Archive for the ‘The Ways of Japan’ Category

About Haiku

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

In The Tales of the Ninja Coder, I occasionally post haiku. (I also post them a bit more often on my Twitter feed.) Most Americans think of haiku simply as “A poem having 3 lines, with syllable counts 5-7-5”. But classical Japanese haiku have two other important characteristics: a kigo and a kireji. There’s also some debate about just how many syllables an English haiku should really have.

(For the “tl;dr” version, you can skip down to the rules I’ll be using in my haiku.)


A kigo is a seasonal reference, such as “cherry blossoms” (which bloom for roughly a week in spring) or “cicada” (which chirp in the summertime) or “apples” (which ripen in autumn). There are entire lists of words that are used as standard seasonal references, in books called saijiki and kiyose that are basically the haiku poet’s equivalent of rhyming dictionaries or thesauruses.

You can simply refer to a season by name in a haiku, as in:

Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.

Notice how this haiku uses the word “wintry” instead of just plain “winter”; that’s okay. (It’s not the best haiku in the world for other reasons, but we’ll get to those later.) (more…)