Kigo: Japanese Season Words for Crafting Haiku

cherry blossom tree

Kigo (季語, “season word”) is a word or phrase associated with a particular season, most often used in traditional forms of Japanese poetry such as haiku, renga and renku.

photo of houses
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Wikipedia provides an excellent definition of haiku:

Haiku is a short verse genre written in one line in Japanese and commonly three lines in English and other languages. It has achieved significant global popularity, having been adapted from Japanese into many other languages. Typical of Japanese haiku is the metrical pattern of 5, 7, and 5 on (also known as morae). Other features include the juxtaposition of two images or ideas with a kireji (“cutting word”) between them, and a kigo, or seasonal reference, usually drawn from a saijiki, or traditional list of such words. Many haiku are objective in their depiction of personal experiences.”

Wikipedia.com/haiku

Most haiku written today still follow the ancient tradition by including a kigo. Be aware that most haiku groups and editors of haiku publications insist that haiku should include a kigo. I’m a traditionalist, so anything that does not have a kigo is something else, either senryū or zappai (miscellaneous haikai).

A saijiki (sigh-gee-key) (歳時記, lit. “year-time chronicle”) is a list of kigo (seasonal terms) used in haiku and related forms of poetry.

The following list has been quoted from: Yuki Teikei Haiku Society. I’m not sure that this site is still functional, as many of the site links go to 404 pages. The links below will take you to the site.

The Yuki Teikei Haiku Season Word List

Haiku Seasons

“These season words or kigo are from the 1977-78 Haiku Journal. Originally the list was selected from Japanese saijiki (kigo “dictionaries”) and translated by Kiyoko Tokutomi. Over time words have been added that have seasonal resonance for our predominantly North American members. We present these lists as a guide and aid to English-language writers who want to think about this aspect of haiku in their own writing, as well as in appreciating the haiku of other poets.”

Copyright 1997-2019 All rights reserved.

Spring
Season: spring months: late February, March, April, and May; beginning of spring, early spring, departing spring, late spring, lengthening days, long day, mid-spring, spring dream, spring dusk, spring evening, spring melancholy, tranquility, vernal equinox.
Sky and Elements: balmy breeze, bright, haze or thin mist, first spring storm, hazy moon, March wind, melting snow, lingering snow, spring breeze, spring cloud, spring frost, spring moon, spring rain, spring rainbow, spring sunbeam, spring snow, slush, warm (warmth).
Landscape: flooded river/stream/brook, muddy/miry fields, muddy road, spring fields, spring hills, spring mountain, spring river, spring sea, spring tide, red tide.
Human Affairs: balloon, closing the fireplace, kite, shell gathering, grafting, planting or sowing (seeds), plowing or tilling fields, soap bubbles (blown from a pipe or wand), sleeping Buddha, spring cleaning, swing, windmill, April Fools Day/April fool, Boys Day/ carp flag, Dolls Festival, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Easter ( ~ bonnet/clothes, ~ eggs, coloring/hiding ~ eggs, ~lily, ~ parade, ~ rabbit/chicken/duckling), May Day ( ~ basket, ~ pole), Memorial Day, Mothers Day, Passover, Saint Patrick’s Day, Valentines Day.
Animals: abalone, bee, baby animals (nestlings, fledglings, calf, colt, kitten, puppy, fawn, lamb, etc.), butterfly, bush warbler, cats in love, crane, flying squirrel, frog, horse-fly, lizard, pheasant, robin, mud snail, soaring skylark, stork, swallow, tadpole, whitebait (a fish), hummingbird, nightingale, wild birds’ return (geese, etc.).
Plants: anemone, artichoke, asparagus sprouts, azalea, bracken, bramble, camellia, cherry blossoms, cherry tree, crocus, dandelion, daphne, blossoms or leaf buds of trees and shrubs (almond, apple, apricot, maple, oak, pear, peach, pine, wisteria, etc.), forget-me-not, grass sprouts, hawthorn, hyacinth, lilac, lily of the valley, mustard, pansy, parsley, plum blossoms, plum tree, California poppy, primrose, seaweed or laver (nori), sweet pea, shepherd’s-purse, tulip, violet, willow, pussy willows or willow catkins.
Summer
Season: summer months*: June, July, August; beginning of summer, end of summer, midsummer, summer evening, summer morning, summer solstice, short night, slow day.
Sky and Elements: calm morning/evening, cumulus/billowing cloud, cloud peaks, coolness, drought, heat, hot, lightning, ocean fog, rainbow, sea of clouds, south wind, scented breeze, scorching/blazing sun, sudden shower, summer dew, summer fog, summer rain, summer sky, summer sun, summer wind, thunder.
Landscape: clear water, deep tree shade, summer grove, summer hills, summer lake, summer moor, summer mountains, summer sea, summer river, waterfall.
Human Affairs: awning, bare feet, beach umbrella, camp, cooling oneself, fan, fly swatter, fireworks, fountain, ice house, ice water, iced tea, mosquito net, midday nap, mowing grass, nakedness, parasol, perfume, prayers for rain, rattan chair, summer concert/opera, summer hat, summer house, summer vacation, sunburn, sunglasses, sundress, swimming, swimming pool, sweat, wind chimes, weeding, Armed Forces Day, Fathers Day, Fourth of July (Independence Day).
Animals: ant, bat, caterpillar, cicada, cormorant, crab, crayfish, firefly, flea, goldfish, heron, house fly, jellyfish(medusae, Vellella, comb jelly, etc.), kingfisher, louse, moor hen or coot, mosquito, mosquito larvae, moth, silverfish, slug, (garden) snail, snake, spider, summer butterfly, termite, toad, tree frog, trout, silkworm, water beetle.
Plants: amaryllis, barley, summer bracken, bamboo sprouts, cactus flower, carnation, summer chrysanthemum, (blue) cornflower, dahlia, dill flower, foxglove, fuchsia, gardenia, geranium, gerbera, gladiolus, summer/rank grasses/weeds, hibiscus, hollyhock, honeysuckle, hydrangea, iris, lily (calla, daylily, etc.), lotus, marguerite, marigold, mold (mildew), moss grown (mossy), oxalis, peony, phlox, pinks, evening primrose, rose, salvia, silk tree (mimosa), snapdragon, sunflower, summer thistle, yucca, zinnia, summer fruits/vegetables (apricot, banana, blackberry, cucumber, cherry, eggplant, green grapes, green (unripe) apple, green peas, green walnut, melons, pineapple, potato, strawberry, tomato).
*In Japanese haiku, the word for July is a summer kigo, even though Tanabata (in early July) is an autumn kigo (see the note under Autumn). August is an autumn month to some poets and summer to others; it is most in line with North American views to put it in summer .
Autumn
Season: autumn months*: September, October, November; autumn equinox, autumn evening, autumn morning, beginning of autumn, chilly night, departing autumn, long night, lingering summer heat, mid-autumn.
Sky and Elements: autumn rain, autumn sky, autumn storm, autumn wind, long night, Milky Way/river of heaven/river of stars, moon (understood to be the full moon), night of stars, sardine cloud.
Landscape: autumn moor, autumn mountains, autumn sea, autumn woods, leaves turning, reaped or harvested fields, stubble fields (corn, pumpkin, etc.), vineyards.
Human Affairs: autumn loneliness, end of summer vacation, gleaning, harvest, hunting for red leaves, mushroom gathering, raking/burning leaves, scarecrow, school begins, Tanabata /Star Festival, Obon Festival/dance, Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah, Halloween (jack oÍ lantern, trick or treating, witch, black cat, ghost, haunted house), Thanksgiving.
Animals: autumn mackerel, bagworm, bird of passage, clear-toned cicada, cricket, deer, dragonfly, red dragonfly, grasshopper or locust, ground beetle, insectsÍ cry, katydid, monarch butterfly, migrating geese/cranes/storks, praying mantis, quail, salmon, shrike (butcher bird), siskin, snipe, wild geese, woodpecker.
Plants: apple, wild aster, autumn leaves, banana plant, buckwheat, bush clover, chamomile, chestnut, chrysanthemum, corn, cranberry, dried grass or plants, fallen or falling leaves (e.g. fallen willow leaves), gourds, grapes (except green grapes), huckleberry, maiden flower, morning glory, mushrooms, nuts, orchid, pampas grass plumes, pear, persimmon, pomegranate, pumpkin, reeds, reed flowers/tassels, rose of sharon, squash, vines, weed flowers.
* In Japanese haiku, many phenomena of July and August are traditionally considered autumnal: for example,Tanabata (in early July), Obon (in early August), the Milky Way, and morning glory are autumn kigo. In the Haiku Journal, they were listed in both seasons in consideration of non-Japanese poets for whom these topics unambiguously evoke summer feelings. In this list, we defer to the traditional category, to avoid confusion.
Winter
Season: winter months: December, January, early or mid- February; start of winter, depth of winter, short day, winter day, winter morning, winter night.
Sky and Elements: frost/hoarfrost, freeze, hail, ice, icicle, north wind, sleet, snow/first snow, winter cloud, winter moon, winter rain/first winter rain, winter solstice, winter wind.
Landscape: winter creek or stream, winter mountain, winter sea or ocean, winter seashore, winter garden, withered moor.
Human Affairs: banked fire, bean soup, blanket, brazier, buying a new diary, hot chocolate, charcoal fire, cold or flu, cough, foot warmer, gloves/mittens, grog, heater, hunting, falconer, fish trapper, ice hockey, ice skating or skates, ice fishing, old diary, old calendar, overcoat/fur coat, popcorn, quilted clothes, shawl, skiing/skis, sleigh ride, snowshoes, snowman, snowball fight, winter seclusion, winter desolation, winter vacation, whale watching, Chanukah, Chinese New Year, Leap Year Day, Groundhog Day, Christmas Eve or Day (Christmas tree, tree decorating or decorations (lights, glass balls, etc.), wrapping gifts, wreath, cutting greens, gingerbread men, holiday shopping), Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Twelfth Night.
Animals: bear, codfish, fox, hibernation, marten or sable, oyster, owl, perch, rabbit, reindeer, sardine, sea slug, swan, weasel, wild duck, winter birds, winter bee, winter fly, winter sparrow, winter wild geese, wolf, whale, wren.
Plants: carrot, celery, dried persimmon, (dried) prunes, early plum blossom, holly, heavenly bamboo(Nandina), pine nuts, poinsettia, radish, scallion,tangerine /mandarin orange, turnip, winter camellia, winter chrysanthemum, winter grass, winter narcissus, winter peony, winter quince, winter tree or grove, withered or frost-nipped plants (tree, grasses, leaves, twig, etc.).
New Year’s*
Sky and Elements: first morning, first sunrise, new years’sun.
Human Affairs: first day of the year, first dream of the year, first writing/poem/brush painting, new diary, new calendar, New Years’ Eve or Day, year of the (Zodiac) animal (Rooster, Horse, Rabbit, etc.).
*January 1; but late January or early February according to the lunar calendar formerly in use.

Wikipedia.com also has a kigo word list with the Japanese names HERE. This is an amazing list!

This should be enough to get you started on your haiku writing journey. ~Colleen~

19 Comments

  1. So, creating a poem around one of those animals or plants would be considered a kigo? I thought it had to be a word that stated a season. I’m learning a lot. Thanks, Colleen! 🙂

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        1. “Contemporary Japanese haiku master Akito Arima has lamented that we now live “in the age of zappai.” This stems from the ideal that haiku is Zen and Zen is haiku. Westerners do not know how to write haiku. Get the book, “Haiku: A Poet’s Guide” by Lee Gurga with Charles Trumbull. This book totally opened my eyes!! ❤

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          1. From what you’re saying, it sounds as though genuine haiku stems from living in the world a certain way–and the strict conventions of the form enable a poet to do that. Very interesting!

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          2. I think there sounds too restricting… It’s more about observing the world around you. It’s finding the connections between things we wouldn’t normally see. The Zen part is cultural, but I don’t imagine that everyone connects that way. We must train our senses to find those juxtapositions and comparisons. It’s not exactly a Western concept, but we can learn.

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