Five Seven Five THEORY 5 7 5


5 - 7 - 5 ... go shichi go ... in Japanese

short-long-short ... in other languages

This is my simple advise for the problem of adapting the Japanese pattern of 5-7-5 beats to any other language:

In short: ..... NOT ... 5 7 5
in English, German, or any other language.
(Unless it feels quite natural without padding.)

But you 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

Here is more about writing haiku in one line or three lines.

source : kid-stuff/contests


five seven five is the rhythm of the Japanese heart !
as Hasegawa Kai has put it:

. . . the 5 / 7 / 5 rhythm of Japanese haiku is not of seventeen syllables but seventeen beats. These seventeen beats are like the pulsing of the heart of the Japanese language.

onji 音字 sound symbols / 表音文字
beats, Japanese syllables, sound units, mora
(see the essay of Higginson, below)

Given this, two things are apparent. First, a Japanese haiku composed of seventeen beats is acceptable, even if it does not necessarily have seventeen syllables. Moreover, there are also haiku with 5 / 5 / 7 and 7 / 5 / 5 beats. However, if rhythm is considered unnecessary from the start, the result is not a haiku.
Haiku is poetry, and rhythm (beats) is the life of poetry.

Second, the 5 / 7 / 5 beats are the rhythm of Japanese haiku only, and thus the requirement does not apply to haiku written in other languages. To begin with, it is meaningless for haiku in other languages to adhere to the Japanese 5 / 7 / 5.
What should one do then, when writing haiku in another language?
It is best to determine the rhythm of the heartbeat of that particular language.
source : Simply Haiku, Spring 2009

Discussion at THF, September 2010

hyoo-on 表音 phonic representation, phonetic symbol, phonogram
jion 字音 the Japanized pronunciation of a Chinese character
on 音 unit to count kana
onsetsu 音節 syllable、syllabification 

Stalking the Wild Onji:
The Search for Current Linguistic Terms Used in Japanese Poetry Circles
"There are 17 ON 音 in a haiku."

The traditional Seven Five Rhythm of Kabuki
. shichi go choo and Kabuki 七五調と歌舞伎 .


Trying to imitate five-seven-five in any other language will be difficult, if not impossible.
What should be the rhythm of English short poetry, that would reflect the soul of an English-speaking culture and its people ?

A Japanese haiku comes in three sections:

kami go (the top five section)
naka shichi (the middle seven section)
shimo go (the lower five section)

Writing these three sections usually depends on the Japanese paper you are given.

On a small slip (tansaku) it goes from top to bottom.
On a square decoration sheet (shikishi) it goes in three lines, usually from right to left.
NHK Haiku writes in three lines from right to left, name of the artist most left.
Very seldom it is written in three lines from left to right, the Latinized way.
With a wordprocessor, it comes out as one line, from left to right, if not formatted differently.

So, there are many ways to write it in Japanese too, but ALWAYS the three sections are clearly discernable.

- MORE : One line, one sentence ... or three segments  

NHK Photo Go Shichi Go 。。 フォト 五 七 五 


Read more : To much or too little

(excessive syllables)  jiamari 字余り
(insufficient syllables) jitarazu 字足らず

The middle line with seven beats is like the obi of a good kimono, it must fit.
For the top and bottom five, we can change the number of beats.

Have some cultural fun here:
. Counting with your fingers
in Japanese
and read some examples of good 5 7 5 in English.

高山伝右衛門 - 麋塒 (びじ).
Matsuo Basho in a letter to Takayama Biji, June 20, 1682:
"Even if you have three or four extra syllables -- or as many as five or seven -- you need not worry as long as the verse sounds right.
If even one sound unit stagnates in your mouth, give it a careful scrutiny."

source : Makoto Ueda (google books)

Takayama Biji ( 1649-1718) 高山繁文 Takayama Shigefumi
© More in the Japanese WIKIPEDIA !

tsuki juuyokka koyoi sanjuu ku no warabe
. Basho at a haikai meeting with Takayama Biji .

. . . . .

Check these external links
for skillful use of 5 7 5
Haiku Poems by Richard Wright

for a general discussion on THF
THF Troutswirl : Learning about Haiku

. Japanese Syllables . the basics


Poetry’s divine origins
In a preface to the tenth-century Kokin Wakashu, the poet-courtier Ki no Tsurayuki describes the divine origins of Japanese verse.
What interests me here is the origins of the 5-7-5-7-7 syllable pattern of short verse (tanka).
As this was later adapted to the 5-7-5 of haiku, it’s a hallmark of Japanese poetry.
... snip ...
my thesis that since Chinese influence was prevalent in Japan after the sixth and seventh centuries, the likelihood is that the 5-7 syllable pattern arose from Taoist numerology and the inclination to see odd numbers as favouring ki vitality and energy flows.
source : www.greenshinto.com John Dougill


(Image © 2010 by Michael Dylan Welch)

NaHaiWriMo on Facebook

. . . Michael Dylan Welch : Graceguts


The following is interesting for people who try to write Haiku in Japanese.

It is essential to know the Japanese language to understand the natural flow of this pattern of 5 -7 - 5.

It is not so mysterious as some want to make us believe, it is really quite a natural flow of Japanese word beats and the <> one breath, onji <> is to some extend the explanation of foreigners (non-Japanese, I should say) and theoreticists which are non-native speakers, trying to grapple with this.
After 10 years in Japan, something like <> yamakaze no <> will flow out of your mouth without even knowing a thing about haiku.

I will try to give you some examples.

In the Japanese alphabet, one hiragana character comprises a sound like a beat, a syllable, for example
ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, sa, shi, su, se, so,
and so on.

Many Japanese words are made of just two of these beats, like SORA for sky, YAMA for mountain, KAWA for river, HIMA for time and so on, you see the point.

Joining two of these words makes another word, like ARA KAWA, wild river, YAMA KAZE wind in the mountain.
Now add a kireji and you got the first line of a Japanese haiku.

Ara kawa ya <> Oh, you wild river
yamakaze ya <> Oh, you wind of the mountains

You can also join two beat words with NO to make one new meaning.
For example,
kiku no hana, the chrysanthemum
ama no kawa, the milky way
And these can now go in the first or last line of a haiku with five beats.
Voila, no mystery.

Next we have many words made up of three beats, like
KAWAZU, frog
WARAJI, straw sandals
Put these in the last line of a haiku and add the kireji KANA to get the 5 beats of the last line. KANA is always used in the last line of a haiku.

In the middle line we use three words with two beats each, using MARU as an example word, you can have

marumaru no maru
maru no marumaru
marumi no marumi
marumi no maru ya

>>> And so on with seven natural beats

Are you now perplexed with so much MARU?

It is the sound we usually use if we can not pronounce a Chinese character (and that is quite often !). That is another pleasure of learning Japanese, you can with some effort understand the meaning of a Chinese character, but you still cannot pronounce the word. Here, MARU is handy.

All I am trying to say, in my experience, the flow of words with short beats like the basic Japanese words brings forth the natural flow of lines with five or seven beats. It is not such a big poetical mystery. And it can hardly be reproduced naturally in any other language.

And the haiku poets make good use of this natural flow, elevate the everyday talk to the poetry level, so to speak, with the introduction of the kireji.


5-7-5 derives ultimately from the 5-7/5-7/5-7 etc. rhythm of early Japanese poetry. This unit of 12 (5+7) is as natural to Japanese as pentameter is to English.

Japanese poets count their “syllables” (which they usually call on, a word that means simply “sound[s]”), and that is all they count. These on are very short, usually just one initial consonant sound with one clipped vowel following, or just a single clipped vowel.

Still other Japanese words that mean the same thing in a haiku context include onji (“sound-symbol”), a technical term from linguistics, and moji (“writing symbol”), a term sometimes also used by Japanese haiku poets. On top of this, Japanese professors of linguistics have recently taken up the Latin word mora, which appears in some technical texts on poetry in English.

In the Japanese context, a mora is essentially the same as an on or “sound”.)

For translating haiku, we can use a 2-3-2 beat rhythm in English.

More details about this by William J. Higginson
.. Haiku by the Numbers, Seriously .
. copy


Robin D. Gill: The 5th Season

It is wrong to count syllables in English.
Our first failure - when we tried to mimic our own Classic (romance language) poetry - should have taught us better centuries ago. English syllables are hopelessly irregular and, on average, half-again longer than the Japanese syllabet.

If we would strive for some uniformity in our haiku, we must utilize something that we do have: a good beat. Japanese beat is so weak that some say the syllabets are always equally stressed and / or identical in length. Our beat, if we would teach it (or, them), can even be recognized by children.

I noticed, independently of Blyth - that Japanese haiku, even when the syllabet count exceeds the ideal - usually have 7-8 beats; and, so, I think, should ours."


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


The question of how English-language haiku form may best emulate Japanese 5-7-5 haiku (or whether it even should at all) has been hotly debated for decades. A recent trend in Japanese poetic analysis, however, interprets haiku in terms of 3 lines of 8 beats each onto which the 5-7-5 -on are mapped.

This paper presents an overview of this trend, supported both by theory from metrical phonology and by observed experimental data of subjects reading haiku in Japanese. It was found that the 8-8-8 metrical pattern is indeed verifiably present in haiku reading, and that this pattern serves to map both haiku with 5-7-5 -on and other -on counts. Based on these findings, implications for English haiku form, especially with respect to emulation, lineation, and metricality are discussed within the context of the North American haiku movement.

It is proposed that haiku in both Japanese verse and English free verse may naturally fit into a similar metrical form. It is hoped that a metrical analysis, operating across both languages, may help clear up some misconceptions regarding the Japanese haiku in the West, while providing an impetus to bridge the gap between the Japanese and world haiku movements.

source : Richard Gilbert, Kumamoto, 2000


While we are counting :

one haiku, two haiku
one saijiki, two saijiki
one kigo, two kigo

There is no plural S for these words coming from Japanese.


Read more about the CUT, kireji, in haiku.

. . . BASICS of my Haiku Theory



Gabi Greve said...

Read Imaoka Keiko on this subject.
5 7 5


Anonymous said...


Shiki Archives Sun, 4 Jun 1995
Dhugal Lindsay

I wrote an essay on this a few days ago but it doesn't seem to have made it through. I didn't copy it first so I'll rewrite now in note form.

>A response to Dick's recent comment regarding 5-7-5 haiku:
>First of all, if one reads the best English-language haiku journals, very few poems published in the last 20 or 30 years ( ! ) are 5-7-5. Only about 3 or 4% of the poems in Bruce Ross's "Haiku Moment" anthology of North American haiku (published by Tuttle in 1993) are 5-7-5.
Which is all to say that the best haiku in English tend by far NOT to be 5-7-5. This is not to say that English does not allow 5-7-5 haiku -- I did not say that. "

Haiku not in 5,7,5 also exist in Japanese. They were promoted
by SANTOHKA and others of his school. However the "make as
short as possible" school(s) in Japan are very minor. As with
all aspects of traditional Japanese culture a framework, a set
of rules that must be followed is set out. All new innovations
to that art must be made within that framework.

In haiku the framework is 5,7,5 and the inclusion of a kigo. There are actually no rules about subject matter, only unwritten ones. These limits or boundaries in haiku are very important in most of the Japanese schools.

Current Western haiku are mainly modelled after (or at least very
similar to) the SANTOHKA school. It is interesting to note that
it was the influence of Western thinking and culture in SANTOHKA's
time that led him to start work in the "as short as possible" style.

So the Western haiku world may have actually reimported
Western-influenced haiku and made it the mainstream rather than taking that which is purely Japanese. I find this a pity.

There are many styles of haiku here in Japan. SANTOHKA's school cuts "redundant" words and strips things down to their essence. In the usual schools 5,7,5 is attained through the use of words which do little other than to enhance the flavour of the haiku or emphasize certain words (rather like Capitalization in English).

Therefore a 5,7 haiku in Santohka's school would become a 5,7,5 haiku in a normal school with virtually no change in content. At the other extreme are
the haiku which stuff as much as possible into 5,7,5. Japanese
contains many words used in haiku that are shorter than the usually
used word (eg nai=jishin - earthquake, nio=kaitsumuri -grebe).

A haiku which would be 25 syllables (onji) in normal Japanese can therefore be written in 17 and often is. Although the "but Japanese syllables contain less meaning than English ones" argument is often used as to why English haiku shouldn't be 17 syllables this point is often overlooked. I see nothing wrong with using the same 5,7,5 in
English, especially when making haiku in the latter style.

When I first started translating my haiku into English I insisted on
making them as short as possible and always in only a single line.
The next stage I went through was to concentrate more on the rhythm
and I also started writing some in 2 lines. Now many of my haiku are
in 5,7,5 and, usually for the sake of convenience, are in 3 lines. (If
you've ever tried writing 17 English syllables on a single line in a book you'll know how small you have to write.) I hardly ever count syllables though as I've developed an ear for the rhythm. Sometimes long syllables are counted as 2, sometimes as 1. In English it has more to do with the rhythm when the haiku is read aloud than with an unwaivable syllable count.

There are times when I count a single syllable as 5, attributing the extra syllables to the period of silence formed when the haiku suddenly stops in mid flow. Very similar to kireji in Japanese. I do believe however that some kind of framework should be followed in English haiku. I haven't yet decided what the framework should be but at the moment I'm somewhere between syllable count (maybe not necessarily 5,7,5) and rhythm.

I'm not a big fan of rhyming haiku but I do believe they have their
place in English haiku. It's hard enough making haiku in 5,7,5
without destroying what you're trying to write but to try and make
it rhyme as well must be true nightmare.

To summarize, I feel sad that haiku in the West have mostly gone
the way of the Santohka school with almost no emphasis on form.

I also feel sad that the importance of the kigo has almost been forgotten. On the other hand it is good to see that the overall
content of at least several poets is very haiku-like. This is the most important basic in the making of haiku. It used to be that if something Japanese was included in a 5,7,5 poem then it was a haiku.

I'm glad those days are over. There was a period (still fairly prevalent though) where if a haiku did not have Zen screaming at you somewhere in the piece then it wasn't a decent haiku. Too many people feel/felt that Zen=Haiku and Haiku=Zen. This is of course not the case. Haiku=Haiku.

Once the basics of content/message have been understood (many Western
haiku poets do {and many don't}) then maybe people can start thinking about form. It is an extra challenge to try and make your haiku into a set pre-prescribed form but it's no good trying to do that when the
content that should be aimed for is not yet understood.

The nice thing about kigo is that they often provide the content without the author's conciousness involved. I'm hoping to see an emphasis on form start to appear as more people understand what a haiku really is. It would be nice if it was the next stage that Western haiku went through. It would be terrible though if there was a reversion to all form-no content.

>In fact, a friend
>in the San Francisco area, Jerry Ball (one of the editors of the "San
>Francisco Haiku Anthology") usually writes 5-7-5 haiku of the most pure and
>natural-sounding syntax that you are only rarely aware of the syllable count.
>He is a rare exception, and even he abandons the strict counting of syllables
>when the meaning would suffer to get the exact count.

This is what Western haiku poets should be aiming at. As I stated above, I'm still not decided whether 5,7,5 should be the set number but it seems as good as any for the moment - If taken in the correct spirit.

>As for the Yamaguchi book, my comments were intended to emphasize two things.
>First, that the book has its own historical significance because of
>Yamaguchi's stature. Second, that the book (or rather, each translation)
>proceeds without much deep awareness of how haiku is written in ENGLISH.
>Obviously, the translators job is difficult, having to reflect the author's
>original intent, yet also respect the demands of the destination language. My
>point is that I don't know Japanese, thus I can't speak about the author's
>intent (at least as seen in the original Japanese versions of the poems). But
>I do know English haiku deeply, and feel that the poems do not adequately
>respect what succeeds in English-language haiku. These translations, for me,
>reveal a lack of understanding of the best of English haiku.

YAMAGUCHI Seishi was a fairly strict adherer to syllable count and I would guess that he insisted on 5,7,5 in English too. As I have stated above, I do not feel that a mere 20-30 years of Western tradition should be the determinant for how haiku should be written whether in English or any other language.
English haiku is still in the fledgling stage.
Having said that I agree that many of the translations are left wanting.
I don't feel this to be a problem with the 5,7,5 style although it does make translating considerably more difficult.

>I would
>recommend reading Seishi Yamaguchi's book primarily for its historical value.
>I do hope, though, the a better set of translations might appear in the
>future, and that they be presented without all the trappings of explanation
>that went with them in the Mangajin book.

It is precisely the trappings that give value to the present book. If it were just a set of translations it may as well just be lumped in with all the rest.
A quick read and straight into storage.

>This of course is just my opinion. In English, the problems of 5-7-5 haiku
>are rampant, especially among beginners (some appear on this list, alas).
>Many excellent haiku *have* been written in English to the 5-7-5 syllable
>count. My point is that the vast bulk of 5-7-5 haiku fall far short of what
>really works as poetry and haiku in English. The main reason is that the
>focus on the arbitrary external form too often is detrimental to the much
>deeper internal spirit and structure of haiku. What's more, this internal
>haiku essence IS universal, whereas an external structure such as 17
>syllables does not necessarily translate to other languages because languages
>vary so much. There is no inherent value simply in the *number* of syllables.
>And what is a "syllable" in Japan (onji) is greatly different from a
>"syllable" in English. There is a more important, more organic essence that
>should lie at the centre of haiku. The form for English haiku is best if it
>arises out of content, rather than content arising out of form. Form follows
>function after all.

The problems are indeed rampant and for beginners it may be far easier to start out working in free form. This at least cuts out the tendency to cram as many words/concepts as possible into a set no. of syllables - one
of the real killers of haiku.

People should be more liberal with their "a", "and", "the" and other similar words. As to the syllable argument, see above. The organic essence is of course more important than the form but form has it's place too.

When I recommend the YAMAGUCHI Seishi book it is not to read and enjoy as simple poetry. Reading a translation guarantees that the poetry will be second rate linguistically and as I have said before some of the poetry lacks depth, at least to lovers of Zen. It is to learn what values Modern Japanese haiku poets stress. It is to become aware of the importance of kigo.

It is to realize that haiku in the West and haiku in Japan are still separate entities. It isn't a book to read before bed just because the poems sound pretty but rather to point your desk lamp at and try to reach out into the Japanese haiku world.

Try to look at it with fresh eyes. But try also to remember that Seishi is only one of many Japanese haiku poets, each with their own philosophies, their own schools in a haiku world full of variety within its tight self-imposed constraints.

Regards, Dhugal


anonymous said...

The haiku format is 5-7-5 syllables - no exceptions. To criticize Susanna Speier for her “bow to tradition” is ridiculous. The challenge of haiku is to stick to the format. Anyone who can’t follow the format doesn’t deserve to call themselves a poet or a wordsmith.
V. Alison Taylor

I’d like to make it clear that I don’t dismiss 5-7-5 haiku out of hand. In the early days of the haiku movement (roughly 1963 to 1968), that form was normative, and there are some wonderful poetic achievements in it by pioneers such as James W. Hackett, Nick Virgilio, and O Mabson Southard, in particular.

Allan Burns July 6, 2009

More Discussion

anonymous said...

I was interested in Gabi’s comment about the emphasis on the 5-7-5 ‘backbone’ in Japan.
I would think all poems would have a similar sing-song effect when read, and would all have the same rhythm.
I would not like to be the 20th poet at a reading. I prefer each poem to sound as its own, and not like others.
Paul Miller


anonymous said...

Excellent, Gabi.
I wish everyone in the world could see it and understand.

Gabi Greve said...

On Japanese language -- If nouns are the bones of a language, verbs are the blood that keeps it moving. The thing about Japanese is that there are so many of them that it is close to impossible to know them all, particularly if we include combinations of two single verbs.
The good news is that the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (NINJAL)