Saturday, April 9, 2016


(Ban'ya Natsushi, Jim Kacian, Dimitar Anakiev and Susumu Takiguchi at London-Oxford haiku conference, 2000)


(A review on Gendai haiku and multiculturalism)

Is multiculturalism possible in haiku or writing haiku means commitment to imitating the traditional Sino-Japanese culture, ie. the culture in which Bashoo, Issa, Buson and partly Shiki are immersed? Before a positive answer to this question, it should be noted that cultural mixing in haiku came long before the creation of the concept of Gendai ("Modern"). Many Japanese poets before Gendai phase were influenced by Western culture, even Shiki himself as the originator of the term "haiku". Shiki's concept of "shasei" ("objective sketch"), a method of writing haiku, which has so far kept its importance, is a result of the influence of Western rationalism on Japanese culture during the Meiji when Japan opened to the West. A rationalism of the West did not only have influenced the haiku. Poets of jiyuritsu style were facing very different Western influences. Thus Santoka was very receptive to social ideas that spread from Russia October Revolution, while Ogiwara Seisensei was under the influence of Goethe and German Romanticism.

However, even before the Meiji period we can not talk about haiku as a monoculture product as something that would be "pure Japanese". Such a senseless argument may be represented only by those who do not know the essence of the culture, the people who are not poets themselves ie. creators of culture. Even the founder of the poetic type of haiku, Matsuo Basho, was heavily influenced by Du Fu and Chinese culture in general. Vladimir Devide also wrote an invalid argument, in several places, that " haiku as a poetic type owes nothing to China". It is generally acknowledged that the pace of 5 and 7 syllables is Chinese and can be found in classical Chinese literature, like quatrains incurred during the Tang and Song (it's about 600 years of poetic and cultural creation). Rhythm of 5 and 7 syllables imitate the rhythms of nature (for example: week has seven days and the numbers 3, 5 and 7 were considered "magical"i.e., arising from nature, and those who wrote poetry with the natural rhythms in their poems wanted to show that they follow the paths of nature ie. they are in harmony with nature.) It was poetic, philosophical and political ideal in classical China and later in Japan, and today it is among many followers of haiku poetry. Haiku is in the West still considered as the poetry of fusion with nature and this is a poetic ideal of classical China that Japan and everyone else took over. Other "typically Japanese" haiku element: "kigo" is also of Chinese origin. Following the seasons is a cultural concept that originated in ancient China, and which was later taken over by Japan. Even the concept of Kyoshi Takahama, which defines the thematic spectrum of haiku like Kachi fúei ( 花鳥 諷 詠, "birds and flowers"), that many in the West swear that is the "typical Japanese" and "the only true haiku" is in fact taken Chinese principle of Buddhist art from the Song period Huā, niǎo, yú, chóng ( 花,鳥,魚,蟲) which means: flowers, birds, fish, insects(1)

As we see haiku is, from the very beginning - cosmopolitan, multicultural, world literature, where also gained different cultures during the further development (2). What is distinctly Japanese is a combination of short and long lines (5-7-5), a dynamic connection that allows"golden ratio", ie. symmetrical asymmetry poetic phrases. What's the significance of the appearance of Gendai haiku if multiculturalism is immanent to haiku as well as to other forms of literature? Let us first consider the term "Gendai" which means "modern". Japanese haiku as a modern art evolved much more in the works of Yamaguchi Seishi, Kato Shuson, Shuoshi, Seiho, and other representatives of school Hototogisu founded by "conservative" samurai son Takahama Kyoshi, Shiki’s student. Modernism which representatives of school Shiki-Kyoshi-Seishi etc. offered fully corresponded with his time and the Western concept of modernity, which primarily involved technical development and rationalism. All these esteemed modern masters wrote the following classic simplicity and clarity, while respecting the kigo techniques and 5-7-5 syllables but have also introduced new, modern themes and called their haiku "haiku new tendencies"(Shinko), a style that was formed in Japan in 1931.

Up to the summer grass
wheels of a locomotive
coming to a stop

Yamaguchi Seishi (1933)

Here is the real work of modern art: a rational objective sketch (shasei), form 5-7-5,kigo (summer grass) and industrial landscape of modernism dominated by locomotive, but poem is stillmoving away from the concept of "flowers and birds" because it speaks about new industrial world that emerge, but must not step into nature and impair it.

I kill an ant
and realize my three children
have been watching.

Kato Shuson, kigo: ant

Juste au moment où le sermon
A finalement sali mes oreilles Le

Mizuhara Suoshi, kigo: le coucou (cuckoo)

With these poems of true modernism, which occurred between the two wars, haiku has slightly moved away from its concept of "flowers and birds" in the works of student Takahama Kyoshia, has become much closer to Western humanism and at the same time spoke the language of modern man without having left the concept of "kigo" and a 5-7-5 form. Everywhere present "flowers and birds" are in harmony with Western civilization. But there is also a haiku that did not celebrate "harmony", but criticized it, talked about disharmony. Here's another classic Japanese haiku modernism: Santoka Taneda , a Zen Buddhist monk, known for his informal haiku radical humanism. In this famous antiwar poem about returning soldiers to Japan after the occupation of China, rhythm is irregular, kigo do notexist.

Legs and arms
left in China – you are back
to Japan

Santoka Taneda (1939)

We can see that modernism in Japanese haiku had existed long before Gendai haiku, and that it didn’t call itself "modern" but "nouvelle haiku" and "haiku with new directions, new tendencies,"Shinko". On the other hand, when it appeared after the Second World War, Gendai haiku is called "modern" although really it was not. Tohta Kaneko, the founder, embraced the irrationalism and hermetic speech on the basis of its "modernity". Essentially Gendai corresponded to the postwar directions in European literature such as Dadaism and Surrealism, when the poet is unable to accept the reality that was marked by war and destruction. This is the essence of Gendai: rejection of reality and escape into fantasy and mystification. In postwar Japan, the problems were not only material destruction and war victims but also the complete defeat of a cultural tradition in whose name the war was fought and the arrival of a new culture of American capitalism, which has taken a dominant position. An appropriate philosophical and poetic equivalent for a new era should be found. Talent and longevity Tohta Kaneko enabled Gendai to overcome a mere revolt and an escape from the world through time, to create and expand and become an alternative to the mainstream of Japanese haiku that was deeply anchored in (defeated) tradition.


First of all Gendai left the concept of harmony with the nature and declared the chaos of its principle. God is harmony, but chaos is the devil, and they have chosen for themselves the role of the devil in the Japanese literature. If the classic haiku propagated the unity of words and deeds, Tohta Kaneko (bank employee!) spread the freedom of imagination and creation of new worlds. If Buddhism propagated birds, flowers and insects as the main themes suggesting thereby rejecting violence (so Basho was writing about wild violets on a mountain trail) Tohta Kaneko began to write demons: bloodthirsty beasts have become a constant of his haiku. If the classic haiku was based in the METAPHOR, Gendai has expanded to ALLEGHORY as the basis of his term. Buddhist simplicity and clarity has been replaced by a vague emotional vigor.

Japanese plum bloom my lake:
blue sharks swim everywhere tiger’s shadow next to it
through the garden so black

Tohta Kaneko

Rejecting Buddhism Totha Kaneko and generations of his followers declared the original Japanese pagan religion (animism, Shintoism) for the basis of their haiku (maybe haiku in general). Gendai poets rejected "kigo" as a side effect (Chinese), and when it is used, it loses its primary sense of harmony with nature. A similar attitude is towards the 5-7-5 form which is rejected "in principle", even when it exists in their poems (99% of Japanese haiku is composed in 17 syllables). Obviously it is a poetic program that does not need to have its source in poetic practice.

If we exclude the poetic highlights, such as Tohta Kaneko, and talk about the importance of Gendai then certainly we have to see further democratization lines of haiku, as the de facto programmatic multiculturalism in haiku. Although multiculturalism exists in haiku all the time, different cultural influences are still staying attached to the Buddhist worldview, as if haiku outside of Buddhism can not exist. Gendai has shown that haiku can exist without Buddhism. The door of real ideological differences in haiku poetry have been opened and that means that haiku can exist independently from Japanese culture. Gendai is perhaps cosmopolitan real chance of haiku.

Today's Gendai’s Association prints in their anthologies even Shinko’s authors (authors of the New Tendencies) as if they belong to Gendai school even though it is not historically accurate, but it is incorrect programmatically too (Santoka was a Buddhist monk, and Ozaki Hosai etc.). Obviously, to increase the importance of Gendai, many "details" are becoming irrelevant, so today any deviation from the Chinese tradition in the history of haiku is immediately declared as a Gendai (3). In this way, Gendai seems like a bigger movement than the de facto is (4). Sino-US strategic and economic rivalry helps to fabrication of historical facts so any deviation from the Chinese tradition immediately promotes in "pro-American" Gendai.

And this confusion is certainly aided by the fact that American haiku poets, traditionally Buddhists, are today torned between patriotism and Buddhism. However, ideological pluralism of haiku is a significant achievement, which will always give meaning to Gendai direction irrespective of the political (mis) use.

2. Dimitar Anakiev: „What Are the Values of an International Haiku Community“, Modern Haiku 43. 2, 2012
3. Gendai Haiku Association „Japanese haiku 2001“
4. Gendai Haiku Association „Japanese haiku 2008“

(This article is for the first time published in English and Serbian in Haiku Novine Vol.22, No.30, spring-summer, 2016)


Unknown said...

Excellent! Haiku is a multicultiral and multemporal expression. The essay shows this very clearly. Congratulations!

Unknown said...

I am not an unknown: my name is David Rodrigues from Portugal

Kamesan 亀さん said...

Thank you David! See you around!