Issa - Tanabata


. Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .

Star Festival, "seventh evening"
Festival of the Weaver Girl, Tanabata 七夕

..... referring to the double-date of the Asian lunar calendar, the 7th day of the 7th month; now celebrated 7 July in some places, on 7 August or even later in others.

Orihime (織姫, Weaving Princess), daughter of the Tentei (天帝, Sky King, or the universe itself), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (天の川, Milky Way, lit. "heavenly river").
Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, Orihime was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone. Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (彦星, Cow Herder Star) (also referred to as Kengyuu (牽牛)) who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa.

. WKD : Star Festival (Tanabata 七夕) - Introduction .

source : nagareyama/tanabata
Decoration for Tanabata, Haiku Frogs made from Gingko-Nuts
Issa Soja Memorial Museum, Nagareyama 一茶双樹記念館


tanabatadake 七夕竹 bamboo for the Tanabata festival

with wishes for good health, peace in the world, security and a happy home


suzushisa wa tanabata-take no yo-tsuyu kana

this coolness --
on the night of star lovers
dew on a festival bamboo

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku was written at the beginning of the 8th month (September) in 1822, when Issa was living in his hometown. It is a poem of memory about the Tanabata Festival that took place a month before, on 7/7. The main narrative behind the festival concerns two lover stars called the Weaver Woman and the Oxherd Man destined to meet only one night a year on the night of 7/7, when the Weaver Woman is able to cross the Milky Way and visit her lover. If the night is rainy or cloudy, however, the lovers are unable to meet, and they must wait a whole year for another chance.

The Star Festival was also a time for people to show off their crafts and to write waka and hokku, and special food was eaten. In Issa's time almost every house put up a cut bamboo on 7/6 and 7/7 and decorated it with long, thin papers on which poems and prayers were written, along with streamers and many other handmade decorations. The bamboos were often quite tall, suggesting that they were once believed to be trees down which gods descended to earth, and after the Star Festival the bamboos were floated away on rivers or sent into the ocean, that is, they were sent off to the other world along with the visiting gods.

The festival is the first major autumn festival, and Issa feels a bit of coolness in the air. However, the hokku seems to be less about meteorology than about the subjective human feeling of coolness. Drops of dew have formed on one festival bamboo, and presumably on others as well, and in addition to the cool air, the sight of these drops of dew on the bamboo synesthetically makes people feel a special festival coolness.

Perhaps the beads of dew sparkle in the light of a lantern, giving the tree a slightly otherworldly look, and in fact, in Japanese poetry beads (tama) of dew were often compared with souls (tama). Moreover, in Japanese love is often described in terms of wetness. An affair, for example, was and sometimes still is called a "wet thing" (nuregoto), so the dew on the bamboo probably suggests to people that the two star lovers are making full use of their single meeting of the year. Transience is also, of course, suggested by dew. After the high heat of summer, the lovers are at last able to meet on a cool night, and for the people at the festival, this fictional love no doubt gives rise to various fantasies. This refreshing human coolness after the stifling heat of summer allows people to relax and enjoy life for a while, and it is this coolness that seems to be what Issa is writing about.

Here's a nearly contemporary woodblock print by Hiroshige of Star Festival bamboos in Edo:

source : www.adachi-hanga.com/ukiyo-e

In Issa's village a festival bamboo might have looked more like this:

source : www.aa.alpha-net.ne.jp/starlore

Chris Drake


suzushisa wa tanabata kumo to yuube kana

such cool air!
Tanabata clouds
and evening

Tr. David Lanoue

hiya mizu ni susuri kondaru ama no kawa

in cold water
sipping the stars...
Milky Way

Tr. David Lanoue

iokado ni nagare-irikeri Amanogawa

flowing in
through my front door --
the Milky Way

Tr. David Lanoue

kaji no oto wa mimi wo hanarezu hoshi koyoi

the sound of oars
good stars tonight

Tr. David Lanoue

tanabata ya suzushiku ue ni yu ni tsukaru

Tanabata Night
is cool, and to top it off
soaking in a hot tub

Tr. David Lanoue

Written in 1827.
This haiku has the prescript, "Rice Field." The hot tub is outside, under the stars.

Issa used this as the opening verse (hokku) of a linked verse series (renku) written with his friends Kijô and Kishû, with whom he was staying after his house burned down.

In his translation, Makoto Ueda reads ue ni as "then": establishing a sequential relationship between feeling the cool air and, after that, bathing. I read it as meaning "better than"; I think Issa is saying, "It's pleasantly cool this Tanabata Night, and even better than that, I'm soaking in this nice hot tub"; Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2004) 163.
source : David Lanoue


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. WKD : Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 .



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