Choka is a traditional form of Japanese poetry that dates back to the 1st century. The word “choka” means “long poem” and is usually compared to a tanka, which is a “short poem.” Today, it’s far more common to see tanka (or see the term “waka” used to describe choka poems). 

E.g. An example of a choka includes the lines "When I eat melons / My children come to my mind" written by Yamanoue no Okura.

Over time, Choka influenced the development of other Japanese poetic forms, such as tanka and haiku. Tanka, for instance, is a shorter form derived from choka, consisting of 31 syllables arranged in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern.

Choka Poetry Definition

Choka poems consist of a series of alternating lines of 5 and 7 syllables, with an optional concluding line of 7 syllables. Choka can be of any length, but the most common structure is a series of couplets, with each pair of lines forming a complete thought.

In addition to the alternating syllable pattern, choka often incorporated wordplay, alliteration, and other poetic devices to enhance their beauty and meaning. The form’s simplicity and flexibility allowed for creative expression while adhering to a structured framework.

What are Choka Poems About? 

Traditionally, choka poems were composed to express emotions, describe nature, or convey personal experiences. They often followed a thematic progression, with the first few lines introducing a topic and subsequent lines expanding on it. 

Choka poems were typically written in the context of courtship, love, or longing, and they were often exchanged between lovers as a form of communication.

Example of a Choka 

‘When I eat melons’ by Yamanoue no Okura

Also regarded as a waka poem, ‘When I eat melons’ is a good example of a choka. The poem begins with the lines: 

When I eat melons
My children come to my mind;
When I eat chestnuts

The original Japanese read: 

Uri hameba

Kodomo omohoyu

Kuri hameba

After this, it’s common to find a second section called an envoi. In this case, it begins with: 

What are they to me,

Silver, or gold, or jewels?

 How could they ever

This section of the poem stays on the same subject (the poet’s children) and suggests that there is no way to compare the world’s wealth to the value his children hold. 

A Long for Dead Captive by Utsubo Kubota 

This incredibly important poem (originally titled ‘Horyo no Shi’) is regarded as the longest choka poem ever written. It was composed at the end of the Pacific War. Unlike traditional choka poems, this piece was composed as an elegy for the poet’s son, who passed away during that time. 

How to Write a Choka Poem

The first step to writing this kind of poem is deciding on a theme or topic. It can be about love, nature, personal experiences, or any subject that resonates with you.

Start your choka with a couplet that introduces your theme or sets the tone for your poem. This can be a concise statement or an image that captures the essence of your topic.

Next, you’ll want to develop your poem by expanding on the initial couplet. Each subsequent couplet should build upon the previous one, forming a thematic progression. You can explore different aspects, emotions, or perspectives related to your chosen theme.

You can end your choka with a concluding couplet of 7 syllables. This final couplet can summarize your poem, provide a resolution, or leave the reader with a thought-provoking ending. Note that this concluding line is optional, and you can choose to omit it if you prefer.

At this point, you may want to spend some time revising what you’ve written and seeing if there are any changes that need to be made in order for the poem to be as good as it can be. 

Why are Choka Poems Important? 

Choka poems are important for several reasons. Firstly, they hold historical significance as one of the oldest poetic forms in Japan, dating back to the 1st century. Studying and appreciating choka allows readers to connect with the literary traditions and cultural heritage of ancient Japan, providing insights into the artistic expressions, emotions, and experiences of people from that era.

Choka also serve as a cultural expression, reflecting the values, aesthetics, and sensibilities of Japanese culture. Through its concise and evocative language, choka captures the beauty of nature, the depth of emotions, and the nuances of human experiences. It acts as a medium to express and preserve cultural identity, particularly in relation to courtship, love, and longing.

As a poetic form, the choka is important as its challenging structure tests the limits of a poet’s creativity. Plus, choka’s influence can be seen in other Japanese poetic forms, such as tanka and haiku.


What is the significance of choka poetry in modern times?

In modern times, choka poetry holds significance as a cherished poetic form that connects us to the literary traditions of ancient Japan. It serves as a vehicle for self-expression, artistic exploration, and cultural preservation.

What are some literary devices commonly used in choka poetry?

A wide variety of literary devices can be used in choka poems. For example, imagery, metaphors and similes, allusions, personification, and more. 

Can choka poems be written in languages other than Japanese?

While choka poetry originated in Japan, its form and principles can be applied to other languages. The syllable structure and thematic progression can be adapted to suit the linguistic characteristics of different languages.

What are the key themes explored in choka poetry?

Choka poetry often explores themes of love, nature, and personal experiences. It provides a platform for expressing emotions, capturing the beauty of the natural world, and sharing individual stories and perspectives.

Related Literary Terms 

  • Couplet: a literary device that is made up of two rhyming lines of verse. These fall in succession, or one after another.
  • Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions in poetry that should trigger the reader’s senses. 
  • Simile: a comparison between two things that uses the words “like” or “as.”
  • Allusion: a reference to something outside the direct scope of a poem. 
  • Haiku: a three-line form of Japanese poetry that has been highly influential. 
  • Tanka: an important form in Japanese poetry that follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.
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