Moon Viewing

I recently drove back from the east coast. And, while I was in Central Missouri in the middle of nowhere, an hour or so after dusk, I caught a view of a full moon, large, round and orange, in the rear view mirror of my car. It was a breathtaking sight. My trip, and my moon spotting, corresponded roughly with the traditional day of Japanese moon viewing (Tsukimi, 月見), or September 21, 2021.

That the moon is prettier in Autumn, is, I learned later, due to the astronomical fact that the moon rises sooner in fall and at a narrower angle, making it appear to be fuller and more orange. I also learned that the moon is moving closer to earth, that is, it is in perigee, and will reach its closest on December the 4th.

Yoshitoshi Tsukioka and Noguchi Enkatsu, Engraver. One Hundred Aspects of the Moon: Monkey-Music Moon. Japan, 1892.

The Seasons

The 17th century Japanese operated on a lunar calendar. And each season had its own moon. Spring moon, 春の月, haru no tsuki; Summer moon, 夏の月, natsu no tsuki; Autumn moon, 秋の月, aki no tsuki; and Winter’s moon, 冬の月, fuyu no tsuki.

And here are four haiku by Matsuo Basho with seasonal references to the moon.


春もやや  気色ととのふ  月と梅
haru moya ya/ keshiki totonou/ tsuki to ume

Barely Spring,
a colorful complexion of
the moon and a plum blossom

Matsuo Basho, 6th year of Genroku, Spring 1693. The plum blossoms in early spring, often when snow is on the ground. An almost too perfect combination of a bright moon and heavenly scented plum blossoms.


tako-tsubo ya/ hakanaki yume wo/ natsu no tsuki

an octopus pot,
a fleeting dream
under a Summer moon.

Matsuo Basho, at Akashi, a seaside town near Kobe famous for its seafood. When alarmed an octopus will hide in a dark place. Thus, fishermen intentionally make pots black to catch the unwitting octopus.


去る引の 猿と世を経る 秋の月
saruhiki no/ saruto yo furu/ aki no tsuki

a street entertainer–
going through life carrying a monkey
— Autumn moon

Basho, The Monkey’s Raincoat, 1691. Basho’s haiku was a response to a linked verse by Boncho. Boncho’s verse was, a new priest hurrying to the temple getting cold.


fuyu niwa ya / tsuki mo ito naru / mushi no gin

In Winter’s garden
when the moon is a thread,
an insect sings

Matsuo Basho, 2nd year of Genroku, 1689, at a tea ceremony with Ichinyū, a tea potter and lay Buddhist teacher . It would be unusual for an insect to find food at this time of year, much less to hear an insect at all.

Note to reader

If you find fault in my translations or have comments, feel free to respond. We are after all, like Basho, students of life.

As season come
And seasons go
The moon will always glow

Bashō no yōna, November, 2021
Matsuo Basho

Snowy Mt. Hira and Mikami

比良三山 雪さしわたせ 鷲の橋 

Hira Mikami yuki sashi watase sagi no hashi

Snowy Hira and Mikami
For the moment, encircled
A bridge of white herons

Matsuo Basho, Otsu on Lake Biwa, looking west to the Hira Mountains
Snowy Mount Hira, artist, Utagawa Hiroshige, 19th century, image source The Met

A bridge of birds

A bridge of birds is one of those images one comes across while walking along a lake or in a wooded field. It is a magical image, one that is fleeting. When the birds are geese, the flock noisy chatters overhead, making a familiar V-shaped formation that look like an arched bridge. Herons are stragglers, silently flapping their wings,to the accompaniment of a swooshing sound.

Soon gone and silent again.

Herons often fly alone but can on rare occasion be seen in flocks. It is a rare sight, one that Matsuo Basho enjoyed while making a day trip to Otsu on the southern shore of Lake Biwa. Basho chose Otsu as his burial place, giving this haiku added meaning.

Lost in Translation

Hira and Mikami, 比良三山, snow covered Hira mountains and Mt. Mikami. They lie on opposite sides of Lake Biwa.

Yuki, 雪, snow.

Sashi watase, さしわたせ, for the moment, plus, joined or encircled.

Sagi no hashi, 鷲の橋, literally a bridge of white herons. The No, particle links two nouns together to show a connection, and form a single image, a bridge of birds. One does not have to assume the herons are white (Shirasagi, 白鷺), but it makes for a prettier image.

[All images in the public domain, source The Met.]

Chrysanthemum Tea

朝茶飲む 僧静かなり 菊の花

Asa cha nomu / sō shizukanari / kiku no hana

Matsuo Basho

Three variations on Matsuo Basho’s Morning Tea:

One cup of morning tea
Calms a monk
Chrysanthemums are blooming

A monk sipping his morning tea,
— Chrysanthemums are flowering

Drinking morning tea
Calms a monk
– Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum Tea, three times a day, Long life

Chrysanthemum tea
Three time a day
Long life

Chrysanthemum tea
My friends and I
Happy life

Bashō no yono

Chrysanthemum Tea

Chrysanthemum tea (菊茶, kiku-cha) is considered an elixir of life in Japan and much of Asia, enjoyed for the beauty of the flower’s blossoms, their earthy smell, and the taste of the tea. Each mum variety having its own special flavor. The recipe is simple, steep the flower petals (the leaves are too bitter) in hot water. Drink as a morning tea (朝茶, asa cha). Drink while hot. Morning tea and Green tea in general are soothing. Chrysanthemum tea, in particular, is used to calm chest pain, reduce high blood pressure, soften headaches, eliminate dizziness, and treat a host of other conditions.

In a word, Chrysanthemum tea is calming.

Basho suffered from various ailments throughout his life, including stomach ailments. So, it is not hard to imagine that he drank quite a lot of tea. And, after a hard days journey on the Oku No Hosomichi, one pictures Sora, Basho’s traveling companion, brewing tea while Basho is busy writing in his journal. One can also picture their visit to a temple, where a Buddhist monk (僧, Sō) might welcome his guests with tea.

Post Script

Xin chào (“hello”) was the greeting we received in a friendly neighborhood cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Corona Tea!” was the drink we got when we asked for a pot of green tea and two cups.

My wife and I were there visiting our son in Hanoi in early 2020, at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. The fear of Coronavirus was only beginning. At that time, it was only a general concern for good health, green tea being a good start.

The cafe’s setting, beside a small lake, was quiet. Lofty apartment buildings, like tall mountains, surrounded the lake, separating us from the din of a thousand motorcycles on the main streets. This made this tiny spot feel like a personal Shangri-La. That and the woman, the owner of the cafe, who smiled as she served us a steaming pot of green tea.

The tea kept us healthy, I like to think.

How do you say, Hello?
— Xin chào
, and green tea

Bashō no yono

I previously translated this haiku.

White Chrysanthemums