A Windy Day

Spring 1688

It was a very good year, one might say for Matsuo Basho. He was happily living in Edo at his Basho hut, named for the banana tree outside. He is a respected haiku poet and a teacher of his style of poetry to a select group of disciples. When the spirit moves him, he makes an occasional foray along the the Tokaido and Nakasendo trails to and from Kyoto, and to his home in Ueno. He is also in the midst of planning a longer trip into Japan’s northern interior that would become famous as Oku no Hosomichi.

The Spring wind is howling
while I’m bursting with laughter
— wishing for flowers

haru kaze ni fukidashi warau hana mogana

Matsuo Basho, Spring, 1668

Notes: haru (spring) kaze (wind) ni (on) fukidashi (today, this translates as speech bubble; fu 吹, to blow, to brag; kiき, tree; dashi appears to mean to put something out, like a kite or banner); warau (laugh or smile); hana (flower) mogana (wishing for)

Thoughts from the Midwest on the last day of March — the wind is still howling, driving me crazy.

The wind howls at the trees
Will it stay,
Better yet, will it stop?

Bashō no yōna, March 31, 2023

Something old, something borrowed:

March winds and April showers
bring May flowers
and June bugs

An old standard

Slightly altered, Nature becomes our nemesis:

March winds, April showers,
then heavy rains
and mosquitoes

Bashō no yōna, March 2023

Ah Spring

Spring 1680

He was not yet famous, he was not yet known as Matsuo Basho, but five years of living in Edo had brought him some recognition as a master of haiku.

in spring, its spring!
each spring is great
and so on
ah haru haru ōinaru kana haru to un nun

Matsuo Basho, 1680

By 1679, Matsuo had taken the pen name Tosei (桃青), meaning “green peach.” His own poems were published in several anthologies; and twenty students who called him master published their own poems, Tōsei’s Collection of Twenty Poets (桃青門弟独吟二十歌仙). The year of 1680 was to be a year of great changes.

Haru, haru, how do you do?
The first dandelion is simple and bright
But what happens next?

Bashō no yōna, Spring 2023

Friends Parting


A poet with nothing more than a pen, Matsuo Kinsaku, left Kyoto for Edo in 1672, at age 28.

Clouds separating
Like friends or wild geese
— Parting


Kumo to hedatsu tomo ka ya kari no iki wakare

Matsuo Kinsaku (Basho), 1672

Kumo to (雲とclouds with) hedatsu (へだつseparating) tomo ( friends, but also wisdom) kaya (かや emphasis, but also referring to pampas grass) kari ( wild geese) no iki wakare (の生き別れ who are parting). It has been pointed out by others that kare no wakare has a meaning of a temporary separation. (See Toshiharu Oseko)


Parting is such sweet sorrow,” said Shakespeare’s Juliet about her kari no wakare, for she expected to see Romeo tomorrow. Matsuo Kinsaku, as he was then, had many partings and hoped for returns. But inevitably some partings are final.

Previously translated three years ago to the day.

The Parting Clouds at George Town, Cayman Islands

Inochi — Life

Inochi, , life or fate, the meaning depends on the context and one’s age.

In the Spring of 1672, our poet, Tosei, (meaning unripe peach, he was not yet named Basho) moved to Edo to further study haiku.

inochi koso / imo dane yo mata / kyō no tsuki

Life is like
sweet potatoes
under a harvest moon

Matsuo Basho, Autumn 1672

Existence, both from the point of view of Zen Buddhism and the Tao, is being aware of your place in Nature. By the summer of 1675, Matsuo has gained a following, publishing his own haiku under different names, including Tosei, or “Green Peach,” in deference to the Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty, Li Bai, “White Plum.”

inochi nari / wazuka no kasa no / shita suzumi

to be alive
under the shade of my hat
enjoying the coolness

Matsuo Basho, Summer 1675

In the beauty of Spring, Tosei wrote this giddy haiku based on a Japanese proverb that eating a “first thing,” like a bonito or an eggplant, will extend your life 75 “days” (hi day; hodo , year):

hatsu hana ni / inochi shichi jū / go nen hodo

first blossoms
extending life
seventy-five years

Matsuo Basho, Spring 1678

A decade has passed. Our green peach has ripened into Matsuo Basho. Looking back:

inochi futatsu no / naka ni ikitaru / sakura kana

brings two lives together
the cherry blossoms!

Matsuo Basho, Spring 1685

Note. I suppose one could also chose to say, “two lives brought together by cherry blossoms.” The occasion was Basho’s chance meeting, with an old friend, Hattori Dohō (服部土芳), twenty years having passed.

Ah, the hanging bridge at Kiso
where life is entwined
with ivy vines

kakehashi ya / inochi o / tsuta kazura

Matsuo Basho, Sarashina kikō, Autumn, 1688
inochi futatsu no naka ni ikitaru sakura kana

A Cold Snap

According to a Chinese saying, the fragrance of the plum blossom comes from “winter’s bitter cold,” meaning that hardship makes us better. For Matsuo Basho, a lingering cold snap keeps the fragrance around longer. Two interpretations are given. A third meaning is buried in the alternative meaning of sakana.

The scent of plum blossoms chased back by cold.
The fragrant plum … cold, come back.

梅が香に 追いもどさるる 寒さかな

Ume ga ka ni oimodosaruru samu sa kana

Matsuo Basho, date unknown

Translation note. Ume (plum) ga ka ni (fragrance, odor, smell) oimodosaruru (come or push back) samu (cold) sa kana. Interestingly, sakana is a homophone for “fish” ().

In Kansas, flowering trees like Bradford pears (Callery pear) produce beautiful white blossoms that stink like rotting fish.

Spring, when it comes, is delightful, but the North wind is frightful.

It is not yet Spring
Still the birds sing,
Thank God, the Wind stopped

Bashō no yōna, Spring 2023

A cold morning on a mountain path, suddenly the sun rises filling the air with the smell of the plum blossom. This is Matsuo Basho’s last spring.

The fragrant plum and
suddenly the sun appears
on a mountain path! 

ume ga ka ni notto hi no deru yamaji kana
ume ga ka ni no tsuto hi no deru yamaji ka na

Matsuo Basho, Spring 1694

Translation note. ume (plum) ga ka (smell of) ni (upon, implying that the smell of the plum and the sun arrive together) no tsuto (suddenly) hi no deru (sun appears, sunrise) yamaji (mountain path) kana (emphasis)

梅, ume, plum blossom

Knock Knock

In the Spring of 1687, Basho goes to a visit a friend, “knock, knock,” explaining what happened when a stranger answered the door:

I visited a friend at his cottage, but he was not there. I was told that he had gone to a certain temple.
So, I said, ” The plum blossoms by the fence look like the Master of this house.” I was told, they belong next door.

Visiting a friend
But he’s not there, the plum blossoms
belong next door

Rusu ni kite ume sae yoso no kakiho kana.

Matsuo Basho, Spring, 1687

Notes. Rusu ni (gone from, absent at) kite (to come or arrive) ume (plum or apricot, an early blooming tree) sae (multiple meanings, “to,” i.e. a different fence and home) yoso no (somone else’s) kakiho (fence) kana (really! and other interjections, added for emphasis). The plum (ume) tree, it is believed, protects against evil. Planting plum trees along the fence would shield the house. As one of the first flowers of the year, the blossom represents renewal and purity.

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Lettuce in

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Hi, Haiku

Bashō no yōna, March 2023
plum blossoms

Soup and Salad

On the Road Again

Its a lovely Spring day for a walk. And one can walk the coastal Tokaido Road (東海道), some 320 miles, between Tokyo (Edo) and Kyoto in about a week, stopping at one of the 53 post stations for a break. Mariko post station is almost halfway. A good place for soup and salad and plum blossoms viewing.

Plum blossoms,
Fresh greens and grated yam soup
At Mariko station

Plum like taros
at Mariko station
(you must try)

Ume waka na Mariko no shuku no tororo jiru

Matsuo Basho, Tokaido Road, Spring 1691

The small round tender taro in the delicious Tororo-Jiru soup looked like plums to the tired Matsuo Basho. Tororo jiru soup (とろろ汁) is a specialty of the Chojiya teahouse (established 1596, still serving Tororo jiru soup) located in Mariko-juku, the 20th station on the Tokaido Road. Utagawa Hiroshige drew this clove shop in the ukiyo-e of Mariko-juku.

Recipe found on the internet:

  1. Grate (each long slender) yam and cut the taros (root vegetables) into small round balls.
    Cut the aburaage (tofu) to 1-cm width and finely chop the naganegi (scallions).
  2. Bring the dashi stock (soup broth) to a boil, add the taros.
    When the taros become tender, add the aburaage and boil for a moment.
  3. Lower the heat and dissolve the miso (paste made from soybeans).
    Place the miso soup in bowls and pour grated yam on top.
    Serve the miso soup with sprinkled naganegi.
    (Source of recipe)

Translation Note. Ume (plum blossom) wa kana (young or fresh greens); Mariko (a station post on the Tokaido Road); no shuku (station, post town); no Tororo jiru (a sticky soup with grated mountain yam on top; jiru a homophone for shiru soup.)

Ume wa kana (梅若菜) — The first three characters are Chinese. Taken together they present several meanings. One, Basho is suggesting that the round balls of taro look like plums. Second, wakana, meaning young or fresh greens added to the soup, eaten under a plum tree in blossom. See Hiroshige’s image below. Third, wakana is the name for the thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth chapters of The Tale of Genji. Fouth, wakana can refer to a courteous young woman serving the soup.

Chojiya teahouse at Mariko, on the Tokaido Road, artist Utagawa Hiroshige, Minneapolis Art Institute

Wishing and Hoping

Spring 1668

In Kyoto and elsewhere in Japan, it is Spring again. The daffodils are in full bloom, waving at a poet trying to capture the moment in words. It is 1668, two years since the death of Todo Yoshitada, young Matsuo’s samurai master. Matsuo is not yet Basho. He is still Matsuo Kinsaku, age 24, living in Kyoto, wishing and hoping.

flowers laughing in the wind
wishing and hoping

haru kaze ni fukidashi warau hana mogana

Matsuo Kinsaku (Basho) Spring, 1668


Mogana — “wouldn’t it be nice if, if only, here’s hoping, wishing, wishing and hoping” are some of the meanings of mogana — the poet’s hope or desire for a beautiful spring.

Since Burt Bacharach died this year at the age of 93, I think it appropriate to mention his song, Wishin’ and Hopin’, first released in 1962. There are at least two great renditions, in 1962 by Dionne Warwick, the other by Dusty Springfield in 1964. Interestingly, Dusty’s Italian recording became “Stupido, Stupido.” It seems”desiderare e sperare” didn’t resonate well with the amorous Italians.

Wishin’ and hopin’
— to find love, hold him
then kisses will start

RIP, Burt Bacharach, 1928-2023


Meanwhile in the world, King Charles II was back on the throne in England. France’s King Louis XIV and Spain’s King Charles II were fighting over the Netherlands. Japan was at peace under the rule of Tokugawa Ietsuna.

Notes on Translation

haru kaze ni (in a Spring wind or breeze) fukidashi warau (blowing and laughing) hana (flowers) mogana (indicates hope or desire, i.e. Basho wishes the flowers were laughing in the wind).

Haru kaze 春風 — A Spring breeze is associated with many things including happiness and joy, a smiling face.

Fuki 吹き, blowing or boasting; dashi 出しbroth. I inagine flowers waving in the breeze to and fro like a bubbling broth.