I have grown fond of reading and writing haiku poetry during my time in Japan. Poetry is one of Japan’s most important cultural identities. Every day people, politicians, courtesans, even samurais wrote poetry. The Japanese still write poetry, as Japanese are an intuitive and reflective by nature and well suited for poetry.
Even Japan’s emperors wrote poetry, including the recent abdicating Emperor Akhihito, as did his father, Emperor Hirohito, whose hundreds of poems written after the second world war reveal a man haunted by past mistakes.
Poetry is a great way to self express, and the brevity of haiku easy to access in this attention-deficit world. And it connects us to nature! I love perusing the seasonal Japanese words to inspire my writing. Called a kigo you can choose from animals, moods, plants and celestial happenings to enhance your poems. I like it!
Haiku Happens – Books, Videos and Events
On my first visit to Japan in November 2016, I started creating a series of video haiku poems using my photographs. Mythic Yoga Journey to Japan features 7 film poems on my YouTube channel. Later when I moved there as a resident in June 2017, I created some visual haiku with photographs by recycling a book pulled from our apartments recycling bin.
I also MCd the Writers in Kyoto Annual Reading in Kyoto in 2017 which featured some haiku. I also presented my Nihongo no Nonsense at the DeLand, Florida slam when I was on home leave in July. It features some haiku you!
I had also met Jeff Robbins at a Writers In Kyoto Event. He has passionately translated Basho’s (1644-94) poetry, many unknown, and it’s his life’s work to show Basho’s humanity poems and concerns for women and children. On his website, Basho4Humanity.com, he says, “Basho created a subtle, gentle feminism which neither protests no demands, but rather focuses on women as whole, conscious of herself and he world, and able to act on it.”
I since have also read The Haiku Apprentice: Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan by Abigail Friedman. I loved it because she brought forth the beauty of haiku for everyone to practice. As a foreign service agent, haiku grounded her and taught her how haiku infuses the lives of the Japanese who practice it. Haiku is for everyone! Another thoroughly enjoyable reading is Zen and Japanese Culture by Daisetz T. Suzuki, which has an entire chapter on Zen and Haiku. It’s a must-read!
Heelstone Haiku Circle in Kyoto
I was happy to take haiku classes in Kyoto and Osaka with Stephen Gill, a writer, translator and broadcaster who teaches at Kyoto University and runs the Heelstone Haiku Circle. Gill offers classes in Kyoto and Osaka at Senri-Chuo, where I usually took classes, a short Midosuji subway ride from my apartment. The Icebox is its online website featuring haiku and haibun, which is a blend of prose and haiku. The Genjuan Haibun Contest 2020 Deadline Approaches – so I am busy writing! You can submit too! Deadline is January 31.
I first joined Gill’s circle in October 2017 when he held a kukai, poetry reading and get together, after publishing the haiku book, Persimmon, that featured many students. Two typhoons ravishing the Kansai region couldn’t keep me away from this Kyoto gem where Basho stayed at Rakushisha.
Other gatherings in Japan for poetry reading include a New Year Poetry Reading , which gathers people to read a collection of poems on a common theme to a wider audience. This practice was already in usage during the Nara Period, and became known through the famous collection of ancient Japanese waka poetry, the Manyoshu, which literally means 10,000 leaves and was written in 759 CE.
Gill also organizes many haiku hikes and strolls with the non-profit People Together for Mt. Oguru, in which after doing conservation work at the Arashiyama Bamboo forest in Kyoto, we got to then stroll the beautiful grounds and writes haiku! I attended one in late September and brought along my Sensei Nakamura-san, mending fences in the forest and marveling at the bamboo.
We enjoyed a spectacular lunch at the famous Hiranoya Japanese Restaurant, before more simple bamboo fence mending. Maintained by the son of famous samurai film star Okochi Denjiro (1898-1962), the grand estate and garden of Okochi Sanso gifted free admission for our conservation work. After tea and sweets, we roamed the property and composed haiku . Here is the IceBox blog with some of the haiku attendees wrote.
While studying haiku with Mr. Gill, I learned to get away from the 5-7-5 haiku structure, which works for the Japanese language, but is more difficult for English haiku writers because of limited ability to express in such a short form. The 5-7-5 form is for Haiku in English beginners, he said, and I even started getting away from writing three- line haiku and now use four lines. I’ve also started writing haiku in my shodo classes, enjoying the brush and ink, sitting at the edge of my chair to create script of a famous Basho’s poem on beautiful washi paper.
Another not-to be missed place for Japanese poetry fans is the Saga Arashiyama Museum of Arts and Culture in Kyoto, Here a permanent display of poetry cards, Hyakunin Isshu, a card game that every Japanese person once played, is on display as a collection of song/poems from one hundred poets. Nakamura-san took me here and it’s a quiet respite from the chaos of overtourism plaguing Arashiyama.
This October I was published in Luz Del Mes Tri-anthology of Haiku written by 33 authors around the world in which Nakamura-san co-produced with Martiza M. Mejia. Along with my haiku I discuss Gill’s haiku classes and methodology in the book. Purchase your copy today! It makes a great gift!
Earlier I entered a haiku in the Akita International Haiku Contest. I also entered the Lafcadio Hearn Haiku competition that Nakamuara-san is conducting. You can enter too! Compose one haiku and submit it along with an essay by January 31 about how it relates to the 19th Century Greek-American Japanophile and Writer Lafcadio Hearn .
Your haiku could be made into a haiga, haiku with sumi ink painting, by Romanian Artist Ion Codrescu. The winning pieces and more haiga artwork will be on exhibit April 22-25 at the Kyoto City International House. I will be there on this so-called haiku pilgrimage, so see you there! Happy writing!
Then there was the Setouchi-Matsuyama International Photo-Haiku Contest, but I missed the January 14 deadline. Next year!
Finally, Writers in Kyoto has its 5th annual writing competition. Do submit a piece about Kyoto 300 words or less by March 31, 2020! Last year I submitted my piece, Birthday at Kyoto Gyoen.
Oh, and who knows if I will win any of these competitions. The important thing is that I am writing. Writing is heaven for me, a little slice of eternity. So it keeps me going, and just by submitting, I win! I wrote! I experienced a piece of myself in connection with my life, world and nature.
Haiku is for everybody, because haiku is about our connection to nature! Connect with nature and start writing some haiku today!
I will be leading some haiku writing, mindfulness and photography tours again this year in the Kansai area. If you are interested, leave a message in the comments section!