Haiku wasn’t always a standalone literary form. Masaoka Shiki (October 1867 – September 1902) shook things up and showed the world of his time just how lovely haiku can be. If it weren’t for him, one might wonder if haiku would have become as popular as it is today.
Haiku is a short poetry form–the world’s shortest!–originating in Japan. Traditional haiku structure consists of three lines and 17 syllables in total. The first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and the final line has five. Traditional haiku also mentions or evokes one of the seasons—Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall. Of course, like any art form, it has continued to evolve into numerous variations from the “rules,” if they could be called that.
When Masaoka appeared on the scene and championed haiku, the previous three haiku masters had long since passed, and haiku seemed to have diminished in the minds of literary scholars of his day. But Masaoka gave haiku new life.
Today haiku is an internationally recognized art form. In the United States, April is National Poetry Month, and so, some celebrate by writing haiku, especially on the 17th—because, well…, haiku has 17 syllables. And that might be one reason that The Haiku Foundation proclaims April 17 as International Haiku Poetry Day. Furthermore, since haiku is the world’s shortest poetry form and February is the year’s shortest month, many celebrate February as National Haiku Writing Month, or NaHaiWriMo.
In Japan, however, August 19 is Haiku Day, because August 19, or 8/19, can be pronounced as “ha-i-ku,” corresponding to possible pronunciations of the numbers 8-1-9. As a point of reference, it’s similar to what is done with May 4th in the States. Because “May the 4th” sounds similar to “May the Force”—as in “May the force be with you”—many fans celebrate that day as Star Wars Day. And so, August 19 is Haiku-no-hi, or Haiku Day.
Masaoka probably never imagined such a thing as Haiku Day, yet there’s no doubt haiku took up a good part of his life. He was born in Sacramento’s Sister City (signed into effect 38 years ago on August 17, 1981), or what is now Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture. So one might also say that haiku was reborn in Matsuyama City, which celebrates it’s special connection to haiku by hosting an annual poetry competition, a “haiku koshien,” for high school students every August.
And therein lies Sacramento’s connection to haiku. Somewhere along the streams of time, Sacramento’s Sister City gave birth to a haiku master who reinvigorated haiku poetry. And isn’t that what Sister Cities are all about, at least, in part—the sharing of cultural ties? Would you like to read one of his haiku and two from locals?
Was that too much of a stretch? Maybe on paper, but not in the heart, and certainly not in the hearts of an international community that has embraced haiku.
Perhaps, in this, you’ll be inspired to put to paper your own haiku creations. We believe there may be a corresponding haiku master right here in Sacramento.