Basho's thoughts on...
• Introduction to this site
• The Human Story:
• Praise for Women
• Love and Sex in Basho
• Children and Teens
• Humanity and Friendship
• On Translating Basho
• Basho Himself
• Poetry and Music
• The Physical Body
• Food, Drink, and Fire
• Animals in Basho
• Space and Time
• Letters Year by Year
• Bilingual Basho 日本語も
• 芭蕉について日本語の論文
• Basho Renku, 芭蕉連句
• Women in Basho
• BAMHAY (Basho Amazes Me! How About You?)
• New Articles


Matsuo Basho 1644~1694

The only substantial
collection in English
of Basho's renku, tanka,
letters and spoken word
along with his haiku, travel
journals, and essays.

The only poet in old-time
literature who paid attention with praise
to ordinary women, children, and teenagers
in hundreds of poems

Hundreds upon hundreds of Basho works
(mostly renku)about women, children,
teenagers, friendship, compassion, love.

These are resources we can use to better
understand ourselves and humanity.

Interesting and heartfelt
(not scholarly and boring)
for anyone concerned with
humanity.


“An astonishing range of
social subject matter and
compassionate intuition”


"The primordial power
of the feminine emanating
from Basho's poetry"


Hopeful, life-affirming
messages from one of
the greatest minds ever.

Through his letters,
we travel through his mind
and discover Basho's
gentleness and humanity.

I plead for your help in
finding a person or group
to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material,
to edit and improve the material, to receive 100%
of royalties, to spread Basho’s wisdom worldwide
and preserve for future generations.

Quotations from Basho Prose


The days and months are
guests passing through eternity.
The years that go by
also are travelers.



The mountains in silence
nurture the spirit;
the water with movement
calms the emotions.


All the more joyful,
all the more caring


Seek not the traces
of the ancients;
seek rather the
places they sought.



Basho Spoken Word


Only this, apply your heart
to what children do


"The attachment to Oldness
is the very worst disease
a poet can have."


“The skillful have a disease;
let a three-foot child
get the poem"


"Be sick and tired
of yesterday’s self."


"This is the path of a fresh
lively taste with aliveness
in both heart and words."
.

"In poetry is a realm
which cannot be taught.
You must pass through it
yourself. Some poets have made
no effort to pass through, merely
counting things and trying
to remember them.
There was no passing
through the things."


"In verses of other poets,
there is too much making
and the heart’s
immediacy is lost.
What is made from
the heart is good;
the product of words
shall not be preferred."


"We can live without poetry,
yet without harmonizing
with the world’s feeling
and passing not through
human feeling, a person
cannot be fulfilled. Also,
without good friends,
this would be difficult."


"Poetry benefits
from the realization
of ordinary words."


"Many of my followers
write haiku equal to mine,
however in renku is the
bone marrow of this old man."


"Your following stanza
should suit the previous one as an expression
of the same heart's connection."


"Link verses the way
children play."


"Make renku
ride the Energy.
Get the timing wrong,
you ruin the rhythm."


"The physical form
first of all must be graceful
then a musical quality
makes a superior verse."

"As the years passed
by to half a century.
asleep I hovered
among morning clouds
and evening dusk,
awake I was astonished
at the voices of mountain
streams and wild birds."


“These flies sure enjoy
having an unexpected
sick person.”



Haiku of Humanity


Drunk on sake
woman wearing haori
puts in a sword


Night in spring
one hidden in mystery
temple corner


Wrapping rice cake
with one hands she tucks
hair behind ear


On Life's journey
plowing a small field
going and returning


Child of poverty
hulling rice, pauses to
look at the moon


Tone so clear
the Big Dipper resounds
her mallet


Huddling
under the futon, cold
horrible night


Jar cracks
with the ice at night
awakening



Basho Renku
Masterpieces

With her needle
in autumn she manages
to make ends meet
Daughter playing koto
reaches age seven


After the years
of grieving. . . finally
past eighteen
Day and night dreams of
Father in that battle


Now to this brothel
my body has been sold
Can I trust you
with a letter I wrote,
mirror polisher?


Only my face
by rice-seedling mud
is not soiled
Breastfeeding on my lap
what dreams do you see?



Single renku stanzas


Giving birth to
love in the world, she
adorns herself



Autumn wind
saying not a word
child in tears


Among women
one allowed to lead
them in chorus


Easing in
her slender forearm
for his pillow


Two death poems:


On a journey taken ill
dreams on withered fields
wander about

Clear cascade -
into the ripples fall
green pine needles




basho4humanity
@gmail.com




Plea for Affiliation

 

Plea For Affiliation

 

I pray for your help

in finding someone
individual, university,

or foundation - 
to take over my

3000 pages of material,   
to cooperate with me 

to edit the material,
to receive all royalties 

from sales, to spread

Basho’s wisdom worldwide,
and preserve for

future generations.


basho4humanity

@gmail.com

 



Home  >  Topics  >  Love and Sex in Basho  >  C-05


My Body has been Sold

Sexual Trafficking in Eleven Basho Poems

Legend:
Words of Basho in bold
Words of other poets not bold

Basho renku on “play-women”  are crucial documents in the history of the struggle against male exploitation of woman's body. 100 years before Vindication of the Rights of Women, Basho spoke out for the woman’s point of view on prostitution. In each of the Basho stanzas  the woman is central to the scene, vital in her womanhood even while she suffers from cruel patriarchy –  and I believe Basho is the only male writer in all the centuries who so focused with “compassionate intuition”   on ordinary women in hundreds of verses. I pray that women who have been trafficked and exploited, and those working to stops these crimes against humanity, will find amusement, as well as empowerment, in these verses.

 

Most “play-women” in this era were young village girls indentured to a brothel to save the family from financial ruin. Brokers went to areas struck by famine, searching for “bargains.” Historian Mikiso Hane describes how girls were told they were going to the City to be maids or waitresses, but then were forced, from age 12 or 13, to have sex, sometimes with brutal or insulting men, every night of the week, and were beaten if they refused or tried to escape. “Play-women,” despite their gorgeous kimono and make-up, were prisoners. Although some did enjoy this life, and managed to rise in the ‘profession’ to become comfortable or even rich, and some were purchased by a wealthy customer, MOST either died young, often from syphilis —the average age of death in the play-quarters of Edo has been calculated as 22 years— or grew old working on the “fringes of the sex and alcohol trade.”

 

Rotsu begins and Basho follows:

 

Now to this brothel
my body has been sold --

Can I trust you
with a letter I wrote?
mirror polisher

 

Kono goro muro ni / mi o uraretaru
Bun kakite / tanomu tayori no / kagami toki

 

Rotsu states reality: young village girls were sold to the brothel for a money loan –the system set up so she can never pay off the loan,and will remain in slavery till her death – which, with no defense against venereal diseases, might be painful and soon. Basho gives her a message she wishes to send in a letter -- and renku scholar Miyawaki notes that this may be  to her guy back in the village, the boy she knew since childhood and just began to love when she was taken away. She has no way to get her letter out without the brothel seeing it, so she asks the man polishing her mirror if he will post it outside (without telling his employer).


The mirror in Japan has been for a thousand years associated with the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Being round and shiny, a mirror was considered a ‘child of the sun.’ When the Sun Goddess sent her grandson down to Earth, she gave him her Sacred Mirror, and told him that whenever he looked into it, he would see Amaterasu. That Sacred Mirror, kept in the innermost and holiest sanctum of the Ise Shrine, is the absolute center of Shinto worship. Shinto teaches that sin is not original or ingrained. We are clear inside, but accumulate sins like dust on a mirror. To restore the original purity, all we must do is wipe the dust from the mirror.   


In Basho’s day, mirrors were bronze-plated with an amalgam of mercury (as in the dental fillings of my childhood). In time the plating got cloudy. Mirror polishers were craftsmen who grinded the surface on a whetstone, and polished with mildly acidic fruit juice, to restore the original clarity - in effect making him a servant of the Sun Goddess, one  who can be trusted with a woman’s private message. Every time she looks into the mirror he polished, to do her hair or make-up, she will see him, the carrier of her message; she will see her beloved reading the letter, and she will see the holy Sun shining with Hope. Here is Basho’s genius in all fullness, his deepest penetration into the vulnerable  heart: “Can I trust you?” – the question women ask silently every day.

 

In NOW TO THIS BROTHEL, Rotsu created an image of a woman sold into prostitution, and with CAN I TRUST YOU Basho added personal intimacy to that oppressive image. Here the same two poets do something similar in reverse:


Oh my dear! Remember?
my name as a baby?!

Your flower face
in brothel by the bay
is made to cry

 

Waga osana na o / kimi shirazu ya
Hana no kao / muro no minato ni / nakase keri

 

I am surprised to meet you on the street, a young woman who grew up together with me in my hometown, after so many years have passed. Oh my dear, one so close to me that you know the affectionate name my mother or nurse called me while I suckled and later as a child. Basho’s rhetorical question takes us both back to that paradise of innocence in our shared childhood. Rotsu jumps ahead fifteen years to see where those years have brought “your flower face” -- to the misery of slavery in a brothel near a harbor where you have to deal with especially rough, dirty men. You, the sweet little girl I knew as a baby, now as I look into your face, still lovely but fading, I see how often and much you cry. Basho lays the foundation of intimacy, then Rotsu builds the house.

 

On his journey to the Deep North, in Obanazawa, Basho and his local followers composed a linked verse of 36 stanzas  Here, Basho’s stanza alludes to mythical stories about local legends, however Ryoban saw the potential in Basho’s stanza for a severe indictment of brothel slavery, and Sora fulfilled that indictment:


Mountains are burned
grass painted with blood

Only a few years
in this world, betrayed
by a stepmother

Grief on a pillow of waves
in northern harbor town

 

Sora’s stanza portrays the misery of a young girl from a backward village in the Deep North sold to a brothel in a harbor town where she is forced to have sex “on a pillow of waves” with the scum that comes off boats. Ryoban’s stanza tells us how she got there: her stepmother, while father was away, sold her, an innocent child, to a brothel – although at first only to be a waitress or maid. In the context of the stanzas that followed, Basho’s mountains burned and grass painted with blood depicts the aftermath of the violent rape of an innocent virgin who now realizes that such loveless sexual encounters will be her grief every night for the rest of her life.

 

The brothel loaned money to the father with the daughter as surety on the loan, then she was expected to pay off the loan from the money she received from each customer after the brothel took its share. They give her a two-room suite to live and work in, and better food than she got at home in poverty, yet they charged her for them. And they encouraged her to live luxuriously so -- remember she was a teenager -- she borrowed more from them. If she went into the hospital, her expenses were added onto the principal of the loan. The system was set up by the brothel to insure that few women ever got out of debt, so they had to continue their ‘service.’ The system was legal and administered by the police.

 

The next verse by Lady Chiyo, born ten years after Basho’s death, conveys the play-women’s experience of mi-agari, when she pays the brothel her fee for one night, so tonight her “customer” is herself:


Fee self-paid
she wakes up alone
late night cold

 

She wanted this one night to herself, to gather her inner resources, the resources she needs to go on with this life –   but with no warm body alongside, the sudden drop in temperature after midnight in late autumn awakens her. Unable to get back to sleep, she lies there wondering and worrying, how will she ever earn her freedom when she takes nights off and has to pay for them? Wondering What is karma? And what is syphilis?

 

The wonder of Chiyo’s haiku is how it contains three worlds – economics, the oppression of women, and seasonal awareness – all these between the upper and lower futons.

 

 

Unseen by all
now and then I cry
thinking of love

Tonight too boat rocking
shakes me from a dream

 

No one ever sees her cry, yet still she mourns for the love she might have experienced if…

Ordinarily a woman, unless she works on a boat, would not ride on one – so we get that this woman is

indentured to a tour boat. Every night she has sex with different men, while only in sleep can she dream of true love – but the rocking of the boat wakes her to reality, her life as a sex slave on this floating brothel.

 

After thirty years
in the Yoshiwara, hair
age ninety-nine

On the bedroom pillar
the nembutsu is written

 

 

The average age of death for play-women was 22, so a woman still in the Yoshiwara play quarters after thirty years is most unusual. The experience has aged her hair more than the rest of her. Basho’s stanza sets up a mystery: is this her bedroom now? or her bedroom long ago? In either case, the suffering play-women wrote the nembutsu prayer for salvation from the bodhisattva Amida: namu Amida buttsu.  Shimasue Kiyoshi, the comiler of the BRZ, gives absolutely no explanation for this stanza; every Japanese immediately gets the meaning. 

 

On their journey to the Deep North, Basho and Sora have walked along the Japan Sea coast in the hottest part of summer to reach the Barrier of Ichiburi. They lie on their futon at a ryokan or inn on the east side of the border gate.

 

As I pull in my pillow to go to sleep,
from the next room to the front
I hear two young female voices.
An older man joins in and from their conversation
it seems they are play-women from Niigata
on a pilgrimage to the Ise Shrine.

 

So begins Basho’s ode to two women on a journey. They were “play-women” in a brothel in Niigata, but they left that profession in Niigata. Now on a spiritual pilgrimage, in pilgrim’s robes, they are not currently play-women; they are woman. As he fell asleep, through the wall of his inn: he heard one:

 

“in the world of prostitution reduced to misery,
our vows inconstant, how did our everyday karma
become so wretched?”

 

Under one roof
even play-women sleeping
bush clover and moon

 

The moonlight shining on the roof makes the inn a sort of shrine, and the lovely purple bush-clover decorates this holy place. Under that roof are two courageous women, asleep with the kamisama.

 

 

Both men and women of the upper classes treated their hair with camellia oil so it would hold the customary styles:

 

The traveler’s
greasy smell on the pillow
how disgusting!

Sardines are roasted by
inconstancy of  vows

 

This woman at a roadside inn cooks for travelers and also provides sex. She hates the greasy smell customers leave on her pillow. She also hates the degrading pretence of false vows made to satisfy him with no possibility of becoming true love, since she is indentured and can never leave, and this hatred burns hot enough to roast the sardines she prepares for him.

 

Lady Love would tear off
her sleeve for my muffler

With such a lover
I’ll drink up the barrel
for my coffin

 

“Lady Love” is a courtesan who fulfills her job, to make her customer feel like he is the most important fellow in the world, and also order lots of expensive sake. He is even willing to die for such a lover – yet we must keep in mind that this is all pretense and acting. She no more loves him than she will love tomorrow’s customer. In fact, she pities his gullibility and hates having to play these stupid games with him.

 

Sometimes a woman got out of a brothel into something worse:

 

Among pines a low door
closed in by thorns –

His play-woman
hidden seven miles
from the Capital

 

A rich and powerful man in the Capital has paid off a play-woman’s loan, so now he owns her. He keeps her in a shack with a low door that can hardly open because of all the thorns. He does not want the neighbors to know she is here. (Even if she did escape, where could she go? Here she has shelter and food.) “Seven miles from the Capital” is close enough so he can visit her without too much trouble, but far enough – in the 17th century -- that no rumor of her will reach his wife, his colleagues, and the media.

 

From late night
pillow talk, I realize
he is my cousin –

Our marriage cut off
my grief remaining

 

Talking with the brothel’s customer in bed, I realize that this man is my cousin;  probably we have never met, but he spoke of a relative who is my relative. Basho then takes an amazing leap into improbable coincidence, al la Dickens:  this cousin also was the one arranged to marry me, but something happened and my family needed money, so they sold me to a brothel. And now here he is, in bed with me, only for one night. Basho takes our minds in such unexpected directions.

 

The punitive force
already has set forth
in solemn dignity

For one night’s vow
he empties his purse

 

The emperor has ordered troops to subjugate the rebels; the samurai gather, and when morning comes, leave camp with strict, solemn military precision. Someone is going to get it! Meanwhile, the commander of the rebels (Han Solo) has spent the night in a brothel, and when morning comes makes a hasty departure so he can prepare his army. Before he leaves, since he is not likely to need cash ever again, he gives all he has to his partner in “one night’s vow.” (Military commanders carry considerable funds). Here we have a play-woman who got lucky. Now she can purchase her freedom, return to her home village, a hero because she saved her family from ruin, marry that boy she loves, and have children.


Taking off from Sora’s masculine military stanza Basho creates a blessing for the feminine. Though the woman is not mentioned in any word, if we look into the link between the two stanzas, we discover her, one who has endured year after year of degradation in solemn dignity, and from her years of misery we leap to the wonder of her good fortune – yet along with the joy she feels for what he has given her, comes the grief of knowing why he is giving away all his cash.

 

                 

     basho4humanity@gmail.com

 






<< Men Like Sex (C-04) (C-06) Play-Women from Niigata >>


The Three Thirds of Basho

 

 

I plead for your help in finding a person or group to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material, to edit and improve the presentation, to receive all royalties from sales, to spread Basho’s wisdom worldwide and preserve for future generations.

 

basho4humanity@gmail.com
Basho's thoughts on...
• Introduction to this site
• The Human Story:
• Praise for Women
• Love and Sex in Basho
• Children and Teens
• Humanity and Friendship
• On Translating Basho
• Basho Himself
• Poetry and Music
• The Physical Body
• Food, Drink, and Fire
• Animals in Basho
• Space and Time
• Letters Year by Year
• Bilingual Basho 日本語も
• 芭蕉について日本語の論文
• Basho Renku, 芭蕉連句
• Women in Basho
• BAMHAY (Basho Amazes Me! How About You?)
• New Articles


Matsuo Basho 1644~1694

The only substantial
collection in English
of Basho's renku, tanka,
letters and spoken word
along with his haiku, travel
journals, and essays.

The only poet in old-time
literature who paid attention with praise
to ordinary women, children, and teenagers
in hundreds of poems

Hundreds upon hundreds of Basho works
(mostly renku)about women, children,
teenagers, friendship, compassion, love.

These are resources we can use to better
understand ourselves and humanity.

Interesting and heartfelt
(not scholarly and boring)
for anyone concerned with
humanity.


“An astonishing range of
social subject matter and
compassionate intuition”


"The primordial power
of the feminine emanating
from Basho's poetry"


Hopeful, life-affirming
messages from one of
the greatest minds ever.

Through his letters,
we travel through his mind
and discover Basho's
gentleness and humanity.

I plead for your help in
finding a person or group
to take over my 3000 pages of Basho material,
to edit and improve the material, to receive 100%
of royalties, to spread Basho’s wisdom worldwide
and preserve for future generations.

Quotations from Basho Prose


The days and months are
guests passing through eternity.
The years that go by
also are travelers.



The mountains in silence
nurture the spirit;
the water with movement
calms the emotions.


All the more joyful,
all the more caring


Seek not the traces
of the ancients;
seek rather the
places they sought.



Basho Spoken Word


Only this, apply your heart
to what children do


"The attachment to Oldness
is the very worst disease
a poet can have."


“The skillful have a disease;
let a three-foot child
get the poem"


"Be sick and tired
of yesterday’s self."


"This is the path of a fresh
lively taste with aliveness
in both heart and words."
.

"In poetry is a realm
which cannot be taught.
You must pass through it
yourself. Some poets have made
no effort to pass through, merely
counting things and trying
to remember them.
There was no passing
through the things."


"In verses of other poets,
there is too much making
and the heart’s
immediacy is lost.
What is made from
the heart is good;
the product of words
shall not be preferred."


"We can live without poetry,
yet without harmonizing
with the world’s feeling
and passing not through
human feeling, a person
cannot be fulfilled. Also,
without good friends,
this would be difficult."


"Poetry benefits
from the realization
of ordinary words."


"Many of my followers
write haiku equal to mine,
however in renku is the
bone marrow of this old man."


"Your following stanza
should suit the previous one as an expression
of the same heart's connection."


"Link verses the way
children play."


"Make renku
ride the Energy.
Get the timing wrong,
you ruin the rhythm."


"The physical form
first of all must be graceful
then a musical quality
makes a superior verse."

"As the years passed
by to half a century.
asleep I hovered
among morning clouds
and evening dusk,
awake I was astonished
at the voices of mountain
streams and wild birds."


“These flies sure enjoy
having an unexpected
sick person.”



Haiku of Humanity


Drunk on sake
woman wearing haori
puts in a sword


Night in spring
one hidden in mystery
temple corner


Wrapping rice cake
with one hands she tucks
hair behind ear


On Life's journey
plowing a small field
going and returning


Child of poverty
hulling rice, pauses to
look at the moon


Tone so clear
the Big Dipper resounds
her mallet


Huddling
under the futon, cold
horrible night


Jar cracks
with the ice at night
awakening



Basho Renku
Masterpieces

With her needle
in autumn she manages
to make ends meet
Daughter playing koto
reaches age seven


After the years
of grieving. . . finally
past eighteen
Day and night dreams of
Father in that battle


Now to this brothel
my body has been sold
Can I trust you
with a letter I wrote,
mirror polisher?


Only my face
by rice-seedling mud
is not soiled
Breastfeeding on my lap
what dreams do you see?



Single renku stanzas


Giving birth to
love in the world, she
adorns herself



Autumn wind
saying not a word
child in tears


Among women
one allowed to lead
them in chorus


Easing in
her slender forearm
for his pillow


Two death poems:


On a journey taken ill
dreams on withered fields
wander about

Clear cascade -
into the ripples fall
green pine needles




basho4humanity
@gmail.com




Plea for Affiliation

 

Plea For Affiliation

 

I pray for your help

in finding someone
individual, university,

or foundation - 
to take over my

3000 pages of material,   
to cooperate with me 

to edit the material,
to receive all royalties 

from sales, to spread

Basho’s wisdom worldwide,
and preserve for

future generations.


basho4humanity

@gmail.com