20 Most Famous Japanese Haiku

by Amy

Haiku, a traditional form of Japanese poetry, is renowned for its concise yet evocative nature. In just a few lines, it captures profound moments, often inspired by nature, and distills them into poignant expressions of human experience. Among the countless haiku composed throughout history, certain ones have risen to prominence for their enduring impact and beauty. In this article, we embark on a journey to delve into the essence of the most famous Japanese haiku, exploring their origins, themes, and enduring significance.

The Artistry of Haiku

Haiku, originating from Japan, is a poetic form characterized by its brevity and simplicity. Traditionally composed of seventeen syllables in a 5-7-5 pattern, haiku typically encapsulate a fleeting moment, often in nature, and evoke emotions or insights. Despite its succinct structure, haiku possesses a depth that resonates with readers across cultures and generations.

The Origins of Haiku: From Hokku to Modern Haiku

The roots of haiku can be traced back to the early Japanese poetic form known as “tanka,” which consists of thirty-one syllables in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern. Over time, a shorter form emerged from tanka, called “hokku,” which focused on the opening stanza, typically featuring nature themes. Hokku eventually evolved into the standalone poetic form known as haiku in the late 19th century.

Matsuo Basho, considered the master of haiku, played a pivotal role in popularizing the form. His works, characterized by profound simplicity and Zen-like insights, set the standard for generations of haiku poets to come. Basho’s contributions laid the groundwork for the development of modern haiku, which expanded beyond traditional themes and structures.

Exploring the Most Famous Japanese Haiku

1. Matsuo Bashō: Summer Grass

Summer grasses,

All that remains

Of warriors’ dreams.

2. Yosa Buson: The Piercing Chill I Feel

The piercing chill I feel:

my dead wife’s comb, in our bedroom,

under my heel…

3. Kobayashi Issa: Under the Cherry Blossoms

Under the cherry blossoms’ shade

there’s no such thing

as a stranger.

4. Masaoka Shiki: The Lamp Once Out

The lamp once out

Cool stars enter

The window frame.

5. Matsuo Bashō: Moonlit Night

Moonlit night on the river,

Crying insects

Are singing in the grass.

6. Kobayashi Issa: The Dew of Roses

The dew of roses,

But for a second,

Lingers on my hand.

7. Yosa Buson: Blowing from the West

Blowing from the west

Fallen leaves gather

In the east.

8. Matsuo Bashō: Winter Garden

A winter garden,

the moon thinned to a thread,

insects singing.

9. Kobayashi Issa: Cricket

Listen! a cricket

chirps under the kitchen’s

eaves: my lonely home.

10. Chiyo-ni (1703–1775): Morning Glory

Morning glory!

the well bucket-entangled,

I ask for water

11. Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694): Frog Haiku

An old silent pond…

A frog jumps into the pond,

splash! Silence again.

12. Yosa Buson (1716–1784): Winter Moon

The light of a candle

Is transferred to another candle—

Spring twilight

13. Kobayashi Issa (1763–1828): World of Dew

A world of dew

And within every dewdrop

A world of struggle.

14. Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902): A lonely pine

A lonely pine

is standing in the field.

Yet — spring begins.

15. Matsuo Bashō: Old Pond

The old pond;

A frog jumps in

Sound of the water.

16. Kobayashi Issa: New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day—

everything is in blossom!

I feel about average.

17. Yosa Buson: On the one-ton temple bell

On the one-ton temple bell

a moon-moth, folded into sleep,

sits still.

18. Matsuo Bashō: Winter Solitude

Winter solitude—

in a world of one color

the sound of wind.

19. Kobayashi Issa: O snail

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly

20. Taneda Santōka (1882–1940): Free-style Haiku

The moon and the flowers,

46 years,

wandering, wandering.


As we unravel the timeless beauty of the most famous Japanese haiku, we discover not only masterful works of poetry but also profound reflections on the human experience. In the delicate balance of nature and the transient moments of life, haiku reminds us of the interconnectedness of all things and the enduring power of simplicity and grace.

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