My Haiku ~ #1


A mourning dove calls,

Wind-chimes sing beautifully.

The breeze comes and goes.


Haiku: thoughts on the modern


In this post, I’d like to share my thoughts on modern haiku and how it differs from traditional haiku.

Traditional haiku consist of 17 onji/syllables (one vertical line in Japanese and three lines of “5-7-5” romanized/English language), contain a season word (kigo) or seasonal reference (kidai), and contain a kireji (cutting word) or the equivalent thereof (usually punctuation or a dash), with the kireji after the first 5 or 12 syllables (though, in English, kireji placement in this fashion is not a must). Another mainstay of traditional haiku is that it almost always has something to do with nature, will usually contain juxtaposing images, and have symbolic meaning. For more on the idiosyncrasies of traditional haiku, refer to my previous posts.

There are those that argue that for non-Japanese language haiku, the 17 syllable count should be reduced to approximately 12, as then it can properly match it’s Japanese counterpart in brevity. We translate the Japanese on as syllable, but an onji is actually a character or pictograph, therefore Japanese haiku do not always contain 17 syllables as we know them. While reducing the 17 syllable count to 12 or so makes sense to better match, and to be more true to, the Japanese haiku, the 17 syllable count in ‘5-7-5’ format is what is most commonly accepted as the traditional non-Japanese language standard. In time, perhaps, this may change.

The modern haiku form does not pay attention to the strict laws governing it’s predecessor. There is generally no set syllable count, the ‘5-7-5’ three line format is optional, there does not have to be a kigo, kidai,or kireji, and the subject matter is not restricted to observances of the natural world. Both traditional and modern haiku can be either subjective or objective. To me, the majority of modern form haiku in the West seems to be more of a free-form poem inspired by format of traditional haiku. Of course, there are a many talented poets who keep within the traditional structure and, yet, write wholly modern haiku. Some would argue that, in this case, all that changes is subject matter, language used in the poem, and/or a break in traditional rhythm. Here is an example of modern haiku by Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959), it breaks traditional rhythm:

“The first sweepings
Broom…begins to get
Used to the soil”

The argument for updated subject matter:

The argument for an updated subject matter is a good one: times have changed. To the traditionalist, breaking form seemingly breaks the spirit and long tradition of Basho/Buson/Issa-era hokku/haiku. To the modernist, holding onto a strict form (and a rigid set of kigo) for tradition’s sake alone just doesn’t seem sensible. They believe it limits creativity and restricts free language. There are no medieval courts and such in our day to hold poets to such a conservative standard. Trying to remain true to the poems of, say, Matsuo Basho is one thing, but restricting oneself to outdated cultural poetic guidelines is another. We must remember that Basho was an innovator within his craft. It is still possible to write purist haiku by replacing set seasonal words (kigo that come from an authorized book) with seasonal references (kidai) using free language.

. As a modern people, we generally live most of our lives indoors and the majority of modern people live in or near urban centers. In the ancient days of Matsuo Basho, being outdoors for most of the day and seeing a lot of the natural world was common. This is still true for those modern people who have outside occupations, such as farmers or park rangers, but the majority of us are accustomed to being indoors or generally within something. We generally work indoors, when we drive a vehicle, we’re out of the elements, etc. It’s not just a matter of being indoors more often, but what we view both indoors and outdoors, as well. Even in rural areas, we see modernization to the once rustic. Country roads are paved, small towns have sidewalks, urbanites view concrete more than trees and so on. Modernization happens, things move forward, and we observe these things in our daily lives. Basho, Buson, and Issa were all professionally trained poets in specific traditions of poetry. There were set ways of doing things. They were trained to use the words from a saijiki. The times and culture in which they lived differs vastly from our own. Still, the poetic spirit remains, with or without those specific rules.

There technically are still rules, if you strive to be a purist:

For a haiku to truly be considered a haiku by most scholars and organizations, it generally has to follow the traditionally outlined format, whether in Japanese (17 onji) or English (5-7-5). Otherwise, it is considered to be a senryu or a zappai. Many people will write senryu or zappai and still call it haiku, though they generally do so unknowingly or mistakenly. This happens mostly in the West and is, in part, due to ignorance or misinformation. Ultimately, the thought or the feeling of the poem is what’s most important, not the technicalities (unless you are disciplining yourself to be a traditional haiku poet, even then, take criticism with a grain of salt, do heavy research and keep improving).

Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask questions or share your thoughts.


Side Note: Homosexuality in Japan & Haiku


In the West, until recently, homosexuality was a taboo subject. In ancient Japanese culture, however, it was never really an issue until the late 1800s. Ancient Japan was very much like ancient Greece in this respect. Male-male relationships were both common and normal, sometimes codified. In the modern era, and I suspect this could be due to the ultraconservative Western influence of the 1800s, homosexuality took on a more negative social flavor with Japanese gay men and lesbian women often concealing their sexuality; with many even marrying persons of the opposite sex. Despite the fresh wave of tolerance, it is reported to still happen today and major political parties show little interest in gay right’s issues. A stark contrast from the days of Matsuo Bashō, who himself once stated “There was a time when I was fascinated with the ways of homosexual love.”

Bashō was known to have female lovers, but his haiku points to having male lovers (or at least male love interests) as well. Historical practices identified by scholars as homosexual in ancient Japan include wakashudō (“the way of youths”) and nanshoku (“male colors”).


The Japanese term nanshoku (which can also be read as danshoku) is the Japanese reading of the same characters in Chinese, which literally mean “male colors.” The character (color) still has the meaning of sexual pleasure in China and Japan. This term was widely used to refer to some kind of male–male sex in a pre-modern era of Japan. The term shudō, abbreviated from wakashudō, the “way of adolescent boys”) is also used, especially in older works. The Japanese nanshoku tradition drew heavily on that of China.

Wakashūdo (sometimes abbreviated as shudō)

In ancient Japan, wakashū (literally “young person”, although never used for girls), was a historical Japanese term indicating an adolescent boy; more specifically, a boy between the ages at which his head was partially shaven (maegami) (about 5–10 years of age), at which point a boy exited early childhood and could begin formal education, apprenticeship, or employment outside the home, and the genpuku coming of age ceremony (mid teens through early 20s), which marked the transition to adulthood. During this period, the wakashū wore a distinctive hairstyle, with a small shaved portion at the crown of the head and long forelocks at front and sides, and typically wore kimono with open sleeves (wakiake); boys from wealthier families could wear furisode. After the coming of age ceremony, the forelocks would be shaved off, giving the adult male hairstyle (chonmage), and the boy would assume the adult male style of kimono with rounded sleeves. Although any given person would be clearly classified as a child, wakashū or adult, the timing of both boundaries of the wakashū period were relatively flexible, giving families and patrons the ability to accommodate the development and circumstances of the individual boy.

The concept of wakashū contained several partially overlapping elements: an age category between childhood and adulthood; the social role of a pre-adult or adolescent boy, usually conceived of as a subordinate (student, apprentice or protégé); and the idea of the “beautiful youth”, a suitable target for homosexual desire and the subject of wakashūdo, “the way of youths”. As boys were considered eligible for homosexual liaisons only when they were wakashū, their patrons occasionally delayed their coming of age ceremony beyond socially acceptable limits, leading to legal efforts in 1685 to require all wakashū to undergo their coming of age ceremony by age 25. In the Meiji era, the term became obsolete; the first meanings were replaced by the new term shōnen, and the last by the related construction bishōnen (“beautiful boy”).

In The Tale of Genji, written in the early 11th century, men are frequently moved by the beauty of youths. In one scene the hero is rejected by a certain lady, and instead sleeps with her young brother:

“Genji pulled the boy down beside him . . . Genji, for his part, or so one is informed, found the boy more attractive than his chilly sister.”

The Tale of Genji is a novel, but there exist several Heian-era diaries which contain references to homosexual acts as well. Some of these also contain references to Emperors involved in homosexual relationships and to “handsome boys retained for sexual purposes” by Emperors.

There can be found references to what Prof.Gary Leupp has called “problems of gender identity” in other literary works, such as the story of a youth falling in love with a girl who is actually a cross-dressing male.

In the monastery:

Several writers have noted the strong historical tradition of open bisexuality and homosexuality among male Buddhist institutions in Japan. When the Tendai priest Genshin harshly criticised homosexuality as immoral, others mistook his criticism as having being because the acolyte wasn’t one’s own.

Nanshoku relationships inside monasteries were typically pederastic, that is, an age-structured relationship where the younger partner is not considered adult. The older partner, or nenja (“lover” or “admirer”), would be a monk, priest or abbot, while the younger partner was assumed to be an acolyte (chigo), who would be a prepubescent or adolescent boy; the relationship would be dissolved once the boy reached adulthood (or left the monastery). Both parties were encouraged to treat the relationship seriously and conduct the affair honorably, and the nenja might be required to write a formal vow of fidelity. Outside of the monasteries, monks were considered to have a particular predilection for male prostitutes, which was the subject of much ribald humor.

There was no religious opposition to homosexuality in Japan in non-Buddhist traditions. Tokugawa commentators felt free to illustrate kami engaging in anal sex with each other. During the Tokugawa period, some of the Shinto gods, especially Hachiman, Myoshin, Shinmei and Tenjin, “came to be seen as guardian deities of nanshoku” (male–male love). Tokugawa-era writer Ihara Saikaku joked that since there are no women for the first three generations in the genealogy of the gods found in the Nihon Shoki, the gods must have enjoyed homosexual relationships—which Saikaku argued was the real origin of nanshoku.

The samurai: 

From religious circles, same-sex love spread to the warrior (samurai) class, where it was customary for a boy in the wakashū age category to undergo training in the martial arts by apprenticing to a more experienced adult man. The man was permitted, if the boy agreed, to take the boy as his lover until he came of age; this relationship, often formalized in a “brotherhood contract”, was expected to be exclusive, with both partners swearing to take no other (male) lovers. This practice, along with clerical pederasty, developed into the codified system of age-structured homosexuality known as shudō, abbreviated from wakashūdo, the “way (do) of wakashū“. The older partner, in the role of nenja, would teach the wakashū martial skills, warrior etiquette, and the samurai code of honor, while his desire to be a good role model for his wakashū would lead him to behave more honorably himself; thus a shudō relationship was considered to have a “mutually ennobling effect”. In addition, both parties were expected to be loyal unto death, and to assist the other both in feudal duties and in honor-driven obligations such as duels and vendettas. Although sex between the couple was expected to end when the boy came of age, the relationship would, ideally, develop into a lifelong bond of friendship. At the same time, sexual activity with women was not barred (for either party), and once the boy came of age, both were free to seek other wakashū lovers.

Like later Edo same-sex practices, samurai shudō was strictly role-defined; the nenja was seen as the active, desiring, penetrative partner, while the younger, sexually receptive wakashū was considered to submit to the nenja’s attentions out of love, loyalty, and affection, rather than sexual desire. Among the samurai class, adult men were (by definition) not permitted to take the wakashū role; only preadult boys (or, later, lower-class men) were considered legitimate targets of homosexual desire. In some cases, shudō relationships arose between boys of similar ages, but the parties were still divided into nenja and wakashū roles.

The middle class:

As Japanese society became pacified, the middle classes adopted many of the practices of the warrior class, in the case of shudō giving it a more mercantile interpretation. Male prostitutes (kagema), who were often passed off as apprentice kabuki actors and who catered to a mixed male and female clientele, did a healthy trade into the mid-19th century despite increasing restrictions. Many such prostitutes, as well as many young kabuki actors, were indentured servants sold as children to the brothel or theater, typically on a ten-year contract. Relations between merchants and boys hired as shop staff or housekeepers were common enough, at least in the popular imagination, to be the subject of erotic stories and popular jokes. Young kabuki actors often worked as prostitutes off-stage, and were celebrated in much the same way as modern media stars are today, being much sought after by wealthy patrons, who would vie with each other to purchase their favors. Onnagata (female-role) and wakashū-gata (adolescent boy-role) actors in particular were the subject of much appreciation by both male and female patrons, and figured largely in nanshoku shunga prints and other works celebrating nanshoku, which occasionally attained best-seller status.

Male prostitutes and actor-prostitutes serving male clientele were originally restricted to the wakashū age category, as adult men were not perceived as desirable or socially acceptable sexual partners for other men. During the 17th century, these men (or their employers) sought to maintain their desirability by deferring or concealing their coming-of-age and thus extending their “non-adult” status into their twenties or even thirties; this eventually led to an alternate, status-defined shudō relationship which allowed clients to hire “boys” who were, in reality, older than themselves. This evolution was hastened by mid-17th century bans on the depiction of the wakashū’s long forelocks, their most salient age marker, in kabuki plays; intended to efface the sexual appeal of the young actors and thus reduce violent competition for their favors, this restriction eventually had the unintended effect of de-linking male sexual desirability from actual age, so long as a suitably “youthful” appearance could be maintained.

Art and same-sex love:

These activities were the subject of countless literary works, most of which remain to be translated. However, English translations are available for Ihara Saikaku who created a bisexual main character in The Life of An Amorous Man (1682), Jippensha Ikku who created an initial gay relationship in the post-publication “Preface” to Shank’s Mare (1802 et seq), and Ueda Akinari who had a homosexual Buddhist monk in Tales of Moonlight and Rain (1776). Likewise, many of the greatest artists of the period, such as Hokusai and Hiroshige, prided themselves in documenting such loves in their prints, known as ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) and where they had an erotic tone, shunga, or pictures of spring.

Nanshoku was not considered incompatible with heterosexuality; books of erotic prints dedicated to nanshoku often presented erotic images of both young women (concubines, mekake, or prostitutes, jōrō) as well as attractive adolescent boys (wakashū) and cross-dressing youths (onnagata). Indeed, several works suggest that the most “envious” situation would be to have both many jōrō and manywakashū. Likewise, women were considered to be particularly attracted to both wakashū and onnagata, and it was assumed that these young men would reciprocate that interest. Therefore, both the typical practitioners of nanshoku and the young men they desired would be considered bisexual in modern terminology. Men who were purely homosexual might be called “woman-haters” (onna-girai); this term, however, carried the connotation of aggressive distaste of women in all social contexts, rather than simply a preference for male sexual partners.

In modern Japan, wakashūdo (basically) would be known as a shōtarō complex. With homosexuality being so visible and accepted in ancient Japan, it should come to no surprise that many relationships mentioned in haiku would echo that culture. Here is one such haiku,

“A calm moon-
walking home the gay boy
frightened by the howling of foxes.”

This is a very late poem, written at a haiku party ten days or so before Bashō’s death. The subject for the night was love. Love was a required theme of the 36-verse kasen sequences (they often appeared around the 24th/25th position in the sequence). A word used in the Japanese version of this haiku is chigo, which translates as “handsome youth” and “boy-lover”, refers to the younger partner in a pair of male lovers. Foxes, in Japanese folklore, were mischievous and had supernatural powers. The speaker in the poem is escorting the frightened boy home.

I hope this was informative and helped to give you a little background on ancient Japanese culture, the times in which 3 of the 4 Greats (Bashō, Buson, & Issa) lived. Thank you for reading.

Dissecting Haiku


A lot of hidden meaning and wordplay get lost in translation from Japanese to other languages. In this post, I want to explore the subtleties that Japanese haiku have to offer. It is my hope that any insight gleaned will help you understand the nature of haiku and help you write better ones.

Let’s begin with an early poem of Matsuo Bashō, in the school of Teimon.

“Foam on the wave’s crest-
blossoms of snow?
the water’s out-of-season flower?”

The elaborate wordplay is typical. Literally, Nami no hana to yuki mo ya mizu no kaeribana. The Japanese idiom for a cresting wave is nami no hana, which means “blossom of the wave.” In the last phrase of the poem, mizu no kaeribana, “water’s out-of-season flower”, kaeribana means “unseasonal flower”, but kaeri means “returning,” and so the incoming wave is also evoked. The punning makes many haiku, this one included, impossible to translate, and it was the style of writing, “a parlor game,” poet Sam Hamill calls it, popular in Bashō’s youth (and he was very good at it).

Another of Matsuo’s

“Smell of sake
off the waves-
the wine cup moon”

Tsuki, “moon,” can also mean “wine cup.” A literal translation: “Blue sea’s wave / sake smell / today’s moon (wine cup).” More wordplay, but even early there were these accuracies of perception, the rice-wine smell of the sea, the wave blue because the moon is full.

More Bashō

“This road-
no one goes down it,
autumn evening.”

The word for road is michi, and Bashō wrote it in kanji, using the Chinese character, tao, rather than the Japanese phonetic signs for the two syllables. The poem may first of all be an evocation of the loneliness of this particular road, but Bashō’s use of the ideogram suggests, as Rōshi Robert Aitken has observed, that he also had in mind this other meaning. The Japanese also speak of haiku no michi, the way of the haiku poet, which suggests at least one other level of meaning.

So, as we can see, wordplay and dual meanings are essential to haiku. The Japanese, though, have one more advantage at this than English haikaishi (haiku poets), and that is their system of writing and it’s interchangeability with Chinese characters. As Chinese poetry was important to the learned in ancient Japan, this particular type of wordplay was very witty. In English, though, we can use culturally accepted and known foreign words, perhaps, for a similar effect (Zeitgeist, as one possibilty). It may never have quite the same effect, but may play an important role of advancing English-language haiku and making it even more similar to the original style and sensibilities. As a haiku ‘purist’, this is my aim. Not for prestige or anything like that, simply for my love of the art.

I hope you have enjoyed this read and I hoped it helped. Thank you for your time.

Waka ~ Japanese Poetry


If you’re like me and have read a lot of books, essays, blogs, etc on haiku and still find yourself confused about the interchangeability of the terms Waka and Tanka, then this post is for you. While I’m at it, I’ll also discuss other types of Japanese poetry.

Waka (literally “Japanese Poem”) originally encompassed a number of differing forms, principally tanka (“short poem”) and chōka (“long poem”), but also including bussokusekika (“Buddha Footprint poem)sedōka (“memorized poem”) and katauta (“poem fragment”). These last three forms, however, fell into disuse at the beginning of the Heian period, and chōka vanished soon afterwards. Thus, the term waka came in time to refer only to tanka.

Name Form Description
Katauta 5-7-7 One half of an exchange of two poems; the shortest type of waka
Chōka 5-7-5-7-5-7…5-7-7 Repetition of 5 and 7 on phrases, with a last phrase containing 7 on. Mainly composed to commemorate public events, and often followed by a hanka or envoi.
Numerous chōka appear prominently in the Man’yōshū, but only 5 in the Kokinshū.
Tanka 5-7-5-7-7 The most widely-composed type of waka throughout history
Sedōka 5-7-7-5-7-7 Composed of two sets of 5-7-7 (similar to two katauta). Frequently in the form of mondōka (“dialogue poem”?) or an exchange between lovers
Bussokusekika 5-7-5-7-7-7 A tanka with an extra phrase of 7 on added to the end; 21 of these “Buddha Footprint” poems are inscribed on a monument at Nara, Japan.

It is also interesting to note that before the introduction of kanji from China, the Japanese had no writing system. At first, Chinese characters were used in Japanese syntactical formats, and the result was sentences that look like Chinese but were read phonetically as Japanese. Chinese characters were further adapted, creating what is known as man’yōgana, the earliest form of kana, or syllabic writing. So, in some of the older Japanese haiku, some poets (such as Bashō, Buson, & Issa) used Chinese characters in lieu of their Japanese counterparts to add more subtleties and, perhaps double-meanings or cultural references.

Kanshi literally means “Han poetry” and it is the Japanese term for Chinese poetry in general as well as the poetry written in Chinese by Japanese poets. Kanshi from the early Heian period exists in the Kaifūsō anthology, compiled in 751.

Waka (and it’s forms) is described above.

Renga (collaborative poetry) is a genre of Japanese collaborative poetry. A renga consists of at least two ku or stanzas. The opening stanza of the renga, called the hokku, became the basis for the modern haiku form of poetry.

Renku (“linked verses”), or haikai no renga (“comic linked verse”), is a Japanese form of popular collaborative linked verse poetry. It is a development of the older Japanese poetic tradition of ushin renga, or orthodox collaborative linked verse. At renku gatherings participating poets take turns providing alternating verses of 17 and 14 morae. Initially haikai no renga distinguished itself through vulgarity and coarseness of wit, before growing into a legitimate artistic tradition, and eventually giving birth to the haiku form of Japanese poetry. The term renku gained currency after 1904, when Kyoshi Takahama started to use it.

Utaawase (poetry contests or waka matches) are a distinctive feature of the Japanese literary landscape from the Heian period. Significant to the development of Japanese poetics, the origin of group composition such as renga, and a stimulus to approaching waka as a unified sequence and not only as individual units, the lasting importance of the poetic output of these occasions may be measured also from their contribution to the imperial anthologies: 92 poems of the Kokinshū and 373 of the Shin Kokinshū were drawn from utaawase.

And, of course, Haiku.

Thank you for reading.

Wabi-sabi ~ the color of the poem


Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence, specifically impermanence, the other two being suffering and emptiness or absence of self-nature. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.

Wabi-sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West. “If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.” “Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; sabi meant “chill”, “lean” or “withered”. Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations. Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.

After centuries of incorporating artistic and Buddhist influences from China, wabi-sabi eventually evolved into a distinctly Japanese ideal. Over time, the meanings of wabi and sabi shifted to become more lighthearted and hopeful. Around 700 years ago, particularly among the Japanese nobility, understanding emptiness and imperfection was honored as tantamount to the first step to satori, or enlightenment. In today’s Japan, the meaning of wabi-sabi is often condensed to “wisdom in natural simplicity.” In art books, it is typically defined as “flawed beauty.”

Wabi and sabi both suggest sentiments of desolation and solitude. In the Mahayana Buddhist view of the universe, these may be viewed as positive characteristics, representing liberation from a material world and transcendence to a simpler life. Mahayana philosophy itself, however, warns that genuine understanding cannot be achieved through words or language, so accepting wabi-sabi on nonverbal terms may be the most appropriate approach. Author Simon Brown notes that wabi-sabi describes a means whereby students can learn to live life through the senses and better engage in life as it happens, rather than be caught up in unnecessary thoughts. In this sense wabi-sabi is the material representation of Zen Buddhism. The idea is that being surrounded by natural, changing, unique objects helps us connect to our real world and escape potentially stressful distractions.

In one sense wabi-sabi is a training whereby the student of wabi-sabi learns to find the most basic, natural objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. Fading autumn leaves would be an example. Wabi-sabi can change our perception of the world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and gives the object greater meditative value. Similarly materials that age such as bare wood, paper and fabric become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be observed over time. The wabi and sabi concepts are religious in origin, but actual usage of the words in Japanese is often quite casual. The syncretic nature of Japanese belief systems should be noted.

Some haiku in English adapt the wabi-sabi aesthetic, with spare, minimalist poems that evoke loneliness and transience such as Nick Virgilio’s haiku:

“Autumn twilight:
the wreath on the door
lifts in the wind.”

This brings us to how we, as Haikaishi (writers of haiku), can enhance our poetic aesthetics, especially those of us who seek to write ‘pure haiku’. Matsuo Bashō once said that “Sabi (and, by extension, wabi-sabi) is the color of the poem. It does not necessarily refer to the poem that describes a lonely scene. If a man goes to war wearing stout armor or to a party dressed up in festive clothes, and this man happens to be an old man, there is something lonely about him. Sabi is something like that.” Bashō also goes on to say “If you describe a green willow in the spring rain, it will be excellent as a renga verse. Haikai (Haiku, for our purposes), however, needs more homely images, such as a crow picking mud snails in a rice paddy.” “Poetry is a fireplace in summer or a fan in winter.” “Eat vegetable soup rather than duck stew.”

I believe this has been quite a bit of food for thought. Think of wabi-sabi as the broth for a haiku stew before you add your own ingredients. Thank you for reading. I hope this was helpful for both your writing purposes and personal knowledge of Japanese culture.

Masaoka Shiki ~ Selected Haiku


Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) was a Meiji era writer and poet. During his early life, the old forms of poetry, such as Haiku and Haikai, were waning due to incongruity with the Meiji period and there were no great living masters to help keep the traditions alive. It was Shiki, through his writings and enthusiasm, who was responsible for rekindling the public’s interest.

In the coolness
of the empty sixth-month sky…
the cuckoo’s cry.

the tree cut,
dawn breaks early
at my little window

scatter layer
by layer, eight-layered
cherry blossoms!

at the full moon’s
rising, the silver-plumed
reeds tremble

entangled with
the scattering cherry blossoms—
the wings of birds!

wheat sowing—
the mulberry trees
lift bunched branches

in the coolness
gods and Buddhas
dwell as neighbors

I turn my back
on Buddha and face
the cool moon

fanning out its tail
in the spring breeze,
see—a peacock!


rice reaping—
no smoke rising from
the cremation ground today
old garden—she empties
a hot-water bottle
under the moon
spring rain:
browsing under an umbrella
at the picture-book store