The Four Great Haiku Masters

There are generally acknowledged to be four great Haiku Masters of Japanese poetry:

Matsuo Basho (1644 - 1694)
Yosa Buson (1716 - 1784)
Kobayashi Issa (I763 - 1827)
Masaoka Shiki. (1867 - 1902)

They conveniently span the centuries from the time of Basho's reinvention of Hokku to Shiki's reinvention and coining of the term "Haiku".

Matsuo Bashō (1644 – November 28, 1694), born Matsuo Kinsaku, then Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa, was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. During his lifetime, Bashō was recognized for his works in the collaborative haikai no renga form; today, after centuries of commentary, he is recognized as the greatest master of haiku (at the time called hokku). His poetry is internationally renowned, and in Japan many of his poems are reproduced on monuments and traditional sites. Although Bashō is justifiably famous in the west for his hokku, he himself believed his best work lay in leading and participating in renku. He is quoted as saying, “Many of my followers can write hokku as well as I can. Where I show who I really am is in linking haikai verses.”
Bashō was introduced to poetry at a young age, and after integrating himself into the intellectual scene of Edo (modern Tokyo), he quickly became well-known throughout Japan. He made a living as a teacher, but renounced the social, urban life of the literary circles and was inclined to wander throughout the country, heading west, east, and far into the northern wilderness to gain inspiration for his writing. His poems were influenced by his firsthand experience of the world around him, often encapsulating the feeling of a scene in a few simple elements.

Yosa Buson or Yosa no Buson (1716 – January 17, 1784) was a Japanese poet and painter from the Edo period.
Around the age of 20, Buson moved to Edo (now Tokyo) and learned poetry under the tutelage of the haikai master Hayano Hajin. After Hajin died, Buson moved to Shimōsa Province (modern day Ibaraki Prefecture). Following in the footsteps of his idol, Matsuo Bashō, Buson traveled through the wilds of northern Honshū that had been the inspiration for Bashō's famous travel diary, Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Interior). He published his notes from the trip in 1744, marking the first time he published under the name Buson.
After traveling through various parts of Japan, Buson settled down in the city of Kyoto at the age of 42. It is around this time that he began to write under the name of Yosa, which he took from his mother's birthplace (Yosa in the province of Tango).
Buson married at the age of 45 and had one daughter, Kuno. From this point on, Buson remained in Kyoto, writing and teaching poetry at the Sumiya. In 1770, he assumed the haigō (haikai pen name) of Yahantei (Midnight Studio), which had been the pen name of his teacher Hayano Hajin.

Kobayashi Issa (June 15, 1763 - November 19, 1827) was a Japanese poet and lay Buddhist priest of the Jōdo Shinshū sect known for his haiku poems and journals. He is better known as simply Issa, a pen name meaning Cup-of-tea (lit. "one [cup of] tea").
Reflecting the popularity and interest in Issa as man and poet, Japanese books on Issa outnumber those on Buson, and almost equal in number those on Bashō.

Masaoka Shiki (October 14, 1867 – September 19, 1902), pen-name of Masaoka Noboru was a Japanese poet, author, and literary critic in Meiji period Japan. Shiki is regarded as a major figure in the development of modern haiku poetry. He also wrote on reform of tanka poetry.

Copyright © 2013-2014 The Haiku Apprentice


  1. I am working on the Matsuo Basho Archives of the WKD -
    exploring the cultural background of his many poems in context . . . with amazing insights of his way of living and reporting about it.
    Greetings from Japan!

  2. Gabi, thank you for visiting

    I have already visited your site on numerous occasions and I recommend it to all haiku apprentices. I will have to spend some time looking at your Basho Archives. Keep up your wonderful work.

    Yours in Haiku


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