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About Issa

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.


*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

Wikipedia article