9 Jul 2014

ISSA about Basho and food



. Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 wrote .

Today I was feeling sorry for myself for being poor simply because I wasn't able to eat a third meal, but when Basho went wandering long ago, he ate only two meals every single day.

sando kuu tabi mottaina shigure-gumo

it's outrageous to travel
wanting three meals a day --
winter rain clouds

This hokku is from lunar 10/12 (November 25) in 1803, the lunar-calendar date on which Basho died and on which memorial services for him were held annually at Gichuji Temple near Kyoto, where he is buried, and at many other places by haikai poets. One of the names for Basho's memorial day is shigure-ki, or Cold Rain Memorial, since cold rain showers often fall in late autumn and early winter. The tenth month is the first month of lunar winter, so this is a winter hokku. On this date in 1803 Issa sees dark clouds in the sky. A fast-moving shower is either approaching or passing by a few miles away, and this gives a double meaning to the last line.

The word mottaina, 'wrong, outrageous,' in the second line had a stronger meaning in Issa's time than it does in modern Japanese, and Issa seems genuinely ashamed of his petty desire for more food as he walks along. The last two days he has been staying with his haikai poet friend and wealthy patron Furuta Gessen, with whom he has been discussing both haikai and the ancient Chinese Classic of Poetry (Shijing, in Japanese Shikyou). During Issa's stay, his host Gessen surely treated him well and served him three very nice meals a day, and while he stays in Edo Issa no doubt often eats three meals a day, since he meets many friends, students, and patrons there, although during his years of traveling in western Japan it is likely he usually ate twice a day, a style of eating common among people who aren't wealthy, so this isn't the first time Issa has traveled on only two meals a day.

On the day Issa writes this hokku he is traveling from the town of Fukawa, where Gessen lives, to Tagawa, further east. Both towns are on the northern bank of the Tone River northeast of the city of Edo. His desire for food and his dislike of being poor, both of which seem to have increased after staying with the wealthy Gessen, seem to make Issa feel ashamed of himself when he thinks of Basho on this day, since he reveres Basho and is trying hard to learn from him. He is surely conscious that his own personality, lifestyle, and haikai style are all fairly different from Basho's, yet he feels Basho's emphasis on positively embracing poverty, on enduring hardship, and on minimalistic wabi are worthy goals he also needs to embrace to a certain extent. The dark rain clouds in the hokku may therefore have a third meaning. They may suggest Issa's acute sense of his own of imperfection in the eyes of Basho, who, Issa seems to believe, would stare rather severely at Issa if he were still alive and could read Issa's mind and his haikai. Issa has many hokku about his own imperfection, but the thought of the superego-like Basho seems to make Issa feel his shortcomings even more strongly than usual.

Chris Drake


. WASHOKU - Japanese Food Saijiki .



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