Matsushima ya

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Waves at Matsushima
Waves at Matsushima by Tawaraya Sotatsu (fl. ca. 1600-1643)

Matsushima is a group of islands in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. There are some 260 tiny islands (shima) covered in pines (matsu) — hence the name — and is ranked as one of the Three Views of Japan. Matsushima was very seriously damaged by the Tsunami following the Sendai earthquake in March 2011, with more than 600 people killed.
Wikipedia, “Matsushima”

hundreds of tiny islands, each
with its own pine tree
like a flag planted by Mother Earth
Jason Crane, “Matsushima”

* * *

matushima no
iso ni murewiru
ashitadu no
ono ga samazama
mieshi chiyo kana

A thousand years
in the eye of each
& every crane
flocking on the rocky shore
of Matsushima.

—Kiyowara no Motosuke (908-990)

tachi kaeri
mata mo kite min
matsushima ya
ojima no tomaya
nami ni arasu na

once more to gaze
on Matsushima,
the waves at Ojima lashing
my rush-walled hut.

—Fujiwara no Shunzei (1114-1204)

shimajima ya
chiji ni kudakete
natsu no umi

Islands upon islands—
thousands of shards smashed
by the summer sea.

asayosa o
taga matsushima zo

Morning & evening
like someone at Matsushima—
unrequited love.

—Matsuo Bashô (1644-1694)

Matsushima in Rikuzen Province by Toyohara Chikanobu
Matsushima in Rikuzen Province by Toyohara Chikanobu (1838–1912)

The town was protected by a stunningly beautiful maze of coves and islands, topped with bonsai-shaped Japanese pines, which kept the worst of the tsunami at bay.

The water rose three metres and the town was relatively lightly affected, as the local emergency services chief told a group of stranded tourists earlier this week.

But everything is relative. Tetsuo lived, against the odds, but said some of his neighbours died. He is now staying at a friend’s house.

The Sydney Morning Herald

* * *

matsushima ya
tsuru ni mi o kare

Borrow the body of a crane,
oh cuckoo.

—Kawai Sora (1649-1710)

matsushima ya
hito kobushi-zutsu
aki no kure

Autumn dusk—
each island like a fist
at Matsushima.

matsushima ya
kosumi wa kurete
naku hibari

As the light fades
on an islet at Matsushima,
a skylark’s song.

—Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)

matsushima ya
aa matsushima ya
matsushima ya

ah, Matushima!

—Anon. (attr. to Bashô)

Harusame ya / Spring rain

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

harusame ya

Ranko (student of Basho, fl. 17th c.)

Harusame ya yane no ogusa ni hana sakinu

Spring rain:
flowers opening
on the thatched roof.


Taniguchi Buson (1715-1783)

Harusame ya kawazu no hara no mada nurezu

Spring rain:
not enough yet to moisten
the frog’s belly.


Harusame ya monogatari yuku mino to kasa

Spring rain:
a patter of gossip
from raincoat & umbrella.


Harusame ya dôsha no kimi no sasamegoto

Spring rain:
my lover’s low whisper
in a shared carriage.


Harusame ni nuretsutsu yane no temari kana

Spring rain:
a rag ball on the roof
is getting soaked.


Kobayashi Issa (1762-1826)

Harusame ya ai ni aioi no matsu no koe

Spring rain:
the voices of a pair of pines
growing side by side.


Harusame ya yabu ni fukaruru sute tegami

Spring rain:
a discarded letter blows
into the bushes.


Harusame ya uo oi-nogasu ura no inu

Spring rain:
a dog on the shore
chases the fish.


Harusame ya na wo tsumi ni yuku ko andon

Spring rain:
going out with a small lantern
to pick vegetables.


Harusame ya kuware-nokori no kamo ga naku

Spring rain:
the lusty quacking of ducks
that haven’t been eaten.


Harusame ni ôakubi suru bijin kana

Spring rain:
a pretty woman


Harusame ya imo ga tamoto ni zeni no oto

Spring rain:
in my wife’s sleeve,
the sound of coins.


Harusame ya neko ni odori oshieru ko

Spring rain:
a child is teaching the cat
how to dance.


Harusame ya hara wo herashi ni yu ni tsukaru

Spring rain:
I draw a hot bath
to settle my stomach.


Translated with the help of a dictionary and some imagination.

Kobayashi Issa: haiku about shitting

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) is generally counted as one of the four greatest haiku poets, along with Basho, Buson and Shiki. Issa was a devout, if irreverent, Buddhist of the True Pure Land sect whose pen-name means “one cup of tea.” His haiku are extremely down-to-earth, making ample use of vernacular speech and often taking insects or other invertebrates for their subject matter. He wrote at least fifteen haiku about excrement and excretory functions, in which I believe he was not only riffing on the Buddhist doctrine about the essential oneness of nirvana and samsara, but also trying to challenge traditional Japanese concepts of beauty and purity. Japan is a purity-obsessed culture, in which cleanliness and beauty are closely linked. Foreign visitors to Japan are often surprised to discover that, in this otherwise extremely clean and tidy country, public restrooms, especially in train stations, can be unspeakably filthy. Since such places are considered inherently impure, little effort is expended to keep them clean. But to Issa, any place where people or animals pause to take a shit seems worthy of a second look. After all, anything that breaks us loose from our ordinary mental habits might lead to rebirth in the Pure Land.

For a more comprehensive sample of Issa’s work, see David G. Lanoue’s massive online archive (to which I am indebted for the Japanese texts below). The following are my own translations.


ta no hito no kasa ni hako shite kaeru kari

flooded fields—
wild geese take wing
shitting on the farmers’ hats


sôjô ga no-guso asobasu higasa kana

in the middle of the field
the high priest’s parasol—
taking a dump


no setchin no ushiro wo kakou yanagi kana

impromptu outhouse
screening bare asses from view—
the lone willow


musashi no ya no-guso no togi ni naku hibari

Musashi Plain—
listening to a skylark
while I take a shit


nichi-nichi no kuso darake nari hana no yama

cherry blossom time—
each day the mountain is deeper
in excrement


kado-gado ni aoshi kaiko no kuso no yama

at every gate
that blue-green mountain—
silkworm frass


uguisu ya kuso shi nagara mo hokkekyô

bush warbler
intoning the Lotus Sutra
even as it shits


kasugano ya dagashi ni majiru shika no kuso

between the temples
in Kasuga Field, deer pellets
mingled with cheap candy


hatsu yuki ya furi ni mo kakurenu inu no kuso

first snow:
not even enough to hide
all the dogshit


Revised 10/25/2020