What is a haiku?
Haiku is a simple Japanese poetry structured in 3 lines following a 5, 7, 5 pattern. The 5, 7, 5 pattern is the number of syllables each line should contain. This form of poetry usually focuses on the theme of nature. When writing a haiku, you are not restricted to sticking to this theme; poetry is meant for creative expression so don't restrict yourself!
Matsuo Basho (1643 – 1694)
Matsuo Basho started writing poetry in the form of renga, a form of collaborative poetry, with his good friend Todo Yoshitada. After Yoshitada passed away in 1666, Basho moved to Edo (today’s Tokyo) and began writing haiku poems. The original form of some haiku poems written in Japanese could sometimes fall out of the 5, 7, 5 syllable pattern when they are translated to English; Some of Basho’s poems run into this issue of being translated to different syllable patterns in English, but the lines do follow the correct way when written in the original Japanese form.
In this poem, Basho writes about when he moved out of his home and the new home owners moved in. Basho uses the phrase "Doll's Festival" in the third line because the residents who moved in were a family with little girls.
A owner of the old thatched hut Is also changed to another It's the Doll’s Festival.
Yosa Buson (1716 - 1784)
Yosa Buson is a famous haiku writer from the Edo period in Japan. He looked up to Basho and was inspired to write poetry as he did. Buson’s works also fall into the same translation syllable issue as Basho; as you look at his poems, you may notice this but the original Japanese translations do follow the correct structure. Here are two of his famous haiku poems:
Autumn has come. The plain hot water is fragrant. The Seyaku-in.
In his "Autumn has come" haiku poem, Seyaku-in refers to the name of the pharmacy institution in Japan at the time.
The light of a candle is transferred to another candle— spring twilight.
Kobayashi Issa (1763 - 1828)
Kobayashi Issa added his pen name Issa after he decided to start studying haiku poetry at the age of 14. His pen name Kobayashi Issa means “cup of tea”.
Other names he goes by include Kobayashi Yataro and Kobayashi Nobuyuki. Kobayashi Issa underwent many tragedies in his life including the death of his first wife and three children, the burning down of his home, and a second failed marriage.
Many of Kobayashi Issa's haiku poems focused on small creatures. These creatures included bats, cats, and like this poem on the right shows—mosquitos. His poems often discussed the way these creatures tend to interact and interrupt our lives as humans.
Mosquito at my ear— does he think I’m deaf?
My experience writing haiku poetry
I have recently started writing haiku poems every other day. I have always had an interest in poetry but often find myself feeling a bit nervous about approaching creative writing. I chose to begin with haiku poetry because of the simplicity of the structure. When I first started this practice of writing haiku poems every now and then, I did not really know much about the history of it until I began researching for this article. Reading these different haiku poems has helped me understand just how simple and meaningful they can be. Haiku writing also does not have to be something nuanced and deep; haiku writing could be as simple as writing about a mosquito that is bugging you as Kobayashi has shown us in his own poem. I encourage everyone to try their hand at writing a haiku because it is a simple fun activity to engage in and it feels nice to create something. To inspire you even more to write one of your own, I will include a few of my own that I have written:
November brings thanks I think of my close loved ones who bring me comfort
I have many plans I look forward to pursue for now, I'll work hard
My friends love the cold! In PJs, we stay inside drinking hot cocoa
“Haiku.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://poets.org/glossary/haiku. “Kobayashi Issa.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 2022,
“Yosa Buson.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 2022,
“Yosa Buson's Haiku Poems.” Masterpieces of Japanese Culture, 15 June 2019,