Tea Haiku

English Tea Store Genmaicha
English Tea Store Genmaicha

Tea is very popular in Japan, practically the national beverage. Haiku is a form of poetry that originated in Japan. So a tea haiku or two seems totally expected. A poetry form that embraces nature combined with the tea that comes from nature plus how that tea affects our lives.

In an art class I took years ago, we were supposed to do drawings that were mere essences of the object, stripping away the details, yet leaving enough so the viewer could tell what the object was. Haiku (pronounced “HI-coo”) is sort of like that on a verbal — rather than visual — level.

The poetry form of haiku has a long history but is ironically one of the shortest forms of poetry, with some examples containing only a single word. It has also undergone quite a bit of rule setting, changing, discarding, resetting, changing some more, etc. The subject matter for haiku is usually nature, so quite a few about tea abound. One of the better known Japanese haiku poets went by the pen name “Issa,” a shortened combination of the Japanese words ichi (“one”) and “cha” (“tea”). Another well-known haiku poet was Bashō, who wrote the following:

drinking morning tea
the monk is peaceful
the chrysanthemum blooms

Also, one of the first Westerners to try writing haiku was a Dutchman (which figures since the Dutch were among the first to bring tea to Europe). Hendrik Doeff (1764–1837) was commissioner in the Dejima trading post in Nagasaki, during the early 19th century, and enjoyed tea and writing haiku, among other things.

Through the intervening centuries this form of poetry has challenged many a poetically minded tea sipper, prompting a multitude of compositions about that wonderful leaf from the tea bush (Camellia Sinensis). Even I have dabbled while enjoying a nice sencha or houjicha or some genmaicha. Whether the results are worth mentioning is another matter.

I’m good at following a set form. Maybe it comes from learning to color within the lines in my coloring books as a child. So, I’ve been sticking to the formula taught to me years ago of 17 syllables in three lines divided into 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables, like in this one:

Silent silent are
bubbles in the water pot
Steeped tea loudly shouts

Hm, well, I try.

There are haiku societies around the world. They help you learn to write haiku, keep you informed on haiku news, and sponsor competitions. For you techies, there is also an open-source operating system named “Haiku” for personal computing and inspired by the BeOS. But I digress.

The next time you are enjoying the steam rising from your sipping cup and waiting for the tea to come down to a suitable temperature so you can fully enjoy the taste of the tea, try your hand at a line or two or three (usually no more than that). Keep it simple, unpunctuated, and with strong images. Enjoy!

See also:
Going Genmaicha
Japanese vs. Chinese Green Teas
Japanese Teas Revisited

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