Crosscultural Musings


Crosscultural Musings

Born in Germany, living in Japan since 1977, writing haiku in English, finding a lot of American influence in Japan ...

I am still puzzled ...

How does our social background and education affect the understanding of Haiku ? Even in ELH, we have poets from many countries, with different mother tongues to start from.

And reading translations of Japanese haiku, how many problems arise when reading it with a “Western mindset” or a “Japanese mindset” ?

I have tried to cultivate both over the last 30 year since living in Japan, but for me “Western” is mostly German (and I often find myself puzzled at the “American mindset”).

cross cultural, cross-cultural

I know, this might open a Pandorras box . .

cross-cultural haiku -
what would we all do
without google ?


When translating, it is not only about words, but of a cultural understanding that might not (and usually does not) exist in the target language.

I will always remember the first missionaries looking at what we now call "Buddha Statues". They only saw hineous fiendish demonic fetishes (Götzenbilder in German) and translated the literature accordingly.

When I started writing about "Buddha Statues" in German, more than 30 years ago, I had to sort of make up my own vocabulary to convey what these things mean here in Japan in their original context and in the daily life of the Japanese.
Consider a statue of a Kannon with 1000 arms and a poor missionary 200 years ago trying to cope with such a monster in his Christian vocabulary ...

. Translating Haiku
Gabi Greve


"There is big gap between Japanese mentality
and U.S. mentality in business.
You can get an interpreter in language,
but you cannot get an interpreter
in cultural difference."

Earnest Higa
The man who delivered pizza to Japan

source : Japan Times, September 2009


quoting Carmen Sterba

“It is hard for Japanese to understand that westerners can be interested in Japanese culture or prefer to “practice” an eastern religion. We may see that as our right as citizens of a pluralistic society or a part of internationalization; whereas, the Japanese may see it as odd or incongruous.”

source : The Haiku Foundation Essence #1


Wabi, Sabi, Empty

source : THF, Paul Watsky


Prized Japanese social values that withstand 'Westernization'


My Backup


Here are some LINKS to my musings ...

Some of the oldest kigo in Japan are cross-cultural, originating in Chinese literature.
. Kigo in cross-cultural context  

. Lake like a Mirror  

. Spagetti with Chopsticks  

. Suicide and your shoes  

Toilet, Outhouse (benjo, no setchin, toire)


Trying to understand a Japanese haiku in an American/European (add your country) environment, somehow, is like taking a fish out of its water.
You can see the dead fish, but not what gives real LIFE to the fish in its own environment.

. What am I missing ?  

. . . . .

Since short is easy, anyone can write three lines of something, declare it HAIKU and here we are ... ! It suits the Western idea of individualism very well.
Sometimes I feel poets are parading their haiku dog, telling everyone
"This is my cat."
. Haiku in Japan and other regions


eating soup
with chopsticks ...
crosscultural encounters

in a discussion about KIGO

avoiding clichĂ©s is very important in modern English-language literature. George Orwell’s first rule for writers is:
“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”
So much for autumn leaves!

. Discussion at THF, Winter 2010

Should we appreciate a penomenon of a different culture, which is new to us,
within its own terms, which we have to learn bit by bit,
by deprogramming our own cultural understanding and become open for the new world?


should we judge new and unfamiliar things within the terms of our own culture, to which we are used from childhood and tend to think are "right" ?

Do you see kigo only as a clichee that has been used to death and is best avoided?

Do you see kigo as a magic well where we all can drink from in our thirst for haiku poetry?

Things found on the way

Related words

***** . BACK
Haiku Theory Archives


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