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The Art of Concision: A Look at HaikuRichard Medhurst

Many English speakers first encounter the haiku in school, learning that it is a poem of 17 syllables, divided into lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. And Japanese people are also likely to immediately think of 5-7-5 on hearing the word “haiku.” But an immediate visual difference is that while haiku are conventionally written in three lines in English, they appear as just one line in Japanese. Thi…

Fish Tears and Farewells: The Start of a Poetic JourneyRichard Medhurst

In the spring of 1689, haiku master Matsuo Bashō began a five-month, 2,400-kilometer journey on foot that would take him around much of Japan’s largest island, Honshū. On the way, he visited numerous sites along the Pacific side that were already famous among the literati of his day, as well as breaking new ground on the wilder west coast. His account of the trek, The Narrow Road to the Deep Nor…

“Wagashi” and the Japanese Tradition of HospitalityMayuzumi Madoka

In the last few years, the English term “sweets” has come to be used in Japanese as a hold-all term referring to all kinds of cakes and confectionary. But it seems a shame to lump the Japanese wagashi traditionally served with tea into the same category. They have a special role in social ritual that makes them quite different. This spring, I took part in a round-table on the subject of tradition…

Literary Bridge-Builder: An Interview with Shibata Motoyuki

Authors, editors, and translators gathered in Tokyo on March 1–3 for the city’s first major international literary festival. We spoke to one of the organizers, scholar and translator Shibata Motoyuki, about the international potential of Japanese literature.

Snow in Akihabara: Haiku RevisitedIrmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit

In many countries of the world, haiku seems to function as a standard icon of Japanese culture, in line with other examples like the tea ceremony, Japanese gardens, or the nō and kabuki theater arts. So it may not seem particularly exciting to take another look at that “bonsai genre” of Japanese literature that is alternately termed Japan’s most famous literary export and the world’s shortest lyri…

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