A collection of Basho renku, haiku, tanka, and prose praising women,
neglected by male scholars, selected for ordinary readers who care about women.
Learn about women from the women Basho praises
Any part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission, so long as the author is credited – and please inform the author of how the material is being used.
1) Women’s Studies 2 Women’s Labor 3) Prostitution
4) Oppression of Women 5) Women’s Liberation
6) Goddesses 7) 17th Century Women 8) Letters
9) Japanese society 10) Japanese Literature
11) Anthropology 12) Matsuo Basho (1164 – 94)
Cover illustration of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, by Hiroshi Oki, an artist influenced by oriental folklore and European techno;His seven minute long musical performance focusing on this illustration is at YouTube, Hiroshi Oki, Amaterasu
Hiratsuka Raicho, 1911
Ceci Miller, 2010
Translations and Commentary 12
Telling Herstory 14
No,Woman, No Heavy 16
Links of the Feminine 18
Praise in Prose 20
Letters to Women 21
Basho Speaks 22
Brief Notes to the Reader 24
Female Ninja Prologue 31
1 Woman with Goddess 35
2 Women at Work 47
3 She Walks in Beauty 69
4 My Body has been Sold 87
5 Women in Spring 109
6 Femmes in Summer 137
7 Senora in Autumn 145
8 Onna in Winter 163
9 War and Peace under the Sun 177
10 Brides, Wives, Widows 191
11 Three women 215
12 Long black hair 237
13 More and More Women 251
Syllables, Words and Beats, 271
(The “his” can also be “her,” another female, adult or child.) Carefully maneuvering her arm under his head without waking him, such is her kindness and devotion. Without using the word “love,” Basho sketches the gentle, caring nature of woman’s love. His stanza is remarkably physical, active, and sensual in a mere seven words. Enter into the sensations and make them your own.
The 250 gyno-centric (woman-centered) works in this book by the 17th Century Japanese male poet Basho are a priceless cultural legacy – a vast pool of resources for the empowerment as well as amusement of women worldwide. Nowhere else world literature written by men of long ago can we find so much of the life and consciousness of ordinary women in everyday life. Basho’s gyno-centric works appear in Japanese anthologies, buried among five or six hundred pages, seen by only a few old men. Almost all of them have been ignored in Japan, not translated into other languages, or their feminine aspects de-emphasized -- so almost nobody knows they exist.
Historian Louis Perez expresses the standard view that, in Japan “the literary elite (of which Basho certainly is) scarcely eluded to commoner women at all, and if they did it was mainly in a pejorative sense.” Take Back the Sun, by revealing his astonishing appreciation for women, more than a century before Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women, overturns an old and obsolete roadblock so we may enter a new realm of praise for women:
The eternal work of women to keep family clothed and house fragrant.
There she is, an Icon of the Feminine, a symbol for All Women. Her husband wakes up the town, but Basho has eyes only for the wife, getting up in the freezing winter dawn to, like a goddess, wake the hearth fire with her breath. Basho rings a bell for Womanhood.
Basho portrays the oppression of women in patriarchal society:
These are ‘sketches’ – a few brush strokes and much blank space for you to fill in with imagination. The words are boundaries keeping us in one area of thought, allowing us to explore freely within those borders. Do not simply read the poem once and go on to something else; roll the words around inside your mind, as you search for the experience of the woman or women hidden in the words. Who is this “sister” and what are her circumstances? This “marriage” is informal; in Japanese, the thief is “taking her along” with him. How does she live? Discover her, create her, find her in yourself. Search for clues to her in the commentary before and after on the same page (for this stanza and see here), as well as from your own experiences, the books you have read, the movies or videos you have seen.
In this volume of the Basho4Now Trilogy are works about women planting and picking, cooking and preparing food, making cloth and clothing, searching for love, breastfeeding, partying, praying; grandmas, famous women long ago, the wives of famous men, his mother and four sisters, the wife of his nephew; women abandoned, neglected, or grieving, female shamans and nuns, women escaping a military invasion, fisherwomen, prostitutes, and goddesses, as well as works by and about his woman followers Uko, Chigetsu, and Sonome. Works on teenagers, the women of the future, and women caring for children appear here and also in What Children Do. Those on women in love appear here, and also in Chapter Four of Dear Uncle Basho.
The thick lines of bold face resemble the India ink Basho himself used.
Prose and letters are given in lines of poetry, each clause on its own line, so they become free verse.
Ordinary print is used for commentaries written by myself or translated from Japanese commentaries. Use of different fonts, sizes, and boldface is not suitable for a scholarly work – and this book is not scholarly --instead they are graphics, a web page, intended to attract your attention and interest in ways a scholarly work does not.
My aim in translation is to re-create the original: no more, no less – to reproduce Basho’s words in English with nothing – or very little -- extra from my mind or another mind to “help you understand.” My efforts for your understanding have gone rather into the commentaries there on the same page as Basho’s original. You never need to look in the back of the book for the clues to Basho’s riddles; instead look immediately before or after the translation. Japanese also rely on commentaries on the same page to find Basho’s hidden meanings.
In my commentaries I have followed documented evidence from Japanese Basho scholars, however from that base I fly freely through the worlds of knowledge - through Japanese children’s songs, folktales, biography, biology, anthropology, child development -- whatever is fun and interesting or sometimes sad and interesting, whatever will make Basho more entertaining or inspiring to modern people.
My purpose in the commentaries is three-fold:
To have fun with Basho;
To learn more and more from Basho
To discover the warmth in Basho’s heart
Literary scholars may not approve of my “having fun with Basho,” not caring for the jokes, anecdotes, and stream of consciousness wandering—but Basho4now is not 4scholars, but rather for ordinary people who like reading to be fun, enjoy learning about the diversity of women, and are inspired by their life and consciousness.
Throughout the ages in most every society, women have been marginalized – relegated to a lower or outer position – in life, as well as in literature; in most novels, plays, and poetry written by men, men have all the central roles, while women are secondary. In The Descent of Woman, Elaine Morgan says
A very high proportion of the thinking on these topics is androcentric (male-centered) in the same way as pre-Copernican thinking was geocentric. It’s just as hard for men to break the habit of thinking of himself as central to the species as it was to break the habit of thinking of himself as central to the universe.
Or to break the habit of thinking of himself as central to the verse. Basho however has no trouble creating an image entirely female. He can be and often is gyno-centric, placing the woman in the center of the image, with no man present in the scene:
She is Everywoman.. Her work, her hand, her hair fill our thoughts in the moment we explore this haiku
Casey Miller and Kate Swift in Words & Women (1976) say:
When women in the movement use “herstory,” their purpose is to emphasize that women's lives, deeds, and participation in human affairs have been neglected or undervalued in standard histories.
Likewise the “woman’s lives deeds, and participation in human affairs” portrayed in Basho poetry and prose works has been neglected and undervalued in standard accounts of his works. Basho’s male followers seem not to have noticed all the herstories their Master told – and through the centuries, scholars have not noticed -- so the serious, austere, male-oriented Basho image has spread throughout the literary world. Though the women in Basho are central, they have been marginalized by scholars, so that outside of this trilogy, no one conceives of Basho empowering women – and yet only Basho could write so feminine as verse as:
As the tiny mouth sucks her nipple, she gazes into the baby’s eyes and forehead, searching to see the dreams within. So long as women refuse to see the herstories in Basho’s work – because schools and men have told them they do not exist – women are doing the men’s work, marginalizing women. Only by bringing the women in Basho away from the margins to the center of our consciousness, can we take back the sun of his pro-female genius.
Modern Japanese feminist artist Tabe Michiko says,
I am opposed to the idea that art should be depressing, serious, and monotone.
This idea is deeply rooted in Japanese men’s sense of beauty.
Literary scholars maintain the notion that Basho followed in this tradition of “depressing, serious, and monotone” poetry, but actually he rejected that tradition which he called Oldness; he created a new and original form of Japanese poetry he called “Lightness” -- poetry about ordinary people and ordinary activities, without tragedy, desolation, or anything literary. Basho, like all of us, sometimes was sad – especially in the autumn -- and some of his poems are lonely and desolate – and these are the ones which have been translated -- however the majority of his work is upbeat and positive, full of life and activity.
In his final year, Basho defined Lightness in gentle words which will appeal more to women.
Let the scholars have their “impersonal, detached, and objective” Basho – while we discover Basho4Humanity -- in this volume, the astonishing variety of his warm, personal, lively works about women.
On this page are three single stanzas of Basho linked verse: each stanza travels freely through any female reality because it carries no baggage from another stanza. Experience the stanza here this way, as well as more specifically on the page listed in parentheses.
A subtle communication flows among the group, allowing one voice to lead the others.
The teenage daughter broods over thoughts of love, upset to hysteria, shaking all over. Her mother manages to say the right words in the right tone to soothe and settle her down.
Descent through the female line is fascinating. No, woman, no cry. Lightness.
Unlike other collections of Basho which include only his haiku and travel journals, the Basho4Now Trilogy abounds with the vast uncharted wealth of his contributions to renku, linked verses composed by a team of poets, each writing a stanza linked to the one before. The 120 renku stanzas by Basho in this volume reveal the depths of his feminine consciousness.
In the following trio of stanzas, Basho begins with a question to a woman who drank herbs to induce abortion. He refers to a tanka by Ki no Tsurayuki in which “young pines” evoke the memories of a child who has died.
How long will the spirit of the child never born remain within you? Isshun follows with:
He sends Basho’s question to a servant girl, adding a bit more detail yet deepening the secrecy. Basho then asks her a second question as personal and intimate as was the first:
Have you yielded to the hormones urging you to join the flow of life producing more life? Not only does Basho portray women; also he explores inside women, both in body and in spirit.
On the previous page the three stanzas were sectioned off by commentaries, however usually in this book stanzas written in sequence appear together with commentary afterward:
A servant girl is chopping dried vegetable leaves to add onto a bowl of rice, but her mind is “elsewhere.” Where is that? Basho provides the answer: with her guy who is a packhorse driver and quite a hunk. She dreams of a day they both can take off work and hang together. She wants him “inside” the house -- instead of out on some field where they usually make out -- but also inside her -- not greens on soft white rice and him on the horse, but rather him on her soft flesh.
Do you see the link? Basho’s verse suggests someone who has kept silent about mother since she died, but now blurts out thoughts. Such a person is likely to say “I did not do enough for her when she was alive” – which leads to Yaba’s stanza of caring for an older woman, touching her tumor with sensitivity to soothe away the pain. The link is nowhere stated, but is there, hidden between the two stanzas.
If his haiku and linked verses are snapshots, his prose is the video. In his travel journal A Narrow Path in the Heartlands, Basho imagines the scene at Matsushima Bay as countless aspects of woman:
Below, Basho praises the “sturdy diligence” of two young women whose warrior husbands, two brothers, were both dead, and they to struggle on together, doing the best they could for their family:
In his account of two prostitutes on a pilgrimage, Basho says nothing about their beauty or sexuality, but allows the woman to speak her own words about being sold into brothel slavery.
Scholar Yasui Matsuhiro points to the “gentleness and humanity” in Basho’s letters to women.
Reading these letters, we travel inside his mind, and everywhere find gentleness and humanity.
The samurai widow Chigetsu told Basho of her happiness in receiving a letter from another another follower, Uko, three decades younger.In a letter to Uko, Basho wrote:
Grateful for the energy passing between women, Basho affirms their solidarity.
Also, in a letter to Chigetsu, he honors the fortitude and endurance of Chigetsu’s son’s wife, the endless all-season work of growing and preparing food, making and maintaining her family’s clothing, keeping the house clean and the children growing.
In each letter Basho praises the constancy of women, cultivating feelings of gratitude in himself and the woman reader. The full texts of Basho’s letters to Uko and Chigetsu appear in articles D-11 and D-12
Two weeks before he died, he attended a poetry gathering at Sonome’s home, wrote a greeting verse
to his hostess, and said about the verse:
By looking in silence and watching for a vision of Sonome, he passed through her being to reach that realm which cannot be taught. Here is a reverence for women expressed by no other male author in world literature.
This “energy” is ki, the “spirit” or “universal energy” well-known as the “Force” in Tai Chi, Aikido, and other martial and healing arts. A Japanese scholar says that ki here means “intuition” and also “breath,” so Basho is saying: “Intuitively grasp the essential quality of the subject to write your poem in a single breath.”
A Google search of the words “ride the energy” leads to this by the American dancer and musician Gabrielle Roth (1941-2012):
Roth believed and taught that dance heals the body/mind/spirit:
From her 20th century appreciation for dance as self-healing exercise, we return to a stanza-pair written in 1665, the first stanza by Shinsho, the second by 22 year-old Basho:
Shinsho sees the dancer’s hand “ride the energy” to wisdom. Basho responds that small children may seem reckless, but actually are “obedient” to their inner nature which is the Energy. If his stanza helps you relate to children, Basho would be pleased.
The Japanese followed the Chinese lunar calendar in which New Years Day, the First Day of the First Moon, is usually celebrated in early February by the Western calendar – so the Second Moon was usually March with a few days of April, and so on throughout the year until the 12th Moon began in January and ended in early February. Although the first day of a lunar moon does not coincide with the first day of a solar month, still I translate each lunar Moon by adding one – so the Fifth Moon is June. This is never exact, but comes closer than any other simple method.
Thr Japanese traditionally begin each season about six weeks before we do in the West.
Spring begins the first day of the First Moon, in February still very cold, but a few young greens show Spring is emerging.
Summer begins with the bright sunny 4th Moon, mid-May, and ends in the full heat of mid- August.
Autumn begins with the lingering heat of the 7th Moon (from mid-August) and ends with the chill of mid-November.
Winter starts off chilly and gets colder and colder through 10th, 11th, and 12th Moons (mid-November to early February)
If we think of each season as that of being warm, hot, cool, and cold, the Japanese seasons do not fit, however if we think of them as the seasons of BECOMING warm, hot, cool, and cold, they are just right.
Western year numbers are used instead of the Chinese ones Basho knew: since the lunar year begins in early February, ‘January’ is the 12th Moon of the year before.
Western Dates -- I have followed Chronological Conversion Charts to give each date in Basho’s writing its Gregorian equivalent for that year. With dates given in our modern months, we can more fully enter the season of the verse.
I hope the reader will accept “haiku” being like “sheep” -- plural same as singular – as for kimono, samurai and ninja
Year of Age
Japanese had no “brithdays” – everyone simply became one year older on New Year’s Day. (Simple.) A child at birth was considered one, then became two at the next New Years, though by the Western count, this child might still be zero in years. For much of the year, the Japanese count makes the child one year to one and a half years older than the Western age. Throughout this book, I have subtracted one from every age given in Japanese: this is not perfect, but comes closer than leaving it the same number, or subtracting two.
These are given Japanese style, family name first then personal name, however have been Westernized –without macrons over the double vowels, as “Tokyo” is written without macrons over the ‘o’s.
Young Basho -- We speak of Basho as a child or young man, although he only used that name from about age 38.
I have avoided scholarly jargon and complex sentences. On every issue there is much more I could say to “cover all my bases” – but I prefer simple sentences, so the main point does not lost among qualifiers and subjunctives. Sometimes I put the details in the Endnotes, and sometimes not – so the Endnotes do not go on forever.
In addition to the commentaries appearing together with the translation, some items have extra commentaries in the Endnotes. The endnotes are where to have more fun with Basho – however the endnotes do not appear in this edition but instead all the endnotes from the four volumes of the Basho4Now quartet appear in a separate volume.
Each endnote begins with the page number in the collection, the first few words of the item, and the Japanese source. For all Basho poetry, and stanzas in renku in which he participated, the verse is given in Romanized Japanese.
Because, in spite of his many friendships, so many accounts claim Basho was an austere and lonely recluse;
because some “Basho verses” appearing in English cannot be found in Japanese,
and some are known to have been hoaxes;
because so many works in this trilogy are so different from the -known works of Basho;
because none of the many hundreds of writers about Japanese literature mention them;
because there is no way in English to confirm their authenticity
or accuracy of translation if you cannot read Japanese
because I have no academic degree in Japanese literature;
for all these reasons some people will not believe the works here
are genuine –and so I want you to know that with the data in the Endnotes a reader of Japanese
can easily find every item in this trilogy in authoritative Basho anthologies in a large Japanese library.
Also, that with the Romanized Japanese, a person with basic understanding of Japanese can see that
these translations say just what the original does.
First I wish to thank Sakata Shoko for her countless contributions to this trilogy, for her patience in helping me understand her language, for her ability to find the most obscure information on her electronic encyclopedia, and for her laughter at Basho’s jokes. I also thank my three assistants, Laura Mae Noda from Jamaica, Bronagh McCloskey from Ireland, and Shwe Poe from Myanmar, for your woman’s perspective on Basho and your help on the computer.
From the very beginning of my studies of Basho in Japanese, I have relied on commentaries by the late Basho scholar Kon Eizo, finding more wisdom in his brief, succinct sentences than in whole paragraphs by other scholars. Later when I got into Basho’s letters, his books continued to the clearest of guides. I express my gratitude to his spirit. I also wish to thank Miyawaki Masahiko for his guidance in the world of Basho’s linked verses of human feeling.
Mr. Inazawa at the Basho Museum in Iga, and Mr. Yokoyama at the Basho Museum in Tokyo took the time to answer my questions and guide me to areas I would never have found by myself; many thanks.
Many thanks to the librarians at the Fukuoka City Library for going the extra mile to find articles and information both in the stacks and on their computers.
Also I express my gratitude to Wikipedia and Google for bringing so much information to my desktop. Instead of making condescending remarks about Wikipedia, please donate to this remarkable source.
Ceci Miller’s perceptive review of the manuscript has been a gold mine of wisdom, and her advice on the title was perfect.
Haruo Shirane’s statements on the humanity in Basho have been a beacon for me, showing that someone else besides myself could see that other Basho.
My gratitude to Hiroaki Sato for getting me into studying Basho renku with his Basho’s Narrow Road, and then introducing me to the ten volume Basho Renku Zenshu – two very important steps in the creation of this trilogy.
Many thanks to Mr. Aragaki at Obun Printing in Tokyo for organizing and printing the book in small quantities for pre-publication use.
Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier’s The Complete Guide to Self-publishing explained things other self-publishing books neglected. Thanks to Dan Poynter’s for his superb guide to forming a back cover in The Self-Publishing Manuel.
Thanks to George Swede and Francine Banworth at Frogpond for accepting my articles, and to Michele Root-Bernstein for her insightful editing which has made me a better writer. Likewise I thank Martin Kelley at Friends Journal, Terry Messman at Street Spirit , and David Rice at Ribbons, the Journal of the American Tanka Society, for including my articles.
Much gratitude to John Doughill of Writers in Kyoto for posting my articles on Basho and Kyoto, and providing feedback which helped in writing – and also for arranging two presentations at his university.
I thank Yu and Chiyuki and Prabado for all they have given me.
Also I wish to thank Iida Kaori whose voice has inspired me throughout the writing of this book, and entered the rhythm of my translations.
And I owe gratitude to Mount Tateishi where much of this book was written.
I must also acknowledge the people who have, without reading the book or knowing any of its contents, have judged it worthless.Your cruel and close-minded comments have shown me how much this book is needed, so hopefully future generations will not think about Basho the way you do.
My deepest appreciation goes to my three daughters, Jean, Ellie, and Shanti, for helping me understand the children and women in Basho, and for being the wonderful children you were and the even more wonderful women you are now. Also I owe much gratitude to Jean and Yo for supporting me in a million ways in the years of writing this book; to Yo for her superb Japanese country cooking, to Jean for her frequent and perceptive proofreading of the manuscript. Thank you.
In anticipation for your feedback which I will use to make later edition clearer and more expressive of Basho’s wisdom:
A kunoichi or female ninja
(She looks more scary than the guy in the background)
Basho’s birthplace, Iga (Mie-ken, southwest of Nagoya, east of Nara) was also home to Japan’s leading school of ninjitsu, the techniques of hiding, infiltration and secret attack practiced by those mysterious undercover agents. Ninja from Iga fought in the civil wars that wracked Japan from 1467 to 1567 but by Basho’s time Japan had been at peace for generations and ninjitsu had become a martial art.
A female ninja is called a kunoichi, writtenくノ一. This is the hiragana for ku, the katakana for the possessive no, and the Chinese character for ichi, ‘one.. These three elements fit together, as in a tiny woodblock puzzle, to form the character onna for ‘woman’.
く ＋ ノ ＋ 一 → 女
Ku no ichi onna
According to a book published in 1676 in Iga, kunoichi was the ninja code word for ‘woman’— as for ‘man’, the code word was tachikara from the character for man 男, which is ‘power,’ chikara 力 under the ‘rice-fields,’ ta田.
Kunoichi is also said to be the three characters for ‘nine-talents-one.’ Nine is the number of orifices on a male body: two ears, two eyes, two nostrils, a mouth, anal and urogenital opening. In women, the uro- and the -genital are – as you probably have noticed -- separate, so the woman has nine plus one, and if she is a kunoichi, she knows how to use that talent too.
The Kannon Statue at Hase Temple’’ is actually male, but everyone sees Kannon as a Goddess of Mercy. Here She has one main face surrounded by ten smaller faces, “representing her eternal vigilance in assisting others”.The vase of lotuses she carries close to her heart is the Vase of the Waters of Life which Kannon sprinkles about her with a lotus bud; thus “for most people she carries the possibility of restoring and continuing life.”