Localism and the World Kigo Database

The World Kigo Database encourages the use of local words and haiku about local events and the local nature around you.

A great part of the attraction of Japanese haiku is their "exoticism" and a Japanese saijiki reads like the handbook of Japanese culture.

When studying Japanses haiku you are bound to learn a lot about Japanese culture, not only the nature and biology of plants and animals but the daily life of the people and the cultural values and associations of the plants and animals and other things.

So if we promote saijiki from other parts of the world, we want you to show, through your haiku, the special culture of your area! Localism is vital to a good haiku perceived as an experience of your sourroundings! It has got to be LOCAL !

Just tell others about the special something it is you are writing.
Promote your own culture !
And add your haiku to the World Kigo Database with explanations and photos.

Gabi Greve, March 2007

The following discussion has prompted me to make this entry.


Hayato Tokugawa


What Language Should I write haiku in?

Oh! Haiku is Japanese poetry. Maybe I should try to write them in Japanese! Well, maybe and maybe not! In order for the writer to have the most the most available words, as well as their nuances at hand for use in their poems (think of them as colors on an artist's pallet) it is probably best to write in one's native language, that is unless one is a master of a second language. Even then, there are more available choices and I am sure the writer will feel more confident and at ease, writing in their own language. There is nothing wrong in writing haiku in English, French, Vietnamese, or Hungarian.

Writing in the language one is most familiar and skilled at will also aid in the creation of simplicity in their poems. Haiku, by its very nature demands simplicity both in its subjects and in its form. Think in concise and exact words just as one should come to appreciate the beauty of simple ways and simple things, without ostentation or ornamentation. Again, this is most easily
accomplished by writing in the language one is most skilled and comfortable with.

Still, that is not to say that there are not some very successful, even great haiku, written in the writer's second (or third) language. I have seen some great haiku for example written by Japanese authors, in English, especially when they are written in a "minimalist" fashion.


Especially as it applies to the matter of simplicity in haiku, is the practice, in Japanese, of not using any foreign words in haiku. Really, this should also apply to poems written in English (or any other language). When thought of on the surface, this should be a simple matter, especially for English writers who often don't really have to learn a second language. Yet, there is a tendency, in writing haiku, for writers to slip in a word or two of Nihongo (see I did it there .. Nihongo is Japanese), when describing something Japanese. The words "tofu", "sado", "ikebana" are just three examples. When we as haiku writers do this, we are excluding some readers from sharing fully in the language and thus, the experience of the poem. This is not good writing as the poem then becomes more exclusive than inclusive. Haiku should be open to, accessible to the broadest "audience" we can write to.

Even when used parenthetically, for example a Japanese word in parenthesis to provide an equivalent to an English kigo or season word (s) should be avoided as really, it provides both a visual distraction as well as a disruption in the flow of the poem.


The use of local or regional words should also be avoided because, again, the writer is making the language of the poem exclusive to those who know precisely what the writer is talking about. Someone in the Midwest of the United States might know what "munch grass" is but maybe not someone in East End of London. A person in the "Deep South" of the US might know what a "dog berry" is but someone in Los Angeles or Perth might not have a clue. So perhaps it is better to take the time to search for the proper English word to use, to broaden the understanding and appreciation of the poem.

"Inside Jokes or Meanings"

When written well, the first line of a haiku is supported and expanded upon by the second line, and the second line is supported and expanded upon by the third, and thus the first line is then given even more clarity. In reading a poem, the reader is given certain information in the first line and because they want more information, more clarity to the image forming, they move on to line two for that information. If written well, the readers then, cannot help themselves but to move on to the third line to find out the "rest of the story" and then going back to the first line, all becomes clear.

This is an important part of the active participation of the reader in haiku. As a writer you have included your readers into the process. If the writer; however, makes the ending line a bit too esoteric, the reader is then challenged to interrupt the reading and appreciation process, to try and find out what the author is talking about or means.

It can be demonstrated like this reaction from the reader as they go through the poem: first line ・"Hmm." Second line ・"Oh, yes". Third line ・"What the heck does that mean?" Really it should
probably be more like, "Hmmm, oh yes, oh cool!" The point is that by making the reader stop to figure out what the author is talking about, the writer has disrupted the haiku process for their reader and thus, probably not the best form.


Dear Hayato sama,

Thank you for this stimulating article. It is one of the joys of this haiku community that we can be students together and learn from each other, as well as learning from the great masters and from each other's knowledge of their writings and lives.

You mention one of the key areas underlying WHC Worldkigo -- the "local-isms". It may indeed be best, most of the time, not to indulge in these, in order to be able to write for a wide readership. In World Kigo, on the other hand, we are perhaps doing the reverse -- championing what is specific to the country, to the region.

If I take the Kenya Saijiki, which I know best, as an example, the kigo :

- flamboyant blossom
- Jamhuri Day
- Idd ul Fittr

will be well known to Kenyans and the subject of haiku, but will need explanations (which we are providing) to haijin outside the country.

Indeed, I could add that words which we may all feel we know well, e.g.

- water shortage

may have a different significance in Kenya to that which it has in Japan or again, other countries.

Will not the same thing hold true for Japanese haiku also? Japan is full of kigo which need explanations if they are to be understood by non Japanese poets -- and that is half the pleasure of reading Japanese haiku!

On the other hand, I fully agree with you as regards the mixing of languages. Kenya haijin are inclined to write haiku as they speak, i.e. mixing English with Swahili and possibly their mother tongue as well. We are making an effort to keep these languages apart in a haiku, as you recommend. A haiku written in English throughout is immediately accessible (though possibly with explanations!) to a much larger circle of readers.

Isabelle Prondzynski


From Larry:

I just have a couple of comments about Mr. Tokugawa's thoughts regarding "foreign-isms" and "local-isms."

As one example of a foreign word one might want to avoid using when writing haiku, he gives the word 'tofu'. This brings up the issue of 'loanwords'.

Although there may be many Americans who couldn't say, when asked, exactly what tofu is, I imagine that a significant number of those same Americans have likely heard the word. And they might even know it is used, from a health food standpoint, as a meat substitute. 'Tofu' is sometimes used as a source of humor in American television situation comedies, when a wife tries to feed it for health reasons to her 'meat-and-potatoes' husband.

'Tofu' is in the process of becoming a loanword in American English.

Even 'haiku' is now a fully English word (of Japanese origin)!

I am struck by how haiku rules change over time, in terms of what is considered acceptable. When Shiki proposed his ideas for reformation of the 'haiku' of his era, he was attempting to overthrow what was then considered to be acceptable 'haiku'-writing practice.

In a manifesto he wrote for "Nippon' in 1896", he itemized the points of difference between his group ('we') and the other, more usual haiku writers ('they') of the day." [from the Introduction to "Modern Japanese Haiku: An Anthology," by Makoto Ueda, University of Toronto Press, 1976]

Shiki's point four of the aforementioned manifesto is:

"We do not mind using the vocabulary of ancient court poetry or of modern vernacular slang, or words loaned from Chinese and western languages, as long as the words harmonize with the tone of the haiku.
They rebuff words of western origin, confine the use of Chinese words within the narrow limits of contemporary convention, and accept only a small number of words from ancient court poetry."

Ueda summarizes this point by saying that Shiki was opposed to haiku being "restrictive in vocabulary."

It is amusing to me that now there are suggestions that haiku should return to a pre-Shiki restriction in vocabulary! There are such things as footnotes and glossaries, after all. It doesn't hurt for the reader to have to do a LITTLE work!

Larry Bole


Local Japanese Kigo (chiboo kigo)
地貌(ちぼう)季語, 地貌季語

***** Haiku Theory Archives


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