Haiku beyond Differences-The 4th World Haiku Association Conference
The Fourth World Haiku Association Conference (WHAC4) was held from September 14 to 16, 2007 in Tokyo, Japan. The total number of the participants for this conference was about 270 people from the following twelve countries. Five countries from Asia; Japan, China, Inner-Mongolia, India and Thailand. Two from the Americas; United States and Cuba. Five from Europe; Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania and France.
On September 13, I went to Narita International Airport to pick up two guests from European countries. The planes which brought Jean Antonini from France and Kornelijus Platelis from Lithuania arrived respectively at the airport safe and sound without any delays. With them, I took a train to Ueno terminal, the closest station to the hotel where the conference would be opening on the next day. On our way to the heart of Tokyo, I had a very good time having conversation with them about cultures of Japan, France, and Brazil in English, mother tongue for none of us three. For me the conference already started when I met them at the airport.
Officially, the conference began at 5:30 p.m. at the Suigetsu Hotel Ogaiso in Ueno, a hotel that famous for owing a house where once Mori Ogai lived on its premises. Mori Ogai (1862-1922) was a medical doctor whom the Japanese government sent to Germany to study medicine. In Berlin, Mori fell in love with a German women but this love ended in a tragedy. After returning to Japan, Mori became a big figure not only in medicine but also in literature. The house mentioned above is the house where Mori wrote his first novel based on his romance.
The first event of the Conference was the welcome party opened by an address by Andres Ehin from Estonia. Understanding haiku as "sudden understanding of the object," Ehin argues that haijin paralyzes her/his reader with beauty, and this beauty makes the reader more receptive to beauty. In this address, he discussed haiku by using religious terms such as satori, kensh_, and epiphany. There must be pros and cons toward his understanding of haiku, but for me as an anthropologist of religion, his argument was interesting. The following addresses showed several opinions on haiku such as words which transcend words (Abe Kanichi from Japan), poem that is more than a genre of poetry (Koenelijus Platelis from Lithuania), and the most friendly greetings in the world (R.Siqinchogt from Inner Mongolia). These understandings also grasp various aspects of haiku.
After these opening addresses, the participants made a toast and started enjoying dinner and conversation with others. A short time later, there started poetry readings in which haijin from all over the world participated. From Japan, not only haijin but also poets and a kajin (author of tanka) read their works. Poetry readings held several times during the conference, I think, were prominent events of this conference, since they are excellent opportunity not only to grasp world haiku but also to enjoy the reasons why haijin read their own works. What disappointed me was the fact that there were few who did not observe silence during the readings.
On 9 a.m., September 15, Sunday, the general meeting of the World Haiku Association was held at the same hotel. The committee elected Jean Antonini as the director and decided that the next conference (WHAC5) will be held in 2009 in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, a city which will be the European Capital of Culture 2009.
Thirty minutes earlier than scheduled, the lecture session began at 10:30. In this session, there were six lectures. The first lecturer was Orlando González Esteva, who was born in Cuba but currently lives in the US. He pointed out that most Spanish translations of Japanese haiku are far from being poetry in Spanish. Taking an overview of haiku publication in the United States, next lecturer Jim Kacian indicated the there is an increase of haiku on the internet and a decrease of haiku published in printed form. The latter situation made me sad. I want to read haiku printed on paper and I believe that I am not the only one who wants to.
After Kacian’s lecture, we took excellent lunch at the same hotel. Then we moved to the Liberty Tower on Ochanomizu campus of Meiji University, where Natsuishi currently works. The first lecturer Cai Tianxin from China reviewed the history of Chinese poetry. Vasile Moldovan from Romania and Leons Briedis from Latovia surveyed the history of haiku in their countries respectively. The last lecturer Natsuishi Ban'ya argued that haiku is composed in non-everyday life situation since its origin is a short poem made by Yamato Takeru, a hero in Japanese myth, when he was on an expeditionary tour. He pointed out that “Rough sea/ over Sado Isle/ extends the Milky Way”, one of the masterpieces by Basho, demonstrates a three-dimensional figuration and also a philosophical viewpoint, which includes elements and their oppositions. He asserted that if haiku is based on these conditions including certain elements and their oppositions, haiku has a bright future in any language and country.
On the same day, world haiku presentations were held during lectures. In these presentations, recently published haiku books that are written in more than two languages were introduced to the audience. The books were: Presents of Mind by Jim Kacian written in both English and Japanese published by Red Moon Press in the US, Through the Air by Natsuishi Ban'ya and Portuguese poet Casimiro de Brito in Japanese, Portuguese, English, and French published by Shitigatsudo in Japan, Kamakura Sayumi's A Crown of Roses in Japanese and English by Cyberwit net in India, and Romanian poet Cornelia Atanasiu's The mirror is falling by Atar in Japanese, English, and Romanian. I believe that the more haiku books written in multiple languages published, the more the number of haiku readers increase worldwide.
After the lectures, we enjoyed a dinner party on the 23rd floor, the uppermost floor of the tower, from where we could see the heart of Tokyo thoroughly. In the amicable atmosphere, the vice president of Meiji University gave a friendly greetings to the participants and the WHAC4 committee announced the winners of haiku contests.
It was the first time for me to take part in the World Haiku Association Conference. I am satisfied with this excellent opportunity in which haijin got together, read their haiku, and spoke out their opinions on haiku. Now I would like to write what I thought during the conference.
Not only for haiku, but for poetry in general, there are some serious issues which should not be ignored. Esteva deplored that the number of readers of poetry in Spanish language has decreased and Kacian reported the decline of the opportunity for publishing haiku printed on paper. The poets, including haijin of course, must reflect the future of poetry; it is a significant domain of representation that has been cultivated by human beings for a long time.
How about in Japan? At the welcome party on the first day, I talked to Park Kyong-Mi, a Korean poet who was born and raised in Japan. I was surprised to hear that they press five thousand copies for a book of poems in Korea and that Korean people have respected poetry. In Japan, the first press for a book of poems, tanka, or haiku remains around six hundred to one thousand copies at most. And in most cases, these are self published. Are there any procedures to gain more readers of poetry? Poets must think about it.
Another issue is the future of world haiku. Referring to lime, the sacred tree in Romania, Moldvan mentioned the significance of the tree in Romanian culture in his lecture. With a short explanation, readers will perceive rich cultural meaning of a certain things such as plants, weather, animals, and so forth. Locality and internationality are not elements that would never be reconciled. I think harmony of these two will play a significant role in the further development of world haiku.
Ehin concluded his address that haiku "makes both writer and reader more alive" . I agree with him. Hoping that world haiku spread wide, I lay down my pen for now.