Tarō is one of the traditional names for a first son, and so a nickname for the first month (Sasaki 2002, 45).
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New Year 1a.        extended notes        translations

A yang water dragon, the new year dawns from the old...And is that last night’s dirty faced fellow, in fresh hat and trousers? Now what rich girl’s bridegroom is riding by?

Allow me to present myself, Lazy Tarō Month!

A yang water dragon: See notes on calendar.

Lazy Tarō is the hero of a folk tale: despite his poverty and epic laziness, he manages to win a rich wife and transform himself, a parallel to the old year transforming into the new. Notes in Buson Zenshū point out that the haiku evokes the self-introduction of a character in a farcical kyōgen play. Tarō-kaja is a stock servant character in kyōgen.

I began constructing this website in the year of the rabbit.

NEW YEAR 2: NEW YEAR’S DECORATIONS. This is not an official theme in haiku tradition, although these haiku would probably all fall under the general category of “observances.”
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New Year 2a.    extended notes        translations

This morning’s sun: from the sardine’s head it flashes

Sardine’s heads and holly were hung at the front gate on the last day of the year to drive away demons (the smoked fish smell offended their noses and holly pricked their eyes—see Sakanishi 1935, passim). This haiku is set on the morning of New Year’s Day, and the first day’s first light shines from the ritual that ended the old year, in fine Taoist understanding of how positive yang is generated from the negative void of yin. 

Setsubun, the dark yin end day of the year, is susceptible to demons, and another traditional rite is performed on that day to ward them off. Someone, usually the head of the household, dons a demon mask, and the other members throw soybeans at him.

In one version of the poem, Buson draws a picture of a fish instead of writing out the character.

New Year 2b.    extended notes        translations

Meiwa era, yang water dragon spring

Returning in the morning mist: a god wind stirs the straw twisted rope

Here the season word is kazariwara: sacred Shinto rope—a rope of twisted straw, often hung with lightning bolt-like strips of white paper, used to mark sacred sites: the entrance to a shrine, a sacred tree, etc., especially for festivals like the New Year. The sight of the wind faintly swaying the rope at the gate as one returns home in the clearing mist from one’s first, early morning shrine visit creates a mood of awe. The alliteration of k sounds rhythmically drives the poem (Buson zenshū notes).

New Year 2c.    extended notes        translations

Spring again, they meet together at the gate pine and bamboo

Again in spring, greener than green they come out together pine and bamboo

Refers to ‘gate pines’, New Year’s decorations of pine and bamboo at the front gate. A complex pun: spring is welcomed with rounds of visits and greetings, and the two branches are described as if doing the same. But Buson also plays on the proverb ‘blue is bluer than the indigo it comes from’, a saying to encourage learning (the student surpasses the teacher) by Chinese philosopher Hsün Tsu (Buson zenshū note). There is a special vividness to the hue of the first green things of the year.

New Year 2d.    extended notes        translations

At my own gate: the pines are two on these three dawns.

Season word: ‘three mornings’. New Year’s morning is three dawns, of the day, the month, and the year.


Tachibana no Suemichi, from Goshūishū (Later Gleanings Anthology) #104:

            The Takekuma

            pine has two trunks;

            should a person from the city ask,

            ‘How was it?’,

            I’d reply, ‘I’ve seen it.’ (Arii 2000, 32)

And Matsuo Bashō, from Narrow Road to the Deep North:

            The Takekuma Pine:

            show it to him,

            late blooming cherries

            Kyohaku gave me this hokku as a farewell gift, so I wrote,

            Since the cherries bloomed,

            I’ve longed to see this pine: two trunks

            after three months’ passage (Bashō 2004, 92)

The Takekuna pine of Iwanuma, in Michinoku province, grew back several times. Nōin has a waka about the pine being cut down. But supposedly it always grew back with a divided trunk. The spot where it grew is now uncertain. Basho puns on matsu, ‘pine’ and ‘pine for’. The ‘gate pine’ is paired arrangements of pine and diagonally cut bamboo, one on each side of the gate, to welcome in the new year (see previous note). ‘Doubtless this is Buson on the triple morning seeing in the two pines at his gate the dreamed of sight of Michinoku’s wondrous twin pine, grown from the old root’ (Buson zenshū note).


At my gate

            the longed -for double pines

                        seen on this triple dawn

New Year 2e.    extended notes        translations

In the An-ei Era, year of the yin water snake

A courting stick left by a man of undivided heart the pine at the gate

Gate pine: see notes to 2c, this section.

A man traditionally left a courting stick (the Japanese means ‘brocade wood’) at the gate of a woman he wanted to marry. I have read two different descriptions: a single stick painted many colors, or a bundle of twigs from different trees. In the background of several of Buson’s haiku is the anecdote of Mōotsu, quoted in Essays in Idleness, who said: “when I see white threads I weep, because they can be made yellow or black” (Blyth 1992, 4:1024). Our fall into the world is a fall into many divided wants; the pure white of the thread, or the single green of the pine, is the innocence of undivided desire.

New Year 2f.    extended notes        translations

In the newly trimmed gate pine wind: Fukurokuju

The season word here is again the New Year’s decoration ‘gate pine’, here with its needles freshly trimmed (see notes to 2c, this section). Fukurokuju is one of the seven lucky gods associated with the New Year. He is short of stature and tall of head, and is often depicted in folk art getting his head shaved by the god Daikoku standing on a ladder. He is the god of longevity, which the pine tree also symbolizes, so ‘newly trimmed’ could apply to the god or the tree. The poem depends on the classic pun of matsu as both ‘pine’ and ‘wait for’. It also uses ‘pine’ as a pivot word joining the expressions ‘gate pine’ and ‘pine wind.’


New Year 2g.    extended notes        translations

Catching a sea bream with a grain of rice—spring welcoming pine

To one version the artist added “On Gekkei’s picture of Leech Child.” The Leech Child of legend is Hiruko, who at the age of three grew legs and eventually became Ebisu, one of the seven gods associated with good fortune and the New Year. Ebisu is the god of fishing and good luck and holds a fishing pole and sea bream. He is often paired with Daikokuten, the god of wealth, with his bales or sack of rice.

Catch a sea bream with a grain of rice” is a proverb meaning ‘use small funds to make a huge profit.’ So the small pine branches decorating the gate (see notes to 2c, this section) will bring, through that small effort, the winds of spring. See the longer version of the notes for the complex puns involved in the poem.

New Year 2h.    extended notes        translations

An-ei Era, yin wood year of the sheep, the new year dawns

Hōrai Mountain festival: old age’s spring

Mt. Hōrai, represented in New Year’s decorations by a pile of rice, is a legendary mountain in China inhabited by Taoist hermit-wizards. ‘Mountain festival’: a Shinto festival celebrating the god of a particular mountain. One greets the spring with another year added to one’s age (everyone is considered a year older at New Year’s), so this is a birthday poem of sorts. ‘Mountain’ is a hinge or pivot word joining the two compounds ‘Hōrai Mountain’ and ‘mountain festival.’

NEW YEAR 3: THE SEVEN LUCKY GODS. Images of these seven deities are associated with the new year. They are often depicted sailing together on a treasure boat.
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Fukurokuju, the god of longevity and wisdom. Short with a very high forehead, a staff with a sacred book tied to it (perhaps with everyone’s span of life inside), often accompanied by a crane and/or a turtle and/or a black deer (symbols of longevity–a deer is said to turn black when it reaches a thousand years in age). His tall head is bald and at times phallic (in which case it is often covered with a cloth) and his whiskers are very long. His head is often shown being shaved by Daikoku on a ladder.


Ebisu, the god of fishing and good luck. Holds a fishing pole and sea bream. He is often paired with Daikoku.

Daikoku, the god of wealth, with his bales or sack of rice and magic mallet.

The four others not mentioned here are Hotei, the fat laughing god of health and plenty with his sack; Benten, the only goddess, of beauty, knowledge and music; Bishamon, god of war and punishment, and Jurōjin, almost indistinguishable from Fukurokuju.

New Year 3a.    extended notes        translations

I’ll hold a festival for the Mountain of the Immortals, an old man’s spring

See New Year 2h.

New Year 3b.    extended notes        translations

From the magic hammer all this, the ten thousand things, breed forth.

New Year’s Day: from the lucky mallet, newly unsealed, the gems of spring

The haiku evokes the new tea ceremony in winter, when the jars of new tea are first unsealed. The lucky mallet is an attribute of Daitoku; treasure magically comes from its hollow head. Spring is the first treasure of the new year to come from the mallet (Buson zenshu note).

New Year 3c.    extended notes        translations

Fresh shaved and waiting for the wind to blow through the gate pine Fukurokuju

See New Year 2f.

New Year 3d.    extended notes        translations

As the year begins: Fukurokuju appears flowers in the grass

Fukurokuju’s name evokes fukujusō (New Year anemone, see New Year section 5). The presence of the flower and the god are the same.

                    New Year 3e.    extended notes        translations

Crane, tortoise, and a grain of rice to catch a sea bream; spring awaiting pine

see New Year 2g.

NEW YEAR 4: FIRST THINGS. The first instance of many actions of the New Year is supposed to be significant—first dream, first writing, first drawing of water.
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New Year 4a.    extended notes        translations

The year’s first drawn water: a thousand years comes through the bamboo pipe...

The first water should be drawn at the beginning of the day, in the hour of the tiger (about 4-6 a.m.) (Sasaki 2002, 5). It is drawn by a man, either the man of the house or a man born under the animal of the coming year, the first male activity. Women should stay away from the well. The bucket is often decorated with auspicious things, shinto rope and lightning paper, etc. The water is supposed to give those who drink it health, well being and youthfulness. One might invite guests to drink tea from the water, or use it to make zōni (New Year’s soup). (Buson zenshū notes + Greve 2005.

New Year 4b.    extended notes        translations

Spring of the year of the boar, younger brother of greenwood, again to green childhood you return. The wind blowing in the thousand-year pines conveys your long life, the enduring auspiciousness of your dwelling. Yamato by its alphabet is the honorable instrument conveying to Mr. Karai congratulations on his reaching the end of sixty years. From the letter i we borrow the meaning, i, ino, inoshishi, inoji, boar for the boar’s child.

In Japanese style, a child’s letter A: first writing of the year

Yamato: an old name for Japan

The iroha is a poem that teaches children the Japanese syllabic alphabet, as children learn the alphabet song in English. Mr. Karai is beginning his writing with the syllable i, as a child does learning the iroha, because he is celebrating the beginning of his 61st year. Having gone through the complete sixty year cycle of the zodiac (see note on dates), he is traditionally supposed to be returning to childhood and starting over. This haiku is a prayer for his health and longevity. There is also a pun on i no ji, ino, inoshishi, the boar, the animal belonging to this year and the sign under which Karai was born.

The Iroha (Ryuichi Abe’s translation):

       Although its scent still lingers on

            the form of a flower has scattered away

       For whom will the glory

            of this world remain unchanged?

        Arriving today at the yonder side

            of the deep mountains of evanescent existence

        We shall never allow ourselves to drift away

            intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams.

In a letter addressed to Kitō, Buson includes this haiku and adds that jokes and witticisms are appropriate for season’s greetings, so one should employ such tricks whenever skill and opportunity allow (Buson zenshū note). Karai may be the Edo poet Karai Hachiemon, pen name Senryū, who gave his name to the comic haiku form.

New Year 4c.    extended notes        translations

Sixth year of the era of Eternal Peace, year of the yin fire rooster

Just as Japanese musicians play at the Gion Festival without following the rhythm of classical compositions, better to shun the tenderness and elegant simplicity of the Bashō School on the occasion of a spring entertainment, in order to imitate the haiku style of the day’s youthful poets of the eastern provinces.

New Year dawning triumph on the face of the haiku master

This was the first verse of a kasen called “His New Year’s Verse.” Written at a lively New Year’s gathering, it is unusually light and parodic, and Buson seems self-conscious about this in his half-apologetic opening note (Ueda 1998, 99). The Gion Festival at Yasaka Shrine lasts for a week, beginning on the 7th day of the sixth month, in Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. Folk music is more fitting for such an occasion than the stately measures of court compositions. The ‘poets of the eastern provinces’ refers to followers of Hayano Hajin, by then deceased, Buson’s haiku teacher in Edo (Buson zenshū note).

New Year 4d.    extended notes        translations

From out of the dark of the year’s last night

I too have deciphered the writing on the feather first crow

The season word is ‘first crow’. An alternate heading is ‘Old Year Dawns’. Buson included the haiku in a letter to Korekoma, where he says: ‘As for this, in the old times from the land of China they sent a message on a crow’s feather to measure Japan’s wisdom, but as the days passed no one could decipher it. However, a certain O Shinni was told, a wise man, and he steamed the feather in a basket over rice, then pressed it to paper, which took the imprint of the characters, as it says in accounts of ancient history’.

The crow is therefore seen in terms of the Taoist balance of yin and yang. Yin is dark, night, endings, winter; yan is light, day, beginnings, spring; the crow is at the edge between the two. The story of the crow’s feather, presented in the Nihon shoki, is set in the court of the Emperor Tenno. The crow’s feather was actually from Kōrai (an ancient kingdom on the Korean Peninsula), and Ō Shinni had come from there. The ink of the message was invisible on the black feather, but the steam liquified it and O Shinni was able to transfer it to the paper. The haiku might also evoke the mythic Eight-Span Crow, who appeared to guide the Emperor Jimmu.

New Year 4e.    extended notes        translations

Poem for the first day of the first month: The last light of the old year shines in the lamps of Mt. Ibuki; the sound of the Kamo River flowing foretells that spring is nearly here

The striking of the shuttlecock is the year’s first bird song before the pillars of Utsu no Miya

An early poem, using his teacher’s suggestion that he write a New Year’s haiku using the shrine of Utsu no Miya and the season word hatsune, ‘first song’. Buson jokingly substitutes for the bird’s song the sound of the shuttlecock being struck. Hanetsuki, a type of net-less badminton played with special ornate paddles, is a traditional New Year’s game.

New Year 4f.    extended notes        translations

Setting off from a lone house this year’s lucky direction may take me all the way to China

Astrology dictated that certain directions were lucky or unlucky at certain times. In The Tale of Genji, characters are often stranded, unable to travel in the direction they need to go because the day has made it inauspicious (although they seem to be somewhat selective about when they worry about this). As the new year begins, one tries to take the auspicious direction to make the important first shrine visit, but from an isolated house, in a sparsely inhabited area, a given direction may not reach a shrine any time soon (note, Buson zenshū).

New Year 4g.    extended notes        translations

Especially it shrouds the foreigner’s mansion first mist

Refers to the Chinese quarter in Nagasaki. The Edo Period was one of deliberate, almost complete isolation from the rest of the world. Few foreigners were allowed to visit or reside in Japan, and those who were followed exacting restrictions. Only a few people (including prostitutes) would have been allowed to enter the Chinese quarter, certainly not the speaker, for whom the scene therefore represents exotic, mysterious possibilities.

NEW YEAR 5: FUKUJUSŌ, NEW YEAR ANEMONE. This is Adonis amurensis, also called ‘pheasant’s eye.’ The god Fukurokuju’s name, ‘Happiness- wealth-longevity,” elides with fukujusō, ‘happiness longevity grass,’ a flower of the anemone family associated with the new year because it blooms so early. Often cultivated in small pots, the flowers range from cream to orange, and look like light itself.

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New Year 5a.    extended notes        translations

Celebrating our three companions’ fortieth birthdays gives us three ways to read the poem’s three beginnings

Year, month, day: the three perfumes of the New Year anemone

People considered themselves a year older when the year changed, rather than celebrating the day of their birth, and forty years was the official beginning of old age. Here three friends have reached this auspicious mark together. Likewise, New Year’s morning marks three beginnings, of the day, month and year.

New Year 5b.     extended notes        translations           

On the year’s first day: happiness-wealth-long life flowering in the grass

See New Year 3d.

New Year 5c.    extended notes        translations

Morning sun shafts in the bow maker’s shop: pheasant’s eye flowers

Due to the use of nibe (a glue made of boiled fish bladders and deer skin), the archery bow shop needs to be in a sunny place [for the glue to dry?]. The flowers are set in the alcove, and the sun enters, purifying the shop, and touching the flowers in a composition of auspicious, harmonious beauty (Buson zenshū note).

NEW YEAR 6: FIRST MIST. The mist is a season word for spring, a sign that the new year and the new season truly are beginning together.

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New Year 6a.      extended notes        translations

Heaviest over the foreign quarter the year’s first mist

See New Year 4g.

New Year 6b.    extended notes        translations

First day of the year, then the next mist gathers in the nooks and corners of Kyoto

Although spring begins officially on New Year’s Day, the weather can remain wintery for some time, so it is reassuring to see the first mists of spring appear with the new year.

New Year 6c.    extended notes        translations

Meiwa era, yang water dragon spring

Returning home in the morning mist: a sacred wind sways the straw rope

See New Year 2b.

   NEW YEAR 7: Willow.
The willow is a spring kigo, but both of these haiku employ it to emphasize the beginning of spring with the new year.

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New Year 7a.   
extended notes        translations

    At the Forbidden Palace, spring colors in the pale blue dawn

    The blue-green willow: our sovereign lord’s tree? grass?

    R.H. Blyth:


This appears simple and devoid of any poetical meaning, but some study of it will bring out unsuspected values. It has a postscript...which is the second line of an eight-line poem by Kashi [Chia Chih], 718-772. The poem is entitled “Going Early to the Taimei Palace, and Presenting It to Colleagues of Both Offices.” The first four lines are

                        In the dawn, while the silver tapers are yet alight, the road in the capital is long;

                        In the Palace, the spring scenery of early morning is bright and clear.

        A thousand drooping branches of the willows hang over the green inscriptions on the wall;

                        A hundred voices of nightingales are heard around the Kenshō Palace.


Buson was familiar with the poem from the popular Edo period collection of Tang era poetry, the Tōshisen. Another source of allusion is found in the Japanese historical annals of the Taiheiki


[I]n the reign of the Emperor Tenchi, there was a man named Fujiwara Chikata, who employed four kinds of demons...Because of these creatures, ordinary people being unable to withstand them, in the provinces of Iga and Isa, there was no one who obeyed the Imperial Rule. A man named Ki no Tomotake receiving an Imperial order, went to these provinces, and composing a waka, sent it among the demons:

                                    Even trees and grasses

                                                Are the kingdom of Our Lord;

                                    Where can there be dwellings

                                                For demons?

            The four kinds of demons, reading this verse...dispersed in every direction, and disappeared,

            losing their power everywhere, at last overcome by Tomotake (1992, 1:121-122).

The haiku is therefore a bit of a joke, setting out to harmonize allusions from classical sources and ending in confusion. New Year’s haiku often have the lightness of occasional verse.

New Year 7b.    extended notes        translations

Unmarred by even one dead branch—willow tree...

Buson wrote this haiku for a friend’s New Year’s album (Ueda 1998, 50). The lack of withered branches on the tree is an auspicious sign for the new year.

NEW YEAR 8: THE SEVENTH DAY. Several customs converge on this day. In the Chinese tradition, each day of the first week of the year was named after an animal, sacred to that day and not to be harmed on it. On the seventh day, “Human Being Day,” no criminal could be executed.


This day is also the “Gathering of the Seven Young Herbs”, some variant of the following:

        water dropwort or parsley (seri)

shepherd’s purse, water chestnut, caltrop (nazuna)

cudweed or cottonweed (gogyō)

chickweed (hakobera)

nipplewort or henbit (hotokenoza)

turnip (suzuna)

radish (suzushiro)

The young greens are chopped up in a rice porridge to ensure health for the following year (now the plants are sold in supermarkets, wrapped in plastic).

And finally, it is also the day for gathering pine seedlings to ensure longevity, since pine trees are said to live a thousand years.

Confusingly, the pine seedlings and herbs were traditionally gathered on the year’s first day of the rat, which is the rat of the regular zodiac, not the seven animals celebrated in the first seven days.

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New Year 8a.    extended notes        translations

On the seventh day of the new year

Setting out to gather the seven herbs: hakama tied in a half knot

A hakama is pleated trouser skirts, worn over kimono by either men or women, tied at the waist. Early in the morning, the ‘bean scatterer’ (see notes, New Year 2a) dons old ceremonial garb to pick the greens. Those garments are usually worn according to strict custom, but here the cord is tied with artless simplicity (Buson zenshū note).

New Year 8b.    extended notes        translations


Old soldier daikon how he despises the young herbs

Daikon greens are one of the seven young herbs to be gathered on Jinjitsu, Human Being Day. Buson connects two traditions about this day by evoking a story in which daikon were human beings.

In Tsurezuregusa, Kenkō describes an official who ate two daikon every day to preserve his health. One day his office was attacked, but two mysterious soldiers appeared and fought off the enemy. When he asked who they were, they told him they were the two daikon he had eaten daily, rewarding him for his faith in them.

New Year 8c.    extended notes        translations

A happy thing—the seven herbs, their roots showing white

According to the gogyō or theory of five elements, spring is aligned with blue/green and wood, opposite autumn, white, and metal. The green young plants showing white roots is a balance of opposites, an auspicious thing.

New Year 8d.    extended notes        translations

Celebrating hopes for his long life on Mr. Karai’s sixtieth birthday

This boar’s year on the first day of the rat seedlings of the millennial pine

Buson overlays the festival for gathering pine seedlings with the congratulatory celebrations for Karai-shi, now beginning his 61st year and beginning the zodiac cycle again, a rebirth into a new youth, traditionally accompanied by wishes for a long life. See New Year 4b, which is written for the same occasion.

NEW YEAR 9: FIRST DRAWING OF THE BOW. This is an archery ritual at the beginning of the year. In the Edo Shogonate, it was held on the 11th day of the first month.

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New Year 9a.    extended notes        translations

The old year dawns into the new yang water dragon year. Not yet having seen Yoshino’s blossoms, therefore all the more I resolve this spring, without fail, to set eyes on them for myself—

The answering clouds take on the faint look of cherry blossoms: the year’s first arrow

The Yoshino Hills are west of Kyoto, famous for their abundance of cherry trees. Buson’s heading mimics the self-introduction of a noh character, explaining the journey that will set the action of the play into motion. Concentrating on his desire as he releases the arrow, he sees in the distant clouds the fleeting image of blossoms. The faintness of the manifestation reflects some uncertainty about the intention’s strength. In fact Buson did not manage to go to Yoshino to see the cherry blossoms until near the end of his life, and when he got there, a stormy wind was in the process of demolishing them.

SPRING 1: PARSLEY. Japanese parsley is also called dropwort or Chinese celery (Oenanthe javanica). On the seventh day of the first month, it is one of the seven herbs that are gathered in the Festival of the Seven Herbs. But while those references describe hunting with difficulty for the earliest shoots, the spring parsley is more abundant.

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Spring 1a.    extended notes        translations

Today along an old road happening on some root parsley, leaving it behind...

Root parsley’ is another term for ‘parsley.’

Buson zenshū suggests the possibility that this haiku was written at a gathering where the chosen topic was Gyoki, the memorial ceremony for the Buddhist saint Honen. On the same occasion, Buson wrote the haiku

            Women of Naniwa:

                        on pilgrimage to the capital

                                    complaining of the cold

In that case, the scene in Buson’s mind might have been of a religious pilgrim undistracted by whatever happened to appear by the road.

Spring 1b.   
extended notes        translations

In “the Village of the Meadow Parsley” amid the parsley a blue-green willow

The season word here is actually ‘willow’, for late spring. “Parsley Meadow” is a pillow word for the western part of Ōhara, north of Kyoto, the neighborhood of Jakko-in nunnery. The haiku is meant to contrast with the bleakness of Saigyō’s

          On the snowy path

          of Ohara’s Parsley Meadow

as dawn breaks:

          not a single person

          has passed by (Buson zenshū note)

Spring 1c.    extended notes        translations

All the path there is—it trails off into the parsley

Buson zenshū note: the disappearing path evokes the memory of youth, and the scent of one’s hometown.

Spring 1d.    extended notes        translations

Old temple: a thrown-away clay pot amid the parsley

The broken pieces of a simple clay pot are thrown away behind an old temple. The picture suggests human bones, the broken receptacle of the human body discarded, in contrast to the lush green life of the vegetation (Buson zenshū note).

SPRING 2: BURNING THE FIELDS. This agricultural practice, done in early spring, killed harmful vermin and caused new grass to sprount (Buson zenshū note #440).

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Spring 2a.    extended notes        translations

A field of bracken: come, let’s set ablaze these withered azaleas

Although it appears at first to be ‘bracken’, ‘burning the fields’ is the implied season word. People wander out in spring to hunt for tender wild bracken shoots to eat. Like grass, bracken is one of the first things to grow once the dead growth has been burned away. Once the dead azalea bushes are cleared, next year’s bracken harvest will be plentiful (Buson zenshū note).

Spring 2b.   
extended notes        translations

Reading the Ten Foot Square Hut

Blazing things from the beggar’s fire to the burning fields...

The Ten Foot Square Hut is a personal account written by Kamo no Chōmei in 1212. The many disasters of that period (famine, fires, earthquake) teach him to accept the impermanence of things, and he moves eventually into his small hermit’s shack. In the book he describes a fire started in a dancer’s or beggar’s hut, spreading like the unfolding of a fan to engulf a third of the capital. But here the fires are benign (Buson zenshū note).

Spring 2c.      extended notes        translations

The field and Jizō’s anise branches burning together...

Jizō is a Bodhisattva, the guardian of children. His calm, smiling statue was a frequent sight along the road. Branches of the evergreen anise tree are offered to the Buddha, and therefore partake of the sacred. But everything is one thing, and the sacred and the mundane burn just alike. Similar in spirit to

            A winter night:

                        let’s start with the old Buddha

                 for firewood (Buson zenshū #2161)

Spring 2d.    extended notes        translations

As the eastern sky lightens, small rain begins to fall on the burned field...

The sky brightens and the colors (black, new green) intensify simultaneously.

Spring 2e.    extended notes        translations

Daybreak and rain: the blackened tips of a field of silvergrass...

Similar to the previous poem except for the specific type of plant being burned back. ‘Eulalia’ or ‘silvergrass’ is often translated as ‘pampas grass’ for its visual resemblance, although the two plants are not closely related.

SPRING 3: MUGWORT, wormwod, sagebrush, Artemisia vulgaris, a general spring kigo.

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Spring 3a.    extended notes        translations

Just out the temple’s back gate, encountering new sprouted sage

An allusion to T’ang poet Chang Chi (776-829) and his poem “Meeting Chia Tao” from Poems in Three Hands: ‘At the priest’s temple quarters, encountering butterbur flowers’ (Buson zenshu)

A mid-spring kigo.
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Spring 4a.    extended notes        translations

As they work, they talk of things across the hedge—tree grafting...

The hedge could be a fence or a wall as well.

Spring 4b.    extended notes        translations

Beside the field of yellow flowers the tree grafter has left his pipe behind...

Buson zenshū note: the peaceful scene evoked, of the grafter smoking while looking at the flowers, contrasts with the toil of the season that he is probably now engaged in.

SPRING 5: BRACKEN. Pteridium aquilinum var. latiusculum, ‘bracken, fern, adder-spit,’ a late spring season word.
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Spring 5a.    extended notes        translations

How good the bracken field once the withered azaleas are burned away

See Spring 2a.

Spring 5b.    extended notes        translations

Bracken fronds left broken and wilting in the slow dusk

Dusk comes slowly’ is also a spring kigo. The returning traveler picked ferns along the way to carry home, but they tightened and wilted as the day darkened (Buson zenshū note).

SPRING 6: PINE FLOWERS, late spring, actually referring to the pine tree’s pollen.
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Spring 6a.    extended notes        translations

Joss stick’s ash; a pine tree sheds its pollen

Buson wrote this haiku as part of a collection for the first year memorial after the death of poet Sōoku. The pollen evokes the spilling ash of the stick of incense offered to Sōoku’s grave.

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Spring 7a.    extended notes        translations

Through spring grass the path divides in three: one is a shortcut inviting me home

Not actually a haiku, but stanza 10 of Buson’s long Japanese/Chinese poem, “Spring Wind on the Riverbank of Kema”. The lines evoke Chinese literature, with its traditional association of spring grass and nostalgia, homesickness.

Spring 7b.    extended notes        translations

Coming home—how many paths through the spring grass!

Alludes to several sources, one from the Songs of the South:

            A prince went wandering

            And did not return.

            In spring the grass grows

            Lush and green (probably Liu An, 179-122 BCE, Hawkes 1985, 244)

Another is Wang Wei (700-761):

            Among the mountains we bid each other farewell;

            The sun is setting as I close my bramble gate.

            Spring grass every year is green;

            But will the young prince ever return? (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000-2013)

Wandering and longing for the past are fitting material for poetry. Wandering with companions, traveling on the spring plain, longing for the old days until the sad dusk, looking for a return path, but how many lines diverge far into the spring grass and disappear? Thoughts of keen nostalgia accumulate for the person mourning the loss of his home...(Buson zenshū note)

This quote from Li Yu (937-978 CE) also seems relevant:

            This pain of separation is like the spring grass—

            The farther away I journey, the ranker it grows. (Watson 1984, 362)

 Ueda includes the prefatory prose of the haibun:


We had a verse-writing party at Rinshō Temple in Cape Wada. Of the topics given out at the party, mine happened to be “spring grass.” That kindled an irresistible emotion within me and led me into a series of pensive reflections. What remote land does the prince continue to roam? For whom does he think spring returns to his native village? One should not emulate his roaming habit. Nor should one learn from his hardened heart...


The haiga was a gift from Buson to [Imada] Tairo. Through the haibun, therefore, Buson is speaking to Tairo and comparing him to a romantic hero expelled from his homeland and leading a life of exile. The prince referred to is a stock character who appeared in Chinese poetry starting with Ch’u Yuan in Elegies of Ch’u. Noble in character as well as in birth, he has to wander far from his homeland for reasons beyond his control. Thoughts of his old home are always tormenting him, yet there is no way for him to return there. In Buson’s mind, Tairo is such a prince (1998, 121).

Spring 7c.    extended notes        translations

In new sprouted grass the willow tree its roots forgotten

The season word here is really ‘willow’, for late spring. The word for ‘root’ also evokes ‘nature, disposition, spirit, mind, natural skills.’ As young grass sprouts at the roots of the willow, the willow’s spirit forgets itself and rises up, even though its early buds still shake in the cold wind (Buson zenshū note).


SPRING 8: KERRIA, yamabuki, Kerria japonica, ‘breath of the mountain,’ a wild yellow thornless rose, often associated with waterside banks, a season word of late spring.
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Spring 8a.    extended notes        translations

                    Kakuya Tachihaki no Osa was an unparalleled aesthete. While remembering how he and the monk of Kosobe pursued elegance, upon their first
                    meeting, by drawing their treasures from their
brocade pouches, and as I am spurred on ceaselessly by the beauty of spring:

Mountain roses: on the waters of the Ide are flowing shavings from the carpenter’s plane

Ide, a village in the hills of Yamashiro, is a poetic toponym associated with yamabuki, fresh water, and song frogs” in waka (Cranston 2006, 451).

Kamens traces the allusions in this haiku, beginning with this anecdote of the first meeting of Kakuya no Osa Tachihaki Toshinobu and Nōin, the monk of Kosobe, in Fukuro zōshi:


Toshinobu, the head of the crown prince’s archers, was a great connoisseur. When he met Nōin for the first time, both men were deeply impressed by one another. “I have something I would like to show you,” Nōin said, “to commemorate your gracious visit,” and he withdrew from within his robes a brocaded pouch. Inside it was a single piece of wood shaving. Showing this to Toshinobu, Nōin said, “This is my greatest treasure. It is a shaving made at the time of the construction of the Nagara bridge.” Toshinobu was thrilled, and then he also took an object wrapped in paper from within the folds of his own robe. He unwrapped it and showed that inside lay the body of a dried frog. “This is a frog from Ide,” he explained. Both men were extremely pleased. Then each returned his treasure to its place of safe-keeping, and the two parted company. People of the present would no doubt call them foolish.

In his manuscript New Florilogem, Buson dismisses this habit of collecting objects connected to the history of poetry, saying “If someone of the present day were to say that he owns one of the pillars from the Nagara Bridge, or the preserved body of a frog from Ide, I’m sure that most people would think that person an utter fool, and would refuse to believe his claim...” However:


Buson, it is clear, had read his Fukuro zōshi, and remembers, in particular, the Nōin and Toshinobu episode. He remembered it a few years later, as well, and, in letters to disciples written in the winter of 1782 and again in the following autumn, he wrote an abridged version of their story as a kotobagaki for one of his own hokku:


Kakuya no Osa Tashihaki Toshinobu was a sukimono without equal. Remembering how, at his first encounter with the Kosobe monk [Nōin], the two men felt the need to show one another their treasures, and how Nōin proved his elegant connoisseurship by displaying the contents of a brocade bag—and, deeply stirred by the sights of spring, I wrote— [the hokku]...


                        Kerria roses!

                        And, flowing down Ide’s stream, wood shavings.


        Furthermore, in one of these letters, Buson adds these comments on his composition:


I wrote the poem you see here with this amusing old story../.in mind. But on the surface it will appear that I have simply described a pleasing scene, with gentle spring sunlight and a suggestion that the wood shavings are drifting down from some place upstream on the Ide River, where peasants are building a cottage. It is frequently the case that the reading of a Chinese poem can be explained in two ways; the same holds true for haikai (Kamens 1997, 160-165).

SPRING 9: SWEETFISH. Ayu, a kind of freshwater trout, is often translated as ‘sweetfish.’ They are a kigo for late spring, when the young fish (waka aya, about two inches long) swim up mountain streams. They are prized for their delicate flavor (Buson zenshū note)
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Spring 9a.    extended notes        translations

A young sweetfish swim upstream, a blade of bamboo grass from the valley floating by

The young trout are about the same size and shape as a leaf of bamboo grass, but traveling in the opposite direction, so that the leaf will mark the force of the current that they swim against. The motion of the leaf reveals the energy and power of the fish (Buson zenshū).

Spring 9b.    extended notes        translations

Scooping up sweetfish all day, all day the crags alive with wings

Fishermen catch the sweetfish with fan nets as the fish swim up stream. As they stand on the crags brandishing the nets, they look like birds unfurling their wings–or perhaps the haiku doesn’t distinguish between the birds and the fishermen.

SPRING 10: SPRING DEEPENS. A late season kigo.
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Spring 10a.    extended notes        translations

Where iris leaves rise up is that a pond? spring grown five feet deep

Iris flowers are a summer season word, but this haiku refers to the leaves; the flowers have not yet appeared. “Five feet”: one of several allusions Buson makes to Bashō’s haiku, from Shikō’s haiku treatise The Pine Forest of Kuzu:

            A cuckoo

sings: atop five feet

of iris leaf (Buson zenshū note)

SPRING 11: PEAR BLOSSOMS, a late spring kigo. Some important sources for this image in Japanese poetry are the Chinese poem “Song of Unending Sorrow” and Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book.
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The poet Po Chü-i wrote his famous “Song of Unending Sorrow” about the relationship between T’ang Emperor Hsuan Tsung and his notorious concubine, Yang Kuei-fei. His favoring of her unimportant family led to a rebellion, during which she was forced to hang herself, and the T’ang dynasty fell soon after. But the poem allows the emperor a final meeting with her on a magic island:

            Her face, delicate as jade, is desolate beneath the heavy tears,

            Like a spray of pear blossom in spring, veiled in drops of rain.


 This poem was read in Japan with great appreciation. In the Pillow Book, Sei Shōnagon says


The pear blossom can be compared to the face of a plain woman; for its coloring lacks all charm. Or so, at least, I used to think. Knowing that the Chinese admired the pear blossom greatly and praise it in their poems, I wondered what they could see in it and made a point of examining the flower. Then I was surprised to find that its petals were prettily edged with a pink tinge, so faint that I could not be sure whether it was there or not. It was to the pear blossoms, I recalled, that the poet likened the face of Yang Kuei-fei when she came forth in tears to meet the emperor’s messenger—‘a spray of pear blossom in spring, covered with drops of rain’—and I realized that this was no idle figure of speech and that it really was a magnificent flower” (1979, 63).

Translator Ivan Morris points out in his notes that Yang Kuei-fei’s beauty was famously compared to jade, and only her paleness here to the pear flowers, thus bringing into question Sei Shonagon’s real knowledge of Chinese literature (ibid., 291). It may be that Sei Shonagon cemented the comparison in Japan, however. In the 13th century song “Blossoms,” a catalog of blossoms appearing in poems, “The countenance of Yang Kuei-fei” is “a branch of blossoms wrapped in rain” (Brazell 1980, 254).

Spring 11a.    extended notes        translations

The whole long day whitely blooming pear blossoms

The season word is ‘long day,’ a general spring kigo.

Spring 11b.    extended notes        translations

Someone lingers under the trees of the pear garden, the hazy moon

The haiku suggests a scene from a play. T’ang Emperor Ming Huang started an acting school in his pear orchard, a seminal moment in the history of Chinese opera. Later Emperor Hsuan-tsung decreed the founding of the first royal academy of performance, called “the Pear Garden.” Actors became known as “Children of the Pear Garden”.

Hazy moon’ is a kigo also, the full moon in spring.

Spring 11c.    extended notes        translations

Under the blossoming pear there is a woman reading a letter by moonlight

The haiku makes a harmonious picture because the blossoms, the letter, and the moonlight are all white. The letter must be a love letter for the woman to have been driven out of doors to read it (Blyth 1992, 2:592; 3:765). Again, pear blossoms suggest a figure in Chinese opera or drama, particularly Yang Kuei Fei (see previous note).

Spring 11d.    extended notes        translations

A cloud just beginning to form on Mt. Tortoise Shell: pear blossoms

Mt. Tortoise Shell’ is Kaigane, a poetic epithet for a mountain in Yamanashi Prefecture (Yamanashi appropriately means ‘mountain pear’). The region is known for its pear production, and the flowering trees would be plentiful.

SUMMER 1: LILY, LILY FLOWER. Covers several species, a late summer kigo, but the first of these haiku especially suggest early summer.
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Summer 1a.    extended notes        translations

Bending with dew toward the red ink stone—lily flower

Chinese tradition aligns the four seasons with colors, directions, animals, elements, and other categories.







Autumn:                                            Heaven:                                             Spring:

metal                                                   air                                                       wood

white                                                   yellow or gold                                    green/blue

tiger                                                    associated with emperor                     dragon

west                                                    center                                                 east






The lily is bending toward red, which is the color of summer. Red refers to the color of ink used in the ink stone, not the ink stone itself. The dew on the flower will spill onto the ink stone and become ink.

In the dyeing of the white dew there is another iteration of an idea Buson returned to many times. White in Buson’s haiku often signifies whole hearted being, undivided by contradictory desires, and color therefore represents a kind of fall from innocence (see also notes to New Year 2e).

See also Buson zenshū #613:

            Dew on the chrysanthemum:

the ink stone receives

its life...

Summer 1b.    extended notes        translations

For a moment, the early lily kept alive in the monk’s cell at the valley temple

Could refer to a monk’s cell, room, or house.

SUMMER 2: POPPY. Papaver somniferum, usually white or red, a season word of early summer.
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Summer 2a.    extended notes        translations

A poppy blooming—would the woven fence were not there...

Alludes to Tsurezuregusa:


About the tenth month I had the occasion to visit a village beyond the place called Kurusono. I made my way far down a moss-covered path until I reached a lonely looking hut. Not a sound could be heard, except for the dripping of a water pipe buried in fallen leaves. Sprays of chrysanthemum and red maple leaves had been carelessly arranged on the holy water shelf. Evidently somebody was living here. Moved, I was thinking, “One can live even in such a place,” when I noticed in the garden beyond a great tangerine tree, its branches bent with fruit, that had been enclosed by a forbidding fence. Rather disillusioned, I thought now, “If only the tree had not been there!” (Kenkō 1998, 11)

Buson zenshū: poppies fall easily, so the master has protected them with this fence. If not, the speaker could pluck them at his leisure, free from care. Or, both the owner and the person wanting to pick them could have a more free, careless attitude.

I also thought the fence was a disappointment because it was an unfitting foil for the poppies. In any case, it seems a more straightforward regret then Kenkō’s, which I don’t quite understand. Does the place seem less beautifully solitary and melancholy because of the tree? Is the tree the problem because it created the need for the fence? Buson referred to the same passage from Kenkō in Buson zenshū #1261:

            Hunting bamboo shoots:

                        I resent the tree full of tangerines

                                    from outside the fence

Summer 2b.    extended notes        translations

For them also the monk strikes the vesper bell: poppy flowers

They enter each other: temple bell at evening, poppy flowers

11th century poet Nōin wrote the waka “Visiting a mountain temple on a spring evening, when the evening bell tolls, the blossoms fall”, Shinkokinshū #116 (Klein 1991, 318). Here the bell marks time as the poppy, rather than the cherry, sheds its petals. The characters of iriai, ‘sunset bell,’ can mean ‘enter’ and ‘each other,’ suggesting the alternative translation.

Summer 2c.    extended notes        translations

Leaving Mount Shumi...                                 poppy flower

The middle line is left blank, an unprecedented break with form in Buson. Shumi is the high mountain at the center of existence, according to Buddhism, here compared to the tiny speck of the poppy.

SUMMER 3: MANDARIN ORANGE FLOWER, Citrus nobilis, a season word of the 4th month (early summer). It was also the surname of an important noble family in the Heian period, and so has a certain atmosphere of a lost aristocratic past.
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Summer 3a.    extended notes        translations

Scent of orange blossom: long ago, a high ranking general was lord of this manor

Yakata means ‘mansion’ or ‘hall’, but in the Muromachi period, it was also a title of rank on a high level military commander, and could have referred to a person rather than a building. Both this haiku and the next rely on the ability of scent to evoke the past.

Summer 3b.    extended notes        translations

Orange blossoms’ perfume: in the dawn twilight, a ruined mansion

Nostalgia for the distant past, perhaps evoking Ueda Akinari’s ghost stories, like “A Serpent’s Lust,” in which a young man spends the night seduced by a rich beautiful widow in her mansion, only to find out that the house is a burned ruin and the woman is a demon snake in disguise.

SUMMER 4: FLOWERING THORN, WILD ROSE. Rosa multiflora, early summer. In Buson, closely associated with nostalgia for childhood.
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Summer 4a.    extended notes        translations

After the breath-of-the-mountain, after the rabbit flower: briar rose

Blyth sees the haiku as a succession of colors—yellow kerria (see Spring section 8), then white rabbit flower, then red rose (1992, 3:850 ). Buson zenshū says the pale wild rose is tinged with pink, and it is as if a succession of characters appeared on the scene of a play.

Summer 4b.    extended notes        translations

Lost in sad thought while climbing the hill: wild roses

In the embrace of melancholy while climbing a nearby hill, seeing the white flowering briars blooming thickly here and there, and feeling the melancholy deepen all the more for the contrast with Tao Yüan-ming (see notes to next haiku). Keene also says that the haiku is heavily indebted to Li Po for its elements (1976, 347). In either case, a Chinese atmosphere.

Summer 4c.    extended notes        translations

Climbing that eastern slope:

Briar roses blooming on the path just as they did in the village of my childhood

This color, this scent, is just as it was running around the paths and roads of one’s very young days. The white color and purity of the perfume awaken sweet, beautiful memories of childhood. ‘That eastern slope’ refers to the closing of Tao Yüan-ming’s “The Return”; however, he is describing the actual return to his home, while Buson returns home only in memory.

            And climbing the mountains of the east

            To the accompaniment of a liquid stream,

            Chanting a few songs,

            Till the time comes when I shall be summoned away,

            Having accomplished my destiny, with no cares in the world (Payne 1960, 145).

Summer 4d.    extended notes        translations

As the path dies out the scent of flowering thorn closes in...

Buson zenshū note: In Buson’s conception, the path to his birthplace is continually disappearing, unfollowable.

SUMMER 5: GARDENIA, also called ‘cape jasmine.’ A midsummer kigo. The characters mean ‘mouthless’.
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Summer 5a.    extended notes        translations

The way cape jasmine blooms in hiding, a stranger to the sun

Gardenia announces its presence by its beautiful smell, stronger at evening, but the eye has a more difficult time locating the small hidden flowers.

A midsummer kigo. ‘Citron’ is yuzu, an Asian citrus plant that produces bitter aromatic fruit used as a flavoring in cooking. The flowers are small, white, and fragrant.
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Summer 6a.    extended notes        translations

The scent of citron flowers: how mysterious the manor’s corner shrine

Estates often have shrines to ancestors and family gods in their northwest corner. Perhaps the citron tree was planted to draw the heart to this quiet place (Buson zenshū note).

Summer 6b.    extended notes        translations

Scent of citron flowers: a fine sake is hidden behind these walls

The place within is famous for superior sake brewing, and the mingled scents of citron flower and good sake float over the wall (Buson zenshū note).

SUMMER 7: PERSIMMON FLOWERS. Midsummer. The new leaves of the persimmon tree are a kigo for early summer, the small pale yellow flowers for mid summer, and the green fruit for late summer. In autumn, the bright orange fruits are a much more flamboyant marker, remaining on the bare branches after the leaves have fallen.
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Summer 7a.    extended notes        translations

It has become “The Village of Falling Sour Persimmon Flowers

The Village of Falling Flowers” is the title of chapter 11 of The Tale of Genji. Genji is visiting the Reikeiden Consort and talking over the past when they hear a cuckoo. Genji composes the waka “Many fond yearnings for an orange tree’s sweet scent draw the cuckoo on/ to come to find the village where such fragrant flowers fall.” He in turn is alluding to the Kokinshū, #139: “The perfume of orange blossoms awaiting the fifth month recalls the sleeves of someone long ago” and the Man’yōshū, #1477: “The cuckoo in the village where the orange blossoms fall sings and sings on many and many a day” (Murasaki 2003, 224 and 224n). The chapter is full of melancholy nostalgia, tinged by the consort’s isolation, and here the modest, sober persimmon flowers evoke that mood of being forgotten by the world (Buson zenshū note).

Summer 7b.    extended notes        translations

Insect eaten falling persimmon flowers

This fall’s persimmon crop will be poor—a different kind of disappointment from falling cherry blossoms, which are sad for their own sake (Buson zenshū note).

Summer 7c.    extended notes        translations

Under the tree persimmon flowers falling evening...

Neither blossoms nor the small green fruit are prominent on the tree, so one doesn’t notice them until they fall, an invitation to think on the passing of the season (Buson zenshū note).

Summer 7d.    extended notes        translations

Persimmon flowers the ones that fell yesterday look yellowed

Today’s flowers are white; the contrast between the white and wilted yellow flowers is, as in the previous haiku, a measure of the erosion of time (Buson zenshū note).

SUMMER 8: SPATTERDOCK. Spatterdock, cow lily, or candock (Nuphar japonicum) is a mid-summer season word. The Japanese characters mean ‘river bones,’ because that is what the roots look like. “The kōhone ...lives in the shallow water of marshes and swamps. The leaves look like the stalks; in summer a plum-like, yellow, five-petalled flower blooms” (Blyth 1984, 1:269). It has bowl-shaped flowers that bloom upward, a perennial from the lotus family.
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Summer 8a.    extended notes        translations

Spatterdock, two clumps blooming in the rain

Alludes to a haiku by Sodō, 1741-1716, a member of Basho’s circle:

            The paired spatterdocks

                        will open

                                    into full bloom (Buson zenshū note)

SUMMER 9: CHINQUAPIN FLOWER, pasania flower, Castanopsis cuspidata. The Japanese is shii no hana; shii is ‘oak’ (to which the chinquapin is closely related); the character is also read as tsuchi, ‘mallet.’ A mid-summer kigo. The flowers bloom in the sixth month and emit a strong smell.
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Summer 9a.    extended notes        translations

Personal grievance

No one comes to praise the chinquapin’s blossoms, that fragrance...

In Chinese and Japanese poetry, following in the steps of Ch’u Yüan’s ‘Li sao’, there is a tradition of the poem of personal grievance, an expression of the heart’s discontent, especially from being ignored or ill-used by those in authority.

Also an allusion to the Kokinshū (2004, 63):

               oh mountain cherries

            when I come to visit you

               the spring mist rises

            rolling across both peaks and

               foothills concealing your beauty

One wants an existence in which the world does not look back at one, just as nobody looks back at the strong smelling chinquapin flowers (Buson zenshū note).

SUMMER 10: FLOWERING BINDWEED. Calystegia japonica, a lavender-pink flower sometimes called ‘wild morning glory’, is a season word for midsummer. Hirugao means ‘noon faces,’ reflecting the close similarity between these flowers and asagao, ‘morning faces’ (morning glories) and yūgao, ‘evening faces’ (moon flowers).
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Summer 10a.    extended notes        translations

Flowering bindweed after the violet, just as dear

An allusion to Bashō:

            along the mountain road

                        somehow it tugs at my heart—

            a wild violet

Summer 10b.    extended notes        translations

Noon faces: a garland for the head of the heatsick cow

The cow is stretched out with heatstroke beside the bindweed in full bloom. A witticism based on the alternative name for morning glory, ‘cowherd flower’ (Buson zenshū note).

Summer 10c.    extended notes        translations

Noon faces: thirty leagues of this road in the Chinese measure

In the Japanese system, 6 cho make one ri or league, about two and a half miles. In the Chinese system, one ri is 36 cho. The bindweed flowers in hot weather, and the pain and difficulty of walking under the blazing sun makes the Chinese number more emotionally accurate, and more evocative of the vast spaces of Chinese poetry.

Summer 10d.    extended notes        translations

Bindweed flowers: as the posts marking the miles to town become the town

Two possible readings: One is Ueda’s (1998, 44) that the stakes mark sites for new houses on a farm field that is “becoming part of the town,” a remarkably modern image. Notes in Buson zenshū say that the posts, overgrown with vines, are mile markers telling the traveler how far away the town is. As the traveler advances, finally the markers foretelling the town turn into the town itself.

SUMMER 11: CRAPE MYRTLE. Hyakujitsukō or sarusuberi (Lagerstroemia indica), famed for its long period of blooming.
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Summer 11a.    extended notes        translations

So gradually the crape myrtle’s red flowers fall: Komachi Temple

Komachi-dera is a popular name for the temple Fudarakuji in the north of Kyoto. The slow, long continuous bloom of the flowers and the temple’s name evoke the way the beauty of Ono no Komachi, the medieval poetess, lingered in the mind (Buson zenshū note).

SUMMER 12: SILK TREE FLOWERS. A late summer kigo, the Persian silk tree is called the ‘sleeping tree’ in waka because at night while the tree is blooming, the leaves fold together like hands, the hands of a person asleep. It can be read as a metaphor for the sexual union of men and women. Resembles a mimosa.
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Summer 12a.    extended notes        translations

They will by the graceful silk tree’s undershadows be netted up

While on the surface, the season word seems to be ‘silk tree’, the real season word is ‘river fishing’, also indicating summer. The silk trees are growing thick on the riverside, creating dark shade. At night as the leaves come together to sleep it is said the silk tree casts a net. Perhaps the fish sleep with their children in the undershade as a family under a mosquito net, but the net also foretells their fate from the fishermen.

Summer 12b.    extended notes        translations

The serpent’s snoring also heard under the silk tree’s leaf shade...

Uwabami, an archaic term for giant or monster snake, is also a metaphor for someone who is drinking heavily. In the evening, under the tender leaf shade of the silk tree, not only the lovers’ talk, but now the snoring of the snakes (or passed-out revelers) also comes into hearing. A joking reversal of the waka tradition (Buson zenshū note).

Summer 12c.    extended notes        translations

In grief for Torao, so early vanished from the world

Day of rain: in the early falling evening silk flowers bloom

A mourning haiku for the haiku poet Torao, who died on the 21st day of the 5th month. Because of the rain, the flowers are blooming late in the day, but the leaves are already folding up for the night, just as the poet bloomed in accomplishment as he neared death (Buson zenshū note). I’m unable to find anything more about this poet.

AUTUMN 1: OTOKOESHI. Patrinia, or Patrinia villosa, Patrinia scabiosaefolia. The tall thin stalks bear umbels of small white flowers. By its appearance and name, which in Japanese means ‘man flower’, it is paired with the more often referenced ominaeshi, ‘maiden flower’ (the Japanese means something more like ‘courtesan flower’).
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Autumn 1a.    extended notes        translations

All the more unsteady in the dew-laden air: man flower

Inscribed on a portrait of his apprentice Kitō, who was tall and thin like the flower stalks. Changes the terms of a haiku by Basho:

            trembling, teetering,

now even more dew-like–

lady-flowers (Bashō 2004, #235, Buson zenshū note)

Bashō was referring to a tradition in waka, in which ominaeshi are the epitome of feminine fragility.

AUTUMN 2: MORNING GLORIES. In the lunar calendar, autumn was in the seventh, eighth, and ninth months, corresponding roughly to August, September and October. Morning glories are an early autumn kigo. They were introduced from China during the T’ang dynasty and have been a favorite for cultivation ever since. They are sometimes included in the seven grasses of autumn, along with bush clover, pampas grass, arrow root, pink, maiden flower, boneset, and bell flower.
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Autumn 2a.    extended notes        translations

The valley stream pools into indigo

Morning glory: deep in each corolla, color of the abyss

The heading quotes the Chinese Zen koan collection Blue Cliff Records:


A monk said to Tairyū, ‘The Body of Form suffers annihilation; how about this Eternal Body of the Law?’ Tairyū replied, ‘The mountain flowers opening are like brocade; the valley water accumulating is like indigo.’

Blyth offers this translation of the koan, going on to say:


The monk speaks of the relative and asks concerning the absolute, but Tairyū’s reply is not in either realm...What is this world out of time that nevertheless is in time; that is spaceless, and yet in this very room? Buson answers, ‘Look at this fleeting flower: it is the color of eternity.’ But it is not an eternal color (1992, 4:1089).

Autumn 2b.    extended notes        translations

Morning glory: the indigo border of the hand towel now so disappointing

When washing one’s face in the morning, one has occasion to compare the color of the dew-wet morning glory with the towel border’s indigo dye...(Buson zenshū note)...another possible interpretation is:

            Morning glory:

                        the hand towel border’s indigo

                                    spilled over

Autumn 2c.    extended notes        translations

“Hey, Koremitsu!” A snore amid the morning glories...

In The Tale of Genji, Koremitsu is Genji’s “milk brother,” as his mother was Genji’s wet nurse. He is a trusted servant and accomplice. He is associated especially with the Yugao story: as his lord is passing the night with Yugao, Koremitsu returns to the oxcart. Genji comes to Yugao in the evening when the summer evening faces are blooming; now it is morning and the autumn morning glories are open. From amid the morning glories, Koremitsu entertains the two with a loud snore. It would be more elegant and discrete to have him ready to draw up the cart; instead, they must call to wake him first, so this a humorous take on the chapter. Yayo Koremitsu is how Genji would call him with a forced, bitter smile (Buson zenshū note).

Koremitsu also acts as the go between with the kidnapping of Murasaki, and accompanies Genji to his exile in Suma.

Autumn 2d.    extended notes        translations

Morning glories: also going to fruit, morning by morning, one by one

The flowers bloom reliably each morning. And, the haiku observes, they wither just as reliably in the morning sun (Buson zenshū note).

AUTUMN 3: ROSE OF SHARON, althea, a deciduous shrub of the hollyhock family, Hibiscus syriacus, early autumn . Hibiscus mutabilis, the cotton rose, is grouped with it. Each flower blooms in the morning and wilts in the evening.

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Autumn 3a.    extended notes        translations

In slight acquaintance with the morning glory: rose of Sharon...

It is said “The rose of Sharon has one day of glory.” Because of the shape and form of the flowers, and because of their transience, they have some slight affinity with the morning glory. Their blooming would also slightly overlap. Similar in concept to Buson zenshū #2122:

            Looking upon

                        the oak tree’s broad leaves:

                                    late blooming cherry

Autumn 3b.    extended notes        translations

The paulownia tree’s leaves fall away and become rose mallow blooming

The haiku is similar in concept to Buson’s more famous


            hana chirite                                        Blossoms fallen,

            ko no ma no tera to                                         the spaces between branches

            nari ni keri (Buson zenshū #455)                                have become a temple

Buson zenshū note: The paulownia loses its leaves completely halfway through autumn, but then, a leaf of the same form remains on the beautifully blooming rose of Sharon. A quiet evocation of the profound theme of prosperity and decline, the vicissitudes of fortune.

Autumn 3c.    extended notes        translations

At the Office of Repairs in rain the twilight falls: rose-of-Sharon...

The Office of Repairs was an appointed government office responsible for the upkeep of the imperial court...In the rainy dusk, all the officials have withdrawn, so the rose of Sharon flower in the hedge around the office fades away alone. Its lonely elegance is appropriate to the situation (Buson zenshū note).

Autumn 3d.    extended notes        translations

Court lady

Cotton rose resentfully it withers with the waning sun

Since the cotton rose withers in a day, it receives the evening sun with regret. It resembles a court lady of waning beauty under the lord’s favor, but not for much longer (Buson zenshū note).

Autumn 3e.    extended notes        translations

This evening no one there to see how the althea uses up its last few flowers...

The rose of Sharon bush loses its flowers one by one until all are used up. It is said “the rose of Sharon has one day of glory,” and quickly the flowers that bloomed yesterday utterly fall away; no one is there to see this loneliness of late autumn (Buson zenshū note).

AUTUMN 4: COCKSCOMB. Celosia cristata, also amaranthus, velvet flower. A general autumn kigo.

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Autumn 4a.    extended notes        translations

Cockscomb flower red with shame permanently

Uncertain provenance. Cockscomb doesn’t lose its color, wither or fall, but stays bright red. The head note is here omitted, but it refers to dan 152 of Tsurezuregusa, in which someone praises the priest Jōnen for his venerable appearance. An observer points out that the priest is merely old, then brings the speaker an old grizzled dog as a gift, saying, isn’t he dignified? (Buson zenshū note). Perhaps the connection is to the speaker’s embarrassment.

Autumn 4b.    extended notes        translations

A broom leaning harmoniously against a stalk of cockscomb...

The relationship is harmonious because a variety of cockscomb is named after the broom it resembles. The broom might be quite short, of a height with the flowers.

Autumn 4c.    extended notes        translations

After the brocade tree’s been brought down by the autumn wind cockscomb flower

The red leaves of the ‘brocade tree’ or spindle tree, Euonymus alatus, is also a late autumn kigo. Both share the brilliant colors of autumn vegetation, but once the autumn tempest blows down the tall spindle tree (or perhaps only its leaves), only the modest annual cockscomb remains to boast of its bewitching color (Buson zenshū note).

Autumn 4d.    extended notes        translations

What the autumn wind left behind: cockscomb flowers


Autumn wind is also a general autumn kigo. The autumn wind has left so little behind; amid the fallen yellow leaves of the other vegetation, he hunts the brilliantly colored cockscomb flower (Buson zenshū note). See the similar Japanese phrasing in Basho’s

            did the seasonal rains

            come and go, leaving out

            this Shining Hall? (Ueda 1992, 244)

Autumn 4e.    extended notes        translations

Imagine! how I’ll scatter the cockscomb’s seeds...

The cockscomb blooms deep red. The speaker is looking carefully at the small flowers on the plants he is preparing to gather. This expresses the wish and hope that scattering these seeds will lead to beautiful flowers next year also (Buson zenshū note).

Perhaps the chicken in the name evokes scattering seeds. Another possible translation is ‘Remembering how I scattered the cockscomb’s seeds’, probably while looking at the resulting flowers.

AUTUMN 5: REEDS. Can refer to the common reed, Miscanthus sacchariflorus. This category is a little confusing as it involves several plants and several names for the same plant. According to Shunzei, for example, the plant called hama-ogi (beach reed) at Kamikaze in Ise is ashi (rush) at Naniwa ferry crossing, and yoshi (a reed) in the eastern provinces (Kerkham 2006, 156n).
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Autumn 5a.    extended notes        translations

Wind through the reeds noisy as a careless man...

In waka, the advent of wind in the reeds announces the coming of autumn.

Careless’, sōzōshii, is also ‘noisy, boisterous, clamorous, uproarious, vociferous, blusterous, turbulent’, also ‘unsatisfying/missing something, desolate’. The term appears in this passage from Essays in Idleness: “A man may excel at everything else, but if he has no taste for lovemaking, one feels something terribly inadequate about him, as if he were a valuable wine cup without a bottom. What a charming figure is the lover, his clothes drenched with dew or frost, wandering aimlessly, so fearful of his parents’ reproach or people’s gossip that he has not a moment’s peace of mind, frantically resorting to one unsuccessful stratagem after another; and for all that, most often sleeping alone, though never soundly” (Kenkō 1998, 5; Buson zenshū notes). Although the sound of the wind in the reeds, the announcement of autumn, is the perfect culmination of loneliness, here the mood is more comical. Haiku often lightens and parodies the tragic emotions of waka.

Autumn 5b.    extended notes        translations

Gathering beach reeds: waves for a desk edge


One version has the head note ‘With the inscription “Futami-no-ura writing desk”; this vessel is in the old founder’s taste, especially in keeping with the thousand thousand surrounding fudegaeshi-waves’ (very uncertain translation). The ‘old founder’ is Saigyō, an early source of the haiku spirit if not the form. There is a tradition of seeing features of the landscape as Saigyō’s possessions, used again by Buson in


            Saigyō’s quilt

            already laid out:

red maple leaves (Buson zenshū #2408)

The desk referred to is a special writing desk, often very ornate, used for poetry gatherings. Saigyō spent some time in retreat in Futami-kata (now Futami-no-ura or Futami-ga-ura, on the coast near Ise in Mie prefecture), and refers to it several times in his work, for example this waka from the Manyōshū 4:503 or Shinkokinshū 10:911

            Breaking off the reeds

            That grow along the beach at Ise

            Of the divine wind

            Does he spread them for his traveler’s bed

            There on the rough sea strand? (Brower 1985, 407)

According to legend, while there he made a writing desk by spreading a folding fan on a rock. A desk or shelf made in the Chinese style may have an upward beveled edge, called a ‘brush return,’ that keeps things from rolling off. If the rock is the writing desk, the waves are its up-curving edge, rolling back the brush just as Ise’s waves return the gathered beach reeds.

Buson is adding to Bashō’s reference to the same legend:



Saigyo’s inkstone?

I pick it up—dew

on the concave rock (Basho 2004, 453)

Buson uses the desk metaphor again in a haiku from the same year:

            Spring wind:

the waves are Futami’s

desk edge (Buson zenshū #2255)

Autumn 5c.    extended notes        translations

Rites for the dead

Around the emerging crests of reeds, miscanthus, halos of light

Buson wrote this haiku for the memorial anthology of the actor Sawamura Chōshirō. ‘Miscanthus’ is also an autumn kigo. At the height of autumn, the heads of reeds and miscanthus emerge, trembling in the light, just as the meritorious deeds of Chōshirō, becoming a Buddha, emit a halo to the world (Buson zenshū note).

Autumn 5d.    extended notes        translations

Reed flowers; from the old fisherman’s hut smoke flies up

An autumn evening, and the old fisherman’s reed hut disperses white smoke just as the reeds at the water’s edge disperse cottony white flowers. A landscape in the style of a Nanga painting. From Selected T’ang Dynasty Poems, see Chang Yuan (?uncertain), “Nightfall Landscape from the Southern Slope”: “the shallows disgorge white rush flowers”. The character for ‘disgorge’ also means ‘emit, breathe out,’ thus suggesting the smoke.

AUTUMN 6: RED SPIDER LILY, hurricane lily, Lycoris radiata. The characters for manjusage or manjushage mean ‘beautiful gem sand flower.’ The word can also refer to clustered belladonna or amaryllis. It is a mid-autumn season word.
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According to the World Kigo Database, the flower is planted as a border to rice fields, as a deterrent to mice and as an emergency crop if the rice fails (the stems are edible). Since it blooms around the autumn equinox, and since it is associated with the Lotus Sutra, it is planted in graveyards to correspond with equinoctial visits to the family grave. It has more than a hundred names, including:


   manjushage “from a line in the Buddhist Lotus sutra, referring to a red flower in Sanskrit pronunciation”

           higan-bana: ‘autumn equinox flower’

           doku-ban: ‘poisonous flower’

           kitsunebana: ‘fox flower’

           shibito-bana: ‘flower of the dead’

           sanmaibana: ‘samadhi flower

           sutegobana: ‘abandoned child flower’

           yuurei-bana: ‘ghost flower, phantom flower’

   tengai-bana: ‘flower in the form of a ceiling decoration of a Buddhist inner sanctuary’

           yome no kanzashi: ‘bridal hairpin flower’ (slightly emended from Greve 2006)

Autumn 6a.    extended notes        translations

From among the orchid-like spider lilies a fox barks

The poem is a little ghost story, with the magical fox barking under the graveyard flowers. Orchids and foxes have a traditional association in haiku, according to the haikai handbook Accompanying Boat. One source for the juxtaposition comes from Po Chü-i’s couplet

            The owl hoots in the branches of pine and cassia,

    The fox hides in clumps of orchids and chrysanthemums (Buson zenshū note, Hare 1996, 204)

AUTUMN 7: ORCHID. A mid-autumn kigo.
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Autumn 7a.    extended notes        translations

Orchid evening: I’ll burn aloeswood as an offering to the foxes

Foxes and orchids are associated due to lines by Po Chu-i, see previous note to 6a. Since orchids are present, poetic tradition dictates that foxes must be present as well (life dictated by art, rather than the other way round). Buson used similar logic in the haiku


            Now the silvergrass shows itself:  

shouldn’t there be bush clover

somewhere nearby...(Buson zenshū #1075)

Foxes are messengers of the god Inari, and therefore incense offerings are appropriate. Aloeswood is an ingredient of some kinds of high quality incense. I have read also that people might burn incense when it seems a fox spirit is haunting their house, to placate its mischievous nature.

Autumn 7b.    extended notes        translations

This orchid was blooming in Gosuke’s garden just yesterday

Gosuke is a typical name for a middle class farmer (Buson zenshū note); the orchid’s humble origins belie its splendid appearance.

Autumn 7c.    extended notes        translations

Night orchid in perfume hiding its flower’s white

The orchid’s scent wafts here and there, misleading to one looking for the small white flowers in the dark.

Autumn 7d.    extended notes        translations

Scent of an orchid: from the shadows of the thicket of chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums are the recluse of flowers (see notes to Autumn 11a). Both chrysanthemums and orchids were beloved by eremitic scholar-poets (bunjin), who were praised as ‘orchids and chrysanthemums growing together”. The orchid’s scent is all the more deeply elegant ascending from the chrysanthemums, from the dark secret yin of the soil, just as the elegance of the bunjin’s life is deepened by his solitude.

Buson zenshū notes cite two passages from the orchid section of the Enki kappō: ‘The orchid inhabits the yin of earth’ and ‘a dense growth of orchids and chrysanthemums.’

AUTUMN 8: CHINESE BELLFLOWER. Platicodon grandiflorus, a general season word for autumn.
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Autumn 8a.    extended notes        translations

Bellflowers seen in the flower shop, the household shrine

The bellflowers are part of the show of diversely colored autumn flowers in the store front, but are also a fitting offering for the quiet, private display in the interior of the Buddhist household altar (Buson zenshū note).

Autumn 8b.    extended notes        translations

Along the ascetic’s narrow path: beloved bell flowers...

The monk follows the ascetic practice of a walking tour through each province. He happens to see Chinese bellflowers beside his path and stops for a short while, lost in admiration (Buson zenshū note).

AUTUMN 9: GENTIAN, Gentiana scabra. The characters, not used here, mean ‘dragon’s gall bladder’.
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Autumn 9a.    extended notes        translations

Gentians: the spaces between the dead leaves have become purple blooming

For haiku by Buson that similarly use the concept of spaces becoming flowers, see Autumn 3b.

AUTUMN 10: IVY, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, a general autumn kigo.
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Autumn 10a.    extended notes        translations

Dust devil eddies through: every ivy leaf shows its pale back...

See Bashō’s follower Kakei, from The New Monkey’s Raincoat:

            Leaves of ivy

            Everyone astir

            The autumn wind (Bowers 1996)

Reminiscent also of the husband’s promise in Ueda Akinari’s “Reed-Choked House”, from his collection of ghost stories, Tales of Moonlight and Rain: “I shall return this autumn, when the arrowroot leaf turns over in the wind. Be confident and wait for me” (2007, 94). He does not return, and the wife dies waiting. Buson and Ueda Akinari were friends, united in their love of good ghost stories. 

AUTUMN 11: TATTERED LOTUS. Lotus flowers are a late summer season word; the torn, battered leaves mark late autumn.
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Autumn 11a.    extended notes        translations

In this case indeed being a gentleman does not save him—tattered lotus

There is a pun here between the way the characters are sounded out, which suggests this late autumn season word, and the meaning of the characters, which suggests a palanquin which has been set down by its bearers. ‘The Gentleman of Flowers’ is the lotus, because it remains pristine and untouched by the mud it grows in, but this gentleman, far from wealth and honor, has settled into the mire. One source cited in the Buson zenshū notes is the famous “An Explication on Love of the Lotus” by Chou Tun-i, a Confucian scholar of 11th century China.


Thoughts on the Love of the Lotus Flower:


There are many lovable flowers of grasses and trees both upon the water and on the land. In the Jin Dynasty, T’ao Yüan-ming loved only the chrysanthemum. Since the Tang Dynasty, people of the world have loved the peony very much. I especially love the lotus, which grows out of the dirty mud yet is clean, cleansed by the pure waters but not seductive; its center is void, thus the lotus has vacuity; it grows straight and has no creeping vines and branches; its fragrance is milder in the distance, its stem is erect, slim and clean; it is to be enjoyed from a distance but not too intimately.

       I say the chrysanthemum is like a recluse while the peony is like a person of high position and wealth; whereas the lotus is like a gentleman. Alas! The love of the chrysanthemum is seldom heard of except for Tao Yüan-ming; where are the people who, like me, love the lotus? As for those who love the peony, of course there are many! (2000)

Also relevant is this earlier example, from Si-ma Qian’s biography of Ch’u Yüan from The Songs of the South. Ch’u Yüan, referred to several times by Buson, drowned himself after the emperor exiled him, even though he served the emperor honestly.


Because his mind was pure, his subjects breathe a natural sweetness. Because his actions were noble, he preferred death to compliance. He withdrew himself from the muck and the mire. He sloughed off the impurities of life to soar away out of reach of the dust and turmoil. Refusing to accept the foulness of this world, he emerged shining and unspotted from its mud (Hawkes 1985, 56).

WINTER 1: ROCK BUTTERBUR FLOWERS. Farfugium japonicum, an edible plant that grows near water, a kigo for early winter.
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Winter 1a.    extended notes        translations

It blooms although all unlooked for, the rock butterbur flower

In a corner of the bleak, desolate garden is a plant of deep green color, somewhat resembling butterbur but with round leaves. In winter, from that expanse of deep green, long stems spring up and flowers open, resembling chrysanthemums in their vivid yellow. The import of that green is that the future will be redeemed with such unlooked-for growth, taking root with stout life-energy and putting forth bright flowers (Buson zenshū note)

WINTER 2: TEA FLOWERS. The tea plant (Thea sinensis) is a tropical/subtropical plant that flowers in early winter. It has a simple flower, a little more than an inch in diameter, with seven or eight yellow-white petals.
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Winter 2a.    extended notes        translations

I choose a path that circles round a stone: tea flowers

A stroll in a winter-withered garden. Taking a path around the large garden stones, and at the turn around a stone, the modest white flowers of the tea plant unexpectedly reveal themselves (Buson zenshū note).

Winter 2b.    extended notes        translations

Tea flowers: as I leave out the back gate, a tofu peddler’s cry

In the Edo period, many common products were sold by wandering peddlers, and the songs by which they announced their goods were a common street sound. (Even now, it is possible to hear the plaintive song of the roasted yam peddler on winter nights, although the seller’s voice had been replaced by a recording on a loud speaker). I’m assuming it’s the call, rather than the person himself, that the speaker encounters, although it could be either. There is a harmonious parallel between the curds of tofu and the modest white flowers of the tea plant.

Winter 2c.    extended notes        translations

Along the road lined with tea flowers I’ll see you off as far as Keage

Keage was the east gate out of Kyoto. It figures in an anecdote about the 12th century historical figure and folk hero Yoshitsune. A nobleman’s followers splashed mud on him as he was crossing the river, and when he asked for an apology, beat him instead. Yoshitsune killed almost all of them and trapped the nobleman in a water hole, humiliating him by beating him with the flat of his sword. I am puzzled about how this figures in the background of the haiku—some kind of joke, maybe?

Winter 2d.    extended notes        translations

Tea flowers: can’t say if they’re white or yellow

Tea flowers are idiomatically called kōhaku, ‘pale yellow’, literally ‘yellow-white’, which also means ‘gold and silver’ or ‘corruption,’ a name at odds with the nature of the quiet, inconspicuous flower.

Winter 2e.   
extended notes        translations

The last sunlight kindles a faint yellow in the tea blossoms...

In the dim sinking sun, the touch of yellow in the pistils and stamens of the quiet blooming tea flowers is kindled to the surface (Buson zenshū note).

Winter 2f.    extended notes        translations

Even to the tea flowers in the moonlight, indifferent—winter seclusion

Winter seclusion’ (or solitude or confinement) is a general winter kigo and the real season word for this haiku. Indifferent even to the moon shining beautifully on the white flowers of the tea plantation outside, warm under the kotatsu, one hides onself in the wholehearted enactment of winter confinement (Buson zenshū note).

WINTER 3: WINTER CHRYSANTHEMUMS. Chrysanthemums are an autumn seasonal term. The chrysanthemums of autumn are large and showy, the product of long and obsessive cross breeding. However, kangiku (‘cold chrysanthemums’) are a general kigo for winter. In comparison, they are small, meager, and modest, living up to Chou Tun-i’s name for them, “the recluse of flowers” (see notes to Autumn 11a). Most of the haiku in this section emphasize that comparison.
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Winter 3a.    extended notes        translations

Winter chrysanthemums so intent on budding—when will they reach full bloom?

Expresses dissatisfaction towards the meager characteristics of the winter chrysanthemum, putting out so many buds and so few flowers.

Winter 3b.    extended notes        translations

Deadheading the winter chrysanthemums—how easily they snap off

The stems of the weaker, smaller, more brittle winter flowers are easier to snap off than autumn chrysanthemums.

Winter 3c.    extended notes        translations

Winter chrysanthemums: the sun shines on a corner of a remote country village

The winter sun shines calmly on one corner of the village, the pretty chrysanthemums adding the warmth that the winter landscape lacks. This is the peace of the slack season in the farming village. In this way also, winter chrysanthemums differ from the showy blossoms of autumn, well tended in the gardens of important men (Buson zenshū note).

Winter 3d.    extended notes        translations

Winter chrysanthemums, how artlessly they bloom at the foot of the hedge...

Evokes the rustic solitude of T’ao Yüan-ming ( T’ao Chien)’s poem “Chrysanthemums”:

            I built my cottage among the habitations of men,

            And yet I hear neither horses nor carriages.

            Would you know how these things come to pass?

            A distant soul creates its own solitude.

            I pluck chrysanthemums under the east hedge.

            Easily the south mountain comes in sight.

            So wonderful is the mountain air at sunset,

            And the birds flying in flocks homeward.

            In all these things are secret truths:

            Though I try to explain it, words are of no avail. (Payne 1960, 138).

See notes to Autumn 11a for more on the relationship between T’ao Chien and chrysanthemums.

WINTER 4: DAIKON or giant white radish, Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus. A general winter kigo.
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Winter 4a.    extended notes        translations

Grow a beard to show your warrior’s prowess—white radish

See the allusion to Essays in Idleness in the notes to the next haiku. Perhaps the beard is a fringe of fine roots growing from the daikon, or perhaps its crest of green leaves?

Winter 4b.    extended notes        translations

The giant radishes of Tsukushi’s constable of the peace transformed into warriors and fought back the enemy. Priest Jōshin’s potato heads were likewise not without miraculous properties.

Armed with giant radishes, he fights on—warrior priest

Both the figures Buson refers to in the heading come from dan 68 of Essays in Idleness. Tsukushi’s constable of the peace ate two daikon every day to ward of illness. In return, one day the daikon rewarded his faith in them by appearing as two warriors who fought off an enemy attack. Priest Jōshin had similar faith in ‘potato heads’ (probably a small taro root) and ate them in huge quantities, especially as a a cure for illness. The latter in particular was the sort of enlightened eccentric that Buson most admired, and Edo culture in general reserved a place of esteem for such behavior.

WINTER 5: WINTER WITHERING. A general winter kigo. “Fuyuzare is the gruesome scene of all things in the universe withering” (Sasaki 2002, 625).
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Winter 5a.    extended notes        translations

Winter withering: the crow is black, the heron white

Evokes the zen koan “The willow is green, the flower is red”, but with the bleak colors of winter (Buson zenshū note).

Winter 5b.    extended notes        translations

Winter withering: a single bird takes shelter among the leeks

In the fields of withered vegetation and chilly wind, only the leeks kindle green with life. Under those leaves a single bird hides, drawn near to houses and people (Buson zenshū note). Japanese doesn’t necessarily specify singular or plural nouns, and many haiku leave this decision up to the reader, but here Buson takes pains to say, one bird.

WINTER 6: LOQUAT BLOSSOMS. Eriobotrya japonica. A midwinter kigo. According to the notes of Buson zenshū (#1315), the white flowers take on a cream yellow hue as they release their sweet, heady fragrance.
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Winter 6a.    extended notes        translations

Loquat flowers: without even birds to attend to them as the sun sets

The vocabulary evokes an anonymous waka from the Kōkinshū:

            high in the mountains

            with no one to admire you

            oh cherry blossoms–

            do not be melancholy

            for I’ll delight in your charms (Kōkinshū 2004, 63)

The cherry blossoms are unadmired because of their isolation, the loquat blossoms because of the season.

WINTER 7: WINTER PEONY. Paeonia suffruticosa. Tree peonies are usually a kigo for early summer but some varieties of peonies have been cultivated to bloom in the snow.

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Winter 7a.    extended notes        translations

Not even a butterfly comes to buy its dream—winter peony

Peonies and butterflies have a traditional association in haiku. The butterfly buying the peony’s dream elides two legends. One is Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly–he awoke, and was not sure if he was a man who dreamed he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was a man (Buson zenshū note). Buson’s painting of this anecdote shows how much he valued it. The other is a tale from Gleanings from Uji, A man had a dream that a horsefly told him to dig up the roots of a white camellia on the grounds of a rich man’s house on Sado Island. Under the under the flower was a treasure of gold. His friend offered to buy his dream. Then the friend found the house and the pot of gold, and became a rich man.

Winter 7b.    extended notes        translations

In Praise of Tōkōkei

Prime minister of the mountains, a peony in the snow...

Tōkōkei: This is the Chinese Taoist immortal T’ao Hung Ching, who lived during the Six Dynasties and left his post in the government to become a recluse. While in retirement on Mt. Mao, he gave advice to several emperors, and was therefore called “the Minister from the Mountains” (Wong 2001, 68).

See the notes to Autumn 11a for the peony as the plutocrat of flowers. An advisor suited for the lavish setting of court taking up a hermit’s mountain residence is akin to a peony blooming in the starkness of winter. The metaphor is especially apt because gardeners protect winter peonies with small straw roofs, like hermits in their own grass huts.

Bashō wrote:

            A winter peony

            the plover must be

            a cuckoo in snow (2004, #212)

WINTER 8: WINTER CHERRY BLOSSOMS. Prunus subhirtella autumnalis. A few cultivars of cherry blossoms bloom in the fall and then through the winter.
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Winter 8a.    extended notes        translations

From a single branch flying petals, falling leaves: winter blooming cherry

An alternative final line is kaeribana, ‘returning flowers’, an early winter season word, the chosen topic at the haiku gathering where this haiku was composed.

WINTER 9: NARCISSUS. Narcissus tazetta, a late winter kigo.
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Winter 9a.    extended notes        translations

Narcissus: the shrike’s grass stems have blossomed

Buson zenshū notes: in deep autumn, the shrike captures frogs, small birds and the like and impales them on tree thorns and grass stems to store them for later. This is called mozu no hayanie, ‘the sacrifice of the shrike.’ As the narcissus bud slowly develops and the stem lengthens, it resembles the sacrifice of the shrike, lovely in its way.

Winter 9b.    extended notes        translations

Godless Month: show to Munetō narcissus blooming

The season word is really the 10th month, “Godless Month,” the month when all the gods are at Ise (where it is called “Gods-are-here month”). So it refers to the first month of winter. Buson zenshū cites the episode below, adding, are the narcissus, the only colorful element in the winter landscape, a response to Abe Munetō’s tact in answering the long ago question about the plum blossoms? Bred in the north country as he was, Munetō would appreciate the existence of these temperate flowers.

Abe Munetō’s politically troublesome family controlled the Mutsu province in the twelfth century. The Minamoto defeated them and took Munetō captive, and he eventually became Minamoto Yoshiie’s companion. Buson zenshū cites an episode from the Tsurugi maki or “Book of Swords” (a chapter included in some versions of The Tale of the Heike) in which courtiers approached the captive with some plum blossoms and asked (“Hey, Munetō!” taunting as only medieval Japanese courtiers could taunt) what they were. Munetō replied that in his country they were called plum blossoms; no doubt they had some fancier name for them at court. Merwin and Lento say that since his reply scanned as court verse, it was doubly withering (2013, 191).

Winter 9c.    extended notes        translations

Narcissus: a beautiful woman with her head bent in pain

 It is the angle of the flower that suggests the headache. Perhaps meant to evoke the Chinese beauties Hsi Shih and Sun Shou: the first frowned and pounded her chest with heartburn, the second affected the pained smile of someone suffering a toothache, and both were made more beautiful (Li and Hsü 1979, 102).

Winter 9d.    extended notes        translations

An offering of narcissus at the flower shop’s family shrine

The store is full of all kinds of flowers, but the heart is drawn to the interior of the family Buddhist shrine to the family dead and its offering of pure, neat narcissus (Buson zenshū note).

Winter 9e.    extended notes        translations

In the chilly capital here and there narcissus blooming

At variance with the mix of willow and cherry of spring’s capital, this version of Kyoto is chilly, bleak. But here and there the touching narcissus colors Kyoto’s winter (Buson zenshū note).

Winter 9f.    extended notes        translations

Among the narcissus flowers foxes are at play: a moonlit evening

The notes describe a fantastic scene, appropriate to the supernatural role of foxes in Japanese legend: in the pale moonlight, the yellow foxes are among the yellow cups of flowers, as if among the wine cups at a banquet, an illusion the moonlight has engendered (Buson zenshū note). ‘Are at play’ could also mean ‘make merry, amuse themselves, visit.’

© 2014 Amy England, rights reserved