Japanese Haiku Art

Haiku is the Japanese poetic art of capturing a moment. Traditional Japanese Haiku are short 21 syllable poems in a 5-7-5 pattern. And for the Haiku poet, this is enough to capture life’s moments. These short poems, at the hand of a master, can truly touch us across the ages.

Japanese Haiku Art - Issa - A world of grief and pain, Flowers bloom, Even then (ku no shaba ya sakura ga sakeba saita tote) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Issa - A world of grief and pain, Flowers bloom, Even then

苦の娑婆や桜が咲けば咲いたとて
16" x 20", Framed

$320

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Issa - A world of grief and pain, Flowers bloom, Even then

Issa - A world of grief and pain, Flowers bloom, Even then in Japanese is 苦の娑婆や桜が咲けば咲いたとて which is read ku no shaba ya sakura ga sakeba saita tote.

This haiku by Issa was written upon the death of his child. With this in mind, there are two common ways to interpret this poem. One is pessimistic saying "how can flowers have the audicity to bloom in such a cruel world". The other optimistic "even in such a cruel world, flowers bloom".

As an example, in the book The Spring of My Life: And Selected Haiku style= the translator Sam Hamill suggests the translation "This suffering world: the flowers will blossom, but even at that …". And David G. Lanoue suggests the translation "world of pain - and the cherry blossoms add to it". R. H. Blyth concurs saying that beauty had the audacity to be in the same world made Issa's pain all the greater.

A second interpretation is more optimistic. Rev. Mas Kodani writes that "Shaba refers to the world of Samsara, the world of self-centered, self-creating delusion, the unawakened state ..." and Issa is encouraging us by saying that even in such a world, good things still happen.

Japanese Haiku Art - Basho - As the temple bell fades, The ringing lingers in the blossom scent, Evening (kane kiete hana no ka wa tsuku yuube kana) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Basho - As the temple bell fades, The ringing lingers in the blossom scent, Evening

鐘消えて花の香は撞く夕べ哉
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Basho - As the temple bell fades, The ringing lingers in the blossom scent, Evening

Basho - As the temple bell fades, The ringing lingers in the blossom scent, Evening in Japanese is 鐘消えて花の香は撞く夕べ哉 which is read kane kiete hana no ka wa tsuku yuube kana.

As the temple bell fades
The ringing lingers in the blossom scent
Evening
kane kiete
hana no ka wa tsuku
yuube kana
鐘消えて
花の香は撞く
夕べ哉
Basho bashou 芭蕉

Japanese Haiku Art - Basho - How admirable, to see lightning, and not think life is fleeting (inazuma ni satoranu hito no tattosa yo) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Basho - How admirable, to see lightning, and not think life is fleeting

稲妻にさとらぬ人の尊さよ
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Basho - How admirable, to see lightning, and not think life is fleeting

Basho - How admirable, to see lightning, and not think life is fleeting in Japanese is 稲妻にさとらぬ人の尊さよ which is read inazuma ni satoranu hito no tattosa yo.

Japanese has changed dramatically since this haiku was written. Today the word toutosa (from (read toutoi)) is used in place of the archaic tottosa). So one sees the romaji for this poem written both ways. Here we have opted to use the older form (how Basho originally pronounced the characters) rather than using the modern pronunciation. This does not change the calligraphy, just how the poem is read.

Japanese Haiku Art - Basho - In the plum blossom scent, the sun pops out, a mountain path (mume ga ka ni notsuto hi no deru yamaji kana) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Basho - In the plum blossom scent, the sun pops out, a mountain path

梅が香にのつと日の出る山路かな
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Basho - In the plum blossom scent, the sun pops out, a mountain path

Basho - In the plum blossom scent, the sun pops out, a mountain path in Japanese is 梅が香にのつと日の出る山路かな which is read mume ga ka ni notsuto hi no deru yamaji kana.

Plum blossoms are the harbinger of spring. In this poem, I can imagine that Basho is walking head down along a cold, misty mountain path. He smells the fragrance of the plum blossom and looks up and, suddenly, there is the sun. After a long winter, the fragrance of the plum blossoms contains all the promises of spring.

Japanese Haiku Art - Basho - Not spilling the glistening dew, the bush clover, undulating (shiratsuyu wo kobusanu hagi no uneri kana) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Basho - Not spilling the glistening dew, the bush clover, undulating

白露をこぼさぬ萩のうねりかな
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Basho - Not spilling the glistening dew, the bush clover, undulating

Basho - Not spilling the glistening dew, the bush clover, undulating in Japanese is 白露をこぼさぬ萩のうねりかな which is read shiratsuyu wo kobusanu hagi no uneri kana.

Japanese Haiku Art - Basho - On the back of the mirror, A spring unseen, A flowering plum-tree (hito mo minu haru ya kagami no ura no ume) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Basho - On the back of the mirror, A spring unseen, A flowering plum-tree

人も見ぬ春や鏡のうらの梅
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Basho - On the back of the mirror, A spring unseen, A flowering plum-tree

Basho - On the back of the mirror, A spring unseen, A flowering plum-tree in Japanese is 人も見ぬ春や鏡のうらの梅 which is read hito mo minu haru ya kagami no ura no ume.

Japanese Haiku Art - Basho - Shake even the grave, My wailing is the autumn wind (tsuka mo ugoke waga naku koe wa aki no kaze) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Basho - Shake even the grave, My wailing is the autumn wind

塚も動け我が泣聲は秋の風
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Basho - Shake even the grave, My wailing is the autumn wind

Basho - Shake even the grave, My wailing is the autumn wind in Japanese is 塚も動け我が泣聲は秋の風 which is read tsuka mo ugoke waga naku koe wa aki no kaze.

With the cursive designs, Master Takase has attempted to capture the utter grief felt by Basho at the death of his friend.

Japanese Haiku Art - Basho - Summer grass, all the warriors are, but the remains of dreams (natsukusa ya tsuwamono domo ga yume no ato) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Basho - Summer grass, all the warriors are, but the remains of dreams

夏草や兵どもが夢の跡
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Basho - Summer grass, all the warriors are, but the remains of dreams

Basho - Summer grass, all the warriors are, but the remains of dreams in Japanese is 夏草や兵どもが夢の跡 which is read natsukusa ya tsuwamono domo ga yume no ato.

Japanese Haiku Art - Basho - Taken ill on my travels, My dreams roam over the withered moors (tabi ni yande yume wa kareno wo kake meguru) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Basho - Taken ill on my travels, My dreams roam over the withered moors

旅に病んで夢は枯野をかけ廻る
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Basho - Taken ill on my travels, My dreams roam over the withered moors

Basho - Taken ill on my travels, My dreams roam over the withered moors in Japanese is 旅に病んで夢は枯野をかけ廻る which is read tabi ni yande yume wa kareno wo kake meguru.

In the book Classic Haiku: An Anthology of Poems by Basho and His Followers style= translator and editor Asataro Miyamori offers the translation "I'm taken ill while travelling; And my dreams roam o'er the withered moors". Mr. Miyamori translates, "I have spent almost all of my life in travelling. Now I am taken ill on my journey, but my dreams, carrying my soul on them, travel freely like birds".

One can imagine, having travelled tirelessly only to find oneself confined, ill to a bed. And having one's dreams continue on in the journey.

Japanese Haiku Art - Basho - The old pond, a frog jumps in, the sound of water (furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Basho - The old pond, a frog jumps in, the sound of water

古池や蛙飛込水の音
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Basho - The old pond, a frog jumps in, the sound of water

Basho - The old pond, a frog jumps in, the sound of water in Japanese is 古池や蛙飛込水の音 which is read furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto.

This is perhaps Matsuo Basho's most well known poem. For a great look at how differently this poem is translated see Matsuo Basho Frog Haiku (Thirty-one translations and one commentary). The translation we use here is by R. H. Blyth.

Note that we have used the shorted version of tobikomu, the full form is 飛び込む (read tobikomu) meaning "to jump in; to leap in; to plunge into; to dive in".

Japanese Haiku Art - Basho - In the plum blossom scent, the sun pops out, a mountain path (mume ga ka ni notsuto hi no deru yamaji kana) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Basho - In the plum blossom scent, the sun pops out, a mountain path

梅が香にのつと日の出る山路かな
16" x 20", Framed

$320

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Basho - In the plum blossom scent, the sun pops out, a mountain path

Basho - In the plum blossom scent, the sun pops out, a mountain path in Japanese is 梅が香にのつと日の出る山路かな which is read mume ga ka ni notsuto hi no deru yamaji kana.

Plum blossoms are the harbinger of spring. In this poem, I can imagine that Basho is walking head down along a cold, misty mountain path. He smells the fragrance of the plum blossom and looks up and, suddenly, there is the sun. After a long winter, the fragrance of the plum blossoms contains all the promises of spring.

Japanese Haiku Art - Buson - A flash of lightning, The sound of raindrops, Falling among the bamboo (inazuma ni koboruru ota ya take no tsuyu) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Buson - A flash of lightning, The sound of raindrops, Falling among the bamboo

稲妻にこぼるる音や竹の露
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Buson - A flash of lightning, The sound of raindrops, Falling among the bamboo

Buson - A flash of lightning, The sound of raindrops, Falling among the bamboo in Japanese is 稲妻にこぼるる音や竹の露 which is read inazuma ni koboruru ota ya take no tsuyu.

A flash of lightning
The sound of raindrops
Falling among the bamboo
inazuma ni
koboruru ota ya
take no tsuyu
稲妻に
こぼるる音や
竹の露
Basho bashou 芭蕉

Japanese Haiku Art - Buson - An evening orchid, Hidden in its scent, The flower's whiteness (yoru no ran ka ni kakurete ya hana shiroshi) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Buson - An evening orchid, Hidden in its scent, The flower's whiteness

夜の蘭香にかくれてや花白し
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Buson - An evening orchid, Hidden in its scent, The flower's whiteness

Buson - An evening orchid, Hidden in its scent, The flower's whiteness in Japanese is 夜の蘭香にかくれてや花白し which is read yoru no ran ka ni kakurete ya hana shiroshi.

An evening orchid
Hidden in its scent
The flower's whiteness
yoru no ran
ka ni kakurete ya
hana shiroshi
夜の蘭
香にかくれてや
花白し
Basho bashou 芭蕉

Japanese Haiku Art - Buson - In loneliness, there is joy too, An autumn eve (sabishisa no ureshiku mo ari aki no kure) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Buson - In loneliness, there is joy too, An autumn eve

さびしさのうれしくも有秋の暮
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Buson - In loneliness, there is joy too, An autumn eve

Buson - In loneliness, there is joy too, An autumn eve in Japanese is さびしさのうれしくも有秋の暮 which is read sabishisa no ureshiku mo ari aki no kure.

In loneliness
there is joy too
An autumn eve
sabishisa no
ureshiku mo ari
aki no kure
さびしさの
うれしくも有
秋の暮
Basho bashou 芭蕉

Japanese Haiku Art - Buson - In the spring rain, The pond and the river, Have become one (ike to kawa hitotsu ni narinu haru no ame) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Buson - In the spring rain, The pond and the river, Have become one

池と川ひとつになりぬ春の雨
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Buson - In the spring rain, The pond and the river, Have become one

Buson - In the spring rain, The pond and the river, Have become one in Japanese is 池と川ひとつになりぬ春の雨 which is read ike to kawa hitotsu ni narinu haru no ame.

In the spring rain
The pond and the river
Have become one
Ike to kawa
hitotsu ni narinu
haru no ame
池と川
ひとつになりぬ
春の雨
Buson buson 蕪村

Japanese Haiku Art - Buson - Plum blossoms everywhere, I should go south, I should go north (ume ochikochi minami subeku kita subeku) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Buson - Plum blossoms everywhere, I should go south, I should go north

梅遠近南すべく北すべく
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Buson - Plum blossoms everywhere, I should go south, I should go north

Buson - Plum blossoms everywhere, I should go south, I should go north in Japanese is 梅遠近南すべく北すべく which is read ume ochikochi minami subeku kita subeku.

Plum blossoms everywhere
I should go south
I should go north
ume ochikochi
minami subeku
kita subeku
梅遠近
南すべく
北すべく
Basho bashou 芭蕉
Imagine it is towards the end of winter and the plum blossoms are just starting to bloom in your area. They bloom at different times starting in the south and moving north. So do you go south to see the plum blossoms in full bloom? Or do you go north to see the new blooms? ... This poem so beautifully captures the "dilemma" when all options are good.

Japanese Haiku Art - Buson - The long slow days of spring, piling up, so far away the past (osoki hi no tsumorite tooki mukashi kana) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Buson - The long slow days of spring, piling up, so far away the past

遅き日のつもりて遠き昔かな
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Buson - The long slow days of spring, piling up, so far away the past

Buson - The long slow days of spring, piling up, so far away the past in Japanese is 遅き日のつもりて遠き昔かな which is read osoki hi no tsumorite tooki mukashi kana.

The long slow days of spring
piling up, so far away
the past
osoki hi no
tsumorite tooki
mukashi kana
遅き日の
つもりて遠き
昔かな
Basho bashou 芭蕉
According to Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900 style= by Haruo Shirane and James Brandon, "'Long day' (osoki hi) is a late-spring day when the sun sets late and the day seems to last forever, reminding the poet both of the past, of youth, which seems so far away, and of the many springs and years that have come and gone since that time.

Japanese Haiku Art - Buson - The spring sea, all day ebb and flow, ebb and flow (haru no umi hinemosu notari notari kana) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Buson - The spring sea, all day ebb and flow, ebb and flow

春の海終日のたりのたり哉
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Buson - The spring sea, all day ebb and flow, ebb and flow

Buson - The spring sea, all day ebb and flow, ebb and flow in Japanese is 春の海終日のたりのたり哉 which is read haru no umi hinemosu notari notari kana.

The spring sea
all day ebb and flow
ebb and flow
haru no umi
hinemosu notari
notari kana
春の海
終日のたり
のたり哉
Basho bashou 芭蕉

This haiku by Buson consists of the words (read haru) meaning "spring", (read umi) meaning "sea; ocean", 終日 (read hinemosu) meaning "all day long; the whole day", and のたりのたり (read notarinotari) meaning "undulating; rolling slowly; gently swelling". Also notice that the final (read kana) is often written in either hiragana or kanji and this does not change the meaning.

Japanese Haiku Art - Buson - To white plum blossoms, Each night just dawning, Evermore (shiraume ni akuru yo bakari to nari ni keri) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Buson - To white plum blossoms, Each night just dawning, Evermore

白梅に明る夜ばかりとなりにけり
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Buson - To white plum blossoms, Each night just dawning, Evermore

Buson - To white plum blossoms, Each night just dawning, Evermore in Japanese is 白梅に明る夜ばかりとなりにけり which is read shiraume ni akuru yo bakari to nari ni keri.

To white plum blossoms
Each night just dawning
Evermore
shiraume ni
akuru yo bakari to
nari ni keri
白梅に
明る夜ばかりと
なりにけり
Basho bashou 芭蕉

Japanese Haiku Art - Chiyojo - My little dragonfly hunter, I wonder where he is, off to today (tombo tsuri kyou wa doko made itta yara) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Chiyojo - My little dragonfly hunter, I wonder where he is, off to today

蜻蛉釣り今日はどこまで行ったやら
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Chiyojo - My little dragonfly hunter, I wonder where he is, off to today

Chiyojo - My little dragonfly hunter, I wonder where he is, off to today in Japanese is 蜻蛉釣り今日はどこまで行ったやら which is read tombo tsuri kyou wa doko made itta yara.

Chiyojo penned this poem upon the passing of her son.

My little dragonfly hunter
I wonder where he is
off to today
tombo tsuri
kyou wa doko made
itta yara
蜻蛉釣り
今日はどこまで
行ったやら
Chiyojo chiyojo 千代女

Japanese Haiku Art - Chiyojo - To the person breaking off the branch, giving its fragrance, the plum blossom (taoraruru hito ni kaoru ya ume no hana) - Copyright © 2016 Takase Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Chiyojo - To the person breaking off the branch, giving its fragrance, the plum blossom

手折らるゝ人に薫るや梅の花
12 1/4" W x 43" H,
Japanese Scroll

$180

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Chiyojo - To the person breaking off the branch, giving its fragrance, the plum blossom

Chiyojo - To the person breaking off the branch, giving its fragrance, the plum blossom in Japanese is 手折らるゝ人に薫るや梅の花 which is read taoraruru hito ni kaoru ya ume no hana.

To the person breaking off the branch
giving its fragrance
the plum blossom
taoraruru
hito ni kaoru ya
ume no hana
手折らるゝ
人に薫るや
梅の花
Chiyojo chiyojo 千代女

References:

Haiku of Kobayashi Issa – An archive of over 9000 Kobayashi Issa haiku and translations and insightful commentaries.

Jeffrey’s Japanese <-> English Dictionary – This is an independent dictionary based on the Edict data maintained by Dr. Jim Breen of Monash University.

Wikipedia – Haiku – Overview of Haiku including brief biographies of Japan’s most influential poets