Haiga and Haiku. Part 1.

The images and text are from Haiku, Volume 1, Eastern Culture by R. H. Blyth, published by Hokuseido in Japan. No year of copyright.

All text within quotation marks are from the book. Bold passages are intended for emphasis and are not part of the original text.

The cover of the book:


“Haiga are small sketches, either in indian-ink, black-and-white or in simple colours, that endeavour to express in pictures what haiku do in words. . . .

The qualities of haiga are rather vague and negative. The lines and masses are reduced to a minimum. The subjects are usually small things, or large things seen in a small way. The simplicity of the mind of the artist is perceived in the simplicity of the object. Technical skill is rather avoided, and the picture gives an impression of a certain awkwardness of treatment that reveals in hiding the inner meaning of the thing painted.”

“The aim of haiku, according to Buson, is to express in ordinary language the inner poetical philosophy of all sublunary things. That is to say, the most delicate feelings and profound meanings of things are to be portrayed as though they were everyday occurrences. Exactly the same is to be said of haiga. Moments of deep significance in our perceptions of the outer world are shown in crudeness, brevity, humour, with a certain inartistic art, an accidental purposefulness.”

“The haiga may be an illustration of the haiku, and say the same thing in line and form; or it may have a more independent existence, and yet an even deeper connection with the poem.”

“The illustrations of this book have been chosen to form, when chronologically surveyed, a pictorial parallel to the chart on page 3” (shown below):


“In other words, we may trace in them the development from the philosophico-mystical Indian and Chinese origins of Japanese culture to the simplicity and nonchalance, the apparent crudeness and matter-of-factness of haiku.”

“The picture of Dainichi (Vairocana) in a Wheel of Sovereignty (see below)


“is of the Kamakura Era, but it represents the Indian Buddhism which China, and finally Japan, brought down into daily life. Dainichi dwells in the Heaven beyond from, and is the essence of wisdom and of absolute purity. Compare this with the screen of Kusumi Morikage, a contemporary of Basho” (see below).


“We see a family of three cooling themselves in the evening under an arbour of evening-glories. There seems to be little connection between the picture of Dainichi aloof and glorious, and the poor family, but it has been the work of the Japanese to bring the calm of the Buddha into the evening, to transform the golden lotus into the humble convolvulus, so nearly a weed, the elaborate trappings of the Buddha into the human nakedness. This is not a degeneration or retrogression, but an incarnation, a remaking in blood and flesh of what was formed of thought and intuition. And strangely enough, the circle of Vairocana is still there in the full moon. To get the contrast in landscape, parallel with the above of persons, one should compare” (the following two pictures).



“To get clearly into our minds the difference between haiga and classical painting, we may compare the two illustrations above. The landscape by Shokei, a Japanese of the later 15th century, is typical of Chinese romantic treatment. The mountains in the distance are the impossible creations of the dreaming artist, the pine-trees tragic in their intensity, the sage and attendant, the fisherman in his boat almost negligible among the overwhelming forms of nature. The haiga, by Issho, died 1707, seems at first sight a mere smudge by comparison, a travesty of the other, but when we wait a little, the reeds in the water, the fisherman polling his boat, are seen to be something alive. There is no doubt who is the greater artist or which is the better picture, but the haiga has something which the other has not,

The something that infects the world.” (Matthew Arnold)

6 thoughts on “Haiga and Haiku. Part 1.

  1. cerosoul

    I have the same collection. Had it for 5O years or so. In a way they have shape the way I extract meaning from poetry, and write it too.



  2. Nonduality Post author

    Hi, thank you. Yes, Shintoism is missing in the diagram reproduced from page 3. However, on page 158 Blyth has a section entitled Shinto, and he writes, “The relation of Shinto to haiku is a vital one, but owing to the obscurity of the nature of Shinto it is difficult to write clearly on the subject.” He does write two full pages on the influence of Shinto animism and simplicity on haiku. He writes, “The simplicity of Shinto … undoubtly (sic) had a great effect upon the composition of haiku.” He must have felt he didn’t have enough to say about Shinto to put it in the diagram, but he does attribute its role in haiku.

    Liked by 1 person

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