sa-ico-1.gif - 683 BytesHomesa-ico-1.gif - 683 BytesHaiku and its Theories


Glossary of Japanese Terms


Reprinted from William J. Higginson with Penny Harter, The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku, published by Kodansha International. Copyright (C) 1989 by William J. Higginson. Used by permission of the translator, William J. Higginson.

ageku (completing verse) Of renga, the final stanza.

aware (touchingness) Moving, stirring; the kind of thing that evokes an emotional response; often in the phrase ono no aware, the “touchness of things”.

chiri (geography) In the season-word list, a category including natural phenomena on land and water (hills, streams, etc.)

cho.gif - 844 Byteska or nagauta (long poem) Traditional verse form, usually spoken of as having alternating verse-lines of five and seven onji, plus one of seven onji at the end. An alternate interpretation suggests verse-lines of twelve onji, with a caesura dividing each line into five and seven, plus a concluding line of seven onji. The genre flourished in the era of the Manyoshu, and has had an occasional revival. See ji-amari.

dai (topic) Originally, the circumstances under which a poem was written, given in a short preface; later, a set topic upon which a poem was composed.

daisan (the third) Of renga, the third stanza.

do.gifbutsu (animals) In the season-word list, a category including animals, especially birds and insects.

dodoitsu (city leisure / quickly city-to-city) One traditional form for popular and folk songs, in seven-seven-seven-five onji. The name appears to derive from the speed with which songs in this form became popular. See ji-amari.

gunsaku (group work) Of haiku and tanka, a group of poems on a single subject which illuminate the subject from various points of view, but can be read independently. See rensaku.

gyo.gif - 844 Bytesji (observances) In the season-word list, a category including festivals, holidays, and associated objects.

haibun (haikai prose) Prose in terse style by a haikai or haiku poet, usually including hokku or haiku.

haiga (haikai painting) A painting in a slightly abstract, rough style, including a haiku or hokku in calligraphy.

haigon (haikai word) Words normally excluded from “serious” poems (for example, words from foreign languagues, words too vulgar in meaning or diction, etc.), but which became a distinguishing feature of haikai, haiku, senryu.gif - 819 Bytes, etc.

haijin (haikai or haiku person) haikai or haiku poet.

haikai (humor, joke) Originally, a classification of humorous poems; later, an abbreviation for haikai-no-renga, and thus a generic term for all compositions relating to it, such as haiku, maekuzuke, haibun, etc. Occasionally in Japanese, and especially in French and Spanish, a synonym for haiku.

haikai-no-renga (humorous renga) Originally, vulgar, earthy renga, also called mushin renga; by Basho.gif - 844 Bytes's day the dominant kind of renga.

haiku (verse of haikai) Originally (and rarely used), any stanza of a haikai-no-renga; since Shiki, the hokku of haikai-no-renga considered as an independent genre. Traditionally, a haiku meets the criteria for hokku-containing a kigo (season word) and kireji (cutting word), and being in more or less five-seven-five onji. Bashô emphasized the depth of content and the sincerity of the poet as perceived in the poem, and was not overly concerned with kigo and kireji, though he used both and did promote kisetsu (seasonal aspect) in poetry; several of his poems have ji-amari. Some modem haiku poets have abandoned traditional form, kigo, and kireji, holding that haiku has a deeper essence based on our response to the objects and events of our lives. haiku is now the most common word for writing of this genre in the West, whether referring to poems in Japanese or any of the Western adaptations.

hibiki (echo) In haikai-no-renga, a relationship between two stanzas whose images seem strong in the same way.

hiraku (ordinary verse) In renga, any stanza other than the hokku, wakiku, daisan, or ageku.

hokku (starting verse) Originally, in renga, the first stanza, which later became an independent poem, now usually called haiku in Japan, with hokku reverting to its original meaning. For a time hokku was the most common word in English for what we now call haiku. See haiku.

hosomi (slenderness) In haikai-no-renga and haiku, empathy, sometimes bordering on the pathetic fallacy.

hyakuin (hundred verses) A renga of one hundred stanzas, the most popular length before Basho.gif - 844 Bytes's day.

ichigyoshi (one-column poem) Equivalent to “one-line poem” in English; a pejorative term used by traditional haiku poets when referring to modern haiku in irregular form. (Note: quite different from traditional form with ji-amari.)

ji (ground) In renga, term for a relatively unimpressive stanza that serves as a background to those more impressive (mon).

ji-amari (character excess) In traditional verse forms, the use of one or a few more onji than typical of the form; a fairly common practice.

jiko.gif - 844 Bytes (season, climate) In the season-word list, a category including climatic and certain seasonal phenomena, such as “spring day”, “lingering heat” (in autumn), etc.

jinji (human affairs) In the season-word list, an alternate category used in some modern references, which includes both gyoji and seikatsu.

kaishi (pocket paper) Paper sheets used for writing poems, especially renga.

kanshi (Chinese poem) Poem in classical Chinese by a Japanese.

kaori (scent, fragrance) In haikai-no-renga, a relationship between two stanzas in which they both evoke the same emotion using different images.

karumi (lightness) In haikai and haiku, the beauty of ordinary things.

kasen (poetic genius) Originally, one of the thirty-six great poets of antiquity; hence, a renga of thirty-six stanzas, the length preferred by Basho.gif - 844 Bytes.

katauta (side poem) A traditional verse form of the Manyoshu era, typically in five-seven-seven onji. See sedoka.

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. (See aware).

kigo.gif - 844 Bytes (season word) The name of a plant, animal, climatic condition, or other object or activity traditionally connected with a particular season in Japanese poetry.

kireji (cutting word) In hokku and haiku, a word or suffix that indicates a pause and usually comes at one of the formal divisions or at the end. A kireji may be used within the second rhythmical unit, breaking the poem into a five-three-four-five rhythm, for example. The two types are verb and adjective suffixes that can end a clause, and short words that mark emphasis, a sort of spoken punctuation. Some common kireji: ka—emphasis; at the end of a phrase, makes a question.
kana—emphasis; usually at the end of a poem, indicates an author?s wonder at the object, scene, or event.
-keri—verb suffix, (past) perfect tense, exclamatory.
-ramu or -ran—verb suffix indicating probability, such as “it may be that...”
-shi—adjective suffix; used to end a clause, it corresponds to an English predicate adjective, as in mine takashi, “the peak is high”.
-tsu— verb suffix. (present) perfect tense.
ya—emphasis; has the grammatical effect of a semicolon, separating two independent clauses (not necessarily grammatically complete); gives a sense of suspension, like an ellipsis.


kouta (little song) Popular songs, often in dodoitsu form.

kyo.gif - 844 Byteska (mad poem) Comic poem in tanka form, often bawdy.

maeku (previous verse) In renga, tsukeai, and maekuzuke, the preceding stanza, to which another must be added; the first of a pair of stanzas.

maekuzuke (joining to a previous verse) A game based on renga, in which one party gives a stanza (maeku) to which another adds a linking stanza (tsukeku); a linked pair resulting from the game, a forerunner of senryu.gif - 819 Bytes.

mankuawase (collection of myriad verses) An anthology of tsukeku selected and published as the result of a maekuzuke contest.

mon (pattern) In renga, a relatively impressive stanza that stands out against the “ground” stanzas. See ji.

mono no aware (the touchingness of things). See aware.

mushin (without heart) Of renga, frivolous, that is, unconcerned with the classical ideal of beauty in appropriate subject matter and diction, but featuring humor and unconventional language. (Other meanings in other contexts.) See ushin.

nagauta (long poem) See cho.gif - 844 Byteska.

nioi (scent, smell) See kaori.

on (sound) In poetry, the smallest metrical unit, represented by a single written phonetic character. Abbreviation for onji.

onji (sound symbol) A character in the Japanese phonetic syllabary; hence, a technical term for the smallest metrical unit in Japanese poetry—equivalent to mora in Latin prosody (not simply “a syllable”, as it is usually translated).

renga (linked poem) A poem of alternating stanzas of nominally five-seven-five and seven-seven onji, usually composed by two or more poets, and developing texture by shifting among several traditional topics without narrative progression. Typical renga run to 36, 50, 100, 1000 or more stanzas.

rensaku (linked work) Of haiku and tanka sequences, a longer work composed of individual haiku or tanka which function as stanzas of the whole, and are not independent. See gunsaku.

renso.gif - 844 Bytes (linked ideas) In renga and haiku, the association of images from one stanza to another, or within a verse.

renku (linked verse) Originally, linked verse in Chinese; now a modern term for renga, especially the haikai-no-renga of Basho.gif - 844 Bytes and later poets.

sabi (patina/loneliness) Beauty with a sense of loneliness in time, akin to, but deeper than, nostalgia.

sedo.gif - 844 Byteska (repeat head poem) A traditional verse form with metrically identical stanzas, usually katauta, found mainly in the Manyoshu. Sometimes composed as question and answer by two parties, and so a forerunner of renga.

seikatsu (livelihood, life) In the season-word list, a category including human activity, such as farming, working, playing.

senryu.gif - 819 Bytes (river willow) A humorous or satiric poem dealing with human affairs, usually written in the same form as haiku. Derived from the name of a popular selector of maekuzuke.

shibumi (astringency) The beauty of subdued, rather than vibrant, images; Classical, rather than Romantic, in taste.

shikishi (square paper) A square sheet of heavy paper for writing and painting, often used for a short poem.

shinku (close verse) In renga, a close relationship between two succeeding stanzas. See soku.

shiori (bending, withering) In haikai and haiku, sympathy mixed with ambiguity; used of verses with delicate, almost pathetic images.

sho.gif - 844 Bytesfu.gif - 819 Bytes (abbreviation for “Basho.gif - 844 Bytes style”) In haikai and haiku, in the refined style of Basho.gif - 844 Bytes, rather than the coarser, earlier styles.

shokubutsu (plants) In the season-word list, a category including plants, flowers, trees, fruits, etc.

soku (distant verse) In renga, a distant relationship between two succeeding stanzas. See shinku.

sono mama (as it is) In haikai and haiku, presenting a thing or event just as it is, without flourishes or emotionalism.

tanka (short poem) A lyric poem with the typical form five-seven-five-seven-seven onji (see ji-amari). In many ways equivalent to the sonnet in the West, the tanka was the primary genre of Japanese poetry from Manyoshu times through about the fourteenth century, and still flourishes. Now also called waka or uta.

tanrenga (short linked poem) A modern term for ancient tanka composed by two authors, formerly called renga, to distinguish them from the longer renga of later times.

tanzaku (tanka sheet) A narrow strip of paper on which a tanka or haiku may be written.

tenmon (astronomy) In the season-word list, a category including sky phenomena, precipitation, etc.

tsukeai (joining together) In renga, the linking of one stanza to another; hence, a pair of linked stanzas.

tsukeku (joined verse) In renga, tsukeai, and maekuzuke, the second of a pair of linked stanzas.

ukiyo (floating world) Originally, a Buddhist term indicating the ephemeral nature of life; later, a name for the entertainment quarters of large cities.

ushin (with heart) Of renga, sincere, that is, concerned with the classical ideal of beauty, employing only classical diction, etc. See mushin.

uta, or -ka or -ga in compounds (song, poem) Generic term for traditional poetry in Japanese, excluding all forms of foreign verse; now uta is practically synonymous with tanka.

uta-awase (poem competition) In the tradition of the old Japanese court, the pretext for a party, at which participants composed tanka on assigned dai. Results were judged, and usually prizes given. Mushin renga began as a sort of game for the participants, once the serious business of composing and judging tanka was done.

utsuri (reflection) In renga, a relationship between stanzas in which there is a sense of movement or transference between them; there may also be some visual harmony between the images.

wabi (loneliness, poverty) Beauty with a sense of asceticism; austere beauty.

waka (Japanese poem) Traditional poetry in Japanese language and style, particularly those varieties found in the Manyoshu. Today, virtually synonymous with tanka.

wakiku (side verse) In renga, the second stanza.

yu.gif - 819 Bytesgen (mystery) Elegance, mystery, depth. (Several whole volumes in Japanese are devoted to this word, particularly in relation to the no drama.)