The role of ‘fusoku-furi’ in the art of photo haiku

I learned over the Christmas holidays, 2016 that the photo haiku (shahai) below would be featured on Japan’s NHK World’s award-winning programme Haiku Masters.

Haiku master and judge Michio Nakahara said, “The three line haiku does not mention the bee or the flower. In terms of fusoku-furi it has a perfect distance from the photograph. This photo haiku would be inanimate if it were just the flower, but the bee adds movement and the earnestness of the bee is something that we can all relate to.”

The episode was filmed at the Memorial Museum of Fine Art, Tokyo, and the photo haiku awarded Haiku Master of the Month, January 2017.


“All works of art are more beautiful when they suggest something beyond themselves than when they end up being merely what they are.”- Soetsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman

One of the objectives of the photo haiku/shahai and the haiga (haiku combined with traditional Japanese brushwork or other artwork) is to achieve fusoku-furi, which roughly translates as ‘unattached and undetached’ or ‘not too far, not too close.’

Fusoku-furi helps ensure that the haiku is not simply a description of the photo or artwork, and vice versa. The poet should strive to add something that is not already included the image, for example a reference to use of one of the senses, or an emotion that is stirred by looking at the photo. In this way, another layer of meaning is achieved by adding to the visual element.

Haiku Master, Michio Nakahara explains, “A photo always lacks something, for example sounds – a photo cannot express sound … or smell. By adding an element that you don’t see in the photo, you add a different dimension.”

The photo haiku below featured in Episode 7 of HAIKU MASTERS,  filmed in Rikujien Gardens, Tokyo.

I took the photo of a derelict house, focusing on the front door with its boarded up letterbox. I combined it with a haiku describing an elderly person sifting through bundles of junk mail. I hoped the combination of image and words would add an atmosphere of sadness and abandonment—perhaps this person regularly goes through their junk mail, carefully check each item in the hope of finding a letter from a loved one?

To date, the programme has received 4000 photo haiku submissions from 89 countries.



About seaviewwarrenpoint

I am a writer, poetry facilitator and artist from Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland. My blog is Twitter @MarionSClarke
This entry was posted in artwork and poetry, haiga, haiku, photo haiku, Photos, Places and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The role of ‘fusoku-furi’ in the art of photo haiku

  1. excellent – thank you

  2. Congratulations Marion!

  3. A Japanese programme about Haiku Masters? That is some accolade, Marion – many congratulations!

    Susan A Eames at
    Travel, Fiction and Photos

  4. Patsy says:

    This combination brought to mind exactly the scene you describe of an elderly lady hoping to find something other than junk amongst the bits of paper shoved through her letterbox.

  5. Mary Kendall says:

    What an honor…congratulations, Marion. It’s so well deserved. This haiga is perfect in every way.

  6. mspoems1 says:

    Congratulations Marion x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s