Manyousyu NukataOhkimi

This is a replica image of the vol. 1 of en:Man'yōshūfrom Japanese Wikipedia. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Renga (連歌 renga?, collaborative poetry) is a genre[1] of Japanese collaborative poetry. A renga consists of at least two ku (?) or stanzas, usually many more. The opening stanza of the renga, called the hokku (発句?), became the basis for the modern haiku form of poetry.

Two of the most famous masters of renga were the Buddhist priest Sōgi (1421–1502) and Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694).

History Edit

The earliest renga recorded is in the Man'yōshū, where Ōtomo no Yakamochi and a Buddhist nun ( ama?) made and exchanged poems with sound unit counts ("on") of 5-7-5 and 7-7. This two-verse style is called tan-renga (短連歌?, "short renga"). Other styles are called chō-renga (長連歌?, "long renga"). A comparable, though less evolved, tradition of 'linked verse' (lián jù 連句 - the same characters as 'renku') - evolved in Chin-dynasty China,[2] and it has been argued that this Chinese form influenced Japanese renga during its formative period.[3] However there are major differences between the two, the Chinese having a unity of subject and a general lightheartedness of tone, neither of which characteristic is present in Japanese renga; furthermore, the history of Japanese poetry shows renga as an apparently natural evolution.[4]

Around the time the Shin Kokin Wakashū was published, the renga form of poetry was finally established as a distinct style. This original renga style, hyakuin renga (百韻連歌?, "100-stanza linked poem), used only utakotoba (standard poetic diction), used sound unit counts of 5-7-5 and 7-7, and finished with two lines of 7 sound units each. At this time, poets considered the use of utakotoba as the essence of creating a perfect waka and considered the use of any other words to be a deviation.

Many rules or shikimoku (式目?) were formalized in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods specifying a minimum number of intervening stanzas before a topic or class of topics could recur.[5] Renga was a popular form of poetry even in the confusion of Azuchi-Momoyama period. Yet by the end of this era, the shikimoku had become so complicated and systematic that they stifled the active imagination that had been a part of the renga's appeal. During the medieval and Edo periods, renga was a part of the cultural knowledge required for high society.

In the Edo period, as more and more ordinary citizens became familiar with renga, shikimoku were greatly simplified. The 36-verse Kasen became the most popular form of renga, and commonly spoken words as well as slang and Chinese words (漢語 kango?) were allowed. With this relaxation of the rules, renga were able to express broader humor and wit. This style of renga came to be called haikai no renga (俳諧の連歌 "comical linked poem"?) or simply haikai (俳諧?), and Matsuo Bashō is known as the greatest haikai poet.

The most favored form of renga in the Edo period was the kasen (歌仙?), a chain consisting of 36 verses. As a rule, kasen must refer to flowers (usually cherry blossoms) twice, and three times to the moon. These references are termed hana no za (花の座?, "the seat of flowers") and tsuki no za (月の座?, "the seat of the moon").

The first stanza of the renga chain, the hokku (発句?), is the forebear of the modern haiku. The stand-alone hokku was renamed haiku in the Meiji period by the great Japanese poet and critic Masaoka Shiki. Shiki proposed haiku as an abbreviation of the phrase "haikai no ku" meaning a verse of haikai.[6]

For almost 700 years, renga was a popular form of poetry, but its popularity was greatly diminished in the Meiji period. Masaoka Shiki, although himself a participant in several renga,[7] claimed that "(Renga is) not fit as modern literature" (「文学に非ず」). The renga's appeal of working as a group to make a complete work was not compatible with the European style of poetry gaining popularity in Japan, where a single poet writes the entire poem.

Renga in the WestEdit

In Western literature, the term "renga" has been applied to alternating accretive poetry, not necessarily in the classical Japanese form. Examples include Octavio Paz and Charles Tomlinson's sonnet-renga "Airborne", 1979, and to the work of Canadians P. K. Page and Philip Stratford, whose collaboration between 1997 and 1999 became the sonnet collection "And Once More Saw The Stars", 2001.

With the rise of the internet, renga is once again becoming a popular form. People from anywhere at anytime can easily contribute to a work. An early online collaborative renga, done by many writers on the fly was White Roads led by Jane Reichhold in 1996. Live renga are being conducted increasingly in the West, including in the UK where artist/poets including Alec Finlay, Gavin Wade, Gerry Loose, and Paul Conneally explore and develop the form. Finlay has created two dedicated renga platforms for renga days, at the hidden gardens, Glasgow, and Garden Station, near Hexham. His press, Platform Projects, has published two collections of renga, Verse Chain and Shared Writing. Finlay has collaborated with a number of renga poets to expand the renga form, composing what he refers to as word-map renga which describe specific locations; some of these poems are typeset in the shapes or forms of the place in question – coastline, river or a skyline. He is currently working on a renga word-map of England's Peak District.[8]

The first magazine devoted entirely to renga in English was started by Jim Wilson of Monte Rio, California, in 1986. It was called APA-RENGA because it was a continuation of the Amateur Press Association model magazines in which all members could post whatever they wanted. This meant that the members would read the renga being offered and then could write a connecting link. Wilson tabulated these links and then all the possible links were sent back to the participants. This meant that instead of having linear links, the renga expanded outward into many versions of the same poem. When Wilson passed APA-RENGA on to Terri Lee Grell in 1989, she renamed the magazine Lynx and added short stories and other poetry and published quarterly. In 1992 Grell passed Lynx on to Jane and Werner Reichhold. They added haiku and tanka to the renga written by subscribers and carried on the project of participation renga. In 2000 Lynx went online where it remains today at AHApoetry Narrow Road to Renga by Twenty Pilgrims and Jane Reichhold (AHA Books 1992) contains examples of many varieties of renga, as well as templates for kasen renga as well as the unusual "net renga."

How to write a renga Edit

As a renga is collaborative poetry, it is important that there be enough people to participate. Although solo renga have always been and continue to be written, three to four is considered the minimum number for a renga group, called an ichiza (一座?), and upward of fourteen to fifteen may be possible under an experienced sōshō (宗匠?, "renga master"). For online renga collaborations, the sōshō would be the one to select a verse from among those posted or sent.

The essence of renga is in the idea of "change" (変化 henka?). Bashō described this as "newness (新み atarashimi?), and as "refraining from stepping back". The fun is in the change, the new, the different, and the interesting verses of others.

In Japan a renga starts with a hokku of 5-7-5 sound units by one of the guests - usually the most honored or experienced. This is followed by the second verse of 7-7 sound units, called the waki (?, "side"), and then by the third verse of 5-7-5 sound units, called the daisan (第三?, lit., "the third"). The next verse will be 7-7 sound units, and this pattern is repeated until the desired length is achieved. It is common in English to use forms that show the number of the verse, how long it is to be, whether the moon or flowers should be mentioned, when one author takes two links at once. Since the renga of different lengths have different schemes for how many verses are given to each season and non-seasonal verses, it is easiest to use one of the available forms so that everyone understands and follows the same program.

The kasen renga, favored by Basho because it was easier to complete 36 verses in one night than the normal 100-link renga, has three sections of development. The beginning, called the jo should reflect the atmosphere of the beginning of a social evening - everyone is very polite, restrained, cautious and referring to the reason for the gathering. The middle part of the kasen renga (verses 7 - 29) are more loose, and will include themes not allowed in the beginning and end such as love, religion, and laments. This reflects the conversation flow during dinner when the wine has been consumed and the participants are feeling free and friendly. The kyu is the rapid finish and involves the last six verses. The speed in this section is much like the broken conversation of people as they prepare to leave the party and people are quickly winding up their conversations. This pattern of pacing the poem is taken from the classical music. The ageku is the final verse. It is considered fine if the final verse makes some reference or has a tie to the hokku or beginning verse. Renga are often hard for Westerners to read and understand (and therefore to write) because there is no narrative or chronological order. Even the links that are written are not to be impressive or informative. The whole object of renga is to show what happens between the links. A renga and its participants are judged on how well each link relates to the previous one. There is a whole study of the various techniques and methods of linkage. The most common one used by beginning English writers is simple stream of consciousness. The previous verse reminds the writer of something else and then adds that image to the poem. The book by Earl Miner and Hiroko Odagiri, a translation of The Monkey’s Straw Raincoat Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981 is the best book to study these subtle changes in this famous work done by Basho and his students. It is recommended to take turns (膝送り hizaokuri?) for a small ichiza so that everyone participates equally. For larger ichiza, the dashigachi (出勝ち?, "the outgoing one wins") rule is recommended so the best verse would be selected. The renga master, or person with the most experience with renga, guides the participants, making sure the seasons and themes are correct and will be responsible for the correction of errors.

Formats of RengaEdit

Here follows a list of the most common formats in which renga have been written, both ushin (orthodox) renga, and mushin (renku)[9][10]

Name of format Number
of stanzas
Number of kaishi
(writing sheets)
of sides
Originator Date of origin
Hyakuin[11] 100 4 8 unknown 13th century
Senku 1000 40 80 unknown
Gojûin 50 2 4 unknown
Yoyoshi 44 2 4 unknown
Kasen 36 2 4 unknown 1518[12]
Han-kasen (i.e. half-kasen) 18 1 2 unknown 17th century
Shisan 12 2 4 Kaoru Kubota 1970's
Jūnichō 12 1 1 Shunjin Okamoto 1989[13]
Nijūin 20 2 4 Meiga Higashi 1980's
Triparshva[14] 22 1 3 Norman Darlington 2005
Rokku (aka on za rokku)[15] variable variable variable Haku Asanuma 2000

Renga terminology Edit

  • hokku (発句?): The first stanza of renga with a 5-7-5 sound unit count. This stanza should be created by a special guest when present, and is considered a part of the greeting in a renga gathering. It must include a kigo (季語?, "seasonal word"), as well as a kireji (切字?, "cutting word" - a break in the text, usually, but not always, at the end of a line). The kigo usually references the season the renga was created in. Hokku, removed from the context of renga, eventually became the haiku poetry form.
  • waki (?): The second stanza of a renga with a 7-7 sound unit count. The one who helped to organize the gathering is honored with creating it.
  • daisan (第三?): The third stanza of a renga with a 5-7-5 mora count. It must end with the -te form of a verb to allow the next poet greater freedom in creating the stanza.
  • hiraku (平句?): Refers to all verses other than the hokku, waki, daisan, and ageku.
  • ageku (挙句?): The last stanza of a renga. Care should be taken to wrap up the renga.
  • kuage (句上げ?): A note made after the ageku to indicate how many ku each poet read.
  • kōgyō (興行?): To hold a renga gathering. May also be called chōgyō (張行?).
  • wakiokori (脇起り?): To start with the hokku of a famous poet such as Bashō and make a new waki verse to follow on from there.
  • tsukeai (付合?): May also be called tsukekata (付け方?) or tsukeaji (付け味?). Refers to the mixing and matching of unlikely word combinations to spur imagination or evoke an image. One of the interesting features of renga.
  • maeku (前句?): The verse in which tsukeai happens.
  • uchikoshi (打越?): The verse before the maeku.
  • shikimoku (式目?): A set of rules to lay out the stylistic requirements for change throughout the poem and to prevent a renga from falling apart.
  • renku (連句?): Modern renga in the style of Matsuo Bashō.
  • kukazu (句数?): Literally, "the number of verses". When the theme of a section is a popular topic such as "Love", "Spring", or "Fall", the renga must continue on that theme for at least two verses but not more than five verses. This theme may then be dropped with one verse on any other topic.
  • sarikirai (去嫌?): A rule to prevent loops repeating the same image or a similar verse.
  • rinne (輪廻?): The name for a loop where the same theme, image, or word is repeated. Term taken from Buddhism.
  • kannonbiraki (観音開き?): A type of loop where the uchikoshi and tsukeku have an identical image or theme.
  • haramiku (孕み句?): A stanza prepared beforehand. Should be avoided as stanzas should be created on the spot.
  • asaru (求食る?): To make two stanzas in a row. Happens frequently when the dashigachi rule is used. Should be avoided to let others join.
  • dashigachi (出勝ち?): A rule to use the stanza of the first poet to create one.
  • hizaokuri (膝送り?): A rule whereby each poet takes a turn to make a stanza.
  • renju (連衆?): The members of a renga gathering.
  • ichiza (一座?): Literally, "one seating". Describes the group when the renju are seated and the renga has begun.
  • sōshō (宗匠?): May also be called sabaki (捌き?). The coordinator of an ichiza, he or she is responsible for the completion of a renga. Has the authority to dismiss an improper verse. The most experienced of the renju should be the sōshō to keep the renga interesting.
  • kyaku (?): The main guest of the ichiza and responsible for creating the hokku.
  • teishu (亭主?): The patron of a renga gathering, who provides the place.
  • shuhitsu (執筆?): The "secretary" of the renga, as it were, who is responsible for writing down renga verses and for the proceedings of the renga.
  • bunnin (文音?): Using letters (i.e. the post), telegraph, telephone, or even fax machines for making a renga. Using the internet is also considered a form of bunnin.


  • Earl Miner, Japanese Linked Poetry, Princeton University Press © 1979 ISBN 0-691-06372-9 cloth ISBN 0-691-01368-3 pbk (376 pp. 6 renga) A discussion of the features, history and aesthetics of renga, plus two renga sequences with Sōgi and others, three haikai sequences with Matsuo Bashō and others, and one haikai sequence with Yosa Buson and a friend.

See alsoEdit


  1. Carter, Steven D. Three Poets at Yuyama, University of California, 1983, ISBN 0912966610 p.3
  2. Reckert, Stephen, Beyond Chrysanthemums: Perspectives on Poetry East and West, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0198151659, p.43
  3. Sato, Hiroaki. One Hundred Frogs, from renga to haiku to English, Weatherhill 1983, ISBN 0-8348-0176-0 p.11
  4. Keene, Donald, Japanese Literature: an Introduction for Western Readers, (New York: Grove Press, 1955) p. 33-34.
  5. Carter, Steven D. The Road to Komatsubara, Harvard University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-674-77385-3, pp. 33-72.
  6. Miner, Earl. Japanese Linked Poetry. Princeton University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-691-01368-3 pbk.
  7. Higginson, William J. The Haiku Seasons, Kodansha, 1996, ISBN 4-7700-1629-8 p.55
  8. white peak | dark peak, an audio-visual word-map of the Peak National Park
  9. Miner, Earl. Japanese Linked Poetry, Princeton University Press, 1979, ISBN 0-691-06372-9.
  10. Carley, John E. Common types of renku sequence
  11. Carter, Steven D. The Road to Komatsubara, Harvard University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-674-77385-3.
  12. Drake, Christopher. Basho's "Cricket Chapter " As English Literature in Journal of Atomi Gakuen Women's College 跡見学園女子大学紀要 14, 1981 p217
  13. Higginson, William J. Shorter Renku in Renku Home
  14. Darlington, Norman. Triparshva, A trilateral pattern for renku, in Simply Haiku vol. 3, no. 2, 2005
  15. Yachimoto, Eiko. October Rain, the first English-language Rokku Renku, a Tomegaki, in Simply Haiku vol. 6, no. 3, 2008

External linksEdit


This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. (view article). (view authors).
This page uses content from Wikinfo . The original article was at Wikinfo:Renga.
The list of authors can be seen in the (view authors). page history. The text of this Wikinfo article is available under the GNU Free Documentation License and the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.