Donald Keene Talks Passionately about Japanese Poetry


Dr. Donald Keene, who won the Arts and Culture Prize of the Fukuoka Prize in 1991, was back in Fukuoka to speak about Haiku and Tanka, short and unique forms of Japanese poetry.

Invited to speak at an open lecture organized by the Fukuoka UNESCO Association, Dr. Keene came to Fukuoka and delivered a lecture entitled “The Beauty of Japanese Short Form Poetry”, together with Prof. Tzvetana Kristeva, Professor at International Christian University (ICU).

Here are some of the key points Dr. Keene spoke about in his lecture.

  • Rhyming words (in Western and Chinese poetry)
  • Rhythm, syllable number and alliteration
  • Sound units of five, seven, five in Haiku
  • Reasons why long forms of poetry did not prevail
  • Popularity of short form poetry
  • Haiku and new style poetry
  • Why Tanka and Haiku was able to win over the new style poetry


“Compared to Western and Chinese poems that attach significance on rhymes, Japanese poetry places more importance on rhythm, syllable and alliteration,” explains the scholar in fluent Japanese.  The poetry corresponds to the unique character of Japanese language with vowels in every syllable.  It was not only the beauty of the Japanese literature but also the familiar language we use everyday that the audience was able to rediscover during the few hours of time.

Prof. Tzvetana also spoke about her affection to Haiku with some good humor, provoking a great deal of audience laughter.


Dr. Donald Keene
The venue filled with paticipants
Ms. Tzvetana Kristeva

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