On this blog, initially, I wanted to write something about my research interests, natural language processing. However, it’s intimidating to start with that serious topic. So, to warm this place up, let me write about an art formed by a natural language, haiku - super short Japanese poetry.

Haiku (俳句) is a traditional form of poetry in Japan, which is composed of three phrases. First and last phrases have five syllables and the middle one has seven, this makes its rhythm sounds very comfortable to our ears (wonder if it’s true only for Japanese or also other language speakers). One more characteristic of haiku is that they consist of at least one kigo (季語), a word related to seasons such as snow, pool or autumn leaves, etc…

The history of haiku dates back to the 16th century, Muromachi (室町) -era, age of samurais (Japanese warrior). There was a bit longer version of a poet called renka (連歌) which highly academical so not for everyone, given this background haiku has emerged and accepted by society. In the 17th century, one of the most well- known haiku-author, Basho Matsuo (松尾芭蕉), starts to make his name. He wrote a travelogue everyone knows, Oku-no-hosomichi (奥の細道), means “a narrow path in the back”. It must have been an amazing journey, visiting romantic places in 150-days, stopping at each place to write a haiku describing things that moved him. Let me quote one haiku he wrote when he visited Hiraizumi (平泉) where a very strong family used to rule a long time before Basho went.

「夏草や 兵どもが 夢の跡」

This describes the fragility of the place where used to be a battlefield that warriors fought for life, but at the time of his visit, he could only see summer grass, everything happened here is just like a dream. The lives we think are great and glorious, but over time, after you pass there won’t be anything but the summer grass which overwrites everything. However, even they are very temporary, this haiku shows that how people try to live up their lives is beautiful. I wish I could have written English better but I don’t think I can describe the meaning even in my native language anyway.

Given this very basic introduction of haiku, let’s take a look at two well-know haikus. (I will do my best to translate but this is very hard.)

「裏を見せ 表を見せて 散るもみじ」

This haiku was written by a Buddhist monk when he was passing away. Saying that he showed his both backside (裏) and front side (表) of his life, the backside refers to his bads, front side to his goods. With this haiku, he thanked the people around him for accepting both of his sides. And in the last phrase (散るもみじ), he compares his passing to falling autumn leaves. We can feel his deep gratefulness and a calm mind from this one.

「うまさうな 雪がふうはり ふわりかな」

This one about snow is cute. It says that snow floating in the air looks tasty. By using an onomatopée (ふうはり ふわり) to describe snow falling slowly, it doesn’t make the scene feels too cold but fun.

It’s amazing how haikus can evoke beautiful scenes in nature. It may be something missing in our tech lives, paying attention to nature around us. I don’t think I can write pieces like ones above, but willing to try to capture the transition of the environment around me in seasons.