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Japanese poet Itsuki Natsui awarded for dedicated efforts to broaden the reach of haiku

Itsuki Natsui, a haiku poet, is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Oct. 27, 2021. She used to teach at junior high schools before becoming a poet. (Mainichi/Taro Fujii)

TOKYO -- Itsuki Natsui, a haiku poet with a broad fanbase in Japan, has been awarded this year's Taneda Santoka Award for bringing haiku closer to people through her appearances on TV programs and other activities.

    Natsui, 64, has dedicated herself to the art form for more than 30 years to "sow the seeds of haiku" among people across Japan while penning her own haiku poems. Based in the city of Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, known as Japan's "haiku capital," Natsui has staged live haiku gatherings at elementary and junior high schools throughout the country, and was also involved in the launch of the Haiku Koshien tournament for high school students.

    She has risen to nationwide fame through her appearances since 2013 on the TV show "Prebato!!" aired by Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc., where she reviews poems created by celebrities including actor Tomio Umezawa and members of the boy band Kis-My-Ft2. Natsui shows no mercy in commenting on those amateur poems, before turning them into masterpieces with affection.

    "It's not so much that I teach haiku, as I share the fun of words themselves and the depth of the Japanese language through haiku, based on its seasonal terms and the five-seven-five syllable rhythm," Natsui says. "It's fun for family members to guess together which particle would fit best (for a haiku), isn't it?"

    When she heard about the Taneda Santoka Award -- named after famous Japanese author and poet Taneda Santoka (1882-1940) known for his free verse haiku, and presented annually to cultural figures and artists who have inspired many people through their lifestyles based on their unwavering beliefs -- Natsui wondered if she was taken for a free verse haiku poet.

    But she was soon convinced after learning the reason behind her receiving the award was that, through her TV appearances and other engagements, she has passionately strived to make haiku more popular among regular citizens by ridding it of the image that haiku is too sophisticated for them to compose, all while living up to her own ideals. The city of Matsuyama, where she resides, is also where Santoka chose to spend the final months of his life.

    Today, Natsui apparently has the broadest range of haiku fans in Japan. In recent years, she has devoted herself to an initiative called "Ouchi de haiku," which allows people to post their own haiku online for a review. Through the program, she has tried to share the amusement of haiku with as many people as possible.

    "When people grow older, they will inevitably be stuck at home or at hospital. Haiku can serve as a cane for their life at a time like that," Natsui says.

    (Japanese original by Tadahiko Mori, The Mainichi Staff Writer)

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