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Teaching Haikus: The Japanese Love Poem

written by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 9/13/2013

Are you teaching your students about love in Japanese? Why not teach them about haikus, the Japanese love poem? This lesson plan goes over some famous Japanese haikus about love and different exercises to use in the classroom.

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    Using Haikus to Express Love

    While there are many ways to say “I love you" in Japanese, love in Japan is also expressed in poetry, where it may not be as direct. A popular type of Japanese poetry is haiku (俳句), a three line poem that follows a five-syllable seven-syllable, five-syllable line pattern. Haikus are a great way to teach students about love in Japanese, as they are open to interpretation, and allow the writer to express her love creatively. In this lesson, we cover two famous Japanese writers: Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) and Yosa Buson (1716-1783). You can start the lesson by giving a historical background on each writer, and lead into the poems. If students have an advanced knowledge of Japanese, give them a history of each writer in Japanese.

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    Kobayashi Issa's Haiku

    Start the lesson by giving each student a copy of this Issa poem:

    君なくて (kimi nakute)

    まことに多大の (makoto ni tadai no)

    木立哉 (kodachi kana)

    Ask if there are any words they do not know, or if there are any unfamiliar kanji. Ask students to translate the poem, and if they can, write the translation in haiku style. After students have enough time to go over the poem, hand out this R.H. Blyth translation from "A History of Haiku":

    Without you, in truth,

    Too many and too wide

    Are the groves

    Ask the students: do they agree with R.H. Blyth's translation? How did they translate the poem? What do they think the poem means? What sentiment about love do they get? What image to they get when they read this poem?

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    Yosa Buson's Haiku

    Once the Issa poem has been discussed, hand out this Buson poem:

    夜の蘭 (yoru no ran)

    香にかくれてや (ka ni kakurete ya)

    花白し (hana shiroshi)

    Like before, go over any unfamiliar vocabulary or kanji. Have each student write out a translation, and encourage them to be creative and write a translation in haiku. After giving the students enough time to translate, pass out this R.H. Blyth translation from "Haiku, Volume Four: Autumn-Winter":

    An evening orchid

    It hid its scent

    The flower white

    Do they agree with R.H. Blyth's translation? How did they translate the poem and were there any differences? What do they think the poem means? What sentiment about love do they get? What image to they get when they read this poem? How is this poem different from the Issa poem? Which Japanese haiku do they like better? Why?

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    Exercises

    Point out that Japanese haikus use nature and its beauty to express sentiments like love. For homework, give a haiku and have them put together artwork that compliments the poem. In class, have students write their own haiku. If it is a beginner Japanese class, they can write the poem in English, as long as they integrate elements found in a Japanese haiku, like nature. For more advanced students, have them write the haiku in Japanese.

References

  • Blyth, R.H. Haiku, Volume Four: Autumn-Winter. Hokuseido Press, 1982
  • Blyth, R.H. A History of Haiku. Hokuseido Press, 1964