14 haiku out of 10000

year unknown

wakamizu ya souto tsukiko[mu] ume no hana

into the year's first
water softly...
plum blossoms


wakamizu no yoshi naki hito ni kumare keri

New Year's water--
an unfortunate soul
ladles it

Originally I translated yoshi naki hito as "an unlucky soul." Shinji Ogawa suggests that yoshi in this context could mean "reason," not "luck." The expression might signify that a person with no reason to do so is ladling the New Year's water. Masafumi Kobayashi, in Issa to onnatachi ("Issa and Women"), has a different theory. He writes that yoshi naki hito refers to an unfortunate soul: a prostitute who, when she was alive, ladled the water at a certain well. "I don't know why she died, but it's surely a sad story," he adds (Tokyo: Sanwa 2004) 42-43.


cha keburi ya waga wakamizu mo sumida-gawa

tea smoke--
my year's first water
from Sumida River


myôdai ni wakamizu abiru suzume kana

bathing in the
New Year's water...
my proxy the sparrow


yoku-doshiku wakamizu tsukau onna kana

greedily using up
the year's first water...
the woman

Yokudoshi is an old word that means "to be greedy"; see Kogo dai jiten (Shogakukan 1983) 1704. Is this haiku a gentle slap at Issa's wife, Kiku?


wakamizu ya narabu suzume mo mamena kao

year's first water--
sparrows in a row
with healthy faces

Originally, I translated the last phrase, "with little faces," since Issa writes, literally, "bean-sized faces" (mamena kao). Commenting on a similar haiku, Shinji Ogawa informed me that mame signifies "healthy" when it is used as an adjective. He adds that "bean-sized face is, however, not totally impossible but less likely."


wakamizu ya mazu wa hotoke no shikimi oke

year's first water--
the first goes to Buddha's
bucket of branches

A temple scene. The stone Buddha's bucket is filled with sacred shikimi ("star-aniseed") branches that are placed on Buddhist graves.


myôdai ni wakamizu abiru karasu kana

bathing in the
New Year's water...
my proxy the crow


san mon ga wakamizu amaru iori kana

three pennies of New Year's
water is enough...
little hut

The mon was the basic currency of Issa's time. It took the form of a coin with a hole in its middle so that it could be strung on a string. In Issa's day six mon could pay for a bowl of rice. In the haiku, three mon would equal a little less than a dollar today.


hito oke wo wakamizu waka yu waka cha kana

from one bucket
the year's first cold water
first hot water, first tea

This haiku refers to the first water drawn on New Year's Day. Issa is getting a lot of use from it.


wakamizu [ya] wara ga uite mo fuku to iu

year's first water--
even a floating straw
they call "lucky!"

Shinji Ogawa comments, "The straw is rather unimportant here. The humor of this haiku is the people's psyche: that no matter what is floating, they call it a lucky omen."


chisai ko ya wakamizu kumi mo nambanme

little child
draws the year's first water...
again and again!


mezamashi [ni] wakamizu miru ya sumida-gawa

the year's first water
looks wonderful!
Sumida River


wakamizu ya dobin hitotsu ni sumida-gawa

the year's first water
in an earthen teapot...
Sumida River

All translations © 1991-2007 by David G. Lanoue, rights reserved.