I am not asking about genre, meaning or anything other subjective issues. I am talking about the following type of things in english:

  1. English prose (no rhyme, no rhythm). May also have literal devices (e.g. metaphor, simile).
  2. English poetry (has rhyme and/or rhythm e.g. iambic pentameter). May also have literal devices.

As we can see, putting genre, meaning and other subjective issues aside, in English due to the physical sound features of rhyme and rhythm, we can easily distinguish it from prose.

Normal prose can also be said to have prose with literal devise as in a novel. Sometimes we may alternative between the two i.e. a book may contain both poetic sentences as well as prose. However the point is that there are some defining physical features e.g. rhythm, rhyme, literal devices which can be physically detected.

Thus I want to know, what physical features are there to distinguish between styles in Japanese. For example I heard poetry is done on the basis of syllable number e.g. tanka (5-7-5). However what is the point of this? Rhyme and rhythm have a sound effect in English which is why they are distinct.

However what is so special about having a 5-7-5 syllable pattern? We can do that in English too, but it would still be prose, albeit maybe an artistic one e.g. it will perhaps contain literal devices. Although admittedly the flat, short words of Japanese are perhaps suited more for this type of syllable pattern.

So what does Japanese have? Or is poetry and prose pretty much the same thing? Why did they make tanka being 5-7-5 a big deal? What's wrong with having longer syllabic sentences?

Also do Japanese novels use literary devices throughout e.g. simile, hyperbole and so on? Are these literary techniques in the Japanese language or not? How important is rhyme in Japanese language; is it not as important as it is in English, and why?

What physical things does Japanese have, how is it measured? Or is it just a sweet, nice and cute sounding language without much room for entertaining language or measurable sounds? Btw I'm not criticising it, saying less is part of the beauty of Japanese culture, however I just want to know the difference i.e. if anything can be measured.

2 Answers 2


Rhyme hasn't had much presence through the history of Japanese poetry, so you can say that Japanese poetry is virtually built on blank verses.

The underlying meter of traditional Japanese poetry style, or 和歌 (waka) is, as @user4092 has pointed out, the repetition of 5-7 cycles based on quadruple measures. The word 短歌 (tanka; 5-7-5-7-7) literally means "short verse", that is, they also have (or had) "long verse" 長歌 (choka), whose length is unlimited: 5-7-5-7-...-5-7-7 (cf. 貧窮問答歌 ("Dialogue on Poverty") from Man'yoshu). The last 7-syllable part acts as coda.

The shortened version, tanka, was mainly serving for "poetic gatherings" where people recited their (in many cases improvised) tankas in turn. In other words, a single unit of tanka was not originally meant to be a poem, but a stanza. The 俳句 (haiku; 5-7-5) arised later from a slightly modified kind of activities, where they linked alternately the upper (5-7-5) and lower (7-7) parts of a tanka unit.

As today's tankas and haikus have become mostly being appreciated independently by each single unit of them, your doubt on how much prosodic value are left for those forms, is indeed not unreasonable. Especially for haiku, there are some movements pursuing the "essence" of haiku without its form, generally called as 自由律俳句 ("free verse haiku"), which in my opinion shares something in common with, say, six-word memoirs in US.

But remember the prosodic power of 5-7 (or 7-5) repetition is by no means diminished and still serving as the most primitive rhythmical unit that arouses Japanese speakers' sense of verse.


The 5-7-5 pattern is musically perceived as 5 quavers, 3 eighth rests, 7 quavers, one eighth rest and 5 quavers, making the 4/4 rhythm.

example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lps7EaIPEAA

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