Ichinaka wa – Downtown

One of the more famous examples of Bashō’s haikai, this sequence was composed in 1690 with Mukai Kyorai and Nozawa Bonchō, then two of Bashō’s closest disciples.  At this time Bashō’s was resting in the Genjū’an (Phantom-Dwelling Hermitage) on the shores of Lake Biwa shortly after his journey to Oku, “the deep north.”



Downtown   the smells of things…   summer moon                              Bonchō [1]

     “It’s hot! It’s hot!”–   voices gate to gate                                                Bashō

Second weeding   not even finished and   the rice is in ear                   Kyorai [2]

     He taps the ashes   off a dried herring                                                  Bonchō

Along this route   silver’s unknown–   what a bother!                             Bashō

     Simply too long for him   that short sword                                          Kyorai

Scared by a frog   in a tussock…   evening twilight                                Bonchō

     Out hunting butterburs,   her lantern shakes out                               Bashō

I realized the Way   when the blossoms   were in bud                           Kyorai

     At Nanao in Noto   harsh winter living                                                Bonchō [3]

Here I am   sucking the bones of a fish,   pondering old age                 Bashō

     The sidegate key   that let in the awaited one                                     Kyorai [4]

Servant girls   lean too close, toppling   the folding screen                    Bonchō

     Bamboo duckboards   a very spartan bath                                           Bashō

An evening storm   blows down   the fennel’s seeds                               Kyorai

     The priest, getting colder,   returns to the temple, I see                     Bonchō

A monkey trainer   travels life with a monkey   autumn moon             Bashō

     Annually taxed   one bushel of rice                                                       Kyorai [5]

Five or six logs   freshly cut   soak in a puddle                                        Bonchō

     He soils his tabi   on the black-dirt path                                                Bashō [6]

Sending off   his master’s swift horse   sword bearer                               Kyorai

     The apprentice spills   his water jug                                                     Bonchō

Doors and shōji   covered with straw mats   mansion for sale                Bashō [7]

     Nobody’s looking   pepper pods turn red                                           Kyorai

Quietly weaving   straw sandals   in the moonlight                                Bonchō

     Up to shake out the fleas   she wakes to autumn                                Bashō

The box-trap   has fallen   but no mouse                                                    Kyorai

     The lid is warped   and doesn’t fit the chest                                        Bonchō

A little while   in a grass hut   then he knocks it down                           Bashō

     Glad to be alive:   news of an anthology                                              Kyorai [8]

Many ways there are   and many kinds there are   to love                    Bonchō

     This floating life’s end:   we’re all Komachi                                        Bashō [9]

Why is it?   even sipping porridge   the tears come                               Kyorai

     The master is away   how wide these floors seem!                            Bonchō

He lets a louse   crawl in his palm   blossom shade                               Bashō

     Motionless, the spring haze   noontime sleepiness                           Kyorai


[1] Many scholars point out the lack of the traditional salutations in the first & second verses.  It is possible that the phrase 'summer moon' could be a compliment to the host, Bashō, but I suppose not, considering Bashō's response, which would have had to be a return greeting.
                    This first verse (hokku) could also be translated as:    A street market:   the smells of things...   summer moon
[2] From the city to the countryside.
[3] The city of Nanao lies on the Noto Peninsula and was the capital of the ancient province of Noto (the northern part of modern-day Ishikawa Prefecture).
[4] This and the preceding verse suggest the elderly gatekeeper mentioned in the Suetsumuhana (Safflower, 6th) chapter in the Tale of Genji.
[5] A very low quantity for the yearly rice tax.
[6] Tabi - the formal socks of Japanese costume, cloven at the big toe, to be worn with sandals.
[7] Shō
ji -  the sliding paper door and windows in Japanese architecture.
[8] The wandering poet’s work has been chosen for an imperial anthology. This and the preceding verse suggest, perhaps,  the monk Saigyō
(1118-1190).
[9]  Ono-no-Komachi (c. 850), a poetess and famous beauty, was in legend said to have spent her final years as an impoverished, old hag.


The original text:

市中は物のにほいや夏の月      凡兆

 あつしあつしと門々の聲        芭蕉

二番草取りも果さず穂に出て      去来

 灰うちたゝくうるめ一枚            

此筋は銀も見しらず不自由さよ       蕉

 たゞとひやうしに長き脇指        

草村に蛙こはがる夕まぐれ          兆

 蕗の芽とりに行燈ゆりけす         蕉

道心のおこりは花のつぼむ時        來

 能登の七尾の冬は住うき          

魚の骨しはぶる迄の老を見て        蕉

 待人入し小御門の鎰            來

立かゝり屏風を倒す女子共          兆

 湯殿は竹の簀侘しき              蕉

茴香の實を吹落す夕嵐            來

 僧やゝさむく寺にかへるか          兆

さる引の猿と世を経る秋の月         蕉

 年に一斗の地子はかる也          來

五六本生木つけたる瀦             兆

 足袋ふみよごす黑ぼこの道        蕉

追たてゝ早き御馬の刀持            來

 でつちが荷ふ水こぼしたり          兆

戸障子もむしろがこひの賣屋敷       蕉

 てんじやうまもりいつか色づく        來

こそこそと草鞋を作る月夜さし        兆

 蚤をふるひに起し初秋            蕉

そのまゝにころび落たる升落         來

 ゆがみて蓋のあはぬ半櫃         兆

草庵に暫く居ては打やぶり         蕉

 いのち嬉しき撰集のさた           來

さまざまに品かはりたる恋をして       兆

 浮世の果は皆小町なり            蕉

なに故ぞ粥すゝるにも涙ぐみ         來

 御留守となれば廣き板敷          兆

手のひらに蚤這はする花のかげ      蕉

 かすみうごかぬ昼のねむたき       來

All translations 2007 Sean Price  dr_phinaes@yahoo.com