2nd Class Haiku Contest

This past Monday was my Oku no hosomichi class’s 10th class–only 5 more to go! It was also the night of our 2nd haiku contest.


About how I manage the contest: I set the deadline for the students to e-mail me their poems as the day before the class, which was Sunday. Then Monday afternoon before class I prepare the score sheets. Each student gets a score sheet with the poems listed in alphabetical order, which randomizes them. Students are then given about 15 minutes or so to read the poems and score each one from a scale from 1~5 with 1 being BEST and 5 being GOOD. As in golf, the lowest score wins.

After we tally the scores, and before I announce the winners, we discuss the day’s entries. I ask the students to comment on which haiku they enjoyed the most and why, and other things like which one did they score a “1” and why, etc.

Then after significant discussion, I announce the winner. Also, the poems are still anonymous at this point, which allows students to speak more freely. Sometimes during the discussion the actual winning haiku is discussed, unbeknownst to the class, which is really interesting I think. Other times in the past, a certain haiku has generated a lot of discussion, but has not won. The goal of this discussion is for students to express their opinions and think critically about the day’s entries. Also, I hope that it gives them something to think about for when they write their next haiku.

Finally, after I announce the winners, I ask the winners to comment on their poems and tell us a little bit more about the story behind them.

This type of activity takes about the whole 90 minutes of class, but it’s only successful if everyone participates and passes in their haiku (on time!). This week only one student didn’t hand hers in. She’s a med student, so I’m sure she’s pretty stressed out. For the 1st contest she handed in two, so I knew that this time it must have just been a mistake.

We had a tie for 3rd Place this time (last time there was a tie for 2nd). Here are this week’s winning haiku as voted on by the students themselves. (They have not been edited/proofread yet–they’re RAW HAIKU!)

-1st Place-
In dark silent night
Only frogs crying rice fields
Far from my hometown

-2nd Place-
Slowly life is dream
Snails lay off on hydrangeas
So they are my crave

-Tied for 3rd Place-
In morning mist
Subtly cloud looked
Take a deep breath


the rainy season
drops flow on my cheek
sad the spring end

The winner, T.U., won 1st Place both times so far! I was surprised and happy to see that he is really making an effort, and that it’s being recognized! I was also surprised at the consistency with which the class voted for his–keep in mind that everything is carried out anonymously.

Another repeat winner was H.M. who won 3rd Place in both contests! Again, what consistency!

Reading these haiku, one can obviously see some strange grammar mistakes or word-choice errors. We’ve discussed these in class and we’ll do some peer-editing next week. Needless to say, when they submit their poems for the 5th Annual Japan-Russian Haiku contest, I’ll help them polish up their haiku before they submit it.


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.