Yet another good article from the Wall Street Journal
The Cellphone Poets Of Tokyo Marry Tech, Tanka and Tradition
Tiny Screens Are Just Right for 31 Syllables in 5 Lines Dashed Off on the Run
by Phred Dvorak, October 4, 2005
TOKYO -- For years, Ayano Iida used email on her cellphone mainly to tap out quick messages to friends like "Let's get together tomorrow."
But these days, Ms. Iida's mobile is spouting out heartfelt verse like this: "The guy who I liked/second-best, was second-rate/in the school that he/went to; and also in his/performance between the sheets."
Ms. Iida, 26 years old, is one of a growing number of young Japanese using mobile phones to write and exchange tanka, an ancient form of unrhymed poetry whose roots reach back at least 1,300 years. Scores of tanka home pages and bulletin boards are popping up on cellphone Internet sites with names like Palm-of-the-Hand Tanka and Teenage Tanka.
Japan's national public broadcaster airs a weekly show called "Saturday Night Is Cellphone Tanka," which gets about 3,000 poems emailed from listeners' mobiles each week on topics like parental nagging and the boy in the next class.
Tanka, literally "short song," is thought to have first emerged around the eighth century. It is composed of 31 syllables arranged in a rigid, five-line pattern of 5-7-5-7-7. It's big on archaic words and has long been associated with high culture.
Courtiers of the 10th century exchanged love letters in tanka form, and the imperial family still pens tanka at the start of each year on topics like "happiness" and "spring." Tanka are often used to commemorate pivotal moments like death: Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima wrote two tanka before he slit his belly in ritual suicide in 1970.
But young Japanese say tanka is surprisingly suited to the cellphone. It's short enough to fit on little mobile screens, and simple enough to let young poets whip out bits of verse whenever the spirit moves them.
The new, freewheeling wave of poetry on cellphones is roiling the traditional, hierarchical tanka world. There, budding writers spend years of apprenticeship in poetry societies called kessha, under the guidance of a master poet. Many labor for 10 or 20 years before the master decides they're good enough to put out their own poetry collections.
Traditionalists frown on cellphone tanka's liberal use of slang and colloquial Japanese. They say the topics are frivolous and the writing shallow and one-dimensional.
True tanka should be complex and multilayered, says Kenya Washio, 61, an editor ... In a kessha, poets learn their craft the hard way: by having their creations torn to shreds at group readings. "Tanka is an exercise in masochism," he says. "You get criticized and put down; you curse, you're mortified, you cry. Then you go home and write some more."
Some feel that despite the differences, cellphone tanka could be good for the tanka world. The tanka-writing population has been aging rapidly -- along with the rest of Japan ... Shin Araragi's members are 75 years old, on average ... One tanka on its Web site describes a visit to the urologist.
"Tanka Study," Japan's most prestigious tanka monthly, whose subscribers are in their 70s and 80s mostly, is reaching out to a younger audience by including a section for cellphone tanka, where the text is typed horizontally, unlike the rest of the magazine.
"We're really hoping that with the spread of cellphones, tanka will be able to survive," says Akiko Oshida, the magazine's editor.
Technorati Tags: Poetry, Technology, Cellphone, Japan