The following listing was compiled by David G. Lanoue and taken from
Copyright belongs to D.G. Lanoue


78 haiku out of Issa’s 10,000 are set in Kyoto

year unknown

rakuyô ya chito mo magaranu hatsu shigure

falling straight down
the first winter rain

Rakuyô is an old name for Kyoto; Kogo dai jiten (Shogakukan 1983) 1728.


miyako kana tôzainamboku tsuji ga hana

in Kyoto
east, west, south, north…
summer kimonos

This haiku has the prescript, “Imperial Capital,” i.e., Kyoto. In Issa’s day, this is where the emperor and his court lived. Political and military power was centered in the Shogun’s city of Edo, today’s Tokyo.

The phrase, “crossroads blossoms” (tsuji ga hana), is a euphemism for a light summer garment made of hemp: katabira. In this archive, I translate both katabira and awase as “summer kimono.” Hiroshi Kobori explains that tsujiga-hana designs were in fashion from the mid-Muromachi era until the early Edo era; they were mostly dyed purple, red, and deep indigo…”bold and marvelous.”

Makoto Ueda writes that the “blossoms” (hana) refer to the colorful kimonos worn by the people of Kyoto; Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2004) 28. Since kimono is a more widely known term than katabira, I use it in my translation, following professor Ueda’s example.


aru toki wa hana no miyako ni mo aki ni keri

there comes a time
even in blossoming Kyoto…
sick of it

In this comic haiku, all the hoopla over the cherry blossoms, after a while, gets tiresome. The “capital” (miyako) was Kyoto in Issa’s day. This is where the emperor and his court lived. Political and military power was centered in the Shogun’s city of Edo, today’s Tokyo.


kata eda wa miyako no sora yo mume no hana

one branch makes
Kyoto’s sky…
plum blossoms

Mume is ume (“plum tree”). Just one blooming branch against the blue is enough to create a sky befitting the capital.


kyô miete sune wo momu nari harugasumi

seeing Kyoto
I massage my shins…
spring mist


ama [no] kawa miyako no utsuke naku yaran

Milky Way–
maybe the fools of Kyoto
are crying

Issa’s phrase, “Heaven’s River” (ama no gawa) refers to the Milky Way. The word utsuke can mean emptiness in general but also, more particularly, empty-headed people. Why is Issa poking fun at the people of the capital? Is it raining this night?

Shinji Ogawa notes that yaran makes the verb (“cry”) conjectural (“may be weeping”). He is also puzzled by this haiku.

Jean Cholley believes that Issa is alluding to the fact that refined poets of the court followed a tradition of composing repetitive and cliché poems about the Milky Way; En village de miséreux: Choix de poèmes de Kobayashi Issa (Paris: Gallimard, 1996) 235, note 19.


kyô mo kyô kyô no manaka ya fukuto-jiru

Kyoto, Kyoto
in the heart of Kyoto!
pufferfish soup

Pufferfish soup (fukuto-jiru) is a winter season word.


miyako ni mo kobun ari to ya fukuto-jiru

in Kyoto
even for apprentices!
pufferfish soup

Pufferfish soup, a winter season word, was a luxury dish.


yuku kari ni nomasete yaran kyô no mizu

geese taking off
have a drink on me…
Kyoto’s water

Kyoto was Japan’s capital in Issa’s time. Shinji Ogawa paraphrases: “I’ll give the flying-north geese a drink of Kyoto’s water.”


kyôbito ni setchû sareshi sakura kana

blended in
with people of Kyoto…
cherry blossoms


yûdachi ya fune kara mitaru kyô no yama

watching from a boat
Kyoto’s mountain


natsu yama ya kyô wo miru toki ame kakaru

summer mountain–
just when I sight Kyoto


meigetsu ya miyako ni ite mo toshi no yoru

harvest moon–
even in Kyoto
growing old

Sakuo Nakamura notes that the full moon in decline over Kyoto might have a political dimension: “authority in ancient time all has gone away,” as the center of power in Japan has moved from imperial Kyoto to the Shogun’s city, Edo (Tokyo).


tanabata ya miyako mo onaji aki no yama

Tanabata Night
in Kyoto, the same
autumn mountain

This haiku refers to Tanabata, a festival that takes place on the seventh day of Seventh Month. According to a romantic legend, two celestial lovers–the stars Altair and Vega–are separated by Heaven’s River (the Milky Way). One night a year (Tanabata night), they cross the starry river to be together.


haru no hi wo furikurashitaru miyako kana

on the spring day
all day, rain…


amegachi ni miyako no haru mo kururu nari

in falling rain
in Kyoto too
dusk of spring


iriguchi ni yanagi no tatashi miyako kana

a willow stands
at the entrance gate…


ume ga ka wo miyako e sasou kaze mo gana

may the wind send
this plum blossom scent
to Kyoto!

This haiku has the prescript, “Renga,” indicating that Issa wrote it as part of a series of linked verses done with other poet(s). The “capital” (miyako) was Kyoto in Issa’s day.  Robin D. Gill explains that mo gana is an archaic expression of wishing: “Oh, for a wind/ to take the plum blossom scent/ to the capital.”


hototogisu miyako ni shite miru tsuki yo kana

since you’re in Kyoto
look at that moon!

The hototogisu or “little cuckoo” sings day and night, unlike the common cuckoo (Japanese: kakô).


ume chirite kyû ni furubiru miyako kana

plum blossoms gone
suddenly Kyoto
looks old

Sakuo Nakamura conjures the following image with this haiku: “The season of plum blossom has passed away. People have forgotten their joyous mood and now are going to work. The dream is over and real life has appeared. It seemed to Issa as if Kyoto has suddenly grown older.”

Sakuo’s second image is that, after the plum blossom have fallen, there is “little gorgeousness” in Kyoto.

Originally, I translated the first phrase, “plum blossoms scatter,” but Shinji Ogawa points out that (“chiru, in association with blossoms, sometimes means, ‘the season is gone’ without implying the movement of falling flowers.” The verb furubu means to become old-style; see Kogo dai jiten (Shogakukan 1983) 1460.


ao yagi no kakaru kosumi mo miyako kana

even in little nooks
green willows…


kawahori yo yuke-yuke kyô no meshi jibun

get a move on, bat!
it’s dinnertime
in Kyoto

Or: “bats.” It is dusk, which means, from a bat’s perspective, the air is a living smorgasbord of tasty flying insects. He encourages the bat to hurry up and claim his share.  In modern Japanese “bat” is pronounced, kômori. Issa pronounced it, kawahori.


ume no ki ya miyako no susu no sute-dokoro

plum tree–
the dumping ground for
Kyoto’s soot

The haiku refers to winter soot-sweeping. The plum tree, so honored in springtime, becomes the sorry site of a dumping ground.


mochi tsuki ya miyako no tori mo mina mezamu

pounding rice cakes–
in Kyoto all chickens
are awake


yuku aki ya sude ni o-shaka wa kyô no sora

autumn ends–
already the Buddha
fills Kyoto’s sky

In a prescript to this haiku, Issa alludes to an image of Gautama Buddha being returned to its temple in Kyoto. See Issa zenshû (Nagano: Shinano Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1976-79), 3.85, note 2.


ariake ya nattô hara wo miyako made

for a bellyful of natto
a trip to Kyoto

Nattô is fermented or “spoiled” soybeans–popular among the Japanese but, for many foreigners, a gastronomic challenge. In Issa’s time it was especially eaten in the winter for health reasons, and therefore is a winter season word.


hototogisu nanji mo kyô wa kirai shina

oh cuckoo
you also hate Kyoto
don’t you?

In the original text the word mo (“also”) suggests that someone else despises the capital, presumably Issa. Shinji Ogawa explains that kirai shina (dislike don’t you) is Kyoto dialect.


yuku tsuki ya miyako no tsuki mo hito suzumi

the moon departs–
in Kyoto even she enjoys
the cool breeze

In the haiku, everyone in the capital goes out to enjoy the cool air of the summer evening … even the moon.


yabuiri ga tomo wo tsuretaru miyako kana

back from holiday
the servant brings a friend…

The servant in this haiku is either leaving the capital or returning to it. I think it makes more sense to picture him returning: bringing along a new recruit from his native village to join the ranks of Kyoto servants.


miyakobe ya tako no age[ru] mo muzukashiki

a Kyoto suburb–
even flying kites
is hard

Perhaps Issa is suggesting that everything, even kite flying, is easier in the emperor’s capital, harder in outlying areas.


kanakugi no yôna warabi mo miyako kana

even the bracken
are like nails…

Bracken is a fern with tough stems that sprouts in springtime.  In this haiku, Issa hints of Kyoto’s hardness, perhaps to outsiders like he was.


hige dono no kazasaruru nari kyô ôgi

Mr. Long-Beard’s eyes…
a paper fan from Kyoto

Mr. Long-Beard (hige dono) is most likely a poor mountain man or hermit, and yet he somehow has a fan from the capital.


yoru yoru wa hon no miyako zo kado suzumi

night after night
this is true Kyoto!
cooling at the gate


yamaudo ya yuki no o-kage ni kyô mairi

the mountain hermit
under a bundle of snow

Yamaudo, literally, a “mountain person,” also signifies a hermit. Seasonally, this haiku pertains to summer, referring to snow and ice brought down from the mountains to make cold refreshments on hot days. The hermit is heading to Kyoto to sell his snow.


yuku na hotaru miyako wa yoru mo yakamashiki

don’t go, firefly!
even at night Kyoto
is noisy


kokora kara miyako ka kamiko kiru onna

“Are these the outskirts
of Kyoto?”
woman in a paper robe

Shinji Ogawa paraphrases kokora kara miyako ka as: “Around here on does Kyoto begin?” He believes that Issa is the traveler, questioning the woman in the paper robe.

In a similar haiku of the same year (1813) he asks the same question about the more ancient capital, Nara.

Paper robe (kamiko) is a winter season word: a thin, wind-resistant outer kimono.


uguisu no nukaranu kao ya kyô no yama

the nightingale’s
“I’m perfect” face…
Kyoto’s mountain

The verb nukaru in Issa’s time meant to commit a careless blunder; Kogo dai jiten (Shogakukan 1983) 1270. Issa uses its negative form (nukuranu) to modify the bird’s face: the nightingale has an expression that is “not blundering.”


meshimae ni kyô e ite kuru tsubame kana

before dinner
off to Kyoto and back…


hatsu-botaru miyako no sora wa kitanai zo

first firefly–
the sky over Kyoto
is smoggy!

Literally, Issa calls the sky “dirty” (kitanai).


ka-bashira no ana kara miyuru miyako kana

through a hole
in the mosquito swarm…

The mosquitoes are swarming in a column (ka-bashira).  Sakuo Nakamura pictures Issa, as he approached Kyoto, feeling heavy pressure to do well in this cultural and literary center. “Those pressures stood before him like a mosquito swarm.”


degawari ga kago ni meshitaru miyako kana

one migrating servant
rides a palanquin…

In springtime, old servants were replaced by young ones. The old ones would leave their employers to return to their home villages; the young ones traveled in the opposite direction. In earlier times this took place during the Second Month; later, the Third Month. The “servant” in the palanquin is a geisha or courtesan.


kyô mo kyô kyô no go jô no tsubame kana

Kyoto, Kyoto!
on Kyoto’s Fifth Avenue…

Shinji Ogawa explains that in this haiku is not “line” (as I assumed in my first translation), but “avenue.”


muda hito ya hana no miyako mo aki no kaze

vain mankind!
even in blossoming Kyoto
autumn wind

Famous for its spring blossoms, even Kyoto must endure the cold wind of autumn.


demo hana no miyako de soro ka kegare yuki

blossoming Kyoto
is it?
dirty snow

At the moment of the haiku, Kyoto isn’t living up to its reputation.


kore hodo ni kechina sakura mo miyako kana

even around here
paltry cherry trees…

Shinji Ogawa thinks Issa is referring to a single tree:

even in the capital
such a miserable
cherry tree

Either way, the irony lies in the fact that Kyoto would normally be expected to flaunt the loveliest blooming trees.  Shinji adds, “There are many famous places for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto. The most famous place is Arashiyama, which holds 5,500 cherry trees. Some of Issa’s haiku show Kyoto-bashing. Perhaps it comes from the rivalry between Edo and Kyoto.” Edo (today’s Tokyo) was the Shogun’s center of power in Issa’s time; Kyoto was the old imperial capital.


cha nakama ya ta mo aomasete kyô mairi

stopping for tea
by rice fields so green…
pilgrims to Kyoto


miyakobe ya fuyugomori sae isogashiki

in a Kyoto suburb
even “winter seclusion”…
hustle and bustle


miyakoji ya umeboshi chaya no ume no hana

road to Kyoto–
at the pickled plum teahouse
plum blossoms


byôuchi no kago de degawaru miyako kana

a studded palanquin
for the migrating servant…

In springtime, old servants were replaced by young ones. The old ones would leave their employers to return to their home villages; the young ones traveled in the opposite direction. In earlier times this took place during the Second Month; later, the Third Month.  The migrating worker in this haiku is a geisha or courtesan. She is riding in a “riveted” (byôuchi) palanquin.


kyô no yo ya shiroi katabira shiroi-gasa

Kyoto night–
white summer kimonos
white umbrella-hats

The light summer garment in question is made of hemp: katabira. In this archive, I translate both katabira and awase as “summer kimono.”


isogu ka yo kyô ikken no hototogisu

in a hurry?
he’s off to see Kyoto
the cuckoo


miyako kana hashi no shita ni mo toshiwasure

even under bridges
drinking away the year

Or: “under a bridge.”

This haiku refers to end-of-year drinking parties.


momoshiki ya miyako wa neko mo futon kana

imperial palace–
in Kyoto even cats
have futons!

The opening word, momoshiki, literally means, “one hundred rooms”–a conventional epithet for the Imperial Palace.


kyôbito ya higasu no kage no no-sakamori

people of Kyoto
in parasol shade
drinking sake

Or: “a citizen of Kyoto.”


sasu totemo miyako no ka nari yûsuzumi

though they bite
they’re Kyoto mosquitoes…
evening cool

Totemo has an old meaning: temo (“even though”); Kogo dai jiten (Shogakukan 1983) 1171.


kyô wo dete hito iki tsuku ka hatsu hotaru

after leaving Kyoto
catching your breath?
first firefly

Issa sees a firefly “resting,” perhaps on a blade of grass. He humorously implies that it’s catching its breath after the excitement of touring Kyoto. Kyô wo dete, as Shinji Ogawa notes, means “after leaving Kyoto.”


kyô iri no koe wo age keri shinano-goma

entering Kyoto
he lets loose a neigh…
Shinano pony

This haiku alludes to an Eighth Month custom of sending a tribute horse from the pastures of Shinano (Issa’s home province, present-day Nagano Prefecture) to the capital, Kyoto.


miyako [de] wa kiku mo kamuru ya wata eboshi

in Kyoto
even for chrysanthmums…
cotton courtier caps

In elegant Kyoto, even chrysanthemums wear impressive headgear–to protect them from the elements? In another text, Issa copies this haiku using the more standard verb kaburu (“to wear on the head”) in place of kamuru.


shibugaki wo koraete kuu ya miyako no ko

enduring the astringent
Kyoto child


miyako no ko kaki no shibusa wo kakushi keri

Kyoto child–
pretending the persimmon
is sweet

Actually, the persimmon is astringent, but the child hides this fact (kakushi).

This haiku recalls one that Issa wrote in 1809:

yabuiri ga kaki no shibusa wo kakushi keri

homecoming servant–
pretending the persimmon
is sweet


sekizoro mo samisen ni noru miyako kana

a samisen joins
the Twelfth Month singers…

Here, an elegant geisha playing a samisen adds her music to that of some roving beggar-singers–a wonderful expression of harmony transcending social classes.  A samisen is a long-necked, three-stringed banjo-like instrument, plucked with a plectrum. Sekizoro refers to a Twelfth Month custom in which strolling singers wandered from town to town, singing festive celebration songs; Kiyose (Tokyo: Kakugawa Shoten, 1984) 348. Shinji Ogawa adds, “They covered their mouths like ladies in the Arab countries. They usually consisted of three or four persons with some types of musical instruments.”


mijika yo wo hashi de sorou ya kyô mairi

in the short night
crossing bridges en masse…
Kyoto pilgrimage

This haiku refers to a short night of summer.


torô mi no asa kara sawagu miyako kana

Bon lantern viewing
from morning on a ruckus…

The Bon Festival of the Dead takes place in Eighth Month in the old lunar calendar. At this time, people light lanterns to guide their ancestors’ spirits back home.


keijin ya wara tataku sae sayo-ginuta

Kyoto people
even beat their straw!
night cloth-pounding

In Japan and Korea, fulling-blocks were used to pound fabric and bedding. The fabric was laid over a flat stone, covered with paper, and pounded, making a distinctive sound. In this haiku, Issa marvels that the people in the capital pound not only cloth but straw (mats) as well.


karakasa no shizuku mo kasumu miyako kana

paper umbrellas
misty Kyoto


kyô made wa hitosuji michi zo hanami-gasa

a straight line
all the way to Kyoto…
umbrella-hatted blossom viewers

In the shorthand of haiku, “blossoms” (hana) can mean “cherry blossoms.”


tôro no hi de yonabe suru miyako kana

night work lit
by a lantern for the dead…

The Bon Festival of the Dead takes place in Eighth Month in the old lunar calendar. At this time, people light lanterns to guide their ancestors’ spirits back home.


sumi made mo nokogiri hiku ya kyô-zumai

they even cut charcoal
with a saw!
life in Kyoto

Shinji Ogawa explains that the cheapest way to prepare charcoal is to simply crack it. However, the rich people in Kyoto preferred to have their charcoal neatly sawed.


hitori mi ya kusuri kuu ni mo miyako made

my life alone–
just to take medicine
a trip to Kyoto

“Medicine” (kusuri) is a winter season word.  In a similar, undated haiku, Issa writes:

hitori mi ya ryôgoku e dete kusuri kuu

my life alone–
all the way to Ryogoku Bridge
for medicine


degawari ya yama koshite miru kyô no sora

migrating servants
crossing the mountain see…
Kyoto’s sky

In springtime, old servants were replaced by young ones. The old ones would leave their employers to return to their home villages; the young ones traveled in the opposite direction. In earlier times this took place during the Second Month; later, the Third Month.


hana saku ya kyô no bijin no hohokaburi

cherry blossoms–
the pretty women of Kyoto
cheeks wrapped in scarves

Literally, the pretty women of the capital (Kyoto) tie cloths around their cheeks, a fashion statement that symbolizes, for Lewis Mackenzie, their secular “known-nothingness.” See The Autumn Wind: A Selection from the Poems of Issa (London: John Murray, 1957; rpt. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1984), 63.

Shinji Ogawa has his doubts about this interpretation. He writes, “It is true that the metaphoric meaning of hohokaburi (“know-nothingism”) is used in Japanese, especially in modern Japanese, quite often, but the hohokaburi itself, especially in Issa’s day, was a quite normal way to wear the tenugui (“scarf”). This was the uniform of village girls working in the fields: something he saw every day back home.” Shinji adds, “It might have been rather refreshing for him to see that Kyoto’s pretty women, too, tied scarves around their cheeks in hohokaburi style.”

“Blossoms” (hana) can denote cherry blossoms in the shorthand of haiku.


abare ka no soredemo miyako sodachi kana

a pesky mosquito
though raised
in Kyoto

Or: “pesky mosquitoes.”


yuki harau hyôshi ni miyako maguri kana

to the rhythm
of snow sweeping
touring Kyoto


hatsu yume no fuji no yama u[ru] miyako kana

year’s first dream–
Mount Fuji is sold
in Kyoto

Shinji Ogawa notes that in Issa’s Japan, at the end of year, special drawings were sold. It was believed that if one slept placing the drawing under the pillow, one would dream a wonderful first dream of the year. The best dream was believed to be of Mount Fuji. This is why Issa says, “Mount Fuji of the year’s first dream is sold in Kyoto.” Shinji continues: “The picture is called takara-bune, or treasure ship; it includes the seven saints of luck with rice bags.” This contextual knowledge helps us to read the haiku as Issa’s original audience might have done. However, to the modern reader unaware of this context, the translation alone, with its image of Mount Fuji being sold, is wonderfully surreal.


uguisu no deishi hirô suru miyako kana

the nightingale presents
his apprentice…

An older nightingale is training a younger “apprentice” (deishi) in the art of singing.


hana miru mo zeni wo toraruru miyako kana

even viewing the cherry blossoms
costs money…

In the shorthand of haiku, “blossoms” (hana) can mean “cherry blossoms.”


hatsu hotaru tsui ni miyako wo kakenukeru

first firefly–
carelessly it leaves

Shinji Ogawa observes that tsui ni has several meanings:”carelessly,” “swiftly,” or “finally.” And the verb kakenukeru has two possible meanings: to “run through” or “go out of.” Therefore, six translations are possible: (1) the firefly carelessly runs through Kyoto; (2) it carelessly leaves Kyoto; (3) it swiftly runs through Kyoto; (4) it swiftly leaves Kyoto; (5) it finally goes through Kyoto; and (6) it finally leaves Kyoto.

I’ve decided on option 2 for its humor: the firefly is headed in the wrong direction, leaving the blossom-filled capital.


kyô iri mo butsu chôzura no fukuto kana

entering Kyoto too
a bunch of sour-faced

The expression, butsu chôzura (Buddha-face) refers to a sullen or sour face. This haiku is not a very flattering portrait of its inhabitants.

All translations © 1991-2010 by David G. Lanoue, rights reserved.
year’s first dream–
Mount Fuji is sold
in Kyoto
Kobayashi Issa  Tr. David Lanoue
The following material is taken with thanks from Gabi Greve’s blog on Issa…或時は花の都にも倦にけり
aru toki wa hana no miyako ni mo aki ni keriin time even Kyoto,
great flower of a city,
fails to dazzle

This hokku was written when Issa was staying with haikai poets in Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku during the first month (February) of 1795 during a journey through Shikoku and western Honshu that was part of a longer series of journeys through western Japan he made after finishing his apprenticeship as a young haikai poet in Edo. The hokku is part of a haibun travelog by Issa usually referred to as Record of Travels in Western Provinces (Saigoku kikou 西国紀行), and it was written at a hokku meeting with poets in Matsuyama, so it is no doubt a greeting to the local haijin. Issa also took part in a kasen renku there.

Matsuyama is a fairly warm area, and the cherries are already in bloom when Issa writes, but his hokku refers to more than cherry blossoms. He uses a traditional epithet that refers to the whole city of Kyoto, which had long been the center of the imperial court and courtly culture, including waka, renga, and haikai. The phrase hana no miyako or “blossoming/flowering capital” was often used to praise Kyoto as the greatest flowering of art and culture in all of Japan, though “blossoming” was also used to refer to the glamorous, elegant sights of the city itself and its many festivals, performances, paintings, temples, and publishers. Even in Issa’s time Kyoto maintained much of its aura as the incomparable site of the flowering of traditional culture, even though popular arts were showing as much or more creativity in big cities like Edo, Osaka, and Nagoya. This expanded sense of “blossom” is similar to the notion behind the dynamic “blossom place” in renku.

It seems likely that Issa in this hokku is suggesting that even elegantly and culturally alluring Kyoto, including its cherry trees, eventually loses its aura and that he is even more interested in the country haikai and the blossoms in Matsuyama, since they are in their own way equal to those of Kyoto. Issa, born in a farming village, probably sincerely believed this, and he never seems to have thought of settling in Kyoto. In fact, he spent much more time in rural areas during his many journeys at the end of the eighteenth century. And unknown, of course, to Issa, Matsuyama would later become the birthplace of Shiki and play an important role in the creation of modern Japanese haiku as a new genre.

Chris Drake

6/07/2014 Gabi Greve – Issa said…Kobayashi Issa

karakasa no shizuku mo kasumu miyako kana

paper umbrellas
misty Kyoto

(Tr. David Lanoue)


Gabi Greve – Issa said…

Kobayashi Issa

kyoo made wa hitosuji michi zo hanami-gasa

on one road
all the way to Kyoto —
blossom-viewing hats

This hokku is from the ninth month (October) of 1822, but it has the word “spring” above it in Issa’s diary. It seems to be a hokku presenting an almost ecstatic vision on a very large scale. There were two main routes linking Edo and Kyoto, one following the Pacific coast and one going through the mountains of central Honshu, but I take Issa to be referring to the Tokaido road going along the Pacific coast, since the road through the mountains branched off here and there, while the second line of the hokku says a single road road extends all the way to Kyoto. The weather near the Pacific was also warmer, so there would be cherries in bloom all the way from Edo, where the shogun lived, to Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital. The Tokaido road was 492 km (306 miles) long, and the journey from Edo to Kyoto usually took about two weeks, though travelers had a variety of inns and restaurants to choose from along the way. One thing almost every traveler wore was a wide hat woven from rush, straw, bamboo, or other materials. Some were conical in shape, others flat or rounded, but Issa says that at this time of year they all equally turn into hats for cherry blossom viewing.

The long journey was arduous for most travelers, but the hokku seems to be suggesting that at this time of year people forget their difficulties and participate in a great collective blossom-viewing walk that goes on and on dreamlike for two weeks. The physical hats look the same as they were before their wearers began the trip, but the feelings of the wearers are no longer the same. One indication of the transformation seems to be the double meaning of “on one road,” hinted at by Issa’s use of the emphatic particle zo together with it: here “on one road” can mean not only 1) traveling on one physical road but also 2) with all your heart, intently, as if possessed by the blossoms.

Sometime during the 1790s Issa wrote a somewhat similar hokku:

the season, too, perfect —
blossom-viewing hats
in all fifty-three towns

koro mo yoshi gojuusan-tsugi hanami-gasa

This is a farewell hokku to a fellow haikai poet who is leaving for Kyoto. The first line suggests that the man setting out is as outstanding as the season, and the hokku as a whole seems to be a prayer that his traveler’s hat turn into into a blossom-viewing hat each day as he passes through all fifty-three main inn towns on the Tokaido route to Kyoto along with many other blossom-loving travelers.

Chris Drake