Monday, July 12, 2010

How the Japanese Count Their 'Ku'

Good Friends:

I am a member of a Haiku Yahoo Group hosted by Gabi Greve. Gabi has resided in Japan for many years. She is trilingual; German, Japanese, and English. She studied Haiku with Japanese Sensei, continues to do so, and in general her views are as well informed as you are likely to find. Recently she posted on her Yahoo Group a description of how Japanese count when they are writing Haiku and I found it so engaging I felt certain that readers here would be interested. With Gabi's kind permission here is her description:

counting beats . . .
shall I start with my thumb
or the little finger ?

Or as I wrote way back in 2004

fingers wiggeling
in the autumn air -
Japanese haiku meeting

One of the endearing features of a haiku meeting (ku-kai) in Japan is
everybody sitting around counting on their fingers, usually of the
left hand. After all 5 7 5 is still very much en vouge in Japanese
Haiku, despite some free verse, gendai and other movements.

How do you count with your fingers?
One, two, three, for your THREE, three fingers sticking out?
Right! But Wrong in Japan!

Here is how the Japanese count with one hand,usually the left.
Palm facing your face, all fingers stretched out is the start.

ONE: Fold your thumb towards the palm of your hand.
TWO: Fold your pointer finger over the thumb.
THREE: Fold your middle finger over the thumb, joining the pointer.

So your three looks like three fingers folded, not sticking out ! Surprise!

FOUR: the ring finger (called <>medicine finger<> in Japanese), is folded.
FIVE: the little finger is folded, so NONE is sticking out.

Now still using the same hand with all fingers folded, here we go again:

SIX: the little finger is sticking out again. (This is also a sign indicating a girlfriend of a married man) )
SEVEN: the ring finger is sticking out again.

Thus the middle line of a haiku is completed. :o)

For me, observing cultural differences is always quite fascinating.
So is the development of haiku in various culture spheres and languages.

Five <> seven <> five suits the Japanese Language, but does not come naturally in many other languages, unless used very skilfully.

Happy Counting!


You can find the original post here:

In addition to Gabi's studies and her own Haiku, Dr. Greve runs the World Kigo (Season Word) Database, an ongoing project to develop a world-wide Saijiki, or dictionary of seasonal words and references. It is a huge project. It can be found here:

Thanks, Gabi!



Dan Gurney said...

Very interesting. This would be a good way to teach young children how to count to 20 on their fingers, too.

Thanks for this!

Jim714 said...

I can see kids having fun with this.