SongSoptok | 4/15/2017 |

Matsuo Basho (1644- 1694), Buson (1716- 1783), Kobayashi Issa (1763- 1827) and Masaoka Shiki (1867- 1902) are the four great masters of haiku or four pillars of haiku of Japan. If we want to learn haiku, at first we have to know about these great poets of Japan. Brief life story of these poets and their works are discussed below.


Japanese first haiku master Matsuo Basho (pen name of Mastuo Munefusa) was born in 1644, near Ueno in Iga province. He is the first great poet in the history of haikai (and/or hokku/ haiku). His haikus are vivid that intensify humor or gloominess, joy or confusion with ironic nature.

His father was a samurai- but child Basho became a servant to Todo Yoshitada, who shared with Basho a love for haikai no renga, a form of mutual poetry composition with a verse in 5-7-5 mora format, which was named hokku. Basho gave himself pen name as Sobo.

Basho's first poem was published in 1662 and two of his hokkus were printed in a collection in 1664. In 1665, Basho and Yoshitada composed a 100-verse renku with some associates. Yoshitada died in 1666 and Basho left his home. Then he began writing poetry and moved to Edo (now Tokyo) where he gained a reputation as a great poet and critic. But he became dissatisfied and lonely. Therefore, he began to practice Zen Meditation.

In 1667, in a haikai anthology, Basho's 31-verses were published. During 1669-1672, his work was included in another three collections. However, his first book 'The Seashell Game' (Kai Oi) was published in 1672. Using the pseudonym Tosei in1675, Basho composed a linked-verse sequence with Nishiyama Soin. Next 4 years he was engaged in building waterworks to earn a living. In 1680, he established himself in a small cottage at Fukagawa in Edo, thus beginning his life as a hermit of poetry.

In 1681, one follower presented Basho a banana plant (Basho-an), which was planted in his garden. His pen name Tosei thus changed to Basho. During 1682, his hut burned down and he retired to Kai Province. In 1683, his mother died and he traveled to Yamura to stay with a friend. In winter, his disciples gave him a second hut in Edo, but his spirits did not improve. After that, in 1685, Basho returned to Edo and writes more hokku.

Basho with his student Kawai Sora left Edo in 1689 on a journey to the Northern Provinces of Honshu. They walked to the western side of the island, touring Kisakata and began hiking back at a leisurely pace along the coastline. After 150-day journey of 2,400 km, he returned to Edo and lived in his third Basho hut, again provided by his disciples.

In 1693, Basho shut the gate to his Basho hut and refused to see anybody for a month. In 1694, he left Edo and spending time in Ueno and Kyoto before his arrival in Osaka. He became sick with a stomach illness and died peacefully on November 28, surrounded by his disciples at Osaka. His last poem recorded during his final illness, is a poem of parting:

tabi ni yande / yume wa kareno wo / kake meguru
falling sick on a journey/my dream goes wandering/over a field of dried grass

Notable publications of Matsuo Basho are: Kai Oi (The Seashell Game, 1672), Minashiguri (A Shriveled Chestnut, 1683), Nozarashi Kiko (Record of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton, 1684), Fuyu no Hi (Winter Days, 1684), Haru no Hi (Spring Days, 1686), Kashima Kiko (A Visit to Kashima Shrine, 1687), Oi no Kobumi, or Utatsu Kiko (Record of a Travel-Worn Satchel, 1688), Sarashina Kiko (A Visit to Sarashina Village, 688), Arano (Wasteland, 1689), Hisago (The Gourd, 1690), Sarumino (The Monkey's Raincoat, 1691), Saga Nikki (Saga Diary, 1691), Basho no Utsusu Kotoba (On Transplanting the Banana Tree, 1691), Heikan no Setsu (On Seclusion, 1692), Sumidawara (A Sack of Charcoal, 1694), Betsuzashiki (The Detached Room, 1694), Oku no Hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Interior, 1694) and Zoku Sarumino (The Monkey's Raincoat, Continued, 1698).


Japanese haiku poet Yosa Buson or Yosa no Buson or Taniguchi Buson was born in 1716 at Kema in Settsu Province (now suburb of Osaka). He lost parents at his boyhood. He was the second haiku master of Japan and a brilliant painter. His poems are metaphorical and rich in visual detail.

During 1737, Buson moved to Edo (now Tokyo) and learned poetry under the haikai master Hayano Hajin. But Hajin died in 1742 and Buson toured northern areas and visited western Japan, where he painted and practiced haikai.

Following in the footsteps of Matsuo Basho, in 1744, Buson traveled through the wilds of northern Honshu and published his notes from the trip under the name Buson. In 1751, he settled in Kyoto and began to write under the name of Yosa. It is told that he took this name from his mother's birthplace (Yosa in the province of Tango).

From 1756 to 1765, he was active as a painter and gradually returned to haiku. Poetry and painting affected each other in his art. He completed his own style of painting and was using the names of Sha Cho-Koh, Shunsei (Spring Star) and others.

In 1770, Buson took the name of Yahantei (Midnight Hermitage) for his studio. During 1771, he painted a famous set of ten screens with his great contemporary Ike no Taiga, demonstrating his status as one of the finest painters of his time. In 1776, his group built a Bashoan (Basho house) for gatherings.

On 25 December 1783, he died and buried at Konpukuji in Kyoto. On his death-bed, Buson wrote:

Shira Ume ni Akuru yo Bakari to Nari ni Keri
the night almost past/through the white plum blossoms/a glimpse of dawn

His wide-ranging haiku poems show a more objective, pictorial style than Basho's humane. He became famous both as a poet of haikai (ancestor of modern haiku) and haiga (haikai painting).
Buson's works (haikai/haiku and haiga) are found in the following books:

Yosa Buson: by: Koichi Otani (1996), Giyu no Haijin Yosa no Buson, by: Kazumi Yamashita (1996), Buson no Tegami, by: Tomotusgu Muramatsu (1990), Buson to Kanshi, by: Yukio Narushima (2001), Hyoshaku Buson Shuku, by: Ryutaro Nagata (2001), Buson Denki Kosetsu, by: Shoji Takahashi (2000), Buson: Kokon Meigin no Nagare, by: Ryutaro Nagata (2000), Buson no Sekai, by: Tsutomu Ogata (1993), Buson toHaiga, by: Rihei Okada (1993), Buson e no Michi, by: Ken Taniguchi (1995), Kakarezaru Buson no Nikki, by: Mie Takahashi (1997) and many more.


Kobayashi Issa is the third master of Japanese haiku. Kobayashi Nobuyki (Issa, childhood name Kobayashi Yataro) was born in Kashiwabara, Shinano province (now Nagano prefecture, Japan) on June 15 1763. His father was a farmer. His mother died at two and he was cared for by his grandmother. His father remarried five years later.

At the death of his grandmother in 1776, Issa felt alienated in his own house, a lonely, moody child who preferred to wander the fields. His stepmother mistreated him. During this period, he started to study haiku under a local poet, Shimpo.

During 1777, he was sent to Edo (Tokyo) where he studied haiku under masters Mizoguchi Sogan and Norokuan Chikua (died 1790). He worked as a clerk at a Buddhist temple. In 1791, he was to be given a teaching post at a school but lasted just a year after it became clear that his modern style of haiku did not suit the clerical confines that were expected from him.

In 1793, he gave up Yataro and took pen name Issa and traveled two years extensively through southwestern Japan. On his return to Edo (now Tokyo) in 1795, his first collection Tabishui 1795 published. His father died in 1801 and he came back home.

He visited most of the prominent Japanese cities of the day over the next few years, publishing the following collections to recount his travels. In 1808, he went home on foot. His relatives and local priests mediated in the hopes of bringing about a settlement but in vain. In December, he tramped back to Edo.

In 1812, Issa again returned to his native village and after long disputes with his stepmother and stepbrother he was allowed to inherit the property. He married in 1815, at his age 51- her name was Kiku and she was 27. He enjoyed the reputation of the leader of the haiku world in northern Shinano.

During 1816 to 1823, his four sons and one daughter was born and died within one year and his wife also died in 1823. Issa remarried at age 61 in 1825 and new wife Yuki or Iki came from a local samurai family. After three months she returned home and he divorced her. In 1826, he married Yao third time and a daughter born just after his death in 1827.

Issa's property of Kashiwabara was destroyed by fire on July 24 1827 and he had to live in a storehouse, which is still kept in the town. According to the Western Calendar, Issa died on January 5 1828 in his native village of Kashiwabara, Shinano province (present-day Nagano prefecture). But according to the old Japanese calendar, he died on November 19, 1827.

Though he is the best-loved of the haiku master, he is a blooming misfortune with melancholic profile. He lost mother at early age, stepmother mistreated him, he suffered from poverty, his children died one after another and unhappy was his second marriage.

Issa wrote over 20,000 haiku, hundreds of tanka, and several haibun (prose + haiku)- his poems reflected the small joys of life and childlike simplicity. Making liberal use of local dialects and conversational phrases made him admired. His famous haibun are Oraga Haru (My Spring) and Shichiban Nikki (Number Seven Journal). He collaborated on more than 250 renku. He treated his subjects with humor, excelling particularly at affectionate portrayals of such creatures as fleas, frogs and sparrows. Now his poems on animals and insects are learned by every schoolchild in Japan. His other famous works are Chichi No Shuen Nikki (1801- The Diary at My Father's Death) and Oragaharu (1819- The Year of My Life)

His selected works are: Tabishui, 1795, Chichi no Shuen Nikki, 1801, Kyowakujo, 1803, Shichiban-Nikki, 1810, Waga Harushu, 1811, Hachiban-Nikki, 1818, Orga Haru, 1819 - The Year of My Life, Kuban-Nikki, 1822, Bunka-Kujo, 1840, The Autumn Wind: A Selection from the Poems of Issa, 1984 (introduction by Lewis MacKenzie),The Dumpling Field, 1991, Issa: Cup-Of-Tea Poems: Selected Haiku of Kobayashi Issa, 1991 (trans. by David G. Lanoue), The Spring of My Life: And Selected Haiku, 1997 (trans. by Sam Hamill).


Japanese fourth haiku master, poem reformer Masaoka Shiki wrote around 900 Chinese poems, about 2300 tanka and composed over 25,500 haiku in his diminutive life. He is one of the four great masters of haiku along with Matsuo Basho (1644- 1694), Yosa Buson (1716- 1783) and Kobayashi Issa (1763- 1827). Masaoka Shiki (pseudonym Masaoka Tsunenori) was born in Matsuyama, Iyo province (now Ehime prefecture) on 17 September 1867 to a samurai family. He was called Tokoronosuke, later he changed his name to Noboru. In 1872, Shiki lost his father. He entered elementary school in 1873 and studied Chinese classics under his maternal grandfather Ohara Kanzan and calligraphy under an uncle.

Ohara died in 1875 and Shiki's Chinese studies continued under other tutors. In 1878, he has written his first poem in Chinese. He entered Matsuyama Middle School in 1880 and in 1882, he composed his first tanka. He was withdrawn from school in 1883 and went to Tokyo where he entered Kyoritsu School. In 1884, he passed entrance exam of University Preparatory School (later higher middle school). In 1889, he wrote The Origin and Development of Poetry as essay for school and adopted pen-name Shiki (Japanese cuckoo hototogisu). At this time he begins to suffer from tuberculosis.

After graduation in1890, Shiki entered Japanese Literature department of Imperial University (now Tokyo University). In 1891, he skipped final exam and withdrawn from university. Then he became haiku editor of Nippon and started to reform of the Japanese poetic form. Traditional Japanese literature was attached to yugen (subtle, profound and tranquil beauty) and wabi (quiet refinement). He advocated a realistic, descriptive poetic style and a 'third literature' which would be non-imaginary and non-realistic at the same time. He avoided scholarly jargon and advised to use both imaginary pictures and real ones but favored the real ones.

At that time, the traditional seventeen-syllable verse form was considered incapable of expressing the complexities of modern life. Shiki wrote the theoretical text on how to improve haiku, Haiku Taiyo, The Element of Haiku. He introduced the term haiku to replace hokku. He launched the word shasei (delineation from nature or sketching) to describe his methodology of using contemporary language and realistic images. His haiku were characterized by visual description and a concise style.

He attacked on the Literary World and Some Remarks on Basho serialized in Nippon in 1893. In 1895, his illness was severely aggravated while working in China as a war correspondent with the Imperial Japanese Army during the First Sino-Japanese War. On return, he was hospitalized in Kobe. Then he stayed with Natsume Soseki in Matsuyama and leaded a group of young haiku poets. In 1897, he with his disciples founded the literary journal Hototogisu. The Haiku World of 1896 and The Haiku Poet Buson serialized in Nippon. At that time, he has undergone surgery for complications of tuberculosis.

In 1898, series of lecture discussion on Buson held at Shiki's home. Letters to a Tanka Poet serialized in Nippon; he started to reform tanka. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Shiki with his followers refreshed the old tanka form, replace it 31-mora/syllables waka/poetry. Meetings of Negishi Tanka Society begin at his home. Records of the Little Garden published in Hototogisu and prose movement begin. In 1900, his essay on Realistic Prose successively published in Nippon.

In spite of ill-health, he maintained a prominent position in the literary world. He frequently mentioned his illness in his poems but maintained an emotional detachment from his physical suffering. In 1902, volume one of Selections from the Haiku Note-book of the Others Den was published and A Six-foot Sickbed serialized in Nippon. He suffered from caries of the spine but he faced his illness and physical pain with dignity and ironic humor. At last, he died on September 19 1902.

Shiki's most important writings are Dassai Sho-oku Haiwa (1892), Haikai Taiyo (1895) and Haijin Buson (1897). Basho Zatsudan (1894) was a critical examination of the principles of Basho. His two diaries, published in 1901-1902, combine qualities of the classical Japanese poetic diary with the self-revelation of modern autobiography. A volume called Songs from a Bamboo Village (1904) appeared posthumously. His other works are Bokuju Itteki (1901), Byosho Rokushaku (1902), Gyoka-manroku (1902), Take No Sato Uta (1904), Sh. Kushu (1909), Shiki Zenshu, 1975-78 (25 vols.), Masaoka Shiki: Selected Poems (1998) etc.



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