Teaching Japanese Poetry to Kids

My daughter is now five years old and she attends a couple different preschools. One is American while the other is Japanese. Also, she attends a little “after school” Japanese class where she learns things like reading, culture and so on.

In this after-school class she gets little reading assignments such as reading a book she likes 10 times or memorizing certain rhymes. Lately, though, she’s been learning about haiku.

Haiku, along with Waka, is a famous style of Japanese poetry using 5-7-5 syllables. There are three famous poets in particular: Matsuo Basho, Kobayashi Issa and Yosa Buson.

So lately my daughters’ class received a booklet of famous haiku poems and is tasked with memorizing then one at a time. When she successfully recites one, the teacher will stamp her book. Like her daddy, she is a nerd, and enjoys memorizing things so she remembers a couple already.

Because haiku are so short she can remember them somewhat easily. Understanding the meaning is a little more difficult. Here’s a difficult poem by Matsuo Basho:

Haiku for kids

しずかさや shizukasaya
いわにしみいる iwa ni shimiiru
せみのこえ semi no koe

The meaning is something like this (totally amateur translation):

Oh the silence!
Soaking into the rock
the cicada’s voice.

Among other haiku.

I think it’s great that she’s learning it. She won’t really grasp it yet, or remember it months later, but it’s still good exposure. I’ve been trying to do the same as well with the famous hyakunin isshu anthology which I’ve posted about in the past, and have a separate blog dedicated too.

Playing Hyakunin Isshu cards with daughter. 百人一首のカルタを娘と遊んでいる。はじめてです。

Since the Hyakunin Isshu is also used in a card game called uta-garuta and since we have a set at home, I sometimes play this game with my daughter. Nothing serious, just playing around. Waka poetry is longer than haiku, so I really don’t expect her to learn any of it, but getting used to the sound and rhythm is still very helpful I think.

Edit: The author of this poem appears to be Matsuo Basho, not Kobayashi Issa, so I have updated the blog post. Thanks to reader KHO for the tip. :)

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About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.
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4 Responses to Teaching Japanese Poetry to Kids

  1. KHO says:

    Hi, Doug! I’m one of the Japanese fans of your blogs. As to the Haiku cited in your recent blog, it’s not Kobayashi Issa but Matsuo Basho, I believe, who made this poem. Looking forward to reading another intersting blog; Bye for now.

  2. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi KHO and welcome! It’s always good to hear from new people.

    I was wondering about the authorship too. Google definitely implies that the author is Basho not Issa, so perhaps it was just a mistake on that booklet. :)

  3. 9symphony9 says:

    I am learning Japanese. Just the Hiragana characters for now. I see some on there I know.

  4. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi 9symphony9 and welcome! Good luck in your studies.

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