Learn about Japanese haiku, read about Bosho- the master of haiku, write your own, and even enter an international haiku contest!
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When Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) was a child in Japan, he fell in love with a type of poetry that began with a verse of 5-7-5 syllables. He traveled his homeland island writing short poems about his experiences of his travels. Centuries later, when this stanza was presented to stand-alone, it was named the haiku 俳句. Basho’s incredibly rich anthologies of his poems have made him one of the most beloved poets in the history of Japan. Teach your children about Basho with the following books and resources, and then write a haiku together- all while learning a bit about Japanese culture!
Before introducing the haiku, I thought it would be helpful to learn more about Basho’s life. Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho, by Dawnine Spivak, recounts the simple life of Basho as he walks across Japan. In the book, we learn that he changed his name to Basho because he loved his own basho– banana tree- that his friend had given him, and he had planted next to his small house. The story is sprinkled with his own haikus (an ideal primary source!), inspired by people he meets and sights he sees in his journey:
one morning at dawn
I wade in the wide river—
pants wet to my knees
The phenomenal illustrations- brushed in colored ink on textured rice paper-recall fine Japanese art. Other cultural elements include Japanese characters, Japanese clothing and architecture, and details of the regional food he ate.
After being introduced to Basho, we read some fictional stories about Basho’s encounters with cunning (and human-like) foxes. Basho and the Fox, and Basho and the River Stones were both written by Tim J. Myers and beautifully illustrated in watercolor by Oki S. Han. In the first book, the foxes want Basho to write an excellent haiku in exchange for his share of cherries. After three chances, he finally succeeds when he cleverly writes a haiku about the very foxes trying to trick him. The second book does not include any of Basho’s original haikus, but does relay his message to notice and appreciate details in the often over-looked scenes around us.
After learning about Basho, and getting an introduction to the haiku, I found two children’s picture books that best demonstrate the haiku to kids.
If you only read of these books, I absolutely recommend One Leaf Rides the Wind by Celeste Davidson Mannis. Your youngest children will appreciate the counting story of 1-10, while older children can tap the syllables of the 11 haikus. Everyone will enjoy the watercolors, and explanations of Japanese cultural symbols from the pagoda, bonsai, to the koi fish and tea ceremony- all harmoniously presented in the Japanese garden setting. I love this book!
The next book tells of the 300-mile journey from Kyoto to Edo (modern day Tokyo) through the maginificent Tokaido Road. In Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers by Gloria Whelan, little Yuki must travel carried in a palanquin, or wooden box, followed by a thousand attendants carrying their belongings. To help ease her homesickness, and assure that no lessons will be forgotten, her teacher asks her to write a haiku every day. The prose and watercolors transport us to ancient Japan- from the eyes of a young, playful girl. My kids loved the whole story, and asked if we could take a trip in a box with 1000 carriers….
Finally we were understanding the haiku, and it was time to take out our paper and pencils. A haiku many times has 3 lines: the first has 5 syllables, the second has 7, and the third has 5 again. The theme many times united man and nature, but modern haiku poets now include a myriad of subjects!
According to the JAL Foundation, whose mission is to fostervarious international exchanges in order to create globally minded people, the haiku is a:
form of poetry that captures a moment in the poet’s life in a very short, descriptive verse… leaving room for your imagination. Each word melts seamlessly into the other… by three verses alone…Haiku values nature, color, seasons, contrast and surprises. It … expresses deep feeling for nature including human beings. This follows the traditional Japanese idea that man is a part of the natural world, and should live in harmony with it.
They sponsor an annual “World Children’s Haiku Contest,” where children from around the world enter their haiku for the possibility to get published in a children’s haiku anthology and even win a trip to Japan! See here for the application form.
Here are some haiku poems that were sent into KidWorldCitizen by readers. If you would like to be published, send in your haiku to kidworldcitizen (at) gmail (dot) com. Include your name- your age and a photo are optional:).
Haiku by Nelly:
I am burning hot,
The bright sun is shining hard
I am very calm.
Haiku by Bryan:
The sky is very blue,
The white sand is beautiful,
I am swimming now.
Haiku by Israel (about a rainbow):
I am beautiful,
I come out after the rain,
I am colorful.
Haiku by Diana (about sunflowers):
Like sunshine on Earth,
They are beautiful and nice,
Filling me with joy.
Haiku by Macy, age 8:
summer is awesome
swimming, biking, running, play
lemonade, friends and soccer
Winter Haiku by Tonito, age 7:
It is cold outside
Sledding, skating, snowball fights
Everythings are white
Summer Haiku by Ricky age 4 (with mommy’s help)
The sun shines on me
I feel like I burn myself
The pool cools me off
Tadpole Haiku by Maya age 4 (with mommy’s help)
Tadpoles are greenish
They swim, eat our lettuce
They grow into frogs
Spring Haiku by Vivi, age 7
We play all the time
Flowers bloom very pretty
Baby birds sing songs
Thank you to teacher Robert Fleck for submitting his students’ poems!