“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”

On rainy days, it’s a chore to come to campus–for the students and me! Everyone loves music, so I try to brighten the mood a bit by remarking on just how many songs there are in English about “rain”–“Stormy Monday Blues,” “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” “Rain King,” “Red Rain,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” to  name a few. I always ask students what Japanese songs do they know about “rain,” but I never get concrete answers. Surely there must be some.

A calligrapher’s rendition of ame

Akita’s first snow fall was quite early this year–November 20th. Soon Akita will be covered in deep heavy snow. On those days I can’t help but think that people will be wishing there was rain instead!

Here’s the list of ‘rain words’ from Japan-talk.com. This is by no means an exhaustive list of rain words. A quick glance at a dictionary, and I found dozens more–a few of which I added at the bottom.


あめ ame rain
白雨 はくう hakū rain shower
急雨 きゅう kyū rain shower
俄雨 にわかあめ niwaka ame rain shower
降雨 こう rainfall
Rain by Intensity
弱雨 じゃくう jakū weak rain
小雨 こさめ kosame light rain
小降り こぶり koburi light rain
微雨 びう bi-u light rain
小糠雨 こぬかあめ konuka ame fine rain
煙雨 えんう en-u misty rain
細雨 さいう sai-u drizzle
多雨 たう ta-u heavy rain
大雨 おおあめ ōame heavy rain
強雨 きょうう kyōu severe rain
横降り よこぶり yokoburi driving rain
吹き降り ふきぶり fukiburi driving rain
篠突く雨 しのつくあめ shinotsuku ame intense rain
集中豪雨 しゅうちゅうごうう shūchū gōu severe localized downpour
Rain Combos
風雨 ふう wind and rain
雨氷 うひょう uhyō freezing rain
雨後雪 あめのちゆき ame nochi yuki rain then snow
雪交じり ゆきまじり yuki majiri snow and rain
雨混じりの雪 あめまじりのゆき ame majiri no yuki snow and rain
晴後雨 はれのちあめ hare nochi ame clear then rain
雨露 うろ uro rain and dew
Cold Rain
涼雨 りょうう ryōu cool rain
冷雨 れいう reiu chilly rain
寒雨 かんう kanu cold winter rain
氷雨 ひさめ hisame very cold rain or hail
Types of Rain
夜雨 やう ya-u night rain
梅雨前線 ばいうぜんせん baiuzensen seasonal rain
春霖 しゅんりん shun rin spring rain
春雨 しゅんう shun u gentle spring rain
緑雨 りょくう ryokū early-summer rain
五月雨 さみだれ samidare early-summer rain
秋雨 あきさめ akisame autumn rain
秋霖 しゅうりん shū rin autumn rain
凍雨 とうう tōu winter rain
十雨 じゅうう jūu refreshing rain once in ten days
恵雨 けいう keiu welcome rain
人工雨 じんこうう jinkōu artificial rain
放射能雨 ほうしゃのうう hōshanōu radioactive rain
天泣 てんきゅう tenkyū rain from a cloudless sky
Time and Rain
雨模様 あまもよう ama moyō signs of rain
雨催い あまもよい ama moyoi threat of rain
雨上り あまあがり ama agari after the rain
雨後 うご ugo after rain
雨間 あまあい ama ai break in the rain
晴一時小雨 はれいちじこさめ hare ichi ji kosame brief light rain
ながめ nagame long rain
霖雨 りんう rin-u long rain
長雨 ながめ nagame long rain
陰霖 いんりん in rin long rain
夕立 ゆうだち yūdachi sudden evening rain

from Japan-talk.com

Other Rain Words I found
雨止み あまやみ ama yami stopping of rain; lull in the rain
雨水 あまみず/ うすい ama mizu/ u-sui rain water
雨中 うちゅう u-chū in the rain
雨天 うてん u-ten rainy weather
雨気 あまけ ama ke threatening to rain; signs of rain
雨足 あめあし ame ashi a passing shower
雨声 うせい u-sei the sound of rain
雨夜 あまよ ama yo rainy evening; rainy night
雨音 雨音 ama oto sound of rain falling
雨飛 うひ u-hi coming down like rain
雨続き あまつづき ama tsuzuki long rain; rainy spell




“I like watchin’ the puddles gather rain”: RAIN as a Seasonal Word

Writing haiku brings the poet closer to nature and the natural world around them. This is the feature I enjoy most about writing haiku.

Rain, Drops, City, Streets, Drizzle

Part of displaying one’s closeness with their environment is by noticing ch-ch-ch-changes in the natural world and incorporating them into a haiku. Generally speaking, these seasonal expressions are called kigo 季語.

Haiku poets of the Bashō school maintain that each haiku must include a seasonal word (kigo 季語). For poets of English haiku who wish to follow Bashō’s tradition as closely as possible, English seasonal-words are indispensable.

As one would guess, many seasonal words relate to climate and to “rain” in particular. Here’s an article from Japan-talk.com listing 50 words/ expressions for “rain” in Japanese. There are photos interspersed with the terms. Some of the terms at the beginning of the list are not so interesting to me, but there are some good ones down towards the bottom.

This list is really useful for writing haiku because it allows people to think of rain from a perspective other than their own. I for one get in the rut of using the same words all the time. Reading this list refreshed my memory to words/expressions I have not used in a while.


How many expressions are there for rain in English?

I typed “rain” into Thesaurus.com and 35 results came back:




























cat-and-dog weather


heavy dew

liquid sunshine


sun shower

wet stuff

window washer

With all these words for rain, in both English and Japanese, how does one express No Rain?



Take four minutes and six seconds out of your day to watch this video.


Natsume Sōseki in Nippon.com

I came across an intriguing article online comparing the early 20th century Japanese author Natsume Sōseki 夏目漱石 (1867-1916) to Shakespeare. The article is “Sōseki vs. Shakespeare: Two Giants of World Literature” by Damian Flanagan and appeared on the website Nippon.com.

Image result for natsume soseki

“It’s all about the Natsumes, baby”

The term “world literature” caught my attention in the title. There is no doubt that Sōseki is highly regarded in Japan and that he is one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. But, what is his contribution to world literature? How widely known is he to non-specialists?

When I taught high school Language Arts, one of the courses was World Literature. Japanese literature was all but missing from the textbook. I made my students buy Abe Kōbō‘s 安部公房 The Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna 砂の女) to introduce them to modern Japanese literature and to complement their reading of Albert Camus‘s LÉtranger. Any of Sōseki’s novels would have been equally (if not better) suited to have taught in class.


I refuse to refer to Sōseki as the “Shakespeare of Japan,” but I don’t mind comparing the two authors. Similar to Shakespeare, Sōseki also wrote across-genres. Just as Shakespeare had his plays and sonnets, Sōseki was both a novelist and poet.

The article neglects to mention that Sōseki was a poet of both kanshi 漢詩 (poetry in Chinese) and haiku 俳句. He entered Tokyo Imperial University at the same time as Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規, famed haiku poet of the 20th century. Shiki undoubtedly influenced Sōseki’s haiku interest. Although Shiki is the pre-eminent 20th century haiku poet, Sōseki, too, composed fine “modern” haiku.

Here is one of Sōseki’s haiku and its translation by Ueda Makoto.  Notice the haiku‘s 18-beat* pattern. Freeing oneself of the confines of the traditional 17 beat haiku was one of the marks of Shiki’s modern haiku movement. Also, there is the lack of a seasonal word (kigo 季語), which adherents of the Bashō school (including me!) agree is a mandatory element of haiku.

sumigama ni

kazura ha-iaguru


Onto a charcoal kiln

a vine keeps climbing while

being burnt to death

*I’m trying to eliminate using the word “syllable” when referring to haiku. Using the word “syllable” as a translation of on 音 has caused so much confusion, which has contributed to the deterioration of English haiku as an art.


The Case Particle “NI” に used in Haiku Explained… BY THE BUNPŌ BUSHI!

Here’s a haiku by the 20th century poet Takahama Kyoshi 高浜虚子 (1874-1959):



あまのがわのもとに  てんじてんのうと  おみきょしと

Beneath the Milky Way–Tenji tennō and his retainer Kyoshi


Image result for 高浜虚子

Why do you hate 17 syllables so much?

When I started to translate this poem, the first thing that I noticed was that there is NO VERB! I read it a second time, and yup, sho nuff, there’s no action word. Instead it’s basically a prepositional phrase and a couple of names linked by conjunction-like-particles.

The haiku can be broken into three phrases:

  1. under the Ama no gawa 天の川のもとに
  2. Tenji tennō and 天智天皇と
  3. retainer Kyoshi and 臣虚子と

Even those just starting out learning Japanese will recognize the particle ni . Three common ways that ni is used are to indicate 1) the place of an action, 2) the time of an action, and 3) destination or direction of an actionMoto もと can mean “beneath,” “base of,” “bottom,” etc. So in the case of Takahama’s poem, the particle ni indicates the place of the action (“action” in the existential sense).

Moto ni もとに is found dozens of times in the Kokinshū 古今集. The expression is not in the poems themselves, however, but in the descriptive prose introducing many of the poems. A few examples are:

#57 beneath the cherry blossom petals (sakura no hana moto ni さくらの花もとに)

#119 beneath the wisteria petals (fuji no hana no moto ni ふぢの花のもとに)

#305 beneath the tree with autumn leaves falling (momiji no chiru ki no moto ni もみぢのちる木のもとに)

The lack of a verb brings a sense of stillness to Takahama’s haiku. This may be useful to keep in mind when writing haiku en inglés.



One application of the Imperfective Verb Form… by the BUNPŌ BUSHI!

In the last post I wrote about the Attributive Verb Form (rentaikei 連体形). This post is about the Imperfective Verb Form (mizenkei 未然形) and it’s application to forming the Passive Voice. 

I can’t believe how many “kitten and snail” images there are on the internet! Truly a universal haiku… Bravo Saimaro!

This post’s example poem comes from an Edo period (1600-1868) haiku poet, Shiinomoto Saimaro 椎本才麿 (1656-1738). Also, the haiku features a kitten, so I’m hoping this post gets a lot of hits~!

Saimaro is a contemporary of the famous Matsuo Bashō 松尾芭蕉 (1644–1694), but which one have YOU heard of before? I’m guessing not Saimaro.

Here’s Saimaro’s poem:

猫の子に 嗅がれてゐるや 蝸牛
neko no ko ni / kagarete-iru ya / katatsumuri

My translation:

Aww… it’s getting
sniffed by a kitty cat!
A land snail

I could only get to 14 syllables with this translation. It’s hard to get it to 17 syllables without taking too many liberties with the interpretation. I stretched the ya や into “aww,” which I count as two syllables; was able to turn kitten (2 syllables) into “kitty cat” (3); and snail (1) into “land snail” (2).

Passive Voice:

Imperfective verbs on their own indicate that the action has “not yet been realized,” as the kanji for “imperfective,” or mizen 未然, suggests. However, the root of the verb in Imperfective Form also gets us to the passive voice.

The main verb in this haiku is kagu 嗅ぐ (to sniff/ smell/ get a whiff of something). In order to make this a passive situation you must put kagu into the Imperfective Form, then attach the Passive Voice suffix -ru ~る. This will give us “the snail is being sniffed by the kitten” rather than, “the kitten is sniffing the snail.”

To do this, first kagu needs to be changed to the Imperfect Form by inflecting the ~u sound to an ~a sound, making it kaga 嗅が.  Now, the Passive Voice suffix –ru can be joined to it making the Passive Voice kagaru.

If it were at the end of the sentence, then this would be all you need to do. But, as you can see, it appears as kagarete-iru in the haiku, not as kagaru. The reason for this is that it is in the Passive Voice and Present Continuous Tense, which can be a topic for a later post. For now, just identify the fact that the Imperfective Form (mizenkei 未然形) is needed to make a verb passive.

Translator’s notes:

I was surprised to find that the kanji for the name of the snail (katatsumuri 蝸牛) is also read as kagyū and is the name of a part of the inner ear, the Cochlea. If you Google-image it or click here, you can see that the part of the ear looks snail-y.

Also, I wrote “land snail” because there are thousands of species of snails, hundreds just in Japan alone. So many things in Japanese culture are connected to the sea, so this very well could be a sea snail (think: the cat is by the sea or on a dock), however, katatsumuri specifically indicates a land snail not a sea snail.

The Seasonal Word (kigo 季語) is snail!


The Attributive Form of Verbs explained… by the BUNPŌ BUSHI!

Verbs are the essence of language. This is true for all languages. In languages like English, a noun (or “the subject”) proceeds the verb in a sentence. Because of this people mistakenly assign greater weight to nouns/the subject of sentences. For example, when people begin learning languages, they often make a list of items (that is, “nouns”) and then try to learn them in the target language before tackling verbs.
Image result for 鷺

Today’s topic is the attributive form (rentaikei 連体形) of verbs in classical Japanese. There are six inflected forms in classical Japanese, but to me, the attributive form is very easy to spot, and easy to translate!

The inspiration for today’s grammar point comes from a haiku by Fukagawa Shōichiro 深川正一郎 (1902-87):

(I put the attributive form in BOLD)

Tatsu sagi ni
arawarete ori
gogatsu fuji


This haiku was really a challenge to translate into 17 syllables, but here it is:

A grey heron in
flight appears–Mt. Fuji in
the 5th lunar month

This haiku starts with the verb tatsu 立つ. The verb appears in the dictionary as “tatsu” so it’s already in the attributive form! (The common, or “dictionary form,” of the verb is the rentaikei/ attributive form.) As if this wasn’t easy enough to identify, it is immediately followed by a noun, sagi 鷺 (heron). The attributive form acts as a type of adjective or descriptor, basically like a verb participle, just like in English. Think of examples like “the sleeping cat” or “the rolling clouds.” In these examples, the verbs (sleeping & rolling) appear before the nouns. The attributive form is just like these examples!

The attributive form is pretty flexible when translating into English. You could just as easily say “the cat that was sleeping” or “the clouds that were rolling [in]” and the image in the reader’s mind wouldn’t change. This flexibility is convenient when the number of syllables is important, such as in haiku:

the sleeping cat = 4 syllables
the cat that was sleeping = 6 syllables


Translation notes:

  1. tatsu 立つ has a few meanings, not only “to stand,” as it is used in modern day Japanese.
  2. Figuring out which type of  sagi 鷺 the author is talking about is a real mystery. Does the author not know? Did they intentionally not write it? Sagi can refer to both herons and egrets. There are many species of both in Japan. Another type of heron is the night heron (mizo goi ミゾゴイ) but it’s dark colored. A grey heron has a white chest that I think would have stood out more and caught the poet’s attention. That’s why I went with “grey heron.” Just “heron” would have made me a syllable short!
  3. I haven’t researched it, but I’d bet $100 this haiku is an allusion to Saigyō‘s 西行 poem about the snipe. In it he also use the verb tatsu 立つ to describe it not standing  but rather lifting off. Therefore I think that you could also say, too, that this haiku delivers a sense of yūgen 幽玄 (mystery). Saigyō’s poem is a fall poem though and this one is clearly summer one~



“No” 「の」 Explained… by the Bunpō Bushi

I selected the grammar point “no for today’s post after reading a haiku by Ueda Hizashi 上田日差子 (1961-). Actually it isn’t strictly a classical grammar construct, but is one found often in haiku.

It’s cherry blossom season in Japan, and in Akita the cherry blossoms should be blooming any day now (I’ve seen a few here and there that already have). The word sakura (as in, cherry blossom) appears in Ueda’s poem, but I do not think that this is necessarily a seasonal poem. It does however have a strong Buddhist theme in it.


kari no yo ni iro araba kono sakura-gai


Which I translated as follows:

If there is color

in this fleeting existence

it’s this pink tellin

Image result for 桜貝

In a quick scan of my inbox, I’ve found the following examples of no の:

  • 来月テニスコート予約 Next month’s tennis court reservations
  • 前期授業  first semester classes
  • 下記期日  the following dates
  • 総合学務課佐々木  Mr. Sasaki from the General Administration Office
  • 会議開催  holding of the meeting (as in: the next holding of the meeting will be…)

In modern Japanese “no” is usually used to connect two nouns and indicates their realtionship. So in these examples it is connecting

  • next month の tennis court reservation
  • first semester  の classes
  • written below  の dates
  • General Administration Office の Sasaki
  • meeting の holding

There is sometimes flexibility with how these are translated into English. For example I could write “tennis court reservations for next month,” “General Administration Office’s Mr. Sasaki.” The order in which the words are translated does not have to necessarily match the order with which they appear in the original text.

In Ueda’s haiku, she wrote kari no yo.  “Kari” meaning temporary, provisional, interim and “yo” meaning world, which I wrote as “fleeting existence.” I have also seen it translated as “transient world.” Both ways capture the Buddhist message that the world (life) in which we find ourselves is not permanent.