In Kyoto

Matsuo Bashō

‘In Kyoto’ by Matsuo Bashō expresses a deep sense of longing and nostalgia for the city of Kyoto through a 3-line haiku.


Matsuo Bashō

Nationality: Japanese

Matsuo Bashō was a 17th-century Japanese poet.

During the 20th century, his poetry spread around the world.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Places can evoke a deep emotional attachment.

Speaker: Likely Bashō

Emotions Evoked: Enjoyment, Excitement

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 17th Century

Through the use of sensory imagery and literary devices, Matsuo Bashō's 'In Kyoto' captures a fleeting moment of longing and nostalgia.

The poem text used in this analysis is a translation of the original Japanese poem as completed by Jane Hirshfield. Matsuo Basho was one of the greatest poets of the Edo period in Japan, known for his haiku that captured the beauty and essence of nature and life.

Despite seeming to be physically present in the city, the speaker still desires Kyoto, and the sound of the cuckoo serves as a symbol of renewal and change. This simple yet profound poem reflects Basho’s mastery of the haiku form and his ability to convey complex emotions and ideas in just a few words.

In Kyoto (translated by Jane Hirshfield)
Matsuo Bashō

In Kyoto,hearing the cuckoo,I long for Kyoto.


‘In Kyoto’ by Matsuo Bashō is a haiku that expresses a sense of wistful longing and nostalgia for the city of Kyoto. 

The poem begins by establishing the setting, with the speaker in Kyoto. The second line introduces the sound of the cuckoo, a migratory bird often associated with the arrival of spring and a symbol of renewal and change. The final line expresses the speaker’s longing for Kyoto, despite already being there. 

A Traditional Kyoto Street
A small, traditional street in the historic Japanese city of Kyoto

Taken together, the poem creates a sense of temporal and spatial dissonance, as the speaker is both physically present in Kyoto and yet longing for it at the same time. The poem suggests contemplation of the impermanence of life and our connection to the places we call home.

Influence of Bashō on Haiku

Bashō is considered one of the most significant figures in the development of the haiku form of poetry. He is credited with popularizing the use of haiku as a standalone form of poetry and elevating it to a respected art form in Japan. Bashō’s influence on haiku can be seen in several ways:

  1. Emphasis on simplicity: Bashō emphasized the importance of simplicity in haiku. He believed that Haiku should be free from unnecessary ornamentation and should convey a sense of purity and naturalness.
  2. Focus on nature: Bashō’s haiku poems often celebrated nature and the changing seasons. He believed that haiku should capture a moment of profound insight or experience in the natural world.
  3. Use of kigo: Bashō was one of the first poets to use kigo (seasonal words) in haiku poetry. Kigo are words or phrases that are associated with a particular season or time of year. Bashō believed that kigo were an essential element of haiku.

Structure and Form 

‘In Kyoto’ by Matsuo Bashō is a three-line haiku. The poem was originally written in Japanese, meaning the words seen below are not specifically those that Bashō chose. But, the lines do convey the brevity of the text and the poet’s overall intentions. 

Literary Devices 

  • Imagery: The poem uses sensory details to create vivid mental images for the reader. For example, the line “hearing the cuckoo” creates an auditory image of the bird’s call, and the mention of Kyoto evokes visual images of the city’s landmarks and scenery.
  • Juxtaposition: The poem juxtaposes the sound of the cuckoo with the speaker’s longing for Kyoto, creating a contrast between the fleeting nature of the bird’s song and the deep emotional attachment the speaker has to the place.
  • Symbolism: The cuckoo in the poem is a symbol of renewal and change, reflecting the cyclical nature of life, while Kyoto is a symbol of a place of emotional significance.

Detailed Analysis 

Line One 

In Kyoto

The first line sets the location for the poem. The speaker is in Kyoto, a city in Japan known for its cultural and historical significance. 

It was the imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years, from 794 to 1868, and is considered to be the birthplace of traditional Japanese arts, crafts, and culture. 

Today, Kyoto is a popular tourist destination, attracting millions of visitors every year who come to see its temples, shrines, gardens, and other historical landmarks. Some of Kyoto’s most famous attractions include the Kinkaku-ji Temple (also known as the “Golden Pavilion”), the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, among others.

Fushimi Inari Shrine
The famous Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

The first line of the poem indicates to readers that Kyoto is of some importance to Bashō or to the speaker he was channeling in this poem. There is something about the city that’s of interest. The poet’s connection is explored in more detail in the next two lines. 

Line Two 

hearing the cuckoo,

The second line introduces the sound of the cuckoo. The cuckoo is a migratory bird that is often associated with the arrival of spring, and its song is considered to be a symbol of renewal and change. 

By indicating that Kyoto is somewhere that one could hear a cuckoo, readers should associate the city with the same feelings of rebirth and beauty that the bird is connected to. 

Basho feels, due to his personal experience or perhaps the overarching depiction of Kyoto at the time the poem was written, that this historic city is a place of peace and beauty. It’s somewhere that one might go for relaxation or to clear the mind, perhaps. 

Line Three

I long for Kyoto.

The final line of the poem expresses a feeling of longing or nostalgia. The speaker desires Kyoto, perhaps suggesting a deep emotional attachment to the place.

When read together, the poem creates a sense of temporal and spatial dissonance, as the speaker knows Kyoto well and is longing for it at the same time. The use of the present tense verb “hearing” in line two also creates a sense of immediacy, as if the speaker is experiencing the sound of the cuckoo in the present moment.

Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the sound of the cuckoo with the speaker’s longing for Kyoto could be interpreted as a commentary on the transience of life and the impermanence of things. The cuckoo’s song is fleeting, just like life itself, and the speaker’s desire for Kyoto may also be fleeting, as they may never be able to satisfy their longing for the place fully.


What is the theme of ‘In Kyoto?’ 

The theme is longing and nostalgia for a familiar place. The speaker is physically present in Kyoto, yet they still long for it, suggesting that the place holds deep emotional significance to them.

What is the tone of the poem

The tone of the poem is wistful and contemplative as the speaker reflects on their connection to Kyoto and the transience of life. The mention of the cuckoo also adds a sense of renewal and change, creating a bittersweet tone.

What kind of poem is ‘In Kyoto?’ 

This poem is a haiku, a traditional form of Japanese poetry that typically consists of three lines and uses sensory imagery to capture a moment in time. The poem follows the 5-7-5 syllable pattern that is common in haiku.

What is Bashō known for? 

Bashō is known for his haiku, which are characterized by their simplicity, use of natural imagery, and focus on capturing the essence of a moment or emotion. He is considered one of the greatest poets of the Edo period in Japan and has had a significant influence on Japanese literature and culture.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Matsuo Bashō poems. For example: 

  • The Old Pond – one of the best-known Japanese haiku of all time. It deals with an ancient pond and the sound made by a frog that jumps into it.

Other related poems include: 

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.

Join the Poetry Chatter and Comment

Exclusive to Poetry+ Members

Join Conversations

Share your thoughts and be part of engaging discussions.

Expert Replies

Get personalized insights from our Qualified Poetry Experts.

Connect with Poetry Lovers

Build connections with like-minded individuals.

Sign up to Poetry+
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Got a question? Ask an expert.x

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Share to...