Japanese Poems

Japanese poetry is a rich and diverse tradition that spans over a thousand years. The two most well-known forms of Japanese poetry are haiku and tanka, both of which are characterized by their brevity and attention to the natural world. Haiku is a three-line poem with a syllable count of 5-7-5, while tanka is a five-line poem with a syllable count of 5-7-5-7-7.

Japanese poetry has been heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment and experiencing the world directly. Many haiku and tanka poems reflect this philosophy, with simple and unadorned language that focuses on small, everyday moments and objects.

In addition to haiku and tanka, there are many other forms of Japanese poetry, including renga, choka, and sedoka. These forms often involve collaborative composition and are characterized by their complex structure and use of metaphor.

The Old Pond

by Matsuo Bashō

‘The Old Pond’ is one of the best-known Japanese haiku of all time. This haiku consists of three phrases that contain the syllable count of 5-7-5.

This poem is a classic, and incredibly famous, example of Japanese poetry. It reflects many of the themes and conventions of this rich literary tradition. Japanese poetry is often characterized by its focus on nature, its use of seasonal imagery, and its simplicity and elegance of language. Bashō's haiku captures these elements of Japanese poetry, while also conveying a sense of Zen-like tranquility and contemplation.

Old pond...

a frog jumps in

water's sound

Everything I touch

by Kobayashi Issa

‘Everything I touch’ by Kobayashi Issa is a beautiful Japanese haiku written by one of the four great haiku masters. This piece speaks on what one might receive in return when they reach out with tenderness.

This poem is considered a very good Japanese poem. It was written by Kobayashi Issa, who is widely regarded as one of the great masters of haiku poetry. The poem is an example of Issa's ability to capture the beauty and pain of life in just a few words. It uses imagery from nature to convey a powerful emotion that many people can relate to - the experience of being hurt when we try to reach out and connect with others.

Everything I touch

with tenderness, alas,

pricks like a bramble

After Killing a Spider

by Masaoka Shiki

‘After Killing a Spider’ by Masaoka Shiki is a thoughtful poem. It describes the negative and dark effects of killing a spider.

Japanese poetry has a long and rich history, with many different forms and styles. This poem is part of this tradition, capturing a moment of intense emotion with just a few words. It is regarded as one of the poet's most important poems as well as one of the greatest Japanese haiku. Japanese poetry, like this poem, often emphasizes the beauty of nature and the transience of life, with a focus on simplicity and understatement. Some of the most famous Japanese poets include Bashō, Buson, and Issa, who helped to shape the haiku form.

After killing

a spider, how lonely I feel

In Kyoto

by 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.

Japanese poetry has a rich history and culture that dates back centuries, characterized by its simplicity and natural imagery. Bashō's haiku poems, including 'In Kyoto,' are a reflection of this tradition, capturing the beauty and essence of human experience through the use of sensory detail and literary devices. This poem is regarded as one of the poet's best-known poems and one of the great haiku in Japanese history.

In Kyoto,

hearing the cuckoo,

I long for Kyoto.

On the one-ton temple bell

by Yosa Buson

‘On the one-ton temple bell’ by Yosa Buson is a beautiful haiku. It describes a moonmoth sleeping on a temple bell. 

This poem is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Japanese poetry and a quintessential example of haiku. It is considered one of Yosa Buson's most famous works, and is admired for its use of vivid sensory language and its ability to capture the essence of nature in just a few lines. The poem conveys a sense of awe for the natural world that is very common within haiku poems.

On the one-ton temple bell

A moonmoth, folded into sleep,


My Beautiful Life

by Mitsuo Aida

‘My Beautiful Life’ by Mitsuo Aida is a reminder to value and celebrate who we are and what we have, rather than constantly striving for something more.

The poem is representative of the haiku and tanka forms of Japanese poetry, which often focus on natural imagery and the simplicity of life. While the poem does not conform to either of these structures, it does embody the traditional Japanese aesthetics. It also is a great representation of the way in which Aida took a great deal of his inspiration from Zen Buddhism.

Because it has lived its life intensely

the parched grass still attracts the gaze of passers-by.

The flowers merely flower,

and they do this as well as they can.


Autumn moonlight

by Matsuo Bashō

‘Autumn moonlight’ by Matsuo Bashō is a traditional haiku that’s beautiful written about the seasons. This translation was done by Robert Hass.

This poem is widely considered to be a masterpiece of haiku poetry and one of the most famous works of Matsuo Bashō (who is, in turn, one of the most celebrated poets in Japanese literary history). The poem exemplifies the haiku form, with its focus on capturing a single moment in time and its emphasis on the natural world. Its simple language and vivid imagery could immediately capture the reader's attention and inspire them to analyze the poem's three lines.

Autumn moonlight--

a worm digs silently

into the chestnut.

In the twilight rain

by Matsuo Bashō

‘In the twilight rain’ by Matsuo Bashō is a beautiful 3-line haiku that juxtaposes an evening rain with a bright hibiscus flower. 

Bashō is a prominent figure in Japanese poetry, and his work has impacted the Japanese poetic tradition. This is one of his best poems, demonstrating the poet's interest in exploring nature and the seasons. Bashō's exploration of these themes has made his work enduringly popular in Japan and worldwide. 'In the twilight rain' combines the brevity haiku are known for with deeply expressive language.

In the twilight rain

these brilliant-hued hibiscus . . .

A lovely sunset

The light of a candle

by Yosa Buson

‘The light of a candle’ by Yosa Buson captures a moment of beauty and symbolism in the everyday act of lighting a candle.

This poem is a great example of Japanese poetry by a poet widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the country's history. In the poem 'The light of a candle,' Buson uses the haiku format to convey a sense of connection and community through the image of a candle flame being passed from one candle to another. The poem captures the essence of this moment in just a few words, creating a sense of emotional resonance and depth.

The light of a candle

is transferred to another candle—

spring twilight.

The shallows

by Matsuo Bashō

‘The shallows’ by Matsuo Bashō  is a beautiful, traditional haiku about a crane landing in cool, shallow water and the ripples it makes. 

This poem is considered a classic and highly-regarded Japanese poem. Bashō is widely considered one of the greatest poets in Japanese history, and his haiku poetry, in particular, is revered for its simplicity, elegance, and profound insights into the natural world. 'The shallows' is a prime example of Basho's artistry and skill, showcasing his ability to capture a moment in nature with clarity and depth of feeling. Its enduring popularity and influence in Japanese literature and culture are a testament to its quality and significance as a work of art.

The shallows –

a crane’s thighs splashed

in cool waves

Explore more Japanese poems

In the moonlight

by Yosa Buson

‘In pale moonlight’ by Yosa Buson is a Japanese haiku that depicts a night scene filled with the scent of wisteria.

O snail

by Kobayashi Issa

‘O snail’ by Kobayashi Issa is a well-known poem that celebrates nature while also inspiring readers to take their time to overcome great obstacles. 

Japanese poetry, including haiku, has a rich tradition spanning centuries. Issa's work is deeply rooted in this tradition, reflecting his appreciation for nature, his attention to detail, and his ability to convey profound emotions with an economy of words. 'O snail' continues to inspire and influence poets both in Japan and around the world and is considered one of the best examples of Japanese poetry.

O snail,

climb Mt. Fuji,

but slowly, slowly

From time to time

by Matsuo Bashō

‘From time to time’ by Matsuo Bashō is a beautiful haiku that describes clouds parting to reveal the light of the moon, symbolically representing hope and change. 

Bashō's poem is firmly rooted in the tradition of Japanese poetry. Throughout history, Japanese poets have sought to capture the essence of nature, infusing their verses with a profound appreciation for the natural world. ‘From time to time’ aligns with the principles of Japanese poetry by emphasizing simplicity and observation. It reflects the rich literary heritage and aesthetic sensibilities that define Japanese poetic traditions.

From time to time

The clouds give rest 

To the moon beholders...

No one travels

by Matsuo Bashō

‘No one travels’ by Matsuo Basho is stripped of any superfluous language and transports readers into a realm of solitude. There, the poet stands alone against the backdrop of an autumn evening.

As a Japanese poet, Matsuo Bashō's work, including 'No one travels,' reflects the influence of Japanese poetic tradition. Japanese poems, including haiku, often embrace themes of nature, introspection, and the transitory nature of existence. They emphasize brevity and simplicity, capturing a single moment or emotion with delicate precision. Bashō's haiku, in particular, adheres to the essence of Japanese poems, evoking a sense of harmony with the natural world and inviting readers to connect with the profound simplicity and beauty found within the Japanese poetic tradition.

No one travels

Along this way but I, 

This autumn evening. 

First winter rain

by Matsuo Bashō

‘First winter rain’ by Matsuo Basho speaks about the related experiences between humans and animals in the form of a haiku poem.

This poem is representative of the rich tradition of Japanese poetry. Drawing from the aesthetics and sensibilities deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, Bashō's haiku captures the essence of mono no aware (the pathos of things) and yūgen (profound beauty and mystery).

First winter rain—

even the monkey

seems to want a raincoat.

Over the wintry

by Natsume Sōseki

‘Over the wintry’ by Natsume Sōseki is a short, evocative poem that captures the desolate beauty of a winter landscape. It’s written in the form of a haiku.

As a renowned Japanese author, Natsume Sōseki contributed to the rich tradition of Japanese poetry. This poem is far from his most famous work but it is a good example of his verse and of Japanese poetry. His work reflects the elegance, precision, and reverence for nature commonly found in Japanese poetry.

Over the wintry

forest, winds howl in rage

with no leaves to blow.

The snow of yesterday

by Koshigaya Gozan

‘The snow of yesterday’ by Gozan is a beautiful and meaningful haiku about transformation and nature. It uses the image of snow transforming into water. 

This poem draws inspiration from Japanese poetic traditions, particularly in its exploration of nature. The influence of Japanese poetry is evident in the use of imagery and the emphasis on the beauty of simple, passing moments. The poem echoes the sensibilities of Japanese poetry, which often celebrates the transitory nature of life and seeks to evoke a sense of emotional resonance through simplicity and contemplation. This poem is not as well-known as some other Japanese poems, but it is still important.

The snow of yesterday

That fell like cherry blossoms

Is water once again

I kill an ant

by Shuson Kato

‘I kill an ant’ by Shuson Kato depicts someone killing an ant and realizing that their children were watching them.

This is not the best-known haiku in Japanese history, but the poem has been well-regarded in both Japan and abroad. It is often studied and anthologized as an example of contemporary Japanese poetry. It's different, in some ways, from traditional haiku in its moral message.

I kill an ant

and realize my three children  

have been watching

The childless woman

by Hattori Ransetsu

‘The childless woman’ by Hattori Ransetsu is a beautifully emotional poem about a childless woman longing to have real children.

This poem is a good, although not super well-known example of Japanese poetry. Japanese poetry often relies on suggestive imagery and concise language to evoke a range of emotions. The poem reflects the beauty and sensitivity inherent in Japanese poetry, capturing a poignant moment in the life of the childless woman and inviting readers to connect with her emotions and experiences.

The childless woman,

How tender she is

To the dolls!

The crow has flown away

by Natsume Sōseki

‘The crow has flown away’ by Natsume Sōseki is a beautifully contemplative haiku about a crow, tree, and the whole natural world

This poem belongs to the complex tradition of Japanese poetry. It reflects the influence of classical Japanese poetic forms, such as haiku, with its focus on nature, brevity, and suggestive imagery. Japanese poetry often seeks to convey profound emotions and insights through subtle and understated language, as this poem does. Sōseki's haiku aligns with this tradition.

The crow has flown away;

swaying in the evening sun,

a leafless tree.

Plum flower temple

by Natsume Sōseki

‘Plum flower temple’ by Natsume Sōseki is a beautiful, contemplative haiku that explores the natural world around a temple and quiet voices rising in the distance. 

This poem is a prime example of Japanese poetry. It embodies the aesthetic principles and cultural traditions that define Japanese verse. Plus, the poem's emphasis on nature and spirituality aligns with the core themes often found in Japanese poetry.

Plum flower temple:

Voices rise

From the foothills.

The world of dew is, yes

by Kobayashi Issa

‘The world of dew is, yes’ by Kobayashi Issa should inspire readers to consider the meaning of life and the beauty of nature. 

This poem is considered a well-regarded Japanese poem. It captures the essence of haiku with its concise structure, evocative language, and introspective tone. The poem invites contemplation and reflection, encapsulating the delicate and ephemeral aspects of existence. Its beauty lies in its ability to convey profound meaning through simplicity, resonating with readers on a deep level.

The world of dew is, yes,

a world of dew,

but even so

Waves of summer grass

by Matsuo Bashō

‘Waves of summer grass’ by Matsuo Bashō is a beautiful and sorrowful haiku poem about loss and death symbolized in nature.

Matsuo Bashō's poetry represents a significant contribution to the tradition of Japanese poems. His works, including this beautiful poem, continue to resonate with readers, bridging cultures and capturing the universal aspects of the human experience. The poem is not one of the poet's best-known but it is still a good example of Japanese poetry.

Waves of summer grass:

All that remains of soldiers’

Impossible dreams.

A jag of lightning

by Matsuo Bashō

‘A jag of lightning’ by Matsuo Bashō is a beautiful and interesting poem that describes lightning and a heron’s scream. 

The poem's roots in Japanese poetry are evident through its form, language, and aesthetic sensibilities. It reflects the rich tradition of nature-focused poetry in Japanese culture, where profound insights are captured in succinct verses. The haiku's ability to convey profound emotions and observations with simplicity is a hallmark of Japanese poetry. This poem is a good, although not incredibly well-known example of the form.

A jag of lightning--

Then, flitting toward the darkness,

A night heron's scream.

I want to sleep

by Masaoka Shiki

‘I want to sleep’ by Masaoka Shiki is an interesting poem that describes someone’s desire to sleep and how flies are interfering with that.

This poem is a great example of Japanese poetic traditions. Japanese poetry often emphasizes nature (as is seen in this poem) and the connection between human beings and nature (also seen in this poem). This haiku incorporates these elements through the mention of buzzing flies and the yearning for a tranquil environment.

I want to sleep

Swat the flies

Softly, please.

A caterpillar

by Matsuo Bashō

‘A caterpillar’ by Matsuo Bashō is a concise that captures the image of a caterpillar through simple yet interesting imagery. The poem revolves around a caterpillar, a creature in the process of metamorphosis.

This is a good, although not well-known, example of Japanese poetry. Matsuo Bashō is considered one of the greatest Japanese poets, and his works continue to inspire readers and writers alike. Japanese poetry often embraces themes of nature and the contemplation of the human condition. It seeks to evoke emotions and insights through concise and carefully crafted verses.

A caterpillar

this deep in fall

still not a butterfly.

Grasses wilt

by Yamaguchi Seishi

‘Grasses wilt’ by Yamaguchi Seishi is a unique poem that’s written in the form of a haiku. It describes two contrasting, yet related, images.

This poem embodies key elements of Japanese poetry. It exemplifies the minimalistic style and contemplative nature often associated with Japanese verse. Seishi's work reflects the influence of traditional Japanese poetic forms, such as haiku, by capturing profound insights into nature.

Grasses wilt:

the braking locomotive

grinds to a halt.

When I Was Prettiest in My Life

by Ibaragi Noriko

‘When I Was Prettiest in My Life’ by Ibaragi Noriko is a powerful poem written after World War II that explores the juxtaposition between beauty and war. 

Noriko, being a Japanese poet, infuses elements of Japanese poetry into the poem. While not explicitly adhering to a specific form like haiku or tanka, the poem carries a sense of simplicity, introspection, and emotional resonance often associated with Japanese poetry. Despite this, it's not a well-known poem.

When I was prettiest in my life,

the cities crumbled down,

and the blue sky appeared

in the most unexpected places.

First autumn morning

by Murakami Kijo

‘First autumn morning’ by Murakami Kijo explores the process of aging and how one learns more about their parents as one gets older. 

The poem is a good example of the tradition of Japanese poetry. It captures the concise and evocative nature of Japanese poetic forms but is not a super well-known example of this form of poetry. Despite this, it is well worth reading for its powerful message.

First autumn morning:

the mirror I stare into

shows my father's face.

The cry of the cicada

by Matsuo Bashō

‘The cry of the cicada’ by Matsuo Bashō is a thoughtful poem that evokes images of summer and reminds readers about the inevitability of death.

This poem is situated within the rich tradition of Japanese poetry, deeply rooted in nature and spirituality. Drawing on techniques such as juxtaposition and understatement, Bashō's haiku exemplifies the essence of Japanese poetic aesthetics. Much of the poet's verse, like this poem, is considered to be among the best Japanese poetry ever written.

The cry of the cicada

Gives us no sign

That presently they will die. 

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