Haikus For Japan

Following the success of ‘Lament For Japan’ based upon Gillian Clarke’s poem, I have decided to introduce the class to a traditional form of Japanese poetry called the Haiku. As with the ‘Lament For Japan’, our Haiku will deal with the double catastrophe of an earthquake, followed by a tsunami and the impending disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power point. These are especially sad and troubled times and I think it deserves our attention, our thoughts and empathy.

A ‘Haiku’ is a traditional form of Japanese poetry which when adopted by English-speaking countries contain three lines with a syllable pattern of 5, 7, 5 (if you were to include another two lines with 7 syllables each, you will have created a Tanka, another form of traditional Japanese poetry).

The Haiku looks disarmingly simple, after all it contains only three lines pertaining to a syllable pattern. In the same way we may perceive writing children stories as easy, we may wrongly assume that writing a Haiku is just as simple. A good Haiku is about painting a picture with words, with the final line often giving an overall impression, a kind of conclusion, if you like.

Haiku Examples in English

The following haiku examples in English will help you understand how a haiku is written. One noun and a connective phrase with five syllables consists of the traditional Japanese haiku poems.

An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.

~ Basho

Sick and feverish
Glimpse of cherry blossoms
Still shivering.

~ Ryinosuke Akutagawa

The summer river:
although there is a bridge, my horse
goes through the water.

~ Masaoka Shiki

Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.

~ Soseki Natsume

Sick on a journey –
Over parched fields
Dreams wander on.

~ Basho

You rice-field maidens!
The only things not muddy
Are the songs you sing.

~ Raizan

Whispering to her–
the spotted fawn
eyes the outstretched water lily

The butterflies dance
Brilliant colors of rainbows
Rippling like water

Earth whirls a chorus.
Fluttering fair women talk.
Winter sways gifts.

The apples chortle.
Wonder misses the landscapes.
Earth charms heaven.

As you can see, the Haiku traditionally deals with nature or animals, though can be on any subject. They rarely rhyme, so do not feel the pressure to make it rhyme. If you really want a challenge, work on the final line as this is one which summarizes your entire ‘picture’.

Your task

1) Following an audiovisual introduction, write down Japan and come up with as many thoughts and images which comes to mind.

2) Circle your strongest impression

3) Begin writing words, phrases and see if a picture is being developed.

4) Once you have your ideas, see if you can plan around the syllable pattern.


33 thoughts on “Haikus For Japan

  1. All the homes are lost.
    All have evacuated.
    Loss is everything.

    Nuclear danger
    caused by explosions
    I’m in hospital.

    Terror, hot fire
    with icy tsunamis is
    agony for us.

    Cara Thomson

    1. Thank you Cara for your three poems-my favourite is your first and third one. I love the third one because there is a contrast between fire and ice which sums up the harsh conditions endured. Well done.

  2. Ocean of fire
    Dragging everything it sees
    Brings hell to earth

    All the snow melted
    Washing all sadness away
    Bud of hope opens

    1. Excellent work Anna! I am impressed. Hard to decide which of the two I like more. Perhaps the second one is in keeping with traditional themes explored in Japanese Haiku, though you successfully make it relate to recent events.

  3. Title: Helpless Again

    Drowning in the waves
    The surrendering Earth shakes
    Radiation spreads.

    I let go of her
    I’m being washed away
    Helpless, in the dark.

    Cold splash of the waves
    Mother Nature’s angry roar
    The sound of despair.

    Fearful for time lost
    Power plants helplessly smoke
    But we keep trying.

    By: Celeste Novembre

    1. All of these poems are fantastic Celeste. Well done. Which one is your favourite? I am leaning towards your last one, possibly because at the time of writing it, it was a major concern, as is the loss of time. ‘Cold splash..’ is also very effective because you can ‘hear’ it, so it appeals to our senses.

    1. A nice poem, Tom-well done! You have successfully detailed what happened and the feelings of those left behind.

    1. Perhaps my favourite poem of all Se-One -well done. I love your use of the Greek god, Poseidon, and how you work around a single theme. It captures the extreme level of destruction which is beyond the scope of imagination. Great stuff.

  4. Sour smell of willows
    turning red with memories
    flames fly up the sky

    Green crops in danger
    washed away by the brown waves
    farmers worrying

    Shaking, crumbling
    people crying in despair
    wishing for the end

    1. I really like the first one Nick (they are all really good) but this one is very much in keeping with traditional Japanese haiku with elements of nature and colour. It is also quite abstract, and you make excellent use of alliteration, perhaps without realising it! Excellent work.

    1. This is one of my favourites Daniel! What makes this poem work is your use of verbs -‘ing’ which makes it sound as if it is happening as we read. The human element of ‘footprints’ being washed away makes this little poem profoundly depressing. Also there is a nice play on no footprints left behind with fear being the only thing left behind. I also like the use of lowercase letters. Well done.

  5. Towering walls of water,
    Distraught moms embrace their young.
    Hell on Planet Earth.

    The wrath of our gods,
    The very remnants of life,
    Charred beyond recognition.

    A nuclear plant burns.
    Worry of an impending meltdown,
    Scares even those afar

    1. Excellent work Clarence -your three poems cover the tragedy really well. It’s hard to say which one I like the best. Maybe the last one? Probably because it does relate specifically to the concerns at the time. The second one is a strong contender as well, as it captures the fragility of life and the awesome power of nature. Which do you prefer? Well done.

  6. Through your fingerprints
    On the shattered window glass
    Facing the raging wave

    Try escaping faith
    Fire, earth, water and wind
    all come together

    Anger, fear and pain
    nature rose up from its grave
    A tear lost at sea

    Snowflakes falling slow
    Meanwhile tears flow down their cheeks
    Silence, yet again

    Somewhere far from here
    A rose lie on my dark grave
    My soul left to rot

    1. Your exquisite poems have given me much to think about, Benedicte. Your first one is one of my favourites as I love the image of the fingerprints (you will need to work on the final line as there is an additional syllable there. I really like the snowflakes one as it captures the difficult conditions experienced by those left behind, and the link with tears is also very nice. My favourite is perhaps ‘a tear lost at sea’.

  7. Destruction and fear
    takes over minds, hearts and souls.
    Hope and love swept clean.

    The flower of hope
    has long gone from existence,
    Now fear takes it’s place.

    1. Excellent poems Brian, and they both capture possibly the sentiments of those who experienced the catastrophe first hand. I like the line ‘Hope and love swept clean’ as conjures up the sheer power of the tsunami sweep all in it’s path. I like to think that the spirit of the people has not been broken, but then, how could it not be? I like how you compare flower with hope, and the sense of fear blooming is terrifying. Thank you for your contribution.

  8. Something Unexpected:

    Surrounded by fear
    They are all trying to live.
    Their hearts full of tears.

    A wish:

    Keeping their hopes up
    They are all waiting for help.
    Something will be changed.


    Images won’t fade
    They won’t be carried away
    Damage is still there.

    Mother Nature:

    The strength of nature
    Washed everything far away
    Leaving empty souls.

    1. Thank you for your poems, Abby-as a group of haiku, they convey the tragedy very well. Which one is your favourite? I think mine is ‘A wish’, because there is a hint of hope embedded in this poem.

  9. Past, Present and Future:

    Pink cherry blossom
    And very soon there was red
    And then there was black


    Soft and warmth is here
    Pain, sadness, despair is here
    Now, nothing is here


    Inside the dark sky
    I reach my friend to get warmth
    But where is my friend?


    Now I am ready
    Soon I can see my sister
    And I heard the crush

  10. Thank you Vicky for your contributions! I really like the titles you have given your haikus, with some of them being rather mysterious. I like all of these poems, though my favourite one is your first one as it sounds traditionally Japanese but hints at the tragedy very well. Excellent stuff.

  11. Distinguish:
    White masks over kids
    But white sheets of adults
    Can’t recognize them

    As the children wail
    The search for the lost mother
    Never seen again

    Why did you leave me?
    I saw what you did mother
    Now I watch you cry

  12. Hi Arisa!! Thank you so much for adding your poems -I was hoping you hadn’t forgotten! First of all, I really like the single-word titles, which is very concise and precise whilst conveying a sense of mystic as well. I like them all, but I do have my favourite, and that is the first one. There is a very stark contrast explored here with children wearing masks as protection from dust, if not radiation, and the white coverings of the dead. What makes this such a powerful little poem is the final line, where you seem to suggest that identity has been eradicated in the face of suffering. Whilst there is a distinction between the living and the dead, your point appears to be that it is difficult to recognise who is who – perhaps, in this way, suffering is an equaliser…but that’s a really morbid thought…there you go, you have got me thinking.

  13. Hope in a wasteland:

    Ruins all around
    The nation is in crisis
    But hope has not left

    A good memory remains:

    I shall just agree
    That a picture of hope
    Will help to survive

    The drowning fear:

    The calling warning
    Drowned by the fear
    Swallowing everything

  14. Tears:

    I heard her tears
    She heard mine before her time
    They took her away

    I Cried for You:

    I cried for you
    And the waves cried for you
    When I let you go


    Somewhere out there
    I know you will be waiting
    I am on my way

  15. Thank you very much Nick for your poems! They are especially sad poems ad genuinely capture the sentiments of those who have, and indeed are still suffering. I also like how you responded personally to the tragedy, conveying both the desire to help as well as feeling helpless. I also like the titles of the poems.

  16. Shattered houses,
    Fire burning on water-
    Nature is raging.


    Cold wind with snowflakes
    Freezes the pain and the fear;
    Stillness is a burn.

  17. Exquisite poems Diana. What I love about them is how you explore some major contrasts -fire/water, freezing/burn, which offer the reader (this one at least!) lots to think about. They are very clever, and worth waiting for. It is really hard to say which ones is my favourite, but I think I am leaning further towards the second one, perhaps because I recall watching the footage of the rescue taking place in the cold, snowy weather. Both poems are very ‘elemental ‘which is fabulous.

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