I have just become a member of a Haiku society. I have long had a smouldering interest in haiku, but while I could read and understand some, there were others I could not make head or tail of. To me it seemed a hard to understand and unapproachable subject. However, when my mother-in-law no longer was able to attend her haiku society, the organizer suggested that I should take her place. Mustering up courage, I decided to give it a try.
“Until our next meeting, please compose three haiku. If you are not able to attend our next meeting, you can submit your haiku by FAX.” the organizer kindly told us. Never one to be daunted, I happily accepted even though I had never written a single haiku before. It is scary how inexperience can get you into trouble.

As I soon learned, a haiku society is not a class teaching haiku. There is no teacher explaining what a haiku is or how to write one. The society gathers once a month to present, discuss and appreciate the haiku we have prepared under the guidance of our organizer and instructor.

Every month, the teacher assigns three haiku for the next meeting. One has to contain a “season word” of the topic and the other two can be composed using a topic of the participant’s own choice. Even I knew that a haiku had to contain a season word. In spring, plum flowers, nightingales or other words associated with that season. So far so good it seemed, but I was greatly mistaken. The problem is if you do not understand the season word of the topic, you cannot even begin to write.

Last month, September, the season word of the topic was “sawayaka.” According to Saijiki, a catalog listing season words, “sawayaka” is a season word for autumn. “It refers to a gentle, dry autumn wind. It has come to mean the feeling when enveloped by such a wind and the good feeling of autumn” it says.

Ninna-ji, Kyoto

How pleasant it is to feel the breath of a cool breeze on my skin. This what you might say about such an experience, but as a season word it can only be used about autumn, not spring or summer. It was the first time for me to learn that. I remember having said things like “the season of cool breezes has arrived” when feeling a cool wind blowing in early summer. The recollection makes me feel embarrassed. Digging further into this, I found that the Japan Meteorological Agency says in their Terminology regarding weather and weather changes that “sawayaka” cannot be used about summer or winter weather. It is often used in autumn when migratory anticyclones bring dry air, clear skies and agreeable temperature.” I guess, I have learned something about correct Japanese usage as well.

The topic for this month is “Small birds are coming.” And the season word for autumn and October? Small birds? Small birds can be found all year round. Why autumn? In the world of haiku, this refers to the migratory birds that come to Japan in autumn (such as, thrushes, finches, black-faced buntings or waxwing birds). It does not concern the sparrows and other small birds that you may find in your garden. Again, this was news to me that birds migrate to Japan in autumn.

My initiation into haiku has become a battle with season words. This promises to be a long one. However, it has added a new dimension to watching the weather and looking at flowers and trees.

So what about the haiku I brought. This is one of the haiku I composed for the first meeting.

“The cool breeze gently blows through my linen shirt”

The teacher corrected this haiku as follows.

“The cool breeze is gently blowing through my linen shirt”

The teacher changed just one character, the ending “ru” to “te,” a major change. This change to “te” expresses better the ongoing character of the experience. I suppose it adds afterglow. Our teacher’s corrections, or improvements, are awesome. This tiny change made my mediocre poem come to life, as it were. Next time, I will to give you a better idea of how deftly our teacher improves the haiku we bring.

Translated by KB◆

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