Another Rainy Day

Edo, Autumn, 1678, Matsuo Basho, then called Tosei, age 35.


雨の日 や世間の秋を 堺町

ame no hi / ya seken no aki o / sakai-chō

A rainy day, in Autumn the world awakens in Sakai-cho

Sakai-cho, Edo’s Kabuki Theater District, Utagawa Hiroshige

Leaving Edo

He has not yet become Bashō, 芭蕉, the poet who compares himself to the fragile and useless Banana plant. That is yet to come when, two autumns later, Matsuo Basho would take the somewhat surprising step of leaving Edo and crossing the Sumida River to Fukagawa to live in a cottage beside a Banana plant, 芭蕉.

For now, Basho enjoys Kabuki Theater. Rain doesn’t matter. Perhaps it heightens the surreal quality of the plays.

Kechi, Kansas, Autumn, 2021

More than three centuries have gone by since Matsuo Basho wrote his haiku.

Today, in 2021, pubs and micro-breweries have become the gathering place for friends and couples who want to talk about the day’s events, about the World.

It is another rainy day in Middle America. It is early September; the summer’s heat has given way to cooler days and nights. The author of this blog takes a trip to Kechi, a small Kansas town outside Wichita. He is accompanied by his wife and dog, Lucy, a small dog, a mix, mostly Blue Heeler. The three of us sit on the patio under trees strung with lights, sample the beers, listen to music, and forget our worrries.

Suddenly, it starts to storm. Lucy runs inside and shakes off the rain. Bashō no yōna, the author of this blog, and modern day Basho disciple, says this:

A dog knows
To Stay out of the Rain
And Sakai-cho

Beer stops Pouring
When it starts Raining

At the Old School House in Kechi

Notes on Translation

Before becoming Basho, Matsuo Basho took the pen name Tosei, 桃青, meaning “green peach” inferring that he was not quite ripe.

世間, Seken, literally the World, Society, as opposed to the individual. According to the Buddha, there are two worlds, the internal world and external world. Through meditation, one understands one’s thoughts and feelings, and finds one’s ‘inner world’.

境町, Sakai-chō, literally border town. It is somewhat unclear whether 境町, Sakai-chō is a place within Tokyo’s Nihonbashi District, or it merely borders it, a special district where Kabuki Theaters were allowed. Often these theaters began in Tokyo where prostitutes plied their trade. Other worldly in this sense takes on a sexual connotation. Though frowned upon by the ruling authorities, such districts were allowed. William Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men similarly had to obtain a royal license to perform.

Gabi Greve has given us a thorough discussion of Nihonbashi in her thoroughly wonderfully blog.

Previously translated as Rainy Day and Seken no Aki.

Historical Context

England 1678, John Bunyan published The Pilgrim’s Progress, an other worldly allegory of man’s journey through life. Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and culturally isolated from Western societies.

Three in One

three in one cup,
but I drink to one name,
who am I, this night?

盃に 三つの名を飲む 今宵かな

sakazuki ni mitsu no na o nomu koyoi kana

Oct. 23, 1685, Edo

Everyone likes a good riddle. So who was Matsuo Basho toasting?

On this date in Japanese history, Yamaga Sokō, original name Yamaga Takasuke died. He was a military strategist, Confucian philosopher, and originator of what would become the Bushido Code by which all Samurai would operate.

Three in One conjures up an image of the Holy Trinity, the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three for One, makes one also think Alexandre Dumas‘ 19th century novel Three Musketeers, who proclaimed, “Un pour tous, tous pour un. (One for all, and all for one.)”

Sakazuki Takasuke!

No, Basho likely had in mind Takasuke in offering up Sakazuki, a ceremonial cup of wine. This is speculation, but it fits nicely. Basho being descended from a Samurai family would want to honor another. Takasuke Sakazuki! Takasuke Sakazuki! Takasuke Sakazuki! The honorific was said three times.

Li Bai

Matsuo Basho also had in mind 8th century Chinese poet Li Bai (太白,744–762). He of many titles including the Transcendent Poet, Banished Immortal, and Green Lotus House Warrior. The first for his skill as a poet, the second for his prodigious drinking, and the third as an artist.

Basho’s haiku is a response to Li Bai’s well-known poem Under the Moon, Drinking Alone.

In the midst of flowers, with one jug of wine
Drinking alone, and no one else,
I offer up my cup, to the bright moon
My shadows and I, a party of three.

Li Bai

Three

Why three? Things that come in threes are funnier, interesting, and more memorable. Comedians, magicians, and poets know to set up a sequence with three short lines, then the punch line. Three is mystical. The Holy Trinity, as I’ve said. It also creates a unique pattern and a relationship that the brain can understand. The Three Blind Mice, The Three Little Pigs, The Three Stooges. Three is also an odd number, the first Prime number, if one excludes the number “one.” Two fit together nicely, but three rarely do.

Basho explains

By way of explanation, Basho’s haiku came at gathering for moon-viewing (観月) at his home in the fall of 1685. He he had returned to Edo and his Banana Hut after the first of his wanderings. Present were three friends all named Shichiroubei. No doubt Basho founds some humor in the homonyms, zuki, as in cup, and tsuki, moon; as well as the visual similarity of the flat circular cup and the circular full moon.

Basho ends his haiku alliteratively with koyoi kana, 今宵, literally, this night, but also a question, as in, who am I?

Sakazuki

Gentle Reader, nomu, 飲む, let’s drink: Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu

Saki, Sake cup from Wikipedia