Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Kobayashi Issa - Pillar of Haiku

Kobayashi Issa - The Third Pillar of Japanese Haiku
By Ashraful Musaddeq

Kobayashi Issa is the third pillar of Japanese haiku. Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson and Masaoka Shiki are the three rest pillars. Kobayashi Nobuyki (Issa, childhood name Kobayashi Yataro) was born in Kashiwabara, Shinano province (now Nagano prefecture, Japan) on June 15 1763. His father was a farmer. His mother died at two and he was cared for by his grandmother. His father remarried five years later.

At the death of his grandmother in 1776, Issa felt alienated in his own house, a lonely, moody child who preferred to wander the fields. His stepmother mistreated him. During this period, he started to study haiku under a local poet, Shimpo.

During 1777, he was sent to Edo (Tokyo) where he studied haiku under masters Mizoguchi Sogan and Norokuan Chikua (died 1790). He worked as a clerk at a Buddhist temple. In 1791, he was to be given a teaching post at a school but lasted just a year after it became clear that his modern style of haiku did not suit the clerical confines that were expected from him.

In 1793, he gave up Yataro and took pen name Issa and traveled two years extensively through southwestern Japan. On his return to Edo (now Tokyo) in 1795, his first collection Tabishui 1795 published. His father died in 1801 and he came back home.

He visited most of the prominent Japanese cities of the day over the next few years, publishing the following collections to recount his travels. In 1808, he went home on foot. His relatives and local priests mediated in the hopes of bringing about a settlement but in vain. In December, he tramped back to Edo.

In 1812, Issa again returned to his native village and after long disputes with his stepmother and stepbrother he was allowed to inherit the property. He married in 1815, at his age 51- her name was Kiku and she was 27. He enjoyed the reputation of the leader of the haiku world in northern Shinano.

During 1816 to 1823, his four sons and one daughter was born and died within one year and his wife also died in 1823. Issa remarried at age 61 in 1825 and new wife Yuki or Iki came from a local samurai family. After three months she returned home and he divorced her. In 1826, he married Yao third time and a daughter born just after his death in 1827.

Issa's property of Kashiwabara was destroyed by fire on July 24 1827 and he had to live in a storehouse, which is still kept in the town. According to the Western Calendar, Issa died on January 5 1828 in his native village of Kashiwabara, Shinano province (present-day Nagano prefecture). But according to the old Japanese calendar, he died on November 19, 1827.

Though he is the best-loved of the haiku master, he is a blooming misfortune with melancholic profile. He lost mother at early age, stepmother mistreated him, he suffered from poverty, his children died one after another and unhappy was his second marriage.

Issa wrote over 20,000 haiku, hundreds of tanka, and several haibun (prose + haiku)- his poems reflected the small joys of life and childlike simplicity. Making liberal use of local dialects and conversational phrases made him admired. His famous haibun are Oraga Haru (My Spring) and Shichiban Nikki (Number Seven Journal). He collaborated on more than 250 renku. He treated his subjects with humor, excelling particularly at affectionate portrayals of such creatures as fleas, frogs and sparrows. Now his poems on animals and insects are learned by every schoolchild in Japan. His other famous works are Chichi No Shuen Nikki (1801- The Diary at My Father's Death) and Oragaharu (1819- The Year of My Life)

His selected works are: Tabishui, 1795, Chichi no Shuen Nikki, 1801, Kyowakujo, 1803, Shichiban-Nikki, 1810, Waga Harushu, 1811, Hachiban-Nikki, 1818, Orga Haru, 1819 - The Year of My Life, Kuban-Nikki, 1822, Bunka-Kujo, 1840, The Autumn Wind: A Selection from the Poems of Issa, 1984 (introduction by Lewis MacKenzie),The Dumpling Field, 1991, Issa: Cup-Of-Tea Poems: Selected Haiku of Kobayashi Issa, 1991 (trans. by David G. Lanoue), The Spring of My Life: And Selected Haiku, 1997 (trans. by Sam Hamill).

Author is a public servant, as well as a poet of Bangladesh. He used to write poems in English and Bengali. Interested person can contract him at

Article Source: Kobayashi Issa - The Third Pillar of Japanese Haiku

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