For registration to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

“Haiku” to Contribute to World Peace

Akito Arima, President, Haiku International Association

On July 22, 2016, a promoters’ council was born for the mission of having “haiku” registered on the List of UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Jointly with Sakae Okamoto, Mayor of Iga City, Mie Prefecture (the wellknown city as Matsuo Basho’s birth place), I, as President of Haiku International Association (HIA), had appealed for the necessity of the launch meeting of the Promoters’ Council. Enthusiastically gathered together for the launching meeting were representatives of the 3 major Japanese haiku associations: Association of Haiku Poets (President: Shugyo Takaha), Modern Haiku Association (President: Shizuo Miyasaka) and Association of Japanese Classical Haiku (President: Teiko Inahata). Another member of the Council, Koji Kawamoto, Emeritus Professor at the University of Tokyo, was unfortunately unable to attend.

In the immediate future, we intend to start up a task force for progressing the UNESCO Plan by inviting those people from municipal corporations and bodies which are related to Basho and other traditional haiku masters. We will also invite individual haiku lovers who belong to the three major haiku associations and HIA for joining the task force team.

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As you all know, haiku, perhaps the shortest poetry in the world, is an art of Japanese literature with its proud history. Haiku has been gaining popularity in many countries as well as in Japan. It is no exaggeration to say that haiku provides people with a “reason for living.” Men and women, from children to adults up to the great age of one hundred and over, are enjoying making and reading haiku.

Haiku was introduced overseas more than a hundred years ago. In 2015, in his welcoming speech for Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, the first President of the European Council whom HIA invited as the guest speaker of our annual convention, Ambassador Viorel Isticioaia-Budura of EU Delegation to Japan shared the fact that Hendrik Doeff, Chief of the Dutch trading settlements on Dejima in Nagasaki, was the first westerner who is known to have written haiku.

In 1983, President Ronald W. Reagan of the United States delivered a speech in a session of Japan’s House of Representatives. He quoted Matsuo Basho’s haiku;

Many kinds of plants
And each one triumphant
in its special blossoms
(Translation inscribed on the memorial tablet located in Iga City)

In 2013 in Washington, Caroline B. Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, quoted one sentence from the beginning part of the prose and haiku, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Matsuo Basho, just before leaving for her new appointment. “The guardian spirits of the road beckoned, and I could not settle down to work.” She meant she couldn’t wait to get to work in Japan. Foregoing Mr. Van Rompuy, Former President of EU, who has published two haiku anthologies already, said that his most favorite haiku master is Basho. During his short stay in Japan, Mr. Van Rompuy visited Karuizawa, Nagano Pref. where he saw the stone tablet on which Basho’s haiku was engraved;

snowy morning so fine
that I take a close look
even at the familiar horse
(Translation by: Toru Kiuchi)

All in all, I want to emphasize the importance of the location where the launch meeting of the Council for the “Haiku for UNESCO” took place --- “Iga City” where Matsuo Basho, the greatest haiku master of worldwide fame, was born.

Basho was born in 1644 in the province of Iga (present Iga City). In his teen age years, he learned haiku from Kitamura Kigin who lived in Kyoto. Iga Province was rather close to Kyoto (then Japan’s capital). At the age of 29, Basho decided to head for Edo (present Tokyo) where he hoped to vitalize his haiku career and to usher in a new phase into haiku circles. Edo in those days was far behind Kyoto in a sense of haiku’s development. In his latter 20 some years until he died at 51 in Osaka, Basho showed an outstanding artistic talent in the haiku world. And the blossoms of his haiku were passed on to the next generation by his followers such as Kawai Sora, Takarai Kikaku and Mukai Kyorai.

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Followings are the main topics of heated discussions during the “promoters’ launch meeting.” As a result, we all agreed that attractive aspects of haiku should be all the more widely known.

Mass appeal of Haiku: Mainly because of its simplicity, people around the world, irrespective of age and sex, can enjoy creating haiku. As an evidence, the total applicants for the recent IHA’s Haiku Contest represented as many as 49 various countries.

Universality of Haiku: Allen Ginsberg, an American poet wrote many short poems like haiku, also using nature as its theme. Facts have it in addition that two distinguished Swedes both wrote haiku --- Thomas Tranströmer, the poet of national pride (the Nobel laureate in literature), and the late Dag Hammarskjöld, former Secretary-General of the United Nations (who received the Nobel Peace Prize after his death).

Those facts --- even top-class poets and great politicians create haiku --- show how universal haiku is in principle. On the other hand, people on the street have discovered and begun to enjoy haiku-writing mainly because of its simplicity, resulting in remarkable increase of poets all over the world.

Peace and Haiku: Subjects of haiku come from observation of nature and daily living. Haiku can change a moment into eternity. Observation of nature leads to the spirit of nature conservation, mutual understanding of people and ultimately to “world peace.”

Transcending Education for the Next Generation: To enhance one’s sensibility for usage of words increases self-expression capability and trains the mind to extract one’s thoughts succinctly. We understand that some of the primary schools in the United States are employing haiku in class to nurture children’s creative expression. Hopefully, if haiku is registered on the UNESCO List, language ability of Japanese children, as well as of children around the world, will certainly be improved.

* * *

Through haiku, we, haiku lovers, are connected each other worldwide. As an example, HIA has invited lecturer from Vietnam for the coming Annual Lecture Meeting to be held on December 4, 2016. The lecturer is Ms. Nguyen Vu Quynh Nhu, Visiting Research Scholar of International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, Japan. Ms. Nhu obtained a doctoral degree on literature (for haiku studies) from Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities. Her encounter with haiku was through our house bulletin “HI,” every issue of which is being delivered to the embassies and legations abroad through Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She is now teaching haiku to the Vietnamese people. The case of Ms. Nhu is an example of universality in haiku poetry I mentioned above. Let me repeat that haiku is spreading worldwide as well as in Japan because of haiku’s advantage of being a short form of poetry. Another advantage is the distinct features in which subjects of haiku writing are mainly on the blessings of nature or on harmonious coexistence between human lives and nature.

I’m more than pleased to say that a movement to have “Haiku” registered as the UNESCO intangible cultural treasures around the world is under way by the joint forces of haiku related municipalities such as Iga City and four major haiku associations in Japan including HIA.

My fellow HIA members, your cooperation and joint efforts are sincerely requested.

(Translation into English by Shoji Matsumoto, HIA member)