Here are ten kids Basho wrote about in haibun or letters: Kyokusui's son Takesuke, Uko's daughter Sai, an abandoned 2-year old, an 11 year old "Priest of the Road," a little farm girl he met on his journey to the Deep North, the newborn he named after her, his teenage grandnephew Jirobei and grandnieces Masa and Ofu believed to be 15, 13, and 11, and another teenager named Donshu. His portraits of these children
(including haiku, renku and tanka) are anthropology; can you think of any other author in world literature who left us so many such portraits of children full of insight into human child nature?
In summer of 1690, the samurai Kyokusui was among the entourage of the Lord of Zeze in attendence on the Shogun; they remained in Edo throughout the next year and into the spring of 1692. Meanwhile in Zeze, Basho visited Kyokosui’s mansion where infant Takesuke was Kyokusui’s first son and heir to the household. He wrote a letter to Kyokusui, dated August 4, 1690:
Basho could see that the baby was “born with” (umare-tsuki) intelligence, endowed by his parents; thus he also praises Kyokusui and wife. Takesuke is getting bigger because he is drinking breast milk which is germ-free and evolved for human babies to digest. Kon believes that this uba was Kyokusui’s nurse, who has stayed on with the family as a nanny to help care for the children. Whether she feeds Takesuke from her aging breasts is unclear. More likely, Kyokusui’s family has hired another younger uba for Takesuke, possibily with her own baby who grows up together with Takesuke. Because the old uba lives with the family, she is there to help care for the children so the wife – and Takesuke – will not stress out with her husband away in the Capital for 18 months. Maybe this woman does not feed Takesuke, but she does the rest: changing diapers, washing and drying, carrying the baby about, allowing him to play without getting hurt.
Readers familiar with child welfare may note that Basho gives a remarkably complete developmental profile on the infant:
1) gaining weight, 2) shows intelligence,
3) health good, 4) father absent
5) but child lives in stable, extended family of women devoted to his care.
6) They remain cheerful even when he is sad (because papa is away) so they cheer him up
and 7) Takesuke “shows no signs of loneliness”.
Doctor Basho looks equally at the physical, mental, emotional and social aspects of child development – and sends his observations to the father to help him feel better in his absence from his son. Basho pays attention to children in ordinary daily life, and furthermore he pays attention to people caring for children.
What other old-time poet did this?
Juliet’s uba, after telling how she weaned the infant, goes on… and on… and on… with a story of the day before when Juliet:
Shakespeare (in 1595) observes that an infant may not need to cry -- for if distracted, may stop and even become happy. Read Basho’s letter along with the Nurse’s account: they say exactly the same thing! When the infant is in a bad way, adults act cheerfully to lift the child’s spirit up.
In another letter to Kyokusui, dated December 14 of that year 1690, Basho, still in Zeze, again portrays the infant in a way that will please and reassure the concerned father whose job requires him to be far away from his son.
Basho’s praise for one-year-old Takesuke pleases Kyokusui because his young heir is the next generation, the next layer, of Kyokusui. The father is a samurai, but nowadays there is no fighting, and samurai have become government administrators. Kyokusui has little opportunity to be manly, and his son is growing up without father present. Basho reaches inside Kyokusui’s heart to reassure him that his son is showing adult traits, becoming a takumashii (strong, sturdy, vigorous) little samurai who can also laugh – just like Dad.
Although Kyokusui is a samurai, he feels feminine caring for his infant son, and Basho affirms these feelings
which most people at this time would consider un-samurai-like.
15 months later, Basho back in Edo, Kyokusui at home in Zeze; Takesuke age two or three (by the Western count). Basho writes
Basho recognizes that Takesuke in faraway Zeze is well into his “terrible twos” -- “No!” “No!” -- and he wants to know more. Basho’s observations of Takesuke, and his appreciation for Kyokusui’s feeling for his son, may be firsts in world anthropology. He focuses his attention on the infant along with the hopes of the father for his son and heir: how cool is that?
For New Years of 1693 Kyokusi was in Edo and visited Basho who managed to cook some zoni, vegetable soup with mochi dumplings, a traditional New Year’s dish. For New Years of 1694 Kyokusui is home with his family. Basho in Edo sends a letter on
Zoni is traditionally served throughout the New Year season which lasts 20 days. Thus by the end of the First Moon, when this letter was written, one might be tired of zoni. We see that the uba—who probably was Kyokosui’s wet nurse—likes to overfeed her baby. Basho is kidding his friend.
When Basho last saw the family, there was only Osome and year old Takesuke. But another girl has been born and Basho longs to see them all and know how they are growing. He does, however, sound concerned about Osome’s health.
August 25, 1694, Takesuke is now about five. Basho writes another letter to Kyokusui:
Basho cares about Takesuke’s play for play is "what children do."
Uko’s daughter was born in 1689, so by the time of the following letter from Basho to her, autumn of 1690, her daughter must be near her first birthday (in the Western sense. The Japanese did not “have birthdays” -- everybody just became one year older on New Year’s Day. Simple.)
p.s. to 1690 Letter to Uko
Basho politely addresses the infant as Tei dono - “Little Miss Tei” - however he got the kid’s name wrong. Uko’s daughter is Sai. ‘Yoshi’ is short for Oyoshi, Basho’s little sister, now about 40. When Basho was in Iga at his house, Oyoshi asked him to take her best wishes to Uko and the baby; here Basho kindly delivers them. There are three persons in this postscript, all female. Basho pays attention to the energy passing from one female to another. Basho writes ‘like a woman’, with consciousness of women, children, and personal relationships.
1691 Letter to Uko
In the p.s. to the 1690 letter, Basho called Uko’s daughter “Tei.” In her response, Uko must have used the correct name, so in this letter Basho gets it right. If Sai was one then, in the year past she has entered the ‘terrible twos,’ that period when every waking moment is devoted to proving independence from mama. Japanese women today say the same about 2 or 3 year olds (otonashiku natta deshō). We see Basho has observed this stage in infant development both in Takesuke and Sai. He is an anthropologist.
The Fuji River enters Sagami Bay where today two Stygian black smokestacks of a paper mill spew pollution into our view of Mount Fuji from train or highway. At the end of September, 1684, Basho and his follower Chiri were traveling west on this road:
Basho says “I toss some food as we pass by” which sounds pretty callous ‐as if he were throwing scraps to a dog ‐ but these words are an idiom （like “raining cats and dogs”）that does not really mean what it says. Japanese language instructor Shoko says Basho’s real meaning (honne) here is “I’m sorry I cannot give the child any good food.” Basho scholar Imoto Noochi conveys, with great precision, the feeling in Basho’s heart:
“In his powerlessness he was overcome with self-recrimination.”
We must realize how absolutely powerless Basho and Chiri are in this situation. Neither has a cell phone, and there is no one to call. They have nothing—diapers, soft bland food, bedding—that this child needs. Traveling on foot they cannot carry a child with them. They have no house nearby where they can take care of her. Maybe you think they can carry the child door to door, asking folks to take her in. No. If they — two men, strangers in this village—did that, the people would consider the child their responsibility and be more likely to refuse.
What this child needs is simple: a woman with a home. Japanese villages are insular; the initiative to help the child must come from within the village. The best thing Basho and Chiri can do for this child is to give her some food and then go away, so the village women can go into action. This child is very small but has a powerful tool which Basho calls “crying pitifully.” That cry tugs at the heart of every woman hearing. But Japanese women will stay away as long as two strange men are nearby.
Beatrice Bodart-Bailey violates all logic in her contention that Basho “though he knew it would not survive the frost of night, he went on his way without further ado… Basho felt no twinge of conscience at passing, leaving the child to die.” An illustration by the 20th century woman artist Ogura Reiko presents another image of this scene. This is no isolated mountainside, but rather a village where major road meets large river. The time is late September; the weather pleasant both day and night; This is no helpless baby; at two years she can walk and run and speak a few words, her favorite being “No!” Abandoned by her mother, she may not take so well to two strange men in black robes who try to comfort her; the compassionate act, then, is to leave.
Bodart-Bailey says Basho was that “horrible man who left the child to die.” In her book on the shogun Tsunayoshi, she notes that three years after this incident, he promulgated an edict commanding villagers to take in and care for infants abandoned in the village. So if (IF!) Basho had encountered this child three years later than he did, she says “Basho’s conduct of doing no more than sharing his provision with a deserted child and recommending it to the Gods was now (she should have said “would now be”) a criminal offence”. No! The Edicts were commands, not laws; villagers were not convicted for non-obedience, unless the authorities had some other reason to prosecute them. Bodart-Bailey actually means it was a moral offence. I, however, fail to see how a command to the village to care for children abandoned within the village would apply to a traveler passing through the village.
With no knowledge of Basho’s works about children, of the affection he expresses for infants, and altogether no knowledge of Basho scholarship, she invents this derogatory conclusion. Basho and Chiri did not “leave the child to die.” They left the child to give her a chance to be taken in by a woman able to care for her. His compassion, together with his powerlessness, produced self-recrimination – so he accuses himself of being callous -- when in reality he was as kind and compassionate as possible in these particular circumstances.
He ends with the core idea of Japanese Buddhist determinism, the idea that there is a fate attached to our birth, and so shoganai, “it can’t be helped”, nothing can be done. Compassion, however, did flow in 17th century Japanese villages, so sometimes something could be done. Basho has given us a sketch of the dilemma that confronts us each time we encounter the poor or homeless; do I walk by and forget? Do I toss a few coins or a word of greeting to the person? Do I wish the government or a charity would do something? Or do I actually help the person?
Basho wants to view the site of an ancient battle from the nearby mountain:
Mount Tetsukai is only 777 feet, but very steep, and there is no hiking trail, no trail at all, which is probably why his young guide wishes not to climb it. The boy tries to con Basho out of the idea, giving various excuses, but Basho keeps on pushing, and finally wins him over with a promise to take him to the McDonalds at the base of the mountain when they get down.
Instead of simply telling us how old the kid looks, Basho gives us an arithmetic problem to figure out. He calls the boy a “priest of the road” who gave him the power to climb the mountain, although he did not want to go on this adventure in the first place.
The passage is a remarkable word-video of a Japanese 11-year-old in the 17th century dealing with an eccentric old geezer. Though the “traces” of ancient battles linger on this shore, Japan is now at peace, and this enterprising young lad can earn a few coins and a free meal by guiding tourists up the mountains near his home. He has climbed in these hills scores of times with his friends – but never on this route. He will have quite a story to tell them tomorrow.
In Summer of 1689 Basho and Sora, on their journey to the Deep North, were lost among the fields of Kurobane on the Nasu plain. A kindly farmer loaned them his horse for them to follow as far as it would go, then let return on its own. The farmer’s two children came running after. Basho spoke to the little girl and was charmed.
This is a Time of Peace; small children are not afraid of strangers. We see Dad was doing childcare while farming. Kasane is fortunate to have a father like this. She said her name was Kasane: ka as in ‘cot,’ sa in ‘sock’ ne in “nest.” Kasane(ru) is ordinarily not a name, but rather an active verb, “to pile up in layers, one on top of another.” Furthermore, in the dimension of time, kasaneru is “to reoccur, again and again, in succession”.
Nine months later, in the Spring of 1690, Basho was in Zeze beside Lake Biwa. Someone in the neighborhood asked a Basho follower to arrange for the Master to choose a name for their newborn daughter. Basho remembers the Kasane in the Deep North, and passes her name on to another. The following haibun ending in a tanka are his prayer for his goddaughter’s happiness and longevity.
The farmer and wife wanted a special name for their daughter, not just a name fashionable in the capital city. What were they thinking of when they linked her heritage and destiny to this lovely multi-faceted word? Without being biological parent, Basho gets the magical opportunity to give life through a name, and through a poem.
Extensive commentary for this haibun and poem is article C-14 BLESSINGS UNTO KASANE,
C-8 BEING A BABY, and D-1 GIVING HOPE
In 1690, Basho’s nephew Toin lives near Basho’s hut with his “wife” Jutei and three children, a boy Jirobei, believed to be about 11, and two girls Masa and Ofu, 9 and 7. Sora also lives nearby. Basho in Zeze writes to him on October 13:
Basho apparently got a letter from Sora telling of conflict in the family. We get a hint of why, after Jutei’s death, Basho wrote that she had “no happiness” and her daughters “the same unhappiness.” Two months later, along with a letter to Kyokusui, Basho sent a package with this note:
In 1676, 15 year old Toin accompanied his uncle to Edo and so can be called Basho’s “retainer of long ago.” When Basho was in Kyoto he, like everyone else, bought souvenirs for the folks at home, his grandnieces Masa and Ofu, whom he calls “little nuns” as a term of affection.
We see that “Ishimaru Kento” (an alias) lives with “two little nuns” who are apparently Jutei’s daughters Masu and Ofu; From this letter we see, vaguely but still clearly, that Toin and Jutei were 1) a couple and 2) fugitives. But even in a family of fugitives, little girls like to get presents from far away, especially presents from their granduncle Basho.
Toin died in the spring of 1693, and Basho allowed his son to stay part-time in his hut so he could give the fatherless boy some male rearing, and give Jutei, Masa, and Ofu some free time away from the young adolescent Jirobei who just lost his father (or possibly step-father). The next summer he took Jirobei on a long journey. Basho left Edo with his grandnephew so Jutei, sick with tuberculosis, could move into his three-room hut and be nursed by her two daughters, believed to have been 13 and 11 at this time. Not so great a solution, but the best they could do.
Sora went with them 50 miles to Odawara and climbed to the barrier gate at Hakone Pass (elevation 2575 feet). From Hakone Pass, Sora returned to Edo while Basho and Jirobei continued west to Mishima in Suruga province (Shizuoka-ken). They arrived in Shimada the evening of the 7th, and the next day Basho sends this letter to Sora:
Basho nowhere tells us his grandnephew’s age. Evidence suggests Jirobei was about 15 years old, able to move about nimbly and quickly, but without much endurance – until pushed by day-after-day of exertion to develop endurance (as in modern middle-school athletic clubs.) Basho the anthropologist.
Because the Oi River was flooding from the summer rain, Basho and Jirobei had to stop in Shimada on the eastern bank for three days. Basho again describes Jirobei on this journey in another letter written a month later:
“Thanks, Uncle!” People on one-way journeys rented the horse at one post-station, and left it at another, so it had to be returned anyway.
Another 60 miles down the road:
Basho has noticed something very important about children and even teenagers: that they develop. They are not stuck with yesterday’s self. Given a few days of concentrated input, they change. In a few weeks of natural communication with local children, a “foreign” child will learn their language and speak it without an accent. After just ten days of Basho’s Boot Camp (even with a three-day furlough), Jirobei discovered an energy no one knew he had. He changed from being a wimpy 15 year old to a “robust” young man, who can just walk and walk, carrying a backpack, without tiring. Basho portrays the transformation of a child into a young man; “he legs and shoulder became strong together” so his body and brain developed as a whole. Basho is honored to accompany Jirobei on his journey into manhood.
Kyorai tells how in Nagoya Basho defended his new style of Lightness against followers accustomed to more traditional poetry:
Not what children say, or how children appear, but what children do (kodomo no suru koto). Children’s actions are whole – not split up by the conflicting parts of the adult self. Children see things invisible to an adult; lose a needle in the grass; ask a child to find it. Children can learn in minutes or days what adults cannot learn in months or years of practice. With their low ratio of body weight to surface area (their Lightness), flexible joints, and superlative sense of balance, they achieve what adults will not even attempt (skateboarding or ballet, for instance). Their small size allows them to take advantage of physical features and spaces adults do not notice. Basho would have agreed with George Nissen, who as a college student in 1934 invented the trampoline. Nissen said, to be creative: “You’ve got to watch kids. You learn from kids. And sometimes you have to act like a kid.”
Sampu owns a business so, like a modern shachō (company director), has a highly respected position in Japanese society. He financed the building of Basho’s three room “hut” in Fukagawa. Now in 1694, Basho is far away, traveling with Jutei’s son Jirobei. Jutei stays with her two daughters. The mother is sick in bed, so Masa and Ofu, believed to be 13 and 11, are in charge of the house. As we see below, two neighbors, Ihei and Basho’s cousin Torin, are keeping an eye on things. On July 13th from Zeze, Basho writes to Sampu:
We can learn so, so much about Japanese society here:
1) The importance of serving tea “properly” to a guest, especially a VIP guest
2) the involvement of neighbors in caring for a family in need
3) the ability of young teenage girls to rise up and get the job done
4) the concern about fire in a land of wooden houses
5) Basho tells Sampu not to go to any trouble, then tells him to go to the trouble.
On July 24, Basho wrote a letter to Ihei, his neighbor in Fukagawa:
Basho only mentions Ofu, not Masa, so it appears the younger girl suffers from some health problem her sister is free of. The Japanese summer is mushi atsui, day after day of sultry, muggy heat which makes all health problems worse. (Just imagine there is no air conditioning anywhere.) Also in her house work -- as in villages worldwide today – the young teenage girls breathes in wood smoke full of particles that lodge in their lungs and cause “consumption” (tuberbulosis of the lungs). Basho is worried about his grandniece’s delicate health.
On July 23, in Basho’s hut, Jutei died. Basho’s neighbor Ihei notified Basho by a letter he received on July 29th. He wanted to send the 15-year old back to Edo to manage his mother’s affairs and see his sisters, but no one was available to escort the youth 300 miles to Edo and after he was done there, back to rejoin Basho. Two weeks later, on August 14, Basho notifies Sampu in a letter:
We see Basho actually cares about how the young teenager is doing. Jirobei, in one summer, traveled
from Edo to the Kansai, back to Edo, and again to Kansai, over a thousand miles mostly on foot.
Jirobei, along with Shiko and Izen, rejoined Basho now in Iga in September. The four of them plus Oyoshi’s son Mataemon went with Basho to Nara for the Chrysanthem Festival, and then on to Osaka.
Just 16 days before his death, Basho wrote a letter to Kyokusui, in which he says
The kanji for “dedicate” has a rather long reading; tatematsuru.Often when you enter a Shinto shrine, you will see stone markers with this kanji carved in, or it is inscribed on a torii entrance gate. We join Basho in his dedication to the “no-misfortune” of children.
On his death bed at a boarding house in Osaka, four days before the end, Basho chose two teenagers, his grandnephew Jirobei and an Osaka youth named Donshu, to attend him. Shiko tells us in his diary:
Shiko is not in the room and records what he hears through the wall: The stick of India ink being rubbed in the well of an ink stone, so Basho’s haiku is written down by a teenage boy.
We cannot know what Donshu thought about Basho's poem. He probably felt honored to be the one who recorded Basho's death poem - however this was not the final haiku Basho wrote, for when he awoke the next day, Basho dictated another poem to Shiko
See E-9 FIVE FINAL HAIKU for furthur commentary.
A day and a half later, Basho dictated his Will to Shiko:
The “two persons remaining” are Masa and Ofu, now orphans. On his death bed Basho cares about how his grandnieces will manage. Basho cares.
From the Diary of Kagami Shiko, November 28, 1694
Ten followers are here, but Basho only allows the two teenagers to attend him.
Notice how Shiko patronizes them.
It is one of those warmish days in early winter when already spring seems coming back to us. All other insects have died from the night cold, but flies are somehow tougher. Tori-mochi is the sap from the mochi tree, a type of ilex or holly stuck around the end of a bamboo pole to make a fly (or bird) catcher. Instead of waiting for the fly to come to the sticky, you swing the sticky at the fly. To flick the fly before it flies away requires stillness-in-motion, a talent Basho learned growing up in Iga, famous throughout Japan as a training center for ninja. So here we are, Basho’s final words describing the activities of two teenage boys.
Basho maintains Lightness to the very end. The flies “sure” (-rame) “enjoy” (yorokobu) “having” (yadosu) him the way you “have” or “keep” a pet. Basho is the flies’ pet, and they enjoy flying around in the smell of his infection and diarrhea. Even in his final words Basho uses lively specific verbs to create humor. His comment so light and playful, and he is smiling, so his attendants assume he is not about to give up the ghost at this particular moment, so they continue swinging bamboo swords at flies.
And that’s when he slips away, the ninja from Iga.