counting with fingers


How to count on your fingers
in Japanese

fingers wiggling
in the autumn air -
Japanese haiku meeting

One of the endearing features of a haiku meeting (ku-kai 句会) in Japan is everybody sitting around counting on their fingers, usually of the left hand. After all 5 7 5 is still very much en vouge in Japanese Haiku, despite some free verse and other movements.

Anyway, today I do not want to engage in the discussion of counting like an abacus or not, rather on counting with your fingers as a culturally amazing event.

How do you count with your fingers?
One, two, three, for your THREE,
three fingers sticking out?

But Wrong in Japan!

Here is how the Japanese count with one hand,usually the left.
Palm facing your face, all fingers stretched out is the start.

ONE: Fold your thumb towards the palm of your hand.
TWO: Fold your pointer finger over the thumb.
THREE: Fold your middle finger over the thumb, joining the pointer.

So your three looks like three fingers folded, not sticking out !

FOUR: the ring finger (called "medicine finger" in Japanese), is folded.
FIVE: the little finger is folded, so NONE is sticking out.

Now still using the same hand with all fingers folded, here we go again:

SIX: the little finger is sticking out again.
(This is also a sign indicating a girlfriend of a married man. )
SEVEN: the ring finger is sticking out again.

Thus the middle line of a haiku is completed. :o)

For me, observing cultural differences is always quite fascinating.
So is the development of haiku in various culture spheres and languages.

Five - seven - five suits the Japanese Language, but does not come naturally in many other languages, as I have been musing about elsewhere.

5-7-5 ... go shichi go ... in Japanese
short-long-short ... in other languages

Enjoy your haiku, wiggeling your fingers.


My point is that the idea that 5 and 7 syllable lines are unnatural in English
is something that has been assumed but, in my opinion, such counts are widely used in English both in ordinary speech and in poetic contexts.

I'll give just two examples that are widely known. Consider the child's poem:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are,
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

Each line is seven syllables (I count "diamond" as two, hearing it as "dymond").
There are many children's rhymes that have this scheme.

Or consider this well-known and often sung poem:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.

Lines 1, 2, and 4 are five syllables.
Again, there are many rhymes, songs, and poems that feature a five-syllable count.

Or consider ordinary speech:

What grade did you get? -- 5
Did you hear the news? -- 5
I feel sorry for him/her. -- 5
I think you've misunderstood. -- 7
It's such a beautiful day. -- 7

dharmajim (Jim Wilson)
source : Happy Haiku Forum

and a bit more on counting by Jim Wilson

I look at counting syllables as similar to a potter's wheel.
A potter takes some raw clay and puts it on the wheel to shape the clay into a specific form; a cup, saucer, pot, etc. The potter is limited by the type of wheel, its speed, and the type of clay. I know a lot of potters and they don't find the potter's wheel, or the types of clay, limiting. Rather they simply accept the limitations and work within them.

Similarly, the formal poet takes raw language and places the language on the 'wheel' of counting, shaping the words into specific forms like the potter shaping clay. Just as the potter draws out specific forms from the clay, the formal poet draws out specific forms from the flow of ordinary language.

Another example would be composers composing songs. Once the composer settles on a time signature (3-4, 4-4, 6-8, etc.) the composer continues counting as the composer progresses; counting beats, counting measures.

More about Jim's thoughts "on counting"
source : Shaping Words
Exploring English Syllabic Verse

Things found on the way

Related words

5-7-5 ... go shichi go ... in Japanese
short-long-short ... in other languages

***** Haiku Theory Archives



anonymous said...

how about zero ?

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

. Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .

tetsuki 手つき gestures