Kireji and toriawase

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Kire 切れ, the CUT in Japanese Haiku

and how to translate it with punctuation . . .



Basic Conditions of Japanese Language Haiku
Inahata Teiko 稲畑汀子
President of the Japan Traditional Haiku Association

Kireji - The third basic condition for haiku

"Ya", "kana", "keri", or "nari" and other kire-ji effectively add to the author's feeling in a short haiku or speak for omitted words. Kire-ji, in this respect, provides a structural support for haiku.
Please note an established rule that kire-ji is used just once in a haiku.
Two kire-ji might blur the message of a short poem of 17 syllables.

. Definitions of Haiku


Uda Kiyoko 宇多喜代子
President of Modern Haiku Association (Gendai Haiku)

. . . the “cut” / “cut” of haiku: haiku is a literary form based on truncation, isn’t it?
So, yes, haiku "cuts" explanation: this is haiku.
Haiku "cuts": scenes, actions, everything, and cuts time and language. So, though it is said that "cutting" is really omission, I think that "cutting" is at the same time the essential proposition of haiku.

And, if asked about what haiku is, there are a variety of aspects of haiku—that is, as a seasonal verse, or as a form of poetry consisting of "five-seven-five" —
but the essence of haiku is "cutting," in my opinion.

source : Simply Haiku, 2009, Vol 7.


Some Japanese terminology

ichibutsu jitate  一物仕立て (いちぶつじたて)
haiku with only one theme
ichimotsu jitate (いちもつした)
ichibutsu ... one thing /theme /idea /scene
jitate (shitate) ... to make someting

nibutsu shoogeki 二物衝撃, lit. "two things - shock"
juxtaposition, contrasting two things

toriawase 取り合わせ,
literally "taking and putting together",
"a combination, an arrangement, an assortment"

(The term "image" should be avoided in this context, it has a different meaning.
Yet it is often used ... )

kugire, kugiri くぎれ / くぎり / 句切・区切 gap, break
added to a poem to give a break to the meaning, contents or rhythm.
In haiku, we have
© More in the WIKIPEDIA !


I prefer the idea of toriawase as a combination, symbiosis, a pair that belongs together.
The combination (often referred to as juxtaposition in ELH), should not be too close and not too far removed - to find the proper balance shows a skillfull haiku.
With the CUT in haiku, you can stress the unity of the two parts.

You can have haiku with "one scene/theme/idea " and no cut marker.
(ichibutsu jitate, see below).
You can have a haiku with "two themes", "two parts" (the "juxtaposition") and one cut marker.
To complicate things, you can have
a haiku in the form of "one scene/theme " but with a cut marker.
Here you have a
"cut the Japanese poem and continue the theme".

And by using KANA at the end, it might look like one scene/theme, but in fact expresses a juxtaposition of the second scene/theme in the last line.
KANA could be expressed in other languages as an ellipsis . . . or other cut marker.

You have to be very clear about these differences when writing your own Japanese haiku and also when appreciating a Japanese haiku translation.

KANA should only be used together with "bungo" literal speach in Japanese, never with modern language, since it is a kireji with a long tradition, going back to the Heian period.


Translating "cutting words" , kireji 切字
is one of these things most difficult !
Since in the English language there are no cutting words, I prefere to call the effort of translators a "cut marker".

How to translate a break, a NOTHINGNESS, a space for taking a breath ?
But since cutting words are "visible" in Japanese, they should also be visible in some kind in translations and haiku written in other languages.

The kireji is of course the visible marker of a cut, it can not be implied by the "feeling of a cut at the end of a line".
It is not identical with the linebreak.
A feeling is not visible, a cut marker (kireji) is always is visible.
Imaginative, innovative and skilfull punctuation marks can be used in many languages to imitate the function of a cut marker and make a haiku more "colorful".

I will try to find some hints and help for you here.

Just as you take your knife and prepare a dead fish, to make a delicious sashimi out of it, you take your cutting word to bring more depth, beauty and meaning, even rhythm and melody, to your Japanese haiku. Thus your haiku gets some kind of combination, a subtle duett of 1 plus 2, (toriawase, nibutsu shoogeki), often called "juxtaposition". Usually one part is based on an actual experience you have had in a special moment and the second is an idea or thought inspired by this experience.

In the case of two ideas, scenes or themes, the MA 間, the "space", the different ideas and meaning between the two parts is important: it should not be too close and not too far-fetched either. This is a kind of trick with words not usually used in prosa writing.

On the other hand, it might be necessary to bind things gently together and not use a cut (haiku with one theme/scene/idea or a single object, ichibutsu jitate 一物仕立て), but here you have to be careful not to make it sound like just a prosa sentence.
A lot of free verse haiku (jiyuuritsu haiku 自由律俳句(じゆうりつはいく)are in this format.
You have to decide case by case which version works for the one scene/theme/part or two scenes/themes/parts you want to show in your haiku.

In Japanese, there is a fine difference, wheather you use the cutting word YA, or the grammatical postposition NO or NI ... at the end of line one, for example.
But as a guideline,
there is only ONE CUT Marker in ONE HAIKU.

Some poets, especially Hasegawa Kai from the Gendai Haiku group, explain that any haiku has already an invisible kire/cut at the beginning and the end, and the use of one of the above kireji gives an additional one, making it three cuts in one traditional haiku. The cut at the beginning and at the end lifts the ordinary prose sentence out of the normal and lifts it up to the realm of poetry. (This might correspond to writing English language haiku with small letters and no punctuation at the end.)
The purpose of the CUT within a haiku is not to abbreviate something or stress it overly, but just as its name says, cut the poem and let there be two themes.

The cut is not a substitute or abbreviation (省略) for things you wanted to say and had to leave out because of the shortness of haiku.
You have to decide what you really want to say, what is really important in your context, and say it all.

Gabi Greve

Some Japanese Reference /


A cut (kire) produced by a cutting word ( kireji)
splits a haiku in two parts. It can be at the end of any one of the three segments of a haiku. Some authors quote 18 possible kireji for Japanese haiku, but only the three most common "cutting words" are explained in more detail below.

The cut can indicate a juxtaposition of sorts or implicate some moment of emotion or attitude.
A cut expressed with a cutting word (kireji) is a verbal signal that one thought has ended and a second thought, idea, theme starts.

To render a cutting word or caesura or interjection in English or other non-Japanese languages, many devices are possible and should be used skilfully:
(I prefere to call them cut markers for ELH.)

the simple hyphen - or even double hyphen --
exclamation mark !, one or two question marks ??
three dots ... or double dot : or semicolon ;

semi-colon; between items in a series or between main causes, indicates that the two statements are independent
em dash — indicates that the last word before it will be explained or enlarged upon and that like commas, there should be another at the end of the explanation for the sentence to continue
colon : indicates that a list or several common images follows; also used between a title and sub-title, in haiku it can indicate a statement in the first line with the second line to be a metapher for the first
double colon :: gives an "unweighted pause", causes peace or tension, harmony or ambiguity.
(used by Grant Hacknett, Timothy Russell and others)
ellipsis . . . indicates an omission or is used to mark hesitation

. .  More in the WIKIPEDIA !

How to use the punctuation marks defined for writing prose, when it comes to haiku, is a matter of discussion for the specialists.

More can be found in
William Higginson : How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku
... on google books

Some translators prefer to ignore them altogether and render a Japanese haiku in one sentence or hope the reader will find a pause at the end of the appropriate line all by himself. This may be misleading and lead to a different understanding of the original meaning.

old pond ...
furui ike is certainly something different than furu ike YA.
And furui ike ni kawazu ga tobikomu ... melted down in haiku grammer to
furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu
who can understand that and see the importance of the YA?
This is a haiku with one theme, but a cut marker.
But most American haiku poets do not know enough Japanese to understand the difference ...

So as translator, you have to be true to the original to the best of what your target language supports. I think a visible cut marker is very important to show the possible nuances.
Rendering Basho in the often minimalistic style of "modern American haiku" seems misleading and quite problematic to me.

Japanese kireji like KERI can make up to two syllables in a Japanese haiku of 5-7-5.

Some non-Japanese writers put a "cut marker" at the beginning of a line, for example
-- spring sunshine
but there is no common Japanese equivalent to this usage, as far as I know.

Personally, with my traditional Japanese haiku background, I advise my haiku friends to use one "visible" cut marker in a haiku.
I advocate a simple hyphen at the end of a line, if the cut is not ment to be toooo strong, and an exclamation mark, if you really want to enforce the meaning of the line, example:

oh yee butterflies!
choochoo ya

Since my Japanese wordprocessor does not reproduce (encode) the symbols above the numbers well on other monitors and in most forums, I started to use <> instead of the simple hyphen, when I have no control over the outcome of my spelling. In my own BLOG, I use the hyphen -.

When reading a Japanese haiku aloud, you can read whilst breathing in until you reach the CUT, then read the rest while breathing out. That gives a natural rhythm and effortless flow. So haiku with the kireji YA at the end of line one read very easily and create drama, since you read ..... stop, what will be coming next? ... and then go on.

Try to laugh after you have breathed OUT. It does not flow naturally.
Tell a story to a certain point where everyone is breathing in ... make a pause ... and tell the end of the joke .... surely everyone will laugh and be relieved.

MA, the break, the correct timing, is very very very important in the Japanese language. And the CUT is one way to show this MA. MA is also the distance of meaning in a haiku where two different ideas are shown in one haiku. Make sure the juxtaposition is not too close and not too far-fetched, to keep the MA in the right proportions.

Kireji, the CUT in Japanese Haiku
Discussion at the Translating Haiku Forum


The eighteen most common cutting words
as listed in Japanese literature
according to Kyuusei (Gusai) 救済(きゅうせい), a renku master of old (1282―1376)in his book Renga Teniha Kuden 連歌手爾葉口伝.

particles, postpositions, case-markers
kana 哉, mogana, zo, yo, ya 也
ka (か) . This particle is also used in normal speech at the end of a sentence to make it into a question, much as a question mark ? in English.
They can be written in hiragana or with a Chinese character, giving a slightly different meaning.

auxiliary verbs
keri, n (ん), tsu, nu, zu, ji
example: aran
ramu or ran are also mentioned in some sources, indicating probability.
n is also used as mu(む).

adjective endings

order form of a verb
se, re, e (= he へ), ni

question markers
ni (ika ni いかに) (KA, see above, particles)

expressions of a strong feeling:
keri, nari, kana, kamo

YA, KANA and KERI will be explained in more detail below.

A Japanese expression with a "beat" of 5, like - A MA NO GA WA 天の川 -
often makes for an implied cut in segment/line 1 or 3.

Some sources state that all the 48 "letters (mora)" of the Japanese IROHA alphabet can be used as kireji.
Basho already said so when teaching his students (Kyoraisho 去来抄).
(Still looking for the Japanese for this.)

Sometimes Basho uses a cut marker to "stress and continue" the theme, not juxtapose two themes.
. Cut and cut markers used by Matsuo Basho .

“If a poet composes by combining separate things, he can compose many verses and compose them quickly. Beginning poets should know this. But when one becomes an accomplished poet, it is no longer a question of combining or not combining.”

- One sentence - one image/theme hokku -
. Kyorai and Basho .

IROHA and the Hepburn System of spelling Japanese

External LINK

kamiginu no nuru tomo oran ame no hana
芭蕉 Basho

koobai no koo no kayoeru miki naran
高浜虚子 Kyoshi

yoote nemu nadeshiko sakeru ishi no ue
yoote nen nadeshiko sakeru ishi no ue
芭蕉 Basho


Cutting words can be strong or weak; the order is:

The combination of two kireji is possible (although not very frequent), if the strong kireji comes first, for example

...YA ....... .. KERI.

ya and kana or
kana and keri are not usually used together.

furu yuki ya Meiji wa tooku nari ni keri

this falling snow!
Meiji is gliding
so far in the past

Nakamura Kusatao
Tr. Gabi Greve

(Oh, this snow has now fallen quite a bit! The author then is reminded of the Meiji period, which is coming to an end with the death of the Meiji Emperor.)
Meiji Period, 23 October 1868 to 30 July 1912.

Just one noun in one line can also be felt as having a cut at the end (taigen kire 体言切れ, taigen dome 体言止め).
This is a rather weak cuting effect.

KANA should only be used together with "bungo" literal speach in Japanese, never with modern language, since it is a kireji with a long tradition, going back to the Heian period.


To place a space between Chinese characters when writing Japanses is another experiment with a kind of CUT, called

wakachigaki わかちがき【分かち書き】

This is not encouraged by the Gendai Haiku Society of Japan and said to be a mistake (ayamari誤り).


1) Haiku /kana/ is from /ka/+/na/, both exclamatory particles appearing after the conclusive form. This /kana/ arose to replace /kamo/ during the Heian period when it became uncool to end sentences with /mo/.

2) Modern /kana/ is from /ka/ (interrogative particle) + /na/ (exclamatory). That's why you often see it written "ka na" -- it's so recent that it hasn't had time to become a single word, so to speak.

The essential difference is that modern /kana/ contains the interrogative meaning while haiku /kana/ doessn't. Also although kanji are really the last thing you should be using to judge Japanese etymology, haiku /kana/ is often written 哉 but modern /kana/ never is.
They really are different words, treated differently, with no direct line of descent.
source : Matt, www.languagehat.com


On YA and KANA, the "cutting particles" of haiku.
200 haiku of Basyoo in translation
Helen Shigeko Isaacson,
source : ia700309.us.archive.org - PDF file


quote from THF The Haiku Foundation, March 2010

Making the Break
BY Peter Yovu

on the wind somewhere a
child, crying

Martin Shea

Discussion of this and more English language haiku with a BREAK
THF : 10th Sailing

I think this shows the use of a break (line break) after line 1 in English language haiku being quite different from a CUT and CUT MARKER used in traditional Japanese haiku.


quote from THF The Haiku Foundation, June 2010

Placing kireji in hokku [haiku] is for those beginners who do not understand the nature of cutting and uncutting very well. . . . [However,] there are hokku which are well-cut without kireji. Because of their subtle qualities, [for beginners] more common theories have been founded, and taught.. . . Once, the master, Bashô, said, as an answer to the question of Jôsô [one of Bashô’s ten principal disciples. b.1662?–1704]:
“In waka, after 31- on, there is kire. In hokku, after 17-on, there is kire.” Jôsô was immediately enlightened. Then, another disciple asked [on the same topic], and the master, Bashô, answered, “When you use words as kireji, every word becomes kireji. When you do not use words as kireji, there are no words which are kireji.”

And the master said, “From this point, grasp the very depth of the nature of kireji on your own.” All that I have described here is what the master revealed, until the very threshold of its true secret [oral tradition], the thickness of one leaf of shoji-paper.”

Read more about this interesting discussion on the CUT

The Morning After: Haiku Faces a New Century
source : THF, by Richard Gilbert


Translating Haiku Forum, 2007
The word "kana" was used to terminate the hokku, the first verse of a renga.
There are some Japanese haiku teachers nearly as badly informed as most North American haiku poets.
They say that "kana" is an exclamation of joy.

Read the full explanation here :
Hugh Bygott

I think, KANA just stresses the basic emotion or mood of the haiku,
an emotion of any kind.
Just as with the neutral exclamation mark we can stress an emotion

this is sad, changes to ... how sad!

this is beautiful, changes to ... how beautiful !

how horrible !
how ugly !
how surprizing !

and so on ...

how manifold the meaning of KANA !

Gabi Greve


Suggestion by Chibi

I was wondering if a set of punctuation used in chess annotation could substitute? For example, "!?" or "?!" meaning, respectufully, "to besurprised then question" or "to question and then be surprised"...
this punction may be the equivalent to the hard to impossible to translate "keri" or "kana" used in Japanese HAIKU.


When NOT to use a cut ...
examples tr. Gabi Greve
click the haiku for further explanation.

autumn deepens
and I wonder,
how is my neighbour doing?

Matsuo Basho


a woman in june
sits on a worn-out
reed mat

Ishida Hakyoo


autumn deepens
aki fukashi versus aki fukaki


furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto

(when) the frog jumped in
(I heared) the sound of water ...
(that made me remember, I was sitting by)
the old pond

Cause and Effect, C&E 。。 and the CUTTING WORD


furuike ya, the OLD POND story

Now, let me tell a story about an old pond in my neighbourhood. To me, Basho Bananas, frogs are like cars in your modern time and ponds maybe like car parks ... they are everywhere, they are nothing special.

Kawazu, the frog word, in Japanese can be singular or plural, so my story goes two ways:

Once I sat there beside an irrigation pond close to the wet rice paddies and then suddenly all these frogs jumped in and made quite a noise. Really woke me up from my after-lunch slumber.

......... OR

Once I sat there in a quiet temple park besdide a beautiful pond with many decorative stones, contemplating quietude, when suddenly this one frog jumped in and made the whole garden reverberate with his splash!

furuike ya, so now I am going to tell you what I remembered about the old pond. YA, this is some kind of STOP for a moment, then I carry on with my story. I do not change the scene of this story, so the juxtaposition (ha, what a word) is not that, hmmm, juxta, is it.

Remember, when you read YA, you have a moment to change your breath from breathing in to breathing out, before you continue you read the next two lines.

Oh, I love to write about the little uneventful events in life, as I observe them. Brother Issa has been really good at it too.

For now, Good Bye, I will jump back in my time maschine, oh sorry, my old pond now.
mizu no oto, splash, PLOP!

Your old friend, Pine-Tail Bananas alias Matz Bee


carpark in winter -
she slams the door
with quite a bang


Some more pieces of Japanese advise



Thank you Gabi san for the Cut,

YA is difficult to explain for us Japanese.
Your sentence is very understandable.
The images in our brain are apt to keep thinking steadily about one thing, so it is necessary to cut the continual thinking.
It is similar to a cup of wine or sake that is drunk inbetween the dishes.
As you said, Issa had good technique of this point.

Nakamura Sakuo


some quotes


. . . . . . . . . . . . . kireji [cutting word]
In most schools of haiku, and for the opening verse (hokku) of a linked sequence, a compositional requirement. The cutting word is a structural device that increases the dynamic properties of the verse enabling a higher degree of emphasis, juxtaposition or suggestion.

It may also be used as a punctuation device to interrupt the normal cadence (shichigochou) of the verse. Identified in part by convention, the function of the kireji is difficult to reproduce directly in English.
It may be observed that the practice of using a colon, tilde or other punctuation mark as a cutting device in the English language haiku equates only to the Japanese usage of ya.
Cf. ka, kana, -keri, -ramu, -ran, -shi, -tsu, ya

A Haikai Glossary


The Third Neo-classical Haiku Commandment: Kireji

Effective use of English equivalent of kireji is recommended, but not obligatory, as and when necessary.

Cutting words are certain particles of old Japanese and it is almost impossible to find the English equivalent for the same effect, except for effective use of such things as colons, semi-colons and caesuras.

[Additional Explanation]

The English equivalent of kireji includes punctuation, line break, spacingas well as natural pauses or other caesurae. However, the primary aim of kireji is either simply not known, understood or forgotten: to make a hokku (the first stanza of haikai-no-renga) stand alone in its own right as by definition it has no preceding stanza ('mae-ku') to link itself with. This is presumably because of the unfortunate term itself, especially its translation, 'cutting' words.

We must ask ourselves, 'Cut what from what?' It is my theory that originally it could have meant to cut the hokku itself from the rest, namely, kireji meant those words which were believed to help cut (separate) a hokku from the rest of the stanzas in haikai-no-renga, i.e. to help it to stand alone.

Further enquiry is necessary:
5-7-5 of hokku was of course MERELY one part of the waka form (5-7-5-7-7), which begat renga, which begat haikai-no-renga, which begat hokku, which finally begat haiku as we know it. Take any waka and remove the first 5-7-5 (or kami-no-ku, upper stanza), you have something which in most cases cannot stand alone because it is only a part of the whole, i.e. 'does not cut'.

Give it kireji and, hey presto, it is standing alone in its own right, i.e. a fully-fledged, proper and respectable form of poetry. This presumably became more and more important as hokku began to be written and enjoyed independently of the rest of the haikai-no-renga.

All this is less conspicuous in English haiku partly because it is an adaptation of already well-established independent Japanese haiku and partly because such a lack of independence or incompleteness simply does not show up clearly in the English language. Also, English tends to make its user write things in a complete way even when some grammar or parts of speech may be missing as is often the case in the English haiku writing.

One could say that English itself is kireji! In short, kireji is not really needed for English haiku on this particular point.

It could therefore be argued that such things as punctuation which are always brought up in association with kireji can be a different matter altogether with different purposes (such as emphasis, exclamation, separation/relation/definition of phrases or clauses, poetic effects etc.) However, since these functions are normally associated with kireji both in Japan and the rest of the world, they are also included in WHChnc's kireji capabilities. If they can sometimes enhance and refine English haiku, there is no reason why it should be abolished.

Excessive, unnecessary or automatic (uncritical) use of kireji or for the sake of doing it, however, must be avoided.

Susumu Takiguchi,
WHC, World Haiku Review, 2004


Michael Dylan Welch tells us:

A haiku also centers structurally on a pause or caesura ("kire" in Japanese). By juxtaposing two elements or parts (with one of the elements spanning over two of the poem's three lines), the two parts create a spark of energy, like the gap in a spark plug. The two elements of a good haiku may seem unrelated at first glance, but if the reader lingers on them sufficiently, he or she may notice a reverberation.

When you realize the connection between the two parts (sometimes called an "internal comparison"), you have a "spark" of realization, an "aha" moment. As a writer of haiku, it's your job to allow the poem to have that spark--and not to spell it out for the reader. This is perhaps the most difficult thing to do with haiku, as well as its most important -- yet often least understood -- structural characteristic.

Read a lot more good advise for a haiku beginner here !
© M.D. Welch, Haikuworld.org


Master Basho said,

The hokku has changed repeatedly since the distant past, but there have been only three changes in the nature of the haikai link. In the distant past, poets valued word links (kotoba-zuke). In the more recent past, poets have stressed content links (kokoro-zuke). Today, it is best to link by transference (usuri), reverberation (hibiki), scent (nioi), or status (kurai).

Unlike, earlier renga and haikai handbooks, which address the question of which particular words or syllables can be used as cutting words, Basho discusses kireji in terms of function and effect. In Kyoyaisho, Basho noted:

First, the cutting word is inserted in order to cut the verse. If the verse is already cut, it is not necessary to employ a word to cut it. For those poets who cannot distinguish between a cut and non-cut poem, earlier poets established cutting words. If one uses one of these words in a hokku, seven or eight times out of ten the hokku will be cut. The remaining two or three, however, the hokku will not be cut even though it includes a cutting word. On the other hand, there are hokku that they are cut even though they include no cutting words (NKBZ 51:478-79)

For Basho, it was the cutting effect rather than the cutting word itself that ultimately mattered. A hokku could be cut without a kireji, and the use of a cutting word did not necessarily ensure that a hokku had been cut.

Matsuo Basho and the Poetics of Scent
Tr. Shirane Haruo


Haruo Shirane

Chapter 4, "The Art of Juxtaposition: Cutting and Joining"
in his book about the poetry of Basho, "Traces of Dreams?"

The cutting word ('kireji'), a requirement of the hokku, often gave the hokku the dynamic of two linked verses within the confines of a seventeen-syllable hokku. As Basho observed in 'Sanzooshi': "A verse without a cutting word does not have the form of a hokku, or opening
verse. Instead, it takes the shape of an added verse. Even if a cutting word is added to the hokku, it may still take the form of an added verse. These are verses that have not been truly cut."


[Shirane continues
"the cutting word had the paradoxical function of both cutting and joining..."]

furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto
old-pond : frog jumps-in water 's sound

an old pond ...
a frog jumps in,
the sound of water

In the famous frog poem, the cutting word 'ya' similarly establishes an implicit contrast between the old pond, with its connotations of winter hibernation and stillness, versus the "frog," a seasonal word for spring, which implies a warm, slow-moving spring day marked by the sound of new life. The hokku is simultaneously a narrative, temporal sequence--in which the frog leaps into an old pond followed by the sound of water--and a contrastive montage.


...Basho discusses 'kireji' in terms of function and effect.
In 'Kyoraisho', Basho noted:

"First, the cutting word is inserted in order to cut the verse. If the verse is already cut, it is not necessary to employ a word to cut it. For those poets who cannot distinguish between a cut and not-cut poem, earlier poets established cutting words. If one uses one of these words in a hokku, seven or eight times out of ten the hokku will be cut.

The remaining two or three times, however, the hokku will not be cut even though it includes a cutting word. On the other hand, there are hokku that are cut even though they include no cutting words."

For Basho, it was the cutting effect rather than the cutting word itself that ultimately mattered.

[Shirane then gives two examples of haiku by Basho which are 'cut' without the use of a cutting word]

nomi shirami uma no shitosuru makura moto
fleas lice horse 's pass-water pillow side

fleas, lice
a horse passing water
by my pillow

karazake mo Kuuya no yase mo kan no uchi
dried-salmon also Kuuya 's leanness also cold-season 's during

dried salmon
the leanness of a Kuuya pilgrim
in the cold season

Compiled by Larry Bole

. . . . . Is KANA a waste of two mora ?
The discussion goes on HERE !


Juxtaposition and Kireji
All Japanese haiku are written in one line, while in Western languages most are written in three lines. Nevertheless, pretty much all successful haiku have two parts, and the two parts usually convey two images. The exceptions are sometimes called "single image haiku."

As Alan Summers writes, haiku need "a break, a pause, a gap where sparks fly," to make them memorable.

In his article, "Meaning in Haiku," Charles Trumbull points out that while juxtaposition of images, emotions, and ideas is important for all poetry, the "internal comparison" of images is "the act that makes a haiku a haiku."

The one-line Japanese haiku uses a sort of verbal punctuation called a kireji, or "cutting word," to underline this gap between two images. Some kireji express a question mark, others indicate wonder—like "ah" or even "wow"—while others are completely untranslatable.
Basho's famous frog haiku clearly sets two images side-by-side.

old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

~ trans. William J. Higginson

The ellipsis here represents the kireji, which is "ya," an untranslatable divider inviting the reader to perceive the relationship between the two parts of the haiku (Makoto Ueda, Modern Japanese Haiku, qtd. in Wikipedia "Kireji").

source : free-file-opener.com - krisi


Michael Baribeau

I understood it that the kireji/cut in haiku came from the link nature of renga verses. That the call and responce in 2 renga hiraku verses being consolidated into the one starting hokku verse (the progenitor of the haiku) was separated by a kireji placed between the 12-5 onji/sylables for the rhythmic and gramatic purposes in the Japanese.

Now taken out of context of a renga and without the rhythmic impact and significance when done in the Japanese it's just a translation holdover like the 5-7-5 syllable count used to be.

Kireji isn't a necessity for the Western haiku juxtapostion / connotation, just another useful technique.


Juxtaposition of entities in haiku cannot be simply the throwing together of just anything; the poet must have the intuition that certain things, albeit of “opposite” characteristics, nonetheless have a resonance with each other that will evoke a revelation when they are juxtaposed in accordance with the time-tested canons and aesthetics of haiku.

In haiku the juxtaposition or 'confrontation' of entities produces a tension charged with energy that generates an insight, intuition or felt-depth of an aspect of reality; it is a movement, a birth, that leads to a new level of awareness.

Robert Spiess Memorial, 2006


How to translate the CUT MARKER

Hokku: Writing Traditional Haiku in English
by David Coomler
Reviewed by William J. Higginson

kuwa tatete atari hito naki atsusa kana

There is no punctuation in the original Japanese.

... the decision to use a dash here or not is an English-language decision, made by a translator.
Coomler says “yes”; Higginson says “no.”
No Japanese haiku poet has anything to do with it.

David Coomler,
hokku.wordpress 2008


"Haiku is grasped with all five senses, not by logic ... in order to jump over the gap between logic and the senses, unique Japanese rhetorical techniques such as kireji and kigo ('season word') were invented."

(The Matsuyama Declaration, 2000.)


The Haiku Handbook (William J.Higginson) pp. 102, 291-292 によると,Higginsonの

"The kireji (cutting word) usually divides the stanza into two rhythmical parts, one of twelve onji and the other five. The kireji is a special grammar word or verb ending that indicates the completion of a phraze or clause. In effect, the kireji is a sort of sounded, rather than merely written, punctuatuion. It indicates a pause, both rhythmically and grammatically. Some kireji also lend a particular emotional flavor to the five- or twelve-onji phrase that they end."

"In hokku and haiku, a word or suffix that indicates a pause and usually comes at one of the formal divisions or at the end. .... some common kireji

kana--emphasis; usally at the end of a poem, indicates an author's wonder at the object, scene, or event

keri--verb suffix, (past) perfect tense, exclamatory,

ya--emphasis; has a grammatical effect of semi-colon, separating two independent clauses; gives a sense of suspension, like an ellipsis


A Haiku Journey Narrow Road to a Far Province (Matsuo Basho) tr. by
Dorothy Britton(pp.16-17)の中からBritton の「切れ」についての記述を引用すると,

The starting triplet, hokku, had a special importance ......... There were two principal requirements: the hokku had to contain a seasonal word and a kireji, or exclamatory "cutting word," such as ya(!) or kana(how ...! what...!).

...these short verses are thought-provokers. The haiku poet rarely describes his own feeling, but lets the juxtaposition of his images make us feel his emotions instead......So much is left unsaid that its three brief lines need more than a casual reading. one should try to immerse oneself in the poem and let the images propel one's thoughts to deeper meanings.

(「切字」は作者の「感動」を表すもので,文字で表現されていない部分や「並列」 = 「取り合わせ」"juxtaposition" によって読者の想像を喚起させるもの)

Read an interesting article on translating the CUT !
"cutting or cut-off"(kire) of Haiku in English


We often hear that juxtaposition is a key to successful haiku. The contrast of two themes in haiku is most often instrumental in creating resonance.

Read the full essay here :

Thoughts on Juxtaposition
Carmen Sterba, Simply Haiku, Autumn 2007


from the tip
of the nightingale's beak
the tide rushes out

uguisu no hashi no saki yori shioi kana

by Issa, 1810

Shinji Ogawa translates the first two phrases: "as the tip of the nightingale's beak/ guides..." The bird's beak points the way for the receding tide. In one of his most creative juxtapositions of the small and vast, Issa suggests that the great ocean is taking directions from a little nightingale.

David Lanoue


How to use kireji in Japanese haiku

Since kireji are not usually used in non-Japanese-language haiku (what a definition!), I will give you a short review of my memo about them.

As a beginner, use only one kireji in one haiku.
Leave the exceptions of the rule to the masters.
(This is sound advise from many Japanese Haiku Masters.)

Kireji usually serve the three purposes of :
emphasis, cut or jump.

YA や
Usually at the end of the first line. Feels like an exclamation mark:
Butterflies! separating strongly from the next two lines, like stopping your breath for a moment, then say the next two lines about a different topic.

It can also be used at the end of line one to insert a short break in a haiku that has only one theme (ichibutsu jitate).

Very seldom it can be used in the middle line. In that case the topic is usually the same without a juxtaposition, so it does not CUT the meaning, but connects it strongly.

YA can express "an image of the heart", something that is remembered by the events stated in the following two lines. The order of cause and effect is thereby reversed (for example in the two famous haiku of SHIZUKESA YA and FURU IKE YA by Basho).
You have to start reading line one again after line three to get to the effect that was caused by it.
See my special entry of "Cause and Effect".

kiri saku ya..... will separate from the following lines

kiri saite .. the meaning about paulownina will go on in the following line.

<> My pattern (maru is the prototype of a word)

marumaru ya
maru maru maru no
maru no maru

KANA  かな 哉
Usually only at the end of the last line. Feels like a sigh, Oh, yee butterflies! or a surprize at whan one observed and carries it a bit out of the ordinary.
It does not cut the meaning as strong as the YA, rather connects the first to lines with the last one.
Translating it with an exclamation mark at the end of line three can indicate an exclamation of joy, sadness, surprize, wonder, horror ... any kind of human emotion.

Haruo Shirane ("Traces of Dreams") wrote:
"The Cutting word at the end of the hokku, such as the familiar emphatic "kana", brings the reader back to the beginning, initiating a circular pattern".

marumaru no
maru no maru maru
marumi kana

Usually at the end of the last line, but sometimes in the middle line. Cuts the meaning stronger than KANA.

Used in reference of something in the past, something unexpected or very sudden. Only in connection with a verb.
But it is more than ... datta.
It means "suddenly I realize that ... has happened". This part of the juxtaposition is therefore a thing of the past, an effect still in my heart and mind, but not in reality any more, since now, I am aware of something else .. the other part of the juxtaposition.

Using KERI (or YA), the part with the kireji states the effect still in your heart, the other part of the juxtaposition states the reality NOW that made you realize this, the cause.

narinu 鳴りぬ ... it has rung (a simple statement, often with a past-tense meaning)
nari ni keri 鳴りにけり ... oh, I am now aware that it was ringing! (I suddenly become aware of its existence = effect)

marumaru no
maru no maru maru
nari ni keri


cause and effect with CUT:
....................................................................... Example

aki tatsu ya kawase ni majiru kaze no oto

飯田 蛇笏 Iida Dakotsu

(I am reminded in my heart that) autumn has started ! (effect)
(NOW I hear) the shallow river (sound) mingles
with the sound of wind

Explanatory Tr. Gabi Greve, see more below !


the adjective ending of SHI ...
This is a weaker form of a CUT, but it should not used in connection with any other of the cutting words mentioned above.


My rule of thumb:

If you have a Japanese word with four beats, use <> marumaru ya <> in the first line

If you have a Japanese word with three beats, use <> marumi kana <> in the last line.

About Puncuation in Haiku.

Gabi Greve about Translating Haiku

Things found on the way

yuki no yo mo
suwari tsuzuku ya

Read about the use of YA in this haiku.


From 5-7-5 to 8-8-8
Haiku Metrics and Issues of Emulation --
New Paradigms for Japanese and English Haiku Form


Over the half-century in which the literary tradition of Japanese haiku has migrated, transformed and burgeoned as an English-language literary form, it is surprising to find that only a handful of primers have been published explicating haiku compositional style in any detail.
................................................ Read
The Disjunctive Dragonfly: by Richard Gilbert

Juxtaposition . Ferris Gilli
Quote from WHR 2000: Hibiscus Petals



「切れ」は言葉を生かす KIRE brings life to the words

“切れ”はリズムを生む KIRE brings rythm to the haiku

Because of the KIRE cut marker, a space between the words (MA) is born and the world of the heart and mind unfolds there

Through the use of KIRE a simple explanatory phrase transforms into a haiku with a special artful touch, making it a poem.

Hasegawa Kai 長谷川櫂 (はせがわ かい)

According to Hasegawa Kai , the segment with the CUT is something still lingering in the heart and mind of the poet, whereas the other part of the juxtaposition that makes him remember this is happening NOW.

shizukesa ya iwa ni shimi-iru semi no koe

paraphrasing the famous ku of Basho like this

(there was) silence! (The silence that was!)
(now I hear) the shrill of cicadas
seeping into rocks

Because of the shrill of cicadas now (reason, cause) I am reminded of the silence (result, effect) before that,
in a good haiku, say what is still remaining in your heart first (with a CUT word). Meaning, the result is stated first, then the reason for what triggered this now.

o o o o o

MA 間 has lately been re-evaluated as an important part to haiku, sometimes interpreted as "dreaming room".
simply haiku

shichii go choo and Kabuki 七五調
The seven five rhythm and Kabuki
. "There is nothing like a ma!" .
by Ronald Cavaye

"Ma is a silent fullness. It is a sort of untouched moment or space which can be completed by every individual observer differently, a moment or space in which one’s fantasy can move freely. In this way the artist gets the observers actively involved in his work.”
Transforming Traditions: Japanese Design and Philosophy
Lizzy Van Lysebeth

Drawing on my fine command of the language,
I said nothing.

Robert Benchley


shimo-bashira haiku wa kire-ji hibiki keri

columns of frost--
how the cutting words of haiku

Ishida Hakyo

© Tr. Tsukushi Bansei / Shiki Workshop


Metaphors and simile
and Susumu Takiguchi on toriawase ...

Haiku Theory Archives, Gabi Greve



Gabi Greve said...

Punctuation and the CUT in English Language Haiku

More of my Haiku Theory on this subject.

Anonymous said...

A very clear lesson, this one is, Gabi.
Thank you!

From WHCworkshop , Message #56837

Gabi Greve said...


Read about the CUT by Imaoka Keiko


Anonymous said...

The Nuances of Nothing in Haiku
By Dan Brady Copyright 1997

This was written upon invitation by a member of the Haiku Society of Northern California. I was asked to speculate upon the meaning or effect that spacing and line breaks have upon the interpretation of a Haiku.

This is a brief exploration of an aspect of writing that pertains only to poetry. This is the idea or matter of lines, line breaks, and haiku presentation on the page.

One idea that I wanted to share is the organic nature of the arrangement of poetic lines. By this I mean how well they reflect the voice of the poet reading them. Different people will read even the most common of sentences differently and if it is a moderately long sentence, they will pause in different places, between different words.

This aspect of writing I call the organic aspect. I often use commas, extended spaces and line breaks to accurately reflect the pauses in the voice between sets of words, i.e. the mouthful, or between difficult syllabic combinations, or to allow for personal inflections or style.

For my writing I have striven to write using breaks in such a way so as a reader, reading the poem, would, if they followed the words and spaces carefully, imitate the rhythms, tempo, and emphasis I would place on each word or phrase as I would read the poem aloud myself. In theory then, a reader could capture these subtle nuances that I'd place upon the words and the meaning of the Haiku by reading the piece with sensitive attentions to my shifting of emphasis through spacing, subordination, or the stretching of lines with additional space between its words or phrases.

Another idea is that the spaces and line breaks or punctuation even are used to emphasize, relate, or distance items or symbols in a poem. All to enhance the meanings of words, phrases, or images.

For why else would one consider the effects of these quite vital aspects of a written poem. Particularly when the poem, such as Haiku, is quite brief, and the number of spaces between words and lines make up half of the body of the work, or more in some cases. It is interesting to think that half of what we do is nothing, nothing at all. And yet we work so hard at it, amazing!

There is also the notion that the grouping or separating of words, phrases, images or symbols can effect nuances on the meaning of the poem by creating or avoiding juxtapositions between lines or causing to effect the emphasis given by how they are placed on the page, arranged with respect to one another.

A certain effect is gained by having the lines flush left for instance, as if to say, one might conjecture, that all the lines are equal and all are to be read therefore with proximate emphasis. Subordinating lines, indenting each successive line to the right indicates a relationship between the lines, perhaps subordinate, sequential, or the like.

Centering the lines along a single axis point seems to abstract the importance of each line relative to the other and in this way create a visual effect that has more emphasis for the visual reader than for one who reads it aloud. All of these can be considerations.

In sum, the fact that spacing, line breaks, and punctuation can clearly effect meaning leads one to realize the uses that these may be put to, and, in this consciousness become as much a part of the poem as any other element.

I just thought that I would share this and hope that it proves somewhat enlightening. Thanks for the invitation of send this.


Gabi Greve said...

Thou shalt not obsess over kireji and Zen
Susumu Takiguchi


Gabi Greve said...

take a pause
use a kireji
write a slow haiku

Here is WHY :

The Sad Fate of the Comma


Anonymous said...


by Donna Ferrell

Punctuation-- No Punctuation

The use of punctuation in haiku is controversial and theories regarding its use have evolved over the years. The major translators of Japanese haiku into English, Harold G. Henderson and R.H.Blyth, used punctuation in their translations.

A survey of early 20th century American writers who dabbled in what was called hokku at the time also used punctuation. But if one looks today at haiku, one finds the vast majority of the verse contains minimal to no punctuation.

When did this change occur and what were some of the influences?

Some critics consider Ezra Pound's "Metro" poem written in 1911 to be the first American attempt of a poem similar to haiku.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Ezra Pound (terebess.hu)

Pound used the colon to show juxtaposition [he called it super-positioning] of 2 unlike images in these 2 lines in addition to the final period. Following Pound's lead, Imagist Amy Lowell attempted hokku.

Last night it rained.
Now, in the desolate dawn,
Crying of blue jays.

Amy Lowell
(Complete Works of Amy Lowell 442)

Even modern poet e.e. cummings, who was associated with the Imagists in his early career but is known for experimental free verse, tried his hand at punctuated hokku.

For him the night calls,
Out of the dawn and sunset
Who has made poems.

e.e.cummings (Complete Poems 1904-1962, 875)

In his "Introduction" to the 1st edition of The Haiku Anthology, Cor van den Heuval suggested:
"The Imagists, and those who followed them, had no real understanding of haiku. Because they had no adequate translations or critical analyses available, they failed to see the spiritual depth haiku embodies or the unity of man and nature it reveals" (van den Heuval 24).

The translations and analyses needed would come with the publication of Blyth's Haiku in 1949 and Henderson's works, The Bamboo Broom and An Introduction to Haiku, published in 1934 and 1958.

In 1949 R.H. Blyth started publishing his 4 volume set of Haiku. Blyth, who focused on haiku as a way of life rather than an artistic endeavor, used punctuation in his translation.

However, he did not specifically state how to use punctuation in writing haiku since his interest was translation. Looking at Blyth's translations, one can see his use of punctuation.

The stars on the pond:
Again the winter shower
Ruffles the water.

Sora (trans. Blyth, Haiku 1178)

An umbrella--one alone--
Passes by:
An evening of snow.

Yaha (trans. Blyth, Haiku 1204)

Besides the capitalization, Blyth had a tendency to use a colon, semi-colon or comma with a phrase to separate the 2 parts of haiku--the setting from the rest of the verse. He used a period or other end punctuation.

Using Blyth's work in Haiku as a model, American writer Richard Wright worked independently during 1958-1960 at his home in France writing haiku.

A summer barnyard:
Swishing tails of twenty cows
Twitching at the flies.

Richard Wright (This Other World 5)

Wright also used punctuation in similar ways to Blyth.

James Hackett during the 1960's followed Blyth's lead in his haiku which spiritually, and for the most part, structurally resembled the translations of his mentor.

Waking...amid grasses
And wild flowers bright with dew:
Cold mountain sunrise.

James Hackett (gofree.indigo.ie)

The Beat poets read Blyth and were attracted to the Zen in his translations. Although Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder all wrote haiku, their punctuation practices ranged from no punctuation to fully punctuated verse. Kerouac's haiku collected in the Book of Haikus show the variety of punctuation he used.

Part of this inconsistency may be as editor Regina Weinreich states in her introduction:
"While Kerouac was well-versed in the haiku of his time... he also felt free, exercising a kind of poetic license in their experimental use"
(Book of Haikus xxvii).

Dawn, a falling star
--A dewdrop lands
On my head!

Jack Kerouac (Book of Haikus 18)

In the sun
the butterfly wings
Like a church window

Jack Kerouac (Book of Haikus 62)

It is clear that the Beats were being influenced structurally by free verse although they were pulled by the spirituality in Blyth's work.

In 1934 Harold G. Henderson published his first translations in a small volume called The Bamboo Broom. In 1958 Henderson expanded the number of his translations into An Introduction to Haiku. Henderson used punctuation in addition to frequently using rhyme.

Though it be broken--
broken again--still it's there:
the moon on the water.

Choshu (trans. Henderson, An Introduction to Haiku 174)

No sky at all;
no earth at all--and still
the snowflakes fall...

Hashin (trans. Henderson, An Introduction to Haiku 174)

In his 1965 book Haiku in English Henderson suggested:
"Another question of form in which haiku written in English cannot possibly follow their classical Japanese prototype is in the use of conventional kireji (cutting words) such as ya and kana. These are primarily verbal punctuation marks for which we have no exact equivalent.
Ya is often very much like a colon (:), but not always;
kana, which is usually used to end a haiku, is often very much like a row of dots (...), but not always. Neither do we have the Japanese 'sentence-cutting' forms, but of course a period can always be used if desired...."

After the explanation Henderson continued: "A few poets prefer to write without any punctuation marks whatever, with pauses indicated only by the ending of lines; others feel this is an unbearable restriction. The question of who is right (possibly both are) will have to be decided by the poets themselves.

It does seem, however, that the resources of the English language should be thoroughly investigated and used wherever appropriate" (Henderson, Haiku in English, 33).

Although much haiku was being written and magazines were starting in the 1960's. "...the formation of the Haiku Society of America in the winter of 1968-1969...must stand as the crucial event of the period...." (A Haiku Path 13). Elizabeth Searle Lamb suggested in A Haiku Path that the HSA, co-founded by Henderson, became "...something of a clearing house for haiku information...." One of the questions tackled by the leaders of the HSA was punctuation in haiku (A Haiku Path 14).

Henderson's words about letting the poets decide themselves foreshadowed a movement to rid haiku of most punctuation. In a discussion of punctuation among members of HSA, a small group looked at L.A. Davison's haiku originally published in Haiku Magazine, 5:3

stars beyond

L.A. Davison

Virginia Brady Young suggested,
"...there are some haiku poets who don't use any punctuation because there's a sort of something going on before the poem began and there's something going on after it ends"
(A Haiku Path 100). This idea of organic aesthetics or fitting form to function was a corollary of 20th century free verse and artistic thinking and was eagerly accepted by many leaders of HSA. It clearly became widely used by the contemporary haiku community with one result being the writers' elimination of most punctuation and editorial policies by many magazines that favored minimal to no punctuation.

In contrast, in the past several years a group lead by David Coomler has started producing hokku (reverting back to the original term) which stresses the use of punctuation in its structure and a return to the content and practice of traditional haiku. Basically this form uses punctuation in a manner similar to Blyth with capitalization and punctuation using semi-colons or dashes to separate the 2 parts of hokku when present.

The philosophy of this group incorporates the idea of content as spiritual practice and suggests fitting the writing of the experience as much as possible to pre-established structure.

No moon;
Everywhere in the orchard--
Deer eyes.

David Coomler (Coomler 134)

So where does the current haiku practice of no or minimal punctuation really come from? It would appear that 20th century free verse has had a great effect on the structure of contemporary haiku. Although some writers were already turning away from punctuation before the inception of HSA, after its founding most haiku writers turned away from the models of both Blyth and Henderson to incorporate a theory that in placing function over form puts each writer as the arbiter of mechanics, structure and content of the verse.

Lamb, recalling a meeting in 1969 of the HSA, said, "Mr. [William] Higginson presented his belief that, just as the Japanese haiku grew out of a subtle religious tradition, so haiku in English should grow out of a definite aesthetic stance"
(A Haiku Path 27).

The split between traditional haiku and contemporary haiku was made obvious by the 1969 publication of Cor van den Heuval's The Haiku Anthology which Lamb suggested "marked a kind of coming of age for the genre in the Western World and the start of a new era" (A Haiku Path 16).

However, a small group practicing hokku have chosen to return to the structural mechanics used by the original translators of Japanese haiku into English. This group, as a result of differences in content, structure and practice, considers itself as working on a different form than the path contemporary haiku has taken.

Works Cited

Blyth, R.H. Haiku, Vol.4, Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1982.

Coomler, David. Hokku--Writing Traditional Haiku in English, Springfield, Illinois: Templegate Press, 2001.

Cummings, E.E. Complete Poems 1904-1962, N.Y.: Liveright, 1991.

Hackett, James. "The Zen Haiku of J.W. Hackett," URL: (gofree.indigo.ie/~gfabre/Bi/Hackett.htm) Feb.7,2004.

The Haiku Anthology, van den Heuval, Cor (ed.), N.Y.: Simon & Shuster, 1986.

A Haiku Path, New York: Haiku Society of America, 1994.

Henderson, Harold G. An Introduction to Haiku, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1958.

Henderson, Harold G. Haiku in English, Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1967.

Kerouac, Jack. Book of Haikus, Weinreich, Regina (ed.), N.Y.: Penguin, 2003.

Lowell, Amy. The Complete Poems of Amy Lowell, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1955.

Pound, Ezra. "In a Station of the Metro," URL: (http://terebess.hu/english/haiku/pound.html) Feb. 7, 2004.

Wright, Richard. This Other World, N.Y.: Random House, 2000.

Donna Ferrell--2004

Anonymous said...

It is kire which most strongly separates haiku from epithet, and this key semantic feature is applied via a variety of linguistic techniques (cf. Gilbert, 2004b). We recognise haiku as necessitating extreme concision, minimalism, and attributes of ‘image’— but without kire, we do not have haiku. Kire can be taken as ‘cuttings’ or ‘irruptions’, or strong, abrupt ‘distortions’ of space/time/worlds in reader consciousness.


That is, haiku act as a finger or peninsula of language, jutting out into languageless potentialities in which something inexplicable to cognitive science (indefinite, non‑definable) is occurring. One may say that the haiku text points beyond itself.

© Richard Gilbert, Simply Haiku 2008

Anonymous said...

What you juxtapose in verse is important and so is in haiga.
Not to close and not too far is the key.

Kuniharu Shimizu

Anonymous said...

...as a general rule of thumb, when kana is found at the end of the
final line, the internal break in English is to be placed just before
the noun preceding kana.

David Coomler

Anonymous said...

here are some views on 'kana' by
a few English-language writers about haiku:

Robin D. Gill (from "Cherry Blossom Epiphany"):

'KANA' almost always comes at the end of a ku and means
"oh" "ah" "alas" "!" "the~" "how~" "what~!" "'tis" "that's"

'YA' is written with the same character as 'KANA', and is more or
less the same word; but, because it usually comes in mid-poem, it is
more likely to mean ":" or "-."
Confusing as it might sound, it can simultaneously mean the same
as 'kana'.
So, we have an emphatic that can both break 'and/or' link a sentence.
Or, like 'kana', it can always mean nothing in particular...

[Gill then goes on to explain the origin of the use of 'kana', which
he explains was originally used to keep one 'ku' separate from the
next 'ku' in a chain of linked-verse.

He also suggests that pre-modern poets would sometimes use 'kana' as
a way to fill out the last five Japanese syllables of a haiku when
the subject that usually precedes 'kana' was only three Japanese
syllables long, or for the purpose of alliteration.]

Harold G Henderson (from "An Introduction to Haiku"):

KANA A 'kireji' usually used at the end of a haiku. It has an effect
somewhat like that of an exclamation mark or a preceding "Ah!"
or "Oh!" As normal Japanese sentences end with a verb, 'kana' may be
considered as in a sense substituting for it, and s also have some of
the effect of a series of dots.

Henderson (from "Haiku in English"):

...'kana', which is usually used to end a haiku, is often very much
like a row of dots (...), but not always.

Joan Giroux (from "The Haiku Form"):

'Kana' is usually employed to mark the end of a haiku; in
addition, "it has an indefinable emotional effect, sometimes like
that of a soft sigh" [quoting Henderson] or an "Ah!" or "Oh!" giving
emphasis to the word preceding it...

...it would seem that English punctuation, with its fine nuances,
would adequately substitute for 'kireji'. An examination of the
shades of meaning indicated by the semicolon, the colon, the linking
dash, the exclamation mark and suspension points reveals their value
in haiku. Harold Whitehall clarifies the meaning of the various

"The semicolon (;0, colon (:), and dash (--) are symbolic
conjunctions capable of linking subject-predicate constructions
without need of conjunctions proper. They differ chiefly in the way
they direct emphasis. Semicolons distribute it mroe or less equally
between preceding and following statements. ...The colon is used when
emphasis is to be thrown forward upon the word-group or word that
follows it. ...The dash is...to be used when the word-group or word
following it is considered to be subsidiary to, a reinforcement or
example of, or an unexpected addition to what precedes it. It
directs the reader's attention backeward."

[Giroux goes on]

The semicolon, colon and dash are no doubt the three most useful
linking symbols for haiku. Of the separating punctuation mark, the
period, indicating a full stop, "separates sentences only. The
exclamation mark (!) and the question mark (?), normally used to
separate special types of sentences are also used occasionally to
separate parts of sentences" [again quoting Whitehall]. However, the
comma separates parts of sentences only. The question mark and the
exclamation point have some emotional impact, in that the question
mark reverberates by calling for an answer, and the exclamation point
is used "when an utterance is surcharged with emotion" [quoting
Whitehall]. These two in particular are meaningful in haiku when
judiciously used. In addition, suspension points (triple periods or
dots) which indicate a more or less extensive omission "are often
used to indicate omissions deliberately left to the reader's
imagination" [quoting Whitehall]. Since this challenge of the
reader's imagination is, as has been noted, a characteristic of
haiku, suspension points should find a place in the English forms. It
must be remembered, however, that, as restraint is a keynote of
haiku, all punctuation, like 'kireji', is more meaningful if used


'Kana' is so common as to be sometimes almost meaningless, but
usually it has a very similar effect to the 'kana' and 'kamo'
of 'waka', that of an exclamation of an emotion that the verse
implies. It also makes the word mentioned before it the centre of
poetic interest and energy.

Harold J. Isaacson:

..."kana" comes only at the end of the third line. "Kana" and "keri"
have this differentiation, that "kana" is put after a noun and "keri"
is put after a verb.
. . .
..."kana" has a soft force, diffusing and thus pervading. ..."kana"
although diffusive, draws things together to the spatial unit of a

Haruo Shirane:

...the familiar emphatic 'kana'...brings the reader back to the
beginning [of the hokku], initiating a circular pattern.*

*A large number of hokku, including those by Basho, end with
either 'keri', an exclamatory auxiliary verb, or the exclamation
paricle 'kana', both of which initiate this circular pattern.

And of course there are many discussions of 'kana' online.

Translating Haiku Forum

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with a cut marker?
. . . . . answer
Absolutely nothing in itself, but the trend in English-language haiku has been toward minimalism in punctuation.
I'd say that, today, punctuation has to justify itself in some positive way; no punctuation is the default mode. But, of course, the process of evolution is still going on.

anonymous SH said...

Excellent advice and teaching, Gabi san.
Folks, cutting words are vital and essential.
And since we don't have them in the English language, punctuation, ellipsis, etc do the same thing, building like a musician does with a stop, rest, to a poetic climax.

anonymous said...

Dear Gabi
Thank you very much for your list. Your comments are valuable and merit a lot of study.

For me, it was a pleasure reading through your examples bringing alive again the old controversies. We can be sure that the present state of
haiku poetics is not the end of the story.

Anonymous said...

I also heartily thank you for your enthusiasm and work.
With H., I pray that the present state of haiku poetics will continue to flourish, world without end, amen.
T.L. NOBO list

. said...

temenos and kire ...

The word actually comes from a Greek word meaning to cut- it cuts off a particular land/space for the king, chief, the god/gods, and, by extension and in Jungian terms for the large Self and developing it from the small self (so to speak).
Now, in Shintoism, and by extension Japan and haiku, this would nicely place it with kire, as the empty space between phraes in haiku as corresponding in its way to the empty space in the Shinto temple where the animating spirit resides.

Jack Galmitz

Anonymous said...

It is the kire that makes the poem, that cut across time, and it is haiku, of all the literary forms in the world, that performs this action best.


Haiku as Anti-Story
Jim Kacian


Elliott said...

Hi Gabi, I am seeking your insight on this widely quoted sentence of Inahata Teiko's:
"Ya", "kana", "keri", or "nari" and other kire-ji effectively add to the author's feeling in a short haiku or speak for omitted words. Kire-ji, in this respect, provides a structural support for haiku.
The meaning of the phrase "provides structural support" eludes me - and has inspired huge discussion at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Haiku#Kireji
Can you help?

Elliott said...

By the way, for clarification, I am trying to understand the role of the kireji in traditional Japanese haiku. I can't begin to think about it in English-language poetry until I understand the Japanese!

Gabi Greve said...

Hi Elliott
here is the link to Inahata sensei :

It is indeed a difficult thing to transfer to English Language Haiku (ELH), but nevertheless, important !

you said
" I can't begin to think about it in English-language poetry until I understand the Japanese!"

Well, the best way to full understanding is to learn Japanese and read the original !

Gabi :o)


Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elaine Andre said...

Dear Gabi,

I've read and reread your entries on kireji, yet there is still some mystery that apparently is not explained concerning 'kana' when it is found at the end of 3L.

Shirane is saying that it takes the reader back to the beginning in a circular motions, but it seems to me that it means something left unsaid or trailing off (or maybe even a sigh?). In places, the explanation almost seems to be saying that it is interchangeable with ya, but can kana (…) be the same as ya (!)?

What does it mean to a Japanese person when they read 'kana' at the end of 3L? Is there more to it than what the blog has so far . . . or did I miss something?

Thank you in advance for your help,


Gabi Greve said...

Dear Elaine
the function and choice of a kireji in Japanese depends on the poem and the 5 7 5 to be kept.

ya often at the end of segment 1,
kana and keri usually at the end of segment 3,

the meaning again depends on the context of the poem.
There is no "one way" to explain it, there are many possibilities, as hinted at in the various quotations.

Dejan Pavlinović said...

Very useful and informative.
Great blog. Thank you.

Gabi Greve said...

When Less is More: Concept of Japanese "MA"
... Minimalism and Beyond
... Examples in Daily Living
... Negative Space (and time?)
... A Poetic View