You Be You

Being You

Your English teacher told you, your mother told you, no doubt, you’ve heard it a thousand times, a thousand ways,

“Be yourself and nobody else.”

Be yourself
everyone else
is already taken

Oscar Wilde, 19th c. Irish playwright and poet

The five month long journey into Japan’s northern interior, a trip that one day will become Oku no Hosomichi is over. Matsuo Basho will now spend his time editing his notes and haiku. A restful trip to Lake Biwa and the Ishiyama temple breaks up the monotony. Students still seek his advice.

don’t copy me,
like the second half
of a split melon!

ware ni niru na futatsu ni wareshi makuwauri

Matsuo Basho, Summer, 1690

makuwa uri 真桑瓜, a sweet melon like a musk melon or cantaloupe.

Ecclesiastics says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” And English teachers say, “It has all been said, it is how you say it that makes the difference.”

Isn’t it ironic,
a translator saying,
“don’t copy me.”

Bashō no yōna
makuwa uri 真桑瓜, a sweet melon

Trick or Treat

Halloween Night

The candy’s gone. A little sadness, some melancholy, descends on one the day after Halloween night. A beautiful moonlit evening, houses decorated gaily, neighbors wondering if they have enough candy, kids in costumes, smiling, politely asking for candy.

“Trick or treat.”

But night turns into day

The parents safely tucked the younger children in bed by eight. The older children walked the streets til late. Now, they are back in school, or they slept in, suffering from a tummy ache.

The falling leaves,
a moonlit night,
costumed kids,
all so polite,
“trick or treat”
its so much fun,
the candy’s gone
— Halloween

Bashō no yōna, 2022


The 12th century poet Saigyō Hōshi (西行法師) wrote this short poem after a fruitless day of cherry blossom viewing and hazy night and moon watching. In the best Buddhist tradition, turning a negative thought into one that is positive. Teaching us that on the morning after Halloween, sadness can be sweet.

hana chirade / tsuki wa kumoran / yo nariseba / mono o omowan / waga mi naramashi

西行, Saiygo

Were it not
for falling blossoms
and a cloudy moon,
in such a world
I could not feel
this sadness

Eine Welt 
ohne Zerstreuen von Blüten
und ohne Bewölken des Mondes,
würde mich 
meiner Melancholie berauben

le monde sans
fleurs qui tombent
et une lune assombrie
vole moi
ma mélancolie

Saiygo, Sadness, 12th c.
Photo by James Wheeler on

Crested Butte, Colorado

A mountain

Like a dinosaur tooth

Crested Butte

Crested Butte
Colorado, September 2022

Crested Butte, September 2022

Late in the day, much too late, the wife and I were hiking a short trail outside Crested Butte, past the ghost town of Gothic. The trail marker said half mile to Judd Falls. A Japanese couple returning from the hike to Judd Falls said hello. And in that strange language that people from different cultures try to talk, told us it was getting dark and too far. As we would learn, they were right, the sign was wrong. Judd Falls was much further and darkness fell as we walked.

The hike, the mountain, the golden Aspen, the falls, the friendly Japanese couple, all reminded me of Basho’s many walks.

A fox, no two

Waiting on a path

For who

Gothic, Colorado

Early next morning we rose as the earth awoke.

Clouds part

Like sheets on a bed

As the mountain rises

In an Aspen grove

Fluttering leaves do gossip

I wonder

Plum Blossom

Summer 2022

A morning walk beside the creek
A heavenly breeze, the rising sun
Here comes the heat!

Bashō no yōna, August 2022

On the Today show, Al Roker points to a map covered in RED on the weather map. Record Heat. The days and weeks are full of sun, it’s been months since it was cool. An early morning walk with the dogs inspires Bashō no yōna’s poor attempt at haiku.

Winter 1693-94

Now, two haiku by Matsuo Basho written in early 1694. The subject, the early blooming Plum Blossom. A literary respite from the summer heat.

Fragrant plum fills the air
And the rising sun on
A mountain path! 

ume ga ka ni notto hi no deru yamaji kana

Plum Blossom Scent, (Ume ga Ka, 梅が香), Spring 1694

Was the snow still falling? Was it bitterly cold? Did the birds sing when the sun rose?

Note. In the early spring of Matsuo Basho’s last year, he and Shida Yaba 志太野坡 composed a haiku sequence (renga) that came to be called Ume ga Ka (Plum Blossom Scent). Ume, (plum), the five petals symbolize the Five Blessings: old age, wealth, health, virtue, and a peaceful death.

ume ga ka ni mukashi no ichiji aware nari

The fragrant plum,
The days of old,
That nothing last — ’tis a pity.

Matsuo Basho, February 1694

Note. This second haiku addressed to his student Baigan 梅丸 who had recently lost his son. Ume ga ka, the fragrant plum. Ni, a participle indicating movement or direction. Mukashi, the days of old, the past. No, acts as an indicator of possession. Ichiji. a reference to life’s impermanence. Aware, a pity, something that’s sad. Nari indicates that the emotion follows quickly.

A plum blossom fades all too soon, and so does life. Matsuo Basho died later that year.

Ume no hana, the plum blossom


Ladybug, Ladybug
A bug with a house and wings to boot
— so cute

Bashō no yōna, August 2022

Note. In Japanese, ladybug is tentou-mushi, テントウムシ. That seems a mouthful, but not when you learn it literally means “a bug with a house.”

Bullet Train

Last night my wife and I watched Bullet Train starring Brad Pitt and Hiroyuki Sanada among others. Brad Pitt stars as Ladybug, an unlucky snatch and grab artist, and Hiroyuki Sanada as the Elder, an aging Japanese martial artist/mobster who is trying to protect his grandson and simultaneously seek revenge against the nefarious White Death, who has brought together a cast of bad characters on a Japanese Bullet Train.

In the penultimate scene, Elder (Sanada) explains “Ladybug” to Pitt, saying the bug is not unlucky. It captures all the bad luck in the world under its shell to protect the rest of the world.


Ladybug, Ladybug
Bring me some luck
Fly, faraway home

Bashō no yōna, August 2022

Basho on Bugs

Matsuo Basho has no ladybug haiku. Ain’t that’s a shame.

But he did write about cicadas, butterfly, dragonflies, silkworms, lightening bugs, grasshoppers and crickets.

Oh my!

Trivia. In Bullet Train the train is going from Tokyo to Kyoto. The route is known as the Tōkaidō Road, formerly a walking path Basho took many times. The Bullet Train takes about 140 minutes to go from place to place. The move ran 126 minutes.

Eastern Colorado

Mid July, 2022. US 50

In July

Can I help to find a cantaloupe

Rocky Ford, Colorado

The local cops

Love to stop and chat at the Coffee Shop

The Coffee Shop in downtown Rocky Ford, Colorado, hot coffee, friendly chatter, cute jewelry.

The Coffee Shop

There are piles of cantaloupe and watermelon and peaches on stands in Rocky Ford Calla Colorado. But it is too early in the season for these to be grown here.

Swink, Colorado

Swing, I think they need

A catchier name


Don’t blink

You missed it

La Junta, Colorado


They’ve got

A Walmart

Three towns in quick succession. Rocky Ford, Swink, and La Junta. The last is close to Bent’s Old Fort, an early settlement on the Santa Fe Trail. A way’s further to Las Animas.

Hurry, she said, let’s hurry

Why, I said,

You’ll miss this moment


Can’t miss it in

Las Animas

From Las Animas, it’s on to Hasty and La Mar. Beneath the ground is a giant aquifer quickly shrinking from the irrigation needed to water the crops.

Yuki, Yuki, Yuki

It snowed last night, several inches, which is unusual in southern Kansas. Snow, snow, snow, let it snow, we used to say as kids, hoping that school would be cancelled, which is what happened today, February, o2, 2022.

Or 2/2/22, a palindrome date.

Looky, looky, looky
Yuki, yuki, yuki
We’re playing hooky

Bashō no yōna, February 2, 2022

Note. Hooky, skipping school without permission. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn often played hooky.

yuki, snow

Basho on Snow and Winter

From the book Oi no kobumi, Winter 1687-8:

いざ行かむ 雪見にころぶ 所まで
Iza yukan / yukimi ni korobu / tokoro made

Let’s go out
And see the snow
Until we slip and fall.

Matsuo Basho, Oi no kobumi, Winter 1687-8

A child grow up and the snow is not his friend. Still, snow on Mt. Fuji is a thing of beauty.

fuyu no hi ya / bashō ni kōru / kagebōshi

A winter’s day
me and my shadow
frozen on horseback

一尾根はしぐるる雲か 富士の雪
hito one wa / shigururu kumo ka / Fuji no yuki

over the ridge
Winter showers
is there’s snow on Mount Fuji? 

Matsuo Basho, Oi no kobumi, early Winter 1687-8

Oi no kobumi

In English, Notes from my Knapsack, or Backpack Notes, 笈の小文, October 25, 1687 to June 1688. Matsuo Basho was 44 when he began this round-Robin trip, reciting verse, from Edo to Iga, then Nagoya, to the grand Ise shrine, and from Nara to Otsu, and home again. Like a child going to school he carried a knapsack, oi 笈, usually made of bamboo.

Snow on Mt. Fuji

There are many translations of Matsuo Basho’s haiku. Not surprisingly they do not all agree. Many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, said Robert Burns. In our case, between pen, the word, and the ear.

In the last haiku, being away form Edo, I suspect Matsuo was wondering if the snow had yet appeared at Mt. Fuji. In late fall, snow flurries make their first appearance at Mount Fuji. And, typically, Fuji is snow-capped five months out of the year. Traveling by horse over the hills in a winter storm, wondering is there snow on Mt. Fuji. This question arises because the character か, ka appears prior to snow on Mt. Fuji (shigururu kumo ka / Fuji no yuki).

Winter Sleet

At this moment, in the Winter of 2022, a snow storm is crossing much of the eastern United States from Boston to Norfolk. Here in the Midwest, the sky is spectacularly clear, China blue, but bitterly cold. While chattering birds look down from the trees above, scampering squirrels hunt for food in my garden.

Matsuo would ask, do birds and squirrels feel the cold, I wonder?

hito shigure/ tsubute ya futte/ Koishikawa

at this moment, it is sleeting
and hailstones are falling all about,
at Koishikawa

Matsuo Basho, 延宝5年, the 5th year of the Enpo era, Edo, 1678-9

To which, Bashō no yōna says:

All about me, it’s sleeting
I’m freezing, only thinking
Fame is fleeting

Bashō no yōna, Wichita, January 2022

To which Matsuo replies:

So is life

Morning after the Snow, Koishikawa, artist Katsushika Hokusai, 1830-2, The Met

Edo, Winter, 1678-9

Matsuo had arrived in Edo, in 1675, seeking fame and fortune as a haiku master. He resided near Edo’s glitzy Nihonbashi District, a country boy in the big city which Edo was becoming. And he was variously employed, making ends meet, while honing his poetic skills. By the winter of 1678-9, he had achieved some recognition.

An admirer of Buddhism, Matsuo would be thinking, fame does not come to all, to those who are lucky, fame is fleeting, for we are only here for a short while — yi shi, 一時.

Fame was in the Future

Matsuo had not, however, taken on the pen-name Matsuo Basho. This would occur after 1680, when he moved to the Fukagawa District of Edo and lived in a simple cottage beside a banana tree given to him by a student. Not had Matsuo taken his journey to the northern interior, which would give him lasting fame in the posthumous publication of Oku no Hosomichi (奥の細道).

For was, now, simply living in the moment, yi shi, 一時.

Notes on Translation

Hito, 一時, Chinese, yi shi, meaning at this time, for the moment, not necessarily a concrete moment, a spiritual one; also a Buddhist term for a period in which one chants a sūtra.

Shigure, 雨, a freezing rain, drizzle, sleet, referring to the rainy season in late fall and early winter.

Futte, 降つて, falling about. Matsuo is also implying that he is about to experience a change of fortunes, either for good or bad.

Koishikawa, a place in Edo (Tokyo), a well known garden constructed in the early Edo period, possessing a view of Mt. Fuji. Koishikawa, meaning small river pebble. Basho’s haiku is a play on words with hail as the small pebble. It is also a Buddhist observation of the insignificance of one moment and one man in the eternity of time and space. Matsuo, at this time was engaged in work on an aqueduct, which may explain the connection with the construction of the garden.

A Japanese point of view of Matsuo Basho.

Squirrels and Robins

Bashō no yōna admires Matsuo Basho’s haiku, but can’t seem to find any haiku on the subject of squirrels or robins. That is a pity as I have an old oak tree in my backyard that has been home to a family of squirrels for as long as I have lived here. And I suppose for many generations before since the tree is well over one hundred years old.

From the tall oak, coppery leaves hang
and acorns fall, gathered by squirrels
for cold days ahead

Bashō no yōna, Winter, January 2022

Often we can go a week or so without rain in Kansas. So, dozens of chattering robins gathered in my yard after I watered the lawn and filled the birdbath. Perched on the side of the birdbath, each robin, 駒鳥 politely dips its beak into the water and raises its head. I am reminded of the Japanese custom of bowing in respect and emotion, ojigi, お辞儀.

I wonder.

Robins at a birdbath
Bobbing heads and drinking,
Saying: Arigato

Bashō no yōna, Wichita, January 2022
a row of oak trees along a path

Where the Buffalo Roamed

Oz, the author of this blog, is on I-35, driving north to Kansas City. Although it is December, there is a strong southerly wind. (Appropriately so, for Kansas is a Native American word meaning People of the South Wind.) Taking advantage of the wind, cars and trucks speed along on the turnpike like prairie schooners pushed west by the wind.

Strong winds are not unusual in Kansas. A south wind in December is.

the shaggy grass
like a buffalo herd
galloping along

Bashō no yōna, The Flint Hills, December 2021, the hills were once covered in buffalo

The Flint Hills cover north central Oklahoma and central Kansas. They are part of the prairie region of the United States that stretch from Texas to Canada. Because of the rocky soil and limited rainfall on the Flint Hills the prairie grass is shorter except along the rivers and creeks and the lowlands where the tall grass takes over. This area was once the favorite feeding grounds of the American Bison, which we call buffalo. From Spring to Winter, the buffalo roamed the plains, feeding on the massive herds which covered the hills for miles, and numbered in the tens of millions. The Native American Indians who survived on the buffalo, the Osage, the Kansas, the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Kiowa and others, hunted the beast by horse back and on foot, and could not lessen the numbers of buffalo. Only the arrival of the White Man and the rifle and the railroad, and the farmer who claimed the grass destroyed the millions of buffalo that once roamed the Flint Hills.

The turnpike heads northeast where the deer and the antelope once played. The wolves that fed on the buffalo are gone. The antelope too. The deer remain in the woodlands.

Following a grey car
on a gray windy day,
flying along like an antelope

Bashō no yōna, The Flint Hills, December 2021

It is difficult if not impossible to capture the image grass waving in the wind, of the different grasses — Big bluestem, Indiangrass, Little bluestem, and Switchgrass, all of which grow on the Flint Hills. In December, the green chlorophyll has all faded away. What remains are a golden yellow and red. The hills are mostly treeless except along the creek beds. There the dark brown trees now shorn of leaves seem naked against the steel gray sky.

Shiwasu, 師走 is the Japanese word for the 12th lunar month.

The waving Indiangrass
was golden red
— Shiwasu

Bashō no yōna,

to the wind
— Nature’s voice

Bashō no yōna, December 2021, remembering Rachel Carson

In the Cretaceous era (145 to 66 million years ago), the central part of the United States was an inland sea.

The vast Flint Hills
an inland sea
of waving grass

Bashō no yōna, December 2021

Willa Cather gave the best descriptions of the Flint Hills in My Antonia.

The red prairie grass
Like wine-stains
On a golden cloth

Willa Cather, My Antonia

Years pass on the Flint Hills and not much changes. This past autumn, I drove through Red Cloud, Nebraska where Willa Cather grew up. It is a farming community and not much has changed since Willa lived there.

“The windy springs
and the blazing summers,
one after another”

Willa Cather, My Antonia

Cather’s full text:

“The windy springs and the blazing summers, one after another, had enriched and mellowed that flat tableland; all the human effort that had gone into it was coming back in long, sweeping lines of fertility. The changes seemed beautiful and harmonious to me; it was like watching the growth of a great man or of a great idea. I recognized every tree and sandbank and rugged draw. I found that I remembered the conformation of the land as one remembers the modelling of human faces.”

But I am not sure that all the changes are in harmony with Nature.

In his famous travelogue, Oku no Hosomichi, Matsuo Basho spoke of the passing of time:

The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them. Many of the men of old died on the road, and I too for years past have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.

Oku no Hosomichi, Matsuo Basho, introduction, 1689
Kansas wheat field