Matsuo Bashō’s life (1644-1694), spanning a half century, took place during the first century of the Tokugawa period (aka Edo period, 1603–1867). In Europe, Oliver Cromwell ruled in England for much of this period. Holland, which traded with Japan, was in its Golden Age. In England, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and John Donne were setting suns, and the three John’s, Milton, Dryden and Bunyan, were rising. Holland too had many writers, including Constantijn Huygens, who composed witty epigrams.

Despite some internal disturbances and rebellions, in Japan it was a time of relative peace, political stability, and economic growth. In 1635, the Sakoku Edict was issued by the Tokugawa Shogunate barring Japanese from leaving Japan and barring Europeans from entering, beginning an isolationist period that ended long after Bashō’s death.

Westerners visiting Japan prior to the 17th century were for the most part Spanish and Portuguese. After the Sakoku Edict, only Dutch traders were allowed in Japan, and then only on Dejima Island.


1644 松尾 金作, Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa is born near Ueno, in Iga Province. His father is described as a minor Samurai, which by the 17th century had lost much of its significance.

1656  Matsuo Yozaemon, Bashō’s father, dies.

1656? Bashō enters the service of the local lord’s son, Tōdō Yoshitada, at Ueno Castle.

1662  Earliest known poem.

1665 Bashō (age 21) and Yoshitada, together with others, compose a hyakuin, a one-hundred-verse renku.

1666 Death of Bashō’s patron Yoshitada.

1667 After Yoshitada’s death, it is believed that Bashō traveled then arrived in Kyoto and spent several years studying Chinese and Japanese poetry in a Buddhist temple.

1667, 1669, and 1671 Bashō poems are published in various anthologies, some of which Bashō publishes himself.

1672 Bashō (age 28) moves from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo).

To be continued…

1694  Bashō dies (age 50) of a stomach ailment in Osaka.

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