Shiwasu, December

Being rushed,
I give a forget-the-year party
In a good mood
I wonder?

Setsuka rete  Toshi wasure suru  Kigen kana

せつかれて 年忘れする 機嫌かな

Shiwasu, December, Priests rushing to make ready the Temple

Forget the Year

I have no year for which to date Matsuo Basho’s New Year’s haiku. The winter of 1682 is a likely year, for his Banana Hut was destroyed in a fire. The following year his mother died. There are perhaps other likely candidates, but I don’t suppose we will know.

This haiku is like a scrap of paper fallen from a pocket as one fiddles about for change to feed the parking meter when rushing about on New Year’s Eve.

Of course it is now January 2021. Being rushed by the holidays, worried about a pandemic, and an election crisis, I almost forgot to celebrate the passing of 2020. Or, Basho would agree, I simply wanted to forget an awful 2020.

Shiwasu, 師

In 17th century Japan, Japanese families prepared for the New Year’s Eve party by rushing to a Shinto shrine to venerate their ancestors. For this reason, December is given the name Shiwasu, 師走, which translates as the “month of running priests” who are busy sweeping up and setting out candles. At the temples and shrines, wishes for the new year must be made, and new omamori (charms) bought and old ones returned to be be burned.

Today, as back then, there is a bit of sadness mixed in with gladness. The Japanese call these New Year’s parties 忘年会, bonenkai, literally forget the year party. For Basho, this becomes 年忘れする, toshi wasure suru, forget the year. Perhaps it was a bad year.

We all have those. And come the New Year don’t we wish to be in a good mood, 機嫌 Kigen. I wonder, かな, kana. And don’t some like to keep grudges. Hmmm?

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