1st Class-Haiku Contest

at Yamadera

This spring I’m teaching a course on Matsuo Bashō‘s 松尾芭蕉 epic journey-turned-book Oku no hosomichi 奥の細道, or as it is sometimes translated, “The Narrow Road to Oku.” As part of the class I teach haiku 俳句 writing-in-English.  At the beginning of each class, which meets once a week, we do a writing warm-up activity that is meant to help the students write better haiku. Even though the majority of the class are Japanese students, in the past I’ve had Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Romanian. Since the students aren’t native speakers and have a wide range of English language ability, it is difficult to teach this kind of ‘creative writing,’ but also it can be really fun.


There are 3 haiku contestskukai 句会, spaced evenly throughout the semester. All students MUST participate by 1) submitting an original haiku2) by scoring each haiku, and then finally 3) by joining in a discussion about the submitted pieces after the contest. The idea is that by doing the writing warm-up activities and having the discussions after each contest, the students haiku writing will improve through the semester.


Here are the top 4 haiku from last night’s contest, as scored on by the class:

1st Place

Cherry blossoms blown away

I knew I am

no longer a freshman

Tied for 2nd Place-

On the surface of the river

–the very clear river

Spring winds are running

New days begin

Spring wind push my back

I create brand new life


3rd Place

Bottom of the sky

As far as the eye can see

A lot of sunflowers


This is how I received them, without any editing or anything. Depending on which ‘school’ of haiku you align yourself with, there can be various rules for writing them, but I didn’t set any ‘rules.’ I just said, ‘write a haiku!’ Some students really tried to get the 17-syllable count, other tried making their poems rhyme, tried for alliteration, and other little devices, which I was really happy to see!


I’ll post the winners next time, too, and see if the poems and/or the judging get more sophisticated.