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Haibun (俳文?, literally, haikai writings) is a prosimetric literary form originating in Japan, combining prose and haiku. The range of haibun is broad and frequently includes autobiography, diary, essay, prose poem,[1] short story and travel journal.


The term "haibun" was first used by the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō, in a letter to his disciple Kyorai in 1690.[2] Bashō was a prominent early writer of haibun, then a new genre combining classical prototypes, Chinese prose genres and vernacular subject matter and language.[2] He wrote some haibun as travel accounts during his various journeys, the most famous of which is Oku no Hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Interior). Bashō's shorter haibun include compositions devoted to travel and others focusing on character sketches, landscape scenes, anecdotal vignettes and occasional writings written to honor a specific patron or event. His Hut of the Phantom Dwelling can be classified as an essay while, in Saga Nikki (Saga Diary), he documents his day-to-day activities with his disciples on a summer retreat.

Traditional haibun typically took the form of a short description of a place, person or object, or a diary of a journey or other series of events in the poet's life.[3] Haibun continued to be written by later haikai poets such as Yosa Buson,[4] Kobayashi Issa[5] and Masaoka Shiki[3]

Haibun in English[edit]

Haibun is no longer confined to Japan, and has established itself as a genre in world literature[6][7] which has gained momentum in recent years.[8]

James Merrill's "Prose of Departure," from The Inner Room (1988), is an earlier example.

The first contest for English-language haibun took place in 1996,[9] organized by Michael Dylan Welch, and judged by Tom Lynch and Cor van den Heuvel. Anita Virgil won first prize, and David Cobb won second prize. The contest resulted in the publication of Wedge of Light (Press Here) in 1999. The first anthology of English-language haibun was Bruce Ross's Journey to the Interior: American Versions of Haibun (Tuttle), published in 1998.[10][non-primary source needed]

Jim Kacian and Bruce Ross edited the inaugural number of the annual anthology American Haibun & Haiga (Red Moon Press) in 1999; that series, which continues to this day, changed its name to Contemporary Haibun in 2003 and sponsored the parallel creation in 2005 of Contemporary Haibun Online, a quarterly journal that added Welsh haibun author Ken Jones to the founding editorial team of Kacian and Ross.


A haibun may record a scene, or a special moment, in a highly descriptive and objective manner or may occupy a wholly fictional or dream-like space.[citation needed] The accompanying haiku may have a direct or subtle relationship with the prose and encompass or hint at the gist of what is recorded in the prose sections.

Several distinct schools of English haibun have been described,[11] including Reportage narrative mode such as Robert Wilson's Vietnam Ruminations, Haibunic prose, and the Templum effect.

Contemporary practice of haibun composition in English is continually evolving.[citation needed] Generally, a haibun consists of one or more paragraphs of prose written in a concise, imagistic haikai style, and one or more haiku.

Modern English-language haibun writers include Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross, Mark Nowak and Nobuyuki Yuasa.[12]


  1. ^ Keene, Donald, 1999. Dawn to the West: A History of Japanese Literature, Volume 4 (Japanese Literature of the Modern Era - Poetry, Drama, Criticism), p.233. New York: Columbia University Press.
  2. ^ a b Shirane, Haruo. Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashō. Stanford University Press, 1998. ISBN 9780804730990. p212
  3. ^ a b Ross, Bruce. "North American Versions of Haibun and Postmodern American Culture" in Hakutani, Yoshinobu, ed. Postmodernity and Cross-Culturalism. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 2002. ISBN 9780838639085. p169
  4. ^ Shirane, Haruo. Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900. Columbia University Press, 2008. ISBN 9780231144155. p553
  5. ^ Ueda, Makoto. Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa. Brill, 2004. ISBN 9789004137233. p. 15
  6. ^ Yuasa, Nobuyuki in the preface to Yuasa, Nobuyuki and Stephen Gill, eds. Kikakuza Haibun Contest: Decorated Works 2009-2011. Book Works Hibiki, 2011. ISBN 9784990485023. p. 5
  7. ^ Ross, Bruce. Venturing Upon Dizzy Heights: Lectures and Essays on Philosophy, Literature, and the Arts. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. ISBN 978-1433102875. pp. 96-97
  8. ^ Yuasa, Nobuyuki in "Judges' Comments" in Yuasa and Gill, 2011 p43
  9. ^ Wedge of Light. Tom Lynch, Cor van den Heuvel, and Michael Dylan Welch, editors. Foster City, California: Press Here, 1999.
  10. ^ Ross, Bruce. Venturing Upon Dizzy Heights: Lectures and Essays on Philosophy, Literature, and the Arts. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. ISBN 978-1433102875. p95
  11. ^ Haibun and Realism I:Some Thoughts upon the Developing Schools of Haibun - Jamie Edgecombe in Blithe Spirit (Journal of the British Haiku Society) Vol 16 No.1, March 2006
  12. ^ Yuasa and Gill, 2011 pp71-76