Who Made The First Haiku?

by Amy

Haiku, a traditional form of Japanese poetry, is celebrated for its simplicity and depth. This concise art form, encapsulating profound moments within a mere seventeen syllables, has captivated poets and readers for centuries. But who made the first haiku? To answer this question, we must delve into the origins of haiku, the historical context from which it emerged, and the influential poets who shaped its evolution.

Definition of Haiku

A haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry that typically consists of three lines, with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5. This structure, while seemingly simple, demands precision and creativity from the poet. The first line contains five syllables, the second line seven syllables, and the third line five syllables. Haiku often focus on nature, seasons, and fleeting moments, capturing the essence of a scene or an emotion in a few carefully chosen words.

Origins of Haiku

To understand the origins of haiku, we must look back at the early forms of Japanese poetry, such as waka and renga. Waka, an ancient form of Japanese poetry, consists of 31 syllables arranged in five lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern. Over time, waka evolved, giving rise to new forms and styles.

Renga, a collaborative linked-verse poetry, emerged as a significant literary form during the medieval period in Japan. It involved multiple poets contributing alternating sections of a poem, creating a chain of linked verses. The opening stanza of a renga, known as hokku, followed a 5-7-5 syllable pattern and set the tone for the rest of the poem.

The hokku, with its compact structure and evocative imagery, gradually gained popularity as an independent poetic form. This marked the beginning of the transformation of hokku into what we now recognize as haiku. However, it was the influence of a few key poets that truly solidified haiku’s place in Japanese literature.

Matsuo Bashō

Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) is often regarded as the most famous and influential haiku poet. Born in the early Edo period, Bashō initially studied the art of poetry under the tutelage of the haikai master, Kigin. He later embarked on a series of travels across Japan, during which he composed some of his most renowned haiku.

Bashō’s poetry reflects his deep connection with nature and his philosophical outlook on life. His haiku often capture the transient beauty of natural scenes, embodying the principles of wabi-sabi (the beauty of imperfection) and mono no aware (the awareness of impermanence). One of his most famous haiku, written during his journey to the Deep North, reads:

An old pond—
A frog jumps in,
The sound of water.

This haiku, with its simplicity and profound resonance, exemplifies Bashō’s ability to convey a moment’s essence with minimal words. Through his works and teachings, Bashō elevated haiku to a refined art form, influencing generations of poets and solidifying his place as a pivotal figure in the history of haiku.

Evolution of the Term “Haiku”

The term “haiku” was coined by Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902) in the late 19th century. Shiki, a poet, critic, and journalist, sought to modernize Japanese poetry by advocating for realism and innovation. He recognized the potential of the 5-7-5 syllable structure to convey both traditional and contemporary themes with clarity and precision.

Shiki proposed the term “haiku” to distinguish the standalone 5-7-5 verse from hokku, which was still associated with renga. He emphasized the importance of individual expression and creativity in haiku, encouraging poets to explore new subjects and styles. Shiki’s advocacy for haiku as an independent literary form marked a significant shift in Japanese poetry. One of Shiki’s notable haiku reflects his realist approach:

A crow has settled
on a bare branch—
autumn evening.

This haiku, with its straightforward depiction of a moment in nature, exemplifies Shiki’s influence on the modern haiku movement. By promoting haiku as a distinct genre, Shiki ensured its enduring legacy and widespread appeal.

Cultural and Historical Significance

Haiku holds a unique place in Japanese culture and literature. Its brevity and depth reflect the Japanese aesthetic principles of simplicity, subtlety, and harmony with nature. Haiku poets often draw inspiration from the changing seasons, natural landscapes, and everyday moments, capturing the essence of the human experience in their verses.

The cultural significance of haiku extends beyond its literary merits. Haiku has been integrated into various aspects of Japanese life, from traditional tea ceremonies to contemporary educational curricula. Its influence can be seen in other art forms, such as calligraphy and painting, where the concise and evocative nature of haiku complements visual expressions.

Internationally, haiku has garnered widespread appreciation and adaptation. Western poets and writers have embraced haiku, translating its principles into their own languages and cultural contexts. The universal appeal of haiku lies in its ability to convey profound insights with minimal words, transcending linguistic and cultural barriers.


The question of who made the first haiku leads us on a journey through the rich history of Japanese poetry. From the early forms of waka and renga to the transformation of hokku into haiku, and the pivotal roles of poets like Matsuo Bashō, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, and Masaoka Shiki, haiku has evolved into a cherished and influential art form.

Haiku’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to distill complex emotions and experiences into a few simple lines. Its cultural and historical significance, both in Japan and globally, speaks to the universal human desire to capture the fleeting moments of life in words. As we continue to read and write haiku, we honor the legacy of the poets who have shaped this timeless form of poetry.

FAQs about Haiku

1. Who Started Haiku?

Haiku, as a distinct poetic form, evolved from the earlier Japanese poetic traditions of waka and renga. The opening stanza of a renga, known as hokku, was the precursor to haiku. Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) is often credited with transforming hokku into an independent and highly esteemed art form. Through his works and teachings, Bashō elevated the status of hokku, paving the way for its recognition as haiku.

2. Who Was the First Haiku Master?

Matsuo Bashō is widely regarded as the first and most influential haiku master. His contributions to haiku are unparalleled, and his ability to capture the beauty of nature and the human experience in concise, evocative verses has earned him a lasting legacy in the world of poetry. Bashō’s haiku are celebrated for their simplicity, depth, and adherence to the principles of wabi-sabi (the beauty of imperfection) and mono no aware (the awareness of impermanence).

3. Who Is the Father of Haiku?

Matsuo Bashō is often referred to as the father of haiku due to his pivotal role in popularizing and refining the form. His profound influence on the development of haiku and his enduring body of work have cemented his status as a foundational figure in haiku poetry. Bashō’s legacy continues to inspire haiku poets around the world.

4.Can a Haiku Have 13 Syllables?

Traditional haiku follows a strict syllable pattern of 5-7-5, totaling 17 syllables. However, the essence of haiku lies in its brevity and ability to convey a moment’s emotion or scene succinctly. While the 5-7-5 structure is standard, modern haiku poets sometimes experiment with variations in syllable count, including 13 syllables, to better capture their intended expression. It is essential, though, to maintain the spirit of haiku, which emphasizes simplicity, nature, and a sense of fleeting beauty.

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