I'm struggling here to read these two haikus on my teacups. One horizontal row is one cup. All others I have are reading right to left, guess these ones go same way. All others have also been Matsuo Basho poems. Any tips would be welcome! A little hint, picture A4 rightmost thingy has been "の" and the character on A1 (leftmost image) is probably "mu" as in emptiness, is not part of the haikus usally. Thanks.

enter image description here

This is my conclusion from the delightfully detailed answers I got from this discussion here. Thanks, guys! I have some more puzzles in my teacups set, I'll drop them in another time.enter image description here

  • 2
    Please remember to accept an answer if you believe your question is solved. Apr 16, 2020 at 4:16

2 Answers 2


The problem is that the writing is not only old and cursive, but using a lot of obsolete variant kana (hentaigana) that you'd no longer see in the modern documents.

Using hentaigana supported by Unicode (a font that can display them or another is recommended), the writing on the two cups can be displayed as follows.

Basho haiku

Cup A reads:


or identifiable to this haiku:


The first character that probably is 花 is too radically stylized as an image of petals(?) to be recognized as a character on its own.

Cup B:



ゆく春を近江の人とをしみける (ゆく春を近江の人と惜しみける)

Without expertise knowledge, I have totally no idea about last couple of signs on both cups, sorry. But as I think I slightly see two grass components (艹) there, I could try guessing that it might be a stylized name of 芭蕉, or might be something completely different.


  • 3
    @ broccoli forest, @DariusJahandarie I added a rendered version for those that haven't yet installed the hentaigana font.
    – Earthliŋ
    Apr 15, 2020 at 13:21
  • 2
    @Ringil I think it is intentional: the answer says The first character that probably is 花 is too radically stylized as an image of petals(?) to be recognized as a character on its own. so I guess □ just means that it cannot quite be deduced from the text and 花 is reverse-engineered from the actual poem. (I was actually wondering the same thing and left a similar comment earlier.)
    – Earthliŋ
    Apr 15, 2020 at 15:08
  • 1
    @Earthliŋ Wow, thank you for the drastic improvement! Apr 16, 2020 at 3:26
  • 1
    @Earthliŋ btw is there any chance we can include a hentaigana woff in the site's custom style? Apr 16, 2020 at 3:40
  • 1
    @broccolifacemask-cloth You're very welcome =) I guess it's technically possible to include a hentaigana woff as part of the userscript, but the woff file is at 167kb already three times as big as our furigana engine (57kb). I'm not so tech savvy, but I could imagine that loading an extra 167kb on every page isn't really warranted at the moment. (We only have 6 questions tagged [hentaigana] and the screenshot I added to your question is only 35kb, so it isn't really a problem for this answer either. Besides, viewing hentaigana at the standard font size is not so great in the first place...)
    – Earthliŋ
    Apr 16, 2020 at 6:23

As a complement to answer above, the old Japanese writing has thrown another monkey wrench into your way to conquering the Japanese literal world: Kuzushiji. So, you get to make sure aren't any of those symbols kuzushiji. Basically, kuzushiji are cursive style characters, but they can be so far from the printed forms that it may take an expert or a well-trained neural network to recognize them, let alone semantically interpret them.

There is a good article about these two

Hentaigana: How Japanese Went from Illegible to Legible in 100 Years

In fact, to recognize the symbols is not easy. For example, it is estimated that only 0.01% of modern Japanese natives can read Kuzushiji. So all those old literature, letters and graphic novels are still waiting to be interpreted.

Kaggle even launched a machine learning competition to deal with Kuzushiji:

Kuzushiji Recognition in Kaggle

  • 2
    Minor point, Kaggle just gets paid to host competitions. The group(s) that actually launched it are the Center for Open Data in the Humanities, The National Institute of Japanese Literature, and The National Institute of Informatics.
    – mbrig
    Apr 15, 2020 at 21:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .