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One of the four foremost poets of Japanese haiku tradition, Issa is in good company (Bashô, Buson, Issa, Shiki).
He was born in the little village of Kashiwabara in the mountains of Japan's Shinano Province on the fifth day of Fifth Month, 1763: June 15 on the Western calendar. He died in the same village on the 19th of Eleventh Month in the old Japanese calendar year that corresponds to 1827: the equivalent of January 5, 1828 on the Western calendar. In the long time between these dates he learned the art of haiku (then called haikai) and wandered the length and breadth of Japan, writing everywhere he went. Though his real name was Kobayashi Yatarô, he chose Issa (Cup-of-Tea) as his haiku
name. He called himself "Shinano Province's Chief Beggar" and "Priest Cup-of-Tea
of Haiku Temple." A devout follower of the Jôdoshinshû sect, he imbued
his work with Buddhist themes: sin, grace, trusting in Amida Buddha, reincarnation,
transience, compassion, and the joyful celebration of the ordinary.
My own insights and meditations on Issa's life and haiku appear throughout the notes of the online archive
and in my book, Pure Land Haiku: The Art of Priest Issa, where I try to relate Issa's poetry to the Pure Land Buddhism that he devoutly followed. My newest book, Issa's Best, gives an introduction to the poet's life and art, followed by 2,010 of my favorite haiku. For some other perspectives, see Poets on Issa—a collection of short essays and ruminations by poets from around the world, sharing their thoughts on Issa and haiku.
- 1763, Age 1*
In Shinano Province, Kashiwabara village, Issa is born to a family of middle-class farmers. He lives in a house across from the post horse stables.
- 1765, Age 3
Eighth Month, 7th day, his mother dies.
- 1770, Age 8
His stepmother Satsu arrives.
- 1772, Age 10
Fifth Month, 10th day, Issa's half brother Senroku is born.
- 1776, Age 14
Eighth Month, 14th day, his beloved grandmother dies. Ninth Month, Issa falls seriously ill with a fever.
- 1777, Age 15
In spring, he leaves for Edo (Tokyo). For the next ten years, nothing is known of him.
- 1787, Age 25
Eleventh Month, Issa appears in a record of Chikua's Nirokuan haiku school, under the name Ikyô.
- 1790, Age 28
Third Month, 13th day, Master Chikua dies.
- 1791, Age 29
Third Month, 26th day, Issa leaves Edo on a journey to visit haiku poets in Shimôsa Province. Fourth Month, 28th day, he returns home to Kashiwabara.
even the tree by the gate
in good health...
- 1792, Age 30
Third Month, 25th day, Issa sets off on a journey to Shikoku Island.
when will we meet again?
I'm off to the will-o'-the-wisps
in the far mist
- 1793, Age 31
He visits Nagasaki.
a foreigner also attends
the year's end service!
- 1794, Age 32
He journeys to various places on Kyûshû Island.
- 1795, Age 33
He visits Matsuyama City.
with a visiting butterfly...
outer hot spring
- 1796, Age 34
Wandering through Shikoku Island, he attends a full moon party at Matsuyama.
all in a row
on tatami mats...
- 1797, Age 35
In spring, Issa leaves Matsuyama City. From summer to autumn he stays at Fukuyama.
- 1801, Age 39
Third Month, he returns to his home village. His father dies.
I, who outlived him
in the dewy
- 1810, Age 48
Negotiations over his inheritance take place. From this year until 1818 Issa writes haiku in Shichiban nikki ("Seventh Diary").
the closer I get
to my village, the more pain...
- 1812, Age 50
Eleventh Month, 14th day, he leaves Edo. Same month, 24th day, he returns to live in his native village of Kashiwabara.
well here it is
my final home?
five feet of snow
- 1813, Age 51
Second Month, he is living in Kashiwabara in a rented house. In autumn, his inheritance dispute finally settled, he moves into his family home.
- 1814, Age 52
Fourth Month, 11th day, he marries Kiku ("Chrysanthemum": age 28).
- 1816, Age 54
Fourth Month, 14th day, a son, Sentarô, is born. Fifth Month, 11th day, he dies.
- 1818, Age 56
Fifth Month, 4th day, a daughter, Sato, is born.
- 1819, Age 57
Sixth Month, 21st day, Sato dies of smallpox. From this year to 1821, Issa writes haiku in Hachiban nikki ("Eighth Diary").
is a dewdrop world
- 1820, Age 58
Tenth Month, 5th day, his second son, Ishitarô, is born.
- 1821, Age 59
First Month, 11th day, Ishitarô suffocates while bundled on his mother's back.
why did the blooming
- 1822, Age 60
Third Month, 10th day, his third son, Konzaburô, is born. From this year until 1825, Issa writes haiku in Bunsei kuchô ("Bunsei Era Haiku Notebook").
- 1823, Age 61
Fifth Month, 12th day, his wife, Kiku, dies.
if only she were hereKonzaburô dies in Twelfth Month that same year.
for me to nag...
- 1824, Age 62
Fifth Month, 22nd day, he marries Yuki, a samurai's daughter (age 38). Eighth Month, 3rd day, they divorce. On the first day of Eighth Intercalary Month, he suffers a stroke, losing his power of speech for a while.
the wild geese freely
call their friends
- 1826, Age 64
Eighth Month, he marries Yao (age 32). For the next two years he writes haiku in Bunsei ku - jû kuchô utsushi ("Bunsei Era 9th-10th Years Haiku Notebook").
- 1827, Age 65
Sixth Month, 1st day, a fire sweeps through Kashiwabara village, destroying Issa's house. Ninth Month, he moves into a grain barn on his property that survived the fire. Eleventh Month, 19th day, he dies of a stroke. Equivalent Western date: January 5, 1828.
one dies out
two die out
lanterns for the dead
*In the traditional Japanese way of counting age, a child is one at birth and gains a year with each New Year's Day.
Read my online essays about Issa:
Master Basho, Master Buson ... and Then There's Issa
Issa's Comic Vision