Who Invented Haiku?

by Amy
Matsuo Basho

Haiku, the brief yet profound form of poetry, has captivated hearts and minds across the globe with its simplicity, depth, and connection to nature. This Japanese literary form, characterized by its seventeen-syllable structure divided into a 5-7-5 pattern, offers a snapshot of a moment, often linking nature to human emotion. But who exactly invented haiku, transforming it into the beloved art form known today? To uncover this, we must delve into the annals of Japanese literary history, exploring the evolution of haiku through the ages, its key figures, and the cultural contexts that shaped its development.

The Genesis of Haiku Poetry

Haiku’s origins can be traced back to the early beginnings of Japanese verse, evolving from a collaborative linked-verse form known as “renga.” Renga, popular among the Japanese aristocracy, consisted of alternating stanzas of 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllables, composed in collaboration by multiple poets. The opening stanza of renga, called “hokku,” served as the foundation for what would eventually become haiku. The hokku was expected to set the tone and season of the renga, encapsulating the essence of the moment in a mere seventeen syllables.

As renga sessions grew in popularity, the standalone value of hokku began to be appreciated for its succinct beauty and depth. Over time, this appreciation gave rise to the independent composition of hokku, setting the stage for the birth of haiku as a distinct poetic form.

Matsuo Bashō: The Father of Haiku

While the invention of haiku cannot be attributed to a single individual, Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) is often revered as the father of modern haiku. Bashō was not just a poet but a wanderer, a philosopher, and a teacher, whose works profoundly influenced the course of Japanese literature. His contributions to the art of haiku were monumental, elevating the hokku to new heights of artistic and philosophical expression.

Bashō’s haiku are celebrated for their natural imagery, simplicity, and kigo (seasonal word), which evoke deep emotions and insights into the human condition. His famous haiku, “An old pond / A frog jumps in / The sound of water,” exemplifies his mastery of capturing a singular, ephemeral moment in time, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.

Bashō’s journeys across Japan, documented in works such as “The Narrow Road to the Deep North,” reflect his deep contemplation of nature, life, and impermanence, themes central to haiku. Through his teachings and his disciples, Bashō fostered a community of poets dedicated to the art of haiku, cementing its status and form.

The Development of Haiku Post-Bashō

After Bashō’s death, his disciples and subsequent generations of poets continued to evolve the haiku form. Notable figures such as Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, and Masaoka Shiki played significant roles in shaping haiku, each contributing their unique perspective and stylistic innovations.

Buson, a poet and painter, brought a vivid pictorial quality to haiku, emphasizing aesthetic beauty and classical Chinese influences. Issa, on the other hand, introduced a more personal and human touch to haiku, often reflecting on life’s hardships with compassion and humor. Masaoka Shiki, a reformer and critic, advocated for the modernization of haiku and officially coined the term “haiku” to replace “hokku,” marking the formal recognition of the genre as an independent art form.

Haiku in the Modern Era

In the 20th century, haiku began to transcend its Japanese origins, gaining popularity in the West and across the world. The translation of Japanese haiku into English and other languages played a crucial role in this global diffusion. Notable Western poets, such as R.H. Blyth and Harold G. Henderson, were instrumental in introducing haiku to English-speaking audiences, while contemporaneous Japanese poets, including Natsume Sōseki and Kobayashi Issa, continued to explore and expand the boundaries of haiku within Japan.

The international appeal of haiku lies in its universality and accessibility. Its concise format and emphasis on nature and momentary awareness resonate with individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Today, haiku is celebrated worldwide, with poets and enthusiasts engaging in the practice across various languages and cultural contexts, continually enriching and diversifying the haiku tradition.


The question of who invented haiku does not have a straightforward answer. Instead, haiku’s invention is a culmination of centuries of literary tradition, evolving through the contributions of numerous poets and cultural shifts. Matsuo Bashō stands as a pivotal figure in haiku’s history, not for inventing the form but for refining and popularizing it, influencing generations of poets to come.

Haiku remains a living art form, constantly adapting and evolving while retaining its core principles. Its enduring appeal lies in its simplicity, depth, and the universal human experience it encapsulates. As we continue to write, read, and appreciate haiku, we partake in a rich literary tradition that bridges past and present, inviting us to pause and contemplate the beauty and transience of life.

In essence, the invention of haiku is a testament to the collaborative and ever-evolving nature of human expression, reflecting our innate desire to connect with nature, emotion, and each other. Through the compact yet expansive world of haiku, poets and readers alike continue to explore the depths of human experience, proving that within seventeen syllables, entire universes can be discovered and cherished.


Who is the Father of Modern Haiku?

The father of modern haiku is Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694), a renowned Japanese poet who significantly influenced the development and popularity of haiku as a distinct poetic form.

Is There Chinese Haiku?

Yes, there is a form of poetry in China that is similar to haiku and is often referred to as “Chinese Haiku” or “Chinese Poetry.” However, it’s important to note that while Chinese poetry shares similarities with haiku in terms of brevity and focus on nature, it has its own unique characteristics and cultural roots.

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