“Criticism of women’s intelligence, autonomy, and moral worthwas essential to the total
subordination of women that society demanded.” Historian Tokuza Akiko xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
L-1 Verses Only First Half
L-2 Verses Only Second Half
Verses with commentaries plus originals and Romanization
L-13 Women in Buddhism
L- 14 Woman's Love
L- 15 Marriage for Women
L- 16 Willow and Blossoms,
L-17 Rice, Moon, Snow
L- 19 Death and Near Death
L- 20 Brothel Slavery
Mysogny was common throughout Japanese society, however Basho was an exception. In his linked verse he either praises the woman, or observes her without judgment – and in some verses he portrayed the oppressive conditions which stifled women in his time. His linked verses about the oppression of women, as well as those empowering women, reveal a feminism in Basho within his misogynistic society.
密 夫 はぢよ / いのちつれなき
母の 親 に / あまえて月 を / 背け おり
Ma-otoko wa haji yo/ inochi tsurenaku
Haha no oya ni / amaete tsuki o / somuke ori
A young woman had a “secret man,” i.e. a married lover, but that relationship has ended, leaving her in shame; in a patriarchal society, the shame of an illicit relationship bears entirely on the woman. Basho takes her to the arms of her mother who quiets her down, helping her accept her shame and go on with her life. The daughter turns her back on the Moon which represents female sexuality – what got her into this mess in the first place. She hides from the Moon, facing into mother’s body.
Father (who may be drunk) insults his wife and daughter, saying the most horrible, vulgar things. In a misogynistic society, abuse of women is so commonplace no one pays attention to it. Shiko, though he is a Japanese man, does pay attention. He portrays the oppression of females common in Japan, yet in his stanza occurrs in a vacuum. Basho could have followed with more about the wife and daughter, but this is not what he does; instead he creates an environment and other people around that oppression.
A kotatsu -- a heater (charcoal in Basho’s time, electric in ours) with a table on top and blanket to hold the warmth around the lower body while sitting -- is square and provides seating for four people, so probably the father is sitting with three guests. The mother and daughter – in this society – would not be sitting at the kotatsu, but rather preparing or serving food and drink to father and his guests. Father insults the females even when visitors are over, saying the most horrible vulgar things, while the guests sit there shocked by what they are hearing; frozen in place, even sitting at a warm kotatsu. We imagine how much worse his abuse is when no guests are present. Basho thus completes and fulfills Shiko’s feminist vision, yet leaves us to imagine how the wife and daughter support eachother against his misogny.
Here is a house (or shack) where the residents feel threatened; they startle at ordinary autumn sounds in a rice-growing village: the clatter of noisemakers hung over fields of ripening grain to scare away hungry birds. They allow the trees and shrubs surrounding the house to grow wild, so from the road only one window can be seen. Is that window an eye watching the road, armed and ready, to defend his freedom?
Basho continues, clarifying that the householder is a thief, yet focusing on the woman married -- probably without license or ceremony --- to this creep. Chosetsu’s stanza is profound social realism, but a masculine, anti-social reality. Basho looks rather at the female side of the gender coin. We imagine the husband's lack of concern for how she feels, along with her constant anxiety over her husband’s occupation. When the clappers sound, she startles, wondering what will happen to her when ‘they’ come to take him.
My thoughts go to Nancy in Oliver Twist, also married to a thief, the despicable Bill Sikes. Nancy participated in the evil of Fagin’s gang, yetwhen the time came, she fought courageously for life and decency. Hear her hysterical screaming at Fagin:
Chosetsu’s stanza leads me to the warped humanity of Fagin and Sikes as the police and mob closed in on them, while Basho’s stanza reveals the tragedy of Nancy, but also her liveliness and integrity.
Willow branches are pliant and flexible, submissive to every breeze, so we may think them weak. Women too are flexible, and in a patriarchal society expected to submit to every male desire. Men admire strength and rigidity, despising the flexibility of willows or women, as they despise the ‘path of blood’ from women’s reproductive organs, and also the sickness that comes with bleeding. During her period the long spring rains make this woman feel weaker and more shameful. Basho offers her some relief: she boils the herbal tea bag in the steam from her inflamed heart.
A teenage girl speaks: “We carefully cultivated those chrysanthemums in a vase, but the boss come to visit and made such a fuss about how beautiful the flowers were, that father had no choice but to give them to the jerk! Losing the flowers is not a big deal, but I hate the way he lorded over papa. Just because he’s the boss, he thinks everything belongs to him!!” -- the pushy behavior of a man used to getting his own way.
Basho continues the theme of patriarch versus teenage girl: “and look how he treats his own daughter, keeping her inside, not letting her go out and be with people. He tries to cultivate her the way we did those
chrysanthemums, giving her everything she wants but making her grow in a single place where no problems can occur.” The Japanese call this hako iri musume, “daughter in a box.” Akiko Tokuza says:
“Parents protected their daughters’ chastity and morality by isolating them both from men
and from rational and critical thought…”
The Japanese government at this time forbid anyone from leaving the country and anyone or anything foreign from entering; this father is doing the same to his daughter. His treatment may not include abuse or deprivation or hard work, but is still oppression. Without the same freedoms and opportunities boys receive, she cannot develop her mind. She is just a pretty flower in poppa’s house.
Most houses of this time were one-story, so being on a large sumptuous second story, along with sake, makes men feel “high” – as if in a tower of cherry blossoms. Basho uses the concept of ‘highness’
in a tall building to describe the feeling of alcohol in one’s brain. For centuries in Europe "high"
was used for intoxication: for instance in 1627 translation of a Roman poem is the phrase
"high with wine." (https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/as-high-as-a-kite.html)
The only guests at Japanese banquets are men; women are there only to serve the guests food and drink, entertain them with music and conversation, or possibly to sleep with those who paid. In L-20
BROTHEL SLAVERY we meet girls sold into sexual slavery; young girls age 10 or 12 were told they were going to the Big City to be waitresses or maids, and only when their first period came were they forced to provide sex. Some girls may have remained as waitresses or maids, but still they were forced to give up their childhood and family so they could assist full-time in the overriding task of Japanese society: to give happiness to men: as seen in the first stanza. This one has yet to attain her full height, so must be a teenager; though her beauty has contributed to the "high" feeling of customers, her face has aged from the years of misery she has experienced in this “teahouse.”
The contrast between the male “high” of Basho’s stanza and the low of the oppressed female is not obvious or startling; we have to search to discover it.
Impoverished peasants (i.e. women) make their family’s clothes from fibers in stalks, vines, or under bark. This family is not quite so poor; he at least has cotton clothes – and when he gets home from wherever he went, he expects them to be mended. She worries the eternal worry of wives everywhere: will he return? Here is the reality of male-female relationships in patriarchal society. We may recall Linda Loman, the wife in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, darning her stockings while her husband bought new ones for his mistress.
This can be a women disappointed by the man she loves, or a wife suffering the absence of her husband with distress thinking about what he is doing. She looks into the clouds, hoping for some answers. Basho’s rhetorical question cannot reduce the oppression, but may somehow console her heart.
洗濯 に / やとはれ ありく / 賤が業
猫 の いがみの / 声 も うらめし
上 は かみ / 下 は しも とて / 物 おもい
Sentaku ni / yatoware ariku/ shizu no waza
Neko no igami no / koe mo urameshi
Ue wa kami / shimo wa shimo tote / mono omoi
With no position in society, no family ties, no education, no beauty or sex appeal, nothing to offer but hard work in cold water, she walks about town announcing her services, and encounters male cats fighting for access to a female. Cats and humans do it the same way: males fighting to dominate a female. Not only in sex, but in every aspect of life, those on top stay on top – having fun and sex and leisure -- while those on bottom remain there for life – so impoverished old women wander about town offering to do laundry.
Rebecca Traister and other feminists have said that feminism today must contain rage at the patriarchy and mysogyny; without rage, a woman is not truly expressing herself. Rage, however, is one feeling you never see in Basho's poems on the humanity of women. The following stanza does contain rage, but it is male rage at a woman, while she responds with the power of her delicacy.
引き立て / むりに舞する / たおやかさ
Hiki tatete / muri ni mai suru / taoyakana
The shogun Yoritomo sent warriors to capture his younger brother Yoshitsune, but unable to find him, they took Yoshitsune’s mistress, the 'white-rhythm' dancer Shizuka, and brought her to Kamakura to dance for the bully-in-command. Starlight shines from Shizuka’s tears as she strugglesto hold them back in defiance of Yoritomo. He roughly yanks Shizuka to a stance and demands that she dance and sing renouncing her love for Yoshitsune. Shizuka mocks him by dancing superbly while singing of her love for Yoshitsune. The shogun gets so angry he tries to kill her right there, but his wife stops him. Shizuka stands up to Yoritomo’s patriarchy, dancing for the dignity of women.
We can compare the scene of Emilia in Othello boldly accusing her husband Iago of deceiving Othello.
She realizes her insistence on telling the truth can only lead to him killing her; but she presses onward with stupendous moral courage until Iago stabs her. Emilia dies, honoring the truth. May the female power, the adherence to the truth, in these images of Shizuka and Emilia be resources for you to empower yourselves
In Chapter V of the Tale of Genji, the young Genji kidnaps 9-year-old Murasaki to raise her in seclusion and nurture her to become the love of his life when she matures. In Chapter IX, after his wife Aoi dies from childbirth, one night he finally rapes Murasaki.
Finally, to make the teenage girl feel better, Genji has his retainer give her inoko no mochi, rice cakes sweetened for children and colored to look like cute little baby boars – although the text does not say whether the “child” Murasaki felt any improvement. Later on,
In 1689 in his hometown Iga, Doho begins and Basho follows:
女咳たる / 藪の戸の内
きぬぎぬの / 亥の子の餅を / 配るとて
Onna sekitaru / yabu no to no uchi
Kinu ginu no / inokono mochi o / kubaru tote
Woman lives in sickness and poverty. Man visits her, relieves his sexual tension inside her, then goes back to his world. Before he leaves, he gives her the mochi cakes Genj gave to teenage Murasaki to cheer her up. How shall we interpret this?
First consider the Japanese male scholar’s view. They see the scene in the Tale as Genji and Murasaki’s “bridal bed” which the gift of baby-boar mochi “celebrates.” Eventually Murssaki gets over her misery from being raped, and grows to accept the luxury the wealthy Genji provides. So her misery and hatred of him was just a phase a young girl has to go through, part of growing up to fit herself into the patriarchal world.
Modern women and some men as well may see it differently. Genji raped the teenager, destroyed her innocence, then to further insult her integrity, gave her some sweets. The man in Basho’s stanza does nothing to relieve her cough or her poverty; he gives her the cakes so he will feel better about being such a shithead.
After a quarrel
the soft rubbing sounds
of hands wringing
White tissue paper
soaked by her tears
口舌事 / 手をさらさらと / おしもんで
Kusetsu-goto / te o sara sara to / oshimonde
Shira kami hitasu / namida nari kere
Two hands twisting around each other in “wringing” produce faint, unobtrusive pressure sound – in Japanese sara sara -- which most people would not even call sound. The activity and sound of a woman’s hands contain her feelings of upset and loss of self-confidence. Basho completes the image with the physical-ness of tissue paper in her hands soaked by her tears.
遁世の /よ所に妻子を / 覗き見て
つぎ歌耳に / のこるよし原
Tonsei no / yoso ni tsumako o / nozoki mite
Tsugi uta mimi ni / nokoru Yoshiwara
He abandoned his family long ago to join the fun and games in the pleasure-quarters; he no longer goes there, but has not returned to them. Instead he stays in seclusion, without responsibility for anyone but himself. Sometimes he peaks in on them and wonders what would of happened if… then he returns to his seclusion. Sometimes in his auditory brain he recalls a particular merrymaking song along with memories of the place where he heard and sang it.
Because men can get away with this sort of shit, women are oppressed.
黒木ほすべき / 谷かげの小屋
たがよめと/ 身 を やまかせむ / 物 おもい
Kuroki hosubeki / tani kage no koya
Taga yome to / mi o yamakasemu / mono omoi
Blackwood burns slowly giving off dark heavy smoke that accumulates over the walls and ceiling and inhabitants. Basho then pinpoints the daughter living within this shack in a mountain hollow where the sun never shines; he reaches into her heart. There are no available bachelors in her world, no one to marry a girl so grimy with soot and rickets from vitamin D deficiency.
She too is oppressed, for deprivation is a form of oppression,
All she can do is long for a love she will never know.