hut, thatched hut


iori, an 庵 hermitage, thatched hut

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


A simple thatched hut is often the subject of Japanese poetry.

. kayabuki 茅葺 thatching, thatched roof .
- Introduction -

The more refined tea house evolved from the simple dwelling of the peasants of the Edo period.

an 庵 hermitage, hut, thatched hut
yado 宿 my home. yado is also a lodging on the road
(there are various kigo with YADO and another season word)

koie, ko-ie, ko ie 小家 small house
sumika 栖 my humble home

. WKD : Living at home in all seasons .



miwataseba hana mo momiji mo nakarikeri
ura no tomaya no aki no yugure

As I look around
cherry blossoms or crimson leaves
are not to be found -
by the rush-thatched hut along the shore
in autumn's evening dusk.

Fujiwara no Teika, Shinkokin-shu
Tr. Hayashida Hajime

. WKD : Autumn Solitude .


Shiren yu xie 詩人玉屑 Gemlike words of poets

Under the title “Dwelling in Retirement,” for instance, the book cites Tao Qian as an example under “Historical Facts” and provides 168 couplets by poets from different periods; some of them directly mention the names of Ruan Ji, Ji Kang, and Tao Qian.

The entry also gives twenty-six “Related Images and Motives,” such as “composing a poem,” “study surrounded by bamboos,” “bamboo groves,” “thatched hut,” “sitting in tranquility,” “lonely and tranquil,” “remote place,” “playing the zither,” “purity and loftiness,” and “drinking wine.”

source : Basho-and-the-Dao - Peipei-Qiu


- Bashō-An, Bashoo-an 芭蕉庵 Basho-An in Fukagawa 深川 -
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .

bashooha o hashira ni kaken io no tsuki

one banana leaf
placed on the pillar -
the moon above my hut 


. hokku nari Matsuo Toosei yado no haru .
(spring). the home of Matsuo Tosei

Matsuo later changed his name from Tosei "Green peach" to Basho (Banana).

. WKD : "spring in this lodge", yado no haru 宿の春 .
Kigo for the New Year


kitsutsuki mo io wa yaburazu natsu kodachi

even woodpeckers
don't damage this hut:
summer grove

Tr. Barnhill

MORE about Basho haiku
translations and discussion :
. WKD : woodpecker, kitsutsuki 啄木鳥 .


bashoo uete mazu nikumu ogi no futaba kana
. Planting the first banana tree with his disciple Rika 李下 .


kakurega 隠れ家 hiding place, hideout, refuge

. kakurega ya tsuki to kiku to ni ta san tan .
hermitage with moon, chrysanthemums and rice paddies
for Tani Boku-In (Bokuin)


. awa hie ni toboshiku mo arazu kusa no io .
foxtail millet (awa), barn millet (hie)


hatsu yuki ya saiwai an ni makariaru

first snow -
I am lucky to be here
in my own hut

Tr. Gabi Greve

Written on the 18th day of the 12th lunar month 1686
貞亨3年12月18日, Basho age 43

This day was also considered as the 31st day of the 1st month
Other sources place it on the ninth day of the 12th lunar month.

On that day he wrote about the first narcissus.

. hatsu-yuki ya suisen no ha no tawamu made .

Basho was fond of "first snow" and made some trips to friends when he heard the good news. Now finally it has started snowing on his own home and he is happy to be there.

makari aru 罷りある an emphatic verbal prefix
shows his great joy about the snow.


kono yado wa kuina mo shiranu toboso kana

this lodging has a door
not even known
to the water rail

Tr. Gabi Greve

Most probably written when Basho visited Kosen 湖仙亭 in Otsu in 1694.
As a greeting to his host who lived so remote and lonely that
"not even the water rails come to knock at the door".
The voice of the birds sounds like someone knocking on a door,
kuina tataku 水鶏たたく.

source : masuda-art.p1.bindsite

Waka by. Fujiwara no Teika 藤原定家.


maki no to ni tataku kuina no akebono ni
hito ya ayame no noki no utsuri ka

"At dawn I heard a knock at the door,
but when I opened there was nobody,
just the voice of a water rail outside."

The "knocking of the water rail" is also mentioned in the
Murasaki Shikibu Diary Emaki 紫式部日記絵巻,
© More in the WIKIPEDIA !

. water rail, kuina 水鶏 (くいな) Rallus aquaticus .


kutabirete yado karu koro ya fuji no hana

just as I am so tired
and look for a lodging -
wisteria flowers

Tr. Gabi Greve

When worn out
And seeking an inn:
Wisteria flowers!

Tr. Aitken

Tired walking
stopping at an inn

Tr. David McMurray, 2004
The master poet must have seen some purple wisteria blossoms dangling from a trellis in the evening light. There is a certain harmony between the blossoms and his tired body and soul. His poem does not evoke an image of loneliness, rather he seems to be in a contented frame of mind. He's at one with nature.
source : asahi.com/english/haiku

time to find a lodging -
hanging wisteria

Tr. Shirane

As I seek a bower,
Weary from travel, I find
A wisteria flower.

Tr. Yasuda

Written in 1688, at Yamato Yagi 大和八木にて
This hokku has the cut marker YA at the end of line 2.

. WKD : Wisteria (fuji 藤) .

Oi no Kobumi 笈の小文
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


source : hiroko1.exblog.jp
aki yanagi 秋柳 willow in autumn

nani kuute ko-ie wa aki no yanagi kana

what do they eat
in this small house in autumn
below the willow tree ?

Tr. Gabi Greve

This hokku has the phrase stretched over lines 2 and 3:
aki no yanagi kana - autumn for the willow tree
and the cut marker KANA at the end of line 3.

Written in 貞亨元年, Basho age 41 or later.

There is just one small house below the willow tree and Basho wonders how its inhabitants make do with their poor life.


. Saigyō no iori mo aran hana no niwa .
Basho and Saigyo 芭蕉 - 西行


source :www.komonjyo.net

I got some rice from friends.

yo no naka wa ine karu koro ka kusa no io

in the world it is now time
to harvest rice -
my thatched hermitage

Tr. Gabi Greve

Written around 貞亨年間, Basho age 41 - 44

The hut refers most probably to his second Basho-An in Fukagawa.
Someone of his disciples had brought him newly harvested rice to support his poor life.
Basho leads the life of an intonsha 隠遁者 a recluse and makes fun of his lifestyle.

. WKD : The Japanese Rice Culture - .

- Bashō-An 芭蕉庵 Basho-An in Fukagawa 深川 -
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


Go-goo-An" 五合庵 Gogo-An
The hermitage of poet
. Ryokan / Ryookan 良寛 .
At Mount Yahiko in Echigo.

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

watamashi わたまし/ 移徙 /渡座 to move into a new dwelling

It was celebrated with a special gift of flowers
watamashi no iwai 渡座の祝


. WKD : Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .

iokado ni nagare-irikeri Amanogawa

flowing in
through my front door --
the Milky Way

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku was written early in the 7th month (August) of 1814, while Issa was living in his hometown and three months after he had gotten married for the first time. It comes right before a group of hokku in Issa's diary about the Tanabata star festival celebrated on 7/7, so it's obviously written with the star festival in mind. According to the legend celebrated at the festival, the Weaving Woman star (Vega) and the Oxherd star (Altair) are separated by the River of Heaven (the Milky Way) and fated to be able to meet on only one night of the year -- the night of lunar 7/7. On this night, if there are no clouds, the Weaving Woman is able to meet her lover by crossing the River of Heaven on a bridge formed by many magpies lined up side by side.

The word io literally means 'hut, hermitage,' but it was also a standard polite euphemism for one's own home. Similar humble words were also used when referring to oneself or one's family. Since the Milky Way "flows inside" the door, I take "hut" to be a reference to Issa's own house and take him to be watching the Milky Way through his front door. On one level this is a visual hokku about how the Milky Way seems to be flowing down inside Issa's house on a clear night far from city lights on which the stars seem even closer than usual.

But this is the first time Issa has celebrated the star festival with his wife, and in the previous hokku in his diary he writes about "my star," so he may be suggesting that he and his wife are like the star lovers and that this year the Milky Way is also being crossed by Issa and his wife as it flows through their house.

Chris Drake

- - - - -

kakurega wa ki no muita yo ga tsukimi kana

in my small home
tonight we feel like it --

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku appears along with one other hokku in a letter Issa sent on 8/16/1826 to his student and patron Shunkou (春耕), whose wife Seifu (成布) was also a hokku and renku poet. The word "hermitage; small hut" was a common humble expression to refer to one's own old or poor house, and Issa uses it in several hokku to modestly refer to his own house. In the letter, the reference is clearly to his own modest house.

It's quite normal to want to do moon-viewing, so why does Issa stress this normal feeling? There is no clear answer to this question, but it's known that in the 8th month of this year Issa married for the third time to a woman from a nearby province who worked as a maid in his hometown. The woman, Yao, was thirty-one and had a year-old child born out of wedlock, whom Issa agreed to take care of, and he must have met her at least a few times before they married, since they lived in the same town. A plausible hypothesis for Issa's great happiness at this year's ceremonies for viewing the harvest moon would be that he has either just married or is about to marry his third wife and that having a moon-viewing party with her and perhaps a few relatives in his modest home is a special joy for him at this point in his life. I take "feel like it" to be deliberately ambiguous: it can refer not only to moon-viewing but to getting married and all the things that go with that. If so, then Issa uses "my humble house" in order to stress that he is part of a family again and that watching the moon as part of a family gives him -- and no doubt Yao -- a deep joy that isn't provided at ordinary parties for viewing the moon, even the harvest moon. The translation uses "we" as the subject of the verb to express this connection between Issa's house and his new family.

The second hokku in Issa's letter is equally joyful, almost euphoric:

furu-kabe ya dono ana kara mo aki no tsuki

old walls --
from every hole
autumn moonlight

Continuing the "modest little hut" image, Issa declares that on this special night even the light pouring through the holes in the old walls of his house creates a beautiful counterpoint to the moon-viewing party. The moonlight image might also be a greeting from Issa to Yao to tell her he's sure she will illuminate his old house and make it attractive again. The old walls further suggest Issa himself at sixty-three (he died two years later). He seems to feel light pouring through his life from many directions on this particular full-moon night.

Issa's letter says he plans to visit Shunkou in about three months. No doubt he explained to Shunkou at that time about his third marriage, but the two hokku in the letter may already have given Shunkou a hint about Issa's new frame of mind.

Chris Drake

- - - - -

na mo maite kasunde kurasu ko ie kana

even planting
vegetables, living unnoticed
in a small house

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku was written in the 2nd month (March) in 1815, after Issa had moved into half of his father's house in his hometown and gotten married the previous year. It may refer to Issa himself and his new life, and this reading is attractive, especially since Issa thought this hokku was important enough to revise and to show to the haikai master Seibi in Edo in order to get his comments on it.

Issa used his small-feeling half-house as his base for his travels to meet his many students and fellow poets in the Shinano highland area, and he rented most of his rice paddy land to his younger brother and to other farmers who had no paddies. He lived mainly off the rent and his inheritance, since gifts from his students were not enough to support him, especially after he married. One famous hokku expresses his guilty feelings about staying outside while everyone around him was outside taking care of the rice plants, but he was dedicated to haikai and spent much of his time while he was at home writing and communicating by letter with other poets and students. His share of his father's land also contained a dry field or fields for vegetables, and he was known to do a little gardening in his spare time. Some of what he planted seems to have been medicinal plants. While he was living in Edo he learned a lot about the medicinal properties of plants, and he liked to drink herbal broths for various ailments. Issa was fifty-two in 1815, and he felt his body was growing weaker.

If the hokku refers to Issa, the second line might refer to his retirement from the Edo haikai scene a few months before. Issa and his wife seem to have been quite fond of each other, and they also had an agreement that as a haikai poet and teacher Issa would be away from home a good deal of the time. In the previous year, 1814, Issa was traveling 277 days and at home 77 days, and in 1815 the ratio was 248 days to 106 days. In the month in which this hokku was written Issa's diary shows he was home only 8 days, so his life was not one of quiet farming or rustic leisure.

About five weeks before this hokku was written Issa returned from a four-month trip to Edo during which he said goodbye to all his friends and students and formally retired from the Edo haikai world, and at the end of 1815 he made a three-month trip to Edo to say his final farewells, though he made shorter trips to Edo after that and often communicated with Edo haikai poets by mail. The image in the hokku above of living inconspicuously or in obscurity would make a lot of sense if the hokku were referring to Issa's "retired" life in a mountainous area some distance away from Edo. In his own village Issa was hardly inconspicuous, since his return generated quite a bit of controversy. His neighbors had little understanding of what Issa was doing, however, so his haikai existence may have seemed unnoticed or almost invisible, making him feel doubly unnoticed.

The next year Issa gave this revised version of the hokku to the famous poet and haikai judge Seibi for his comments:

kyoo mo kyoo mo kasunde kurasu ko-ie kana

day in, day out
living almost unseen
in a small house

In this version it seems to be the regularity and repetitious nature of "retired" life in the country that is decisive.
Chris Drake

kari ni sae tori-nokosareshi sumika kana

my house --
even the wild geese
leave it behind

This hokku is from the end of the first month (late February) in 1808, when Issa was living in the semi-rural northeast edge of Edo. At that time he was thinking a lot about returning to his hometown, especially after returning for the first time in seven years during the previous fall and then again in early December, when he stayed for five days trying to negotiate about his father's will and receive his part of his late father's house. He made no progress, however, and returned to Edo with nothing at all to show for his second trip, during which he wrote:

snow all day --
hometown people
just as cold

yuki no hi ya furusato-bito mo buashirai

In Edo Issa was finding it impossible to establish himself as a haikai master and teacher, though he had some students here and there in rural areas east of Edo, and when he returned to his hometown his half brother and stepmother treated him as if he were an unwanted intruder who had no right to return or to live in half of the family house. Most of the neighbors felt the same way, and Issa had no close friends or supporters in his own hometown.

Perhaps the wild geese in the first hokku above have been wintering in a field near Issa's low-rent semi-slum house in Edo, or perhaps they are simply flying over his small house on their way back to their northern homes in Siberia, where they will spend the late spring and summer. A great many Japanese poets and people in general seem to have had a special fondness for wild geese, and they expressed especially deep feelings when the geese left their wintering places in Japan and began their journeys back to the north. The haikai phrase "farewell of [and to] the geese" surely expressed a moving experience for many people, and especially, perhaps, for Issa, who no doubt feels kinship with the geese as a fellow migrant who goes back and forth between two homes. The loneliness he feels after the geese have left is surely genuine and not simply rhetorical. In addition, he also feels abandoned and left behind, since he knows how happy the honking geese are to be returning to their northern homes, which they prefer to his house. The birds' destinations must also be a kind of emotional and spiritual home for them, so there seems to be some envy in the hokku as well. Unlike the geese, however, Issa has no warm, welcoming hometown to return to. He has been left behind and left out and ignored even by his own relatives. Eventually Issa was able to leave his Edo home behind, but only after five more years of longing and stressful disputes.

One turn of language seems to express Issa's kinship with the geese very clearly. He uses a Sino-Japanese character 栖 for 'house' that is more commonly used to refer to a bird's nest. It is used only metaphorically to refer to a human house, a meaning ordinarily expressed with the characters 住処 or 住家. Issa may be implying that he still remains behind in his symbolic nest, but he hopes to fly off soon the way the geese now fly by overhead.
Chris Drake

kirigirisu sagashi-aruku ya io no tana

a cricket searches
shelves in my house

This hokku was written at the end of the seventh month (August) in 1810, when Issa was living in and around Edo, while also negotiating with his half-brother about how they would split up their father's property. At the end of the month he was apparently living in a room in a temple in the town of Futtsu in what is now Chiba Prefecture, across Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay) to the east. He had gone there to attend the requiem ceremony on 7/13 for the hundredth day after the death of one of his students, a woman haikai poet named Kakyō, at a Pure Land temple called Daijōji, the same temple where he stayed. At that time he also presented one or perhaps two requiem hokku for the dead woman. Issa's diary is vague, but he seems to have stayed in the temple until 8/1, when he took a boat back to Edo. Many scholars and readers have wondered whether Issa and Kakyō were secret lovers, although her husband may still have been alive, so it would probably have been a platonic love if it actually existed. Around this time Issa had no house of his own and was staying with various poets in Edo, so by "my house" he seems to be referring to his room in the temple, which was also the temple where Kakyō's ashes were buried. It seems significant that Issa seems to have stayed there for about two weeks, a time period that might indicate he wanted to stay near Kakyō's ashes in order to pray for her and say farewell to her soul many times. If so, he may be thinking of the temple as his and Kakyō's temporary spiritual house. He uses a humble word for house (the euphemism 'hut'), perhaps because he feels humble and reverent toward Kakyō's soul, and also because although a student she was older than he.

Issa may also feel humble toward the cricket walking around the room he is in, since he often shows great respect for insects and other creatures. While he no doubt feels a little restrained in a temple, the cricket shows no restraint at all and walks here and there, probably over several shelves. It walks confidently and seems to be looking for something, almost as if it were another visitor living in the house, and Issa seems to feel rather equal with the cricket. He may, however, envy the cricket, which is able to take such liberties with the "house," while he feels definite reserve toward the temple and the dead wife of a powerful and rich local man. Perhaps Issa even identifies with the cricket and imagines himself searching through memories of the dead woman and looking for any hint of her spiritual presence. Perhaps after Kakyō's death he also remembers the physical desire he had to hide while she was alive. One is reminded of a scene of gradually revealed hidden desire in a film directed by Luis Bunuel. In the society of Issa's day, even subtle movements by small insects could have large implications. Or could the cricket even be some kind of karmic sign or an attempt by Kakyō's searching soul to find a way to communicate with him?

In Issa's time, as in Basho's time, kirigirisu meant cricket. However, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, when Japan was rapidly westernizing, the reference of the word changed, and it came to refer to a katydid or long-horned grasshopper, while another word, kōrogi, came to be used for cricket. As late as the 1886 third edition of J. C. Hepburn's Japanese-English and English-Japanese Dictionary the definition of kirigirisu is given as 'cricket.' To early and middle twentieth-century Japanese, as well as to R. H. Blyth, katydid, grasshopper, and cricket seemed to be almost equal alternatives for kirigirisu, although in contemporary Japanese kōrogi is almost always used for cricket and kirigirisu for katydid or grasshopper.

Chris Drake


Other haiku by Issa, Tr. David Lanoue

kusa no io toshitori mochi o kai ni keri

thatched hut--
the year's last rice cakes
are bought

Translated by David Lanoue
More ISSA Haiku about Pounding Rice

The discussion started with another translation of this haiku

thatched hut--
the aged rice cake
is purchased

Translating Haiku Forum Nr. 853 / 855 / 858 / 864

In former times, it was customary in Japan to add one year to one's life on the first of January (toshitori). Individual birthdays were not celebrated.
to get older, toshi o toru 年を取る

thatched hut -
buying rice dumplings
to grow older another year

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

"yellowtail tuna to pass into the New Year" toshitori buri 年取鰤 is a speciality for New Year in Western Japan.

The use of IO, iori, 庵 the thatched hut
Translating Haiku Forum

o o o o o

to my hut too
New Year's arrives...
the zooni vendor

waga io ya ganjitsu mo kuru zooni uri

by Issa, 1817

Zooni, glutinous rice cakes with vegetables, is enjoyed in the New Year's season.
This haiku has the prescript, "In Hatsuchoobori Beggar Quarter, I greet the spring."
Hatsuchoobori was a district of old Edo (today's Tokyo). See Maruyama Kazuhiko, Issa haiku shuu (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1990; rpt. 1993) 261, note 1394.
Shinji Ogawa offers this translation:

To my hut
even on the New Year's Day
zooni vendors come

He notes that it is a Japanese custom not to work during the first three days of the year, but in the big city of Edo, zooni vendors were busy as bees.
Tr. and comment David Lanoue

osagari ya kusa no iori mo mori hajime

first rain of the year -
my thatched hut too
has its first leak

Tr. Gabi Greve

onburi 御降り rain on January 1, "honorable downpour".
If it rains, the harvest will be blessed in this year.

New Year's rain --
in all our thatched houses
the year's first leaks

Tr. Chris Drake

This humorous hokku is from early in the 12th lunar month (January) of 1820, the same lunar year as Year of My Life but in the following year on the Gregorian calendar. Issa must have been thinking ahead to New Year's when he wrote this hokku.

"Precipitation at New Year's" can refer to either rain or snow on one of the first three days of the new year, especially the first day. It was regarded as fortunate, a lucky sign that there would be a good harvest that year. Along the Pacific coast, the weather at New Year's was generally fair, but in Issa's hometown area, snow was the norm, although Issa's diary shows that on the first day of the next year, a couple of weeks after this hokku was written, it rained, with snow falling on the second and third. Since the chance of precipitation was so high, Issa must have felt it was safe to write this New Year's hokku early.

A second reason for the early composition date might be Issa's interest here in writing not only about himself and his own house but about almost all commoners living in thatched houses. The term "thatched hut" was commonly used as a humble word for one's own house, but Issa adds "too" in the second line, suggesting that just about everyone with a thatched roof must be dealing with a similar leak or two on this auspicious day. Probably the inns and the houses of one or two rich farmers in Issa's hometown had wood or tile roofs, but most people in his hometown and in other farming areas lived in thatched houses, so Issa implies he's writing about countless people all over rural Japan sharing a similar experience. My translation makes explicit this implication. There are many standard expressions in Japanese that refer to the first experience of various things in the new year, but Issa humorously creates a new one with "first leak of the year."

Chris Drake


kitsutsuki ga mekiki shite iru iori kana

busy appraising
the meditation hut

Tr. Chris Drake

I've translated the version that appears near the end of My Spring. In Issa's diary the first and second lines are slightly different, though the basic meaning is the same: kitsutsuki no mekiki shite miru . . .

Read the full discussion by Chris here:

. Issa and the Woodpecker .


. Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 in Edo .

an kaite katsu ureshisa yo sumi gohyoo
an koote katsu ureshisa yo sumi gohyoo

I bought a hermitage
and got an additional joy -
five bags of charcoal

. sumi 炭 charcoal and kigo .

mizu no yoki iori o tataku odori kana

Knocking at a hermitage
Good water there --
A Bon Festival dance.

Tr. Nelson/Saito

Related words

***** . Mochi and pounding rice .

***** . WKD : Living at home in all seasons .

. WKD - LIST of haiku topics and keywords  



Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Matsuo Basho

wa hie ni / toboshiku mo ara zu / kusa no io

芭蕉葉を柱に懸けん庵の月  (ばせうはをはしらにかけんいほのつき)
bashō ba o / hashira ni kaken / io no tsuki

hatsu yuki ya / saiwai an ni / makariaru

西行の庵もあらん花の庭 (さいぎやうのいほりのあらんはなのには)
Saigyō no / iori mo ara n / hana no niwa

世の中は稲刈るころか草の庵 (よのなかはいねかるころかくさのいほ)
yo no naka wa / ine karu koro ka / kusa no io

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...


nani kūte / ko ie wa aki no / yanagi kage

Matsuo Basho

this small house

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Matsuo Basho

mugura sae wakaba wa yasashi yabure ie

even the creepers:
their new leaves lovely
at the dilapidated house
trans. Barnhill

Spring: new leaves on creepers. 1689.
Someone is away serving the Shogun in Edo.
- - -

even bedstraw
has tender new leaves
a dilapidated house
trans. Reichhold

Shikin (1673-1735), a warrior of the Oogaki Clan, asked Basho to write a haiku on the painting of a ruined house. At this time, Basho was preparing to sell his home, and nothing looks more dilapidated than a house one wants to sell.

MORE abuot mugura cleavers

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Written at Sukagawa, when Basho stayed with Sagara Tokyu

sekimori no yado o kuina ni toou mono

the home of the barrier guard
I will ask to the
water rail, yes

Tr. Gabi Greve
MORE about Sukagawa

anonymous said...


Aki no ta no kario no io no toma o arami
waga koromode wa tsuyu ni nure tsutsu

Emperor Tenji

in the autumn field
a hut, a makeshift hut
of rough thatched straw,
the sleeves of my robe
are damp with dew


Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

waga io no ichi ri temae no kinuta kana

my hut, two miles
from where you're pounding

In Japan and Korea, fulling-blocks were used to pound fabric and bedding. The fabric was laid over a flat stone, covered with paper, and pounded, making a distinctive sound. This particular fulling-block is one ri away: 2.44 miles or 3.93 kilometers. In my earlier translation, I use the phrase, "fulling-block," an arcane term that means nothing to most English readers. "Pounding cloth" is a translation solution provided by Makoto Ueda, whose example I gratefully follow; Matsuo Bashô (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1982) 53.

David Lanoue

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

sooan ni hobo tsuriawanu botan kana

these peonies
almost a total mismatch
with my plain house

neko no kurui ga soooo no botan kana

these peonies
twist and turn as often
as a crazy cat

These two closely related hokku are found in this order in Issa's diary for the summer (no months given) of 1824, the year after his wife's death and around the time he remarried, this time with a woman with whom he had little compatibility. The woman, the daughter of a samurai, almost immediately divorced Issa.

These two hokku may be indirect references to his new wife, since they are both about incompatibility, and peonies, originally imported from China in the late ancient period, had an exotic beauty that was often associated with women in Issa's age.

In any case, Issa now seems to feel it was a mistake to grow these large, bright, lush bush flowers near his old farm-style thatched house, since their color and wildly curving petal-edges don't go with his weather-beaten, utilitarian, and wifeless(?) house.

Since there is no personal pronoun in the hokku, it's also possible to read Issa as talking about thatched farmhouses in general and thereby suggesting a reason for not planting them in his yard, but since "grass-thatched hut" is a humble word, it seems likely that Issa is referring to his own thatched house here. The meter of the second hokku is a fairly unusual 7-5-5 -- a meter often used in Kabuki and puppet drama. Perhaps Issa is trying to perform a couple of the flamboyant bends and curves of a peony petal with his meter.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

yuki chiru ya kinoo wa mienu akiya fuda

falling snow--
yesterday it wasn't there
"Empty House" sign
(Tr. David Lanoue)

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

io no ka ni aware kotoshi mo kuware keri

ah, again this year
in a bare room
bitten by mosquitoes

This hokku is from the fourth month (May) of 1811, when Issa was staying in Edo, probably at the house of the merchant and haikai poet Matsui, at whose house he stayed for about a third of 1811. He also stayed with Seibi and other Edo poets as well as with poets and supporters in areas just east of Edo. It's unclear whether he had his own rented room somewhere in Edo, but it's likely his home consisted of rooms in other people's houses during this year, as in many previous years. Io in the first line literally means a grass hermitage or hut, but in Issa's time it was a standard euphemism used as a humble reference to one's own home or place of residence. In this hokku I take Issa to be referring to his rooms at the houses of Matsui, Seibi, and other poets and supporters. The first mosquitoes of the year have arrived, and they seem to make Issa think about his own rootless life so far. He is forty-nine, and the previous year he returned to his hometown to try to receive his half of his father's inheritance, including half his father's house. He was rejected by his half-brother, however, and it will take two more years of negotiation before he can return to the house he was born in. For the moment he must continue to live in borrowed rooms under other people's roofs. The mosquitoes keep biting and won't let Issa relax, and they seem to palpably remind him of the other factors in his life at this time that also prevent him from making himself fully at home anywhere.

The exclamation aware (often translated ah!) in the second line expresses deep emotion or sudden understanding of a situation and can be used in relation to many kinds of feelings, from joy all the way to sorrow. In this hokku Issa does not seem to be resentful or self-pitying. Rather, he seems to be stressing the importance of accepting -- with a bit of self-referential humor -- the almost homeless life he leads as he thinks about how to create a new life for himself.

The accepting mood in this hokku also seems to be shared by the hokku placed after it in Issa's diary:

does she have a child?
a beggar on the bridge, too
calls out to fireflies

ko arite ya hashi no kojiki mo yobu hotaru

A beggar sitting on or near a bridge at the end of a long day of begging now forgets about asking for coins and calls out like a child to the fireflies passing by, asking them to come closer and stay a while. Although Issa may feel like a beggar, he also realizes the rooms he stays in at night are usually a good deal better than those of the beggar in the hokku, who may live under the bridge. Issa clearly admires the way the beggar (either she or he) remains optimistic and open to the world.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

shiba no to ya tentoo makase no ta no aomu

run-down farm house --
trusting the sun god totally
his rice field now green

This hokku is from the sixth month (July) of 1811, when Issa was wandering around in the area to the east of Edo, now known as Chiba Prefecture. Six months earlier, Issa had published an anthology in which he referred to himself as Boss of the Shinano Beggars, and he wandered around Edo and the surrounding area for the whole year. Just before he wrote this hokku he went to see a large festival devoted to preventing outbreaks of the plague and other epidemics, so he seems to have been interested in the folk religion of the area. In the hokku he shows his knowledge of local beliefs and refers to the sun in its role as a folk divinity that assures fertility and crop growth. The sun god, called both Tento and Tentou, completely disappeared from the Japanese cultural map after the country modernized and instituted scientific rice planting, and in modern textbooks about Japanese history, the only sun deity mentioned is the ancient female sun god Amaterasu, so most contemporary Japanese have never heard of Tentou, but in Issa's time Tentou was widely worshiped, especially in rural areas by farmers.

To refer to the farming family's house (or possibly a village of houses), Issa uses "brushwood gate," a term used to refer to country huts and hermitages. In Issa's time, however, the term was mainly used as a euphemism for a small, rundown rural house, so the house seems to be that of a tenant farmer living on the edge of poverty, and a poor crop could literally result in his starvation or his migration to a town or city to do manual labor. Issa seems glad to see that the rice plant stalks have turned deep green, a sign that heads of rice will later appear as long as there is no drought, but the hokku focuses on the pure, devoted mind of the farmer.

The most common phrase for entrusting oneself completely to Amida was "trusting and relying on you" (anata-makase), while "trusting and relying on (Amida) Buddha" (hotoke-makase) was also used. Issa uses both phrases in several hokku that have parallels with the above hokku. For example, a few hokku earlier than the above hokku in Issa's diary is this one:

you too, cool breeze,
exist purely as trust
in Amida Buddha

suzukaze mo hotoke-makase no kono-mi kana

Or, from the opposite perspective:

in autumn wind
the small butterfly trusts
Amida utterly

akikaze ni anata-makase no kochou kana

The cool wind, constantly appearing and then disappearing, must have very strong trust in Amida's compassion or it couldn't believe in its own continuing existence. For the wind, belief in Amida is belief in itself. And the small butterfly can keep flying against the strong wind only because it instinctively and wholly believes that Amida flies together with it at all times. These examples may seem extreme on first reading, but they are also, Issa seems to he suggesting, about ways humans entrust themselves totally to Amida, though many humans never realize it.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

mugura ya mo haru ni nari keri yoru no ame

spring comes too
to the weed-thatched house...
evening rain
(Tr. David Lanoue)

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

geko io ga kizu nari konna ran no hana

the nondrinker's hut
is an eyesore...
blooming orchids

Tr. David Lanoue


perfect chrysanthemums --
what a shame our host
can't drink with us

This hokku about friendship is from the 16th day of the ninth month (November 3) of 1819, when, according to Year of My Life, Issa went to a chrysanthemum-viewing party not far from his hometown about a week after the traditional Chrysanthemum Festival on 9/9. The hokku is also found in the ninth-month section of Issa's diary for that year. It needs to be distinguished from a separate version of the hokku in the transcription of Issa's diary made by his student Baijin, who writes ran (orchids) instead of kiku (chrysanthemums). This is strange, since Issa's own versions of the hokku have 'chrysanthemums,' and none of Issa's other hokku about orchids deals with drinking sake. Chrysanthemums, on the other hand, are traditionally believed to go well with sake, and some forms of sake have chrysanthemum leaves soaking in or floating on them. Moreover, in Year of My Life this hokku is the last of a group of five hokku about chrysanthemums. Baijin's version with orchids in it may be the result of a transcription error, so I use the version found in Issa's own writings, which also matches the image of drinking sake.

The hokku is a kind of thank-you note to the host of the chrysanthemum-viewing party, Shofu-in, a haikai poet, avid gardener, and Issa's friend. In the first line he is metonymically introduced by the phrase "nondrinker's hermitage," an indirect and therefore polite reference to him. As the people at the party went around the garden looking at the flowers, they carried sake cups and drank as they walked, and later they no doubt wrote hokku about their experience and presented them to their host. Issa's hokku suggests that the chrysanthemums were perfect and that the only imperfection at the whole party was that his friend, who doesn't drink, was unable to share their special experience of viewing the flowers while sipping sake. Probably Issa's friendship with Shofu-in truly made him deeply happy, since when he edited Year of My Life he followed the above hokku with a hokku about seeing a dream in which his daughter Sato, who had recently died, was smiling. It seems possible that the sake at the party made Issa emotional and that the flowers caused him to vividly remember and think about his life with his wife Kiku (Chrysanthemum).

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

abaraya あばら屋 . 荒ら屋

abaraya no to no kasugai yo namekujiri

the clamp on the door
of my tumbledown home -
a slug

. Nozawa Boncho 野沢凡兆 . (1640 - 1714)
more about kasugai

Anonymous said...

Kobayashi Issa

yutakasa youra no tomaya no gyoogyooshi

rush shoreline huts
of fishers suddenly rich
with loud reed warblers!

This summer hokku is from the fourth month (May) of 1822, when Issa was in and around his hometown. The hokku is one of several in his diary during this month about reed warblers, a small bird with a very strong voice that carries long distances. It winters in south Asia and returns north to Japan in late spring and summer to mate and breed. The most commonly heard cry is a series of grating, creaking, guttural mating calls by the male that is famous for keeping people living near a shore or riverbank awake at night, so Issa uses the bird's nickname, gyougyoushi, which means something like 'bombastic / exaggerating / pretentious / ostentatious bird,' a reference to the male's constant loud chatter, punctuated by series of noisy, piercing cries.

A rush hut is a rough hut either thatched with rushes or covered and walled with rush mats. The huts here could be either the small houses of some very poor fishers (of either gender) or their working huts beside the water. Since most fishers worked in groups, I assume this is a small fishing village. Issa seems to sympathize with these fishers who live on the edge of poverty and are wealthy only in terms of the many warblers now crying loudly from perches on reeds near the fishers' huts, taking away even the fishers' summer sleep.

The hokku also seems to allude to a famous waka, no. 363 in the Shin-kokinshu anthology, by Fujiwara no Teika (1162 – 1241):

no blossoms miwataseba
or colored leaves hana mo momiji mo
in sight -- nakarikeri
fall evening, rush ura no tomaya no
huts on the shore aki no yuugure

Teika suggests that the simple, minimalistic beauty of a shore in late autumn exceeds even that of cherry blossoms or bright fall foliage, while Issa, by alluding to the poem, seems to imply something rather different: that the people living in the rough huts work hard and have no time for viewing natural beauty and that they suffer even more after the sun goes down and the choruses of the reed warblers grow stronger.

Chris Drake

Anonymous said...

In Japan, a Farmhouse Becomes a Journalist’s Elegy


In late 2007 I read “Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan,” a memoir by the retired Associated Press foreign correspondent John Roderick. Its story began 40 years earlier, when Mr. Roderick became the unlikely owner of an enormous rundown farmhouse, or “minka.”

Working with a young university student named Yoshihiro Takishita, Mr. Roderick had the massive timber house transported from the Japanese Alps to the Tokyo suburb of Kamakura. It defined both their lives: for Mr. Roderick, it was the backdrop for a remarkable career as a journalist covering China in the Mao era. For Mr. Takishita, it inspired a life spent collecting and rebuilding similar houses.

Moved by their story and the idea of a house as a vessel of memory for these two men, the journalist Andrew Blum and I contacted Roderick to inquire about making a documentary. After speaking with him at his retirement condo in Waikiki, it became clear he had a fascinating story and that he wanted to share it with us.


Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

waga yado ya nezumi to naka no yoi hotaru

my house --
mice and fireflies
best of friends
This hokku is from the fourth month (May) in 1813, about six weeks after Issa had begun living in his half of his deceased father's house in his hometown. He had finally reached an agreement with his half brother and mother-in-law in the first month of 1813, and after carpenters had made a few changes to the house, he had moved in, though he continued to visit his students' houses as well. It is an old, thatched farmhouse, so it supports a community of creatures, but Issa seems quite happy with his housemates -- his new family -- though perhaps he's a little lonely. He won't marry for another year, but he's already thinking about it.

Chris Drake