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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 10, Number 4, December 2016

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Ray Rasmussen
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


Issa’s Humanity and Humour: A Haibun Passage from His Travel Journal Oraga Haru

| Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | About Issa | Endnotes |

About Issa


There is a vast amount of information on Issa and his works on the Internet and in various books. Here are a few facts condensed from Wikipedia’s “Kobayashi Issa” and Lanoue’s “About Issa” websites:

Kobayashi Yatarô (June 15, 1763 - January 5, 1828) chose Issa (Cup-of-Tea) as his haiku name. In his typical self-deprecating manner, he called himself "Shinano Province's Chief Beggar" and "Priest Cup-of-Tea of Haiku Temple." A devout follower of the Jôdoshinshû sect, he imbued his work with Buddhist themes: sin, grace, trusting in Amida Buddha, reincarnation, transience, compassion for the creatures of the earth as well as the poor, and the joyful celebration of the ordinary.

Reflecting the popularity and interest in Issa as man and poet, Japanese books on Issa outnumber those on Buson, and almost equal in number those on Bashō and Issa is perhaps the most loved of the Japanese masters for his humour, accessibility and focus on creatures.

Issa wrote over 20,000 haiku. Though his works were popular in his time, he suffered great monetary instability. Despite a multitude of personal trials, his poetry reflects a childlike simplicity, making liberal use of local dialects and conversational phrases. He wrote many verses on plants and the lower creatures; 54 haiku on the snail, 15 on the toad, nearly 200 on frogs, about 230 on the firefly, more than 150 on the mosquito, 90 on flies, over 100 on fleas and nearly 90 on the cicada, making a total of about one thousand verses on such creatures. By contrast, Bashō's (total) verses (on all subjects) are comparatively few in number, about two thousand in all).

Issa was the first son of a farm family. He endured the loss of his mother, who died when he was three. Her death was the first of numerous difficulties. He had a falling out with his stepmother, who was a woman of hard-working peasant stock. He was sent to Edo (present-day Tokyo) by his father one year later to eke out a living. Nothing of the next ten years of his life is known for certain. During the following years, he wandered through Japan and fought over his inheritance with his stepmother (his father died in 1801). After years of legal wrangles, Issa managed to secure rights to half of the property his father left. He returned to his native village at the age of 49 and soon took a wife, Kiku. After a brief period of bliss, tragedy returned. The couple's first-born child died shortly after his birth. The daughter referred to in Oraga Haru died less than two-and-a-half years later, inspiring Issa to write this haiku:

The world of dew –
A world of dew it is indeed,
And yet, and yet . . .
(tr. Lewis Mackenzie)

[ Go to Endnotes ]

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