Haiku is a very short form of Japanese poetry. The essence of haiku is “cutting” (kiru). This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji(“cutting word”) between them. A traditional haiku consists of 17 on (also known as morae), in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5 on, respectively. Any one of the three phrases may end with the kireji, which creates a brief pause, giving the reader the opportunity to read between the lines.

Every haiku must contain a kigo, a word associated with a particular season. In Japanese culture beauty lies in the things left unsaid, and it was the love of brevity that gave birth to this type of “miniature literature.” Haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line while haiku in English often appear in three lines to parallel the three phrases of Japanese haiku.

Previously called hokku, haiku was given its current name by the writer Masaoka Shiki at the end of the 19th century. It used to be the opening stanza of an orthodox collaborative linked poem called renga. Haiku was elevated to an art form in the 17th century by the poet Matsuo Basho, whose works have been translated into many languages and have received international acclaim.