The smell of haiku

The power of scent to raise a memory has been scientifically proven, as has the link between scent and emotion, one that perfumiers strive to tap into. This article in The Harvard Gazette explains the science: Smells are handled by the olfactory bulb, the structure in the front of the brain that sends information to the other areas of the body’s central command for further processing. Odours go directly to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory – and the oldest parts of the human brain.

And although we list taste as one of the five senses, science says that everything we taste is by way of being smelled. No sense of smell, no sense of taste.

Here are some haiku I think convey the sense of smell very well, even if they almost all use the word ‘scent’! I hope you’ve enjoyed this four-part look at haiku that engage with the senses beyond sight, I’ve had fun putting it together.

fallen eucalypt …
the scent
cut into stove lengths

Jo McInerney
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

gentle rain
scent of the seedbed turning
a deeper brown

Katrina Shepherd
from Before the Sirocco (NZPS, 2008)

yellow roses
at Uji the fragrance
of roasting tea leaves

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note to the haiku, written in 1691, is that as yamabuki flowers (Kerria japonica) have no fragrance, they must borrow smells from the roasted tea.

Uji was once one of the most important tea-growing areas in Japan. Read more here. It’s interesting to note that although the yamabuki plant is not a rose, its name is often used to mean ‘yellow rose’ in Japanese literature!

migrating geese –
her scent finally gone
from my pillow

Stephen Toft
from another country: haiku poetry from Wales (Gomer, 2011)

in the alleys
orange blossom scent . . .
the rest escapes me

Luci Cardillo
from Autumn Moon 2.2 (2019)

otoko kite heya nuchi suisen no nioi midaru

a man enters
the room, disturbing the scent
of daffodils

Yoshino Yoshiko, tr Makoto Ueda
from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women
(Columbia University Press, 2003)

two boys giggle
as he enters the bike shop …
onion seller

Alan Summers
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

family reunion
bad breath
has a name

Roberta Beach Jacobson
from H Gene Murtha Senryu Contest, 2019

summer breeze
setting aside the book
to smell her hair

Makarios Tabor
from The Heron’s Nest 22.1, 2020


The touch of haiku

The sensation of touch – whether we’re touching something or someone or we’re being touched – is often an unrecorded sensation. We’re much more likely to respond strongly to taste or smell. But from the moment we’re born our vulnerable skin is wrapped in a textile or fibre, and we do that until we are dressed for the final time and our earthly remains commended to the elements.

Our skin is our largest organ and is constantly absorbing and classifying contact sensations. As I type this only my face and hands are exposed and I realise that I haven’t for a long time considered how my fingerpads feel the keyboard keys and what messages they’re sending to my brain. Given that I’ve been using typewriters and keyboards for more than 40 years, I might be forgiven for falling into non-observance but it’s a timely prod that I could well do to examine this facet of my haiku writing.

feet up
toes spread wide
I catch
8 tiny summer breezes

Anita Virgil
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

cat’s tongue
licks the Atlantic
from my damp skin

Doris Lynch
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

summer morning
the riverbed stones warm
beneath my feet

John Barlow
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

yu no nagori koyoi wa hada no samukara n

tonight my skin
will miss the hot spring
it seems colder

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note to this haiku, written in autumn 1689, is that the poet gave the haiku to Toyo, the son of the innkeeper, as he was leaving the hot springs resort at Yamanaka, near Kanazawa. In her introduction to this section of haiku, Reichhold notes that Basho had become ‘infatuated’ with the young man.

drafty temple –
only the buddha
not shivering

Stanford M Forrester
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

mother’s ashes
the mountain wind
on my hands

Meg Arnot
Morika International Haiku Contest, 2019

my thumbprint
on this thousand-year-old pot
fits hers

Ruth Yarrow
from Montage

haguki kayuku chikubi kamu ko ya hanagumori

gums itching
the baby bites my nipple –
spring’s hazy sky

Sugita Hisajo, tr Makoto Ueda
from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women
(Columbia University Press, 2003)

summer haze
on the small of my back
the feel of his palm

Patricia Prime
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)

The sound of haiku

We are surrounded by sound all our waking (and sleeping) hours, some of it pleasant (birdsong), some of it discordant (emergency sirens). These haiku seem to me to use sound in interesting and sometimes inventive ways.

cello solo the owls in my bones

Tanya McDonald
from Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press, 2018)

morning sneeze
the guitar in the corner

Dee Evetts
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

pissing into a steel trough the muted boom of the bar

Stuart Quine
from Stepping Stones: a way into haiku (BHS, 2007)

the skins of wild damsons
darkening in the rain

Caroline Gourlay
from Stepping Stones (BHS, 2007)

furu oto ya mimi mo su-nara ume no ame

a falling sound
that sours my ears
plum rain

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note for this haiku, written in 1666, is: What the Japanese call ‘ume’ is most often translated as ‘plum’ … but the fruit more closely resembles the apricot. Because the fruit ripens from mid-June to mid-July the rains of this time are called ‘ume no ame’ (‘plum rains’). Even ripe the fruit is inedible until it has been preserved in salty, sour liquid, similar to olives.

the slow drip of rain
on the nursery roof

Vanessa Proctor
from Wishbone Moon

summer solstice
the measuring tape reels back
into its case

Carolyn Hall
from Montage

setsugen ya majiwarazu shite wadachiato

autumn night –
the sound of two white plates

Yoshiko Yoshino, tr. unknown

through my stethoscope
the rumble
of the 8:15

Jon Iddon
from Stepping Stones

foghorns –
we lower a kayak
into the sound

Christopher Herold
from Montage

my ears have lost
the creek

Sandi Pray
from Wishbone Moon

late-rising moon
each rock in the stream
has its own sound

Burnell Lippy
from Montage

The taste of haiku

Finding myself with some time on my hands I thought I would explore haiku that deal with our senses beyond sight. So there will be a themed post once a week for the next four weeks. I’ve had fun finding and selecting these poems, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

Taste and scent are and likely the most difficult senses to weave into a haiku. I catch myself writing ‘the taste of …’  far too often so then must stop and figure out another way of saying exactly that. It’s been fun discovering or re-discovering taste-sense haiku where the authors have found ways of making their poem bold, fresh and vivid.

oozing from a fig
indian summer

Harriot West
from The Wonder Code (Girasole Press, 2017)

mononofu no daikon nigaki hanashi kana

the bitterness of pickles
in the talk

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold
from Basho: The complete haiku (Kodansha, 2008)

The translator’s note for this haiku written in 1693 says Basho has chosen to pair ‘daikon’, a large radish that is often pickled, with ‘nigaki’, meaning ‘bitter’. Both the pickles and the military men’s stories left a bitter taste. She believes the haiku also references the Japanese proverb, ‘the ambitious man eats strong roots’.

shimmering pines
a taste of the mountain
from your cupped hands

Peggy Willis Lyles
from Montage (The Haiku Foundation, 2010)

wood smoke
a little something extra
in the tea

Adelaide B Shaw
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

Valentine’s Day –
a cherry tomato
bursts in my mouth

Michael Dylan Welch
from Haikuniverse, Feb 14, 2017

carnival day
candy-floss kiss
on the ghost train

Ron C Moss
from the ‘Freshly Caught’ sequence, Kokako 2 (2004)

the way English tastes
on my tongue

Chen-ou Liu
from naad anunaad: an anthology of contemporary world haiku
(Viswakarma Publications, 2016)

no longer friends
the aftertaste
of imported ale

Polona Oblak
from A New Resonance 9 (Red Moon Press)

lovacore market
notes of diesel
in the chilled cherries

Lew Watts
from a hole in the light (Red Moon Press, 2019)

waga aji no zakuro ni hawasu shirami kana

this pomegranate
tastes like me
enjoy it, little louse!


Translator David Lanoue says: In the prescript to this 1820 haiku, Issa recalls the legend of a mother demon who went about eating children. The Buddha recommended  she switch to a diet of pomegranates, which supposedly taste the same as human flesh. See R. H. Blyth, Haiku (Hokuseido, 1949-1952/1981-1982). In this hard-to-translate haiku, Issa catches one of his lice, and, instead of killing it, places it on his surrogate, the pomegranate.

From Tosei to Bashō

By Sandra Simpson


This article, which originally appeared on the Haiku NewZ website, has been pieced together from several sources – my role has simply been to pull it together in one place. I hope to give a feel for the times in which Bashō lived, to humanise him for those of us who view him only on a pedestal.

The Tokugawa Shogunate was established in Edo in 1603, and was the last feudal military government of Japan. During the Shogunate the Emperor remained in Kyoto, the formal capital of Japan. At the fall of the Shogunate in 1867, Edo was renamed Tokyo and the following year, the first of the Meiji Restoration, the city became the nation’s capital and welcomed the Emperor.

The social structure of the Edo Period saw samurai at the top – constantly training throughout this 250-year peace so socially irrelevant and with falling incomes; and merchants at the bottom, banned from taking positions of political power but becoming increasingly wealthy thanks to the immense number of military personnel living in Edo.

The professions required to build and sustain the city were traditionally held by men, such as artisans, merchants, construction workers, carpenters, tailors, surveyors, draftsmen, storekeepers, clerks, tatami makers, scholars, and legislators. As a result, men outnumbered women in Edo by two-to-one. The city’s residential areas were segregated into areas for each of the four classes.

An urban culture developed that stressed an appreciation of nature and artistic cultivation, and women and men of all classes engaged in music, painting, calligraphy, and games of skill. Edo citizens became patrons of art, creating a previously unprecedented artistic pluralism. For the first time, the aristocracy no longer dictated artistic trends and production, despite attempts by the Shogunate to curtail artistic consumption among its subjects. 1

Tosei arrives in Edo
In 1672, a 28-year-old poet using the pen name Tosei (Green Peach) set out from Kyoto for Edo to carve out a career as a professional poet. His first book had been recently published, and about 30 of his verses were in anthologies.

He landed in the bustling Nihonbashi quarter, a haven for haikai poets (in those days this meant those practicing renku). The neighbourhood was named for the famous Nihonbashi bridge and boasted an equally famous wholesale fish market, Uogashi (fish quay). Uogashi fish wholesalers were those Edokko (people born and raised in central Edo) who had economic power and the distinction of having been designated purveyors of fish for the Shogunate. These wholesalers acted as patrons of Edo’s popular culture, while the young men working at the Uogashi represented the dashing and swashbuckling Edokko. 2


Nihonbashi was part of the commercial centre of Edo – the 51m-long Nihonbashi Bridge being the start/end point of the great Tokaido highway to Kyoto, and the bulk of the city’s people and commodities moved by water. The bridge, which has had many iterations (it burned many times), still exists, although today is dwarfed and almost hidden by an elevated highway. Mileage throughout Japan was measured from a marker in the middle of the bridge, and it was where news and proclamations were posted – and major criminals  punished.

In the early 1700s, reasonable estimates showed a population concentration in Kanda and Nihonbashi of nearly 70,000 people per square mile compared with a mere 15,000 per square mile in the samurai districts, and 22,000-odd people in the most crowded districts today. Little wonder that a fire in 1657 killed more than 100,000 people. 3

nagamuru ya   Edo ni wa marena   yama no tsuki

viewing a mountain moon
rarely is it seen so clear
in dirty old Edo

Bashō, tr Jane Reichhold

Tosei lived in the residence of Sugiyama Kensui, a haiku poet known as Ozawa Senpu, and a carp wholesaler using the business name Koiya. Kensui’s eldest son, Sanpu (1647-1732), is considered Basho’s greatest benefactor and came to be known as one of the master’s 10 most prominent students. Among his students, Basho trusted Sanpu most for his coherent and sound style, unaffected by trends, as well as for his personality. 4

persistently I stare
at the moon
still I cannot hear


Sanpu suffered severe hearing loss and it’s said that Basho was very upset with Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707) for teasing Sanpu that he would never keep up with the world because of his disability. 5

Kikaku was among the most accomplished disciples of Bashō and his poetry is known for its wit and its difficulty. Whereas Bashō, especially in his later years, focused on the countryside and espoused an aesthetic of simplicity, Kikaku preferred the city and the opportunities it provided for extravagant play. He also preferred a more demanding form of poetry, one laced with wordplay, allusions, and juxtapositions of images that defy easy explanation. At the time of his death, he was perhaps the leading poet in Edo, which had a population of about one million, making it perhaps the largest city in the world at the time. 6

into the soup pot
rain drops from a bamboo hat…
harvesting rice seedlings

Takarai Kikaku, tr Joshua Gage

Kikaku, who wrote of coarser subjects than Bashō, set the tone for haikai from Bashō’s death until the time of Yosa Buson in the late 18th century. 7 He also wrote An Account of our Master Bashō’s Last Days.

By 1675 Tosei was gaining recognition in Edo through haikai gatherings and anthologies and had begun to attract students. In the spring of 1677 he held a 1000-verse gathering and acted as judge and teacher – in other words, a professional. 8 Also in 1677 he joined about 60 other poets in a colossal, sponsored poetry contest – Hokku Contest in 600 Rounds! – with well-known haikai masters serving as judges. Tosei won nine matches, lost five and tied six, placing him among the established masters, like Yuzan, with whom he studied. 9

Tosei’s next step was to become a fulltime tenja (marker), a licensed haikai poet to whom work could be submitted for review and marking with judgements of excellence. Most of his students were amateurs but a number were becoming disciples and in the summer came the collection, Best Poems of Tosei’s Twenty Disciples.

Much Seasoning
Besides Buddhist and Shinto festivals and observances, the citizens of Edo – and particularly the Edokko – from all walks of life were connected deeply with nature and marked various seasonal events throughout the year with outings and special foods.

furi uri no   gan awarenari   Ebisu ko

a peddler’s
wild ducks are pitiful
good fortune festival

Bashō, tr Jane Reichhold (the festival of Ebisu is on November 20)

In the spring, it was off to see blossoms and listen to nightingales; in summer firefly viewing and fireworks; moon-viewing and strolling amid coloured leaves in autumn, and in winter admiring snowy scenes. People also enjoyed boating for leisure along the rivers and on the sea harbour and attending markets.

hotaru mi ya    sendo youte   obotsukana

firefly viewing –  
the boatman is drunk,
the boat unsteady

Bashō, tr David Landis Barnhill

A Move to the Countryside
But poetry alone couldn’t keep the wolf from the door and for 4 years from 1677, Tosei was employed by the waterworks company, supervising the maintenance of a 5km canal carrying drinking water from the Kanda River to Edo. Apparently he liked working in the farming countryside of Sekiguchi, enjoying views of rice paddies brimming with water from the Kanda. When this job wrapped up he moved even further from the central city, to the rural east bank of the Sumida River, and gave up his practice as a marker. 10

basho cottage brookyln

At this time Fukagawa was a sparsely populated piece of reclaimed delta land beyond the boundary of Edo – and there was no bridge linking the area to the city, although ferry and freight boats plied the busy waterway during daylight. Early in the morning and in the evening silence prevailed and Tosei could hear the gongs of temple bells ringing in Ueno and Asakusa, 4km away. Nearby was a Zen temple, Rinsen-ji, where Tosei practiced meditation with the monk Butcho. 11

hana no kumo   kane wa Ueno ka   Asakusa ka

clouds of blossoms – 
that temple bell, is it Ueno?

Bashō, tr Robert Hass

Jane Reichhold in Basho, the Complete Haiku relates that the area was “exposed to the constant attack of sea wind from Tokyo Bay, as well as the danger of tidal waves from the ocean … Because the area had no safe water supply, water was delivered by boat. It was a rough and wild place for a poet to live.”

Ironically, as we’ll see shortly, the land at Fukagawa had been reclaimed by using burnt earth from the great fire of 1657 when almost two-thirds of the city, including the castle’s gold stock, was destroyed. Started by flying embers at a temple, the two days of fire and the following snow and cold weather killed 108,000 people (out of a population of 300,000). The re-born city looked somewhat different as officials demanded wider streets, firebreaks, and the use of plaster as a fire-proofing method. The new Ryogoku bridge allowed development of the east bank of the Sumida River, including Fukagawa which immediately became home to the city’s (flammable) timberyards. 12

Although many scholars find it difficult to explain why Tosei moved to this isolated area, other than he was fed up with life in the city and seeking a simpler existence, Steven D Carter sees the move as denoting a new seriousness of purpose – the kind of seriousness displayed in this hokku composed in 1680. 13

kareeda ni    karasu no tomarikeri    aki no kure

on a withered branch
          a crow has settled—
                        autumn evening

Bashō, tr David Landis Barnhill

Tosei still had his scholars (and so some income from poetry) and continued to compose renku. Over the years he lived in three different cottages in Fukugawa, one a remodelled place that had previously been the caretaker’s lodge at Koiya’s carp farm. 14

He wrote: I live alone in a dilapidated hut by the river. I sit and admire the view of distant Fuji and of passing boats. In the morning I watch boats sail out of the harbour. At night I sit in the moonlight, listening to the wind in the reeds and lamenting the emptiness of my cask. Even in bed I lament — the thinness of my blankets! 15

The Birth of Basho
In 1681 Rika, one of Tosei’s pupils, gave him a banana tree (bashō in Japanese) and he planted this rarity from southern China beside his cottage. Visitors started to call the cottage ‘Bashō-an’ and the poet adopted Bashō as his new pen name. This was, Reichhold says, apparently the first haiku he wrote using his new pen name:

basho ue te    mazu nikumu ogi no    futaba kana

planting a banana tree
more than ever I hate
sprouting reeds

Bashō, tr Jane Reichhold

By way of explanation, Reichhold says that because Bashō lived in a marshy area where two rivers joined, it was possible that many reeds grew around his home. Reeds have thick, deep and connected root systems that would compete with those of the banana tree. She also notes that reeds were a classical topic for court poetry and that Bashō was ‘competing’ by trying to establish a new mode of poetry. 16

The first book to contain his new pen-name was Eastern Trends (1681), intended for readers in Kyoto, about the poetry scene in Edo. The collection managed to feature Bashō and his disciples so prominently, one would have thought they dominated Edo poetry. 17

aki totose   kaette Edo o   sasu kokyo

ten autumns
Edo has become
my hometown

Bashō, tr Jane Reichhold

Bashō’s fame spread so that even in the boondocks of Fukagawa he was able to give lessons by correspondence, with a letter dated June 20, 1682 the oldest evidence of his teachings. But, Reichhold says, “acquiring a house and a growing circle of renga students only increased Basho’s unhappiness with himself and his writing”.

On December 28, 1682 his cottage – and again much of Edo – was destroyed by fire, a common occurrence in a land of wooden and paper buildings, open fires for cooking, braziers for heating, and dry winter winds. In fact, fires were so common in Edo that its inhabitants had a saying: ‘Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo.’ Bashō’s disciple Takarai Kikaku describes the event:

His grassy cottage was engulfed by a sudden fire, and he had to save his life by wading through the river water, holding a rush mat over his head, and running though the smoke. This was the beginning of his hard life… He gave up the idea of settling down in one place, and went to a mountain village in the province of Kai. However, he found the view of Mt. Fuji too cold and aloof. So he returned to his old place … His followers were glad to see him back and built for him a cottage in the old place, planting a stock of bashō tree to comfort his eyes. He continued to live a secluded life and wrote the following poem on a rainy night.18

basho nowake shite   tarai ni ame o   kiku yo kana

storm-torn banana tree
all night I listen to rain
in a basin

Bashō, tr Jane Reichhold

His students, and old friend Sanpu, rally round and not only build a new cottage but furnish it and provide Bashō with clothes and food. But the year is one of mostly downs – despite the publication of the first major anthology of his school (Minashiguri, Shrivelled Chestnuts) – this is also the year his mother dies.

On the Road
Depressed, Bashō gives up his new cottage in 1684 and embarks on the first of his several journeys that result in published collections of poetry and haibun, in this case Journal of Bleached Bones in a Field (Nozarashi kiko). He finds that as he travels his mood lightens and he begins to enjoy both the walking and his encounters and experiences. This first journey prompts several others of varying length.


“Haibun in the broad sense existed before Bashō in the form of prefaces, headnotes to hokku, and short essays written by haikai masters,” Hanuo Shirane writes. “Bashō’s new notion of haibun, by contrast, is characterised by the prominent inclusion of haikai words,  particularly vernacular Japanese and Chinese words.” Bashō wrote haikai prose throughout his literary career, but it was not until about 1690, after his journey north, that he strove to develop prose with a haikai spirit as a new literary genre and that he began to use the word ‘haibun’. 19

Travelling in Japan in the 17th century was fraught with danger – bandits, illness and disease, and potentially a lack of food and shelter. To try and put rogues off, Bashō dressed as a monk to appear poorer than he was, and walked most of the way. To repay hospitality, or to earn along the way, he would act as guest of honour at a renga (linked verse) writing party, something he seemed to enjoy.

A Pond and a Frog
Settled back at Fukugawa, in early 1686 he composed one of his best-known haiku:

furuike ya   kawazu tobikomu   mizu no oto

old pond –
a frog jumps in
the sound of water


By April (spring) the poets of Edo gathered at the Bashō Hut for a haikai no renga contest on the subject of frogs that seems to have been a tribute to Bashō’s hokku, which was placed at the top of the compilation. 20 The debate continues as to whether there was one frog or several (Japanese is unclear on singular and plural) and whether the pond and the frog(s) were in the same place.


Linking the Koiya ownership of the cottage to this haiku, Susumu Takiguchi says, “It is known that there was an ikesu (a special pond or pool where many fish are kept before being sold) near his hut. There is a possibility according to a theory that this ikesu was no longer used and had effectively become an ‘old pond’.” 21

Dogged by Illness
Bashō suffered from recurring stomach problems – Reichhold characterises it as colitis, while Makoto Ueda describes Bashō as having a delicate constitution and suffering from several chronic diseases. 22  Jeff Robbins writes that Basho had likely had bowel issues at least from his twenties, giving as evidence a pair of haiku seemingly written before Tosei moved to Edo. “When someone writes poetry about going to an outdoor toilet (setchin, literally ‘hidden in snow’) at midnight with bowel disease, we can say he truly is a poet of human experience.” 23

But when all has been said, I’m not really the kind who is so completely enamoured of solitude that he must hide every trace of himself away in the mountains and wilds. It’s just that, troubled by frequent illness and weary of dealing with people, I’ve come to dislike society. Again and again I think of the mistakes I’ve made in my clumsiness over the course of the years. There was a time when I envied those who had government offices or impressive domains, and on another occasion I considered entering the precincts of the Buddha and the teaching rooms of the patriarchs. Instead, I’ve worn out my body in journeys that are as aimless as the winds and clouds, and expended my feelings on flowers and birds. But somehow I’ve been able to make a living this way, and so in the end, unskilled and talentless as I am, I give myself wholly to this one concern, poetry. Bo Juyi worked so hard at it that he almost ruined his five vital organs, and Du Fu grew lean and emaciated because of it. As far as intelligence or the quality of our writings go, I can never compare to such men. And yet we all in the end live, do we not, in a phantom dwelling? But enough of that – I’m off to bed.

Bashō, from The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling, 1690

basho-anatomy woodblock

On February 16, 1691, Bashō sends a letter to his female friend and fellow haiku poet Kawai Chigetsu (1634-1718): “My sick bowels for 53 days now have felt fine and this spring I will take care of my health and become fierce as a demon.” 24

kusuri nomu   sarademo shimo no   makura kana

taking medicine
it is as bad as having
frost on the pillow

Bashō, tr Jane Reichhold

Bashō would have had access to good medical care – supposing that anything could be done to alleviate his symptoms – and knew physicians through his network of contacts.

While local variants of Chinese medicine dominated Japanese medical practice in the 17th century, Western medicine made significant inroads, thanks to the Dutch traders and Portuguese priests confined to Nagasaki (despite the Portuguese being expelled and a ban on reading European literature).

hari tate ya   kata ni tscuhi utsu   kara koromo

hammering into the shoulder
without clothes

Bashō, tr Jane Reichhold

The Dutch were required to send an annual delegation to meet the Shogun in Edo but in 1650, due to the serious illness of the Shogun Ietsuna Tokugawa, the delegation was forced to wait in the city for several months. The long wait and a foreign surgeon – German Caspar Schamberger – unemployed at the delegation’s inn saw some high-level officials suffering from diseases of old age invite Schamberger to their residences. Successful treatments brought more patients of rank and name, giving social credibility to the medical practices of the redheads (as the Dutch were called). Schamberger was asked to stay in Edo for another 6 months, sparking a lasting interest in Western medical treatment and giving birth to kasuparu-ryū geka (Caspar-style surgery). 25

In the second half of the 17th century, Dutch translations of French literature on surgery were donated to Edo University and translated into Japanese. With the help of these works, the study of surgery developed and several surgical schools were established. 26

yakuran ni izure no hana o kusamakura

from your medicine garden
which flower should I take
to stuff in my pillow?

Bashō, tr Gabi Greve

Although Bashō was only 50 when he died, young by today’s standards, he was right on the button for the average life expectancy during the Edo period. From 1868 to 1926,  average life expectancy actually dropped (43 for both men and women), partly thanks to diseases such as cholera and smallpox which arrived after Japan was forced to re-open its ports in 1858. 27

Goodbye to All That, Maybe
Bashō set out for the deep north on March 27, 1689 (resulting in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Oku no hosomichi). He travelled up the Sumida River to Senju, where he took his leave from those who had accompanied him on the first part of the journey, including his long-time friend Sanpu (now owner of the Koiya fish wholesale business), who had supported him for so many years and who, it’s said, tried to prevent Basho from travelling north out of concern for the chill in the early spring air. 28

basho by Myoriku

Bashō returned at the end of 1691 to live again in Nihonbashi, while another cottage was built for him at Fukugawa. In his introduction to The Essential Haiku (ecco, 1994), Robert Hass notes that by this time Bashō was considering giving up poetry, “but confessed that he couldn’t do it”.

“Though Edo literary life disgusted and seems to have exhausted him, Bashō was a beloved teacher and was gradually drawn back into that life. He moved into another, his third, Bashō Hut [at Fukagawa], where his students and friends transplanted the banana tree.” Bashō wrote to a friend complaining, “Everywhere in this city I see people writing poetry to try to win prizes or notoriety. Anything I might say to them would no doubt end in harsh words so I pretend to not see or hear them”. 29

uguisu ya mochi ni fun suru en no saki

bush warbler:
shits on the rice cakes
on the porch rail

Bashō, tr Robert Hass

(Hidenori Hiruta says about this poem composed in 1692 that it was the first time the word ‘shit’ had been used in tanka or haiku!)

Around the Home
For the third time Bashō’s disciples build a cottage at Fukagawa and he moved in May, 1692, the same year he also produced an essay on transplanting banana trees.

One year I decided to take a journey on foot to Michinoku, and since the Bashō-an was already about to fall apart, I moved the banana next to the brush fence and gave instructions over and over to the people in that neighbourhood to cover it whenever there was frost and to enclose it whenever there was wind.

In the fugitive pastime of the brush I left writings about it. When I slept on my journey far away, concerns welled up in my breast that the plant had been left alone.

Separated from many companions and longing for the banana plant, in extreme loneliness I passed the springs and summers of three years, until at last I shed tears once again upon the banana plant.

This year in the middle of the fifth month, when the fragrance of the mandarin orange blossoms was not far off, the promises of my friends also had not changed from of old. I could not part from this neighbourhood. Quite close to my old hut they built a suitable thatched hut 18 feet square. The cedar pillars are cleanly planed, the door woven of bamboo twigs is pleasing, the reed fence is built thick. It faces the south looking out on the pond, and to me it is a water pavilion. The site faces Fuji; the brush gate standing aslant enhances the view. The tide of Che-chiang river brims full in the stills of the Three Forks of the Sumida River; and as this is a fine aid for viewing the moon, from the new moon on I detest clouds and deplore rain.

To enhance the prospect during the autumn full moon, first of all I transplant the banana plants. Their leaves are broad, adequate to cover a lute. Sometimes they are blown and broken in the middle, and I lament this damage to the phoenix tails; and when the green fans are torn, I deplore the wind. Occasionally a flower blooms but it is not florid. Their trunks are thick, but they are not struck by the axe. They are in a class with that category of mountain trees which are not of useful quality, and this characteristic of theirs is fine. 30

having planted a banana tree, 
I’m a little contemptuous
of the bush clover

Bashō, tr Robert Hass

Before 1693, Bashō used either river ferries or the Ohashi (Great Bridge) at Ryogoku, a beautifully arched bridge that appears on many ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), to access Edo. But in September 1693 construction began on another bridge, Shin-Ohashi (New Great Bridge), almost next to Bashō’s cottage. The new 200m-long bridge made trips to and from Edo much easier for Bashō and his disciples. 31

mina idete   hashi o itadaku   shimoji kana

how grateful I feel
as I step crisply over
the frost on the bridge

Bashō, tr Insight Guide Japan

basho shin ohashi bridge

Earlier in 1693 Bashō had opened his home to his nephew Toin, dying of tuberculosis, and borrowed money to pay for his care. He was also likely caring for a woman, Jutei (Hass describes her as a Buddhist nun; Reichhold as a next-door neighbour with whom Bashō may have had a relationship; Sam Hamill says she’s possibly Toin’s wife), and her three children (Reichhold says ‘several’). One of her sons moves in with Bashō to help care for Toin, who dies at Bashō-an in the spring of 1693.

Bashō fell into a deep depression after Toin’s death and complained of “too much useless chatter” among his guests, but was forced to participate in haiku gatherings to pay his bills. Unwell through the summer, he closed and locked his gate in August, refusing to see anyone for 2 months. 32

asagao ya  hiru wa jō orosu  mon no kaki

morning glories — 
locked during daytime, 
my fence gate

Bashō, tr David Landis Barnhill

A letter written in 1693 is bleak. “When people visit there is futile talk. When I go out, I feel I’m interfering in the lives of others. I must now emulate the Chinese sages who hid themselves away. Friendlessness will be my companion.” 33 But at some point during this year he developed his philosophy of karumi (lightness) and at one of his last meetings with the Edo group explained it as “[a style] that gives the impression of looking at a shallow river with a sandy bed”. 34

shiba no to ni    cha o konoha kaku    arashi kana

into my gate of brushwood sticks
the wind sweeps
tea leaves


In early June 1694 Bashō journeyed with Jutei’s youngest son to Ueno and Kyoto, with Jutei moving into Bashō-an. She died there in midsummer, and he died in the Osaka area at the end of November after spending time with his family the previous month.

End notes
The bashō tree, or its descendants, at Fukagawa apparently survived until the early Meiji-period (1868-1912), although the cottage had disappeared (one report says it survived until the late 19th century, the site forming part of a samurai mansion). The local council has honoured the poet by establishing a Bashō museum at Fukagawa and, fittingly, a banana tree has been planted against the building. 35

As Bashō moved about three times within Fukagawa, and the whole area underwent drastic changes in land ownership in modern times, the exact locations of all the Bashō-related sites were forgotten and became difficult to determine. However, a clue may have been found in 1917 after a tsunami hit the area and unearthed a stone frog. As it is known that Bashō liked these creatures and had been given just such an object, a small shrine (Bashō Inari) was built on the spot where the stone frog was found. Today’s shrine and frog are both replicas after World War 2 bombing destroyed the originals. 36

Footnotes, all websites accessed April 2019

1: Edo Period (1615–1868) Culture and Lifestyle in Japan.
2: The History of Nihonbashi Uogashi (wholesale fish market), Part 4: The Vanishing Uogashi by Issei Tomioka.
3: Nakasendo Way.
4: The History of Nihonbashi Uogashi.
5: Ibid.
6: Takarai Kikaku, Wikipedia entry.
7: Haiku by Kikaku.
8: On a Bare Branch: Bashō and the Haikai Profession by Steven D. Carter  (American Oriental Society, Vol 117:1, 1997).
9: Basho, the Complete Haiku by Jane Reichhold (Kodansha, 2008).
10: Where ‘Green Peach’ Blossomed, The Japan Times, June 20, 2002.
11: Walking the Path of a Legendary Poet, The Japan Times, July 1, 2005.
12: Tokyo: A Biography by Stephen Mansfield (Tuttle, 2016).
13: On a Bare Branch: Bashō and the Haikai Profession.
14: The History of Nihonbashi Uogashi.
15: Japan in a Nutshell by Professor Solomon.
16: Basho, the Complete Haiku.
17: Ibid.
18: An Account of our Master Basho’s Last Days by Takarai Kikaku, translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa (Simply Haiku Vol 4:3, 2006).
19: Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900, edited by Haruo Shirane (Columbia University Press, 2008).
20: Matsuo Basho, New World Encyclopedia entry.
21: A Contrarian View on Basho’s Frog Haiku by Susumu Takiguchi (NZPS).
22: The Master Haiku Poet Matsuo Basho by Makoto Ueda (Twayne Publishers, 1970).
23: Basho, Linked Verse of Kyoto by Jeff Robbins, 2016.
24: Basho in Zeze by Jeff Robbins, 2016.
25: Western Medicine and Pharmaceutics in 17th Century Japan by Wolfgang Michel, Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on the History of Science in East Asia (Shanghai Jiao Tong University Press, 2005).
26: Medicine in Edo Japan, a thesis by Frandra Hiwat, Leiden University, The Netherlands, 2016.
27: Edo Tokyo Museum Permanent Exhibition Catalogue (2017).
28: The History of Nihonbashi Uogashi.
29: Narrow Road to the Interior, translated by Sam Hamill (Shambhala Classics, 1991).
30: Basho – the Man and the Plant by Donald H Shively (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol 16: 1-2, 1953).
31: Basho’s Haiku along the Sumida River, Ad Blankestijn blog.
32: Narrow Road to the Interior (Hamill).
33: Classic Haiku, introduction by Tom Lowenstein (Shelter Harbor Press, 2016).
34: Basho, the Complete Haiku.
35: Basho’s Haiku along the Sumida River.
36: Finding Basho in Tokyo.

International Women’s Haiku Festival

The multi-talented Jennifer Hambrick – classical musician, singer, radio host, poet and photographer – is running the second International Women’s Haiku Festival on her blog, Inner Voices and posted three of my haiku for the March 20 entry. Her commentaries  are insightful and sensitive so I am grateful to have been included.

This haiku has been rejected previously – by male editors. Jennifer understands exactly what I was saying and which life stage I was at!

heat wave –
holding the soft part of my wrist
under the tap

Sandra Simpson

The term “heat wave” has a wonderful double resonance as the natural phenomenon of a period of scorching outdoor temperatures and as a metaphor for the hot flashes that often come with the equally natural process of menopause. Either way, one can imagine seeking relief from the external or internal heat by holding the sensitive flesh of the underside of the wrist beneath a trickle of cool water, a common remedy for the discomfort of hot flashes.

– Jennifer Hambrick

Here’s another on the topic that was published in NOON 13 (Japan) last year. The editor of this journal is a man so I wondered if he’d experienced this from the other side! The build-up to menopause is recognised as a condition all on its own (perimenopause) and certainly there were times when I’m sure no jury would have convicted me. Demented was about right!

a swan hisses

Sandra Simpson

Those Women who Write Haiku by Jane Reichhold is available as a free download and is well worth a read. In it, she surveys the earliest known women writing haiku in Japan through to 1990 and English-language poets.

my work in the sink
voice of the uguisu

Chigetsu (1632-1708), translated by RH Blyth (uguisu is a bush warbler bird)

Chigetsu’s son was a student of Basho and she was able to meet the master over a period of about 2 years. Uko was married to one of Basho’s closest friends, the doctor and haiku poet Boncho.

the fancy hairpins
along with the combs useless now
camellia flowers fall

Uko (died in the 18th century), translated by Blyth

summer   beneath my breasts

Marlene Mountain, published 1977

And finally, a tribute to Marlene Mountain (b 1939), who died earlier this week. Born Marlene Morelock, this distinctive and unique voice in haiku was married to haiku poet John Wills (1921-1993). She changed her surname to Mountain to celebrate the mountains of her home state of Tennessee. An activist feminist, Marlene began writing haiku in the 1960s and her work was experimental from then until her death – she was one of, if not the, earliest practitioner of one-line haiku in English. Read her work here. Her first book was old tin roof, published in 1976. Read an essay by Jack Galmitz in appreciation of her work.

old turtle pushes her shadow to sea

Marlene Mountain, published 1976

Open house at Jane’s

I am one of Jane Reichhold’s daughters. I am at Jane’s house [between Gualala and Point Arena on the northern California coast] getting it ready for sale and would love to touch base with those who loved Jane.

I will be leaving on Tuesday, January 30 (probably, but no earlier). There is no phone service, but please just pop in if you see the red Subaru Forester in the drive. It has been a long year and a half since Jane’s death and I still am profoundly grateful for the time that I was able to share with such an amazing woman.

Bambi Steiner

I am one of Jane Reichhold’s daughters. I am at Jane’s house [between Gualala and Point Arena on the northern California coast] getting it ready for sale and would love to touch base with those who loved Jane.

I will be leaving on Tuesday, January 30 (probably, but no earlier). There is no phone service, but please just pop in if you see the red Subaru Forester in the drive. It has been a long year and a half since Jane’s death and I still am profoundly grateful for the time that I was able to share with such an amazing woman.

Bambi Steiner

Haiku doldrums

My writing has taken a back seat lately – and not just the back seat in a car, the back seat in a big bus! – so as the days lengthen I’m trying to kick start the brain and limber up the ‘haiku muscle’ in a variety of ways.

New books

I’ll write something more about the first two soon but can recommend all of them – and in my experience reading good haiku is invaluable towards writing good haiku.

Scott Mason is one of my favourite haiku poets so when he sent a note to say he has a new book out, imagine my delight. But it’s not quite a collection of his own work or at least not only a collection of his own work for Scott has produced a magnificent volume based on his thinking about haiku. If you’re quick The Wonder Code has a special pricing offer available until November 30.

The book is divided into themed chapters about haiku, each with a selection of poems previously published in The Heron’s Nest, followed by a ‘Solo Exhibition’ of his own work.

  slave burial ground
a mourning dove
         we can only hear

– Scott Mason

Carolyn Hall, another of my favourite haiku poets, has produced her fourth collection, Calculus of Daylilies, which doesn’t appear to contain a dud! Wish I knew how she did that – and how she makes many of her haiku so darn relevant.

the court reaffirms
open carry

– Carolyn Hall

Read more about cockleburs (Xanthium strumarium), a plant native to the Americas and eastern Asia.

The last of my new books I discovered by accident, reading something on the net that led to something else where I clicked on … well, I can’t remember now but the upshot was small clouds by Iza Boa Nyx, a 2016 collection of haiku, tanka and prose that is dedicated to her mother Jane Reichhold and which examines Jane’s sudden death and her ensuing grief and mourning.

It would be easy for the book to be maudlin and self-indulgent, the poems primal screams of pain. But the author has produced a slim volume that is essentially a series of linked haibun, although nowhere is it described as such. The prose acts not only as head-notes for poems that would otherwise be untethered on the page but also holds the book together as the story progresses from “At midnight she told me that our mother had killed herself” to “The peace of knowing that this life is all that it will be is echoed in the late summer heat that seems to stupefy even the lizards”.

cumulus, nimbus
cirrus, stratus and fog
all kinds of clouds
in the week of your wake
not knowing what to say

– Iza Boa Nyx

Recent publication

Presence 59 has wound its way from the UK recently and, as always, is packed full of good reading.

right where
the universe goes

– Gary Hotham

an owl’s empire
the flecks of light
in snow

– Alan Summers

meteor night –
shaking the star chart
out of its folds

– Richard Tindall

wet spring –
in a box by the fire
a small bleat

– Sandra Simpson

Not so recent, but something I’d not seen until now …  the results of the last Setouchi Matsuyama Photo Haiku Contest include an Award for this combination of my own image with my own haiku (there’s also a section where supplied photos act as prompts for haiku).

waka-ama haiga - Copy

I took the photo standing on the lawn of a friend’s home in Apia, Samoa. The waka-ama guys paddled one way, then the other – and catching sight of me dug deep, then howled with laughter, stopped paddling and waved! Waka-ama, or outrigger canoes, are used throughout the Pacific as sea-going vessels although in Aotearoa New Zealand the outrigger gradually disappeared. These days, waka-ama has also become a team sport.

You have until November 30 to enter this year’s Setouchi Matsuyama Photo Contest so get going!

And I’ve had my first haiku appear in Akitsu Quarterly, a print journal edited by Robin White in New Hampshire, US. Among them is

burn-off season –
riding home on the back
of a grey truck

– Sandra Simpson

Writing with a buddy

We’re going at our own pace and exchanging whatever we have. We can comment, or not, on the other’s haiku, we can chat about the weather, we can leave the exchange for days … the main thing, for both of us, is that we’re actually writing, instead of worrying about not writing. Fingers crossed.

Werner Reichhold 1925-2017

Received the sad news yesterday that Werner Reichhold had died on June 21, the summer solstice in the United States. He was the husband of the late Jane Reichhold, who chose to end her life last July and Jane’s daughter Heidi tells me that Werner also chose the time of his passing.

Werner and Jane Reichhold, pictured at their home in July last year. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Werner, who was born in Germany, would have been 92 on July 18. A prisoner of war in Egypt during World War 2, Werner began exhibiting as a sculptor in 1955 (winning awards in the 1960s) with his final participation in an exhibition in 1995. His art work was exhibited throughout Europe, including at the Musee Rodin in Paris, and in Japan, Canada and the US.

He and Jane founded and co-edited Lynx journal (2000-2014), and published one of the first anthologies of English-language tanka – Wind Five-Folded – in 1994. They also explored other genres of poetry, including what they termed ‘symbiotic poetry’ and published anthologies such as A Film of Words (the link takes you to Jane and Werner’s description of the book).

Haiku by Werner Reichhold at the Gualala Arts Centre Haiku Walk. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The couple were penpals for 4 years before meeting and when Jane decided to go to Germany she suggested they exchange photographs – without discussing it, they each chose a third grade photo (9 years old) to send. And when they exchanged wedding gifts, it turned out they’d bought each other the same thing! The couple moved to Gualala, California from Germany in 1987 and lived there until their deaths.

Read Werner’s selection of his favourite German haiku (with translations).

New Haiku Pathway poem: Part 1

Last night’s Katikati Haiku Pathway Committee meeting began with a visit to a brand-new pathway poem, our 44th haiku. Our delight in the organic, yet sophisticated, look of the work is tempered by the fact that poet Jane Reichhold is not alive to have seen it completed.

We had corresponded by email over a period after requesting permission to use her haiku and know that she was honoured and excited to have her poem used on the Pathway.

Haiku Pathway founder Catherine Mair with the new boulder. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As usual, the project has been a community effort. It has been able to go ahead thanks to a donation from the Twilight Concert Committee – the Pathway reserve is now a permanent home for the summer concerts.

The metal plaques inscribed with the poem have been made by Stainless Downunder, a Katikati company, and fitted into the rock by fourth-generation stone mason Paul Gautron who has inscribed many of the pathway’s poem boulders. The boulder was purchased from Carine Garden Centre and lifted into place, free of charge, by Tom of Fotheringhame Contractors who are working on the next-door stage of Highfields.

And none of it would have been possible without the support of Wayne Allchorne, our Western Bay of Plenty District Council parks officer, and his boss Peter Watson.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

Stay tuned for the announcement of the 45th haiku being finished! Read more about the Katikati Haiku Pathway, a free walk that is open every day.