Issa’s Birthday


It’s the birthday of Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa born in Kashiwabara, Japan June 15, 1763.

He is one of the masters of the Japanese form of poetry called haiku, which uses 17 Japanese characters each representing a sound and broken into three distinct lines.  Japanese haiku does not follow the 5-7-5 syllables that we are often taught in America.

He spent most of his adult life traveling around Japan, writing haiku, keeping a travel diary, and visiting shrines and temples across the country. By the end of his life, he had written more than 20,000 haiku celebrating the small wonders of everyday life.


Here are some of his poems for this season.

summer moon –
this river beach crowd
gone tomorrow

even the little girl
poses like a saint –
new summer robe

one and all
in white summer kimonos –

shaking her body
in the summer rain –
maiden flower

going outside
plum blossoms dive in –
my lucky tea

drinking tea alone –
every day the butterfly
stops by

softly floating
in the teacup

green willow
jointly owned by neighbors
a tea-drinker’s bridge

eating my rice
by lamplight –
the geese depart

little straw mat –
in the middle of a field
eating herb cakes

though made of paper
a mulberry leaf poem
for the festival

More haiku by Issa from The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa, edited by Robert Hass



Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house

New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.

The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
with children.

Goes out,
comes back—
the love life of a cat.

Mosquito at my ear—
does he think
I’m deaf?

Under the evening moon
the snail
is stripped to the waist.

Even with insects—
some can sing,
some can’t.

All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
killing mosquitoes.

Napped half the day;
no one
punished me!

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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