Matsuo Basho (松尾芭蕉)

Basho MATSUO (1644 - November 28, 1694) was a haikai (seventeen-syllable verse) poet from present-day Iga City, Mie Prefecture in the early Edo period. His childhood name was Kinsaku. His popular name Toshichiro, Chuemon, and Jinshichiro. His name was Munefusa. He first used his real name Munefusa as his haigo (the pen name of a haiku poet), then changed it to Tosei, and Basho (Haseo). He established a verse style with high artistic quality called Shofu (Basho style of the haiku) and he was called a master of haiku.

Basho left Edo on May 16, 1689 with his disciple Sora KAWAI and traveled to Ogaki City, Gifu Prefecture through Tohoku and Hokuriku regions. He left a writings dealing with the travel called "the Narrow Road to the Deep North."


He was born as the second son of Yozaemon MATSUO and his wife Ume in Iga Province (present Iga City, Mie Prefecture). The Matsuo family held the plow, but the social standing of the family was that of a family name of Matsuo. There are two theories regarding his birthplace, one of which is Akasaka (present Uenoakasaka Town, Iga City) and the other is Tsuge (present Tsuge, Iga City). This is because the Matsuo family moved from Tsuge to Akasaka and it is unknown whether Basho was born before or after moving.

At a young age, he served shukei (budget bureau) Yoshitada TODO (his haigo was Sengin), who was an heir of Yoshikiyo TODO, a Samurai-Daisho (commander of warriors) of Ueno in Iga Province, and studied under Kigin KITAMURA to start learning haikai with Yoshitada, who was two years older. In 1666, when Yoshitada deceased, he resigned the office.

In 1672, he dedicated his first haiku collection "Kai Oi" (The Seashell Game) to Uenotenman-gu Shrine (Iga City, Mie Prefecture). In 1675, he went down to Edo and was involved in the work of the Kanda River (Tokyo), and then became a master in 1678 to become a professional haikai poet. In 1680, he made a thatched hut in Fukagawa (Koto Ward). A disciple Rika gave him basho (a Japanese banana (plant)) and planted one basho tree, which grew big, so he named his hut Bashoan.
The next autumn after moving to the hut, he composed a hypermetric haiku about basho:

"Basho nowaki shite/tarai ni ame wo/kiku yo kana"(In the hut I hear basho blown by the storm and rain drops hitting the tub) By Basho

The hut was burned in the big fire of Tenwa (so called the fire of Yaoya Oshichi (greengrocer Oshichi)) in 1682, and he was invited to the Yamura domain, Kai Province (Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture) by kunigaro (the chief retainer in charge of the fief in the absence of the lord) Denemon TAKAYAMA to roam and live there.

He often hit the trail and left writings dealing with travel such as "The Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton," "Kashima Journal," "Oi no Kobumi" (Manuscript in My Knapsack), and "A Visit to Sarashina Village." In 1689, he left on the trip of "the Narrow Road to the Deep North" with his disciple Sora KAWAI and came back to Edo in 1691.

He died during his travels. He left a haiku "Tabi ni yande/yume wa kareno o/kakemeguru" (Sick on a journey, my dreams wander the withered fields) at Nizaemon HANAYA's lodge in Midosuji, Osaka and died abroad (It is often said to be a death haiku in hindsight. There is a prologue "created during sickness" and he himself did not think it was a death haiku.
"Aki fukaki/tonari wa nani wo/suru hito zo" (Deep autumn, how does my neighbor live, I wonder?) was created right before he became fatally ill in bed.)
He died at 51.
He was buried next to the grave of Yoshinaka KISO located in Gicho-ji Temple in Zeze, Otsu City, according to his living will "(to place his grave) next to MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka. "

His disciples included Kikaku TAKARAI, Ransetsu HATTORI, Kyoriku MORIKAWA, Kyorai MUKAI, Shiko KAGAMI, Joso NAITO, Sora KAWAI, Sanpu SUGIYAMA, Hokushi TACHIBANA, Yaba SHIDA, and Etsujin OCHI, who were called the ten representative pupils under Basho MATSUO, and Boncho NOZAWA.


October 12 in old lunar calendar is the anniversary of his death (currently observed according to the New calendar (solar calendar)) and is called Toseiki (Peach Green Anniversary), Shigure ki (Winter-Drizzle Anniversary), or Okina ki (Old Man's anniversary), etc. Shigure is another name of October in old lunar calendar and also a haiku theme Basho liked to use. For example, there is hokku (the first line of a waka poem) of Sarumino "Hatsu shigure/saru mo komino wo/hoshige nari" (First rain of winter - the monkey too seems to want a little straw raincoat).

His famous haiku include 'Furu ike ya/kawazu tobikomu/mizu no oto' (Ah! The ancient pond, as a frog takes the plunge, sound of the water) (An autograph tanzaku (long, narrow card on which Japanese poems are written vertically) exists in Kakimori Bunko (a museum - library for the Kakimori Collection)), 'Ara umi ya/Sado ni yokotau/ama no gawa' (Turbulent sea, above Sado, stretches the Milky Way), 'Natsu-kusa ya/tsuwamono-domo ga/yume no ato' (Mounds of summer grass - the place where noble soldiers one time dreamed a dream). Matsushima ya/Aa Matsushima ya/Matsushima ya' (Matsushima, Ah! Matsushima! Matsushima!) is commonly known as Basho's haiku, but it is actually attributed to Tawarabo, a kyoka (comic (satirical) tanka) writer in the late Edo period.

During the early days of the travel "the Narrow Road to the Deep North," he stayed in Senju for a long time, but there is no word in "the Narrow Road to the Deep North," so there is speculation that he was going to take on an assignment as a secret agent. In addition, based on facts that his birthplace Iga is famous for ninja (professional spy in feudal Japan highly trained in stealth and secrecy) and that he walked extremely fast for a Japanese person at that time, there is a theory that he was a ninja outside of the mainstream.

The place where Basho died was broken down due to the work to widen Midosuji Street (however, there is a stone monument around 4, Kyutaro-cho, Chuo Ward, Osaka City).

Famous haiku

Furu ike ya/kawazu tobikomu/mizu no oto (Ah! The ancient pond, as a frog takes the plunge, sound of the water)
Meigetsu ya/ike wo megurite/yomosugara (The autumn moon, I wandered round the pond, all night long)
Natsu-kusa ya/tsuwamono-domo ga/yume no ato (Mounds of summer grass - the place where noble soldiers one time dreamed a dream): Hiraizumi-cho, Iwate Prefecture
Shizukasa ya/iwa ni shimi iru/semi no koe (The utter silence …, cutting through the very stone a cicada's rasp): Risshaku-ji Temple in Yamagata Prefecture
Samidare wo/atsumete hayashi/Mogami-gawa (Gathering the rains of summer, how swift it is - Mogami-gawa River): Oishida Town, Yamagata Prefecture
Kumo no mine/ikutsu kuzurete/tsuki no yama (I understood reason to be called a mountain of the moon definitely): Gassan, Yamagata Prefecture
Ara umi ya/sado ni yokotau/ama no gawa (Billow-crested seas! Flowing towards Sado Isle heaven's Milky Way): Izumozaki-machi, Niigata Prefecture
Hana no kumo/kane wa Ueno ka/Asakusa ka (Cloud of cherry blossoms, the temple bell, is it Ueno, is it Asakusa?): Tokyo

Literary work

"Kohon Basho Zenshu" (The Complete Works of Basho (a variorum)): Total 10 volumes and one separate volume, Fujimi Shobo
This book is currently out of stock and out of print.

"Matsuo Basho Shu" (Collected Works of Basho MATSUO): Vol. 70 and Vol. 71, Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshu (The Collections of Japanese Classical Literature) published by Shogakukan Inc.

"Basho Bunshu" (The prose writings of Basho: an anthology) and "Basho Kushu" (The Collection of Basho's Haiku): Nihon koten shusei published by Shinchosha

Iwanami bunko contains "the Narrow Road to the Deep North with Travel Diary of Sora" (the Narrow Road to the Deep North) and "Basho Haiku Shu" (Basho's Haiku Collection) as well as "Basho Haibun Shu" (The Collection of Basho's Haiku Prose) vol.1 and 2, "Basho Kikobun Shu" (Collection of Basho's writings dealing with travel), "Basho's Letters," "Basho Renku Shu" (Basho's Linked Verses), and "Basho Shichibu Shu" (Basho's Seven Selected Works).

"Basho Shokan Taisei" (The Complete Collection of Basho's Letters) and "Basho Nenpu Taisei" (The Chronological Record of Basho), compiled by Eizo KON and published by KADOKAWA GAKUGEI SHUPPAN PUBLISHING CO., LTD.

"Zenshaku Basho Shokanshu": Yoshinobu TANAKA, Vol. 11 of Chushaku Sosho (commentary series) published by Shintensha Publishing Co., Ltd.

Secret agent theory

There has been a lot of argument that Basho was a ninja because he was born in Iga Ueno. Because haikai poets traditionally lead itinerant lives, they are thought to have also collected information.

There is a rumor that Basho MATSUO was Hanzo HATTORI.

In 1943, "Travel Diary of Sora," a diary of Sora who accompanied the trip of "the Narrow Road to the Deep North" was reprinted. It was revealed that there are about 80 points of difference from descriptions of "the Narrow Road to the Deep North." For example, the date of departure was May 16 according to "the Narrow Road to the Deep North," while it was May 9 according to "Travel Diary of Sora."

In addition, their schedule was also extremely odd. They entered the Sendai Domain after staying in Kurobane Town for 13 nights and Sukagawa City for 7 nights, but they stayed in Matsushima, which he praised highly as "I am most anxious to see the moon in Matsushima" on departure, for only one night and passed through without composing even one poem. It is thought that this odd schedule was to wait for the opportunity to investigate the inside of the Sendai Domain.

"Travel Diary of Sora" describes that they repeatedly visited Zuigan-ji Temple, which was considered to be a military fortress of the Sendai Domain, and Port of Ishinomaki, the domain's commercial port (Some say that Sora had assignments of bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun)) and accompanied Basho's travel to cover that).

Based on these theories, some view "the Narrow Road to the Deep North" as a report that describes the inside of the Sendai Domain, not a travelogue.

Basho's character in other countries than Japan

There is a description of Basho MATSUO in two pages of textbook for second-year junior high school in Ukraine.

In a game from Sierra, "Swat 2," a backroom manipulator of a terrorist organization who identify himself as 'Basho' and composes strange haiku (Japanese poems) in English.

[Original Japanese]