Japanese Poetry


It was the revisionist poet Masaoka Shiki who related the term haiku to this particular form of Japanese poetry, which emerged from the background of classical Japanese verse with a new focus on the 5-7-5 syllable sequence.

Shiki also introduced the tanka, another genre of classical Japanese poetry that was similar to the haiku but included more syllables and had less of a focus on nature, instead including more the presence of simile, metaphor and personification.

The tanka is similar to haiku but instead has five lines.

They are short, lyrical poems structured in 31 syllables arranged in groups of 5, 7, 5, 7 and 7, syllables.

Here is an example of a Tanka:

the plaintain at the veranda's edge

unfolds its coiled leaves,

its jewels,

and veils the water basin

in five feet of green

- Shiki

kanshi , meaning 'han poetry', is the poetry written in Chinese by Japanese poets, it is also the Japanese term for Chinese poetry in general. Much Japanese verse was originally written in Chinese.

In the early Heian period, Kanshi was the most popular style of poetry. Some Japanese Poets studied in China and were fluent in the language.


Renga,'the linked verse',is the form of classical Japanese verse which provided the hokku, the opening stanza of the renga that forms the basis of modern haiku poetry.

Although renga can be written alone, the basis for renga is collaboration. And the focus is on the contrast provided by the contributions of the different poets involved.

Renga poetry is written in group, together. It is a collaborative effort. Renga Poems can be over 100 verses in length, and are written by two or more poets that contribute alternate stanzas.

At The essence of Renga poetry is the idea of change, and it is written in many different formats. Sougi was a zen monk and poet who lived in Japan in the fifteenth century. He is considered the master of Renga!

Here is an example of his poetry:

That man's life is but a dream -

is what we now come to know.

Its house abandoned,

the garden has become home

to butterflies.

- Translation by Steven D. Carter


Senryu are a form of Japanese poetry that are similar to haiku but their subject is usually humanity rather than nature. They can be satirical.

Wagging his chin

playing the shakuhachi

In the direction of the moon

- Kyo no suke

The Shakuhachi is a type of bamboo flute.


Haikai is the word used to denote all of the haiku-related literature. Haiku-no-renga, Haiku, and Haibun. It is a generic term for all things relating to haiku.

Click here to learn more about Haibun

Learn about the ancient culture that produced this Japanese poetry by clicking here

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