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11 of the Best Poems about Kyoto 

Kyoto, with its rich cultural heritage, serene landscapes, and timeless charm, has long served as a muse for poets around the world. From ancient haiku to contemporary verses, the allure of Kyoto has inspired countless poetic works. 

Best Kyoto Poems

Each poem on this list provides a unique perspective and a glimpse into the profound connections between poets and the city of Kyoto. Some of these explore the modern city, while others are inspired by the city’s ancient traditions. 

In Kyoto by Matsuo Bashō

‘In Kyoto’ is a classic Bashō haiku. The poem describes the poet’s longing to return to or spend more time in Kyoto. The poem reads: 

In Kyoto,

hearing the cuckoo,

I long for Kyoto.

In the poem, the poet hears the sound of a cuckoo, a bird often associated with spring and renewal. This auditory experience triggers a profound yearning or longing for Kyoto itself.

Read more Matsuo Bashō poems

Kyoto City
The modern-day Kyoto

Kyoto by Denel Kessler 

This poem paints a vivid picture of the city’s cultural and natural beauty while capturing moments of introspection, spiritual connection, and appreciation for the transient nature of life’s joys. Here are the first three lines:

Awake to a slowly beating drum

morning meditation drifting up the hill

in the garden, tiny birds add sweet highs

The poem concludes with the mention of enjoying local cuisines, such as Kobe yakitori, soba, and grilled corn.

Kyoto Shrine

Kyoto: March by Gary Snyder 

This poem captures the essence of early spring in Kyoto, Japan, and explores themes of nature, transition, and daily life. The poem starts with: 

A few light flakes of snow

Fall in the feeble sun;

Birds sing in the cold,

The poem also touches on the realities of daily life. The description of lovers parting from their warm embrace and attending to their familial responsibilities, including waking up, and feeding children and grandchildren, portrays the cyclical nature of existence and the enduring love within family bonds.

Kyoto by the bus station: by Jedd Ong

This poem reflects on the mechanized and constrained nature of life in Kyoto. The poem begins with a contemplation of the presence of mechanized gods that guard the gates of Kyoto, suggesting a lack of freedom and a sense of being ruled by external forces. Here are the first lines 

Kyoto by the bus station:

They guard our gates. We are ruled by mechanised gods.

The speaker expresses a feeling of detachment from reality and a lack of awakening, emphasizing a sense of being trapped in a monotonous existence. 

Fushimi Inari Shrine
The Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

Kyoto’s Butterflies by Ceyhun Mahi 

This poem portrays the enchanting atmosphere of Kyoto, Japan, particularly during the nighttime. The flowing water and lantern lights create a dreamy ambiance, accompanied by a gentle midnight wind. The first few lines read: 

The water’s dreamy, slowly flowing

Between the corners of the streets,

Adorned brightly with lantern lights,

While the midnight wind is blowing.

The poem describes the presence of maikos (apprentice geishas) and geishas, likening them to beautiful sights in the bustling streets of Kyoto.

The Moss Garden by C. Dale Young 

‘The Moss Garden’ explores the experience of a visit to a moss garden outside Kyoto and the contemplation of prayer.

Here are the first four lines: 

Somewhere outside Kyoto’s line, she said,

they stumbled across the famous garden of moss,

the smallish sign so plain it could have been 

overlooked. No temple, only moss.

The poem delves into the tension between the desire to pray and the difficulty of engaging in prayer. It raises questions about the nature of prayer, the barriers that hinder its practice, and the personal struggles and doubts that can arise.

Kyoto Shrine Image

Kyoto, 1573 by Elisa Maria Argiro 

The poem ‘Kyoto, 1573’ delves into a bittersweet reflection on a past love and the passage of time. The first three lines of the poem are: 

Lying together in

the calm of night

eyes losing focus,

Set in Kyoto during the year 1573, the poem explores an intimate moment shared between two lovers lying together in the tranquility of the night. The speaker describes the tenderness of their connection, with eyes losing focus and thoughts left unspoken.

The Dream of a Lacquer Box by Kimiko Hahn 

‘The Dream of a Lacquer Box’ begins with the lines: 

I wish I knew the contents and I wish the contents

Japanese —

like hairpins made of tortoiseshell or bone

though my braid was lopped off long ago,

The speaker expresses a wish to know the contents of a lacquer box, hoping that they are distinctly Japanese. The references to hairpins made of tortoiseshell or bone, pine incense, talismans from Kyoto shrines, a netsuke, and ticket stubs from Bunraku performances evoke a sense of cultural identity and nostalgia.

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto
The famous Tori gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

Origami by John Edward Smallshaw 

This poem tells a whimsical tale of a narrator’s dream-like experience in a town west of Kyoto, followed by an abrupt awakening in Bow, East London. Here are the first four lines:

I went to meet her in a town

just west of Kyoto

she was wearing a colourful flowing kimono.

She greeted me greedily

The narrator describes meeting a woman in a vibrant flowing kimono in a town near Kyoto. They enjoy the pleasures of a bathhouse, Mah Jong, and the warmth of the setting sun. However, the poem takes an unexpected turn as the narrator wakes up in Bow, London, questioning whether it was all a dream.


What makes Kyoto such a popular subject for poetry?

Kyoto’s rich cultural heritage, scenic beauty, and deep spiritual atmosphere make it a captivating subject for poetry. Its historic temples, traditional arts, and seasonal changes inspire poets to capture the essence of this ancient city in their verses.

Are there any specific themes or motifs that frequently appear in the poems about Kyoto?

Themes such as nature, seasons, Zen Buddhism, traditional customs, and the juxtaposition of ancient and modern elements often appear in poems about Kyoto. These motifs reflect the city’s unique character and evoke a sense of timelessness.

What is Kyoto known for? 

Kyoto is known for its rich cultural heritage, ancient temples, and traditional arts. It served as Japan’s capital for over a thousand years, and its preserved historic sites draw visitors from around the world. Kyoto is also renowned for its traditional tea ceremonies, geisha culture, kimono craftsmanship, and seasonal festivals like Hanami.

How does culture influence Japanese poetry?

Culture plays a significant role in influencing Japanese poetry. Japanese poetry often reflects themes of nature, seasons, spirituality, and social customs, which are deeply rooted in the country’s cultural fabric.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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