< Birth of Haiku >

I may sound as though I regarded the 5-7-5 syllables and season words as a matter of course. You may wonder how the 5-7-5 syllables came to receive general acceptance or why season words are given so much importance. Let me take a moment here to explain them with reference to the historical background of haiku which I want you to understand.

The beginning of 5-7-5 Syllables inevitably takes us back to the "Man-yo-shu" collection of ancient poems in the Nara period(710 `793). For haiku was developed in the long history of Japanese poetry.

The Nara era was a time when Japan managed to become a unified nation and a number of political and cultural developments were achieved. Above all, the period provided us with a profound legacy of invaluable books, including both the "Kojiki" and the "Nihon shoki" covering the nation's history, and the "Fudoki" recording local lives and affairs in many provincial areas, as well as the "Man-yo-shu" presenting an array of unsophisticated folk poetry.

The "Man-yo-shu"books include some 4500 poems of joy and sorrow from all walks of life,from the Emperor and aristocrats to farmers sweating in distant provinces and lonely soldiers in the Kyushu island leaving families and sweethearts in the far eastern homeplace. The collection of ancient folk poems really tempts me to dwell upon it in every detail, but may have to be reserved for another opportunity.

The immediate purpose of my reference here to the "Man-yo-shu" books is to briefly explain certain forms of poetry that are contained there. "Waka" which collectively refers to Japanese poems at large includes a variety of forms, of which the "Man-yo-shu" contains "Choka"(long poems), "Tanka"(short poems), "Sedoka"(a pair of half poems), and "Bussoku-sekika"(Buddha's footprint stone poems).

uri hameba
kodomo omohoyu
kuri hameba
masite sinobayu
izuku yori
kitarishi monozo
manakai ni
motona kakarite
yasuisi nasanu
sweet taste of melon
recalling dearest children
sweet taste of chestnut
remembering them even more
have they come to
their longing images
looming up
sleepless night

"Choka" as shown above consists of 5-7-5-7...5-7....5-7-7 syllables and admittedly tends to be a long poem. Its popularity peaked out in the Man-yo days and declined thereafter. Another form of poetry comprising 5-7-5-7-7 syllables as below is called "Tanka"(short poem). "Tanka" later assumed a major form of "Waka" and became synonymous with "Waka. "

shirogane mo
kuganemo tama mo
nani sen ni
masareru takara
koni shikame yamo

(Man-yo-shu, Book 5)

neither silver
nor gold, precious stones
any value at all
treasure of children

The"Man-yo-shu" collection consists mostly of "Choka" and "Tanka" and also includes "Sedo-ka" poems of 5-7-7-5-7-7 syllables and "Bussoku-sekika" of 5-7-5-7-7-7 syllables."Sedoka" is a combined form of two pieces of"Kata-uta"(half poem) of 5-7-7 Syllables.

The name of "Bussoku sekika"(Buddha's foot-Stone related poems) came from the 21 pieces of poems engraved on a stone monument applauding Buddha at the Yakushiji Temple in Nara. As you see, it bears the "Tanka" form of 5-7-5-7-7 with another 7 syllables added. Let's note an interesting fact that all these forms of poems consisted of 5 and 7 syllables. Further back in the Japanese history other syllables were employed, too, but eliminated as time passed -- an interesting phenomenon !

Waka somewhat subsided in popularity during the first 100 years of the Heian period due to the dominance of Chinese poetry and literature. But at around 900 A.D. and thereafter, Waka revived as a major school of literature, with the aristocrats actively promoting Waka contests and compiling editions of selected Waka poems under the royal auspices.

Like in other human affairs, seriousness made Waka increasingly complicated and it took ever more serious faces to make Waka poems.Then people looked for something which they could make in a relaxed and joyful mood. They picked up poems of daily affairs including loving and longing hearts. They also introduced an art of joint Waka-making with one poet taking care of the first 5-7-5 syllables and the other the remaining 7-7 syllables. When two poets work together on a Waka, they sort of enjoy a feeling of personal conversation and tend to seek amusement with even a tint of laughter.

Let me give you an example from a book written in the Heian period: two aristocrats were strolling along a path in the mountain and heard a wood-cutter sawing, which sounded just like rowing a boat. One of them was amused to make the front 5-7-5 syllables -

okuyama ni
fune kogu oto no
kikoyuru wa
deep in the mountain
sound of rowing a boat
we hear

Then the other responded, with the back 7-7 syllables -

nareru kinomi ya
umi wataru ran
nuts are developing
over the sea

The two were reportedly Kino Tsurayuki, and Oshikouchi-no-Mitsune both known as editors of the Kokin-Shu poems collection. The Japanese version is a play on a word "umi-wataru" which means "cross the sea" and "perfectly ripe." We hear them laughing, don't we?

The exercise of Waka is called "Renga" where one person makes the top 5-7-5 syllables and the other follows with the bottom 7-7. In later days, however, more than two persons worked together to make a long string of poems: someone gives the front 5-7-5, and another follows with the 7-7 part, then sti11 another continues with 5-7-5, and so on. Each follower is free to interpret the foregoing syllables. as he or she pleases and adds on for continuation. Nobody knows how a series of syllables is going to end up. All this makes a really exciting forum of poem making.

A multi-Renga poem is called "Cho-Renga" or a long Renga. It is also called "Kusari Renga" or a chain Renga because so many syllables are chained together. More relaxed and enjoyable than the Waka poem, Renga gained unchallenged popularity among the aristocrats and the public at large in the Kamakura and the Muromachi days. At times Renga was favored more than Waka and accepted as a school of literature. In the Nanboku-cho period(l333 ` 1392). Nijyo Yoshimoto(1320`1388)@and other prominent poets strongly supported Renga, which led to compilation of the Tsukuba-shu collection after the royal edition of Waka poems.

While born as an enjoyable poem free of the stern rigidness of Waka, Renga gradually subsided in humour and rendered itself more to gracefulness which Waka favoured. Toward the end of the Muromachi period, complaints peaked against the Waka-like Renga and calls were voiced for an amusing, exciting yet relaxing literature. Born in response was Renga of Haikai(or simply called Haikai). Haikai attempts to describe daily affairs in plain everyday language. The word Haikai originally meant humour, which may well help you imagine the atmosphere of Haikai(-based Renga). Preserving the same pattern as Renga which appreciated aristocratic preference. Haikai showed humour appealing to the sentiment of the general public. Haikai gained sweeping popularity thanks to Yamazaki Sokan(1465`1553), Arakida Moritake(1473`1549) and other poets.

Haikai enjoyed further growth in the Edo era(1603`1867) with Matsunaga Teitoku(1571`1653) and Nishiyama Soin(1605`1682) taking leadership. Ihara Saikaku(1642`1693), author of the well known novel entitled "Koshoku lchidai Onna", wrote numerous Haikai poems. Following Teitoku and Soin, Matsuo Basho(1644`1694) elevated Haikai to the level of supreme refinement,

We have now reached the Edo period, the time to talk about the birth of hraiku. Before we do, allow me just a moment to confirm again the basic pattern of Haikai. The following is an example of Haikai made in the Edo age(source: Hisago). Never mind if you have difficulty in understanding the meaning but closely observe the pattern and form:

1 (Hokku)
(5) kino motoni
(7) shiru mo namasu mo
(5) sakura kana (Okina/Basho)
1 (Opening)
foot of the cherry tree
soups and foods
flowers all over
2 (Waki)
(7) nishibi nodokani
(7) yoki tenki nari (Chinseki)
2 (Second)
setting sun warm
lovely weather
3 (Dai san)
(5) tabi bito no
(7) shirami kaki yuku
(5)haru kurete (Kyokusui)
3 (Third)
itchy with lice
spring day over
4 (Hiraku)
(7) hakimo narawanu
(7) tachi no hikihada (Okina)
4 sword rarely worn
leather cap covering hilt
5`33 omitted
34 @
(7) isha no kusuri wa
(7) nomanu hunbetu (Okina)
34 @
take not doctor's medicine
but take call of fate
35 @
(5) hana sakeba
(7) yoshino atari o
(5) kakemawari (Kyokusui)
35 @
flowers blooming
in and out Yoshino
running about
36 (Ageku)
(7) abu ni sasaru ru
(7) haru no yama naka
36 (Closing)
horsefly stinging
spring mountain

As noted in parenthesis, each line has designated name. The first line is called Hokku and consists of 5-7-5 syllables. The second is named Waki with 7-7 syllables followed by the third or Dai San of 5-7-5 syllables. The fourth and the continuing lines are all called Hiraku. The 36th or the last line is called Ageku. The word Ageku originated here and has become a common expression meaning final result or conclusion as in "What an unrewarding result after all this endeavour!" You see another interesting case on line 35 Where you read the word "flower" - you are requested by a rule to mention "flower" on the 35th line. It was a great honour for a poet to make the 35th line - hence a routine expression like "Let him have a flower." The "moon", too, had a designated line. All this means that people in those days so much appreciated flowers and the moon, namely the four seasons and the nature itself.

A Haikai used to be a chain of 100 or even 1000 poem lines but had settled, by the time of Basho, with 36 lines just like the example we reviewed a moment ago. The number came from the 36 "Kasen" or masters of poetory. That is why the 36-lines Haikai is sometimes called "Kasen." In the Meiji era (1868`1913), Haikai was named "Renku" or a series of poem lines by Takahama kyoshi(1874`1959). Today Ren-ku has become a widely accepted name.

Some of you may have gone ahead of me and rightly anticipate what I have to tell you. Yes, the opening 5-7-5 line of "Ren-ku" took independence later and became "Haiku." Traditionally the opening poem had to meet a number of requirements including (1) 5-7-5 syllables, (2)"Kireji"(cutoff word) like "ya", "kana", or "keri" and (3) a season word representing the then prevailing season. These requirements substantially influenced today's haiku.

Historically the opening "Hokku" line took a departure in the Muromachi era(1338`1573). But those of artistic value which we highly appreciate today were born as late as Basho in the Edo period.

"Hokku" or the opening poem line had its name established as "Haiku" in the days of Masaoka Shiki(1867`1902). Shiki concluded that Haikai(Renku) was a long cry from literature, also that a hokku is literature when complete in 5-7-5 syllables. So, he dropped the word Hokku vis-a-vie Renku and adopted Haiku instead.

I am afraid that our brief scanning tour over the history of haiku took more space than expected. Later chapters will deal with poets like Basho. Buson(1716`1783), Issa(1763`1827), and also haiku in the Meiji period and therafter. In the meantime let's get back to the subject of haiku.