This is the article on the ancient Japanese form of poetry. For the BeOS open-source recreation project, see Haiku (operating system). For the town in Hawaii, see Haiku-Pauwela, Hawaii.

Haiku (俳句) is one of the most important forms of traditional Japanese poetry.

Haiku is a very short poetic form: Traditional Japanese haiku consisted of three lines of 5, 7, and 5 units (morae) which generally corresponded to syllables. They also contained a special season word — the kigo — descriptive of the season in which the haiku was set. Some say that a haiku must also combine two different images, be written in present tense, have a focus on description and have a pause (the kireji or "cutting word") at the end of either the first or second line. All such rules are based in the Japanese language and literary tradition. Although rarely broken by Japanese haiku poets, haiku not written in Japanese are more likely to break one or more of these rules.

If written out in hiragana, the syllabic Japanese alphabet, each of these morae will be represented by exactly one character, and indeed haiku are often written out in hiragana for aesthetic reasons.

The four great Japanese masters of the haiku form are Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, and Masaoka Shiki.

Grave of Yosa Buson
Grave of Yosa Buson

Two examples of haiku

An example of classic haiku (by Basho):

古池や (Furuike ya)
蛙飛び込む (Kawazu tobikomu)
水の音 (Mizu no oto)
An old pond!
A frog jumps in —
the sound of water.

Another Basho classic reads:

The first cold showers pour
Even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw

(At that time, Japanese rain-gear consisted of a large, round hat and a shaggy straw cloak.)

The History of Haiku

The term Haiku was created by the modern critic and haiku-maker Masaoka Shiki. Before then this style was called Hokku (発句). Hokku is the first phrase of Renga, another traditional form of Japanese poetry. Already since the early Edo period Hokku was appreciated as an individual work, not just as a part of Renga. Masaoka Shiki discarded the Renga concept and established Haiku as self-sufficient artistic poetry. Hence today we see classic Hokku as Haiku.

Writing haiku

The haiku poet (haijin) writes about a moment in time, a brief experience that stands out. The traditional haiku poet usually focused on nature, although modern poets may have the urban setting as their venue. Often, at least in translation, the subject matter of many Japanese haiku may seem banal, but the subtle linkage or juxtaposition between the two sets of images within a haiku will be found to contain an interesting insight or spiritual message.

Haiku is not written only by professionals. Anyone can learn to use the form, although like other genres of poetry it is difficult to master. An online search will lead to many forums where new and experienced poets share and critique their haiku.

Techniques of haiku

Haiku uses most of techniques from waka and renga but as it became popular, new techniques were invented and old techniques were renamed. These techniques are important as a haiku is a very short form of the poem.


Honkadori (本歌取り) uses a verse or a word from a famous haiku to give a new haiku a broader connotation (an english-language analog is allusion). For example, Miwataseba Yamamotokasumu Minasegawa means look around / even mountains are shrouded by mists / from the Minase river. A new haiku using the word Yamamotokasumu would invoke an image of the Minase river without explicitly mentioning it.


With only seventeen syllables, it is essential that superfluous words are omitted. Often, postpositional particles and/or verbs are omitted after a noun when the status of a noun can be deduced. Other words may be omitted as well if they can be deduced as well. These omissions can increase the impression of a haiku or expand its time frame.


The Japanese language has numerous homophones. Kakekotoba is the technique of using these homophones to add multiple meanings to a haiku. It is something like puns in English, but without the humerous intent. For example "matsu" means "pine tree", but also has a homophone "matsu" that means "to wait".


Kumatagari, (句またがり lit. crossing verses) is a technique of adhering only to the 17 syllables rule and not to the 5, 7, 5 rule. It lets a haiku have a different impression.

Jiyuritsu haiku

Jiyuritsu Haiku, (自由律俳句 lit. Free verse haiku), throws out all rules of haiku and a haiku would be written as a poet sees fit. Initially, it was seen as nothing more than a poetic slogan or a meaningful sentence but its values were re-evaluated in Heisei period.

Haiku in English

Few modern English haiku poets use the 5-7-5 syllables rule. (The 5-7-5 rule, however, is often used in elementary and secondary school English classes as a method of teaching counting syllables.) The 5-7-5 practice produces a haiku much longer than a traditionally composed haiku in Japanese, as the Japanese do not count syllables as they are defined in English, but instead count morae (singular mora), or phonetic units of the language. Morae are generally shorter than the average of English syllables which are highly variable in length. Also contributing to the change in length is the fact that one character particles are used in Japanese grammar to designate parts of a sentence as well as possessives. While the former use is often left implicit in its compact form, the possessive marker "no" (の) can often be found even in haiku and counts as a mora even though it is not a word per se.

Today's English-language poets produce haiku in one of three ways:

  1. by using three (or fewer) lines of no more than 17 syllables in total;
  2. by using the concept of metrical feet rather than syllables. A haiku then becomes three lines of 2, 3, and 2 metrical feet, with a break or pause after the second or fifth;
  3. by using the "one deep breath" rule: take a deep breath and the reader should be able to read the haiku aloud without taking a second breath.

Internet Haiku

In early 1998, Salon (http://www.salon.com/) magazine published the results of a haiku contest (http://www.salon.com/21st/chal/1998/02/10chal2.html) on the topic of computer error messages. The winning haiku, written by David Dixon, was:

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

However, this does not follow the traditional rules of haiku, let alone its spirit. This is more similar to the Japanese form senryu, as is much modern haiku. Haiku is often taught in Western schools, but without the strict rules, only the syllable format.

In 1995, the scifaiku (science fiction haiku) form was invented by Tom Brinck.

Famous poets and writers

Edo period

Meiji period and later


Although none of the following poets are known primarily for their haiku, most of them have written significant amounts of haiku. For example Richard Wright, better known for his novel "Native Son", wrote thousands of haiku in the eighteen months before his death. Although few of his haiku were published during his lifetime, in 1998 a book was published with the 817 haiku that he preferred.

See also

External links


cs:Haiku de:Haiku eo:Hajko es:Haiku fr:Haku he:הייקו hu:Haiku it:Haiku ja:俳句 nl:Haiku no:Haiku pl:Haiku pt:Haikai ro:Haiku ru:Хайку sl:Haiku sv:Haiku ta:ஹைக்கூ th:ไฮกุ zh:俳句


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