haikaiTALKS: Japanese aesthetics - toriawase - a saturday gathering_under the banyan tree
host: Kala Ramesh
4th November 2023
Japanese aesthetics: Toriawase or combination?!
Another exciting week ahead!!
Repeating this nuance for the second week.
Toriawase by Susumu Takiguchi
'Combination' would have been a better English word to choose as toriawase means mixing or joining two or more things together to form a single whole, while juxtaposition (juxta- meaning near or aside) tends to be used in haiku as meaning placing or arranging two things (seldom more than two) side by side for contrast ...
This convention, which is the best of poor translations of the Japanese ‘toriawase’, seems to have done slightly more harm than good. In particular, it is fair to say that it has contributed greatly to the contagion of vagueness in haiku. ‘Combination’ would have been a better English word to choose as toriawase means mixing or joining two or more things together to form a single whole, while juxtaposition (juxta- meaning near or aside) tends to be used in haiku as meaning placing or arranging two things (seldom more than two) side by side for contrast (i.e. difference rather than similarity).
The word toriawase is still used in modern Japanese, especially in cooking where it means for the cook to work out the best combination of ingredients to produce the most delicious food, or of different bits of food (fish, meat, vegetables or garnish) to do the moritsuke (serving) of a dish of food. It may therefore be that the quickest way for non-Japanese haijin to learn what toriawase means is to visit a Japanese restaurant for the next meal.
Juxtaposition as an English word may not restrict the number of things juxtaposed, but the going haiku convention means that only two things are used in a single haiku most of the time, perhaps for the simple reason that physically, the brevity of haiku will not allow for more than two. More plausibly, people tend to prefer the ‘contrast effect’ to the ‘harmony effect’ of toriawase, and putting two things side by side would normally give greater contrast than three or more which would lose focus, while the Japanese haijin tends to try to achieve the ‘harmony effect’ in the final product.
‘Awase’ in toriawase means to put things together for congruous harmony. And these things are normally related things, ‘related’ for wide-ranging reasons.
To achieve contrast, non-Japanese poets tend to choose ‘unrelated’ things. I see too many haiku poems with two components which are not only unrelated but have nothing to do with each other whatsoever. As a result, they become too vague at best and too unintelligible at worst to be called haiku, or anything for that matter. Haiku teachers avoid correcting this mistake because the ‘juxtaposition theory’ is something they have long preached and cannot disown it now. All I can say is, “Everybody, students and teachers alike, be brave!”
Toriawase is an old notion in Japanese haikai. Its most famous and staunch advocate is Morikawa Kyoriku (1656-1715). As a leading disciple of Basho, he emphasised the importance of toriawase after the master’s death. He made the most of Basho’s own poems and quotations which other disciples attributed to the master to prove his point. Among them is the one about spring rain and a wasps’ nest:
harusame ya/hachi no su tsutou/yane no mori
spring rain… through a wasps’ nest a leak in the roof
(English version by Susumu Takiguchi)
Kyoriku asserts that the spring rain and the wasps’ nest are good example of toriawase, which brings ‘life’ into this hokku. Without proper context, they are unrelated but in Basho’s capable hands, they get connected by the rainwater, which thus connects nature (heaven) and Basho himself (a human). Basho recommended good toriawase but cautioned against thoughtless and wanton indulgence in this device. Kyoriku and his followers used toriawase excessively and uncritically, making poems thus composed rather monotonous and boring, which is a cautionary tale for haiku poets of today who merrily indulge in careless and excessive use of juxtaposition.
We should all learn some lessons from Kyoriku’s experience. I cannot stress this point enough here because a significant part of the haiku submissions I go through are those by people who have swallowed the juxtaposition teaching hook, line and sinker (or by these teachers themselves).
First post: You search and find a haiku that has toriawase.
You'll give your reason/s why you think it has this aesthetic nuance. Second post: This will be your first haiku with toriawase
Third post: This will be your second haiku with toriawase
Please give your feedback on others' commentary and poems too. _()_
Have fun! Keep writing and commenting!