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Spring 2006, vol 4 no 1


Collaboration in the "Back to Bashō" Movement: The Susuki Mitsu Sequence of Buson's Yahantei School

© Cheryl Crowley, Emory University

Renewed interest in the collaborative form haikai no renga 誹諧の連歌 was an integral part of the mid-eighteenth century "Back to Bashō movement, in which Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 (1716-1783) and his associates condemned the commercialized practices that characterized contemporary haikai and argued for a return to the ideals of Matsuo Bashō 松尾芭蕉(1644-1694).

After the death of Bashō, who had made ga 雅, or elegance, central to his poetry, game-like forms came to rival linked verse and hokku composition in popularity. Buson and his colleagues in the "Back to Bashō" movement opposed this trend. In their efforts to imitate Bashō, they made linked verse a cornerstone of their practice.

In this paper, I will discuss one of the Buson school's verse sequences, Susuki mitsu 薄見つ (Seeing Miscanthus), written by Buson, Takai Kitō 高井其董 (1741-1789), Wada Ranzan 和田嵐山 (d. 1773), and Miura Chora 三浦樗良(1729-1780) in the ninth month of 1773 (Anei 2) and published shortly afterwards in the anthology Kono hotori – Ichiya shi kasen この辺り一夜四歌仙. I will argue that for Buson and his colleagues, linked verse composition was an act of resistance to the more popular trends of the day, and a marker of solidarity among poets of different schools who shared the same goals. It was central to their efforts to reclaim haikai from the status of a game and return to the standards set for it by Bashō.

Because this sequence was written in the context of the "Back to Bashō" movement, it will be helpful to begin by tracing the origins of the movement and explaining the process by which it came to shape the haikai of the mid to late eighteenth century. The "Back to Bashō" movement lasted roughly from the 1730s to the 1790s. In addition to Buson, Chora, and Kitō, other major "Back to Bashō" poets were Tan Taigi 炭太祇 (1709-1771), Katō Kyōtai 加藤暁台 (1732-1792), Chōmu 蝶夢 (1732-1795), Kaya Shirao 加舎白雄 (1738-1791), and Hori Bakusui 堀麦水 (1718-1783)1.

The movement had followers all over the country, due in part to the itinerant habits of many of its members. The "Back to Bashō" poets were reacting to what they saw as the degenerate state of the haidan in the early decades of the eighteenth century. In the first place, haikai became increasingly popular, and a variety of different factions competed to attract the growing numbers of students. Older, long-established groups like the Teimon 貞門 and Danrin 談林 schools continued to attract followers. Also, Bashō's disciples formed schools of their own, collectively called the Shōmon 蕉門. And finally, there was a growing number of other groups not affiliated with either the Teimon, Danrin, or Bashō traditions. Furthermore, the Shōmon itself divided into two major factions, the urban and the rural. The urban school chose to emulate the style of Bashō's early career, favoring a style that was close to that of the Danrin school in its emphasis on complexity of language and humor. The rural faction – further divided into the Mino and Ise schools – made Bashō's late work their model, and aimed to produce verse in the light or karumi style of his later years. Both the urban and rural schools claimed to preserve Bashō's authentic teachings, of which there were multiple, competing versions.

In addition to the proliferation of factions, another important change took place: verse styles that had originated in the Genroku period achieved new prominence. Haikai as practiced by Bashō mainly takes two forms, linked verse and hokku 発句. However, a wide range of other varieties developed, collectively termed zappai 雑誹, or miscellaneous haikai. One such variety was called maekuzuke 前句付, where a haikai verse marker or tenja 点者 set a verse (maeku 前句) and his – or, occasionally, her – disciples would write a linking verse or tsukeku 付句 to match with it. The tenja would then rate the students' efforts with points. Verse scoring had been used by medieval renga masters to help students practice. However, in this period, the score became an end in itself. For many practitioners, haikai was less a kind of literary self-expression than an amusing diversion, and it eventually became a form of gambling. This kind of haikai was immensely popular in the fifty or so years after Bashō's death.

Thus, in the first half of the eighteenth century a new community of haikai practitioners emerged: those who played the game, and the tenja, who earned a living by deciding the scores. In trying to please their teachers and earn the most points, competitive poet-players ignored the finer details of linking technique that was of critical importance in composing sequences, and interest in linked verse composition itself began to decline.2 Some members of the haikai community, particularly those who felt some affinity with Bashō, resisted this development. A new trend began to emerge with the publication of the collection Goshikizumi 五色墨 (Five colors of ink, 1731) that criticized the low standards of the haikai of the day.3

Over the next decade a loose affiliation of poets who actively sought a return to Bashō started to coalesce. The earliest phase of this movement began at the time of the fiftieth anniversary of Bashō's death in 1744, which was marked by the compilation and publication or republication of Bashō's important works by Shōmon-affiliated poets. Discontent grew during the middle years of the eighteenth century. Seeking to turn back what they saw as a trend towards the simplification and vulgarization of the genre, Buson, Kitō, and their colleagues looked for a source of authority to provide a standard. Since so many of them came from schools that traced their lineages back to Bashō, not surprisingly, Bashō was the one to whom they turned.4

Buson and his disciples and associates generally sought to imitate haikai practices of the previous generation instead of pandering to currently popular tastes. During his early years in Kyoto, for example, Buson led a haikai study group called Sankasha, 三果社, whose purpose was to practice writing on dai 題 or poetic topics that had fallen out of use in his day. As the decades passed, many of the activities of his school, Yahantei 夜半亭, were planned to commemorate the anniversaries of Bashō's death. One such example was the 1773 publication of Akegarasu 明烏 (Dawn Crow) – an anthology compiled by Kitō – which, like the title's reference to the calling of crows at sunrise, was supposed to serve as a wake-up call to poets to return to the teachings of Bashō. This was followed by Zoku akegarasu 続明烏 in 1774, also compiled by Kitō, who envisioned it as a latter-day answer to Bashō's seminal verse collection Sarumino 猿蓑(Monkey's straw raincoat, 1691). 5 In 1776, Buson and others even undertook to rebuild the Bashō-an 芭蕉庵, a hermitage built by Konpuku-ji 金福時 priest Tesshū 鉄舟 (d.1698), a disciple of Bashō. Buson and his colleagues used it for haikai gatherings for several years.6

The "Back to Bashō" poets viewed linked verse composition as another way to recapture the glamour and elegance of Bashō school haikai. Composing a kasen 歌仙, or thirty-six link sequence, required much more discipline, experience and knowledge of the classical literary tradition than did maekuzuke. Buson himself preferred composing hokku to linked verse, which may have been because he was a perfectionist who was uneasy with surrendering so much control of his work to others.7 Nevertheless, his linked verse output was prodigious—over 100 of his sequences are extant. Buson and his associates tended to favor the kasen in imitation of Bashō, who preferred this form. Gathered in the place of composition, the participants were able to enact the ideals of Bashō as a living practice.

The four Kono hotori sequences were highly representative of the linked verse of Buson's school. Buson's contributions in particular show a strong interest in classical Japanese and Chinese literature and history, something that is common in the hokku of his mature period. Often the links are distant in comparison to those composed by Bashō and his disciples, and the shikimoku 式目 (rules of linked verse) standards are not so strictly followed. For example, in three cases moon and flower verses appear out of their appointed positions in the Susuki mitsu sequence. Also, one participant, the ailing Ranzan, drops out after two rounds and does not re-appear until the very end, contributing only three of the thirty-six verses. 8

Susuki mitsu brought together four dissimilar voices. Ranzan's haikai teacher was Renshi, one of the Goshikizumi poets.9 Chora grew up in Ise, and studied with disciples of Bakurin, a leader of a rural Bashō school. Chora was a successful haikai master with numerous students, although he had a reputation for being irresponsible and profligate in his ways. He spent several years in Kyoto in the early part of the 1770s, and his work frequently appears in sequences composed by Buson and his colleagues around this time.10

Buson's first haikai teacher was Hayano Hajin 早野巴人(1676-1742), who had studied with Bashō's Edo disciple Takarai Kikaku 宝井其角(1661-1707). Kitō's father had also been a student of Hajin. Kitō was Buson's closest disciple and was so thoroughly trusted and admired by Buson that he eventually succeeded Buson in the leadership of the Yahantei school. Kitō edited several of the collections in the Buson shichibu shū 蕪村七部集, and was perhaps even more zealous than Buson was in championing the ideals of Bashō.11

The four sequences of Kono hotori were composed under unusual circumstances, as Buson's preface to the collection notes. Chora was visiting Kitō, and they decided to join Buson in paying a sick-call to Ranzan, who was at that point extremely ill. In fact, Ranzan died shortly afterwards.

Ranzan was very poor – the small house in Aburakōji 油小路 to which he was confined was filthy and neglected. Ranzan wrapped his head in a zukin 頭巾 rather than greet his visitors showing how matted and disheveled his hair had become. His bedding was old, and half-eaten food and unwashed dishes were piled up around his sickbed. Still, the visit of the three poets brought him cheer. First they tried to amuse him by telling him horror stories in imitation of the Chinese poet and painter, Su Dongpo 蘇東坂 (1037-1101), who had a taste for the grotesque. Thoroughly delighted, Ranzan proposed that they compose shigin 四吟 (a linked verse sequence composed by four people), and before the end of the evening they had completed four. Buson was immensely pleased with the results of this small gathering. He quickly wrote a preface to accompany the four sequences and took the manuscript to the printer Kitsusendō 橘仙堂, where it was published shortly afterward.12

The first of the four Kono hotori sequences is Susuki mitsu (Having seen miscanthus). I will discuss several links that suggest the general nature of the whole. A translation of the entire sequence is included elsewhere in this issue.

The opening verse of a haikai no renga sequence is expected to include a kigo 季語 (season word) and to make a flattering gesture towards the good taste of his host. The privilege of composing the opening verse of a haikai sequence is typically given to the highest-ranking guest. In this case, the honor fell to Buson.

1. 薄見つ萩やなからん此辺り (Buson)

susuki mitsu hagi ya nakaran ya kono hotori

having seen miscanthus –
surely there is also bush clover
around here

The season word here is hagi (bush clover). Having noticed miscanthus, a plant evocative of the pleasant sadness of autumn, near Ranzan's house, Buson expects that there should also be bush clover, another plant associated with autumn melancholy, nearby. In his commentary on the sequence, the modern scholar Nakamura Yukihiko suggests two possibilities for this pair of images: the miscanthus represents the refined sensibility of Ranzan, and the bush clover the more flamboyant energy of Chora. According to this interpretation, in addition to making the conventional greeting to his host, Buson also makes a nod to the out-of-town guest Chora, acknowledging the dynamic vitality of his poetic style. Alternatively, kono hotori (around here) may refer to the Kyoto haikai community, and the bush clover to the Yahantei school flowering within it.13

Chora composed the waki 脇, or second verse. The waki was conventionally written by the host in grateful response to the main guest's hokku, but as an especially welcome visitor, he was given a singular honor here.

2. 風より起る秋の夕に (Chora)14

kaze yori okoru aki no yūbe ni

beginning with the wind
on an evening in autumn

Chora's verse recalls the waka by Kokinshū poet Fujiwara no Toshiyuki 藤原敏行(d. 901) that describes a chilly blast that brings an awareness of autumn:

秋立つ日よめる (Kokinshū 169)


aki tatsu hi yomeru

aki kinu to me ni wa sayaka ni mienudomo
kaze no oto ni zo odorokarenuru15

Composed on the day autumn began

that autumn has come is not obvious to the eye, rather,
I was surprised by the sound of the wind

Chora's waki, linked with Buson's, is an assertion of his solidarity with the Yahantei school's efforts to create a new poetic style emulating Bashō's. The verse refers not just to a meteorological phenomenon, but is also a declaration of the four poets' awakening to the lofty-minded elegance of Bashō-school haikai.16

The next two verses are fairly ordinary, but Chora and Buson follow them with links that are very characteristic of the Buson school and "Back to Bashō" poets in general in their evocation of the classical past.

3. 舟たへて宿とるのみの二日月 (Kitō)17

fune taete yado toru nomi no futsukazuki

missed the boat;
nothing to do but find a place to stay for the night—
early eighth-month moon

4. 紀行の模様一歩一変 (Ranzan)18

kikō no moyō ippo ippen

journeys follow this pattern:
something new with each step

Chora and Buson respond with:

5. 貫之が娘おさなき頃なれや (Chora)19

Tsurayuki ga musume osonaki goro nare ya

Tsurayuki's daughter—
when she was just
a little girl—

6. 半蔀おもく雨のふれゝば (Buson)20

hajitomi omoku ame no furereba

the half-panel shutters are heavy
when rain is falling

Chora picks up on Ranzan's somewhat vague, platitudinous verse about travel and recasts it into a more elevated situation – the death of the provincial governor's daughter mentioned in Ki no Tsurayuki's 紀貫之 (868-945) Tosa nikki 土佐日記 (ca. 935). Buson then adds a link using an archaic word, hajitomi, the wooden blinds of an aristocratic Heian residence. He juxtaposes hajitomi with a synesthetic image, the dull, grim feeling of heavy rain. Linked with the previous verse, it suggests a scene of Tsurayuki's daughter closing the heavy shutters against a cold, dreary downpour, compounding the sense of grief and loss.21

Elsewhere, Buson responds to plain, untextured verses by adding links that allude to historical figures, such as in this example:

18. 五尺の劔打おふせたり (Chora)

goshaku no tsurugi uchi ousetari

the five-foot sword,
thoroughly tempered

19. 満仲の多田の移徒日和よき (Buson)

Manjū no Tada no watamashi hiyori yoki

the weather was fine
on the day Michinaka
moved to Tada

Minamoto no Michinaka 源満仲 (913-997), a descendant of the Seiwa Minamoto 清和源 family, was a military commander during the second half of the tenth century. He moved to Tada in Settsu province after an illustrious career. Because of his outstanding service, two great swords were made for him by a famous blacksmith. Buson picks up on this detail to make the link.22

In other places Buson's taste for creating an historical or monogatari-like atmosphere is also evident, such as in this series of links that begins with Kitō's evocation of an erotic scene.

26. 灯を持出る女麗し (Kitō)

hi o mochi izuru onna uruwashi

the grace of a woman
going out with a lamp to light her way

Chora's tsukeku continues this theme, bringing the focus to the contrast of white snow on the woman's long black hair:

27. 黒髪にちらちらかかる夜の雪 (Chora)

kurokami ni chirachira kakaru yoru no yuki

on black hair
night snow

Buson's link is:

28. うたへに負ヶて所領追るゝ (Buson)

utae ni makete shoryō owaruru

having lost the lawsuit
she is chased out of the territory

This link changes the mood abruptly. The reason for the scene of snow falling on someone's uncovered head is recast into a medieval context, of a plaintiff suddenly run out of the territory after the failure of a lawsuit. In his commentary on the sequence, Teruoka Yasutaka argues that the link may be trying to suggest Izayoi nikki 十六夜日記 (1279), in which Abutsu-ni 阿仏尼 (d. 1283) describes her journey to Kamakura to plead for her son's right to inherit his father's property.23

As an examination of this sequence from Kono hotori shows, the "Back to Bashō" movement poets were not trying to imitate the style of Bashō's linked verse. Rather, they aimed to emulate his attitude of seriousness towards the genre. Buson himself makes this plain in a letter he wrote to Katō Kyōtai which he sent along with a copy of Kono hotori soon after it was published:

In my haikai, I do not dare try to directly imitate the style (gofū 語風) of Elder Bashō, but only to follow my heart (kokoro 心), taking pleasure in changing my tastes (fūchō 風調) from day to day; in the same way as the physician Bianque 扁鵲, I change my manner (kikaku 気格) to conform to the standards of each setting.

Here Buson refers to the Chinese physician Bianque, described as an exemplary figure in Mengqiu 蒙求 (Beginner's guide, early 8th c.). When Bianque found himself in Handan, where the people venerated women, he became a specialist in women's health; in Loyang, where they respected the elderly, he changed his specialty to geriatrics; in Qin, where they cherished children, he became a pediatrician—tailoring his practice to suit the conditions of the place in which he found himself.24

In other words, Buson acknowledges the futility and indeed the inappropriateness of attempting to slavishly copy Bashō's style. However, he does make a particular point of the fact that he is actually following Bashō's example in a much more authentic way, by staying in accord with the spirit of Bashō's style but remaining in touch with the times. Indeed, this is exactly what Bashō himself suggested in the haikai prose passage Kyoriku ribetsu no kotoba 許六離別ノ詞 (Words of valediction to Kyoriku), "Do not seek the traces of the ancients, instead, seek what they sought."25

The "Back to Bashō" movement as a whole was itself a collaboration: the dialogue of the voices of diverse individuals seeking to renew haikai by bringing it back to an idealized past. As the example of Susuki mitsu shows, linked verse composition was part of this effort. Despite the fact that the poets involved belonged to different lineages, resistance to the spread of tentori haikai brought them together. In composing linked verse sequences such as Susuki mitsu, they put into practice their ideal of making a return not to the style, but to the spirit of Bashō.


1 Konishi Jin'ichi 今西甚一, Haiku no sekai: Hassei kara gendai made 俳句の世界:発生から現代まで (Kenkyūsha Shuppan, 1981), pp. 150-151.

2 Satō Katsuaki 佐藤勝明et al, Renku no sekai 連句の世界(Shintensha, 1997), pp. 89-90.

3 Ibid, pp. 95-96.

4 Konishi, p. 150.

5 Ōiso Yoshio 大磯義雄, Yosa Buson 与謝?村, (Ōfūsha, 1975), pp. 69-72.

6 Ogata Tsutomu 尾形功and Yamashita Kazumi 山下一海, eds., Haishi, haibun 俳詩・俳文, Buson zenshū 蕪村全集, vol. 4, (Kōdansha, 1994), pp. 155-8.

7 Yamashita Kazumi 山下一海, Buson no sekai 蕪村の世界 (Yūhikaku, 1982), p. 156.

8 It was expected that verses 17 and 35 refer to blossoms (hana 花), and 5, 14, and 29 refer to the moon (tsuki 月). In Susuki mitsu, only verse 35 conforms to this convention. Verse 14 is a blossom verse instead of a moon verse, and the moon verse is delayed until 16. The third moon verse is also delayed, occurring at number 30. Furthermore, the first moon verse is at 3 rather than 5, although this is not uncommon in kasen whose hokku refer to autumn. Teruoka Yasutaka 暉峻康隆 and Kawashima Tsuyu 川島つゆ, eds., Buson, Issa 蕪村・一茶, Nihon koten bungaku taikei 日本古典文学大系, vol. 58 (Iwanami Shoten, 1961), pp. 206-213.

9 Ibid, p. 34.

10 Ibid, p. 6.

11 Ibid, p. 21.

12 Teruoka and Kawashima, p. 206.

13 Nakamura Yukihiko 中村幸彦, Kono hotori ichiya kasen 此ほとり一夜四歌仙 (Kadokawa Shoten, 1980), p. 35.

14 Ibid, p. 206.

15 Saeki Umetomo 佐伯梅友, ed., Kokin waka shū 古今和歌集, Nihon koten bungaku taikei 日本古典文学大系, vol. 8 (Iwanami Shoten, 1963), p. 136.

16 Nakamura, p. 37.

17 Teruoka and Kawashima, p. 206.

18 Ibid, 206.

19 Ibid, 207.

20 Ibid, 207.

21 Nakamura, p. 42.

22 Teruoka, p. 73.

23 Ibid, p. 76.

24 Mōgyū 蒙求, Hayakawa Mitsusaburō 早川光三郎, ed., Shinshaku kanbun taikei 新釈漢文大系, vol. 59 (Meiji Shoin, p. 1973), pp. 874-875.

25 Bashō bunshū 芭蕉文集, Sugiura Shōichirō 杉浦正一郎, et al., eds., Nihon koten bungaku taikei 日本古典文学大系vol. 46 (Iwanami Shoten, 1959), p. 206.


Related items in this issue of Simply Haiku:
~ Kasen: Seeing Miscanthus (full English text)

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