Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Carpe Diem Ghost Writer #19, Georgia on kyoka

!! I am posting this new GW-episode earlier, because I am in the nightshift. So you have to be a bit more patient, because it's open tonight for your submissions. !!

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Another week has gone by and it's already time for a new Ghost Writer post. This week Georgia of Bastet's Waka Library is our Ghost Writer and she has a wonderful post written about the kyoka. Kyoka is similar with senryu, but it follows the rules of the Tanka. Kyoka is one of the lost forms of Japanese poetry. I think it''s a gorgeous post and it will learn us something new.
Georgia ... thank you for this wonderful post. have fun!


First of all I’d like to thank Chèvrefeuille for this opportunity to write about the kyoka genre of Japanese Poetry. Though far from an expert, the research has been interesting under many aspects.

Kyoka, though it had been around for a long time in the Japanese written poetry it had it’s heyday only in the last quarter of the 18th century.  Poetry had been reserved to the aristocratic samurai class and usually written in Chinese. Waka (Japanese Poetry) began to weave it’s way into the merchant class allowing them to create and enjoy poetry even if they didn’t have the extensive literary experience and training of the samurai, they could follow the metric rules and create acceptable verse.  Kyoka ("playful verses" 狂歌) became very popular at the time and was written by ukiyo-e ( "pictures of the floating world") (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukiyo-e) artists, commoners and of course samurai, though under pen-names.

The rules of kyoka are rather simple:

1.    The syllable structure is 5-7-5-7-7.

2. It divides in two, the 5-7-5 part is called kami-no-ku ("upper phrase"), and the 7-7 part is called shimo-no-ku ("lower phrase").
3. There is a subtle turn, often unexpected in the middle of the poem, usually after line two or three.
4. It has a syllable of thirty one (or fewer syllables).
5. It is humorous verse or a parody of a famous waka (tanka).
6. May contain internal rhyme but should avoid end rhyme.
7. Try to punctuate lightly, though some publishers prefer no punctuation.

There are three styles of kyoka:

1.    The Kokin style which tries to use all the rules of waka, but ends up being comical.
2.    The Tenmei style (born from a famous aristocratic poet, Ôta Nampo (1749-1823) who wrote under the pseudonym of  Yomo No Akira) which tries to impart an artistic flare to the poem whilst using colloquial language and writing about every day subjects and emotions.
3.    The third form is Honka-dori which takes an existing waka and parodies it. This latter form was more favored by the upper classes who could enjoy the subtleties of the parodies which the lower classes could not.

Yoshiwara no
Yomise o haru no
Yugure wa
iriai no kane ni
Hana ya sakuran

In Yoshiwara
the women are showing their wares
This evening –
Blossoms glowing in the echoes
of vesper bells

© Yomo No Akara (Translated by Steven Carter)

Here, Akira is talking about the ladies of the ukiyo-e plying their wares in the red light district.

It’s very difficult to find translations of the Japanese kyoka due to the ambiguity of the language, mundane language, puns and word associations. Let me try my hand:

in Busch Stadium
the pitcher smiled then let loose
smashing the batter's arm
he sure balled up that inning
two others’d been based on balls

© G.s.k. ‘14

*base on balls - if the pitcher throws four balls, the hitter is awarded a free "walk" to first base.

For the most part, senryu has supplanted kyoka although there are several kyoka writers in English.  The form has become practically extinct.


What a wonderful post ... maybe there is someone in our haiku-family who will be caught by kyoka. It's not really my ''cup of tea'', but it is great to read a post about this extinct poetry form. So I hope this GW-post will inspire you to write kyoka ... and maybe you are caught by it ...

This episode is open for your submissions tonight at 7.00 PM (CET) and will remain open until August 1st at noon (CET). I will try to post our last episode of this wonderful CDHK month, the 6th haiku by Matsuo Basho, later on. For now ... have fun!


  1. Maybe there's a reason this form is nearly extinct. I think I'll probably sit this round out, and wait for a haiku prompt.

    1. It's basically extinct because most people now do the same using a tanka :-)

    2. Well, there's that. There's also the fact that a limerick would serve just as well--no, better--because the limerick is an English form of poetry, and it seems we English speakers and writers always seem to get in trouble when trying to imitate Asian forms of poetry. I mean, really, look at the debate that continues to rage about haiku, and "Is it haiku if it doesn't have 17 syllables?" or "If it has 17 syllables, it MUST be haiku!"

    3. I'm not so sure that a limerick would serve just as well -- the limerick has that sing-songy feel to it - which works sometimes, depending on your audience - but the kyoka is much denser in form and much more subtle. They're two very different creatures, really.

    4. Yes, they are "different creatures," for which I am grateful.

    5. What an interesting discussion .. like talking about the mathematics of adding apples and oranges. This is a bit of history which concerns the kyoka:

      "The bakufu (the shogun's government) played a role in the gradual demise of kyôka. In 1789 Matsudaira Sadanobu (1758-1829) came to power, and soon afterwards instituted the Kansei reforms to curb the excesses of the merchant class. In addition, samurai were forbidden to write kyôka in an attempt to revitalize the once strict code of ethics of the warrior class and to separate samurai from the chônin's "corrupt" lifestyle. Although a few samurai continued to write kyôka (usually under pseudonyms), Sadanobu's proscription left the field open to the chônin. who thereafter were the most important writers of the verse form. During the Bunka and Bunsei eras (1804-1829) writers continued to compose kyôka, and many surimono, expensive to produce and technically brilliant in execution, were accompanied by kyôka, but never again would kyôka enjoy the widespread popularity as they had during the Temmei era. Kyôka began a slow decline, and after the deaths of the leaders of the two main competing schools of kyôka composition, Shikatsube no Magao and Ishikawa Masamochi (Yadoya no Meshimori) in 1829 and 1830, respectively, kyôka grew more and more empty and repetitious." So, Shiki didn't kill kyoka, I made a mistake there ;-) ... What killed kyoka was a puritanical attitude by the Shogun. As you might know, merchants and anyone who had to do with commerce were considered to be at the bottom of society just above the eta but far below the samurai class ... certainly not a respected class, and they were often the poets who wrote kyoka..


  2. Great post - enjoyed this a lot

  3. A fun and interesting prompt! Thanks :)

    1. Ciao Jules ... it's not a Kowku but can be fun! ;-)

  4. Hello Georgia --- thank you so much for the hard work you put into researching and writing this post! I've been wanting to try my hand at kyoka again for a long time. Thank you for giving us more of the guidelines. I have a much better feel for the form now. :)

    It's always a wonderful thing to stretch our horizons -- I think there's a lot we can bring to this form!

    1. Sorry I've been having internet problems. I'm happy you enjoyed the post ... it was fun to research into this poetry form ... really a fascinating read. I agree ... it seems important to me to go beyond the known ... and write out of the box. As with our host, this isn't my "cup of tea", but I'll try anything at least once ... and the kyoka is fun and more specific than the tanka ... you know what to expect when you see the word kyoka ;-)

      There once was man from Sonora,
      Who wrote only Irish haiku, begorra!
      In five seven five
      With kigo and kireji he'd strive
      Whilst walzing around in his classic fedora. ;-)

      Wish I had a knack with limericks they're cool.

    2. Oh my gosh, Georgia -- this is a hoot! I really *did* literally "LOL" here. ;)
      You are so talented. :D

  5. Hamish ... Loved your post, I don't think I've laughed so much in ages, but i don't know how to comment on your post... thanks for your lovely kyoka!

  6. Brava Cara!! I finally get it...I'm a slow learner.I've enjoyed your Kyoka for a while but never thought I could pull it off. I chucked at Hammish Gunn's and finally at Jen´s , it clicked.

    1. Thanks Cheryllynn, I'm happy you enjoyed the post ... they can be fun to write and I do so agree Hammish and Jen wrote wonderful posts!

  7. I did not have time to link it...ooops http://cheryllynnroberts.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/mosquitoes-kyoka/