Haiku Picturebook


On my visit to the Basho Memorial Hall (芭蕉翁記念館・ばしょうおうきねんかん) we had great fun learning about Basho’s works and looking at many scrolls, all hundreds of years old, of calligraphy works. The hall has no website, but it is next to the Ueno City Hall (上野市役所) – just a short walk from Ueno City Station (上野市駅). It was only 300 yen to get in, but there are other attractions there that are 300 yen each. Afterwards we went to a famous restaurant whose owner is the 14th generation since opening. They are well known for dengaku (田楽). We ordered slices of tofu grilled on skewers over a fire with a sauce containing soy and yuzu. In the Spring, they use their more traditional sauce containing a special herb/spice.

Anyhow, most of the materials available about haiku were well over my head; however, I found a book called はいくのえほん, which I’ll translate as Haiku Picturebook. It is described as a book for children 4 to 5 years and up. For normal topics, I would consider that age way below my level; yet, regarding haiku, this proved to be a very useful work. There are 15 poems by 8 writers, Kobayashi Issa (小林一茶) being the most well represented, with 4 pieces.

Each poem is written out in hiragana, making it easily legible for 5 year olds, and again in the original mix of kanji and hiragana, preserving the feeling from the author. Finally, there is an explanation written out in simple terms and artwork to represent the scene or image. Because haiku is a very concise form, there are often special characters, special readings, or special words not used in normal speech. Having the hiragana makes these difficult bits very transparent. Further, subtle cultural references are another method for shortening verses. Having an explanation targeting children proved extremely useful for understanding those points.

Overall I greatly enjoyed the book, one shortcoming was the limited number of works, but that is easily offset by the low 1200 yen price (tax-free at the hall). There is also a book called 続はいくのえほん. Zoku, the first character indicates a ‘continuation’. We’ll call it Haiku Picturebook 2. I will probably go back in the Spring to eat the traditional dengaku and pick up the second book.

膝の子や (hiza no ko ya)

線香花火に (senkou hanabi ni)

手をたたく (te wo tataku)

This poem by Kobayashi Issa is one of my favorites. It’s about a child too small to play with fireworks, safely sitting on someone’s lap and clapping at the excitement as older kids play. Forgive the following crude attempt at translation.

Child sits on lap

Watching the incense fireworks

Excitedly claps


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3 Responses to “Haiku Picturebook”

  1. Stefanie Says:

    Not too bad on the translation 🙂 I’ve read some Issa too, and isn’t there one more haiku poet who is really famous? His name escapes me at the moment. What do the pictures that go with the poems look like?

  2. びっくり Says:

    According to Wikipedia these four poets are considered the most well-known. They account for 11 of the 15 poems in my book.

    Matsuo Basho 1644-1694
    Kobayashi Issa 1763-1828
    Yosa Buson 1716-1783
    Masaoka Shiki 1867-1902

    The other 4 poems are by:

    Hattori Ransetsu 1654-1707 (student of Basho, not well known)
    Matsumoto Takashi 1906-1956
    Takahama Kyoshi 1874-1959
    Kagano Chiyojo 1703-1775

  3. Stefanie Says:

    I thin it was Buson I was thinking of. I will have to check my little haiku book. 🙂

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