Kyōka is a traditional Japanese poetic form that emerged in the 15th century. It is a playful and humorous variation of the tanka, a five-line poem with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7. 

E.g. An example of a kyōka is a humorous five-line poem that follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.

The word “Kyōka” literally means “mad” or “crazy poem,” reflecting its light-hearted and whimsical nature. These poems are not nearly as well-known as haiku or tanka today, but they are still a great poetic form that is well-worth learning and studying.

Kyōka Definition

A kyōka is a relatively unknown Japanese poetic form that is defined by its playfulness. It’s often regarded as a more playful version of a tanka. These poems follow a standardized structure of 5 syllables in lines one and three and seven syllables in lines two, four, and five. 

Kyōka Elements 

Kyōka often employs wordplay, puns, and satirical elements to create a comic effect. It typically incorporates elements of daily life, nature, and human experiences, often with a touch of irony or satire. The poems can be witty, sarcastic, or absurd, and they often present a twist or surprise in the final lines.

Tokaido gojusan tsui, Futakawa by Hiroshige
Illustrations from the kyōka book ‘Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige‘ by Hiroshige

While kyōka shares similarities with haiku and tanka in terms of structure, its primary focus is on humor and amusement rather than capturing a specific moment or expressing deep emotions. It was particularly popular during the Edo period in Japan (17th to 19th centuries) and was often composed as a collaborative effort among poets.

How to Write a Kyōka

Kyōka are not the most complicated examples of Japanese verse, but that doesn’t mean that they’re simple to write. If you’re already familiar with a tanka, you have a head start as this poetic form is the basis for the kyōka. 

The form follows a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable pattern, similar to a tanka. This means that when you’re writing, you need the first line and the third line to contain five syllables and the rest of the lines to have seven. 

While traditional tanka and kyōka follow this pattern, it doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to. If you want to write a contemporary or modernized version of the poetic form, you could change the syllable arrangement or subject

Next, you should make sure to select a subject for your poem. It could be anything that inspires humor or satire. Most of these poems focus on everyday activities and topics. Make sure that your poem expresses humor in some way, as well.

Two pages from the Kokon kyōka-bukura
Two pages from the Kokon kyōka-bukura (1787), edited by Santō Kyōden and published by Tsutaya Jūzaburō

Why Are Kyōka Important? 

If you know anything about Japanese poetry, it’s likely based around haiku and tanka, and perhaps haibun (a poetic form that combines verse and prose). These more familiar Japanese styles are often mimicked by poets in other languages. But, the kyōka is lesser-known. 

Matsunaga Teitoku was one of the first poets to write kyōka
Matsunaga Teitoku was one of the first poets to write kyōka

This type of poem served as a playful and satirical extension of traditional haiku and tanka poetry. Unlike the more solemn and contemplative nature of haiku and tanka, kyōka embraced humor, wit, and social commentary.

They also offered a unique platform for social and political critique. During a time when direct criticism of authority figures and societal norms was often suppressed, kyōka allowed poets to subtly challenge the status quo through humor and satire. 

Kyōka vs. Tanka 

These two poetic forms share a wide variety of features. In fact, if you’ve written a tanka before, it won’t take much to use what formal features you know and transform them into a kyōka. 

Tanka and kyōka are both five lines long, and both follow the same syllable pattern 5-7-5-7-7. The main difference between the two is that tanka is usually about haiku-related subjects (like nature, the importance of appreciating small moments in life, etc.) while kyōka are more humorous in nature. They tend to dig into the minutia of everyday life and convey a thoughtful message, through humor, about normal people and activities. 


Are kyōka still written today? 

Yes, kyōka are still written today. While they aren’t the most popular poetic form, there are still those who want to experiment with them and see what this ancient Japanese form can do today. 

Who writes kyōka? 

Anyone can write a kyōka! These poems are fairly short and easy to understand so even if Japanese poetry isn’t something you’re familiar with, it won’t take long to learn the basics of the form. 

What are kyōka about? 

Kyōka are usually about everyday life. This could be what happens during the day, what one person’s actions result in, and much more. The defining feature of these poems is humor. They use satire and irony to speak about the foibles of everyday people and their actions. They can even pass judgment. 

How are kyōka different from haiku

Kyōka are humorous and five lines long, while haiku are more contemplative and only three lines long. Haiku are also well-known for focusing on nature within the format of lines that contain 5-7-5 syllables, respectively. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Haiku: a three-line Japanese poem that follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-5.
  • Tanka: an important form in Japanese poetry that follows a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.
  • Imagery: refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. These are the important sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.
  • Implied Metaphor: a literary device that’s used in everything from short stories to novels and poems.
  • Limerick: a humorous poem that follows a fixed structure of five lines and a rhyme scheme of AABBA.
  • Satire/Satirical Comedy: are used to analyze behaviors to make fun of, criticize, or chastise them in a humorous way.
  • Aphorism: short, serious, humorous, and philosophical truths about life.
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