What Are Hokku?

A bronze Basho in Yamadera, Yamagata Prefecture

Hokku are the shortest among the accepted forms of Japanese literary expressions.  “A hokku in English is a brief, unrhymed, three-line verse about Nature and humans as a part of Nature, set within the context of a season.  It is quite simply the art of putting seasonal sensory experiences into as few words as are necessary to clearly convey the experience without either confusing the reader with too few words or obscuring the experience with too many.”(1)

You may ask, “Don’t you mean haiku instead of hokku?”   The term “haiku” was made-up by Masaoka Shiki, in the late 1800s.  Haiku is derived from the ancient hokku.  To learn more about the difference between these two terms, read David Coomler’s explanation here.

David Coomler, who writes and teaches the art of hokku, tells us that the old hokku verses “maintain  the traditional aesthetic principles inherited from Daoism and meditative Buddhism.”  (He has coined a word, “daoku,” which refers to verses written in accord with the Dao, the natural order of the universe.)  “This kind of hokku is a way of both recognizing our vital connection to Nature, and of taking us out of busy intellection and into tranquil perception.”  With his Mountain Water School he teaches this kind of hokku, or daoku, from which haiku is derived.  This is the kind of verse that I enjoy reading most of all.

Basho and Sora 2

In the beginning of the Tokugawa era (1425-1625) the hokku was already well established, but in the hands of the rule-smiths it was already expiring in artificiality.  Then came Basho (see my later post on Basho), who reinvigorated the basic form.(2)  You can learn about the Basic Form of Hokku by clicking here.

The subject matter of hokku is very limited…it must be about Nature and the place of humans within/as a part of Nature, set in the context of the seasons.  Read more, here.

The old hokku calendar, or the natural calendar, has the seasons beginning on cross-quarter days.  Winter begins on Nov 1st, Spring on Feb. 1st, Summer on May 1st, and Autumn begins on Aug. 1st.  For information about the natural or hokku calendar click here.

When reading good hokku you will notice how important the concept of yin and yang is.  Read more about this relationship here.

When you get to the very bottom of this page,  click “next, The Aging Pine” and take a leisurely walk in the Hokku Garden!  If you wish to go through this Garden in chronological order, then click “next” at the bottom of each page.

Sabishī, aka Taka Shimono


(1)This quote, by David Coomler, can be found at this site.

(2) Basho – On Love and Barley, the Hokku of Basho,   translated by Lucien Stryk.

The photos can be found at this site.


3 thoughts on “What Are Hokku?”

  1. This looks a really inspiring and wonderful insight into hokku and nature poetry. I will enjoy looking around. This is an amazing virtual sensory experience! Much needed nowadays. Thanks for checking out my posts and it is interesting the serendipity of titles in posts we get attracted too. Strangely I am in Manchester again and you reminded me of the time I walked around the streets seeing beautiful lilies and overflowing rubbish from bins. It was the student area and now is full of the virus and students confined to their rooms. I feel for the young as they need to socialise, embrace life but there will be time for them to do so soon, I am sure. Maybe being older we can live in our memories and be creative. Good to meet you from so far away but close in spirit.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s