Hokku and Haikai

[ . BACK to Worldkigo TOP . ]

Hokku and Haikai   発句と俳諧

Haiku evolved from haikai, a type of linked verse that was written during the Edo period. Every haikai sequence begins with an opening verse, often including a greeting to the host and involving a seasonal reference.
This opening verse or beginning stanza was called
" hokku 発句" .
Poems as part of a linked verse, but not the first one, were called tsukeku, tsuke-ku 付句 "added verse". Some of them did not need a season word.

Since about 1670, the haikai poets started composing stand-alone poems of 5 7 5, independent from the renku 連句 linked verse.
They were usually simply called KU 句, poem, verse.

Glick to google for more reference

The Japanese haiku in its relation to the season is also often called
"kisetsu no aisatsu", a seasonal greeting,
whereby the kigo carries the seasonal message and mood.

In the hokku 発句 first verse of a renku 連句 linked poem of the Edo period and up to our times this was usually written by the most important guest (very often Matsuo Basho) as a greeting to the host.
By carefully choosing a plant or an animal for example the guest poet could playfully hint at a feature or characteristic of his host.
It can also feature a placename 地発句(じほっく) jihokku.
jibokku is a term used by Shirane, Traces of Dreams, page 169 :
source : books.google.co.jp

haikai can be seen more as a craft than an art, whereby the student studies with his master, using the kigo as one-third of a poem and adding just two more lines.

It takes a few years of study with a Japanese sensei to be able to use kigo skillfully in this way.

During a haikai meeting in the Edo period, it was custom to perform an ikebana arrangement after the guest of honour had written the first poem (hokku 発句) with a seasonal hint.

. Ikebana and rikka 立花 "standing flowers" .

In ikebana, the art of flower arrangement, the artist instead of attempting to imitate nature, "cuts" the flower, opening up space that the audience can enter into with his or her imagination. ...
Haruo Shirane : Traces of Dreams
source : books.google.co.jp

A hokku and a haiku in Japan share the same basic formal criteria:

5 7 5
one kireji
one kigo

Shiki did not touch this formal definition when he promoted the naming of
haiku 俳句.

The rest about the contents of the poem
is up to a master (先生 sensei) to promote as he wishes.

Some stress the Zen influence,
others the Daoist influence,
others the shasei influence, and so on.

Once the formal criteria are lost,
it is up to each editor to promote what he likes best.


quote - Haruo Shirane
With the dramatic growth of haikai in the seventeenth century,
the number of new seasonal words grew rapidly.
- snip - ... while the number of seasonal words grew at an astounding pace,
the number of seasonal topics (kidai) remained relatively limited.
. WKD : Kigo and Kidai .


Kigo and Zooka, zōka 造化 (zoka), the creative force
The creative force was an important abstract aspect of hokku since Matsuo Basho.
Kigo, on the other hand, are a real-life tool to be used when composing traditional Japanese hokku and haiku.
KI means "one season" and GO means word, so the word can only indicate one season when the poem is alive, although the item may be around during all seasons.
These words have been collected in almanacs called SAIJIKI for all poets to honour the formal conditions of writing traditional Japanese hokku/haiku.

They carry the zooka in their very existence.

cherry blossoms
we remember the ones from years past,
we enjoy the one's now in front of our eyes,
we ponder the blossoms of years in the future

. Zooka 造化 and Matsuo Basho .

Transience, impermanence Japanese: 無常 mujō, mujoo
one of the essential doctrines or three marks of existence in Buddhism.
The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is in a constant state of flux.
source : en.wikipedia.or

Dookyoo, Dô-kyô 道教 - Dōka 道家 Daoism

Taoism & Taoist Philosophy
in Japanese Art and Culture

What is Taoism (Daoism)?
The teachings of the Chinese sage Lao Tzu (−5th or −4th centuries). The impact of Taoism on the philosophic mindset and artistic heritage of China and Japan is impossible to exaggerate. Taoism (Jp. = Dōkyō 道教) is one of three great philosophies of China.
source : Mark Schumacher

Taoism in Japan can be easily seen as superstitious or astrological and the concept of demons and spirits seem to have their roots in a Taoist influence such as Onmyōdō and Shugendō.
© More in the WIKIPEDIA !

. . . . .

Basho's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho

"He clearly was being influenced by the seriousness and depth of the Chinese verse as well as the spiritual aesthetics of Zen." . . . Later in the 1690s, Basho took an altogether different turn, opting for a lighter, more uplifting tone. "This aesthetic reflected his renewed sense of the significance of the mundane dimension of life and art. It also helped him deal with an increasingly troubled spirit, something that became apparent . . ." near the end of his life.
source : David Landis Barnhill

. . . . .

Interview - David Landis Barnhill
by Robert D. Wilson

... Whether it is religion or the arts in East Asia, the goal is to really, truly see how reality works and to harmonize with it – to participate in it. This is true of Confucianism and Daoism and Shinto, as well as Buddhism. You have to really see it, though, and then you really have to change. Being truly “natural” – acting according to our true nature and the true nature of reality that we are a part of – is what is most difficult.
... Basho's world view wasn't confined to Zen Buddhism, and included in the broader Chinese religio-aesthetic tradition, which includes Daoism and Confucianism, as well as aesthetic ideas and ideals in the Chinese poetry and painting. You also point out in your footnote that Basho also was influenced by Shinto and Ainu shamanic animism.
source : simplyhaiku 2011


Dohô recalls in his Sanzôshi:
Accomplished poets tend to have flaws. The Master often said:
“Let an innocent child make haikai. The verse from a novice’s mind is most promising.”
These words warn us of the habitual flaws of accomplished writers. When getting into the substance of an object, one either cultivates the primal breath (ki 気) or suppresses it.
If one suppresses the momentum of the primal breath, the whole poem will lose vitality. The late Master also said:
“haikai must be composed on the momentum of the primal breath.”

- and -

Bashô himself also wrote a poem about Hundun:

Nupeppô/midori ni norite/ki ni asobu

The Undifferentiated
riding on the green-hued air,
wanders in the atmosphere.

In this poem, “The Undifferentiated” is depicted as an image of carefree wandering. Although the allusion in this poem, as well as in other poems of the period, shows mainly a thematic interest in the gûgen, the Shômons’ early knowledge of the Hundun story presages a later theoretical emphasis on the “primal breath” and the “undifferentiated” state of the poetic mind.

source : Basho-and-the-Dao - Peipei-Qiu



Matsuo Basho's Ultimate Poetical Value, Or was it?

I would propose that karumi, a preoccupation of Basho's final years, was an extremely important vehicle by which he tried to merge the refined, traditional poetic style of aristocratic vein with the new, humorous and light-hearted style of the common herd, using ordinary words and everyday subjects thus, perpetuating the creation of the Shofu, which would be an entirely new Japanese poetic expression. How far he succeeded in doing so is open to discussion. ...

Haikai wa tada fuga nari. (fuuga)
Fuga ni ron wa sukoshi mo gazanaku soro.

Haikai is nothing but poetry.
Poetry needs no theory.

. WKD archives : Susumu Takiguchi .


The cut marker (kireji) KANA かな / 哉 

In the XV Century, the Golden Age of classical renga, there were 18 kireji.

The word "kana" was used to terminate the hokku, the first verse of a renga.
In that sense, it allowed the hokku to stand alone.
Basho argued that it was not necessary, and you will find many of his renku with hokku that do not terminate with "kana."

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. A moments reflection will show that this cannot be the case.
Chiyo-ni - the greatest poet of philosophical haiku - used the kana kireji as a device to complete 5 mora in the third [vertical] line. Look up her "the prostitute sleeps alone" hokku and ask the obvious
Can a word of joy be used in a poem which speaks of a deep sadness?

- Hugh Bygott -
Translating Haiku Forum

. Chiyo-Ni and the Prostitute .  

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
. 18 kireji 切れ字 .  
and more about KANA

Haiku ending in KANA by
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .

Haiku expressing emotions directly by
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


GO SHICHI GO - 5 7 5 

Since Japanese hokku is quite strict with this pattern (the few exceptions are neglegible for this proposal)

EL hokku should try to keep the symmetry of the form -
short - long - short

best as it is 5 - 7 - 5

2 - 3 - 2
3 - 5 - 3
4 - 6 - 4

But not for example
short - very long - very short
very short - long - short
. . . . .

Discussing :
. Five Seven Five THEORY 5 7 5 .


the old pond "stands for" an old pond.

symbols and images in Basho's Hokku

. symbols and images in Basho's hokku .

Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 advises his disciples

"The poetic mind must always remain detached (mujo) and
eccentric (kyoken).
The thematic materials must be chosen from ordinary life.
The diction must be entirely from everyday language."

source : Peipei Qiu: Basho and the Dao

He also taught them:

. Learn from the Pine ! .

To do that you must leave behind you all subjective prejudice.
Otherwise you will force your own self onto the object
and can learn nothing from it.

Your poem will well-up of its own accord
when you and the object become one,
when you dive deep enough into the object,
to discover something of its hidden glimmer.

The word "shasei 写生" has not yet been invented at the time of Basho,
but the idea was here.

. Sketching from Nature , SHASEI 写生 .

. - haikai 俳諧 Haikai and 迂詐 uso .

俳諧といふは別の事なし. 上手に迂詐(うそ)をつくことなり.
haikiai to iu wa betsu no koto nashi
joozu ni uso o tsuku koto nari.

The old master said:
Haikai is not something special,
it is to tell a lie gracefully / skillfully.


Matsuo Basho was very fond of Naracha.

He used to tell his students:


After having eaten three bowls of Naracha,
you will know the real taste of a haikai meeting.

This means that we should meet with our haikai friends, share food and drink and a good talk and write poetry together, not alone.

. Basho, Naracha 奈良茶 and Haikai .


- Reflections on Haikai –

Perhaps we made a false start. If that be the case, then the subsequent developments cannot all be really right.

We started with HAIKU. We should have started with HAIKAI, instead.

Little wonder that so many grievous mistakes have been made and still remain uncorrected in our understanding of haiku.

HAIKAI is a common sense in Japan. It is not so outside Japan. Looking back, that has been the real problem.
Even those non-Japanese who understand HAIKAI may do so rather vaguely.

So, what is the difference between the two? What is HAIKAI at all?

In a word and in the nutshell, HAIKAI means comic, or comedy, or a sense of humour. And this is more or less the most essential and even the only necessary understanding of HAIKAI, after all is said and done.

HAIKAI is not really a Japanese word. It was borrowed from the Chinese language as there was no suitable alternative in Japanese.

HAIKAI-NO-RENGA is today’s renku and it is well-known that haiku was initially derived from the hokku, or the first stanza of HAIKAI-NO-RENGA when Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902) undertook his famous haiku reform.

Read more HERE

© Susumu Takiguchi, 2008

The first haikai document to record the word "haiku" is thought by general consent to be Hattori Sadakiyo's "Obaeshu" which was published in Kambun 3 (1663). Originally, "haiku" was abbreviated from "haikai-no-ku" and was used as a general term to mean any ku (stanza), whether it was "hokku", or other "tsukeku", in the haikai-no-renga.
In the Meiji era, it took some time before "haiku" was established and well circulated. "A History of Japanese Literature" by Sanji Mikami and Sukisaburo Takatsu (1890), for example, gave the word "haiku" a proper status as a technical literary term and consciously used it to signify an independent form of poetry previously represented by "hokku".
source : Susumu Takiguchi, WHR August 2010


Earl Miner, in his book "Japanese Linked Poetry:"

"the common division of Japanese arts into the elegant or refined (ga) and low or vulgar (zoku), most critics would assign renga to the refined arts and haikai to the low.
Konishi Jin'ichi protests, saying that haikai has one refined leg and one vulgar leg. To walk comfortably with such dissimilar legs is no small art."

Japanese Linked Poetry


Quoting David Coomler, 2007

Many years ago I noticed that hokku — the centuries-old Nature-based verse form — was in danger of being lost and forgotten entirely. People were not only mistakenly confusing it with haiku, but they also — even the supposed “authorities” of the haiku community — had seemingly no longer any real knowledge of the principles and standards of hokku.

Consequently I began teaching hokku, and I continue teaching it today.
It is an antidote to much that is wrong with our present world — the materiality, the selfishness, the greed and disrespect for Nature that have led us to the serious environmental problems we face today.
Hokku is a simple gift, but profound in its simplicity.
If you find it speaks to your condition, I invite you to join me.

David Coomler


. WKD : Haikai  


- - - - - Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉

發句なり芭蕉桃青宿の春 - 翁
hokku nari Matsuo Toosei yado no haru

this is a hokku -
Matsuo Tosei's
home on New Year

Tr. Gabi Greve

1679 延宝7年, Basho age 36
On the first morning of the New Year.
In 1678 延宝6年 he had put up his "shop sign" Tosei and become a professional Haikai Master 俳諧宗匠.
This hokku shows his strong self-confidence in his new profession.

Toosei "Green Peach" was the nom de plume of Basho at that time.
He sounds almost like a tweeter, sharing his joy and expectations with the world.
Later on, Issa uses the expression

ora ga haru おらが春 "My Spring", my New Year.

Haseo, Baseo 芭蕉 (はせを)Basho / 誹若土糞 / 禾々軒桃青

. WKD : "spring in this lodge", "spring in my home" -
yado no haru 宿の春 .

kigo for the New Year

Maybe Basho was the first to use this expression?


hototogisu ima wa haikaishi naki yo kana

there are no haikai masters
in this world now . . .

Tr. Gabi Greve

Between 1681 - 83
Hotogisu has been a well-loved theme of the old waka poetry.
But there is still no haikai poem with this word. How sad.

This hokku has a cut after line 1 and also the cut marker KANA at the end of line 3.

hototogisu hokku by
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


kakitsubata ware ni hokku no omoi ari

blue flag iris -
thoughts of a hokku
in my mind 

. "Kakitsubata" 杜若 Iris laevigata .
- Discussion of this hokku -

1685 - 貞亨2年4月4日 -


tabine shite waga ku o shire ya aki no kaze

spend nights on a journey,
then you'll know my poems--
autumn wind

Tr. Barnhill

1686 - Written around 1686 貞亨年間, Basho around 43 years

. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


fuji no mi wa haikai ni sen hana no ato

fuji seed pods
as theme for our haikai -
after the flowers

For Hirose Izen 広瀬維然.
1689 Oku no Hosomichi, at Ogaki, 元禄2年9月, ninth lunar month

The town of Seki 関 in Gifu was quite famous for its wisteria flowers, but when Basho arrived at Ogaki, it was autumn. So he composed this poem for his host, Hirose Izen 広瀬維然 from Seki.
(Maybe Izen was insecure about the various possibilities of haikai and this was an instruction for him.)

For Basho, anything at hand was worth a subject for a greeting poem and a haikai session.
This shows his true haikai spirit.

The priest Soogi 宗祇 Sogi (1421 - 1502) is famous for his waka about wisteria blossoms.
. WKD - fuji 藤 wisteria .

Oku no Hosomichi
. - - - Station 43 - Ogaki 大垣 - - - .


kao ni ninu hokku mo ideyo hatsu zakura

I will write hokku
that do not resemble my face -
first cherry blossoms

or in plural

we will write hokku
that do not resemble our faces -
first cherry blossoms

- 1694 - 元禄7年 - , Autumn
Basho was at Iga, Ueno, his homeground. He was discussing haikai with his student, Iga Toho, and most probably wrote this hokku to teach him a lesson. This was shortly before the death of Basho.

. Iga Tohoo 伊賀土芳 .
(1657 - 1730), Hattori Dohoo

Even now, when I am so old, I want to write hokku with a young touch,
like the first cherry blossons, always new and fresh. My heart will always be young.
source : www.geocities.co.jp


. Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 - Introduction . .

haikai o mamorase tamae yuki-botoke

guard over haiku
I beseech you!
snow Buddha

Originally, I thought that Issa is requesting protection for an individual haiku that he had entrusted to the Buddha's lap, but (on my recent trip to Japan) Shokan Tadashi Kondo explained that actually he's asking the snow Buddha to guard over haiku poetry in general.

(Issa's term "haikai" included both what we call haiku today and linked verse or renku),
This broader meaning makes this haiku far more interesting and, I think, far more important. Who will guard over the fragile blossom of haiku poetry? Who will protect it in our own time against all that threatens it: societal indifference to poetry in general, materialism, a blindness to nature and our absolute inclusion in it, and, structurally, the heresy that "haiku" can be any utterance written in 5-7-5 syllables, or the recent disturbing trend of defining as haiku short, obtuse, experimental language games that only seem to proclaim the poet's cleverness for cleverness's sake? Who, indeed, will guard over haiku?
Issa's prayer to the snow Buddha, of course, is a prayer to everyone who reads this extraordinary poem.

David Lanoue

- - - - -

haikai o mamorase tamae yuki-botoke

mr. snowman,
blessed Buddha, protect
renku and haiku!

This hokku is from the eleventh month (December) of 1815, when Issa was making a three-month trip to Edo and areas near Edo to see many haijin and followers. Probably one thing on his mind then was what he should do to help raise the level of haikai writing in his rural province of Shinano, where Basho-style haikai and other artistic schools of haikai were less well known than in Edo. In some ways Issa must have been optimistic, however, since more and more haikai anthologies were being published, and more and more haijin were studying Basho and earlier outstanding haikai poets, though he may have been concerned with the lack of a corresponding growth in the popularity of renku, which was being left behind by various forms of single-verse writing. Issa therefore put a lot of emphasis on writing renku with his Shinano students and fellow haijin. At the same time, in another hokku he worries about "haikai hell," which may refer to the hierarchical system of masters and mutually exclusive groups that was coming to dominate the world of haikai, just as similar top-down systems were gaining strength in the fields of painting, music, drama, tea ceremony, and many other arts.

In Japanese the words 'snow Buddha' and 'snow Daruma' (a reference to the Zen monk Bodhidharma) literally meant and mean snow shapes resembling a Buddha or Bodhidharma, but they were also simply another name for snowman. Since the majority of snow Buddhas were made by children (helped by their dogs) who presumably were not thinking mainly of Buddhist iconography, the name 'snow Buddha' probably had a double resonance that endeared it to Issa, who often wrote about snow Buddhas in a very human way. Snow Buddhas are probably one of the most spontaneously made of all Buddhist images, since they are usually the result of joyful, unconscious collaboration and pure play, as in this Issa hokku:

naughty boys
up to more mischief --
a snow Buddha

wampaku ga shiwaza-nagara mo yuki-botoke

Perhaps Issa is also remembering here that Amida Buddha is more impressed by criminals than by pious do-gooders because criminals are more honest about their own failures and are more able to achieve radical faith and thus return Amida's fierce love. Issa is also seems attracted to snow Buddhas because, unlike stone or metal statues of Buddha, which are semi-permanent and worshiped from a distance, snow Buddhas are intimate creations that honestly show what is momentarily yet vividly in the heart/mind of the creator.

Issa seems to have made some snowmen of his own as an adult:

I made it myself
yet I feel like praying --
snow Buddha

ware shite mo ogamu ki ni naru yuki-botoke

Issa seems amazed by the way his own playful creation takes on a life and power of its own and transcends his own motives and intentions and becomes independent from him, calling out to him from the Pure Land. The snowman represents a direct gift by Issa to Amida and also represents Amida's return gift to him in the form of an enlarged though fleeting and temporary Buddha image strong enough to move Issa to spontaneous prayer, greater love for Amida, and the creation of a hokku. In this hokku the close relation between haikai and snow Buddhas is clearly implied, since haikai verses, once written, quickly come to transcend their author. This is especially true in a renku-writing group situation.

In another hokku Issa says:

my handprints
now so dear --
snow Buddha

yuki-botoke waga-te no ato mo natsukashi ya

When Issa sees the marks left by his human hands on the completed snow Buddha he remembers how happy he was while he was making the snowman, and at the same time he seems to have a vision of himself working together with Amida to portray Amida using snow. Amida becomes more dear than ever to Issa as Issa realizes that he and Amida have been working as one on the snowman.

Almost everything Issa implies about snow Buddhas could also be said about the process of writing renku and hokku, so it seems that in the first hokku above Issa is making a realistic prayer to Buddha, asking Amida to help him see the Buddha-nature within himself as a writer and protector of renku and hokku. Every part of nature, even snow, is filled with Buddha-nature, and haikai is no exception. The best way to protect and nurture haikai is not to ask for magical outside power but, surely, to realize that writing, too, has its own Buddha-nature that can only be shown by even more writing based on love and respect for all things, even the smallest snowflakes.

Chris Drake

Snow Buddha, yuki-botoke, yukibotoke (yuki no hotoke)

This word was already used in the Essays in Idleness, Tsurezure Gusa 徒然草 by the monk Yoshida Kenkō around 1330.
. yukidaruma ゆきだるま,雪だるま snowman .


. Matsuo Basho - Archives of the WKD .
- Cultural Keywords used by Basho -

My Haiku Theory Archives  



Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

藤の実は俳諧にせん花の跡 (ふじのみははいかいにせんはなのあと)

fuji no mi wa / haikai ni se n / hana no ato

Matsuo Basho

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

choo yo choo yo Morokoshi no haikai towan

butterfly! butterfly!
I would ask you about
China's haikai

Matsuo Basho
Tr. Barnhill

Gabi Greve said...

hokku nari Matsuo Toosei yado no haru

this is a hokku -
Matsuo Tosei's
home in spring

Matsuo Basho,

1677--New Year (spring implied the beginning of the New Year.)

In 1677 Basho became 'sooshoo' ("professional haikai-no-renga master").

Toosei "Green Peach" was the nom de plume of Basho at that time.

Gabi Greve - WKD said...

kurimeshi ya Meguro no chaya no hokku-kai (発句会)

rice with chestnuts -
the hokku meeting at the tea shop
in Meguro

. Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規 .

MORE about Meguro