And now, let me introduce AshiAkira, using his own words. Because, well, he says it best!
Born in Tokyo in 1938, I went to the United States for study after graduating from a Tokyo metropolitan senior high school in 1957.
After returning to Japan from the United States in 1963, I worked for a news agency as an English reporter, thus continuing the use of the English language I had learned in the previous years in America. After reaching the mandatory retirement age of sixty with the news agency in 1998, I continued to work for its subsidiaries taking charge of correspondence and translation, thus further continuing to make use of my English skills.
When I reached the age of seventy, I fully retired from all the chores of work to make a living and decided to live on a pension alone. My income then drastically went down, but in return, I gained enough leisure to do whatever I wanted, and I chose to spend the remaining years of my life in writing novels, short stories, poems, or anything I found myself interested in.
I then noticed on the internet that haiku writing was gaining considerable popularity in many countries outside Japan. I didn’t have much knowledge of haiku writing above the common sense level of a person born and raised in Japan, where saying things in the haiku rhythm penetrates through people’s lives. But I felt something amiss about many of the haikus written by non-Japanese writers, and I thought it would be interesting to write haikus directly in English.
When I told a friend of mine that I’d try to write haikus in English, he introduced me to a member of the haiku-writing club of a famous university in Tokyo. The haiku writer apparently discussed my plan with other members of the club, and he told me it was utterly impossible to write haikus in English or in any other language than Japanese. He said that I should first train myself to write in Japanese until I became familiar with traditional haiku writing. He said he resented so many non-Japanese poems that are claimed to be haikus simply because they are short and broken into three lines. He said many Japanese haiku writers feel the word haiku should not be used for the non-Japanese three-line poems.
I know it’s said that “poetry is what gets lost in translation,” but I also believe that the prosody is not all there is to poetry. Having been born into and grown up in the haiku-writing culture, I feel there is something in the core of haiku that can be retained in whatever language it is written.
I decided to call what I would write haiku poems, meaning haiku-style poems, instead of haiku to avoid hurting the feeling of the haiku experts as much as possible. I also decided to throw away all rules and tradition about the haiku writing except two basic ones, namely the five-seven-five syllables—rhythm—and its connection with nature, without which a haiku cannot be a haiku.
The Japanese language, when it’s spoken in five and seven syllables, gives to the Japanese ear a pleasant rhythm. I believe this stems from the fact that Japanese is always pronounced in combination of a consonant and a vowel or in a vowel independent of consonant clusters. It is also because Japanese is pronounced with the tone accent rather than the stress accent, like that of English.
For hundreds of years, saying things in the five-seven-five syllables was popular among the Japanese people, and it was called haikai. Several people might get together for a party where they would compose the haikai, mainly jokes to throw at each other or allusive sarcasm against corrupt or oppressive officials of the feudal rule that lasted until nineteenth century.
It was Matsuo Basho who made the revolutionary achievement of writing poems of artistic value in the haikai form in the seventeenth century. There was no such a word as haiku in Basho’s days. It was not until about two hundred years after his death that the writers of artistic haikai began to call their works haiku to distinguish them as an art from jokes or allusively ironic pieces which then began to be called senryu or kyoka, respectively.
The counting of syllables in an English word varies from speaker to speaker. The word poem pronounced by some English speakers, for instance, sounds like a one-syllable word or by others as a two syllable word. The word poet, however, is pronounced almost always as a two-syllable word. Thus, the haiku poems I write in English often follow the five-seven-five syllable rule loosely.
Connection with nature is another basic core tradition in the haiku writing. The reason for this would no doubt call for heated discussion by experts. But as a full-blooded Japanese who received more education outside Japan than at home, I must ask for others’ permission to say that the haiku artists feel that nature is the ultimate ruler of all living things deserving our due respect. We all came into this world by the natural power in disregard of our own will. And in most of the cases, we leave this world when the time for each individual to do so comes. Before nature we are powerless. We don’t know what nature is as we don’t know what life is. But we can have a glimpse of what happens in nature as its work. For example, the blooming of flowers and birds flying and chirping are works of nature. By catching a glimpse of nature’s work, only a momentary spark, and jotting it down in words as a reflection of our mind, we may get closer to knowing it. The five-seven-five-syllable poem, or close to it in any language, is a handy form of poetry to capture the works of nature when noticed. Doing so could be a way to bring the unseen power of nature into the human consciousness.
I have written around two thousand haiku poems in nearly a decade, and I have randomly selected and edited 496 of them for this publication. I plan to publish all the rest of them, in addition to other forms of poems I have also written, in the future.
Finally, since so much must be squeezed into the seventeen syllables, I take full advantage of poetic license to disregard grammar or any rule of the language. Since I intend my haiku poems to appeal directly to the imagination of the readers through words only, the use of pictures or illustrations is avoided. And like any other form of poetry, each haiku poem, although it’s so short, is meant to be independent. I would be honored if the readers read them as such.