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Contents of my HAIKU THEORY archives

My advise for beginners :

keep the three lines : short long short
use one season word (kigo)
use one cut marker (kireji)

Write about a personal experience, not a philosophical thought or idea.
Try to pay attention to the small things in life with all their details,
the seasonal changes of your daily human life.
Every moment of your life counts!
Be Here and Now !

The Basics, the Essence ... of Japanese Haiku
! Click HERE !

The more I study in this field, the more I make a difference between Japanese haiku (a well defined genre with rules (yakusokugoto) to cherish
non-Japanese language haiku (mostly English, but also many other world languages now), which have created their own sets of rules and regulations to keep or ignore. Lately, they are often called ELH (English language haiku).

I will try and update these musings as I come along the problems.

Adjectives used in haiku

AHA, the HAIKU MOMENT Haiku no shunkan ? 俳句の瞬間 ??
Beyond the Haiku Moment, vertical axis, horizontal axis
Write from a personal experience ... or not ?

Allusion, allusions used in haiku cultural keywords.
Haiku in Context, haiku as "stand alone"

Anthropomorphism - Pro and Con  Personification, Gijinka 擬人化

Aware, mono no aware - the pity/pathos of things

Beginners Mind 初心 shoshin Zen Mind, Beginners' Mind

Break, line-break, line break This is NOT the cut ...

Buddhism and Haiku in Japan - not everything is ZEN -

Bussokusekika, bussoku sekika 仏足石歌
Poems on the Buddha's footprint stone

Categories of a Japanese saijiki

Cause and Effect, C&E 。。 and the CUT

Chinese influence, Chinese kigo background

Counting Five Seven Five ... why NOT in English
..... Counting on your fingers ... in Japanese ! some cultural fun !

Creativity ... within the limits ?

Crosscultural Musings

CUT and Cut marker, kire, kireji ... the Basics of cutting words. caesura, gap

Death poems, farewell poems (jisei 辞世の句)

DEFINITIONS ... Trying to define HAIKU ...
... also : desk ku, desk haiku, haiku noir, . . .

Details: How many details to pack in one haiku?

Direct speech in Haiku

EGO and how not to anihilate it in haiku

Emotions ... Loneliness, sadness, melancholy and more Sabishisa, kanashisa and more

English-language haiku 英語ハイク eigo HA.I.KU / eisaku HA.I.KU 英作ハイク .. as seen in Japan

Finger pointing to the moon ... Basho Koan

go shichi go
5 7 5 ... 5-7-5 ... five seven five ...
How to cope with this problem :)

Footnotes - for translations and regional haiku

Freedom of expression within the limits ...

Ginkoo, tips for a Haiku Walk 吟行 Ginko, Haiku Circle, Haiku Meeting

Grammar Points of Japanese haiku

Haiga and Photo Haiku (shahai) 俳画 と 写俳

Haiku Doo, my Way of Haiku 俳句道

"Haiku without Kigo ??? " Definitions, classifications ... !!!!!

Hacket about Haiku Advise from James W. Hackett

Healing, Haiku Therapy, Psychotherapy
癒しの俳句 Healing Haiku

Hokku and Haikai ... Back to the Roots !

hon-i, hon'i 本意 (ほんい) the basic meaning the traditional poetic essence

Honka-dori, honkadori ほんかどり【本歌取り】 "the art of quoting another poem"
Unison (shoowa 唱和), parody (kokkei 滑稽), plagiarism, Déjà-ku, deja vu, deja ku, allusion . . .

Hundred Frogs and The Sound of Water (Mizu no Oto)

I, the first person (ware, watakushi) used in haiku Japan

Imagination, Reality, Phantasy

Implied kigo, implied season

Inspiration or Desku ?

Interpreting haiku . . the reader completes the poem

Judgement, Duality yin and yang, rich and poor ...

Juxtaposition, combination and the CUT
... toriawase, ichibutsu jitate, kire
... one image, two images

Kanji, Chinese Characters and learning about Haiku 漢字

Karumi かるみ(軽み) lightness . . light-heartedness

Kidai and Kigo 季題と季語

. . . Kigo, seasonal words ... the Basics
Discussion about the use of two or more kigo in one haiku

KIRE, the CUT in English haiku A Translator's Nightmare .. :o)
..... KIRE 切れ字, the CUT in Japanese haiku

Koan and Haiku 公案と俳句

Language -"written literary, classical language" (bungo 文語) -
spoken colloquial kogo language (koogo 口語)

"Learn from the Pine" .. .. the twisted meaning of words of wisdom

. Lessons, my Haiku Lessons .  

Localism About the use of local and regional words.

MA 間, the pause created by a cut marker ... lately interpreted as "dreaming room"

Metaphor, simile and ... no gotoku, no gotoshi .

Missing, what am I missing? Understanding Japanese haiku.

Moment the ominous "haiku moment"

Motivation ... Why do YOU want to write Japanese haiku?
Why do you READ haiku ?

Modern Haiku - Gendai Haiku 現代俳句協会 in Japan
shinkoo 新興俳句 young and new haiku

- Muki 無季 no season - problems of terminology
?? Muki-Kigo Saijiki 無季季語歳時記
!! 現代俳句歳時記  無季 Gendai Haiku Saijiki / Muki
Modern Haiku Saijiki / "No Season"

Negative Verb Forms . . . to use or not to use ?


Numbers and Dates used in Haiku - the Plural
... numbers used in kigo

One Line, One Sentence Haiku ... the traps of wrong translations
One Word Haiku and One Word Haiga

Onomatopoetic Words used in Haiku

Philosophical Haiku ... trying to figure it out

Pivot ... its use in waka and haiku

PLACE NAMES used in Haiku Japan and Worldwide. placenames
..... ..... Utamakura, Place Names in Japanese Poetry 歌枕 "Poetry Pillow Words"

Plagiatism .. and Unison Haiku (shoowa 唱和), using the same lines, Déjà vu ...

Plural - one haiku, two haiku one kigo, two kigo . . .

POETS, Introducing Japanese Haiku Poets 

Poetry and Food haiku 俳句, waka 和歌 . . .

Polishing a haiku after writing it down
..... Teacher's advise, tensaku 添削教室 , editing your own haiku

Pronouns used in haiku

Punctuation capital letters, the equivalent of a cut marker (kireji) and more

Question mark ... KA か and more about punctuation.

Renku, renga, haikai, linked verse 連句, 連歌、俳諧

Rhyme, rythm, alliteration too-in 頭韻

Riddles and Haiku The Real, the Surreal, the Metaphysical and you name it !
..... Koan and Haiku

Rules for Haiku ?! A general discussion. Add your opinion !

SAIJIKI - History of Japanese Saijiki

Seasons, haiku seasons and their relation to kigo

Senryu and Haiku ー 川柳と俳句
..... and ... "miscellaneous verse", zappai 雑俳

Sensei, a Japanese Haiku Teacher . and how about it outside Japan.

Shasei .. 写生 sketching from nature ka cho-fuei (kachoo fuuei 花鳥諷詠)
..... Snapshots versus oil paintings

Shinko Haiku: Young and New Haiku 新興俳句

Show, don't tell - in ELH only

Spelling Japanese Language, the Hepburn System
Writing in Romaji, the IROHA alphabet, onji, syllables

Spelling and writing Haiku in English
capital letters, exclamation marks, punctuation and more

Spirit, the HAIKU SPIRIT ... haikai no makoto

Stimulation of the brain through poetry ... ... smell the coffee !

Style, personal style of haiku poets
Taisho Hototogisu 大正ホトトギス

Symbol, Symbols, images and the "real meaning"

Tao, Dao and Kigo Chinese Taoism 道教 Daoism and Japan
Yin and Yang 陰陽 , wu wei 

Teaching haiku to children, with many references
Also good for adults !!!!!

Tentori 点取り ... writing haiku to get good points

Time and Space
haiku about past, present and future events

Truth - poetical truth truth "The Truth in Haiku" ?

Tsukinami Haiku 月並み俳句 Mediocre haiku, written to impress a certain audience ...

Tontoism Just short or a grammar mistake ?

Tradition ... How to incorporate a tradition and culture that is not your own?

Translating Haiku Forum .. Introduction

Translating ... some Tips on the Trade

Translating ... Discussion of Haiku by Oshima Ryota

Two ideas in one haiku ... the basics

Ukiyo 浮世 floating world

Verbs used in Haiku

Waka 和歌 / Tanka 短歌 

Wordless Poem The Zen Way is Wordless

Workshop, workshopping - online

Yugen (yuugen 幽玄) Depth and mystery and more. Aesthetics coming from the Noh Theater.
yoin, yo-in 余韻 "reverberation", lingering meaning

Wabi and Sabi (wabi sabi) The Japanese Aesthetics of Solitude 侘び寂び 侘寂 わびさび

Yakazu haikai 矢数俳諧 haiku marathon

Zappai 雑俳, zakku 雑句 ... Miscellaneous short poems

ZEN and Haiku ... well, well, well

Zooka 造化 the creative force (wrong spelling is : zoka)

ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo

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Basics of Composing Haiku

Haiku Theory Archives / INDEX is HERE !


The Basics of Composing Haiku

Read the Basics of Composing Haiku
by Susumu Takiguchi, World Haiku Club

My Musings on the Essence of Haiku

Once a frog jumped into an old pond and there was a little sound ... that is all what Basho told us about this (not so special) moment

but thus, it is the basics of Japanese HAIKU.

It is very different from the concept of Poetry we have in the West (living in both cultures, I had to learn the hard way).
No unnecessary decoration, no special vocabulary, no forced juxtaposition, no poetic circumlocation, no heavyhanded philosopical implications.
Just three simple lines, telling us what happened there, right now ... and then some, of course!

To catch that special moment, when you are moved beyond words, and yet convey your awe in words. To say the un-sayable, to express the whole universe in a tiny ant ...

Let nature speak through you in her own language, do not impose yourself on nature with your poetic words.

My Archery Sensei used to say:
If you shoot from your own center (hara), you will hit the target in the center!

It is a great challenge to write my haiku in Japanese language, trying to forget all I learned in grammar school, de-programming the whole of my Western philosophical and logical mind, throw all the concepts out and
... and then jump in the pond of haiku !

For me, it is well worth the effort !



Gabi san, you have showed me the spirit of Haiku.

gabi gaeru haiku no ike e rikutsu nuki

Gabi frog
jump into haiku pond
without logic

Sakuo Nakamura
October 2006, Happy Haiku Forum, #3544


This is just a simple observation, or not?

after the rain -
clouds chasing clouds
in the autumn sky

For those not so familiar with the Japanese symbolism I am referring to, try to substitute

"thoughts" for "clouds" and
"mind" for "sky" .


quiet spring day -
the lake a mirror
but aaaa, the clouds !

To get to the Japanese meaning of this one, .. click HERE !


Takahama Kyoshi stressed the importance of scetching from nature (shasei and kachoo fuuei 花鳥諷詠), but behind any simple sketch there should be the real feeling of a human being, feeling that this person can not express otherwise because of social restraints, but he can clothe it in a haiku ...

My thoughts on SHASEI, scetching from nature


MA, 間 the Empty Space

Tosa Mitsuoki (1617 - 1691) wrote regarding the use of empty space in regards to painting:

"Do not fill up the whole picture with lines; also apply colors with a light touch. Some imperfection in design is desirable. You should not fill in more than one third of the background. Just as you would if you were writing poetry, take care to hold something back. The viewer, too, must bring something into it. If one includes some empty space along with an image, then the mind will fill it in."

MA is a most important something in Japanese art, and even in Japanese daily life, even nowadays. I once knew a foreighner, who could speak the language perfectly BUT could not insert the necessary MA when it is time to pause and give your partner a time to nodd and make his aizuchi, hmmm, aaaa remarks. Thus each of his dialogs was spoiled soon and ended in a monolog.


When your haiku is finished:
(some advise from my haiku sensei Michiko in Kamakura)

Ask yourself:
Did I do my best? Or can I do a bit better?
If this was my last haiku to write in this world, would I be proud to leave it as my legacy?
Can any reader, who has not experienced this situation with me, understand what I want to convey? Did I get the meaning right and expressed what I wanted to say clear enough?
Is it not toooo cryptic and ambiguous to be understood properly? (In case it is tooo cryptic, keep it in your private haiku diary for a later re-write.) My German way of thinking had to be re-programmed quite often.

so the facit here is:
Do not write with a special audience in mind,
but write in a way that any reader will understand what you are trying to say.

This leads to the next important point:

Do NOT ask yourself:
Will the reader say WHOW? or rather SO WHAT?
After all, you thought it worth to be a haiku and wrote it carefully in an understandable way. You know, the tastes of readers are manifold. Some like cats and others like dogs.
It is like the pebbles on a beach, some pick up this one and some another one.

I often get varying comments, one saying, what a dumb haiku, the next saying: How great a haiku!

Do NOT say to yourself:
I want to write a haiku to be published in "XYZ Haiku Magazin" or a haiku to win the XYZ contest!
Read my advise about NOT writing haiku to get good points ! (tentori haiku)

Different people of course give different advise on polishing a haiku:
Polishing a haiku after writing it down

In a different context, Noguchi Sensei says:

Quietening the heart, ridding yourself of anxiety, casting out categories of what pleases and displeases, of likes and dislikes, and not thinking in categories of "what is valuable" ..
These judgements cling to the very depth of your heart and prevent you from a full life experience.
The Way to a Whole Life

Judgement, duality, yin and yang and haiku



winter wind —
a cradlesong sung
in an ancient tongue

Billie Wilson

Haiku is a poetry not of the mind or invention, but of experience. When the subject of a haiku involves a major human emotion such as love, it is the writer’s challenge not to overwhelm the poem. Haiku writing is a way of seeing the world and expressing an insight in a manner as unadorned by the poet’s opinion as possible.

Death, grief, and love are certainly parts of life and as such are subjects for haiku. But what is love? The ancient Greeks used three words for love: eros, agape, and philia. Eros as love should be obvious. Agape was used by early Christians more specifically than “altruism” alone. The word came to mean love of God, or God’s love. In addition to “brotherly” love, Aristotle described philia as showing love by a parent. It is this most basic perhaps original bond among humans that Billie Wilson has indicated to the reader.

Paul MacNeil in
The Heron's Nest, Winter 2006


Suggested reading in our library

. Beyond the Haiku Moment : Haruo Shirane

The Haiku Habit, by Jeanne Emrich
in the WKD Library

Guidelines for editing your own haiku, by Lee Gurga
in the WKD Library

Haiku: A Poet's Guide , by Lee Gurga

Traditional Japanese Haiku School How to compose HAIKU
Susumu Takiguchi

The Development and Nature of Haiku in Japan
Susumu Takiguchi, WHR January 2010


Japanese haiku poets are usually a member of a local haiku club, they are proud of their sensei and write in the tradition of this school, with respect to the Asian poetry culture ... all the way back to China.
(The internet lately provides some changes ...)

In a non-Japanese environment the position of haiku seems different. It falls into a vacuum, since the general categories of Western poetry and lyric did not provide for such a short form. Most haiku poets do not have a personal teacher and use online workshops, where anyone can post an opinion ... and the poor poet has to decide which is qualified and which is not!

Since short is easy, anyone can write three lines of something, declare it HAIKU and here we are ... ! It suits the Western idea of individualism very well.
Sometimes I feel poets are parading their haiku dog, telling everyone "This is my cat."
If you have never seen a real cat (appreciated haiku in the Japanese language), you might tend to believe him / her.

Cross-cultural take-over comes at a prize.

October 2007

May 2012

Workshopping -
it is becoming more and more popular these days, now with facebook here to facilitate "socializing".

For a successful HAIKU workshop, the administrator should first and foremost state his/her definition of the genre, otherwise it is just another outlet for short poems of "anything goes".
There must also be a consideration for people who use English as a second or third language and are not native speakers (like myself, first language is German).
There are two steps:
first to improve on the mistaken English, vocabulary, grammar etc.
second improve on the haiku image.

If you want to help someone improve his/her haiku, there is one big premise for me (as taught by my Japanese sensei):
Step out of your own shoes and haiku agenda.
Step into the shoes of the author.

What does he want to convey?
What did he experience and is now trying to put into words?

As an editor of a haiku journal you are entitled to accept only poems that fit your own agenda to promote the magazine.
As a mentor in a workshop, you should forget about this (otherwise you would be promoting tentori).
You should help the author to improve on his conditions, not on yours.

MORE is here
. Polishing a haiku after writing it down .
..... Teacher's advise, tensaku 添削教室 , editing your own haiku


To be added as we go !

Read my Archives about Haiku Theory





WKD - Translating Haiku Forum

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Translating Haiku

Memos of the Yahoo Forum, founded in April 2006

My experience in the translation business goes back more than 40 years, working as a medical doctor/translator in research programs for the WHO, University of Heidelberg.
Later I studied Far Eastern Art and began to translate
texts about Japanese Buddhist Art.

I am born German and live in Japan since 1977. I work as professional translator for scientific and HiTech texts and do cultural translations for my pleasure.

I do not consider myself a poet and translating haiku is rather new to me. Since neither Japanese nor English is my mother tongue, it is indeed quite difficult for me to find the right words.

I will nevertheless try to assist as best as I can to help you understand Japanese Haiku. Apart from the pure language problems, there is a lot about the culture that you might not know and I can provide "footnotes" for this kind of missing knowledge, I hope.

Gabi Greve, GokuRakuAn, Japan, 2004
Languages: German, English, Japanese (a bit of French and Latin)

. Japanese Haiku - Translations .
Join me on Facebook, since October 2012


In the translation forum
let us just try to understand the original and present it to the readers who do not speak Japanese (or any other original language for that matter) as best as we can, to give all a chance to understand it better, in its original form and contents.
Considering the old haiku of Japan, we even have to make a time-slip to their use of the language and the culture at that time.

Studying a haiku at the forum includes literal translations and then other versions that might be possible.
Some might read better as poems, others not.
In that way we can show how a short Japanese poem is indeed not so easily transformed into another language.

As I mentioned, we also need cultural background information.
Knowing a haiku is about Manpuku-Ji we need to explain a bit about this important temple and its atmosphere.
"Autumn festival" is a simple translation of AKIMATSURI, but it will not tell you what really happens then and how the Japanese associate and feel about it. So you need more cultural background.

I admire Robin Gill for giving his thoughts and versions while translating a haiku.

In studying a translation by someone else, let us see what other kinds of versions we can come up with. Not as a competition for "Best Version", but for bringing out the broadest meaning of a haiku to more of the haiku friends who do not read Japanese and who are here to study.

Translating Haiku Forum, March 2007

Some haiku are rather wonderful in Japanese but plain and simple in the English translation. Many friends keep asking:

What am I missing ?


Did you know,
you can polish your Japanese,
but not japanese your Polish ?!

I was told so many years ago by a Polish Jesuit priest at the Japanese Language Center in Kamakura.

Many of you are tempted to write their own haiku in Japanese!
I can understand the feeling, but please, take my advise.

First learn the normal Japanese language as it is spoken in Japan (many books teach you "literal" Japanese, which no one speaks).

Once you consider yourself fluent in normal Japanese conversation, start reading about haiku and get your big Japanese saijiki. Learn the vocabulary needed there, get some knowledge abuot the grammar used in haiku. There are plenty of cheap books in Japan.

And then, try to find a Japanese teacher who will kick your shin if you make a mistake.
Do not go for the "backpatting" pet gaijin approach, that will not help you improve your language skills.
When someone tells you "お上手ですねええ” you should know it is time to run, fast ...

And please, please, please, do NOT use Babbelfish or other online translation services.

They may be useful for normal text, but never for poetry !

Writing your own haiku in Japanese only works if you are serious to invest about 5 years of intensive language learning (best spent in Japan) and then the rest of your life for improvements.
So better not start at all and spend your time more efficiently to improve your skills for writing good haiku in English (or whatever your mothertongue is).


Cross-cultural Musings

When translating, it is not only about words, but of a cultural understanding that might not (and usually does not) exist in the target language.

I will always remember the first missionaries looking at what we now call "Buddha Statues". They only saw hineous fiendish demonic fetishes (Götzenbilder in German) and translated the literature accordingly.
When I started writing about "Buddha Statues" in German, more than 30 years ago, I had to sort of make up my own vocabulary to convey what these things mean here in Japan in their original context and in the daily life of the Japanese.
Consider a statue of a Kannon with 1000 arms and a poor missionary 200 years ago trying to cope with such a monster in his Christian vocabulary ...

What I am trying to say is this

Usually you look into things from the standpoint of your own culture, trying to understand it on YOUR terms, using words of YOUR language.

I try to understand things Japansese on THEIR terms, the Japanese way. This means re-programming the old brain, loosing the European cultural clutter and start from ZERO ... Ichi Ni San ...

Gabi Greve


Musings by Chibi, November 2008

I am beginning to believe... truly believe, that haiku can only be written in Japanese because it is intrinsically Japaense. I look at it this way. If you are to construct a sake cup made from Japanese wood, of Japanese design, in a Japanese setting filled with sake made in Japan... then how can you do so in another wood, design, setting or drink? By definition, you just can not.

MORE by Chibi
Translating Haiku Forum


Translating Place names  
I think place names should be used as they are in the original language. If necessary, an explanation about the meaning of the name can be given in a footnote.

Arakawa 荒川 river Arakawa

Arakawa is the full name of the river. Putting the denominator "river" in front of the name will tell a person who does not know any Japanese:
This is a river called Arakawa.
(To not translate: river Ara, or even worse, river Wild.

法隆寺 temple Horyu-Ji, this is a temple called Horyu-Ji

東京, this is Tokyo, meaning the "Eastern Capital".
不二, this is Mount Fuji, in the old writing of Issa, Meaning Mount "Not Two".

Here is a haiku with a play on words on the "stone mountain".

Ishiyama no ishi ni tabashiru arare kana

splashing on the stones
of Mount Ishiyama -
these hailstones

Matsuo Basho, Tr. Gabi Greve
Read the full discussion HERE !


ishiyama no ishi yori shiroshi aki no kaze

autumn wind
whiter than the white cliffs
of this mountain

Tr. Gabi Greve

................... Comment by Larry Bole:

When a Japanese person hears "Ishiyama," do they just hear a name, or do they hear the underlying meaning of that name? I am tempted to suggest they just hear a name, in the same way that English people most likely just hear "Cambridge," and "Oxford," without thinking "Cam-bridge" (a place where there was a bridge over the River Cam), and "Ox-ford," (a place where oxen could ford a river).

So if "Ishiyama" is used in a translation 'as is', I would think it should be footnoted as to its meaning. And if one decides to do that, why not just use the name's meaning in the haiku, and make "Ishiyama" a footnote to that?

I'm also curious about Mt. Asama.
Does "Asama" mean something in Japanese?

Read more of the thoughts on this by
Larry Bole

... ... ...

Haiku has those two elements,i.e Kanji and hiragana, image and music.

Asama 浅間 is old style Japanese that comes from Ainu.
It sounds softly, romantic, analog and emotional.

Sengen is Kanji itself that is image, reasonable, digital and theoretical.

Read the thoughs of Nakamura Sakuo

... ... ... ... ... ...

Famous Places, best with a word of information.
The Hepburn Romaji spelling and the spelling used more or less oficcially now can be different. I usually try to reflect both.

東大寺, Toodaiji, Temple Toodai-Ji
利根川, Tonegawa, River Tonegawa
大和田湖, Toowadako, Lake Towada

松尾芭蕉 Matsuo Basho, Mister Pine-Tale Bananas

Pseudonym for Matsuo Kinsaku 金作,
Matsuo Chu'emon Munefusa 松尾忠右衛門宗房




General problems concerning our haiku translations will be collected here, as they come up.

Spelling Japanese : Please use the Hepburn System.

The Basics of Japanese Haiku Theory - A Long List
Gabi Greve

WKD: Haiku .. Japanese Words in Cultural Context
Reading and Translating the Japanese Haiku Masters

Tips about translating ... Jane Reichhold
Simply Haiku Summer 2008, Basho

WKD: Direct translation versus meaningful translation
chokuyaku versus iyaku

Translating the Poetry of Miyazawa Kenji


Online Dictionaries, Synonym Dictionaries and more

Tools of the Trade, check our various LINKS here.

Add your favorite language tool LINKS.


Some theory about translating Japanese haiku

Basho’s Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho
David Landis Barnhill
In the introduction, Barnhill mentions some of the problems involved in translating haiku.

Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!
Robin Gill

The way Gill translates is not only marvelous, it is absolutely revolutionary.
Instead of giving the reader the idea that there is only one way to translate a haiku, he offers a word-for-word translation and then goes into great detail explaining the ambiguities of the Japanese language along with the secrets of Japanese behavior. His final translation is often a series of possible ways of putting the haiku into English. . . .
He is even secure enough to admit when he really cannot figure out what the author was trying to say. . . .

SHIKI : debate on translating haiku, 1999
Susumu Takiguchi


Can the Spirit of Haiku be Translated ?
Susumu Takiguchi


What can I say on translating haiku?
Eiko Yachimoto

Translation discourse on a haiku by Issa
Darko Suvin

... PDF file achive.vanderbilt.edu/

Obscurity is not something to be emulated, and we should be careful to avoid it in modern hokku.
The issue of translation arises, however, whenever one reads an old hokku put into English. The average reader does not know, first of all, if the original was clear or vague, or whether the English translation simply transfers the meaning from language to language, or if the translator has added considerably from his or her own imagination.
. . . . . and more
... reading a word-for-word translation does not mean one is getting the same effect as reading it in the original language.
source : David, Hokku Inn


Professor Yuasa Nobuyuki:

It looks as if
Iris flowers had bloomed
On my feet --
Sandals laced in blue.

Matsuo Basho

"the language of haiku ... is based on colloquialism, and in my opinion, the closest approximation of natural conversational rhythm can be achieved in English by a four-line stanza rather than a constrained theree-line stanza.... "
"this translation is primarily intended for lovers of poetry, and only secondarily for scholars whose minds should be broad enough to recognise the use in a translation like this. It's not for those purists who insist (without believing either in its validity or possibility, I presume) that haiku should be translated with the original seventeen syllable scheme or at least into three lines."
source : The narrow road to the Deep North


Translating Personsl Pronouns 

Personal pronouns are often implied in the Japanese language, but should be translated in other languages when things are not quite clear.

my love for you

(anyone's anonymous) love for you

are two different meanings.
It usually does not add additional depth to a poem, but a bit of confusion which is better avoided.

. aimai 曖昧 ambiguous, unclear or vague .

a bad translation or
. . . . Haiku Riddles . . . .


As a translator, sometimes you have to make up words as you begin to understand things deeper. Or experiment with spellings to convey the meaning of the CUT, kireji etc.

In January 2007, I came across a kind of re-export for the word haiku in English in a Japanese text from the haiku town Matsuyama in Ehime/Japan:

eigo HA.I.KU 英語ハイク

The katakana spelling of ハイク (in my re-translation: HA.I.KU) indicates this is a foreign word not common in traditional Japanese language.

There is now even a book introducing English language haiku to the Japanese reader:

吉村 侑久代

 © amazon.com

another book on the subject

(The world of haiku and HA . I . KU

星野恒彦 / Hoshino Tsunehiko

MANY More LINKS about 俳句 英語 ハイク!!

eisaku ha.i.ku 英作 ハイク English-language ha.i.ku,
ha.i.ku composed in English (to include the translation of SAKU)
source : www.haiku-hia.com
Haiku International Association
eisaku haiku

sekai haiku 世界俳句 World Haiku
. . . CLICK here for Photos !
Magazine of the World Haiku Association 世界俳句協会
Natsuishi Banya 石番矢

sekai haiku nyuumon 世界俳句入門 A Guide to World Haiku
Book by 夏石番矢

. . . . .

shinkoo haiku 新興俳句 New and Fresh Haiku
Modern Haiku - gendai haiku 現代俳句

Experimental Haiku
jikkensei haiku 実験性俳句
zenei haiku 前衛俳句

avantgarde Haiku 前衛俳句 zen-ei haiku
vanguard haiku

jiyuuritsu haiku 自由律俳句 free verse haiku

tanshi 短詩 short poem


is a property of a text, or of any utterance, in one language, for which no equivalent text or utterance can be found in another language.

Terms are neither exclusively translatable nor exclusively untranslatable; rather, the degree of difficulty of translation depends on their nature, as well as the translator's abilities.

Quite often, a text or utterance that is considered to be "untranslatable" is actually a lacuna, or lexical gap. That is to say that there is no one-to-one equivalence between the word, expression or turn of phrase in the source language and another word, expression or turn of phrase in the target language.

A translator, however, can resort to a number of translation procedures to compensate.

Check it out HERE !
© Untranslatability, from Wikipedia

Add your favorite translation LINKS as a comment here.

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Poetry is language skating on thin ice.
Translators fish through a hole in the ice.

"The Foreignness of Languages" and Literary Translation
Brother Anthony, An Sonjae (Sogang Univeristy, Seoul)

WKD Library

"Buson and
the Language of Japanese Poetry."

by Makoto Ueda
WKD Library


My Archives about Haiku Theory and General Subjects



The discussion on the "cut" has been very interesting and shows another example of "doing your research". The poem "snicked" into place once I realized the meaning of the folding mat and its uses.
This is what I mean about Japanese HAIKU. I have always found it exciting, frustrating, informing, exhausting, etc...(in short a "joyfull struggle") to attempt the translation on my own especially with tools like google combined with membership in groups like this group.

I feel very blessed to know people with such deep interest in Japanese HAIKU.
Thank you all.

ciao... chibi


Thanks. One of the things I enjoy about being in a group like this, is that it gets me to re-reading things I haven't read in a while,and it is an impetus to study haiku. If I could read Japanese fluently, I would follow in Shiki's footsteps, and study, study, study Japanese haiku, both classic and contemporary.
Such study couldn't help but improve one's own haiku (if one can get beyond "the anxiety of influence," to use the critic Harold Bloom's phrase).


Back to the Discussion Forum !!!!!


To the Daruma Museum Index

Translating Haiku Forum



TIPS for Translating

TIPS for Translating Haiku

Learning a language is one thing, but being a (professional) translator is quite something else.
The fact that you speak English, for example, does not make you an English teacher (unless you happened to be in Japan some 20 years ago. (Smile:o))

Everyone can use watercolors and paint a little enchanted something, but to be a proper painter it takes a bit more !

Here I will collect some tips as they come up in this forum:
... Translating Haiku, a Study Group ....

........................................ Some Simple Advise

Translate only into your mother tongue!

Google or consult your dictionary for all the words before attempting a translation.


Using two languages in one haiku:
the BUBUBU exchange

Let me take up as example this one from India

rainy day
the muni in silent dhyaana
completely laved ~

Narayanan Raghunathan

My advise is to insert BUBUBU for any word that is left in your language. This will enable you to understand your translation as anyone else will understand it who is not able to speak your language.

rainy day
the BUBU in silent BUBUBU
completely laved ~

Now you have two options. Maybe more.

Leave your translation as it is and provide footnotes for the BUBUBU words. The more extensive the better.

Look for translations for the BUBUBU words. With the computer age and GOOGLE, it is quite easy to find out if the word is commonly understood in English or not.
LINKs to Online Dictionaries. Add yours.

Since haiku are soooo short, a lengthy translation inlcuding the meaning might spoil all the meter of your poem. If an appropriate short translation is not available, maybe the footnote will be the final solution.

In cross-cultural context such as haiku translations, I guess we will need a lot of footnotes and tools like the KIGO database, to get as close as we can to the real meaning and associations hinted at in the original.

Here are now the footnotes for the above haiku :

muni ~ One who is silent, a sage ~ [ From Mownam ~ Silence]

dhyaana ~ Dhyaana is now an English word which means roughly meditation.



Goals of my translation (in order of importance):
by "chibi" (pen-name for Dennis M. Holmes)

(1) to translate the feeling of the poem

(2) tranform the words from the host language to equivalent words of the Japanese language (transform has in this case a mathematical meaning in that picking the best word/phrase must transform from one culture to another keeping in mind the first goal

(3) construct as closely as possible into the Japanese form for haiku (5-7-5, kigo, and kireji)

Read the full discussion here:


Some remarks by Larry Bole:

I'm not a translator, but I've read about the problems inherent in translating poetry from one language to another.

I think that one quality a good translation has is to sound good in the target language. That's why some very good translations have been made by poets in the target language who have no working knowledge of the source language. Good poets have a tendency to know what sounds good in their language.

I think that in many cases, literalness needs to be sacrificed in favor of giving the 'spirit' or 'intent' of the original. Since cranes walk in a stately, graceful, solemn way, (as has been noted in other languages, ie. Dylan Thomas' "heron-priested shore"), you need to fill-in what a Japanese person would 'expect' (sasuga).

An explanation of the cultural background of a poem should be footnoted more than it frequently is in many translations of poetry in general.

In the old Japanese calendar, New Year's Day and the official first day of spring come at the same time of year, but don't always coincide. Sometimes the official first day of spring came before New Year's Day. I believe Basho and Issa even wrote haiku about this phenomenon.

The New Year is usually treated as a separate haiku topic from spring, so I would be careful about using the New Year and spring interchangeably in translation.

In "The Essential Haiku" by Robert Hass, he includes "A Note on Translation" which is worth reading.

In "Section V" (subsection 9) of Blyth's first volume of "Haiku," he writes about translation.

Although I've only read some online material by Robin Gill, his books on translating haiku come highly recommended.

Quoted from : Translating Haiku Forum

First Spring (hatsu haru) and more kigo of the New Year season.

The Poet Robert Pinksy on translations


My Archives about Haiku Theory


To the Daruma Museum Index

To the Worldkigo Database

One Hundred Frogs

[ . BACK to Worldkigo TOP . ]

Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 
Matsuo Bashoo Matsuo Bashō

furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto

古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音

One Hundred Frogs: Hiroaki Sato

From Renga to Haiku to English

From Matsuo Basho to Allen Ginsberg
ISBN 0834801760


........................................... mizu no oto 水の音

Some of my musings about translating this line !

Sound of Water, Water of Sound


Matsuo Basho, Basho Memorial Day and some more of my information:

I especially recomend the book by Toshiharu Oseko  尾迫利治 for translators.

Basho's Haiku
Produced by Maruzen, 1990

Basho Memorial day, Bashoo ki 芭蕉忌

Matsuo Basho Information


There are no greater clichés among haiku circles than quoting Basho's frog haiku.
Basho's frog haiku is almost definitely the most famous haiku ever composed on this planet.

Read an insightful discussion HERE
© Susumu Takiguchi


Quote from the SHIKI archives

A quick note to clarify what seems to be a bit of confusion regarding Hiroaki Sato's "One Hundred Frogs."
by Michael Dylan Welch

David McMurray and Jane Reichhold are actually referring to TWO different books with the *same* title by the *same* author, both published by the *same* publisher.

Sato's original book is titled "One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku to English" (Weatherhill, 1983). This book is 242 pages long, and contains a history of renga and haiku in Japan and in the English language. Chapter 7 contains one hundred (+) translations of Basho's famous "old pond" haiku. It is *this* chapter that McMurray has seen published as a separate new book.

That second book is called "One Hundred Frogs" (Weatherhill, 1995 -- note *no* subtitle). This book culls all the "old pond" translations from the 1993 book, plus adds a few more (I think there are 130+ now), with no other essays except the introduction. This more recent book is also smaller in dimension, yet it is improved by wonderful illustrations by J. C. Brown -- and if you "flip" the pages, you'll see the drawings of a frog jumping into a pond become animated! (Yup, it's a flip book too, although you have to figure that out on your own...).
Anyway, as you can see, these are two very different, yet overlapping books. I recommend

Discussion about this haiku:
hamaguri no / futami ni wakare / yuku aki zo


Basho in Russian

МАЦУО БАСЁ (1644-1694) 芭蕉 – Bashô


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





Translating Haiku

Translating Haiku

The following is part of a discussion from the Simply Haiku Forum in April 2006.

It started here:

14188 concerning metre

in the flame of my lamp
i see just a hint of wind
on a night of snow

Oshima Ryota Ooshima Ryoota
a contemporary of Yosa Buson
translated by Steven D. Carter

I like the lyricism in this haiku (it's metre).
In writing haiku it is important to remember that we are writing a poem and poems are more than a conglomerate of words, a a snapshot of something..... there needs to be that poetic something, that "umph", as demonstrated by this beautifully written haiku.

robert wilson


Question from a non-native speaker

do you usually say

on a night
in a night

by the way, do you know the Japanese original of this haiku?



hakikeru ga/ tsui ni wa hakazu/ ochiba kana

"...a hint of wind ON a night of snow" .... normally it would be IN, but the poet didn't use IN ... and I think, and I am only conjecturing here, that it's due to the imagery the poet is painting.... inside the flame in the poet's lamp is a HINT OF WIND layered so to speak, "on top of a night of snow."

robert wilson



PS... Robert san, I am sorry, but, I did not understand your explanation.



Could you give us a chance to learn the original?
Not that one you gave us, about sweeping and fallen leaves by Taigi, but that one with a lamp, wind and snow.

How can we speak about nuanses used by the poet, if we can see only the translation?
As I know Japanese haiku, I am 99% sure, there is neither "on a night of snow" nor "in a night of snow", but just "yoru no yuki" == "snowy night" = "night of snow".
Anything additional is added by the translator, to make the translation a poem in English.
ON ---> the poet is a painter ?
IN ---> the poet is a sculptor ?

Nonsense, it is nothing to do with the poet.


after few minutes...

Looking for "yoru no yuki", I have found haiku about snowy night, looking at the light and seeing the wind:

tomoshibi o
mireba kaze ari
yoru no yuki

Oshima Ryota

The last line means just "snowy night" and it depends on the translator how it will be written in English.

Best ragards,



Reading the original I can see this haiku quite different than the translator and you.
IMHO "hint", "flame" and "on" used/added by the translator in English translation may cause
damages in the reader's mind.

tomoshibi o
mireba kaze ari
yoru no yuki

Oshima Ryota

background for translation:

The most of Japanese lamps are not transparent, so one can see neither the shape of the flame inside nor its moves caused by the wind.

My translation:

in the light of the lamp
I can see the wind --
snowy night

Oshima Ryota/tr.G.S.


in the light of the lamp
I can see the wind
this snowy night

Oshima Ryota/tr.G.S.

for them who accepts haiku looking like one sentence.

My interpretation:

After L2 I don't know how it is possible, but after L3 and after 3 marvellous seconds ;-) I know everything.
This haiku is not about a flame or a lamp, but about... snowflakes ;-)

They fall like this:

/ / / /
/ / / / / /
/ / / / / /
/ / / /

If they fall like this:

(a row of straight lines, this BLOG does not show)

the poet could see "no wind" ;-)

Best regards,


Inochi wa fuuzen no tomoshibi.
Life is a lamp-flame before the wind.

Japanese Proverb

the meaning of * tomoshibi * is really very deep in the Japanese language. It could be the small flame of a rapeseed oil lamp too.

If the poet is inside his home, why would his flame move in the wind?

.......................................... because

to do yukimi, watching the snow fall in winter, you open your paper sliding doors and enjoy it life (and cold...)

there is more to tomoshibi, maybe later ...

> tomoshibi o
> mireba kaze ari
> yoru no yuki
> Oshima Ryota

Well, looking at this Japanese, I must say, the translator has added quite a few meanings of his own ... as I thought when reading the English first.

kaze ari ... just a hint of wind ??? no no no
there is wind

yoru no yuki, as Grzegorz pointed out, simply is snowy night, night of snow, snow in the night or something simple.

by introducing ON in the translation, it looks like one sentence spread in three lines, but in the Japanese, we have a cut (kire) after the ARI in line 2, which is not expressed in the translation below.

genbun o
mireba mondai ari
haru no yuki

looking at the original
there is a problem -
snow in spring




I like your interpretation.

You can see the wind both viewing falling snowflakes (the wind outside the house) and observing the moves of the flame (the wind inside the house).

"Tomoshibi" in my Japanese-Russian ;-) dictionary means just "light" of a lamp or smth. like this.

The translator has to decide to use either "light" or "flame" of the lamp. If he use "light", haiku works ithout any explanation even in XXI c. but it loses a part of your interpretation. On the other side "in the flame" doesn't suggest proper "in the light of the flame" and "in the moves of the flame", but "inside the flame" ;-)

The other thing is, there is no ~pure "in" in L1 of this haiku ;-) In the context of the light/ flame/ lamp I can feel this "o" in the original as something like English "in", "due to",...

That is why I always suggest to put the translation together with the oryginal. Translation is just a help.


Looking at your poem of the same construction as Ryoka's haiku, I understand, that the raw translation of Ryoka's haiku is something like this:

looking at the (light/flame) of the lamp,
there is a wind --
snowy night

of course without strong suggestion, that a wind is inside the flame, but it just exists, blows tonight.

Am I right?

Best regards,


looking at the flame
there is wind --
snowy night

that is one possibility.

The wind is not inside the flame or lamp, it is only making itself known trough the flickering of the flame, that is all. I can sense the snow falling gently, this is not a stormy night.




I like your version, however this ruins my attempt at translating and my interpretation ;-)

I think together with such kind of translation, there should be a note added, that Japanese like to observe snow falling, blooming trees, etc., and they open their doors to do it, even at night.

Best regards,


The translator is one of the world's leading translators, Professor Steven D. Carter of Stanford University. I suggest you take this up with. And good luck! His experience is translating is extensive, he speaks fluent Japanese and archaic Japanese, and has an extensive understanding of the culture and linguistics.

Translating isn't as easy as some may think.

I have interviewed Professor Carter. He is an amazing scholar and the author of several highly respected books of translations and discourses. I suggest you become familiar with the translator before you take him to task.

robert wilson


> Robert,
> I do not know anybody, who thinks it's easy.
> "Impossible" is a better word, I think, but it is possible to know which words are used by the poet, and which are added by the translator.
> Talking about the poet, let us talk about the author, not about the translator.

> Look at the raw translation by Gabi.
> The translation by Carter strongly suggesting the wind inside the flame is only a little part of wide meaning of L2 in Gabi's version.
> Carter's translation without romaji version is completely useful for me, if I want to translate this into Polish, because it seems to be improper in my sense of haiku.
> And Gabi's version is a base for a good translation if someone doesn't like such raw versions.
> My request is still actuall - presenting translations add romaji version. Or just say it clearly - let's talk not about the haiku by Ryota, but about haiku by Carter written after reading haiku by Ryota.

> Then I will say no word, because I'm not interested.
> Best regards,
> Grzegorz


14239 Re: AN APOLOGY by Robert


See my article about Kumarajiva, the famous Translator .

If you have a problem with translating Japanese haiku, feel free to contact me.
... Haiku Discussion Forum ...


Please send me your contributions

To the Daruma Museum Index

To the WHC Worldkigo Database


Two Ideas

One Haiku, Two Ideas

Haiku are short, only three lines as a general rule, so we should not pack too many differing ideas or themes in one haiku.

Read the Basics of Composing Haiku
by Susumu Takiguchi, Chairman of the World Haiku Club

Best is two ideas (sometimes called a fragment and phrase in American Haiku), which can be divided in

first idea in line one
second idea in lines two and three


first idea in lines one and two
second idea in line three

The first short idea could well be the kigo for this haiku.

Let me give you an example.

This would be a BAD version with THREE ideas:

cold winter night,
a dog barks,
the stars sparkle.

Now let us trim it to two ideas, keeping the winter night as kigo and use as juxtaposition either the dog or the stars

winter night -
a dog barks
in the cold barn

cold winter night -
the stars sparkle
sooo far away

Each haiku has only two ideas or themes now and reads very smoothely. If you have three lines with three different ideas, they usually read quite staccato and not like a smooth haiku (I do not like the expression "in one breath" very much ...) but haiku should read like the gentle flow of a nice brook on a soft spring day.

Mumbling a haiku to yourself aloud and listening to the flow is one important part when composing haiku.
Make it your habit to mumble to yourself!
If it does not feel like a gentle flow, keep searching for better words.
This was one of the first pieces of advise from my Japansese sensei.

If your original haiku has three separate ideas, search for the two ones you really want to write about and expand one of these ideas over two lines.

Here is one of my recent examples with the short idea in line three.

stepping out
to sunshine and flowers -
January break

January is the kigo, kept in the short third line. The hypen - is used to indicate the break (kire in Japanese) between the two ideas.

Use simple and precise words, poetical or philosophical embellishment and contrived phrases are not suitable for haiku.

State what made you pause at that moment when you conceived your haiku in plain words, like a snapshot with a camera.

haiku seasons -
my simple life
becomes poetry

Gabi, January 2006


......................... Some of my Haiku Theory

Spelling and Punctuation

One-Line Haiku : three sections, three lines

THEORY : Counting on your fingers: 5-7-5 Cultural Differences

THEORY : Why 5-7-5 ? Or rather, Why Not!

Tips for a GINKOO, a Haiku Walk 吟行


Please send me your contributions

To the Daruma Museum Index

To the WHC Worldkigo Database


Technical Support


.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Technical Support

Encoding (Decoding) the Language of an Entry

This happens when you work in many languages, as I usually do.
Some computers show the Japanese, some show hyroglyphs instead.

The problem usually lies with the encoding of languages of your own monitor.
Here is how to change it:

On the top of each webiste and even on my email outlook express there is a VIEW button on the top tool bar, in the row of (mine says in Japanese, so I can only hope the words will be used in English thus...)

File... Edit ... View... Favorites...and so on

click on the VIEW option for a dropdown menu.

In my menue it is about the eighth line of options

If you click that, a wide variety of options again are shown.

There choose any form of Japanses (I have three choices for that alone) or European languages (YAHOO uses those mostly) or UNICODE if you use more languags than one, (this BLOG works with UNICODE UTF-8).

I have to constantly switch this button between the BLOG and the YAHOO forums, because they do not automatically adjust to the way a text was input ... ufff .

My Japanese friends sometimes get a blank page where it says on the bottom: "Page displayed". In this case too, if you change the encode system to UTF-8 you can suddenly see the text (even if it is not a Japanese text to start with...).

To read email at YAHOO with Japanese kanji, I have to switch to :
日本語EUC . The Archives at YAHOO need Free Select Japanese.

I call this the "Windows of Babel".

Installing a Japanese Keyboard in your system to input kanji.
Advise from Chibi.


Converting WORD.DOC to an email or BLOG entry
Advise from a friend

If you use SHIFT ENTER at the end of a line, it will appear as just one space.
> (In the word doc, it is the arrow facing straight downward)
Normal ENTER will make it double spaced (that is the little hooked arrow in a word doc).

Firstly, if you are writing something that is going into an email then preferably use a text editor rather than a word-processor. If you MUST use a word-processor then try to avoid fancing formatting --
use shift-enter to create line-breaks rather than just enter which creates a hard-return (which when copied to an email causes an extra line break).

Try saving text as a .txt file and copy-paste that into an email rather than copying from a .doc file.

Secondly, try setting your email program to send always as plaintext.

Yahoo seems to be trying to get everyone to use their Rich-Text editor. MS ships Word with the default settings of curly-quotes which Mac's can't read; Outlook Express ships with the default setting of something called "printed-quotable" which is anything but.


insert picture or LINK

V is open triangle, v is close triangle

Vimg src="http:xx/xxx/xxx.jpg"/v

insert picture with a hyperlink

Va href="http://www.xxx.htmlvVimg src="http://www.xxx.jpg"vV/av

insert LINK

Va href="http://xxx.html"v xxxxx V/av

.......... insert ANCHOR

VA NAME="anchorname"v V/Av

link to this anchorname from the same page
VA HREF="#anchorname"vAnchorname or soemthing else V/Av

link to this anchorname from a different page

VA HREF="http://www.different page #anchorname"vAnchorname or something else V/Av


some color codes

#ffffcc;" light yellow spring
#99CC99 summer Moss green
#ffcc66 autumn orange
#cccccc ; gray winter
#ccffff ;" new year light blue

#ffff99;" strong yellow
#ffccff ;" violett

Detailed Color Codes online


Color Boxes

.. .. .. WINTER

.. .. Season

.. .. Heaven

.. .. Earth

.. .. Humanity

.. .. Observances

.. .. Animals

.. .. Plants


Inserting SPACES

Use periods for spaces and color them white or the same color of the page you are using.


Inserting accented letters of foreign languages, to copy from here



Converter for Time Zones and Dates worldwide


Framing a photo


......................... Some of my Haiku Theory

Spelling and the Hepburn System Romaji

Spelling and Punctuation in English

One-Line Haiku : three sections, three lines

THEORY : Counting on your fingers: 5-7-5 Cultural Differences

THEORY : Why 5-7-5 ? or rather, WHY NOT in English


My Haiku Theory ARCHIVES