Japanese groups work to register haiku as UNESCO cultural heritage

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Former Belgian Prime Minister and avid haiku poet Herman Van Rompuy speaks during an event in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture on July 11, 2022. (Mainichi/Hiroyuki Tanaka)

TOKYO – Japanese haiku circles are pushing for the traditional poetry form to be listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, saying the spirit of haiku will lead to world peace amid heightened international tension due to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

An international haiku association invited Herman Van Rompuy, 74, a Belgian politician who was also the first permanent president of the European Council, to a symposium on July 11 in Kamakura, Kanagawa prefecture, for a keynote speech on promoting the haiku as UNESCO heritage.

A haiku enthusiast, Van Rompuy was named “Haiku Ambassador for Japan-EU Friendship” in 2015 by then Foreign Minister and current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. In light of the Ukrainian crisis, Van Rompuy told the audience at the recent symposium that haiku poets cannot tolerate violence or war, and that haiku, as a signal of peace, can be a timely tool in a world facing the very real threat of war.

The former Belgian Prime Minister supported his late haiku friend and former president of the University of Tokyo, Akito Arima (1930-2020), in the latter’s call for haiku to be recognized as a UNESCO heritage site. During his recent stay in Japan, Van Rompuy also met with Kishida, who leads a cross-party parliamentary group working to enroll haiku in UNESCO, and asked for support from the Japanese prime minister.

In 2017, four haiku groups – the International Haiku Association (HIA) formerly headed by Arima, the Classical Japanese Haiku Association, the Haiku Poets Association, and the Modern Haiku Association – along with local governments created a committee to promote UNESCO heritage listing. , but there is no indication yet when their goal will be achieved.

The Japanese government announced in February that any candidate cultural form must first be registered as a national intangible cultural property before being submitted to UNESCO – a new rule under the revised Cultural Property Protection Law. adopted in June 2021. Of the first two intangible cultural properties registered under the new rule in October – “shodo” (Japanese calligraphy) and traditional sake brewing – the latter has been submitted for consideration for registration with UNESCO.

For anything to be registered as intangible cultural property, a conservation group is needed to protect and inherit the practice. This is why HIA has decided to reorganize internally to create a separate group which will be the Haiku Curatorial Group. The organization aims to make poetry an intangible cultural property in Japan, and then approach UNESCO from there.

HIA President Mukai Otaka said, “We will emphasize that haiku as a traditional Japanese literary art is a form of short poetry seeking peace and can contribute to the world as a whole.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Tanaka, Cultural News Department)

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Below is a haiku Herman Van Rompuy contributed to the Mainichi Shimbun:

thunder cannons

as summer blooms

The sun will win

Van Rompuy explained that he infused his wishes for the end of the Ukrainian war into this haiku.

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