David McMurray's Column

Support for UNESCO haiku bid

Dr. Arima's full story and photograph by David McMurray.

Former education minister Akito Arima is flanked by members of haiku clubs in Akita. (Photo by David McMurray)

Dr. Akito Arima was able to find support for a UNESCO haiku bid when he visited Akita International University on October 25-26, 2014. The president of the Haiku International Association seems to be patiently garnering cooperation from haikuists around the world.

Late autumn--
one chair for someone
yet to come

--Akito Arima (Tokyo)

Translated from the haikuist's original in Japanese: yagate kuru mono ni banshu no isu hitotsu. Akito Arima, an avid haikuist and former education minister, guided poets from Russia, England, Canada and Japan on a haiku walk through colored trees during the 29th National Cultural Festival held in Akita last month. The president of the Haiku International Association also addressed academics at the Akita International University in an effort to convince them that haiku should be added to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Arima reassured students in the audience that haiku can be composed by everyone, from the man in the street to the likes of Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, the Nobel laureate of literature in 2011 who penned at age 23: disappearing deep in his inner greenness/ artful and hopeful. Later in his career he penned in Swedish:

My happiness swelled
and the frogs sang in the bogs
of Pomerania

By stressing that haiku can deepen mutual understanding and enjoyment of different cultures between those people who read or compose the poem, he garnered suFF4EEpport for his idea that "haiku can help make the world peaceful."

Hidenori Hiruta, the Secretary General of the Akita International Haiku Network, reported at the conference that it might be challenging to have haiku acknowledged by UNESCO, because not only does Arima need to persuade the Cultural Affairs Agency and local governments in Japan to back his bid, but "he may also need to gather consent from haiku communities around the world."

Representative examples of good haiku will have to be documented and displayed on the UNESCO home page. To help with that task, during the National Cultural Festival the results of the 3rd Japan-Russia Haiku Contest were announced by Jin Wada, the chair of the Akita Prefectural International Haiku Association, and Minoru Kono, professor emeritus from Akita University. Vying for selection were 1,130 haiku entries penned in English, Japanese and Russian by haikuists living in 46 countries.

In the English haiku competition, an award from the president of Akita International University went to Canadian haikuist Harrison Devin.

coastal fog--
the way mountains flow
into mountains

The JAL Foundation Award was given to Motohiko Akagi, a freshman at the International University of Kagoshima.

begins to melt
into a flower

Eric Adjei Agyei-Baah delightedly spoke to attendees via Skype from Ghana when he received his award from the president of the Akita Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

leafless tree--
lifting a cup of nest
to the sky

The president of the Akita Sakigake Shimpo newspaper recognized Ramesh Ananda's work from India.

still pond . ..
fading from its center
this stormy cloud

The chairman of the Akita Branch of Ten'i (Providence) Haiku Group announced that Varma Anitha in India had won a prize for this poem.

twilight rain . ..
palm fronds drip moonlight
into the night

The Akita International Haiku Network award was accepted on behalf of Jiro Oba, a correspondence student at the Asahi Culture Center in Tokyo, for this haiku.

memory of a city
lost in ancient times

Haikuists in Akita applauded these selections, but realize that to be accepted as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, haiku will have to be recognized by the communities, groups and individuals that create, maintain and transmit it as an intangible cultural heritage. These communities may even have to agree upon a generally accepted definition for haiku, which has changed in form since the 17th century, when Matsuo Basho composed his poems.

Delegates to the Akita conference departed as the sun was sinking in the sky and a breeze from the sea stirred up the sand, as a misty rain started to fall, obscuring Chokai Mountain in Akita. In Basho's notebook "The Narrow Road to Oku," translated by Donald Keene, he wrote "After having seen so many splendid views of both land and sea, I could think of nothing now but Kisakata." Inspired by Basho's haiku, kono michi ya yuku hito nashi ni aki no kure (On this path no one else travels autumn ends), Satoru Kanematsu penned:

A long way
to go with haiku
deep autumn

The UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list includes 22 items from Japan. From Nov. 24 to 28, washi, the craftsmanship of traditional Japanese hand-made paper, is being reviewed by UNESCO delegates at their headquarters in Paris.

By David McMurray

Quote from The Asahi Shimbun.

The link to all Asahi Haikuist Network stories is David McMurray's columns http://www.asahi.com/ajw/special/haiku/