ISSA - dew


. Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .

. tsuyu 露 dew, dewdrops .

This word has been used as a symobl of autumn in Japanese poetry since the Heian period.
It is found already in the Manyo-Shu 万葉集 poetry collection.

Since is refers to something that looses its being when the sun starts shining, it is a symbol for the fleeting life itself. In Buddhism, death is just a step to another way of being, and the time spent with the ancestors is so much longer than the time spent here on this earth. Dewdrops are the perfect metapher for the changes in the natural circle of all things, like the shells of cicadas (monuke, utsu-semi).

the world of dew, tsuyu no yo 露の世
the body of dew, tsuyu no mi 露の身
the life of dew, tsuyu no inochi 露の命


ushiro kara zotto suru zo yo tsuyu-shigure

from behind
I shiver all over --
cold, dripping dew

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku is from the autumn of 1813, when Issa was traveling around to towns near his hometown, and it was among hokku he sent to the haikai master Seibi in Edo for his comments.
Tsuyu-shigure, literally "dewdrops like cold late autumn rain," are large, cold dewdrops that appear in the 9th month (October). This dew is so large and plentiful that when you see it on the ground or on leaves it looks as if rain has just fallen, and when it drips from leaves it seems as though cold rain is falling. Shigure, "cold rain," by itself can refer to either late autumn or early winter rain, but in combination with dew it refers to autumn rain, since the season is autumn, and the thick dew makes people think it has just finished raining.

In the hokku Issa seems to have gone out for an early evening walk without an umbrella or wide rush hat, since it's not a rainy day. The dew, however, is very thick this evening, and perhaps Issa brushes against a limb by the path. In any case, a few large, cold drops have fallen from a leaf or a limb near him onto his shaved head or the back of his neck as he passes under the limb. Issa seems to be stressing the suddenness of the dewdrops as much as their coldness, since zotto in the second line refers not only to a physical shock -- caused by a cold object, for instance -- but also to a psychological shock that causes the whole body to shiver or shudder. It is commonly caused by suddenly seeing something of great beauty or by witnessing a sudden horrific scene.

The fact that Issa has no visual warning that big dew drops are about to fall on him makes the sensation tactile and the shock stronger, as it also is in the following hokku from the 3rd month of 1814 by Issa in which the cold beauty of cherry blossoms makes Issa feel physically and psychologically cold all over while he's not looking at the blossoms directly. He has to forget the sight of the cherry blossoms before he can feel their piercing beauty with his skin:

ushiro kara hiya-hiya shitaru sakura kana

from behind
the deep chill
of the cherries

The sudden coldness of the dew that falls on Issa's skin is even stronger than the chill in the air that Issa believes is coming from the cherry blossoms, and he is momentarily transfixed, probably shivering all over. If the dew drops had struck his face, his reaction would not have been as strong as it was when he was struck by drops that do not belong to the visible world.

Chris Drake


natsu yama ya me ni moro-moro no kusa no tsuyu

summer mountain --
in my eyes endless dewdrops
on all kinds of plants

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku by Issa occurs in a haibun travelog called On the Road to Kusazu (Kusazu michi no ki 草津道の記).
It is placed in a scene in which Issa visits the shrine of a sacred mountain during a rainstorm, and it seems to be a deeply spiritual hokku, possibly a vision of an epiphany of the mountain god. The haibun context is obviously important to Issa and is crucial to the reading of the hokku.

Kusazu is today often confused with the Kusatsu hot springs in modern Shiga Prefecture, since in the modern period the official name of the town changed from Kusazu to Kusatsu, though many residents still call it Kusazu. It is a hot springs town near Mt. Haruna northwest of Edo/Tokyo near one of the main routes from Edo to Shinano Province, where Issa's hometown was located. According to the travelog, on the morning of 5/28 (June 21) in 1808 Issa visits sacred Mt. Haruna and the Mt. Haruna Shrine, located on a plateau at the base of the peak of mountain. It's a rainy day at height of the rainy season, and Issa carries along extra straw sandals, since sandals tend to come apart when they're sopping wet. On this day most of the mountain is hidden in clouds, and even the tall miscanthus grass is wet:

susuki kara bosatsu no shimizu nagare-keri

from miscanthus grass
flows pure
bodhisattva water

A natural rivulet seems to have formed, and it flows out from a clump of the grass. Then Issa reaches the Mt. Haruna Shrine and watches sacred kagura dancers do dances. He mentions that one dance includes a sword, presumably for dispelling demons. Apparently the steady rain became a downpour as he watched the dances. Then come these two hokku:

yuudachi ni tonjaku mo nashi mai no sode

completely ignoring
a sudden downpour --
sleeves of the dancers

natsuyama ya me ni moromoro no kusa no tsuyu

summer mountain --
in my eyes endless dewdrops
on all kinds of plants

The summer mountain is of course Mt. Haruna. Then Issa goes down to the shore of a nearby lake and has lunch before he continues on his journey to Kusazu and then to his hometown.

The hokku about the summer mountain ends with a series of three nouns linked by two no, a particle showing that the previous noun modifies the following noun to some extent. Sometimes no acts as a kind of possessive case, although the modification is weaker here. The phrase can be translated either "dewdrops on every kind of plant" or "every kind of dewdrop on the plants." However, since both members of the series seem to be modified by "many kinds," a third way is to translate the series as one that flexibly slides back and forth: many kinds of "dew" or droplets on many kinds of plants. I choose the third way in my translation, since I believe the context as well as linguistic usage imply both senses.

The word dew commonly refers to drops of other liquids and even to tears and to souls in Japanese poetry, and I take Issa be using "dew" in this extended sense -- as various dews --beginning with raindrops (or perhaps even tears). Dew is an autumn kigo, but if the dew point were high enough on this muggy day when Issa visits Mt. Haruna, there might have been some actual dew in the early morning, though the hokku seems to have been written in mid or late morning, when most the drops on the plants would be raindrops. Tsuyu, 'dew,' is also homophonous with another tsuyu meaning 'rainy season.' Since Issa is writing during the rainy season, he may be punning here in order to stress that he means mainly raindrops and is using "dew" in the wide sense. Probably, though, just using dew in a summer hokku about the rainy season would have been enough to alert contemporary readers to the strong possibility that the hokku is about various kinds of dew, not simply dew in the narrow sense.

One of the main meanings of "summer mountain" is that many different kind of herbaceous plants as well as trees have put out leaves, and plants grow especially fast and wildly during the rainy season, so I feel that "every kind"/"many kinds" definitely refers not only to various kinds of droplets but to all the many herbaceous plants that have recently put out new leaves and flowers -- plants that are now covered with countless drops from the steady rain and the just-ended downpour. "All kinds of herbaceous plants" is a common expression that I think Issa is using as a single phrase, one that would be perceived as a single phrase by contemporary readers.

No doubt the raindrops are of different sizes and shapes on different leaves, and Issa is probably admiring some of the differences, but the sky is darkly overcast, with continuing rain and mist dimming visibility, so it would be hard for him to examine all the raindrops in the immediate area individually. In addition, Issa needs to be on his way to his hometown and soon goes back down to the main road below the mountain. The sense I get is of Issa being awed by the seemingly endless droplets that appear on the new leaves and flowers all around him, perhaps regarding them as if they were the expression of the Mt. Haruna god, whose sacred dance he's just watched and whose soul droplets ("dew drops," tsuyu-dama ) now cover the shrine and the visiting pilgrims. Issa obviously feels the dance is very important, and he may assume that the rain and the countless soul drops all around the shrine are a divine response to the prayers made during the dance, though he doesn't explicitly mention this. Me ni, "'in' or 'to' my eyes," is rather passive, as if Issa were watching the droplet-covered plants around him in an awed way and feeling he's been given the gift of witnessing this abundance of rain, dew, and soul drops.

The word "dew" along with "in/to my eyes" may suggest that the hard rain has wet Issa's eyes, though he no doubt wears a wide rush hat, and it may also be implying that he is moved to tears (another standard meaning of "dew"). It's possible Issa is using "dew" in the sense of tears of wonder that come into his eyes as he looks at the seemingly endless drops that literally surround him. If so, the tears in his eyes would express his feeling of close kinship and fellow-feeling with the various plants, with the rain, and possibly with the mountain god, for whom he obviously has great respect. Issa may even be suggesting that the droplets on all the plants are in one sense literally "in" his eyes, just as the mountain god or at least the mountain god's power, is "in" them and thus allowing him to see this vision. In any case, many kinds of dew seem to be wetting Issa on this day, and I've tried to leave open this sense of "all kinds."

There are 36 sacred kagura dances performed at Haruna Mountain Shrine, 22 by male dancers and 14 by female shaman dancers. The link below is to a short video of part of a sword dance at Mt. Haruna Shrine, possibly the one Issa witnessed before composing the hokku about Mt. Haruna in summer:

source : www.youtube.com - Kagura Dance

This photo shows one other dance at the shrine:

Chris Drake


28th, rain
I reach the town near the Mt. Haruna Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple complex. All the lodgings for pilgrims are shrouded in clouds and mist. They stay here and meditate for the whole summer, and the big Buddhist bell that sounds across all the small valleys and hollows immediately clears the clouds from their minds -- and from mine as well. Even the sounds of the brooks and the wind in the pines seem to be the sounds of water and trees spontaneously studying the dharma. The place appears to be a natural abode of sages and Daoist immortals.

koujusan inu ga namete ya kumo no mine -- Kikaku

up in billowing clouds
a dog who licked herbs
for keeping cool in summer

uguisu mo toshi no yoranu ya yama no sake -- Issa

even warblers
don't grow old here --
natural mountain wine

On the other side of a valley with a thin stream of water trickling down a high rock face a ceremony was scheduled for later today to consecrate a statue carved from stone of the Buddhist guardian god Fudo. People were climbing up the mountain just to take part, and I wanted to attend myself and felt very glad I'd come here by chance. I hoped to chant sutras at the ceremony, but they don't allow anyone without a special purpose to stay the night in the lodgings, so I wasn't able to attend.

from tall grass
flows pure
bodhisattva water

susuki kara bosatsu no shimizu nagarekeri

stand protecting
pure mountain water

yama-shimizu mamorasetamau hotoke kana

Translated roughly above is one section from Issa's haibun travelog On the Road to Kusazu (Kusazu michi no ki 草津道の記), discussed earlier on 5/29/2013. The account of Issa's visit to Mt. Haruna on the 28th of the 5th month (June 21, 1808) continues with Issa observing a sacred dance, being caught in a downpour, and having a vision of endless dewdrops. The whole Mt. Haruna section has intensity and is taut with spiritual concentration.

Issa's first hokku by this section is paired with a hokku by Kikaku, the famous Edo-za poet and younger friend of Basho. Kikaku draws on a legend about Liu An, a king in ancient China, who studied Daoism and, at the end of his life on earth, drank a Daoist elixir of immortality and flew up into the sky. Some of the elixir remained in the kettle in which the it had been made, however, and a dog happened to lick the kettle. When it did, it too flew up to heaven, and dog barks were reported coming from the clouds. In Kikaku's humorous version, a dog suffering from the heat of high summer happens to drink an herbal broth made from crested late-summer mint plants (Elsholtzia ciliata) that some humans have mixed to help them endure the summer heat, and suddenly the happy dog feels so cool it flies all the way up to paradise in the summer clouds that rise like peaks in the sky. Or at least that's the way the dog feels. The hokku is especially appropriate because Issa and all those doing meditation on Mt. Haruna are on this day are literally feeling cool up in the summer clouds.

In Issa's hokku that follows Kikaku's, the bush warblers (uguisu) are still singing loudly even though it's summer. In Chinese and Japanese, warblers are said to be the harbingers of spring, and in summer they are called "old" because they sing less vigorously. But even the so-called "old" warblers on Mt. Haruna amaze Issa with the strength of their youthful-sounding voices, and Issa takes this to be due to the special energy of the place, an energy he expresses as "mountain wine," that is, a natural elixir consisting of rain, dew, brook water, and waterfalls. In autumn, the dew on mountain chrysanthemums was traditionally called an "elixir bringing long life," and chrysanthemum petals were mixed into wine and drunk.

Issa uses a similar image and expands the "wine" to include all the water on Mt. Haruna on this rainy day during the summer rainy season: the two following hokku give good examples of the mountain's pure water "wine." Like Kikaku's hokku, Issa's is humorous and hyperbolic, but it expresses well Issa's strong impression that the sacred mountain overflows with life energy. Issa is also probably implying that all of those meditating and praying on the sacred mountain and drinking its healthful water are likely to be lengthening their lives a little each day.

Chris Drake

. WKD : Kusatsu-juku 草津宿 52nd station of the Tokaido .

. WKD : Koojusan 香需散 and Chinese Medicine .


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. WKD : Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 - Introduction .



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