A Writer's Handbook



What is a mondo?

John Daleiden

A Mondo consists of two parts: a question part and an answer part, each of which is a Katauta of 5-7-7 onji (syllables), making the total poem length 38 onji, structured 5-7-7-5-7-7 onji per line. A distinct rhythm break occurs in the middle of this structure where the question and answer join; however, it is common for rhythm changes to occur at the end of the 12th onji of the first (question) part of the poem, and occasionally at the end of the 31st as well.

The Katauta was a specific form of Japanese poetry of 3 lines of 19 onji in length that was written in three lines of 5-7-7 onji (approximately one breath length) each with a specific rhythm and in the form of either a question or an answer. Once thought to represent primitive songs, the Katauta is now believed to have been a means of conveying a question and an answer between primitive people.

The unique part of the Katauta is that "it is a poem consisting 19 onji/syllables in 3 lines; one short (5 onji/syllables), one long (7 onji/syllables) and a third line equal in length to the second, used primarily as a prop to 'help harmonize the rhythm'." This has been described by recorders in the ancient books, and by researchers studying Japanese poetry, as the 'basic unit of poetry'. Other characteristics found within the Katauta are the use of ellipsis, condensation of thought or image, spontaneity or intuitive intonations and/or a nakedness of treatment in general.

These Katauta are believed to have developed as part of spring festivals similar to the fertility rites and planting/harvesting rituals of other primitive societies and cultures. However, while Katauta by themselves may be interesting, when placed together with an answer following a question, they become even more interesting poetically.




top of page