I first came to Japan in 1989, on a one month tour organized by Griffith University in Australia. All the participants were students of Japanese language and culture, in the Education Faculty. It was then that I saw my first haiku, by Matsuo Basho:
furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto
an ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the splash of water 
Since then I have moved around, living and working in Osaka, Shizuoka, Gifu, Nagoya, Toyota, and Matsusaka in Mie Prefecture. My wife, Mandy, and I have lived in Japan for 20 years now; we have enjoyed visiting various famous locations such as Kyoto, Hiroshima, Okayama, Okinawa and so forth. Through it all I have kept up my writing and poetry and of course, haiku.
I'd like to share some of my haiku with you (see photo gallery at bottom), and some great haiku tips that I came across while on my journey to be a 'Haijin' (one who writes haiku).
I learned three things from this essay. Firstly, just as Myron implied, I was told by my Japanese teachers to rigidly adhere to the 17 'sounds' (as expressed in the Japanese hiragana syllabary of 46 sounds/characters). Myron was quite correct in stating '17 sounds' is similar to but not the same as '17 syllables'. (That was the first thing that made me realize that this man knew his stuff, so to speak.)
Secondly, when I graduated from the university in Tokyo, my 'haiku' tutor let me in on a tip. Haiku doesn't always have to be 17 sounds, but it can never be more than that. 'Less is often better' I was informed. Myron also refers to this in his essay, and I concur. He further backed this up with examples from Basho and Issa.
Thirdly, I was taught in Japan to include a seasonal reference, to use present tense, to write about what one sees and hears, and to have two sections: a fragment and a phrase. However Myron's essay also taught me the importance of comparing two different images as juxtapositions, to use minimal punctuation with limited use of adjectives and adverbs, to make one's haiku open-ended and evocative, and to not make judgements or express one's opinions. I felt that his 13 Guidelines for Writing Haiku was excellent. It was not something I learned in Japan per se, but I feel that it has contributed greatly to my understanding of haiku. The essay helped to clarify the 'art' of writing haiku for me, and I believe that it has aided me in my quest to be a better 'haijin'.
After reading Myron's essay and the comments in response, I headed outside into nature (to accomplish 'shasei' - writing haiku in a natural setting; literally ‘paint from nature’). Fortunately, I happen to live in a traditional mountain village situated above Matsusaka city, and only 30 minutes from the Nara border. Thus I am surrounded by rivers, rice paddies, forests, mountains and various wildlife, all under open blue skies, providing me with lots of inspiration for writing haiku.
On this particular day, the cherry blossoms which had bloomed only a week before had vanished, but in their place were new green leaves, and there were now pink plum tree flowers visible everywhere. Having already written numerous haiku about cherry blossoms, I decided to take Myron's advice and write what I saw and heard, rather than using something from memory.
I heard the buzzing of bees, the song of birds overhead, and a faint breeze in the trees. I saw kites (hawks) flying above, bees alighting on flowers, and pink plum blossoms here and there, as well as bright new shiny green summer leaves. The sky was blue and there wasn't a cloud to be seen anywhere. I decided to ignore the new green summer leaves, as it was still spring, and I didn't want to mix seasons in one haiku.
I started with the sight of the plum tree blossoms and the sound of the bees, being careful to mention that it was in fact spring, recalling the rule about using a season reference.
Plum blossoms thrive,
Bees buzz as they alight,
Mid-spring is alive.
I inadvertently used rhyme (as is my habit) - 'thrive' and 'alive' - and decided to dismiss it. Trying again, I remembered to use a juxtaposition of images, and so I decided to contrast colors of spring: namely the clear blue sky and the bright pink blossoms.
Under blue skies,
Pink plum blossoms bloom,
As mid-spring arrives
That seemed a bit better, and I was able to incorporate alliteration as well. This meant that I had to abandon the buzzing of the bees unfortunately. But in a bizarre way, the 'b' alliteration reminds me of the buzzing bees, even if it isn't clarified for the reader. Indecision. Rewrite.
Bees buzz as pink blossoms bloom,
Under bright blue skies
I decided eventually, after coming back inside and playing around with the words, that I could still include the buzzing of the bees (and the associated alliteration) as well as the seasonal reference and the juxtaposition of spring colors. I also made sure that the fragment was first, followed by the phrase, as advised. Finally, I removed the capitals, added a dash after the fragment, and deleted any punctuation.
Anyway, I hope that my haiku journey has been enlightening, and that it may even encourage you to try writing a haiku of your own. Please enjoy viewing some of my haiku (each with a photo attached) in the gallery below. (Click on each image to see the full picture and haiku).