Kigo - The Seasonal Element

As haiku poetry so closely engages with nature, it traditionally uses a seasonal reference word, or kigo, in order to point out to the reader what season the haiku takes place in.

This provides economy of expression by creating the backdrop of a certain season in the readers mind with the simple use of one or two words.

The presence of certain animals and elements of nature in traditional Japanese poetry indicates to the reader the particular season that is referred to. This can be references to the climate, precipitation, geography or sacred and secular holidays that are particular to one season.

It could also be reference to other seasonal human activities, animals, life cycles, and plants.


The cicadas are commonly used to illustrate summer, and in Bashos infamous poem about the old pond, the frog serves as a reference to the spring time.

The old pond;

A frog jumps in —

The sound of the water.

- Translation by Robert Aitken

it has been difficult for modern haiku poets to retain this sense of connection with natural world, but many still explore the relationship between haiku and nature in their poems.

Whereas many of the traditional haiku present a primordial relationship between man and nature where they are almost one and the same, more modern haiku tend to explore this relationship in a different way.

Many more modern haiku poets look towards nature as an innocent observer, as if they are one step removed from the scene. The traditional haiku poets, Issa especially, were more inclined to present man and nature in a more intimate manner.

In the stream

A shopping cart

Fills with leaves

- Alan Pizzarelli

Visit the website of Alan Pizzarelli at

In this haiku poem, Alan Pizzarelli explores the relationship between nature and the urban environment. No Kigo is included as such, but the image of the shopping cart filling with leaves serves as the natural focal point.

to look for kigo in famous haiku poems, click here

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