Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Carpe Diem Ask Jane ... #13 Haibun

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Recently Carol Campbell of "WritersDream9" asked me if haibun is only a journal of a journey. I couldn't really gave the right answer so I asked Jane about it. This question resulted in the following episode of "Ask Jane ...".

Here is the question I formulated:

I know that haibun is a diary about a journey in which prose and poetry are entwined, but if I write a post and include haiku in it or a short story (not about a journey) with haiku in it ... can i still call it haibun ?
And what follows is Jane's answer.


Dear Kristjaan,

I think you can call it anything you want. If you add a haiku to a letter you can call it "love" in my book. It all did start, as you said, by Japanese taking trips and when making notes of what they saw or experienced and adding a TANKA they had written on the spot. There was no special name for the practice because it was so common. Then Basho adopted the idea for his travels but because he felt his hokku were better than his tanka, he added them to his travel journals and gave the works the name haibun, as you know it. It is mostly English writers who have widened the concept of the prose part to include letters and any prose writing. The Japanese do have a history of combining TANKA with stories (as in their historical works) but again there was no special Japanese word (that I know of) for this practice. It is just how it was done. Thus we are stuck with using 'haibun' for prose works with haiku as part of them but we have no term for prose works with tanka. Some of us are pushing to use 'tanka stories'  or 'tanka tales' for prose with tanka to honor The Tale of Genji which contains over 930 tanka in the whole work.
Jane Reichhold

Haibun ... I love writing them. I even created a special feature here at our Haiku Kai ... Kamishibai.
What are your thoughts about haibun? Share them with us here in the comment-field.
I love to thank Jane Reichhold for sharing her knowledge with us all here at our Haiku Kai.


Chèvrefeuille, your host


  1. If we are talking purely about journeys, and recording the journey, then the classical Japanese travel diaries of Kikôbun might be the real theme. Kikôbun are (travel) journal entries, and traditionally have focused on nature, though Basho gave them a new style when he approached his journal entries. I personally like Kikôbun more because the theme is quite specific, though the style is the same as that of haibun. I agree with everything said, and find haibun an exciting way of writing - and a good haibun is a pleasure. To make a haibun very readable it sometimes is nice if it has an epiphany in it or some irony, not just appreciation, and I personally do not like a haiku to merely mirror or summarise the text. I have seen some discussion about the haiku in a haibun, and agree that some haiku can only survive within their haibun, so they are therefore slightly different than a haiku alone. I think one haiku per haibun prose is also enough. Now for the (mild) controversy. I do think "Narrow Road to the Deep North is actually a series of Kikôbun entries myself......!

  2. Thank you so much Jane and Kristjaan! Such simple poems are in truth, so profound and complex.

  3. Much to learn from the great questions and answers here! It's always good to know poetic forms and the history behind them. Writers often exercise some flexibility in taking a form and making it their own. I like the idea of "tanka tales".

  4. thank you for this informative post and for the clarification :)

  5. I enjoyed reading Jane's response here as dVerse Poets recently started a prompt of writing Haibun each month and the more information we have the more authentic our writings can be. Thank you, Jane and Kristjaan.
    Gayle ~