|Posted by Susan Shand on January 4, 2013 at 7:50 PM||comments (12)|
Let’s just do a little digging…
For the modern middle-class Japanese man of working age in the huge conurbation of Tokyo, Karaoke is infinitely more interesting than haiku at the end of a long day in the office. For most young people, fashion, music, computer games, and films, are the choices for their free time, when they are not studying hard for their future office jobs. If women have the time to study anything of the traditional Japanese Arts it would likely be Ikebana (flower arranging) or the tea ceremony. That is, when they are not spending their creative time designing elaborate school lunch boxes for their children.
Modern Tokyo is far more likely to approve of the hade (loud and showy) and ike(chic, bourgeoise and sensual) than it is of karumi (unadorned simplicity) and mono no aware (the pity of things). In Japan, what counts as ‘beauty’ is dictated by ‘taste’ and taste is dictated by the consensus of the group with influence. Japanese society is no less socially stratified than British and American societies are. ‘Taste’ is influenced by power and since WWII, by the power of USA and its culture.
In Japan, haiku is old-fashioned and a bit of a joke. One commentator has referred to the traditional Japanese arts as “fossilized”*. Japanese short-form poetry in Japan could be compared to the cultural equivalent of Folk Music and Morris Dancing.
So when the west discovered haiku what they found was, if not quite dead, at least on its last legs. The injection of creative energy, freed from the cultural ennui of rule-bound familiarity, which the west has injected into haiku has given it the kiss of life. In response to the poets of the west’s somewhat anarchic approach to writing haiku without learning the rules first and with the admired “individuality” of non-conformity; some Japanese have rediscovered their own tradition, now glossed by the fashionable and individualistic west. So Gendai was born.
草闌けて犀の言葉で青年くる 八木 三日女
kusa takete sai no kotoba de seinen kuru Yagi Mikajo
grass in its prime
with the language of a rhinoceros
a youth arrives
I imagine that the semi-fossilized traditionalists are laughing their tabi off, or spinning in their graves. Haiku is either a fossilized art form for which there are rigid rules dictated by Japan which everyone must follow; or it is a transforming art form in which the west has already had a large influence in its modern transformation. That transformation has come about simply because we westerners take what we like, steal it, and make it our own – creatively, individually. We use the building blocks to build things the way we want them to look, not in a perfectionist effort to simply reproduce what has gone before and what everyone else is doing.
So we are at a crossroads. The choice is between fossils and transformation. The choice is yours.
* Donald Richie (2007) “A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics” (P22) Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA.