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Can I get a kigo?

All actual haiku contain something called a kigo, which is a seasonal indicator. They are used in large part for their economy - haiku are short poems with few words, so a kigo can telegraph a lot about the poem's setting for the reader.

A kigo can be as simple and obvious as spring, summer, fall, or winter. Or the name of a particular month, such as April or September.

It can rely on seasonal knowledge instead. Examples include "snow" or "ice" for winter; a reference to changing or falling leaves for autumn; heat or humidity for summer; buds or blossoms for springtime. In Japanese poetry, references to the moon usually are associated with autumn (even though the moon is available year-round, and sometimes during the day). It's a way of telegraphing that days are shorter and nights are lengthening.

For U.S. purposes, a kigo can rely on other seasonal knowledge as well, such as when certain sports are played: baseball goes with summer (despite starting in spring and ending in fall), football goes with fall (despite ending in winter). Skating and skiing go with winter. Or on when certain crops exist: strawberries, peas and asparagus tend to be spring; corn tends to be summer; pumpkins are fall; chestnuts are winter. Or on when certain activities are done: harvesting is usually associated with autumn; beach-going with the summer. Yes, even though one can go to the beach any time, and may have crops of one sort or another all year round.

Other examples include mention of certain animals: cicadas are summer; crickets are fall; frogs tend to be spring, since that's when they first emerge and are in their heyday. Which is why the Basho haiku I put in yesterday's post still counts as having a kigo without it being obvious. That haiku again:

An old pond!
A frog jumps in-
The sound of water.

Can't you just see and hear that still pond, disturbed when spring's first frog makes a splash?

In Japan, one can purchase a saijiki, which is a book full of kigo by season. Or, if you're interested, you can check out "The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words" online.



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