Welcome to the teacher’s page of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival! We have prepared the following materials to introduce haiku to both teachers and students. Here you will find information on the following topics:
All the material here can be copied and used freely in an educational setting. In return, we ask you to spread the word about the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival and its Haiku Invitational. And please consider entering our Haiku Invitational yourself!
Haiku (the word can be either singular or plural) is a short Japanese poem. In Japan, it is usually written in a single line that can be broken into units of 5, 7, and 5 sound units, a pattern that is usually not followed for literary haiku in English, despite popular misperception.
Haiku first came into prominence in the seventeenth century when Japan had cut itself off from the rest of the world. This period saw a cultural renaissance in Japan, not only in haiku, but in the arts of the puppet theatre, flower arrangement, woodblock print, and tea ceremony as well. During this time Matsuo Basho (1644–1694) raised the writing of haiku into a high art. His compositions remain a marvel for their freshness and depth:
a crow settles
coming along the mountain path
After Basho’s death, the spirit of haiku was kept alive in the poetry of his ten disciples and, later, by poets like Yosa Buson (1716–1783), Kobayashi Issa (1763–1827), and Masaoka Shiki (1869–1902), each of whom brought a unique sensibility to the form:
Spare the fly!
I bite a persimmon
Haiku retains its popularity in Japan to this day, with hundreds of journals being published and millions of people enjoying or writing haiku.
Haiku began to be appreciated outside Japan in the early years of the twentieth century. In 1917 the poet Ezra Pound modeled this famous poem on haiku:
In a Station at the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Western poets produced haiku intermittently in the following decades, though the novelist Richard Wright wrote thousands of haiku towards the end of his life and the Beat poets—including Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and especially Jack Kerouac—composed some fine haiku in the middle of the century. In the early 1960s, the journal American Haiku nourished a strong interest in haiku that continues today. Haiku Canada and the Haiku Society of America promote haiku in North America, while prominent journals such as Frogpond and Modern Haiku provide a forum for some of the thousands of haiku written each year. We at the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival are proud to be one of many international contests that promote the understanding of haiku.
How do haiku work? Poets have developed dozens of techniques to strengthen their haiku. Some of the main ones are:
When teaching haiku to students, focus on the content rather than the form. In our experience, children learn more by writing concise, imagistic haiku than by counting syllables. In fact, most haiku poets writing in English do not follow a 5-7-5 syllable count, reasoning that the differences between English and Japanese make the 5-7-5 pattern awkward in the West.
Here are a handful of classic Japanese haiku, each followed by a sample question.
a cherry petal
Arakide Moritake (1473–1549)
Q. What do you think the speaker sees in this poem? What is the surprise at the end?
a small frog
Q. Why would it be hard to spot a small frog on a banana plant leaf? What is the surprise in this poem?
showing no sign
Q. What is the theme of this poem?
under the tree
Q. Describe the scene and the mood of this poem.
a giant firefly
Q. How much time passes in this poem? Could you write a ballad or sonnet on a similar subject?
a lightning flash—
Q. Discuss the mood of this poem.
a morning glory
Q. What is the speaker’s attitude toward nature in this poem?
Because they are so approachable, haiku may be introduced to students at the beginning of any poetry unit. They are ideal for emphasizing literary concepts like symbolism and imagery. Haiku can also help students develop precision in their writing.
Here are some specific suggestions for writing assignments involving haiku.
Our section on further resources contains links to specific lesson plans that are available on the internet.
We recommend the following web sites about haiku. The Pacifi-kana web site, hosted by the B.C. branch of Haiku Canada, includes further links and book recommendations. We also encourage you to explore the other haiku pages on this web site, including the past winners and the youth section of our contest, to familiarize yourself with contemporary haiku.
Haiku Portal Site
While teachers can find numerous lesson plans that involve haiku online, many of them misrepresent haiku, especially those written in the West. We have found the following lesson plans to be both accurate and useful:
Finally, we highly recommend Patricia Donegan’s book Haiku: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids (Tuttle; Asian Arts & Crafts for Creative Kids) and Naomi Beth Wakan’s Haiku: One Breath Poetry (Heian International).