Kidai and Kigo. Hon-i

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Kidai and Kigo 季題と季語

kidai - seasonal topic, seasonal theme
seasonal activity, seasonal event, seasonalsubject matter. Most are based on seasonal words used in Waka and traditional court poetry.
Usually the first word or head entry given in the list of kigo for one (item).

kigo - seasonal word, season word
seasonal aspect. Many were added during the Edo period with the growing popularity of haikai. They did not have such a deep-rooted poetic association.
Kigo are not only nouns, they can also include verbs and adjectives and be more than one word.

hon-i 本意 - "the real meaning" (honto no imi 本当の意味)
Poetic essence, other associations with this word. Essential nature. Codified emotion, cultural code meaning. The most difficult part, to explain the cultural background of a word. Without the full understanding of "hon-i, honi, hon'i" it is hard to appreciate the use of kigo. A Japanese saijiki tries to explain the hon-i of a word.
In Japanese poetry, a lot of the hon'i dates back to classical Chinese poetry.

I remember some Japanese sensei discuss the problem of mountain climbing as a kigo "yamanobori" , maybe widely meaning "the summer season of mountain climbing", but the verb form, which might be translated as I climb a mountain, "yama o noborishi, yama o noborite" would not be a seasonal reference, since you can climb a mountain at any time.

When translating kidai and kigo into English, even more possibilities of the wording arise for one word. The distinction of this kind will be even more difficult.

A lot of the significant cultural meaning of a kigo (hon-i) was taken from the Chinese classics, especially from Chuang-Tsu, which was a "must know" among the practitioners of haikai during the Edo period.

. Chinese background of Japanese kigo .

Another way to add a special, deeper meaning to a word was the use of place names with a special historic and poetic background.
They are similar to "makura kotoba" 枕詞, 枕言葉, "pillow words", normal words used as codes to bring out a mood or mental scene for the reader.

. Utamakura 歌枕 place names used in Poetry .

Gabi Greve


Hon-i ...
how a particular image should be presented.
. . .
However, as an extremely concise poetic form and a product of group composition, haikai needs heavily charged signifiers in order to sustain its poetic expression.

source : Peipei Qiu : Basho and the Dao


Haiku are poems about the season, the changes of the seasons, their theme is the season and KIDAI / KIGO is the means to bring the season alive.

"seasonal topics"
is the necessary translation of KIDAI.
It should not be mixed up with
. non-seasonal topics - TOPICS.


The Japanese word kisetsu 季節, translated as season,
refers to the climate changes of
spring, summer, autumn and winter.

The English word season can also refer to other things, for example
a certain period of time.
source : www.thefreedictionary.com

Therefore the expression "Season of Ramadan" is not linked to climate, but to a special period of time.

. WKD : Ramadan and the Islamic Calendar .


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 remained relatively limited.

source : Haruo Shirane
Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons:
Nature, Literature, and the Arts

seasonal words - read kigo
seasonal topics - read kidai

- - - - - - - - - -

tatedai 縦題 - 竪題 "vertical dai"
classical season words like plum, cherry, hototogisu, autumn leaves, used in waka and renku poetry.

yokodai 横題 "horizontal dai"
mostly new dai concerning the human beings, like manzai, yabu-iri, kotatsu . . .
A term used for haikai poetry.

Terms used in 1720 by 菊阿口義.

Kikaku wrote:


From a philological point of view, the term "haiku" did not exist in the Edo period (from circa 1600). Following the Meiji revolution (1868) Japan was introduced to Western technology, philosophy, etc., and was strongly influenced by Western art movements (e.g. Romanticism, Impressionism). Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902) refined and developed the hokku or haikai into "haiku," coining the new term, and made “haiku” independent from the hokku tradition (the first stanza of a renga).

After haiku became a fully independent genre, the term "kigo" was coined by Otsuzi Ōsuga (1881-1920) in 1908.
"Kigo" is thus a new term for the new genre approach of "haiku."
So, when we are looking historically at hokku or haikai stemming from the renga tradition, it seems best to use the term "kidai." Although the term "kidai" is itself new—coined by Hekigotō Kawahigashi in 1907!
When discussing Bashō and Issa, the term "kidai" is best applied, because both of these authors’ works are in the tradition of hokku.

The Heart in Season. Richard Gilbert
source : Simply Haiku 2006


Like other Japanese saijiki, the Nyūmon Saijiki is a compilation of the major kidai (seasonal topics) and kigo (seasonal words) in traditional and modern Japanese haiku. In turn, haiku are the traditional Japanese poetic form characterized by 17 sound symbols in metrical units of 5, 7, and 5.

The Nyūmon Saijiki includes approximately 800 kidai, or headwords, and 2,100 kigo, or subtopics. An example of a kidai for the season of spring is risshun (beginning of spring). Kigo under the headword risshun are haru tatsu (spring begins) and haru kuru (spring comes).

For each kidai the saijiki includes a prose discussion of the meaning and usage of the kidai, together with examples of Japanese haiku that make use of the kidai and/or kigo.

© University of Virginia Library: Japanese Text Initiative


Quote from
© Glossary of Jane Reichhold 2002

kidai - KEY-DAY'EE (J: season topic)
A system that designates a season by agreement among poets which makes the full moon a sign of autumn. As this path is full of potholes and debates, there are dictionaries called saijiki which are devoted to the sport and explain little with many words.

kigo - KEY-GO (J: seasonal word)
Nouns which imply the season because they have been traditionally associated with certain times of the year in Japanese literature and/or real life. There are winter birds and summer plants, spring activities and winter skies, fall trees and summer holidays and the list goes on and on. Is a red balloon an indication of summer or fall?

hon’i – HONE-EE (J: essential characteristic).
An aesthetic principle that used convention to describe the character of certain things especially in renga writing. For example the subject of love require unrequited longing, travel had to denote the suffering. These codified versions which were gathered from previous admired literature were considered more poetic than reality.


yo no hito no mitsukenu hana ya noki no kuri

few in this world
notice those blossoms--
chestnut by the eaves

Matsuo Basho, Tr. Makoto Ueda

This haiku sparked a discussion on the use of kigo and kidai:

As I understand it, the kigo in question is 'kuri no hana' (chestnut's blossom), yet that phrase does not appear in the ku itself. I had the impression that a kigo was a fixed phrase which wasn't open to this kind of manipulation, and now wonder was I quite wrong? I thought that the 'topic' of flowering chestnut was better called a kidai than a kigo?

- Discussion with a friend -

kidai : flower of the chestnut, kuri no hana 栗の花
kigo :
..... chestnut flower, hanaguri 花栗
..... chestnuts flowering, kuri saku 栗咲く


kidai (seasonal topic)
In tanka and haiku, a topic upon which a verse is to be composed. It can be a specific kigo or some seasonal event, or a combination. See kisetsu.

kisetsu (season, seasonal aspect) The seasons.
The seasonal aspect of the vocabulary (kigo) and subject matter (kidai) of traditional tanka, renga, and haiku; a deep feeling for the passage of time, as known through the objects and events of the seasonal cycle.

kigo (season word)

The name of a plant, animal, climatic condition, or other object or activity traditionally connected with a particular season in Japanese poetry.

Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku
Excerpts online

Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku
Glossary about kidai and kigo

William J. Higginson


"The essence of traditional haiku consists of two things.
First, there is an association with nature through one of the seasons either by naming the season (kigo), like winter or spring, or by suggesting the season through specific elements of that season (kidai), like a frozen pond or cherry blossoms."
Bruce Ross

This gives an overview of the nature aspect of traditional haiku, but contains a serious error of fact. Kidai are traditionally recognized seasonal phenomena that often provide the main subject matter of a haiku. They also place haiku in the seasonal round that forms an important context for all such poems. On the other hand, kigo are the specific words or phrases in individual poems that refer to the kidai. For example, a Japanese phrase that might best be translated "remaining snow" is an important spring kidai.

Another phrase, perhaps best translated "left-over snow," often appears in haiku, and refers to this same phenomenon. A poem with the kigo "left-over snow" has "remaining snow" as its kidai. "Remaining snow" itself may also be used in a poem—in which case it is both the kidai and the kigo of that poem. In short, a kidai is a "seasonal topic"—some phenomenon one might write about—while a kigo is the word or phrase one uses to write about it—the "season word."

Kigo does not mean "naming the season"; "seasonal topic(s)" is the usual translation of kidai, not the confusing "elements of the season," which might be understood as referring to the weather.
William J. Higginson

Read more here
book review
How to Haiku: A Writer’s Guide to Haiku and Related Forms
by Bruce Ross


hon-i 本意 - "the real meaning" (honto no imi 本当の意味)
poetic essence, “essential implications”
established essence
the essential nature of things
“genuine purports” (Kawamoto)
. Reference : Kawamoto Koji .

The “poetic essences” (hon'i) can capture the true nature of something and it can be handed down in the literary tradition.

The cultural context establishes this "true meaning" of a kigo within Japanese poetry. The WKD tries to add as much of this cultural context as possible.
(Please bear in mind that I am only one person with limited time . . .).

When adding new season words of other parts of the world, I try to explain its cultural context as best as I can with my haiku friends from the region.
A great thank you again to all who contributed.


Beyond the Haiku Moment
Haruo Shirane

Nature and Seasonal Words

From as early as the eleventh century, the poet of classical poetry was expected to compose on the poetic essence (honi) of a set topic.
The poetic essence was the established associations at the core of the seasonal word.
In the case of the warbler (uguisu), for example, the poet had to compose on the warbler in regard to the arrival and departure of spring, about the emergence of the warbler from the mountain glen, or about the relationship of the warbler to the plum blossoms. This poetic essence, the cluster of associations at the core of the seasonal topic, was thought to represent the culmination and experience of generations of poets over many years.

By composing on the poetic essence, the poet could partake of this communal experience, inherit it, and carry it on. (This phenomenon is true of most of the traditional arts. The beginner must first learn the fundamental forms, or kata, which represent the accumulated experience of generations of previous masters.)

Poets studied Japanese classics such as The Tale of Genji and the Kokinshu, the first imperial anthology of Japanese waka poetry, because these texts were thought to preserver the poetic essence of nature and the seasons as well as of famous places.
source : www.haikupoet.com


Hon-I and Symbol

David Landis Barnhill

. . . . . Many Western students of literature are used to analyzing poetry, "figuring out" its meaning. One common aspect of such analysis is the explication of symbols, the assumption being that a symbol (e.g. dove) stands for something else (e.g. peace), and the reader needs to determine that reference, which is what the symbol means. (Consider, for instance, the rich tapestry of symbols in T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland.")
A second assumption is that poems have a theoretical content that we need to explain. In light of these assumptions, the commonplace nature of Bashō's imagery and the sheer brevity of the "old pond" poem make this verse an unlikely candidate for profundity and complexity.

The significance of the poem begins to appear, however, when we shift to a different notion of imagery. Usually (though not always), images in Bashō's hokku are not symbols standing for something else;
the old pond "stands for" an old pond.
This conception of language is related to what has been called the Buddhist critique of symbols, in which the dualism between the image and its symbolic meaning collapses.

. . . . . If images do not stand for something else but instead indicate sensuous phenomena, what does reading consist of? As William LaFleur has said, "this aesthetic mode lives off the way it redirects our focused attention to phenomena for their own sake," in order to cultivate the "simple recognition of phenomena." But the simplicity involved in reading Bashō's hokku is not simplistic for it involves entering deeply into the scene presented.
The poem, then, is not a bearer of symbolic meaning, it is a catalyst for experience.

While the images are not symbols, they do have associations that are important for a full experience of the poem.

..... The notion of meaningful gaps in the work is a particularly significant idea for Bashō's hokku. They often have a contrast which the reader must somehow embrace in the reading experience (rather than explain or intellectually resolve): the stormy sea and heaven's river; dawn twilight and the whiteness of a fish; chrysanthemum's scent and a worn sandal; the cry of a bird and a tall iris; an old pond and the splash of a frog. In addition to such contrasts, Bashō was a master of synesthesia, which necessitates the reader embracing a sensual paradox in his or her experience.

Another approach to this poem has eschewed such an identification of the poem and Buddhist enlightenment and focused on what we could call the psycho-sensuous experience of the scene itself and an implied metaphysics. If we let ourselves be absorbed in the Old Pond poem's setting, we can begin to feel an elemental stillness.
"Old" gives rise to the feeling not simply of great age but of the suspension of time, an eternity not of unending duration but of utter timelessness. Suddenly (we cannot say how long there has been no movement) a frog leaps. Just as suddenly, in the third line, the frog has disappeared. There has been a change in senses as well, from visual to aural--the sound of the water. The sound too disappears in a split second, and we are left with the ringing silence that follows an abrupt intrusion of sound: the old pond is once again silent, while our listening remains acute. For a time, however, something of the frog and the sound remains--the ripples on the pond--a kind of visual echo which we imagine without any words to that effect. Soon these too will disappear and the pond will return to utter stillness.
source : barnhill PDF


Reviving Japanese Haikai through Chinese Classics
Chen-ou Liu

the old pond's
frog is growing elderly
falles leaves

First of all, semantically speaking, the above poem is made up of two parts that are separated by a kireji (cutting word), kana. The first part is that in the old pond there is an aging frog, whose honi (poetic essence) is “suggestive of spring…[implying] vigor and youth.”
The second part introduces the reader to the scene fallen leaves, whose honi refers to winter.

source : www.haijinx.org/IV-1

Related words

***** ..... Saijiki, the history of saijiki

***** ..... Haiku Seasons, Categories and their worldwide use

***** ..... Mu Kigo : The Season of 'No-Season' in Contemporary Haiku
A discussion !

Kigo and its use in Japanese haiku.

Basic Haiku Theories

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Gabi Greve said...

My impression, from browsing through Blyth's four-volume "Haiku," is that kigo can be a word, a reference, or a phrase, but kigo isn't necessarily limited to a formulaic, fixed, set-phrase.



Dear Larry,

The problem here, Larry san, is that you are reading the translation.

In English (and other languages) there are many ways to translate a Japanese formula.
In the Japanese saijiki, the wording of a Japanese kigo is usually quite well fixed nowadays, even with the hiragana that should be used together with a kanji or not ... all the details ...

Which does not mean there might be exceptions, of course....



Anonymous said...

'Hon'i' is usually explained as the essential qualities inherent in an object and the emotional response deemed appropriate.

However, as seen in Chapter 1 ["Autumn Dusk"], the actual qualities of the phenomenon itself were second to the conceptual qualities acquired through literary precedent.

there may have been autumn dusks for centuries in Japan, but no one saw them until the age of the 'Shin kokinshuu' (ca. 1210), when the theme of autumn evenings began to attract a markedly strong interest.

After the composition of several masterpieces using such set phrases as 'aki no yuube' (autumn evening) and 'aki no yuugure' (autumn dusk), the association between the phenomenon and the 'hon'i' of sadness first became fixed.

When a 'waka' word achieves recognition as a suitable topic, its 'hon'i' is established and its not the thing itself but the precise word or phrase that determines its implications. Judgments at the 'uta-awase' poetry matches, for example, frequently centered on the 'hon'i' or legitimate meaning of the topic and not the object itself.

quote from Kawamoto Koji
The Poetics of Japanese Verse