as among his love haiku. He was a well-educated person, having studied law at the Kyoto University. However, unlike some other intellectual haiku poets Sojo was not pedantic, but natural; not brainy, but sensual; and not detached or aloof, but passionate and tactile.

mienu me no/ho no megane no/tama mo fuku

that lens of my spectacles
that covers my blind eye,
I clean all the same

Sojo lost the sight in his right eye.

ugan ni wa/miezaru tsuma o/sagan nite

my right eye
cannot see my wife; I look at her
with my left eye

This is one of his best love haiku. Without using any flowery language or beautiful words like Shakespeare's sonnets, he captured the essence of a man's true love for his life companion.

miyuru ka to/suwareba miyuru/to-zakura

distant cherry blossom...
I sit down asking myself, "Can I see the blossom?"
Yes, I can!

This haiku reminds me of some of Shiki's haiku about the flowers he tried to see from his sickbed.

katame nite/mi-sadamen to su/haru no hae

spring fly...
I make sure I'm seeing it
with one eye

Was he trying to swat the fly? Or, was he just unable to see it clearly? Either way, a lot of pathos and the Issa-like sense of humor in this haiku make us smile, and cry...

saishi o ninau/katame, katahai/kare-te-ashi

supporting my wife
and children, with one eye, one lung,
and worn limbs

This haiku has a maegaki (foreword), saying "gambare Sojo," or "Sojo, cheer up!" What is there is not so much self-mockery or self-pity as a simple sense of humor. He was too philosophical and mature about his misfortunes to wallow in them. Such was his realism that it was as if there was, inside the poet, another person who was cool and detached enough to depict the realities as relentlessly as, say, Rembrandt or Courbet did in their paintings.

utsukushiki/hito o mikakenu/haru asaki

early spring...
I chanced to see
a beauty

Sojo elevated a man's love of women to the height of poetic elegance and beauty. Whether or not he meant his wife when he referred to a woman, or someone else, or even an imaginary womanhood, is really neither here or there. From his many haiku on his wife the strong message coming across is that he was devoted to her. The quality and depth of his love for a woman made these haiku special.

hatsu-kaya no/shimi-jimi aoki/ose kana

how green it is,
the mosquito net first used in the season!
--our clandestine rendezvous

A mosquito net is often used as one of the popular "stage props" for the drama of sensual love in Japanese literature and also in such art forms as ukiyo-e. The color of the net varies but green is the most common. If you are lovers, once inside one of these you feel more intimate, romantic, private and aroused.

hitori-ne no/kaya no yosumi o/tsuri meguru

sleeping alone...
I move about to hang the four corners
of the mosquito net

At the other end of the spectrum from romantic bliss is when you have to sleep alone under the Japanese mosquito net. What should the exciting, expectation-filled task of hanging it, turns into a boring and lonely chore.

haru-samu ya/futatabi aenu/hito no kao

spring cold...
the face of a woman I will
never meet again

As this woman cannot be his wife, the haiku must be talking about a love affair which had come to an end. The haiku is in an anthology published in 1932 when he was 31 and, yes, still sighted in both eyes. Sojo was known for huge eyes and a fixed gaze. One can imagine him taking a long and careful look at this lady before saying good-bye, so that the image got etched in his memory.

tebukuro o/nugu te nagamuru/ose kana

looking at hands
taking off the gloves...
our clandestine meeting

Another "gazing" haiku. Because of the nature of Japanese we cannot tell whose hand or hands we are talking about, or whether it is a glove, a pair of gloves or two pairs of gloves we are talking about. In other words, we cannot tell who is looking at whose hand(s).
This kind of grammatical ambiguity can be frustrating. However, in this case it leaves all sorts of details to the imagination of the reader, which in a sense makes this haiku fascinating. It could be that the woman has just been ushered into the man's warm room or house and the first thing they want to do is to hold each other's hands. It could even be their first such meeting. Or, it could be that they are outside in a cold park or street. It is most likely, though, that Sojo was looking at the lady's hands and admiring the beauty of them with anticipation.



Can the Spirit of Haiku be translated?
by Susumu Takiguchi

This paper is based on the talk given at an academic conference, the Study Day 'Traduire la contrainte' St. Hugh College, Oxford, 19th June 1999

Haiku Is a Way of Life

Haiku is more than poetry. It is a way of life. At the beginning of the 20th century, an Oxford professor of poetry, A. C. Bradley said, "In true poetry it is impossible to express the meaning in any but its own words, or to change the words without changing the meaning." (1) This has the same resonance with T. S. Eliot who, when receiving a question from my own wife when she was a school girl as to what the eyes meant in his 'The Hollow Men poem', replied curtly to the effect that the words he had written meant exactly what they said.

I have a theory that if we take Bradley's remark to its logical conclusion, the popular adage that only poets understand other poets poems is not only true but may be an understatement. This is because, somewhere in their mental process it is unavoidable for them to try to interpret the original poems of other poets. Such interpretation involves changing the words, which is an equivalent of translation, and thus changing the meaning of the original. Moreover, poets may not necessarily understand their own poems even! Then, who indeed can understand poems? Only the One up there, or muses?

This theory ceases to be facetious the moment we are confronted with problems of translating poems. Because translation of poems is further down the line of the same mental activity which we call interpretation. There is no avoiding the same issue of interpreting poems correctly, whether they
are written by other poets or by oneself. If it is difficult to understand poems in one's own language, what hope is there for one to understand poems of other countries through translation? Thus translating haiku poems seems at first an absolute impossibility.

Visible and Invisible Constraints

In this paper, we will follow Bradley's dictum and look into the issues of translating haiku in a negative way in order to see whether there will be anything positive left, and if so, whether such positive values may lead to any viable literary merits. We will restrict ourselves to dealing with traditional Japanese haiku poems only and also to translating them into English. We shall not deal with translating haiku from English into Japanese, or between any other languages.

It is useful to divide different constraints imposed on translating traditional Japanese haiku (hereafter, only haiku) into English into two categories: visible , or formal constraints and invisible, or non-formal constraints. The former are more of technical nature, the hard-ware of haiku, if you will, and are less difficult to overcome, while the latter are concerned with contents, or the soft-ware of haiku, which are far more difficult to deal with, sometimes simply impossible. Both need to be addressed properly for good translations to become achievable. We must heed against a common mistake that if one follows form, then one can attain the substance.

Different Versions of the Same Haiku

Before going into details of that analysis, let us just see the actual translation of one particular haiku, which is arguably the most famous of all haiku poems the world has ever produced but which is, in my opinion, one of the most misunderstood and misleading haiku as well. It is, of course, Basho's frog haiku.

An old pond
A frog jumps in -
Sound of water.
(Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite)

This is probably one of the most orthodox and literal translations of the haiku, a benchmark against which other translations can be assessed. However, there are said to be over one hundred and seventy versions of this haiku in English alone. How different are they? Are they correct or good translations anyway? We shall look at only a handful of them from a book(2) especially edited to show such vast differences in the translation of the same haiku.

The old pond!
A frog jumps in -
Sound of the water.
(Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai)

An ancient pond!
With a sound from the water
Of the frog as it plunges in.
(W. G. Aston)

The old pond, aye! And the sound of a frog leaping into the water.
(Basil Hall Chamberlain)

The old pond.
A frog jumps in -
(R. H. Blyth)

The ancient pond
A frog leaps in
The sound of the water. (Donald Keene)

The old green pond is silent; here the hop
Of a frog plumbs the evening stillness: plop!
(Harold Stewart)

The old pond
A frog jumped in,
(Allen Ginsberg)

Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water -
A deep resonance.
(Nobuyuki Yuasa)

The quiet pond
A Frog leaps in,
The sound of the water.
(Edward G. Seidensticker)

The old pond -
A frog leaps in,
And a splash.
(Makoto Ueda)

The still old pond
and as a frog leaps in it
the sound of a splash
(Earl Miner)

Ancient pond unstirred
Into which a frog has plunged,
A splash was heard.
(Kenneth Yasuda)

Old pond
a frog leaps in
water's sound.
(William J. Higginson)

Listen! A frog
Jumping into the stillness
Of an ancient pond!
(Dorothy Briton)

ancient pond -
a frog jumping into its splash
(R. Clarence Matsuo-Allard)

(James Kirkup)

Oh thou unrippled pool of quietness
Upon whose shimmering surface, like the tears
Of olden days, a small batrachian leaps,
The while aquatic sounds assail our ears.
(Lindley Williams Hubbell)

There once was a curious frog
Who sat by a pond on a log
And, to see what resulted,
In the pond catapulted
With a water-noise heard round the bog.
(in the style of limerick)

A frog who would a-water-sounding go
Into some obscure algae-covered pool
had best be sure no poetasting fool
Is waiting in the weeds and, to his woe,

Commemorates his pluck so all will know
His name and lineage, not for the fine school
He learned to sing at, nor, to make men drool
The flavor of his leg from thigh to toe.

He will not for his mother be remembered,
Nor for his father's deeds, his honor bright,
Nor for his brother's leg dismembered,

And eaten by a king with rare delight.
He will be famous simply for the sorta
Noise he makes just when he hits the water.
(in the style of sonnet)

Difficulties of Translating: the Case of the Frog Haiku

I have already pointed out that this famous haiku by Basho was one of the most misunderstood and misleading haiku poems. Let me try and justify such a daring and quite possibly suicidal assertion. The following points are the main aspects of common misunderstanding about this haiku. However, these points are seldom heard. Probably for that reason they are relatively unknown.

• We seldom see in Japan a single frog around a pond in the springtime. What we normally witness is a group of frogs, sometimes even countless numbers of them. A frog or frogs are a season word for spring. When and on what ground did we decide that the haiku was talking about a single frog and not a number of, or many frogs? Only three translations use the plural frogs out of 130 or so in the book. The question of how many frogs are involved in the haiku is a crucial point which affects the interpretation of the haiku's mood and its main thrust.

• Frogs tend to jump into the water all the time, one after another, or simultaneously, or at random, in spring time. Why should it be a single splash?

• Frogs are noisy in spring when this haiku is believed to have been composed. They are a symbol of merriment, colour, life and bustling movements of the springtime, which is a celebration of life on earth. This is particularly the case in their mating time. It is the frogs' chorus, often boisterous, that has been the main theme of haiku, bearing this season word. Which explains why it was such an original and innovative departure when Basho tuned his poetic sensibility into the sound of water rather than into the croaking of the frogs. How was it, then, that such a loquacious and busy scene was doctored and philosophised into a symbol of stillness, loneliness and tranquillity?

• Also, frogs have been liked by the Japanese haijin for their comic and haiku-like (light-hearted and with a sense of humour) quality. It is known that the first version of the jumping of frogs in Basho's haiku was "tondari" as opposed to "tobikomu" in the final version. "Tondari" is a much more dramatic, graphic, outlandish and comic expression and very much more in line with the Danrin School. What this indicates is the possibility that Basho was initially toying with the idea of a humorous, light-hearted and even comical scene of the frog(s) jumping and splashing with joy. It is only later that he might have turned to more modest, rustic and serious tone. Here one detects Basho's own poetic licence. As can be seen in Basho's other writings and poems, especially in the "Narrow Road to the Deep North", he often changed facts into fictitious situations for literary effect. It would not be surprising if he had done the same in the frog haiku.

• In the meeting of spring 1686 (1681 or 1682, according to some) at the second Basho-an when this haiku is believed to have been created, one of Basho's disciples, Kikaku, suggested that the first five syllables of the poem should be yamabuki-ya (Japanese yellow rose, kerria japonica). Yamabuki had long been used in connection with frogs in the Japanese classic poetic tradition*. The brilliant yellow of yamabuki is another symbol of spring. The episode suggests that there must have been a joyful feeling among the large gathering with Basho. Therefore, the melancholic stillness normally attributed to this haiku is either an outright mistake, or at least an overplay, a typical example of fukayomi, or "reading too much into haiku". Such interpretation, it has been pointed out, could be an invention for propaganda purposes by some of Basho's followers in order to promote the Basho school. The rejection of "yamabuki-ya" in favour of "furuike-ya" (the old pond) is yet another example of Basho's originality and innovative faculty, quite apart from the fact that the former would have constituted kigasanari (season word duplication), which probably would not have mattered at that time. Basho preferred the "modest" old pond to the "gorgeous" yamabuki. Whatever the cause, this interpretation of stillness has been accentuated by over-zealous Western haiku poets to whom such interpretation suited and has permeated the whole world as an undisputed or indisputable single interpretation.

• "Eternity", which is also often mentioned as an attribute of this haiku, is a different story all together. One can feel "eternity" looking at an old pond with or without the song or splash of frogs. A single frog making a single splash and creating a single sound in between the silence of the infinite past and the silence of the eternal future sounds slightly too good to be true.

• Some brave commentators in Japan have even gone so far as to say that this world-famous haiku is not that brilliant and that in fact it is rather mediocre. I personally do not subscribe to that school of thought but the haiku may possibly have been somewhat over-rated. The choice of the old pond for the first five and the choice of the sound of water rather than the singing of the frogs turned this haiku from an ordinary work into one with eternal relevance and universal appeal. As I have already pointed out, the greatest significance of this haiku lies in its originality and innovative nature. It is referred to as "Shofu kaigan no ku" (the eye-opener, or enlightenment of the Basho School) For Basho, this haiku was like "Demoiselles d'Avignon" for Picasso. If people have been overestimating its merit, it is largely due to the one-sided interpretation of the "stillness" school.

• If the comments I have made here were to be established as reasonable, the whole understanding of haiku in the West might well have to go through a serious rethinking, or worse still, a fundamental correction.

Part One: Visible, or Formal Constraints

We now turn to what I call visible constraints (or formal constraints) in translating haiku in Japanese into English. Since the three most important rules of traditional Japanese haiku are season words (kigo or yuki), 5-7-5 syllables (teikei) and cutting words (kireji), let us briefly examine them first. The traditional Japanese haiku is often referred to as "yuki-teikei" to distinguish it from the more modern free verse haiku.

Season words (kigo)

Haiku is a nature poetry as the Japanese have long developed a keen perception of changing seasons. Could that perception be translated into English? The constraints in this regard are as follows:

1. Difference of kind: there is no tsuyu (sticky rainy season) in Britain while there is no humid winter in Japan. Difference in seasonal events.

2. Difference of degree: What English people feel hot temperature in summer would be cool to the Japanese skin. What English people feel a mild winter would be a bitter one for the average Japanese.

3. Difference of perception: To most Japanese the moon still means a lot in their perception of beauty and poetic sentiment. The moon is no more than an object of scientific enquiry to many English people. The Japanese are more emotional, sentimental while these qualities are disliked by the British
who are more pragmatic, unromantic and reliant on the power of reason. One man's meat is another man's poison.

4. Difference of priority: On the whole human affairs are more important to English people than nature, which is subjugated to human exploitation. Nature is an ornament to decorate man-made objects and not something to be respected in her own right. The Japanese have helped to destroy nature in modern times but they are still akin to nature and regard themselves at one with nature.

These differences tend to make the translation of Japanese haiku into English unsatisfactory, inaccurate and even irrelevant.

5-7-5 So-called Syllables (teikei)

There is a consensus about the rhythm and form of Japanese haiku. As a representative argument, we will undertake basic analysis based on the summary by Keiko Imaoka.

It has already been established that it does not make sense to apply a feature inherent in Japanese to a totally different language such as English. Here the so-called Japanese 5-7-5 "syllables" are not the same thing as syllables in English. Therefore, it is wrong to write haiku in English in 5-7-5 English syllables. Not only the quality of English syllables is different from their Japanese cousins but also the same number of English syllables carry much more information than in Japanese. Therefore, haiku in 5-7-5 English syllables carry too much information than their Japanese counterpart, making the English version wordy and defying the rule of brevity in haiku.

"Onsei" is Japanese syllables. However, in haiku "haku", or a beat=jion should be used. Haku is the smallest unit of aural sound of daily Japanese and forms the basis for Japanese verse. Japanese haku (beat) is very articulate, short and distinct like staccatos, e.g. sa-ku-ra. Haku can be subdivided into phonemes (on-so) which is just an academic concern.

Japanese vowels are called 'bo-in'. There are five bo-in=5 vowels, a, i, u, e, and o. There used be 8 vowels until Heian. (5 vowels , the same with Spanish, Latin; 3 in Arabic, 11 in French, 9 in Korean) On the other hand, Japanese consonant is called shi-in and there are 14 of them, very few compared with other languages.

There are very few Japanese word having only one haku (beat), e.g. tsu, su, ta, ki, etc. Two haku (beats) is really the length which is comfortable for the Japanese. In spoken Japanese each mora is more or less the same length-the same is hardly true for English syllables. English also has more prominent accents than Japanese, which really gets in the way sometimes when you try to make the syllables match - simply put, English words are such that you don't necessarily get rhythmical smoothness just by having five syllables. This makes a 5-7-5 division that makes no provisions for accented and unaccented syllables less natural for the English language. (Shimpei Yamashita)

Cutting words (kireji)

Cutting words are certain particles of old Japanese and it is almost impossible to find the English equivalent for the same effect, except for effective use of such things as colons, semi-colons and caesuras.

kumatagari (enjambment)=Not all Japanese haiku can be divided into three arts (5-7-5). Sometimes, a word, or phrase, stretches into two parts. This is called kumatagari and sometimes poses difficulty when translating such haiku into English.

brevity=Brevity is the soul of wit The point is not to say as much in the [single poem] as possible, by condensing and compacting, but perhaps to say as little as possible that will sketch the scene! I like to think of haiku as sculpture, where we are trying to chip away the excess material (of experience) to reveal the clear image within. If we leave any of the 'extra' stone, the result is less sharp and clear. (Kim Hodges)

Vagueness of Japanese= The vague nature of Japanese leaves the translator with all sorts of possibilities of interpretation. When putting it into English, he/she will have to choose one option.

old Japanese (still used extensively in haiku)=Arguably more difficult to learn than modern Japanese.

reversed syntax=In many instances the syntax in Japanese is the opposite to that in English. This makes it difficult for the translator to use the original Japanese syntax in the English version.

other word order= English pre-positions are post-positions in Japanese. There are other grammatical constraints (determining the subject, dropped subjects, singular/plural, taigen-dome, tohchi-ho, etc.) which poses problems for translation.

rhyme= Rhyming is not the main feature of haiku. It is partly because of the phonetic properties of Japanese. Also, rhyming in haiku makes it artificial and affected, the characteristics contrary to the spirit of haiku. To rhyme the English versions of Japanese haiku would often give them definite poetic form and make them "sound like" English poems. For precisely that reason, rhyming is rather disliked in today's haiku in English.

Images=haiku relies heavily on pictorial images. However, Japanese images are different from those of English.

Refrain=The Japanese refrain does not translate well into English.

Part Two: Invisible, or Non-formal Constraints

Let us now look at the invisible, or non-formal constraints to translating haiku in Japanese into English. This part is more difficult to evaluate not least because it tries to deal with the characteristics of Japanese haiku, which are not readily visible or knowable.

hai'i (haiku spirit, or haiku feeling)= This is arguably the most important element of Japanese haiku, without which a haiku poem would be boring and soul-less. Originally, 'hai' was derived from a Chinese word, haikai, meaning 'comic'. This phrase was used in "haikai no renga" (comic renga=linked verse), to distinguish the new form of poetry from the classical and elegant form of linked verse, called simply "renga". It was then taken up by Basho who elevated the meaning to a more refined value. Basho's broadened definition was anti-traditional and was characterised by freedom of rendering, search for new subjects, language and perceptions and a refined sense of humour. Thus hai'i became an independent aesthetic and literary value, distinct from that of waka. However, this is the most difficult feeling to explain to non-Japanese and to translate into their languages.

haiku no kokoro (the soul of haiku)=Similar to hai'I, this refers to the soul, or feeling, of haiku which permeate an individual's way of thinking, psychological attitude to things and generally his or her way of life. The words used in a haiku can have such soul, or feeling (not just season words) The subjects or objects to be used in a haiku, e.g. animals, plants, flowers or objects which evokes haiku soul.

haigon (words having haiku feeling)=words traditionally used for haiku in Japan are different from traditional poetry and assume characteristics peculiar to haiku. Haigon reflect the distinct way in which the haiku poet observes the world: an outlook with a slight twist, sense of humour, direct and concrete. Haigon express the hai'i explained above.

yojo (lingering echo of feeling, 'aftertaste'=the ringing sound after the bell is tolled is often compared to the lingering echo after reading a haiku. A good haiku often has this yojo and like a good aftertaste of fine wines give the prolonged pleasure to the reader.

fuga no makoto (poetic truth)=perhaps the most important of all Basho's teachings. Haiku without fuga no makoto is shallow, bland and artificial, however cleverly it is written. This is particularly true with modern haiku where "imagination" and "invention" are given a place in haiku composition, which can slip easily into false emotion and faked sensibility, lacking fuga no makoto. However, what constitutes fuga no makoto is difficult to define, let alone transmit into different languages.

furyu (special taste of artistic and poetic nature)=another term impossible to translate. It is translated as elegance, taste and refinement. However, there is no accounting for tastes. A person with furyu is a person of a romantic turn of mind, one of refined taste and loves art, literature, particularly poems. He or she is somewhat removed from the mundane affairs and lives a life of leisure, indulging in cultural pursuits and accomplishment.

wabi, sabi, karumi=One can write a long thesis on each one of these. These are some of the most important poetic values which Basho developed in the haikai. The meanings of wabi (patina, rustic beauty and loneliness), sabi (melancholic sense of beauty) and karumi (lightness) are well-documented elsewhere and do not detain us here.

honkadori (allusion to a classical poems)=a haiku which 'borrows' an anecdote from the old times, which have been told in classic poems.

cultural constraints (indigenous, local events, music, art)=especially those events, cultural values which are 'unique' to Japan and which, therefore, have no equivalents in other cultures.

human senses (smell, colour, sound, tactile sense etc.)=haiku is a form of poetry which reflects human senses strongly and make a good use of them for effect.

Summary characteristics of haiku

Brevity, immediacy, particularity(concreteness), directness(subject, experience, sensory directness); concrete subjects, plainness, spontaneity & poetic naturalness, seasonal perception, poetic sincerity, haiku-feelings, delicacy of feelings, use of image, lyric poem, ordinary everyday occurrences and familiar objects, common language (plain English), sense of humour but not showing off clever wit, newness and originality, real lived experience (not faked, or imagined), the Suchness of things, a snapshot of events in words, here and now. Maurice Saatchi said, "The fewer the words the better advertisement becomes. No word is the best ad"
Wabi(rustic), sabi(patina, loneliness), karumi(lightness), shiori(thinness)

Metaphor, allusion, sense of detachment

Buddhist elements: the evanescence of all things, the selflessness of all elements, the bliss of Nirvana, features of Zen.

Apparent Contradictions of Haiku: here and ow/universality - timelessness - permanence; concrete, specific subjects/ generality; 'surface' phenomena/ deep insight; subjective/objective; suchness (things just as they are)/ universal truth (things as they should be); physical/ metaphysical; metaphor/ simile; immanence/ transcendence


1 There are considerable difficulties in translating Japanese haiku into English.

2 The difficulties are caused partly by visible, or formal constraints but more importantly by invisible, or non-formal constraints.

3 Therefore, if we accept the validity of such translation, we should also accept the limitations thereof. Some translations are better than others depending on the subject matter, words used in the original, quite apart from the ability of the translator.

4 Notwithstanding, there is a scope that excellent translations of Japanese haiku into English can sometimes be achieved. In some instances, the translations can arguably be better than the original.

5 There are instances of what may be termed as 'creative translation' (or, creation itself), whereby the translator more or less rewrite the original, or create a new poem out of it. Here, perhaps we need to define the word 'translation' applied to translation from Japanese haiku into English.

Because we should remain within the boundary of translation for any translation to remain as such.

Two Haiku Examples to Test the Conclusions

Let us now look at two more haiku closely to put these conclusions to test.

Mallow Flower Eaten by My Horse

Michi nobe no mukuge wa uma ni kuware keri (Basho)

Donald Keene's translation

Mallow flower
By the side of the road-
Devoured by my horse.
Pp142-143, Nihon Bungaku-shi
(Japanese Literature, London, 1953)

Keene compares this translation by himself with that by Chamberlain of the same haiku;

The mallow-flower by the road
Was eaten by a [passing] horse. Basil Chamberlain

and maintains that what makes the Basho's haiku infinitely distinct is that it was the horse Basho was riding that ate the mallow flower. Basho was riding the horse when suddenly it notice the flower and lowered its head to eat it, a second before which Basho had a vivid view of the beauty of it.
the moral lesson conveyed in those few words was too obvious: - had not the mallow pressed forward into public view, the horse would never have devoured it. Learn, then, ambitious man, to be humble and retiring. The vulgar yearning for fame and distinction can lead nowhither but to misery, for it contradicts the essential principle of ethics. (Chamberlain)

Not Dying On the Journey

Last but not least, I shall introduce a commendable attempt by an English poetess() at demonstrating the feasibility of translating Japanese haiku into English effectively by creating ten different English versions of a famous haiku by Basho.

The haiku in question is:

Shini mo senu tabine no hate yo aki no kure

The basic prose translation runs thus:

At the end of this journey at last,
I haven't met my death, as I feared at the beginning;
At the end of autumn.

[1] Her first rendering attempted to call up memories of great works in the English literature canon.

A weary way; now, at last, the end:
In the beginning, fear of death, that passed away.
Autumn is ending too.

The English reader should recall Grey's 'Elegy' -

The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
also the first words of the Gospel of St. John,
In the beginning was the word.
And an Anglo-Saxon lament with the refrain,
That passed away, so will this.

Here she seems to be attempting to make an exotic poem acceptable as English poetry by evoking accepted masterworks.

[2] The second version uses simple rhythm and rhyme to mark the haiku firmly as 'poetry' in a form accepted by all English people, - the four line >rhymed verse found in nursery rhymes and hymns.

This is journey's end at last;
I set out fearing Death; he passed
Me by and all my wandering's done.
And autumn's come and gone.
This version personifies Death, using a familiar folk-lore representation of Death as a solitary traveller met on a lonely road.
She may have tried out the easiest English verse form. Overall, this version is too wordy.

[3] The third attempt uses the same easily acceptable form and emphasises Basho's hint of self-mockery.

The end of this long road; the journey's made
At last. Starting, I was afraid
I might meet Death. My foolish fear!
Wandering and autumn's days end safely here.

[4] Her fourth try is more concise and ambiguous. Does the end of autumn bring cosy security or expectation of winter and old age?

The end at last. This weary journey done,
I set out fearing Death; he passed me by;
The end of autumn's come.
In this version, she has abandoned rhyme and maybe for that reason it turned out to be too much like ordinary speech.

[5] Version five is again a three line verse, but contains a rhyme and is more cheerful in outlook, even mildly triumphant.

This is journey's end at last;
I set out fearing Death, he missed my trail;
Journey and autumn's end are safely past.

[6] The sixth variation is the one she herself preferred. It expressed the mood of calm acceptance which I perceive in the poem. It also uses assonance rather than true rhyme.

This journey's over; all the wandering done;
Starting, I feared to meet my death but now,
Only autumn's gone.

[7] Version seven, very similar, contains a true rhyme (last - past) in place of the 'eye rhyme' done - gone. She feels on reading 6 and 7 aloud that 6 sounds more 'musical' and softer.

This is the journey's end at last.
The death I feared at starting never came,
And not my life, but only autumn's past.

[8] The eighth variant follows the rules for Anglo-Saxon poetry in alliteration and rhythm. Thus an English reader perceives the verse as a clever exercise in archaic style which arouses interest.

The trail travelled truly; goal reach at long last;
Death-dread at road's head needlessly heeded.
Autumn fast fading.

She uses words derived from Anglo-Saxon, which gives a strength and vigour to the lines. She thinks that alliteration is still an effective device when writing poetry in English.

[9] In the ninth version she tries, as many translators of haiku do, to copy the Japanese form of seventeen syllables. She feels that English words contain too many syllables to allow nuances of meaning to be expressed in seventeen English syllables.

End of this long trail
Begun in fear of death.
Alive. Autumn ends.

[10] The last try offers an example of a pun, using the word 'remains' in two senses in an attempt to reproduce the device of the 'hinge word' which is used in so many haiku.

My journey is completed, finally.
Death I feared at starting; life remains
And the remains of Autumn.

(1) A. C. Bradley: Oxford Lectures on Poetry, 1909
(2) Hiroaki Sato, One Hundred Frogs, Weatherhill, Inc., 1995



Sense of Humour – A Forgotten Prerequisite of Haiku
by Susumu Takiguchi

A doyen of haiku looked surprised and then amused at the Global Haiku Festival in April 2000 when he suddenly realised that a Japanese speaker had been pronouncing the word "haiku" very differently from how it is said in English. This amused me immensely. The man knew almost everything there is to know about haiku, including the origin and the literal meaning of this very word. And yet it never seemed to have occurred to him how it should be or is pronounced in Japanese. Pronounced in the Western way, haiku could mean "discarded poems", or "useless void". How humble they sound, albeit unwittingly! If this man did not know the correct pronunciation of the word of which he is an undisputed authority, how much chance is there for the ordinary haijin outside Japan to know the first thing about haiku as practised in Japan?

Spring rain:
The uneaten ducks
Kobayashi Issa

The doyen's amusement and my own are both in keeping with the true spirit of haiku. And here is the reason why. The word "haiku" is composed of two parts, "hai" and "ku", and it is the meaning of the former which is often forgotten or never learnt in the first place, creating one of the most serious flaws in Western writing of haiku. The "hai" is part of another word "hai-kai" of Chinese origin, whose Japanese equivalent is "kokkei". Now, the word "kokkei" can be variously translated into English: comicality, drollery, waggery, jocularity, joke, jest, pleasantry, humour, witticism, pun, farce, funny things etc. etc. No problem with the word "ku", since everybody seems to know what it means, namely a stanza, or a piece of poetry.

bush warbler —
a dropping on the rice cake
at the veranda's edge!
Matsuo Basho

"Haiku", then, ought to have meant nothing but a comic verse, had it not been for Basho. How on earth is it that when it comes to haiku in the West and by extension in the rest of the non-Japanese world, it looks as though haiku means anything but a comic verse? The confusion between haiku and senryu is one silent testimony to this. Zen obsession which Western haijin have inflicted upon themselves is another. The lesson we need to learn outside Japan is that we should never forget that humour has always been, still is, and should continue to be, if possible, part of haiku. Without this lesson becoming an integral part of our sensibility, it would be an unending uphill struggle for us to begin to grasp that special frame of mind, or view of life, which is peculiar to haiku: a detached, tangential, light-hearted and humorous way of looking at things. This is the forgotten half of the essence of "haiku-no-kokoro" (the haiku spirit), the most difficult quality for non-Japanese to understand, let alone acquire. It is present in haiku poems and also in the way of life of their authors, sometimes overt and other times latent, but it is there always, maintaining a delicate balance with "fuga-no-makoto" (poetic truth or honesty). When and where did it go wrong, if it has ever gone wrong?

Samurai's gathering —
their chat has the pungent taste
of daikon radish
Matsuo Basho

In this connection, we must ask the question, "what is the word haiku?" as opposed to the question "what is haiku?" The word was not invented or coined by Masaoka Shiki as is widely believed. The word "haiku" had been in existence at least two hundred years before Shiki. What Shiki effectively did was to give this word a special role, that of replacing the word "hokku" (opening stanza) in order to sever it from the rest of renga ("haikai-no-renga" to be exact) and to make it a genre of modern "literature" in its own right. At first Shiki used both "hokku" and "haiku" but then started to use solely "haiku" to replace "hokku", because "hokku" implied that other stanzas were to follow and became inappropriate. Shiki's so-called haiku reform was first and foremost this attempt of his at making "hokku" (now haiku) independent of the haikai-no-renga. This also meant that he and his followers had the task of developing now independent haiku in such a way as to let it make sense in the fast modernising and Westernising Japan over a hundred years ago.

Autumn fly —
all the fly swatters
are broken
Masaoka Shiki

The first haikai document to record the word "haiku" is thought by general consent to be Hattori Sadakiyo's Obaeshu which was published in Kambun 3 (1663). Originally, "haiku" was abbreviated from "haikai-no-ku" and was used as a general term to mean any ku (stanza), whether it was "hokku", or other "tsukeku", in the haikai-no-renga. In the Meiji era, it took some time before "haiku" was established and well circulated. A History of Japanese Literature by Sanji Mikami and Sukisaburo Takatsu (1890), for example, gave the word "haiku" a proper status as a technical literary term and consciously used it to signify an independent form of poetry previously represented by "hokku".

Above her sash,
Breasts in her way
As she tucks in her fan.
Iida Dakotsu

In order to understand the word "haiku" accurately, we must sort out another commonly used but equally commonly misunderstood word, "haikai", from which was derived haiku as we know it. "Haikai" is a much wider and more complex term covering not only hokku (or haiku) but also more loosely many of the literary works related to hokku such as renga (or "renku"), haibun and hairon (haiku theory, or essay), though the narrowest definition of the word would be the haikai-no-renga.

The word "haikai" had been used in Japanese literature before Basho's time. One example of this is the "Haikai-ka" (or Comic Verses) of the Kokinshu. This tradition goes even further back to "gisho-ka" (farcical poems) of the Manyoshu. Haikai-no-renga was first established by such people as Yamazaki Sokan, and Arakida Moritake and was then developed into a more wide-spread genre of literature by, among other people, Matsunaga Teitoku and Nishiyama Soin. However, as we all know it was Basho who elevated haikai to a height comparable to that of "waka", or serious renga or any other literary form of merit. Ever since that time, haikai-no-renga (and haiku as its modern incarnation) has been bearing the cross, so to say, of having to do the balancing act between the humorous and the serious.

If it rains,
Come with your umbrella,
Midnight moon.
Yamazaki Sokan

The confusion or misconception about the word "hai-kai" in the West has naturally added to the lack of true understanding of haiku itself. With the surge of the world haiku movement, we should grasp the opportunities it provides us with to unravel all sorts of misunderstandings, misconceptions and lack of true understanding of various aspects of haiku before they are permanently enshrined and made into icons to be worshipped. If it is in the interest of haiku and its genuine and healthy development in the 21st century to correct these kinds of idols and icons, then we need to have modern versions of desirable iconoclasts. Not those iconoclasts in the past who tried to destroy icons only to become new icons themselves. Make no mistake: these modern iconoclasts should be genuinely supported not persecuted, since their other names are reason, fairness, bon sense, integrity, objectivity, tolerance and last but not least genuine love for haiku.

Days getting longer —
I part with a friend who caught
a yawn from me
Natsume Soseki

Thus, if we truly appreciate that a sense of humour is part and parcel of haiku, then the way we look at a specific haiku or compose haiku ourselves should now go through subtle or even drastic changes. For example, we would be looking at Basho's frog pond poem (one of the most misunderstood poems) with new eyes and would be able to see a comic side to it. We would also come to realise that we have been taking haiku far too seriously, to the extent to which such an attitude would faintly verge on idolatry, fetishism or fanaticism, which are anathema to true haijin. The sense of humour ("hai") in haiku would restore the right balance for us.

Wasting in summer:
Arms heavier
Than iron bars.
Kawabata Bosha

A quick survey of the sense of humour which has permeated haiku from its origin to the present day is given by Nobuyuki Yuasa, beginning with the fathers of haikai-no-renga, Yamazaki Sokan, Arakida Moritake, through Teitoku, Soin, Saikaku, Basho, Basho's followers, Buson, Issa, to Shiki, Soseki and Ryunosuke (pp. 63 - 81, "Laughter in Japanese Haiku", in Rediscovering Basho - A 300th Anniversary Celebration, Stephen Henry Gill & C. Andrew Gerstle ed., Global Oriental, 1999, ISBN 1-901903-15-X). This essay is a good starting point to rectify one's long negligence of honouring the sense of humour as a vital ingredient of haiku.

The few flies that remain
Seem to remember me.
Taneda Santoka



By Susumu Takiguchi
9th World Haiku Festival,
on 23 February 2008, in Bangalore, India - Key-note Speech


I wish to start with a special poet who is a national hero and pride in India but who is also a father of, inter alia, all modern poets in the world, Rabindranath Tagore (7 May 1861-7 August 1941).

Tagore wrote a brief account in his travelogue of his first visit of Japan in 1916. Brief, but in it every word is a jewel and the whole prose reads more like free-flowing poetry even in Japanese translation. It is one of the most exhilarating readings, at least to me.

Exhilarating, not because it is full of praise of Japan but because every observation is told not in isolation but as a representation of deeper realities or broader universality, which seems to me to be a characteristic of this first Nobel laureate in Asia. It is also exhilarating because it teaches that one can say so much in so brief a writing. Who needs a volume like War And Peace to say what it is that is to be said? All we need is the best words, in the best place and in the best order. And the more one knows what one wants to say the fewer the words needed. The fewest words of all are silence. It seems as if we may be talking about haiku here, doesn’t it?

However, the greatest exhilaration comes to me because Tagore sought to promote a new world culture which was based on ‘multi-culturalism, diversity and tolerance’, according to a study. I might hasten to add that the phrase ‘multi culturalism’ Tagore used had no pejorative or debased meaning which it has sadly acquired in modern Britain. This remark of Tagore is almost identical with the aim of the World Haiku Club. With such a fortunate coincidence, I am emboldened to appeal to my friends in India to take part in the world haiku movement which was started by us in 1998 but which needs to be passed continuously to new haiku poets in all corners of the world and to continue to be pursued and developed in earnest by them. Tagore showed us the way how that could be done. World Haiku Festival 2008 in which we rejoice at taking part here in India marks a high point of following in the footsteps of Tagore, in our case in the field of haiku literature.

In his travelogue, Tagore introduced two haiku by Basho, one about the old pond and a frog and the other about the withered branch and a crow. About the former, Tagore comments after citing it, “That is all. And that is sufficient”. This is because, according to him, there are many eyes in the Japanese reader’s mind, which can see that which is not mentioned in the haiku but only implied in the most succinct and beautiful way. Nothing more is necessary. Tagore, it seems, got straightaway to the essence of haiku, and without reading any of today’s haiku textbooks or frivolous explanation about haiku at that.

About the second poem of the withered branch and the crow by Basho, Tagore made a similar comment but this time emphasised the importance of the power of intuitive understanding of the Japanese reader. Because of this, the author of haiku not only has no need to put him- or herself forward into the poem but also must indeed withdraw and step aside. This, by the way, has nothing to do with the popular assertion that ego must not come into haiku, which is all too often admonished wrongly by so many.

The reason why Tagore could get to the heart of the matter in appreciating the essence of haiku so easily is not just that he was an exceptional Renaissance man. It is because he approached haiku with unadulterated and open heart. Quoting another Japanese poem (heaven and earth are flowers/kami-god and Buddha are flowers/man’s heart is the essence of flowers), Tagore introduces an almost identical Indian verse (heaven and earth/god and Buddha/these two flowers blossom from the same stalk) and points out that the beauty of things beautiful stems from human heart.

This is an important point for haiku-writing in the present circumstances where what could be termed as the ‘author’s right’ is ignored in preference for the ‘reader’s right’ with the former made to worry far too much about what the latter might or might not think about his or her haiku of originality and newness. It is also important because we should really leave most things to our human heart when writing haiku and not to irksome rules and regulations.

Then Tagore goes on to explore the sensibility unique to the Japanese, which he calls ‘restraint of the soul’. By this he means that it is possible to increase the feeling and expression of beauty by restraining the feeling and expression of the emotion. Less is better than more. This strikes me as one of the best explanation about the essence of haiku.

If the same blood runs through all Indian poets and the same sensibility is found in them as that of Tagore, they will have already made a good start with haiku.



I now turn to my reflections on world haiku and discuss its future.

This year, 2008, marks the 314th anniversary of the death of Basho. Since his birth, indeed, as many as 364 years have passed. If we take Arakida Moritake (1473-1549), the renowned haikai-no-renga master, it is 535 years since his birth. Compared with this long history of haikai, the world haiku as I understand it is only about 20 or 30 years old in a loose sense, and only 10 years old in the strict sense. Haiku was first introduced to the outside Japan earlier, about 100 years ago, but then it could hardly be called world haiku. What can be called as American haiku has a history of mere 50 years or so.

The phrase ‘world haiku’ was first used by R. H. Blyth. Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959) was alsotalking about the future of haiku and envisaging the time when haiku would be written even in tropical zones and elsewhere. However, no one could imagine that haiku would become so popular and widespread across the world as now. Ten years ago I decided to use the same phrase ‘world haiku’ and founded the World Haiku Club to be dedicated to the development of world haiku, as I perceived that haiku by then had become what I called a genre of world literature and needed a different treatment altogether than it had been given until then.

So, what is the world haiku scene today? Until about 1900 haiku was a complete preserve of Japan, quite unheard of in the rest of the world. It is well-known that around that time the genre started to trickle out at the hands of pioneering introducers of Japanese culture, mainly to the West. However, it was only after the WWII, especially in the 1960s, that haiku began to be flowing out of Japan like streams, largely through North America.

Today, there are basically, say, four players on the haiku map of the world, according to a new classification. There is first and foremost gigantic in haiku terms but still largely closed and isolated Japan. There are many reasons for this isolation, not least the language barrier. In spite of the effort by some to improve the situation, what is happening in Japan’s haiku community is little known outside it, and vice versa. This mutual ignorance and lack of will or ability of communication remain a major obstacle to the healthy development of world haiku outside Japan.

Then, secondly, very open and ever-expanding American-led haiku nations and individual poets in the United States and across the world except for Japan. Here, I am using the term ‘American-led’ in a neutral and factual sense. This is the dominant force in today’s world haiku community. Most of the haiku poems outside Japan are written on the model and under the influence of, or even as straightforward or blind copies of this school of thought. Of course, there are subtle variations within it but the differences are slight when looked at in terms of the trend as a whole. There are a small number of poets who are trying to break the mould, which is not easy, but that is largely due to such individuals’ own efforts and talent and not assisted by the trend itself.

No doubt, this American-led haiku trend should be celebrated and congratulated for its great achievement of disseminating haiku not only within USA and other English-speaking countries but also in almost all other countries in the world save Japan and making it such a popular and treasured literary mascot. However, what is also more than obvious is that it cannot be healthy or natural that such wide world of ours with all its diversities and differences should be dominated by a single haiku movement.

The dominant position of the American-led haiku trend has been attained by a number of reasons. Firstly, it has been gained because of the passion, enthusiasm, energy and sheer love for haiku on the part of American poets and their faithful followers in other parts of the world who in turn have become leaders in each of their country or regions. Secondly, except for a small number of distinguished individuals with their own distinct views and opinions in different parts of the world, all other nations, especially non-English-speaking ones, have lagged far behind America which after all has been the only major pioneer in developing and spreading haiku outside Japan. This lack of competition or rivals has almost automatically ensured the American dominance in haiku. When others ‘discovered’ haiku it was far too late for them to do their own laborious research or to make painstaking efforts to find for themselves what haiku was all about from the primary source, which is Japan, and to resist the temptation of taking the easiest route of swallowing the American haiku trend hook, line and sinker out of the books, magazines, anthologies or any other sources coming from America because these were virtually the only source of information about haiku outside Japan. Of course, R. H. Blyth was British but it was the Americans who first recognised his worth, which was virtually unknown in Britain, and introduced his magnum opus among poets. This situation meant that the rest of the world was totally vulnerable and ready to swallow whole whatever was put on their plate.

Thirdly, on the world haiku map there are regions and nations that have not escaped the influence of the American-led haiku but are trying to make their own mark at the same time. It has become fashionable for them to call their product in their own brand name such as ‘Irish haiku’, ‘British haiku’, ‘New haiku’, or even ‘French-Canadian haiku’. Whether such a ‘logo change’ reflects real difference is another matter. However, what they are trying to achieve is highly commendable and provides some hope for the future development of world haiku.

And last but not least, in fact most importantly, there are those rare individual poets who are independent-minded enough to follow their own poetic instinct to tune in to the sound, colour, smell and vibration of true haiku but at the same time humble enough to continue to learn from other people’s experiences. These are the best category of haiku poets in today’s world, our ultimate goal and seem to present the best hope for future world haiku. The more of them, the better. In fact, all haiku poets should be like them in the first place.

Ever since haiku was unleashed out of the two stringent and fundamental shackles, namely the traditional mould of Japanese haiku and the Japanese language itself, it has quickly begun to flourish across the world. However, there is the other side of the coin. Namely, haiku has at the same time plunged into a state of flux on the verge of chaos in every way, ranging from definition questions to style or subject matter. But, like the genie out of the bottle, contemporary haiku can neither be put back into the traditional Japanese haiku bottle nor confined to the Japanese language.

That there are different varieties of haiku is not in itself a bad thing at all. What seems to be the real problem is the widespread narrow-mindedness, intolerance or even arrogance with which people condemn other poets’ works as not haiku. Once this mindset takes hold of us there is little scope for constructive interaction between and among haiku poets or for haiku itself to be developed freely. The definition of haiku, for example, is so varied and different that it has virtually become meaningless now to try to define it in the first place.

To ask what is haiku, or more precisely what is the essence of haiku is very different from defining haiku. It is productive, useful, instructive, uplifting, forward-looking, intellectually stimulating and profound. By contrast, to try to define haiku is restrictive, divisive, exclusive, limiting, backwards, shallow and intellectually very, very boring. I therefore wish to propose in deadly earnest that we should drop the preoccupation of trying to define haiku or reading different definitions of it, say, for the next ten years and just get on with writing haiku. YES, believe it or not, we can write haiku without such irksome definitions. Recently, I was walking with someone in the English countryside when he was admiring the scenery loud in a few words. And I said, ‘Oh, that’s a jolly good haiku!’ He said, ‘Oh, really? Is haiku some kind of a Japanese food?’

From the purist and somewhat fundamentalist point of view, anything which is purported to be haiku but written in languages other than Japanese is not haiku. It is a deviation from or derivative of the genuine haiku at best. (Incidentally, even those haiku written in kohgo, or modern Japanese, used to be condemned to be not haiku at all because the real haiku had always been written in bungo, or old Japanese.)

It has been proved time and again that such purist or fundamentalist position of haiku cannot provide a wholly viable literary form in the modern age and modern world. However, the majority of Japanese haiku poets think that foreigners cannot understand haiku, let alone write it. Those Japanese who think differently are either academics specialising in English or English literature, or some of the haiku poets who, for their self-serving purposes, would benefit from getting involved in international haiku movement. Language is the biggest and most formidable barrier but even more seriously there is a barrier of culturally isolationist attitude of the Japanese on the one hand and what may be termed as intellectual laziness and arrogance of non-Japanese haiku poets on the other.
The hard fact that we should face up to and accept is that in terms of the world haiku we should by now have graduated from the rudimentary stages of haiku-learning which I have just outlined and made more progress in reaching advanced and refined stages. It is not too late. However, if the present situation of world haiku continues as I have described so far, it would be difficult for anyone to move on to these advanced and refined stages because that situation is extremely limiting and will work as a hindrance to their progress.

Confused or chaotic as the world haiku may look at first sight, all the haiku poems being written in today’s world can in fact fall into three broad categories or areas without any difficulty. At the World Haiku Club we call them Neo-classical, Shintai (or new style) and Vanguard (Avant Garde), which cover the whole spectrum of all haiku imaginable. An individual haiku poet can freely write haiku either in one or two of these areas, or in all three of them, depending on his or her mood, feeling, haiku stance, circumstances or subject matter. When writing, there is not even any need for the author to be conscious of these different areas. Why classify? Why define? Just write, following your sensibility, instinct, perception or emotion. The outcome may range from dust to gold --- mostly dust, perhaps. However, when you feel you have struck gold, that would be the bliss for any haiku poet.

My prediction about the future trend of world haiku is that while some stubborn and self-serving people may cling to their dogma or creed till the end of their lives and some unsuspecting newcomers will fall in their clutches, many haiku poets will sooner or later come to realise that there is indeed no need to spend a lot of their time busying themselves in defining, classifying or interfering with other people’s haiku.

Many or at least some of truly good haiku will speak for themselves. The most effective and secure way of improving one’s haiku is to encounter as many of these gems as possible and study them in depth, rather than wasting one’s time on lesser poems. Listen to the authors of these rare works, even if they may not be vociferous as they are rather quiet and self-effacing usually, rather than to haiku politicians or self-appointed haiku leaders. If you cannot find these true haiku poets, then listen to nature instead.

I have been involved in other people’s problems of defining haiku for a long time. Nowadays, more out of despair than choice I am even being tempted to think, considering the futility of such efforts, that anything is haiku if its author says it is, which, needless to say, has nothing to do with the condemnation of ‘anything goes’. For in this case, the only question and the only question that matters is whether the poem thus written is good or bad, and not whether it is haiku or not. To put it in another way, under any definition good haiku are good and bad ones bad. We just have to be honest about it and also be humble.

What I have tried to explain above is a fundamental problem for world haiku and needs to be addressed properly. We can try to seek a solution to it, like in many other cases, by listening to some of Basho’s teachings.

Let us, then, look at Basho’s “fueki ryuko” (eternal value and fashion of the day). This is a far more dynamic and progressive haikai tenet than is generally recognised. It is an effective key to solving many problems which haiku poets outside Japan are faced with today. The usual explanation that permanence and change are both needed for haikai fails to convey the creative momentum and incessant quest for inspiration contained in it. Rather, “fueki ryuko” is really talking about changes, and suggesting that eternal essence of haikai should be found in these changes. It is like Hegelian dialectic whereby two opposing forces collide to create a new force. In this sense, it is talking about the same thing as Basho’s other teaching of “atarashimi” (newness) which is the lifeblood of haikai.

The reason why Basho added “fueki” (eternal essence) is that the change needed in haikai should not be just any change, or change for the sake of change, but those changes which seek eternal values. In other words, he tried to make these vital changes a haikai poet’s target which may be very difficult but worth attaining, thus paving the way for haikai to develop along the right and ever-improving path. To put it in the modern context, the lesson we should learn from “fueki ryuko” in our haiku composition and in haiku movement is that we should be constantly seeking changes which are likely to realise permanent poetic values. This seemingly contradictory nature of “fueki ryuko” is the creative tension which Basho was developing for himself and for his followers.

Sixteen Challenges

Any human activity will become sterile without the injection of fresh air, new blood or progressive innovation. However, it is common that such an activity becomes readily “institutionalised” and resists changes. Haiku is no exception. Therefore it is important for anyone involved in haiku to stop from time to time to reflect upon him- or herself and make sure that rot has not set in. It is a good practice to do so in order to rid oneself of complacency, arrogance and narrow-mindedness.

One of the most effective ways of exercising such a review is to challenge what seems to be doing well. For any critical reappraisal levelled against it can logically apply more profoundly to lesser endeavours. As Descartes proposed to doubt everything that he could manage to doubt (“Cartesian doubt”), so we can propose to challenge everything we can manage to challenge. The more well-established and unassailable a target seems to be, the more worthwhile the challenge would become.

It was for this reason that the process was started at the WHF2000 London-Oxford Conference to look at everything in the haiku community critically and give it a thorough re-examination and reappraisal. It is hoped that through such review we may find right paths along which world haiku can develop in the future. The initiative was taken under the two slogans, “Challenging Conventions” and “Charting Our Future”. The two slogans require that we should conduct our discussion in as “critical, new, original, positive, constructive, creative, inspiring and thought-provoking” a way as possible. It is certainly not an easy task. On the contrary it is a tough exercise which needs a great deal of intellectual input, creative energy, courage, open mind, honesty and above all quite a lot of time to be completed.

Under “Challenging Conventions”, we basically challenge just about everything. At the World Haiku Club we have been dealing with at least sixteen important challenges.

Another essential point is that haiku, or something like a primordial sensibility for haiku, is actually in every one of us, regardless of race, culture, language or religion. It is like saying that in every one of us there is Buddha, or we only do not realise that each of us has Zen essence and that we only have to remove all those things which hide it from us. Put in another way, if we compare haiku to cooking, its ingredients are to be found in every one of us. We only have to cook it. And like food, every haiku tastes different, unless, that is, one gets it from MacDonald’s. The question, then, is how to extract haiku from within ourselves. Simple, isn’t it? Or, is it?

Science Science provides ways in which to explore scientific truths through experiments. Philosophy provides philosophical truths through contemplation. Arts --- artistic truths through pictorial or musical language. What, then, does haiku provide? I believe that haiku provides ways in which we can explore what I call poetic truths, or truths found and expressed in the haiku language. Here I am talking about what Basho was seeking both in his writing and teaching of haikai-no-renga and hokku, namely, fuga no makoto, or poetic truths. One of Basho’s disciples, Hattori Dohoh, went so far as to say that haikai became capable of reaching truths for the first time with Basho because his haikai was not that of the old but haikai of makoto, namely truths.*

I am sure you will agree with me when I say that haiku opens up for us a very different way of looking at things around us. You probably can never forget the first time when a haiku poem hit you and suddenly you were experiencing something totally new and different. Perhaps you remember that particular haiku by heart. As you walked along the haiku path since then and were consciously or unconsciously acquiring a different outlook from your usual views, haiku must have changed you permanently even in the subtlest kind of way. The world, it seems, would not be the same again. You would not see nazuna (a shepherd’s purse) or a spider in the same way again. You would not feel the same again when you get wet with spring rain or hit by hail. You would not look up the sky in the same way again, as you would become more conscious of the Moon or the Milky Way all the time. You would not pass narcissi by without trying to find if they were bent by the first snow.

If we can put a genuine haiku experience in a few right words, then we would probably have achieved fuga no makoto, or poetic truths. There are a number of paths leading to such poetic truths.

Firstly, as I have already mentioned, there is a path for them to recognise and learn a different way of looking at things. Though things they see may be the same as those they are accustomed to, yet it is the new way in which to look at them that is different.

The second path is for them to write down what they saw in a new and different way, namely a haiku way. The haiku way of writing one’s observations is different from any other writing style they are accustomed to.

Thirdly, people can be taught to realise for themselves that the subject matter of haiku is also different from that which they are used to with their indigenous poems.

Now, the word makoto in fuga no makoto is a key word to understand one of the central tenets of Japanese spiritual values in the arts, literature, ethics or philosophy. Ma in makoto means true and koto means both ‘words’ and ‘things’, thus makoto means both true words and true things, i.e. truths in words and things. In addition, makoto when not broken up like that means an ethical, humanistic or moralistic value of honesty, sincerity and truthfulness. So, when Basho uses the phrase fuga no makoto, it means not only poetic truths but also poetic honesty and sincerity both in words and subjects. There is an element of moralistic value in Basho’s fuga no makoto, while for many other haiku poets such a moral dimension was neither important nor part of their concern.

In this connection, a teaching by someone who preceded Basho is instructive. It points out that haikai is indeed one body but that it can be divided into two parts. One is the haikai of heart. And the other is haikai of words. It puts the former above the latter. It would not be surprising if these words had been spoken by Basho himself. The teaching is that of Saito Tokumoto and can be found in his Haikai-Shogaku-Sho. This book, published in Kan-ei 18, or in 1641, three years before Basho was born, is renowned as the first book on haikai to be published in Edo (modern Tokyo). The remark is attributed to Sogi, a renga master, whom Basho respected.

Historically, there were three major values people sought to achieve in Japanese culture: shin (truth), zen (goodness) and bi (beauty). They represented philosophical, ethical and aesthetic goals respectively. Waka or tanka sought beauty first, followed by truth and some element of goodness. However, normally haiku looked into truth and beauty but seldom into goodness. Of course truth can be found in beauty and truth itself can be beautiful. And there is that famous adage: Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Aesthetic values can be broad or narrow according to the thinker. No one doubts the beauty of Basho’s wisteria haiku or the Milky Way haiku. But how many people would see beauty in the cicada or the roaming dream haiku?

A single haiku may not have all these values, though it is not impossible. Some haiku poems may have only one of them and still manage to be good. However, it seems to me to be essential for any haiku to have truth as a pre-requisite. This is why it is so important for us to spend some time to think about what we mean by poetic truths.

Obviously, we cannot dissect haiku into these clear-cut poetic values. Nor should we really do it if we can appreciate good haiku without such irksome and often unnecessary analysis. Even so, what is important to remember is that it is haiku’s own poetic values that provide us with ways in which we can reach fuga no makoto.

Let us, then, look at some of the points we need to explore in search of fuga no makoto.

Firstly, about the word fuga. In the broadest sense, it means arts in general. In the commonest sense it means literature, especially poetry. For Basho, it meant sometimes poetry in general but often it meant haikai itself. So, for him the terms fuga and haikai were interchangeable.

Secondly, we are not talking about truths in general terms. The truths we are dealing with are poetic truths, and especially haikai truths. Poetic truths are those arrived at through poetic perception and expressed in the poetic language. Some of them cannot be reached in any other way. Others may be the same truths but perceived and expressed as poetry.

Thirdly, as we have already seen fuga no makoto refers to broad, deep and somewhat intangible truths, having aesthetic, epistemological, ethical and humanistic dimensions. It is a poetic branch of one’s Weltanschauung and that is why I call haiku a way of life. And, significantly, it is also why haiku cannot really be taught during a very short course in the school curriculum or in a one-hour workshop.

Fourthly, fuga no makoto is not a freak phenomenon or momentary accident but holds its value over time, often forever, and becomes timeless.

Fifthly, fuga no makoto also often extends in space as well. In other words, the poetic truths thus obtained in one place can be understood, shared or repeated elsewhere in the world. This is the aspect of haiku which has universality.

Sixthly, fuga no makoto is a result or product of the dynamism of two colliding forces: fueki ryuko, which is another important teaching of Basho, as we have already seen. Fueki simply means ‘no change’ and refers to values of a permanent and enduring nature. Ryuko, on the other hand, means changing fashions of the time and refers to newness, innovation, originality or unconventional values which would break with old ways in a revolutionary manner. For instance, Beethoven created new and innovative music, ushering in a new age and setting a new trend. However, he did not do so without first having been steeped in classical music of an old tradition. Thus he had fueki ryuko and left legacy of permanent value. None of us is Beethoven but all of us can become a little Beethoven! Fueki ryuko is an abbreviation of senzai-fueki ichiji-ryuko (eternal no-change and temporary fashion). When fueki and ryuko collide and interact in a dynamic explosion of creative haiku-writing, the result could be like a newly-born baby, taking after both parents but different from both. And there is a single ultimate value which lies beyond fueki ryuko, and that is nothing but fuga no makoto.

Seventhly, haikai jiyu. This is another extremely important teaching of Basho. It refers to the freedom which haikai came to enjoy but which had been denied to other traditional genres such as waka. However, once this freedom becomes institutionalised it ceases to be new and fresh and becomes part of tradition, creating new needs for further freedom. Western haiku was fresh but has now become laden with the burden of rules and regulations. It needs to be liberated. We need to secure and preserve the maximum freedom of poetic expression and creation all the time. It is an ongoing process and there is not a single moment in time when a haiku poet is pronounced, or regards him- or herself, as accomplished. It is his or her fate to remain an eternal learner.

Eighthly, haiku is a product of interaction between nature and man, with man as part of nature. That is why haiku is a complex literature. Such practice in the West of dividing up the subject matter into nature and man and, for instance, allocating nature to haiku and man to senryu is a gross over-simplification and a bit of criminal negligence even.

Ninthly, similar to a point we have already seen, Basho taught the importance for a haikai poet of remaining a learner and not becoming complacent about his/her skills or experience. “Let small children do haikai” and “Poems by beginners are promising” are Basho’s words to express this sentiment. To put a popular saying slightly differently: Those who teach, can’t. Basho advises against haikai becoming gimmicky, contrived and boastful.

Tenthly, Basho said that there was that which could not be really taught in haikai. He is referring to what cannot be explained or theorised. Learners therefore need to learn it themselves by their intuition or sensibility. Some of them just don’t get it. That is too bad. However, many of us are born with it and some of us can acquire it so long as we go about it in the right way.

There are still many more interesting points regarding Basho’s teachings which are useful for our investigation but these ten points I have outlined would probably be enough for us to be going on with.

Let’s just recapitulate what we have seen. One of the ultimate aims of any education is to help learners find ways to reach truths. Haiku helps them to reach poetic truths, which are truths perceived and expressed through poetic sensibility and language. Haiku truths, or haikai truths, are what Basho called fuga no makoto. Fuga no makoto has a broad dimension encompassing aesthetic, epistemological, moralistic and humanistic values. To reach this ultimate goal of fuga no makoto, a haiku poet must follow certain right paths. These include: recognition that haiku is a way of life and to learn it properly one needs to be ‘brought up’ by it; implementation of the dynamic process whereby fueki (tradition, permanent values) and ryuko (fashion, newness, innovation and originality) would interact and collide in a creative way; making the most of haikai no jiyu which is freedom of poetic expression and creation in haikai; true understanding of the important point that haiku is neither about nature nor about man alone but is about the interaction and relationship between the two with man as part of nature; the importance of a haiku poet to remain an eternal learner; recognition that there is something in haiku which cannot be taught but only learnt by the learner by intuition and practice.

Does this fuga no makoto of Basho make sense to you? Does it resonate with your sensibility? Does it appeal to you as something you wish to aim for? I believe it does. If it is with you and inside you in the sense Basho mentioned, you can’t go wrong and you can then make it resonate with the sensibility of other people, including children.

Some non-Japanese haiku poets may never reach the Japanese haiku spirit but all haiku poets can expect to reach fuga no makoto and that is a wonderful possibility to celebrate. True haiku can have universality in time and space. Fuga no makoto is the catalyst for such universality and therefore is the ultimate aim of our learning haiku.



Pioneers and Latecomers

In any field of human activity pioneers are normally admired and given a special place in history. Followers, or latecomers, by contrast, would not be given such a favourable treatment. This is half justifiable for obvious reasons but the other half is open to question, especially when the pioneers would be over-worshipped on the one hand and the latecomers would be unduly under-estimated on the other. Pioneers must be allowed to come down from the pedestal on which they have been forced to stand and find their right place in history. Latecomers must be allowed to be free from the pioneers’ mistakes.

It depends of course on what these pioneers are of. If they are pioneers of landing on the moon, or discovering the number zero, or penicillin, then they cannot be worshipped enough. However, if they are pioneers of discovering haiku and of introducing it outside Japan, it is a slightly different story.

Pioneers have the advantage in that nobody has known whatever they are pioneering. Latecomers have the advantage of hindsight and all the wisdom and knowledge which have been accumulated since the first discovery. Pioneers make mistakes as well as discoveries and in a sense they are allowed to make mistakes if the importance of what they discover far outweighs the ill effects of their mistakes. Latecomers on the other hand are not allowed to make such mistakes or any other mistakes which are made perfectly preventable by the wisdom and knowledge available to them. More importantly, it is the duty of the latecomers to correct the mistakes of the pioneers. This is not to belittle the latter but on the contrary to pay them proper respect rather than florid but meaningless adulation.

What, then, is the real situation in the haiku community? The answer is regrettably rather not very satisfactory, or mixed at best. The main reason is our weakness as human beings not to learn from pioneers’ mistakes but to repeat them as no one around is saying they are mistakes.

All too often pioneers get excessively hero-worshipped, overly admired and wholly idolised by those who would benefit from such extravagance. Namely, they tend to do it for self-aggrandisement. This is not genuine homage to the pioneers but it does happen and happens once too often. There is no shortage of examples of this in haiku: Ezra Pound, Shiki Masaoka, R. H. Blyth and, yes, Basho himself to name but a few heavyweights. There is a serious need to review not only what Shiki achieved but also and even more importantly possible ill-effects of his reform or teaching. Blyth is at last widely admired now but this is precisely the dangerous time when we have to examine his bad influences in addition to his positive contributions to gain a balanced view of him, all in our interest.

If this is the situation with such glittering figures as I have just mentioned, how much more so in the case of lesser figures in the haiku community who nonetheless wield enormous power over the vast number of other haiku poets across the world.

What is true with individuals is also true with countries. There are pioneering countries and “late-coming” countries. I do not know if there were pioneers in India who a hundred years, or fifty years ago practiced haiku and disseminated it across the country. There may well have been some such pioneers if we dig deeply into India’s modern history. After Tagore, the single important figure regarding haiku in India is Satya Bhushan Varma. However, as a country let us for the argument’s sake assume that India is a latecomer in haiku. Once again, let me hasten to add that this is not to insult India in any way. Far from it, it is in fact a grand celebration as you will see soon enough from what follows.

Blessed are the latecomers: for theirs is the kingdom of haiku heaven. They have all the advantages which the pioneers were not endowed with and none of the disadvantages which were more or less all that the pioneers possessed. Latecomers have no heavy and unwanted baggage. Latecomers are like an artist's blank white canvas before the first brush stroke is placed on it. Latecomers can bring fresh views and different insight to the table. So much more so if the latecomers were countries of long and rich history of culture and civilisation such as India.

If you have a living legacy as old as Vedas and modern men as great as Tagore, India cannot be an ordinary latecomer in haiku. India is one of the countries I have a special expectation in terms of how haiku would develop in a profound way. China is another such country.

The circumstances under which haiku would or would not start to be practiced in a country other than Japan can be complex. They also can be and are different from one country to another, though there has been a common pattern whereby the same influence would penetrate into a late-coming country from a dominant haiku force.

Since haiku poetry began to fly out of Japan across national, linguistic and cultural frontiers, it has been bestowed with a new potential of expanding its scope, enriching its content and celebrating its varieties to an unprecedented degree. This potential would be severely curtailed if the influence of a single dominating force would pervade all or most of the countries in the world.

This makes it so much more important for a country like India to develop its own haiku on the basis of its own study of Japanese tradition, of its own literary and aesthetic tradition and of its own perception and sensibility concerning haiku, quite independent of, but not divorced from, the dominant force. Developing haiku is not an arms race or economic competition. Smallest haiku nations should rank on a par with most powerful haiku nations. There is no hierarchy in haiku. Only quality is the judge.

If India is a latecomer in haiku, it is in fact an unbelievably fortunate gift not only for Indian haiku poets but for haiku itself. This is because Indian haiku poets can set out on a new and different journey of the way of haiku on the one hand and on the other haiku can have a chance to benefit from how it develops in India. The other side of the coin is that Indian haiku poets have some kind of a special responsibility for developing their haiku in the way they think best. For if they would develop haiku in the wrong way it would mean a great opportunity lost not only for you but also for the rest of the haiku poets in the world.

How that can be achieved would of course be up to the Indian haiku poets but some of the basic points common in all countries may be of some use. Let me hasten to add that I have not come all the way to India to preach or pontificate. However, if I say nothing but diplomatic niceties, I would be wasting everybody's time. The following recommendations are presented, shall we say, as a friendly advice, or my honest opinion based on painful observation of the experiences elsewhere in the world.

Freedom is probably the most important point. By this I do not mean political ‘freedom’ which is bandied about nowadays with guns and explosives. As I have already said, it is freedom of poetic expression and creation in a narrow sense and also freedom of spirit in a broad sense. However, like any other kinds of freedom it is not limitless or without some constraints or responsibility. The most crucial constraint is of course the framework within which poems should remain as haiku. Outside this framework it would become meaningless to call anything haiku. How far one would expand or limit the framework is a difficult question but is basically a practical and relative consideration and would vary according to different schools of thought.

Within the framework there is a tangible element (form, kigo etc.) and intangible element (haiku spirit, subject matter, etc.). I shall not go into details, as they can be read in the WHC archives and publications. There are other kinds of freedom, including freedom from undue influence from other haiku movements, especially dominant ones.

The second point I believe to be important is the critical faculty of the Indian poet. It is a kind of creative doubt or scepticism and a capability of creative criticism, which should go along with his/her ability to keep an open mind. If some pioneers preach and pontificate, the first thing this poet should do is not to accept it uncritically. Similarly he/she should doubt any received theories, rules, dos and don’ts before truly digesting them, especially if they are no more than dogmas. The poet should also use his/her critical power to be able to tell good haiku from bad not according to the received wisdom but according to his/her own inner insight as a poet.

The third important point is Indian poets’ readiness and humility with which he/she always remains willing to refer back to Japanese haiku and its tradition rather than deluding him/herself at any given time into thinking that Indian haiku has now been so well established that there is no longer any need for or point of learning anything from Japan. Such thought would be very tempting and has been witnessed in many countries as everybody wishes to celebrate the establishment of his or her motherland's own haiku. It has happened on an individual basis as well, and rather widely. However, the temptation must be resisted for the good of Indian haiku, if you can.

The fourth point is the importance of the local soil. In addition to originality and individuality which are so vital for haiku of interest and distinction, what comes naturally and spontaneously from the local culture makes the haiku more distinctly Indian. This is the most interesting aspect from the point of view of the world haiku movement. Here lies the rich soil out of which many haiku poems can be expected to flourish which are distinct from those written in other parts of the world, especially in the West.

The fifth point is closely related to the fourth, namely indigenous languages in India. A lot of good things can be expected from the development of haiku in Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi or Urdu, if not all 500 local languages. In the worst case, these languages and their literary tradition may be totally unsuitable for, or even incompatible with, the style and spirit of haiku. Even then, experiment of writing haiku in these languages will be worth trying and we may well have some pleasant surprises. A much greater possibility is that the poetic tradition in these languages will help create a new haiku trend in India which will add to the merit of haiku as well as to the Indian poetry itself.

The old anthologies such as Ettutogaiad or Pattuppattu in classical Tamil may be too ancient to be adapted to haiku (not to mention the classical Sanskrit) but modern Tamil may have a good prospect, I have been told. Unlike the classical Sanskrit, Prakrit is a vernacular language and may be more suitable for haiku-writing. The Rajasthani bards in Hindi of some 600 years ago may be an example to which Indian poetic tradition can trace its origin back and can work as references for guiding haiku in India. There is also such legacy as the Kesav Das which is erotic literature in later Hindi which can give inspiration to erotic haiku. Satirical poets such as the 18 century Saudi would help injecting a sense of humour to haiku, a possibility denied in the West, or inspiring Indian senryu. There is a well-established short form of poetry in Urdu called rubai which has a comparable rhythm, style and pathos as haiku. There was also a talk to day about an Indian short verse called vachana.

Even if English is an official language in India, writing haiku only in English would be far from sufficient not least because there are 17 other official languages. I have been told that already many haiku poems are written in these languages including Tamil, Hindi and Marathi. There seems to be no need in this country to remind people that haiku in English is not everything. Tagore would have written haiku in the Bengali-language.

The sixth point I wish to mention is the importance of avoiding any internal division or conflict within Indian haiku community. Such division or conflict is caused by negative haiku politics which any country could do without. The reality is that many countries suffer from this disease. In a country like India with such enormous linguistic, regional, social and racial differences and varieties, there is an increased likelihood of negative haiku politics leading to division and conflict. Special vigilance is therefore necessary against it. This point cannot be stressed enough as such division and conflict would sap the energy of healthy development of haiku in India, distorting it and bringing inconvenience and unpleasantness to those involved. It is hoped that this World Haiku Festival 2008 would be the first to provide a common platform for all haiku poets in India who would flourish side by side but keeping their differences and individuality intact.

At the moment relatively small number of poets are practicing haiku independently in India. Some estimate that there are over one thousand haiku poets in India. This may look a large number but compared with India’s population it is still a very small number. It is therefore important for them to communicate and help each other as much as they can in order to make the most of the limited available resources and to avoid wasteful rivalry and harmful conflict. Soon there will be a desire to form different national haiku organisations in India. However, keep it to be a single united organisation only for as long as possible and avoid any temptation to create the second national haiku organisation which is bound to be in conflict with the first. You do not need two national haiku organisations in India at least for the foreseeable future. Also, keep this single national haiku organisation as open, transparent and inclusive as possible.

Sub-haiku organisations are a different story. They can be regional organisations on a geographical basis. Organisations can be established on a language basis. The distinctions can be made according to different categories of haiku, e.g. neo-classical, new-style and vanguard (avant garde). No doubt these will evolve in India during the coming years. However, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you should continue to try hard to have only one national haiku organisation. Japan has three national haiku organisations, apart from numerous gigantic private organisations, duplicating, wasting, confusing and conflicting each other. In this respect, America could be a very good model for India with a single national organisation and many regional and state bodies, somewhat similar to their political structure.

I have celebrated the position for India of being a latecomer in haiku. Being such Indian haiku poets can enjoy the best of both worlds. Namely, they can take good things from the pioneering countries while rejecting their mistakes or things inappropriate for India. They can also benefit from the knowledge and experience which have been accumulated mainly for the last 50 years or so.

One last thing I wish to point out is something fundamental but probably seldom mentioned. I for one have never heard it said. Like so many other things in Japanese art and culture, haiku is a product which originally emanated from the socio-economic condition which we call poverty. Japan was a poor country. Everything, of course, is relative and there were, for instance, rich merchants among Basho’s disciples. However, from how she was in the past, today’s Japan is a miracle, an impossibility! Even until recently, say, before the Japanese economic progress in 1960s, poverty was everywhere to be seen, again relatively speaking. Japanese aesthetic terms such as wabi, sabi and hosomi and many paintings, artefact, crafts, furniture and ceramics, and generally taste for colours and interior decoration are all sophistication and refinement out of the condition of poverty. When Japan became rich such as the Azuchi-Momoyama period, or the Meiji Era, the Japanese taste became garish and crass. In rich Japan of the last fifty years, the colour and motifs of women’s kimono, for example, have progressively lost the traditional elegance, subtlety and modest beauty.

What is so wonderful about human culture is that artistic inspirations or poetic sensibilities are never killed by poverty. On the contrary, there have been fine arts and literature created out of, or even because of, poverty. What is really miraculous here is that haiku was born out of poverty. The fact that Santoka, having been born into a rich family, ended up in utter poverty having only his haiku flourishing has a lot to do with this fundamental characteristic of haiku. Also, there is an inner and deep contradiction in rich and decadent countries of today indulging in haiku. Pursuit of material wealth and individual ambition do not sit well with true haiku spirit.

India is now enjoying incredible and unprecedented economic growth and industrial progress. India is quickly becoming rich. However, try to remember that materialism, worship of Mammon and decadence are antithesis to the essence of haiku.

You may have expected from me a kind of flowery language of greetings and diplomatic niceties which are often used in a speech like this. Instead, I have chosen to mention some hard realities and cautionary tales in order not to insult your intelligence by such empty words of flattery, and to make it quite clear from the outset that there is an incredibly promising scope for haiku in India which should be made the most of without wasting time for frivolity, rivalry or imitation.

I hope you will all enjoy the next three days to the full and come away with an optimistic feeling that haiku will flourish in India and will do so in the right way, namely, Indian way! I wish to express my gratitude to H H Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji for providing us with shelter, food, serene atmosphere and friendship and to Sri Ratan Tata Trust for sponsorship. I would like to pay tribute to those who have worked so hard to make this event possible, especially to Mrs. Kala Ramesh, Director of World Haiku Festival in India.

I wish to close this speech by reading a poem from GITANJALI by Tagore. Its message seems even more needed now than when it was first delivered.

"Song Offerings"
Translations made by the author from the original Bengali.

Mind Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action---
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.