Poetry of Haiku poet Chiyo

Chiyo-jo or Chiyo-ni: woman, maker, and nun (1703-1775)

Names of the poet

Chiyo, her given name from her parents, is a well-wishing that she might influence "one thousand generation"). Born 1703 into a scroll-making family, she worked professionally as a scroll maker (1733-1743); Nun 1754-1775. She used several names including:

Haiku written

Quantities for Chiyo-jo compared with Yosa Buson (from Trumbull, 2017):

Poet # of haiku written Translations in Trumbull's database # of haiku translated
Chiyo-jo (aka Chiyo-ni, Kaga no Chiyo, Matto no Chiyo) ~ 1,700 927 300
Yosa Buson (1716-1783) ~ 10,000 6,100 ~ 2,100

While Buson has about six times the known haiku that Chiyo-jo has, for each poet fewer than about 20% of their haiku are translated; and they each average about three translations per haiku. The 1996 Yamane-Donegan-Ishibashi work (on line from the the museum) has 271 of Chiyo-jo's haiku.

"Ranko, author of the afterword to her collection Chiyo-jo Kusho [1764], wrote that Kihaku, the editor, had originally decided to collect Chiyo-jo's haiku because she was true to Basho's ... style" whose "fundamentals usually include" (Donegan, 1998, p. 77):

detached loneliness oneness with nature slenderness, sparseness
elegance simplicity spontaneity
objectivity sincerity tenderness

"Roughly ninety percent of her haiku are about things in nature rather than the social realm" (Donegan, 1998, p. 78). Chiyo-jo sees nature as transient (p.47) and often juxtaposes the permanent and the transient.

Reichhold Rules especially relevant for a "Chiyo Practice"

"24. Just write about ordinary things in an ordinary way using ordinary language."

"39. Use only images from nature. (No mention of humanity.)"

"21. Study the order in which the images are presented. First the wide-angle view, medium range, and zoomed in close-up." Or, of course, vice versa.

on the road
today's rain
the seed for clear water      (Donegan (1998), p. 79)

Butterfly poems of Chiyo-jo

Chiyo-jo is thought to have found herself symbolized by the small spring butterfly. This is a sample of 12 such poems, some with multiple translations. Trumbull (2017) has 61 butterfly haiku by Chiyo-jo.

12 Butterfly ku (spring kigo; symbol for Chiyo-jo). [Trumbull (2017) sent 61 butterfly translations]

the butterfly is standing on tip-toes at the ebb-tide [32nd poem in Museum's spring haiku]
  	and Donegan (1998) p. 120.

butterfly what's it dreaming fanning its wings? [33] and Donegan (1998), p. 113.
Butterfly: what's it dreaming of, moving its wings that way (Sato, 1981)

butterfly you also get mad some days [34] and Donegan (1998), p. 85 and 127.

a butterfly in front and back of the woman's path [35] and Donegan (1998), p. 114.
	as she walks
	butterflies in front
	and behind her (Addiss, p.146, 2012)
Butterfly: now in front, now in back of a woman along a path (Sato, 1981)
the butterfly
behind, before, behind
a woman on the road (Ueda, p. 39, 2012)

till his hat fades into a butterfly I yearned for him [36]

even the butterfly voiceless--Buddhist ceremony [71]
even the butterfly 
Buddhist service (Donegan, p. 127, 1998)

By its own wind, a small butterfly blows itself down (Sato, 1981)
A butterfly blows herself down with her own wind (Trumbull, 2017, attributes this to "The Age of 
        Haikai and Kanshi" chapter in Hiroaki Sato, ed., Japanese Women Poets (2008), p.167).

Floating weed though a butterfly presses it down (Trumbull, 2017, attributes to Sato (2008), p.169).
        floating away, despite 
        the butterfly's weight on it (Ueda, p. 45, 2012)
duckweed -
the butterfly tries
to press it down         (Trumbull, 2017, attributes this to the 1996 translations by Patricia Donegan 
and Yoshie Ishibashi (p. 210) preceding and not included in their 1998 book.)

These last four haiku have an extra kigo besides "butterfly":

the dandelion sometimes wakes the butterfly from its dream [29] Dandelion: from time to time, it awakens a butterfly from dreams (Sato, 1981) a dandelion [dandelion = spring kigo] now and then interrupting the butterfly's dream (Ueda, p. 46, 2012) the butterfly sometimes appears from the mist [31] [mist or haze = spring kigo] From time to time, a butterfly fans itself out of the haze (Sato, 1981) entangled in the willowy cherry blossoms the butterfly naps [59] [cherry blossoms also kigo] the butterfly can say nothing--spring's ending [62] [spring = kigo]

First batch of exercises

  1. A description of some action by a butterfly.

  2. An "aisatsu" poem of greeting and welcome
           just for now
           I spread the morning snow
           over the dust             Donegan (1998)
    or one of farewell:
           till his hat faded into a butterfly I yearned for him [tenses as on site]

  3. A "magical" haiku to invoke a change, such as for a governor's ailing cherry tree (the tree got better):
           spring will come again —
           without flowers
           you'll be firewood        Donegan (1998)

  4. A projection of your personality on to the butterfly

Styles or techniques that appear often in Chiyo-jo's haiku

While these are not her innovations, they are techniques she often used:

Favored season words:

Preferred season words reported by Donegan for Chiyo-jo in approximately 1,700 haiku: Preferred season words that occur in the 100 haiku in Donegan's Chiyo-jo: Woman Haiku Master:


Kagami Shiko (1665-1731), a controversial follower of Basho, praised Chiyo-jo highly. She was of his "rustic school". Though she met him only once, she received his advice in letters.

Yosa Buson (1716-83) "headed a rival school" and criticized Shiko's style as "over-simplified" and "too common". But Buson had Chiyo-jo write the preface to the anthology The Collection of Watergrass. Published in 1774, it assembles 449 haiku written by 118 deceased female poets. It became the best-known book of its kind in pre-modern Japan (Ueda, 2012).

Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) praised five female poets of the past: one of them was Chiyo-jo.

Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959) criticized Chiyo-jo as "too subjective" and as using personification. (Ueda, 2012, p. xxiii). He "repeatedly condemned her poetry as conceited and phony" (Ueda, p.38).

Ebara Taizo (1894-1948), an "eminent haiku scholar", "found her work emotionally shallow" (Ueda, 2012, p.38).

Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson in their 1981 From the Country of Eight Islands, Chiyo-jo is the first poet for whom the editors group the hokku/haiku by season words.

Fay Aoyagi (November 2016, personal communication: "Chiyo-ni is not very interesting for me."

Mariko Kitakubo (2017, personal communication): "Chiyo-ni was my grandmother's favorite poet."

Willow poems by Chiyo-jo

Donegan (1998): Chiyo-jo's approximately 1,700 haiku include about 41 (2.5%) that include "willow", a spring kigo that is also a symbol for women's beauty:

starting to leave Kyoto--the willow tree  [40]

to tie or untie the willow--it's up to the wind  [60]
Same words as the 3-line version in Donegan, p. 119, 1998.
To tangle or untangle a willow, it's up to the wind (Sato, 1981)

one more sleep till 100 years-- the willow  [64]

A green willow's quiet, wherever you plant it (Sato, 1981)

The willow flows away and returns again to its trunk (Sato, 1981)

Women's explicit body poems

moonflowers in bloom
when a woman's skin 
gleams through the dusk (Ueda, p. 40, 2012)
    moon flowers!
    when a woman's skin
    is revealed
(Donegan, p. 141, 1998)

it made me forget
about the rouge on my lips--
a crystalline stream (Ueda, p. 41, 2012)
rouged lips 
forgotten -- 
clear springwater (Donegan (1998), p. 142)

woman's desire
deeply rooted -- 
the wild violets (Donegan (1998), p. 118)

the coolness
of the bottom of her kimono
in the bamboo grove (Donegan (1998), p. 134)

cool breeze
enclosed in my kimono sleeves
till falling asleep (Donegan (1998), p. 136)

Second batch of exercises

  1. The gracefulness of the willow, as a symbol of beauty.
  2. An explicit body poem.
  3. Being distracted from a task by something in nature.


Addiss (2012). The Art of Haiku: Its History Through Poems and Paintings by Japanese Masters by Stephen Addiss. pp. 143-147. [Addis calls her "Kaga no Chiyo" then "Chiyo".]

Donegan (1998). Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master translated and introduced by Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi.

Donegan (2004). "Chiyo-ni's Haiku Style" by Patricia Donegan. Simply Haiku 2.3. http://simplyhaiku.com/SHv2n3/reprints/Patricia_Donegan.html

Museum (2017). Chiyo-jo Haiku Museum (in Matto, Japan - Chiyo-jo's birth place) website in Japanese and English (http://haikukan.city.hakusan.ishikawa.jp/english/about/index.html); the quoted translations are from Chiyojo's Haiku Seasons (1996) commentary by Tadashi Yamane, translations by Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi.
A number in square brackets [#] shows the ordinal number of the poem in the Museum's page of Chyo-jo's spring haiku: http://haikukan.city.hakusan.ishikawa.jp/english/chiyojo/spring/list_index.html , retrieved February 4, 2017.

Sato (1981). From the Country of Eight Islands translated and edited by Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson; pp. 333-334. [Sato calls her "Chiyojo".]

Trumbull (2017). Personal communication by email from Charles Trumbull.

Ueda (2012). Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women edited by Makoto Ueda. [Ueda calls her "Chiyojo".]

Other Books on Haiku

[Thanks for visiting.]