Haiku Masters in Matsuyama
Haiku Masters in Matsuyama
Adapted into an English format, haiku, Japan’s short, 17-syllable poetic form, is growing in popularity around the world. Matsuyama in Ehime, Shikoku, brands itself as “The world capital of haiku culture”. Matsuyama has long been a city of poetry. The feudal lord of Matsuyama was a devotee and patron of poetry, and from the Edo period onward, the city has been particularly associated with haiku. Matsuyama encompasses mountains, valleys, rivers and coastlines where the seasons are reflected in everything around you. Each haiku requires a seasonal reference, and in this regard, the natural environment of Matsuyama offers an embarrassment of riches.
Matsuyama was home to the renowned haiku poet Masaoka Shiki who modernized the form, in addition to introducing baseball to Japan. Shiki has two museums dedicated to him, the grandiose Shiki Memorial Museum next to Dogo Park, and the humbler Shikido Museum near Matsuyama City Station.
Other haiku poets who lived in Matsuyama were Kurita Chodo who built the pretty hermitage Koshin-an, and the drunken mendicant Taneda Santoka, who lived at Isso-an. The places where they composed their poems remain oases of stillness and reflection despite the bustling city around them.
Haiku are part of the fabric of Matsuyama, literally. Many of its streets are lined with stones which are carved with haiku. As you climb the steps to Matsuyama Shrine, you pass more of these stones. Kashima Island is ringed with haiku monuments. Of more immediate interest to practicing haikuists are the haiku post boxes that have been thoughtfully placed around Matsuyama. There are about 90 of them. You have to be alert to spot them, because they’re all different—the one in JR Matsuyama Station is made of bamboo. Around Dogo Onsen, there’s one built into the Honkan, and another near the foot spa is made of stone. But all of them have a little box of forms where you can write your haiku, with your name and address. Rest assured that posting a haiku isn’t like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it into the sea. Each haiku is read by a panel of haikuists, and the best of the best are published on Matsuyama City’s website, and in the Ehime Shinbun newspaper.
When you compose a haiku in English, there’s no need to adhere too strictly to the 5-7-5 pattern, which doesn’t necessarily work in English. As long as your poem is short and seasonal, all but the most grotesque pedants will recognize it as a haiku. And today, haiku have been brought further up to date by combining the little poems with photography – the photo haiku!
Now is an excellent time to visit the world capital of haiku culture, because national broadcaster NHK is presenting Haiku Masters, Connecting the World through Photo Haiku, a star-studded talk show in Matsuyama where you can learn everything there is to know about photo haiku. The show features the line-up of haiku experts who appear in NHK World’s popular Haiku Masters TV series. The event will be held in the Shiki Memorial Museum next to Dogo Park on July 24 (Sunday), from 14:00 to 16:15. Entry is free of charge. The discussion will be in English and Japanese, with translation.