How To Write Traditional Japanese Haiku

One of the first formal forms of poetry school-age children learn to write is Japanese Haiku. Its simple form and subject matter make it a good introduction to poetry forms. Haiku is actually a bit more complicated than what is typically taught in grade school, however. If you would like to try your hand at this traditional form of Japanese poetry and want to go beyond what you learned in third grade, here is how to go about it.

  1. First of all realize that if you are going to truly write traditional Japanese Haiku, you would need to write in Japanese. Japanese syllables are much shorter than English syllables so it is difficult to exactly duplicate the Japanese form in English. However, much of the form and intent of Japanese Haiku can be created in English.

  • The form that Japanese Haiku takes in English is simple. It consists of 17 syllables divided between three lines. The first line contains 5 syllables. The second line contains 7 syllables. The third line contains 5 syllables.
  • The subject matter of Haiku should be uncomplicated. The average person should be able to understand what the poem is describing.
  • Haiku should describe an experience that most people can relate to. Hopefully the description will help people see the experience in a fresh new way.
  • A traditional Haiku reflects a reaction to something the poet has experienced in nature. Usually this experience is one that occurs in a single moment.
  • Because Haiku is a reaction to something in nature, the poem traditionally indicates in what season the experience occurs. That doesn't mean the words "spring," "summer," "winter" or "fall" need to be in the poem. It means that a word (and traditionally just one word) that indicates the season should be included. If the word "daffodil" was in the poem, it would be obvious that the season was spring. If the word "icicle" was in the poem, the reader would know it was winter.
  • Japanese Haiku does not use traditional English poetic devices such as alliteration, simile, metaphor or rhyme. Many people who write Haiku in English stay away from those devices to keep the poem more authentic.
  • Another addition to English Haiku that can make it more authentic is the inclusion of what is called a cutting word. Also known as a grammatical break, this cutting word can either be an actual word or punctuation. It is used to indicate a pause at the end of a line and cut the haiku into two contrasting parts. 
  • There is no reason to include a title with Haiku. The poems are complete in and of themselves.
  • One of the best ways to learn to write any form of poetry is to read and study poems that have already been written. Here is one Haiku written as an example:

    Bees in low ground flight
    Overnight, clover blossomed;
    Watch your fresh bare feet.

    Notice that the syllable count is 5/7/5. It is about an experience in nature, and the experience is happening in summer, although the word "summer" is not mentioned. Also, at the end of the second line, there is a cutting word. In this case, the cutting word is a punctuation mark, and it divides the poem into two parts.

  • Spend some time reading other Haiku that has been translated from Japanese and Haiku that has originated from English.

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