Say Hi to Haibun Fun

In a typical high school language arts or social studies curriculum, students are asked to keep detailed narrative journals along the lines of the historical journals of Henry David Thoreau, Samuel Pepys, and Sarah Kemble Knight. They are asked to record events of their lives along with emotional responses and reflections. The objective is often to draw out student perceptions in increasing levels of specificity and to promote critical thinking and synthesis.

In contrast, the Japanese art of haibun, developed in Japan in the late 17th century by Matsuo Munefusa (Basho), focuses on objective reporting of the everyday moment and focusing the insights of that moment into a theme developed in a concluding poem. It requires critical thinking in the observation of relationships between or among objects in the recorded scenes. Details are recorded and generalities drawn, but the nature of the writing style is to condense rather than expand, to intimate rather than explain. Moreover, the Japanese concept of the essentialness of nature is incorporated into the observation of even the most mechanical scenes.

This cross-curricular lesson is designed to introduce students in language arts or social studies classes to elements of the Japanese writing style and the Japanese cultural concepts incorporated by the haibun. Students consider that each moment recorded in their journal can become elevated to a work of art because of the insights gained. By reading examples of classical Haibun written by Basho and contemporary Haibun by Jane Riechhold and others, students will observe these elements and concepts in the text After studying elements of the Japanese writing style and cultural concepts, students will compose original haibun.

Guiding Questions

What is a haibun, who developed it, and what writing devices are typical of the form?

How does it reflect Japanese artistic or cultural values?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to: experience a Japanese writing form

identify elements important to writing prose and poetry in the Japanese style: aware, fueki, fuga, fugetsu, kigo, kireji, kaketoba, karumi, and sono mama

recognize the haibun as a combination of prose and poetry designed by Japanese poetry master Basho which examines an everyday moment in objective simplicity and reflects upon the insights gleaned from the moment.

analyze a haibun for writing devices typical of the Japanese style.

compose haibun as a form of journal keeping, approximating the Japanese style by using the present tense to make a moment more immediate, observing natural elements or using images of nature in describing non-natural elements, and focusing the theme of their prose observations in a haiku or tanka.