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August 2, 2013

Issa’s haiku in Nagano: In Jizo’s lap (Haiku Stones)

The haiku-poet Kobayashi Issa was born in Kashiwabara, in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture, and after a life as wandering poet, he lived there again during his last years. As a devout Pure Land Buddhist Issa often visited Zenkoji, and he wrote numerous poems in which the temple figures. The City of Nagano has honored him by putting up scores of stones with his haiku along the streets in the vicinity of Zenkoji Temple. Below is a selection from the haiku I found on those stones.

Jizo statue in Zenkoji, Nagano
[Jizo statue in the grounds of Zenkoji. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
ricecakes -
also in Jizo's lap
the spring wind

botamochi ya | Jizo no hiza mo | haru no kaze
The "ricecakes" in my translation are in fact "botamochi," literally "peony cakes," a term for rice cakes covered with bean jam and made during the vernal equinox. The same cakes are called ohagi (after the bushclover that blooms in September) when made during the autumnal equinox (see my post about ohagi in Japanese Food Dictionary). Jizo is a popular Bodhisattva, helper of all humans but especially children. He also guides those who have died through the Underworld.

Street leading to Zenkoji Temple, Nagano, in winter.
[Street leading to Zenkoji Temple in winter. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
in the autumn wind
escaping on foot
the firefly

akikaze ni | aruitenigeru | hotaru kana
A single firefly (hotaru) has survived into autumn, but when the cold wind blows it tries to get away - on foot, as it has already lost the power to fly. This haiku is a good example of Issa's minute attention to small creatures as insects.

Haiku Stone along the road in Nagano City
[Haiku stone along the road in Nagano. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
my outstretched legs
clouds like mountains

nagedashita | ashi no saki ni | kumo no mine
This haiku is simplicity itself. The picture shows the haiku stone by the roadside.

Gate of Zenkoji, Nagano
[Gate of Zenkoji. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
how beautiful
the Milky Way
seen through a hole in the shoji

utsukushi ya | shoji no ana no | Ama no Kawa
The Milky Way is in Japan called Heaven's River. It seems all the more impressive when glimpsed through a tiny hole. A shoji is a wooden frame covered with translucent rice paper. Shoji could serve as doors, windows, or partitioning screens. That there is a hole in the paper, points at a poor house - usually such holes would be quickly repaired. But Issa enjoys the hole in the paper screen, for now he can see the Milky Way through it.

Main Hall of Zenkoji Temple, Nagano
[Main Hall of Zenkoji. Photo Ad Blankestijn]
even sparrows
bring their children

suzumera mo | oyakotsure nite | Zenkoji
As in the haiku on the firefly, Issa is a keen observer of nature. But there is more: the Amida Trinity of Zenkoji promises to save all sentient beings and that includes sparrows as well.

Also see my other post, "Pulled by an Ox,"  on haiku stones with poems by Issa.
Note: A great resource on Issa, containing more than 7300 translations of his haiku, is Haiku of Kobayashi Issa by David G. Lanoue.