Here we meet, obscurely, the mystery woman in Basho’s life. Who was she? Why did Basho care about her? So little evidence exists, yet all sorts of presumptuous theories have arisen. Each scholar (including myself) sticks together a few vague hints to produce a story, that sounds reasonable. The only real information we have about Jutei appears in Basho’s letters. Two scholars – Kon Eizo and Tanaka Yoshinobu – have knowledge of all Basho letters, so their theories actually hold water; the problem is the letters only concern Jutei’s final year, Kon and Tanaka have very different theories for her early years. Kon believes that the woman later known as Jutei was the “wife” of Basho’s nephew Toin and mother of Basho’s grandnephew and two grandnieces. Tanaka says she was a “maid” (and maybe courtesan) of Basho in his early years in Edo. Others believe Jutei was Basho’s lover in Iga before he left town at age 28. There is also the weird possibility that she was both: first Basho’s maid/lover and later his nephew’s wife (a story for the National Enquiror).
In addition, I believe the evidence suggests that Toin was a fugitive hiding from the law -- which is why there is so little record of him or Jutei until after Toin died in 1693, then in 1694 with no longer any danger of exposing Toin, Jutei and her three children appear repeatedly in Basho’s letters.
The whole issue, I believe, pivots around one point:
Basho told his follower Yaba of a lover he had in Iga before he left town aged 28 in 1672. There is no actual evidence of who this was, Some say she was a maid or a prostitute working in the castle where Basho was companion to a young relative of the lord – but again there is no evidence of any such woman.
In the Buddhist temple of the Pure Land sect, Nembutsuji, a ten minute walk from Basho’s house, the priest’s wife showed me the death records (kakucho) for families who belonged to this temple. One entry is for a woman named “Shoyo Jutei”; this was her Buddhist name (homyo) the name she took when she cut her hair to become a nun, as a woman ordinarily did when her husband died.To the left of her name is the person who recorded the death, her brother, the head of a wealthy samurai family. But to the right of her name is blank space. Looking through the pages, we see for each entry the date of the funeral. The death of this woman was recorded but there was no funeral for her in this temple. The priest’s wife confirmed this: Shoyo Jutei was not buried here. The woman died somewhere far from Iga and, although the family was wealthy, no one was willing to pay to have the corpse carried to Iga for a funeral. I guess that means they disowned her. Was she Basho’s lover?
In a few letters before 1693, Basho mentions Toin in Edo with no word of Jutei, though he does speaks of two “little nuns” who we assume are Jutei’s daughters, Masa and Ofu. In 1690 Basho on a journey sent a letter to Sora requesting that he remind Toin “not to be negligent” and to “tell them that between parent and child, brother and sister, there should be no discord.” And a few months later he sent a package to Kyokusui, requesting that his personal servant deliver the package for the little nuns to “Ishimaru Kento” at a commercial address in central Edo. This appears to be an alias Toin was using to hide his identity, and we see it was impossible to send the package to Toin and Jutei’s home. We have absolutely no record of her until Toin died in 1693; in the letters of 1694 she appears frequently, and after she died, Basho wrote a haiku to her spirit
One Jutei or Two? -- It may seem obvious that the girl in Iga went to Edo and died there. Basho scholars have two reasons to reject this possibility: 1) It is inconceivable to a scholar, that the daughter of an important samurai family in Iga could run away to live twenty years in Edo. Inconceivable. 2) Someone made a mistake in their account of the death records for Shoyo Jutei. A homepage produced by Iga City says that Shoyo Jutei was buried in Nembutsuji on the same day that Jutei died in Edo. Since this is impossible, it is clear proof that they were two different women. However, since the records do not say anything about a funeral, the ‘clear proof’ turns out to be a dud.
Furthermore, just because ten million Japanese women could not escape their family, walk 250 miles to Edo, and live there for 20 years, does not prove that one did not do so. A woman can do amazing things if she has the will.
The following was written in the Spring of 1676, a stanza by Shinsho followed by Basho:
A woman is given a crimson slip to wear under her kimono – however we suspect this is her wedding night and the “red silk underskirt” her bleeding after first sex. Basho confirms this suspicion. In many societies, including Japan, vaginal blood is considered defilement, however Shinsho and Basho portray the bloody scene without disgust or contempt, as natural and life-giving. Though I am neither, I suspect both virgins and experienced women will find much to consider in the link between these two stanzas.
Ochiai has rescued this stanza-pair from obscurity and put it on the Internet, to support his belief that this woman is the one who later becomes the nun Jutei – which I am willing to grant him – but goes onto assume that Basho was the father. There is absolutely no evidence that either Jutei in Iga or Jutei in Edo ever joined Basho in “the beast with two backs.” Ochiai fails to consider the possibility that Basho may have known of this pregnancy, without having produced it.
More conventional Basho scholars assume that because Basho was at this time in his Danrin phase, the style aiming to amuse readers with surprising comparisons, that is all he wrote. No one expects a Danrin verse to say anything truthful about the poet’s life – and so scholars pay no attention to this stanza, thinking it is solely for literary effect.
They do not connect the stanza VOWS MADE IN AUTUMN with the fact that shortly after writing it, Basho returned to his hometown, stayed there for about ten days, then escorted his 15 year old nephew Toin to Edo. Toin disappeared in the Big City, and 14 years later (as suggested in letters 85 to Sora) has a “wife” with three children. Did the oldest of her children came from the pregnancy in this stanza? Who made the vows?
Because Basho shows such concern for Jutei and her children, many scholars assume B and J were lovers – however the other possibility is that he felt the concern because the children were his nephew’s kids. (Toin grew up from age 5 or 6 in Basho’s house, like a 17 year younger brother. In letters 167 and 169 we learn how deeply Basho was attached to his nephew.)
Sometimes I believe that the woman later known as Jutei was Toin’s hometown girl, and he did get her pregnant. The two teenage lovers wanted to make a go of it but her father, a high-ranking samurai in Iga Castle, was not so supportive. He may have planned to marry her to someone else, for his own purposes. Toin went into hiding, Hanzaemon notified Basho by letter and Basho put the event in his linked verse. Then he went back to Iga to escort Toin in secrecy out of town to Edo. Basho helped Toin set up in the big city with an alias, get a job, and find a place to live. After the baby was born, the woman travelled to Edo with the baby inside her pilgrim’s robes.
There is, of course, no evidence for this -- because everything was done in secrecy. These are people from Iga, Ninja Central; they know all about secrecy and hiding. There is one big problem with this scenario. Can a 14 year old boy living on rice, tofu, and seaweed get a girl pregnant? She can be fourteen, but can he?
We have considered the other possibility that the Jutei in Iga was Basho’s lover, but he did not get her pregnant. Maybe she was a servant, or maybe a play-women, in Iga castle. In Fukuda Kiyoshi’s biography
of Basho, he tells a fictional story of Basho and “Tei” parting in 1672. (At no time does Fukuda suggest that this conversation actually happened -- however he does believe that Jutei was an Iga girl, so it could have.)
Basho said, “For long I have wished to go to Edo, either to follow
the path of a public servant or try to raise myself on the path of poetry,
yet I have not taken the decisive step, for my heart remains here.”
He looked intently at Tei, and she asked “You speak of your heart remaining?”
Basho replied “Yes, my heart shall remain with you.”
She said, “So it shall. So you have kept on wavering.”
In Tei’s gentle hand was firmness and strength; She smiled with tear drops shining,
and said, “Do not be concerned about me. Just go.
Somehow fulfil your intentions. Go and do it.”
“Tei” recognizes her hold over Basho’s emotions, but encourages Basho to follow his heart’s intention to become a poet. Fukuda and others believe “Tei” married another man in Iga, and had children – but when he husband died, with no one to support them, she and the kids walked the 250 miles to Edo to ask for help from her old lover.
Another possibility is that she did not stay in Iga, but rather followed Basho to Edo. After he rejected her, she found another man in Edo and had children. When he died or abandoned her. Jutei called on her old boyfriend who wrote the stanza of linked verse. He also heard that his nephew in Iga was in trouble with the law and needed to get out of town. He brought Toin to Edo and did some match-making with the two fugitives from Iga. So itt is possible that Jirobei, Masa, and Ofu had different fathers.
At the end of 1692, Basho sent a letter to his brother telling that Toin was sick and Basho took him into his hut to care for him – but Hanzaemon removed and destroyed the part of the letter that included Toin’s name. Apparently he did not want any evidence remaining of the Matsuo household harboring the fugitive, Japan at this time being, as Donald Ritchie put it, a “police state.” In the spring of 1693, he send letter 159 to Kyokusui asking to “borrow” a considerable sum of money, apparently to feed Toin’s impoverished family
From these meager bits of evidence, I conclude that Toin and his family were fugitives hiding out in the nearly one million population of Edo – though I recognize that this whole idea may be a fantasy of my imagination. But that’s no different from any of the other theories. Maybe the Jutei in Edo came from somewhere else, not from Iga, and her relationship with Basho or Toin was solely in Edo. Or maybe VOWS MADE is simply a literary work with no bearing on Basho’s life. Or maybe it is real, but ‘she’ was someone else, not the woman who later became Jutei. Maybe.
Since Toin died in the spring of 1693, Basho took responsibility for his nephew’s widow and three children. He “borrowed” the equivalent of $800 from Kyokusui to keep them afloat. Jutei was sick with the tuberculosis she picked up from her husband who died of it. She had no income yet three children dependent on her. They needed a place where they could live for free. Basho had a recently built three-room “hut” where he lived alone. He would had let the four of them move in with him, but the place was really not big enough for an old man, bedridden woman, two young girls and an about 15 year-old boy who has just lost his father. We imagine that caring for their dying mother would be more difficult for Masa and Ofu if they also had to care for their brother and his hormones. The perfect solution was for Basho to take Jirobei with him, and let the females have the place to themselves.
After Basho and Jirobei left Edo on June 3rd, Jutei and her daughters moved into Basho’s hut.
On June 8th, Basho wrote to Sora
On July 13 in a letter to Sampu, we see that the two young teenage girls are having to behave like grown women and do housework:
Japanese culture places great importance on hospitality to a guest, which includes serving tea in a polite, respectful way. Jutei has mastered the ritual, but is too sick to perform it properly, and her teenage daughters, no matter how hard they try, will not get it right. Basho apologizes to Sampu for making him endure their clumsy efforts at hospitality in his house.
On July 24th Basho sent a letter to Ihei, a man in Fukagawa who takes care of people in the neighborhood,
No one knows who Rihei was -- although in his belief that Jutei was an Edo girl, Tanaka presumes that Rihei was her father. So much of Basho’s letters consist of messages of caring.
In Fukagawa there seems to be some sort of neighborhood welfare cooperative in which the older men, Ihei and Kosai, keep busy taking care of others who are not doing so well. Basho has been an “uncle” to these people since he moved to Fukagawa 13 years ago, and he continues to care for them when travelling. He is especially concerned about Jutei (not knowing that she died yesterday, July 23. The letter telling him this is on its way and will arrive five days from now on the 29th. Basho replied the same day:
Ihei and Kosai are taking care of the problems that occur when someone dies, and providing for the two orphaned girls.
In Iga for the Festival of the Dead in 1694, Basho wrote:
To the nun Jutei who has passed away:
The Jutei in Edo, the wife of Basho’s nephew Toin, the mother of three children, died in Basho’s hut on July 23. It would be normal for Basho to honor her spirit at her Hatsu-bon, the first Festival of the Dead after she died. The KBZ says Basho’s meaning is:
“Even a trivial being such as yourself who has become small by living in a corner, you need not be so self-effacing. You too can become a splendid Buddha. In this Festival of Souls, I pray for the repose of your soul.”
Basho was in Iga at this time, and Nenbutsu-ji Temple is just a ten minute walk from his house. According to the scholars, the Shoyo Jutei whose death is recorded here is not the Jutei who died in Basho’s hut. This Jutei however may have had a relationship with Basho when they were young. Because her death was recorded in this temple but she was not buried here, Basho’s haiku may be saying to the spirit of the dead woman, “although you are not buried along with your ancestors, you still count as one of them.”
The Jutei in Edo brought three children into this world and raised them to teenage, however for much of her life apparently she considered herself of little worth.
The 20th century feminist Hiratsuka Raicho speaks for many women who feel “of no account”
How remarkable that a prominent early Japanese feminist in 1911 said the same as Basho did in his poem OF NO ACCOUNT.
Basho as he lay dying in Osaka, dictated his Will with messages
to his neighbors in Fukagawa:
And so Basho died, with thoughts of Jutei in his mind. Who was she? How did she live? Who fathered her children? Why did Basho care about them? Are the mothers and daughters in Basho’s renku images of Jutei, Masa, and Ofu?