Motivation for writing Japanese haiku

Sometimes I take time to reconsider WHY I am studying and writing haiku.

And I wonder:
why do so many people try to express things in a short Japanese poetry form and not just simply use a poetry form more close and familiar to their own culture?

For me, living in Japan since 1977, the answer might be a bit different than for most of the non-Japanese haiku poets, not being able to read the Japanese originals and not knowing that much about Japanese (or Asian, for that matter) culture or history.

Here is a quote which I would like to share with you.


An American tourist found himself in India on the day of the pilgrimage to the top of a sacred mountain.

Thousands of people would climb the steep path to the mountaintop. The tourist, who had been jogging and doing vigorous exercise and thought he was in good shape, decided to join in and share the experience.

After twenty minutes, he was out of breath and could hardly climb another step, while women carrying babies, and frail old men with canes, moved easily past him.

"I don't understand it," he said to an Indian companion. "How can these people do it when I can't?"

His friend answered, "It is because you have the typical American habit of seeing everything as a test. You see the mountain as your enemy and you set out to defeat it. So, naturally, the mountain fights back and it is stronger than you are.

We do not see the mountain as an enemy to be conquered. The purpose of our climb is to become one with the mountain and so it lifts us up and carries us along."

Harold Kushner in
When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough

quoted from
© www.spiritualityandpractice.com


One aspect of haiku for me is an exercise to become one with the mountain too ...


The one thing I feel is soo different from writing haiku in Japanese and English is the possiblity with the language itself.

In Japanese, we are constantly studying the saijiki to improve our knolwedge of kigo (which includes studying poetry that has been written about the same subject already), trying to learn more Chinese characters, trying other ways of wording the same content in a more poetic way, decide to use Chinese characters, or female script or male scipt to express a hidden meaning ...

Today in a lesson about ikebana , flower arrangement, the teacher said:

You are not just arrangeing flowers to be pleasing to the eye, you should know about the background of this flower, poems that have been written about it, books, .. to get the depth of this flower within the Japanese culture. That will change the way you arrange it and combine it with other flowers within your arrangement.
She was talking about the yamabuki, kerria rose.

................... this is roughly the story, a quote:

Relating to this is a tale well worth retelling, regarding the Kerria Rose and the 15th Century samurai, Ota Dokan 太田 道灌, who served the Hojo Clan.

General Dokan had ridden from Chiyoda (Edo) Castle to go hawking. He had gotten as far as Ogose village in Saitama when an unexpected storm broke forth.

He reigned aside his horse at the doorway of a roadside inn, which was so run-down it looked like a haunted ruin. A serving maid came to the door. General Dokan called to her, requesting the loan of a grass raincoat.

She hurried away and returned to him with an open fan, upon which lay a Yamabuki flower, presenting this with extravagant courteousness.

Dokan expressed himself angrily at the nonsensicality of her actions. He returned to Chiyoda Castle soaking wet, and in a bad mood.

Later his old retainer explained to Dokan, "That maiden intended to remind you of the poem 'Yamabuki-no-Mino,' for the word mino (grass raincoat) also means 'seed.'" Then the old retainer recited,

"The Yamabuki enriches our house with flowers,
yet there is sadness here,
for these riches are an illusion,
and our flower has no mino."

Dokan belatedly realized the maiden had no raincoat, the inn being so impoverished it could not afford even a thing so humble as the woven grass from which raincoats were made. He was regretful that he had become angry due only to his lack of knowledge. From that moment on, he was devoted to poetic studies, so that thanks to a poor innkeeper's daughter, he was in time himself a great poet.

Quote from

. Dookan Ki 道灌忌 (どうかんき) Dokan Memorial Day  

This made me remember the motivation ...

Constantly studying, constantly back to the roots and then digging deeper ...


© P. writes

i suppose you could say haiku is a way of life, or a discipline, not unlike a yoga or meditation practice.

writing & enjoying haiku:
a hands on guide by jane reichhold

"some people come to haiku as a way of capturing the present moment"

"haiku focus is on the here and now"

"in the search for haiku we rely on what our`senses are telling us, not what we have been taught is true, or what we believe is true. haiku are written from experience. not from knowlege, or belief, or idea. they are actual, concrete, cemented to the present- whenver it happens."

"for me, the way i live in order to be prepared to receive haiku inspiration is more valuble than the poems i finally do write."

i would love to hear other's thoughts on this book, or other books about haiku, because haiku is becoming a way of life for me~ helping me to find language for those epiphany moments that make up an ordinary day :)


Why do you read haiku?
Peter Yovu

In interviews, writers are often asked: “Why do you write”? I don’t think I’ve ever come across the question: “Why do you read”?

Find the answers HERE

source : 1st Sailing, July 2009
The Haiku Foundation BLOG


What was YOUR first motivation?
Has it changed as you became more familiar with the genre of Japanese haiku?
Has anything in your daily life changed since you started writing haiku?

Please feel free to share your thoughts about your motivation as a comment to this BLOG !

How did you get here?
The eternal question ...
"! Some comments from friends ! 2008


Ego and Haiku, ZEN and Haiku

. . . . . BACK TO
My Haiku Theory Archives  

Mountain, peak, hill (yama, gake, oka) : topics for haiku


No comments: