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.

The Season is Winter

Toki Wa Fuyu

時は冬.” Toki wa fuyu, the season is winter. How cold is it? On cold winter days, it is not just me, even my shadow is frozen.


fuyu no hi ya bajō ni kōru kagebōshi

these cold winter days
on horseback
— my shadow is frozen

Matsuo Basho, Oi no kobumi, Winter 1687

On the Tokaido

From Oi no kobumi, on the Tokaido, en route to Cape Irago, riding on a particularly long stretch between snow covered fields and the bitterly cold sea. Things on Basho’s mind include things from the past — Saigyo’s waka, Sogi’s renga, Sesshu’s landscape painting, and Rikyu’s Way of the Tea; those and the bitter cold.

One of the reasons for reading Basho’s haiku is that they give us “an alternative possibility of being.” (Jane Hirshfield, Seeing Through Words: Matsuo Bashō, interpreting Oi no kobumi)

Notes on Translation

Tokaido – the eastern coastal sea route from Edo to Kyoto. The 19th century artist Utagawa Hiroshige painted the 53 stations of the Tokaido.

Fuyu no hi – winter day, on cold winter days, fuyu no hi ya, where ya is added for emphasis.

Koru – frozen; Kageboshi – shadow

Hiroshige, Man on horseback in snow (original image Wikipedia)

Nobody Going My Way

Where Matsuo Basho walks that lonesome road for the very last time.

kono michi ya / yuku hito nashi ni / aki no kure

This road!
No one is going my Way
This autumn evening

Matsuo Basho, Autumn 1694


Basho’s title for this poem is Shoshi, Thought. And one can expand on this thought. Was Basho going a different direction? Was he at the end of his road, so to speak?

The concept of man as a solitary individual in this world is a familiar one in literature and religion. Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), a Christian allegory by John Bunyan is a Western example. So to is the old spiritual You Got to Walk that Lonesome Valley.

Basho left little cottage in Edo’s Fukagawa District for the very last time in the summer of 1694. He died on November 28, 1694.

Notes on Translation

Kono, this; michi, road or way. The Way (, Tao or Dao) referring to Laozi’s Tao de Ching. Ya, for emphasis.

Yuku, to go; hito, a man; yuku-hito, a man who is going. Nashi ni, no one.

Aki no kure, Autumn evening, a frequent topic for Basho.

Becoming and Speaking

Matsuo Basho’s thoughts on writing poetry were simple:

Matsu no koto wa matsu ni narae, take no koto wa take ni narae

a pine trees as a thing, be a pine tree,
for bamboo as a thing,
be bamboo

At the same time, Basho warned his students:

ware ni niru na futatsu ni ware shi makuwauri

Don’t mirror me
like two halves
of a melon.

Basho’s student, Doho, gave us this Tao-like thought:

zoka ni shitagai, zoka ni kaere to nari!

to make a flower, submit and obey,
to make a flower
go back and become!

from Doho’s “San-Zoshi,” explaining Basho’s poetical teachings


This fits in nicely with advice I was once given on public speaking

When talking to an audience
Pause, then
Speak from the heart

This did not always work. For fear always lurks nearby. In case of panic, the advice is “curl your toes” this distracts and unfreezes your mind. It works.

Becoming Basho was a long process. He was for a long time, Tosei, an unripe peach. A move to Edo, a trip across the Sumida River to Fukagawa, a simple cottage, cold nights, loneliness, a gift of a banana plant, in time, a basho tree weathering the storms.

Notes on Translation

Matsu, a pine tree. There is a well known haiku, that goes Matsushima, Matsushima, Matsushima, Ah! This was, supposedly, Matsuo Basho’s exclamation on arriving at Matsushima, considered to be one of Japan’s most beautiful spots. (Basho visited here on the Oku no Hosomichi, the Journey to the Northern Interior.)

koto, thing.

zoka 造花, make a flower; shitagai, submit, obey.

kaere, go back, return; nari, to be, become: go back and become

ware, me; niru, resemble, look like, mirror

futatsu, two

makuwauri, oriental melon


hackberries falling,
fluttering wings of grey starlings,
a brisk morning wind


e no mi chiru
muku no haoto ya
asa arashi

Matsuo Basho, date unknown

While hackberries don’t make much of a splash, starlings can create a stunning spectacle, first with their loud morning chattering and then when they all rise at once.

Notes on Translation

e, enoki 榎, the (Asian) hackberry tree; chiru 散る, fall, scatter

muku , grey starling; haoto 羽音, the sound of wings, fluttering wings

asa arashi 朝嵐, literally morning storm, referring in this case to a windstorm


The hackberry tree is a native Kansas species, a tough cookie that can survive prairie fires, It has small tough berries that are a source of food for birds. Several websites including say “All “hackberry berries are edible and highly nutritious.” The taste, to me, is bland, and better left for the birds. Pioneers in Kansas ate them in a pinch. And hackberries were found in the tomb of Peking Man, dated to be 500,000 years old!

This haiku is like a hackberry, without much meat, unless I am missing something.