84 – Exploring The Wabi-Sabi of Haiku with Misako Yoke

Do you take time out to reflect on the beauty of life?

The art of haiku is a wonderful way to be present and express your feelings in the moment. It allows us to savour each fleeting experience, capturing the essence of now.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick welcomes back Misako Yoke to explore the wabi-sabi of haiku.

A cordial invitation to readers

“Just like your book Ikigai-kan, you added kan, that subtle, just one letter changes the entire course of what the book is about. You probably specifically changed the title from Ikigai, which is something often lost in translation. I wanted to create that kind of precision into my haiku title. 

And while I was creating each haiku, it was a humble invitation to my readers, and I wanted to create something that you can expect from only two words. I challenged myself with only two words to give the title; and the quiet portion gives my readers time to take a pause, the moment of quietness that sits the environment to enjoy their wonder like a kid, just like me, to enjoy immensely.” - Misako Yoke

Podcast Highlights

Misako Yoke

Misako Yoke

Misako Yoke is an award-winning speaker, certified Life Story Coach, and Genki Method creator. She's committed to helping people navigate life's challenges and reminding them of their true strengths. Misako was a guest on episode 15 of the podcast, where she talked about Genki habits and her book, Take Heart! You’re Stronger Than You Think.

Publishing a second book

Misako published her second book, Quiet Wonder: Haiku and Poetic Reflections on the Pacific Northwest’s Natural Splendor. Initially, the idea of writing a haiku book seemed unrealistic to her, as she believed that haiku creation was limited to highly trained and skilled individuals.

However, switching her primary language to English encouraged Misako to experiment and learn more about haiku. Understanding its origins changed her approach to writing haiku. She now sees it as a way to inspire people’s imagination and challenge their creativity, as haiku requires precision and careful word selection.

The reason behind the book title

The title 'Quiet Wonder' encapsulates what readers can anticipate from Misako's book. The term 'quiet' prompts readers to pause and immerse themselves in the present moment, fostering a sense of 'wonder' as they appreciate the beauty surrounding them.

Understanding haiku

Haiku is a traditional Japanese poetic form that has evolved over time. Originating in the 8th century as part of a collaborative poetry style called Tanka (5-7-5-7-7 syllables), it became known as Haiku during the Edo period. Traditionally, Haikus are three-line poems with a 5-7-5 syllable structure, often reflecting nature, seasons, and emotions, and creating vivid imagery.

Modern Haiku remains popular globally. Traditionally, Haiku includes a seasonal word (kigo) to indicate a time of year, but Western versions sometimes skip this due to different cultural contexts. Despite these differences, Haiku remains a concise and evocative form of poetry.

Haiku is open to different interpretations

One good example of haiku is Matsuo Bashō’s ‘The Old Pond,’ which is considered to be the most important and famous haiku in all of Japanese history. 

Furu ike ya

kawazu tobikomu

mizu no oto


an old pond;

a frog jumps in

no sound at all/Plop!

People often have different interpretations and feelings when they read haikus. For instance, Misako associates ‘The Old Pond’ with the cheerfulness of summer. Growing up in the suburbs, she recalls an old pond surrounded by overgrown shrubs and rocks, reflecting the blue summer sky. This imagery evokes her childhood memories of exploring a mushroom farm and discovering an old pond.

The 5-7-5 structure of haiku

Misako initially thought that the 5-7-5 syllable structure of haiku was a restrictive rule that limited expression. However, after creating haiku herself, she realised that this structure provided a backbone, allowing for greater creative freedom. It offers a grounding framework that helps writers avoid feeling lost.

“This is typical of Japanese culture, this simplicity. It's only 17 syllables, so very short but so much can be conveyed about the season of life and emotions.” - Nicholas Kemp

5-7-5 Structure of Haiku

Incorporating kigo

In Japan, kigo, or season words, are deeply embedded in everyday life and used in various contexts, such as business letters and greetings. For someone who grew up in Japan, incorporating kigo into haiku feels natural for Misako, as they celebrate and give importance to each season as part of their culture. 

They even have a reference book called ‘Saijiki,’ which lists kigo and can be used to find the appropriate season word for both business letters and haiku. However, there is a debate about whether relying on kigo can be limiting. While it provides structure, it can also restrict creativity and the playful nature of haiku. Therefore, opinions on its value are mixed.

Understanding the concept of wabi-sabi

For Misako, similar to ikigai, wabi-sabi is not something you chase or achieve, but something you feel and cherish. Instead of seeking perfection and conventional beauty, wabi-sabi allows you to see beyond imperfections and find beauty in the realness of things. In today's digital era, where we seek immediate answers to everything, wabi-sabi encourages a slower, more mindful approach to experiencing life.

Two metaphors of wabi-sabi

“The art of haiku, with its delicate craft, mirrors the principles of wabi-sabi. It captures fleeting  moments, often intertwined with nature, and prompts us to embrace a deeper appreciation of beauty beyond the immediately visible.” - Misako Yoke

The Art of Haiku

In her book, Misako used sakura and fallen dried leaves as metaphors for wabi-sabi. The sakura cherry blossom holds deep significance in Japanese culture, it is cherished by everyone for its fleeting beauty. After the peak season, when the petals carpet the ground in pink, it evokes a sense of reflection on the transient nature of life. This cycle, from birth to the brilliance of bloom to graceful departure without regret, mirrors our existence.


A brown leaf amid colourful autumn leaves symbolises wabi-sabi's essence: finding beauty in imperfection and transience. It represents a life well-lived, having expended all its energy in spring to grow, bear seeds, and nurture families. As everything else transitions to yellow and red, the leaf completes its journey. This contemplation of wabi-sabi helps us see ourselves differently, taking time to think and understand. It's like a special way of viewing life that allows us to appreciate our own experiences and personality. This idea emphasises the importance of creating mental space to truly be oneself.

These ideas are conveyed in the death poem of Hajin, by haiku poet, Ryokan:

ura wo mise omote wo misete chiru momiji




it shows its back

then, its front

falling autumn leaf


Misako’s haiku poems

Here are some of Misako’s haiku poems, which serve as invitations for people to explore their own imaginations:

“Together, within this collection, we celebrate the haiku not just as a literary form but as a living conversation between past and present, poet and reader, tradition and innovation. May these haiku serve as stepping stones for your imagination, and may your journey through them be as revealing and profound as the centuries-old path they continue to illuminate.” - Misako Yoke


A Speck of Hopeful Blue

In the deep, still woods

A piece of robin's eggshell — 

Skyward, new life soars

A Speck of Hopeful Blue

Harmony at Horizon

Mountain layers fade

Bluer with each distant peak

Sky and Earth unite

Harmony at Horizon

Sighs Through Needles

Sunset rides on clouds

Conifers stand sentry, firm

Breeze sighs through the boughs

Sighs Through Needles


Haiku is a beautiful medium to capture the imperfect beauty of life. We experience different seasons, each a blend of difficult and happy moments. These fleeting experiences make up our existence. Haiku allows us to relive and cherish each precious moment. It helps us appreciate the transience of life, embracing the understanding that everything is temporary.