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Haiku - The Japanese sensitivity in the world's shortest literature

Haiku is the world's shortest poem, with only 17 characters. Haiku poems, which describe the changing seasons, are the culmination of the Japanese sense of beauty and view of nature. In this article, we will touch the heart of the Japanese people through these short poems.


What is haiku?

Haiku refers to a form of poetry unique to Japan, consisting of 17 syllables in 3 phrases of 5-7-5. Senryu is another type of poetry that uses the same rhythm of 5-7-5, but haiku has a rule of including seasonal words in the poem to refer to nature and seasonal changes. Senryu, on the other hand, often satirizes familiar human relationships and society.

Seasonal words such as "snow," "moon," and "cherry blossoms" are used to describe the seasons. Haiku has a limited number of characterstherefore the effective use of seasonal words enables to evoke images of the season that many people share and to convey more information than 17 characters to the readers.

The five senses are fully utilized to feel the fullness of nature. This is the basis of haiku. Haiku, which is easy to say and listen to, has been loved by the Japanese people for a long time. Some of the best haiku are called "Meiku" and are passed down from generation to generation.


History of Haiku

Haiku is thought to be an abbreviation of "haikai no hokku” a form of Japanese literature that flourished in the Edo period. The word haikai means "comical" or "humorous" and was used in renga (linked verse), which was actively produced from the Muromachi period (1336-1573) to the Edo period (1603-1868).

Renga is a kind of poetry style that has existed in Japan for a long time, in which several people gather to complete a poem in a relay style. Originally, elegant and graceful expressions were used, but they gradually strayed from their original path and became silly word games.

In the Edo period (1603-1868), the first phrase of renga and haikai, "hokku (5-7-5)”, became an independent form of poetry. Basho Matsuo, the famous author of "The Narrow Road to the Deep North," and others added the essence of "wabi-sabi" to haikai (which until then had been more playful) and enhanced its artistic quality. In the Meiji era (1868-1912), it was Shiki Masaoka who changed the name "hokku" to "haiku" and established it as literature. This form has been inherited even today.

Eventually, haiku spread overseas. It was the Englishman Reginald Blyce, a scholar of Japanese literature, who helped spread haiku around the world. Blythe, passionate about the Japanese culture, introduced haiku to the English-speaking world by publishing the first volume of "Haiku" in 1949. Today, haiku has spread to more than 70 countries and is being written in the languages of those countries.


The appeal of haiku

Haiku is a 17-character piece of literature in which the beauty of the Japanese language is condensed. In a short phrase, the emotions and subtleties of the heart about the changing of the seasons are condensed. Noticing the changes in nature and seasons that we had not noticed before may enrich our lives.

Another advantage of haiku is that they are short and easy to read aloud and remember. Since they are pleasant to the ear, they are a great way to appreciate the beauty of the sound and rhythm of the Japanese language. You can not only enjoy them, but you can also make them easily. This is a good opportunity for you to try in your own language.

Since ancient times, Japanese people have been mindful of the changing seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, have loved nature, and have lived with respect for the form. The value of learning the form is not limited to haiku, but is common to other traditional Japanese arts such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and martial arts. By repeating the same movements and gestures over and over again and memorizing the form, we can learn the spirit that our ancestors tried to pass down to us, which is a unique Japanese sense of beauty.


Haiku condenses the reader's feelings and scenes into short words. Although it is only 17 characters long, it is more eloquent than all the words. Japanese people have a keen sensitivity to nature and its changes, so there are many words to express the beauty and atmosphere of each season. By experiencing and enjoying haiku, we will surely be able to understand the Japanese mind more deeply.


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