Five, Seven, Five

Posted by on Nov 17, 2011 in Ehime, Travel Volunteer Journey | 9 Comments
Five, Seven, Five

My home town of Ayr isn’t known for much, although, over the years, we’ve had one or two famous denizens. The bloke who invented tarmac, for one; a tan-and-white cow for another. By far and away the most famous, though, is Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. Ring any bells? Maybe not, but if nothing else, he was responsible for the New Year dirge that is Auld Lang Syne – you know that at least, right?

Because the Bard of Ayrshire grew up in our town, all kids must memorise at least one poem, then in an excruciating few minutes, recite it in front of their classmates. You never forget your poem: mine was A Red, Red Rose, the duration of which I spent avoiding eye-contact with a girl who I loved. I was nine-years old and already a sap.

Anyway, the kids of Matsuyama know we Ayrians pain: owing to the town’s long haiku heritage, they must compose and recite their own poem, which may or may not be more difficult than trying to memorise 18th century Scots dialect. For the Japanese kids, there is the not-inconsiderable challenge of sticking to the rigid haiku format: five, then seven, then five syllables.

The poets hailing from here – most notably the master Masaoka Shiki – plied their trade long after the godfather of haiku Matsuo Basho was going on his long wanderings, but the Matsuyama men left a huge legacy of their own. Shiki is credited with almost single-handedly inspiring a haiku revival, modernising the old form with what he called “shasei” – a sketch of life.

Today, the city in northern Ehime is littered with haiku stone posts, recounting some of Shiki and chums’ best verses. There’s an international contest for the world’s haiku lovers held here too. All-in-all, it’s much more than kids grudgingly learning the basics.

We took as much of it in as we could, but in truth, all day our minds were wandering, writing our own haikus. As you can see from the following examples, it’s a form that’s probably better suited to the Japanese language…



It’s day sixty-four

Tonight’s blog is on haiku

So like it, or else…



Smells like nutty cheese

Looks utterly disgusting

Bleugh! Stinky natto!


The Second Season

No cherry blossom

Will we see on this visit

Maybe the next time



Coconut baby,

Why the shock of spiky hair?




Locals can relax

With strangers wearing no clothes

But not me, not yet


The Third Season

Dragonflies in flight

An ocean of trees on fire

Yes – this is autumn!


A Train

Vacant seat near me

But folk stay away, staring

At my sad blue eyes


A Welcome Distraction

Fair Matsuyama

Bold castle on a high hill

With boobs on its doors



A famous onsen

It looks so familiar…

Spirited Away!



Now only one third

Of our long journey remains

It’s gone too quickly


Think you can do better? (And let’s face it, you probably can) Then leave your own haiku as a comment below!

Our time in Ehime prefecture was made possible by:

Akiko Tokura and Shinya Toriu, of the Imabari City International Exchange Association for taking the time to show us around sunny Imabari and for kindly arranging our bikes, then taking us to see the sun set over the stunning bay in the Inland Sea.

The Sunrise Itoyama, a hotel, restaurant and bike station at the start of the brilliant 70km track to Hiroshima. Whatever reason you’re there, the views are quite simply some of the best in the country.

The three musketeers that are Kazuo Ito, Yoshihiro Kashii and Yoko Tsukamoto of the The Federation of Academic Interpreters and Sightseeing Guides, who guided and translated for us around Matsuyama. They took us around all the best haiku spots, the fantastic castle and even the government office for a meeting with the vice mayor.

The enormous hotel/ryokan Tsubaki Kan, which has a great onsen of its own, but is also just around the corner from the famous Dogo onsen, thought to be the oldest in Japan.



“エアシャーの詩人”と呼ばれる彼が育ったのはまさに私の生まれ育った街だったので、私が子供の頃は彼の詩を必ず一つは覚えなければならなかった。暗記した詩をクラスの皆の前で発表するというのが慣習だった。そしてそうやって覚えた詩はいまだに覚えているものである。私が暗記したものは“A Red, Red Rose”という詩で、当時9歳だった私はその詩を暗唱する時、好きな女の子の顔を見る事ができなかった事も良く覚えている。照れ屋だったのだ・・・。













そうだ“ 千と千尋の神隠し”








  1. Eunice
    November 17, 2011

    Love the natto pic and the accompanying haiku!

  2. Joe Lafferty
    November 17, 2011

    Favourite must be “A Welcome Distraction”. From Mother Earth’s peaks to Mother Nature’s peaks in three lines!

  3. Eric
    November 18, 2011

    This isn’t meant to be a Haiku but still, I hope you’ll like it…

    Not as long as Basho…
    And not as strong as Sumo

    Not as wise as Buddha…
    And not as fast as Honda

    Yet, Travel Volunteer’s dedication…
    Really deserves our admiration!

  4. Katy & Jamie
    November 18, 2011

    Eric, We are strong!
    Maybe we should challenge you
    To a Sumo match…

  5. Taro Aonami
    November 19, 2011

    Thank you for a lot of good haiku and photos. As to photos, I like that of an infant. Very cute with a spiky hair. It’s now a good season of autum in Japan. I recommend both Katy and Jamie eat persimmon, one of delicious fruit in this season. But,it must be a fuyu-gaki,while there are many types.

    When I bite into a persimmon,
    A temple bell rings,
    At Horyu-ji Temple

    This is a haiku composed by Masaoka Shiki in 1885, on his way back to Tokyo from Matsuyama, his home town, at Horyu-ji Tempme in Nara, which was established by
    Prince Shotoku.

    Eating persimmon, you could become great disciples of Shiki.

  6. Yoshi Kashiwai
    November 23, 2011

    Hi, Katy and Jamie.
    Are you enjoying Kyushu ?
    I am Yoshi who guided you around Matsuyama Castle.
    As regard to haiku, I would like to add one piece of haiku composed by Shiki.
    The haiku is inscribed on the stone tablet in the castle hill.
    It reads as follows in Japanese:


    It means in English:

    Matsuyam, my home
    higher than the autumn sky
    rises the Castle Tower

    Shiki always carried the Matsuyam Castle’s photo on him. On the back of the photo this haiku was written.

    Thank you.
    Have a nice trip !

  7. Yoko Tsukamoto
    November 28, 2011

    Hi, Katy and Jamie. I am Yoko in Matsuyama. So far, I have been enjoying your essays and pictures very much. I was impressed that both of you worked very hard on the mission in spite of an exhausting itinerary. In Japanese, there is an idiom that says 「一期一会」“ichigo-ichie”. It means “treasure every encounter, for it will never recur”. This phrase was formed from the philosophy of tea ceremony. I think both of you understand this way of thinking from the outset, although it might be regarded as peculiar to Japanese. Your sincere passion enables to capture real Japan through words and images.
    I like your haiku because they show your joy and excitement while traveling. Besides haiku, there is a form of poem called “senryu”「川柳」. It is a satirical seventeen- syllable poem or funny haiku in a sense. It is also very popular in Japan, and I am sure you will like it. Please check it up.
    I made haiku for the first time in English and it is simply for you.

    Brocade of autumnal leaves
    How many could you weave
    Through the lens

    The harvest season
    No bound to relish
    So eat and eat and eat

    Now the chill comes from the ground
    Hope wayfarers will pull around

    Please enjoy your rest of the days in Japan!

    • Katy & Jamie
      December 1, 2011

      Thanks for all your kind comments – and especially for the poem

  8. Rod Walters
    October 1, 2012

    It’s great to see how Ehime’s haiku culture keeps renewing itself.

    The natto photo is excellent. It looks delicious with the negi onions…