For the radio station in Saint Anthony, Idaho, United States, see KIGO.
Cherry blossoms (sakura), often simply called blossoms (hana) are a common spring kigo.

Kigo (季語 "season word") (plural kigo) is a word or phrase associated with a particular season, used in traditional forms of Japanese poetry. Kigo are used in the collaborative linked-verse forms renga and renku, as well as in haiku, to indicate the season referred to in the stanza. They are valuable in providing economy of expression.

History of kigo

Although the term kigo was coined as late as 1908, representation of, and reference to, the seasons has long been important in Japanese culture and poetry. The earliest anthology of Japanese poetry, the mid-8th century Man'yōshū, contained several sections devoted to the seasons. By the time of the first imperial Japanese anthology, the Kokinshū a century and a half later (AD 905), the seasonal sections had become a much larger part of the anthology. Both of these anthologies had sections for other categories such as love poems and miscellaneous () poems.

The writing of the linked-verse form renga dates to the middle of the Heian period (roughly AD 1000) and developed through the medieval era. By the 13th century there were very set rules for the writing of renga, and its formal structure specified that about half of the stanzas should include a reference to a specific season, depending upon their place in the poem. According to these rules, the hokku (the opening stanza of the renga) must include a reference to the season in which the renga was written.

A lighter form of renga called haikai no renga ("playful" linked verse) was introduced near the end of the 15th century. Haikai was the linked verse practice followed and elevated by Matsuo Bashō and others until the Meiji period (1867–1912). Near the end of the 19th century, the hokku was completely separated from the context of haikai no renga by Masaoka Shiki and revised and written as an independent verse form which he named "haiku", though retaining the kigo. In the Taishō period (1912–1925) a movement began to drop the kigo entirely. Today most Japanese haiku include a kigo, though many haiku written in languages other than Japanese omit it (see for example Haiku in English).

Kigo and seasons

The moon is associated with autumn in Japanese poetry.

The association of kigo with a particular season may be obvious, though sometimes it is more subtle. Pumpkins (kabocha) are a winter squash associated with the autumn harvest.

It may be less obvious why the moon (tsuki) is an autumn kigo, since it is visible year round. In autumn the days become shorter and the nights longer, yet they are still warm enough to stay outside, so one is more likely to notice the moon. Often, the night sky will be free of clouds in autumn, with the moon visible. The full moon can help farmers work after the sun goes down to harvest their crops (a harvest moon).

Japanese seasons

In the Japanese calendar, seasons traditionally followed the lunisolar calendar with the solstices and equinoxes at the middle of a season. The traditional Japanese seasons are:

Spring: 4 February–5 May
Summer: 6 May–7 August
Autumn: 8 August–6 November
Winter: 7 November–3 February

In categorizing kigo, each season is divided into early, middle, and late periods, as follows:[1]

Early spring: 4 February–5 March
Mid-spring: 6 March–4 April
Late spring: 5 April–5 May
Early summer: 6 May–5 June
Mid-summer: 6 June–6 July
Late summer: 7 July–7 August
Early autumn: 8 August–7 September
Mid-autumn: 8 September–7 October
Late autumn: 8 October–6 November
Early winter: 7 November–6 December
Mid-winter: 7 December–4 January
Late winter: 5 January–3 February


Main article: Saijiki
A sunflower, a typical summer kigo.

Japanese haiku poets often use a book called a saijiki, which lists kigo with example poems. An entry in a saijiki usually includes a description of the kigo itself, together with a list of similar or related words, and some examples of haiku that include that kigo.[2] The saijiki are divided into the four seasons (and modern saijiki usually include a section for the New Year and another for seasonless (muki) words). Those sections are divided into a standard set of categories, and then the kigo are sorted within their proper category. The most common categories (with some examples of Japanese summer kigo) are:


Although haiku are often thought of as poems about nature, two of the seven categories are primarily about human activities (Humanity and Observances).

Common kigo in Japanese haiku

Main article: List of kigo

Japan is long from north to south, so the seasonal features vary from place to place. The sense of season in kigo is based on the region of Kyoto. Primarily because the classical literature of Japan developed mainly in this area. Specifically writings prior to, and including, the first part of the Edo period (the early 17th century).

[Note: An asterisk (*) after the Japanese name for the kigo denotes an external link to a saijiki entry for that specific kigo which includes a sample haiku from the Japanese haiku: a topical dictionary website.]



The cicada (semi) is a common late summer kigo.
koinobori: ornament of Tango no sekku. Early summer.


Grapes (budō) are a fruit typically harvested in autumn.
scarecrow in early autumn paddy field.


Fallen leaves (ochiba), a symbol of winter.

New year

New Year fireworks in Bratislava.

This group of kigo is a modern invention. Before Japan began using the Gregorian calendar in 1873, the Japanese New Year was at the beginning of spring.

Dispute on attribution

Switching from the old Japanese calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1873 brought about numerous changes in life in Japan. Even traditional events have been affected by this change. One typical example is the case of Tanabata. Traditionally the date of Tanabata is seventh day of the seventh month of the Japanese calendar. The exact equivalent in the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year, but it is usually in August. Today in many places it is celebrated on 7 July; hence there is a dispute as to how Tanabata should be treated as a kigo.

Since kigo are affiliated with seasonal events, several modern haiku poets have had to reconsider the construction of kigo and their attribution to the seasons. One of the biggest changes to the local tradition is the creation of the lunar New Year as a seasonal section for kigo.

Kigo outside Japan

Haiku started as a form of Japanese poetry and is now written in many different languages around the world. William J. Higginson's Haiku World (1996), which is the first international saijiki, contains more than 1,000 poems, by over 600 poets from 50 countries writing in 25 languages. The writing of haiku around the world has increased with the advent of the internet, where one can even find examples of haiku written in Latin, Esperanto, and Klingon, as well as numerous examples in more common languages.

International haiku poets have adapted the idea of kigo to their local conditions and culture. Many phenomena that might be used as kigo are similar throughout much of the world, such as the blooming of flowers and trees in the spring, and the migration of birds in the spring and autumn. Even if the trees and birds are not the same as in Japan, the concepts are still the same.

On the other hand, climatic conditions can often be very different from what the Japanese are used to. The tropics, for example, are very different from the temperate climate of Japan and usually only have a wet or Monsoon season, and a dry season. Tornado Alley area of the United States has its tornado season (peaking from late winter through mid summer, depending upon latitude). Areas with a Mediterranean climate, such as Western Australia, coastal California, and Spain have their summer Fire Season. On the other hand, in the Caribbean and the east coast of North America and surrounding areas, it is Hurricane Season during the summer and autumn months.

There are many local cultures around the world, with similarities and differences. One similarity is that many areas have harvest festivals with bonfires. One difference between locations is that migrating birds will be present in different locations at different times of year.

A large Jacaranda tree in full bloom.

Here are some examples of kigo from southern California:

Kigo and haiku: an example

In the famous haiku by Matsuo Bashō below, "frog" ( kawazu) is a kigo for spring. Haiku had been traditionally written about the singing of mating frogs, but Bashō chose to focus on a very different sound.

Furuike ya
Kawazu tobikomu
Mizu no oto
The old pond;
A frog jumps in,—
The sound of the water.[3]

Must haiku include a kigo?

Haiku without kigo is possible, and are described as Muki 無季 (no-season).

In the pre-Meiji era (before 1868), almost all haiku contained a kigo. For example, Japanese experts have classified only about 10 of Matsuo Bashō's (1644-1694) hokku in the miscellaneous (zō) category (out of about 1,000 hokku). As with most of the pre-Meiji poets, Bashō was primarily a renku poet (that is, he composed linked verse with other poets), so he also wrote plenty of miscellaneous and love stanzas for the interior lines of a renku. Usually about half the stanzas in a renku do not reference a season.

The Meiji era poet Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902), who recommended several major reforms to the writing of hokku and tanka, including an expansion in subject matter and vocabulary, still included kigo in his revision of hokku, which he renamed haiku. Experts have classified a few hundred of Shiki's haiku in the miscellaneous category (out of the few thousand that he wrote). His follower Takahama Kyoshi, who was the most influential haiku poet in the generation after Shiki, also emphasized kigo. In the early part of the 20th century, there were a number of Japanese poets, such as Kawahigashi Hekigoto, Ogiwara Seisensui, Noguchi Yonejiro, Taneda Santōka, Ozaki Hōsai, Nakatsuka Ippekirō, and Ban'ya Natsuishi who were less concerned about some traditions of haiku such as the inclusion of kigo. Some, like Hekigoto and Seisensui, actively opposed the insistence on kigo, but even they often included kigo in their haiku.

A tree sparrow (suzume).

Most Japanese and many western haiku written today still follow tradition by including a kigo. Many haiku groups and editors of haiku publications insist that haiku include a kigo. For some haiku traditionalists, anything that does not have a kigo is something else, either senryū (comic haikai) or zappai (miscellaneous haikai). Until a few modern saijiki added the miscellaneous category, no seasonless haiku would have been included as examples in saijiki, which are the major references for haiku poets in Japan.

There are some reformers who have made suggestions such as using the idea of keywords (which would include kigo as a subset). Keywords are words such as dawn, birthday cake, ocean wave, beggar or dog, with strong associations, but which are not necessarily associated with a particular season. Birds that do not migrate, such as pigeons or sparrows, are additional examples of non-seasonal keywords.

See also


  1. Higginson, William J. Kiyose (Seasonword Guide), From Here Press, 2005, p.24
  2. Gill, Robin D. The Fifth Season—Poems to Re-Create the World: In Praise of Olde Haiku: New Year Ku; Books 1 & 2, Paraverse Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-9742618-9-8, p.18
  3. Translation by R.H. Blyth in Sato, Hiroaki. One Hundred Frogs: from renga to haiku to English. Weatherhill, 1983 ISBN 0834801760 p154


Online lists of season words
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