Today, another haiku from Akutagawa Ryūnosuke 芥川龍之介:

haitō rei/ idete hodo naki/ ki-katabira
The Sword Control Law still new/ yellow summer kimono

The haitō rei, literally "Order abolishing swords," was one of the edicts issued during the Meiji government's samurai-taming program of the 1870s. It came after the anti-top-knot law, the hereditary stipend-abolishing law, and the everyone-has-to-serve-in-the-army law, adding up to a calculated multi-stage attack on samurai privilege and power.

The full title of the edict was 大禮服竝ニ軍人警察官吏等制服著用ノ外帶刀禁止, or "Forbidding of the Wearing of Swords Outside of Court Dress and the Uniforms of Soldiers, Police Officers, Government Officials, Etc.", and you can read the whole thing at WikiSource. "Those in defiance shall have their swords taken away."

This was a controversial move, even within the Meiji government itself, and it's no coincidence that ex-samurai rebellions came to a head in the late 1870s too. "Sword Control" seemed to me a not impermissible recreation of the concept in terms of modern concerns about privately owned weaponry, although one might object on the grounds of whimsy.

As for what this haiku means, well... I read it as a simple heavy-and-light juxtaposition. Swords have been banned (using formal, Sinified language) and the ex-samurai are restless — but an author like Akutagawa is lazing around in the same simple, cheerful summer clothing as usual. But who knows what I'm missing.

Popularity factor: 10


If you outlaw wearing swords outside of court dress, only outlaws will have swords outside their court dress. Also, Tom Cruise.


Disarmament Act
Came out not too long ago.
Yellow pajamas.


I'm assuming that this is just a non-traditional structure - はいとうれい looks like 6 moras to me - but am I missing some rule about diphthongs in Sinitic vocabulary that makes it count as 5-7-5?

(Avery: I love it.)


Well non-5/7/5 haiku is not that uncommon. Consider a few from Bashō:

nami no hana to / yuki mo ya / mizu no kaeribana

(You can’t break after "hana" because a dangling joshi ("to") would be weird, and you have to break after "ya" because it’s a kireji. Notice also that this one’s 18 moræ.)

neko no tsuma / hetsui no kuzure yori / kayoikeri

kiso no yase mo mada naoranu ni nochi no tsuki

Because Japanese haiku are printed in a single line (or calligraphed in uneven, unpredictable lines unrelated to the linguistic rhythm), the reader has to find out the rhythm for herself. Usually it’s 5/7/5, but not always (and sometimes, of course, more than one reading is possible.)


Okay, attempting to force coherency onto things is the stuff that creates Ryobu Shinto and the Sermoni Subalpini, etc. etc. but.

Maybe if you were to read きかたびら as 気 with the sense of being half-open or "unlined"--unsettled or not fully dressed, as it were?

(But that assumes sympathy, as opposed to "nyah-nyah, I'll just be chilling over here ya losers." Possible? Tortured, yes. But maybe possible.)


So he's either writing a haiku imagining himself back to the early Meiji era, or he's using the Haito-rei as an analogy? Is the former common - my limited knowledge of haiku is all along the lines of (at least purporting to be) personal experience. As to the second possibility, roughly when was it written/published?


This seems in the realm of human affairs, which would make it more 川柳 than the objective and natural 俳句, removing human influence as much as possible.


No idea when it was written, but since he wasn't born until 1892, it can't have been personal experience. I guess that might make it more of a 川柳, but I haven't yet seen it collected in a way that distinguished it from his other, "regular" haiku, so I guess the mystery just deepens.


Bashô wrote haiku about gay lovers being afraid of fox spirits (as haiku, not as senryū). Issa wrote haiku about human affairs like all the time (“morning-glories /
have bloomed blackly /
but my hair……”) Actual haijin didn’t care for the restrictive a posteriori Western definitions of what counts as “real haiku” (or, for that matter, for Shiki’s restrictive a posteriori definitions).


There's a Buson poem about some ship leaving port for China, even though that had been stopped for hundreds of years when he wrote. The haijin didn't believe in 写生.

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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