Haibun Road : a haibun weekly challenge (wk 12)

This week’s Basho’s Road Haibun Challenge (week 12)

Killing Stone. In Japan, you will see a special rope and white papers draped on sacred objects. You can see a border in the bottom left with the sacred rope. I think that’s the Killing Stone. Look at how that whole area is stone and around it, the area is verdant. If you ask me, I’m not so sure they exorcised the ghost. Photo by 663highland, via wikimedia commons


This is a haibun writing challenge using Basho’s haibun journal, “Journey to the Deep North.” A haibun is one paragraph followed by one haiku. Each week I share the next paragraph(s) and haiku from Basho’s journey using different translations (a bibliography of translated Basho at the bottom).

To participate in the writing prompt/ challenge, use any bit (word, phrase, concept) as the inspiration for your own haibun (one paragraph and a haibun). Then, add a pingback or paste your haibun link in the comments and tag your contribution “Haibun Road.” Pingbacks work for WordPress blogs but if you write your haibun on other blog platforms, Instagram, Facebook or wherever, just paste the link in the comments. I moderate everything to avoid spam so it may take a day to show.

This week Basho visits the Killing Stone

This translation is from Helen Craig McCullough’s translation in Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology (Note: see Amazon affiliate disclosure at the post’s bottom)

From Kurobane, I headed toward Killer Rock astride a horse lent us by the warden. When the groom asked if I would write a poem for him, I gave him this, surprised and impressed that he should exhibit such cultivated taste:
No o yoko ni
uma hikimuke yo
A cuckoo song:
please make the horse angle off
across the field
Killer Rock stands in the shadow of a mountain near a hot spring. It still emits poisonous vapors : dead bees, butterflies, and other insects lie in heaps near it, hiding the color of the sand.

殺生石 Sesshoseki The Killing Stone. A Nasu Hot Springs boulder emits poisonous fumes killing insects who get too close. Legend has it that Lady Tamamo was a fox spirit bent on assassinating Emperor Konoe (c. 1150). Her failed attempt resulted in her own death and her ghost entered the stone terrifying anyone who came too near. Buddhist priest Genno convinced the ghost to consider her own spiritual salvation and she left.  The toxic hydrogen sulphide gases kill nearby vegetation. (Sources : 1 , 2 , 3)

Other translations of the same haiku. (translator in parenthesis)

Across the field, turn
The direction of the horse
Towards the cuckoo!
(Oseko Toshiharu)
Basho’s Haiku : Literal Translations for Those who wish to Read the Original Japanese Text, with Grammatical Analysis and Explanatory Notes
across the field
the horse pulls toward
the cuckoo
(Jane Reichhold)
Basho: The Complete Haiku
across the plain,
turn my horse over there!
(David Landis Barnhill)
Basho’s Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho
Lead the horse
Across the moor
To where the hototogisu is singing!
(R. H. Blyth)
History of Haiku. Volume One. From the Beginnings Up to Issa

Haibun Challenge parameters

There is no right or wrong although there are a couple rules.

  • One paragraph followed by one haiku/senryu. It can be two paragraphs but I want to keep things simple.
  • Paragraphs can be short or long (but please don’t make one paragraph book length!)
  • Haiku/senryu should be 5/7/5 syllables or pretty close. 3, 5 and 7 are numbers with special meaning in Japanese culture so that’s probably how the form arose.
  • To share what you’ve written, add a pingback or paste your link in the comments and tag your post “haibun road”. For nonwordpress folks, paste your link.  My blog is moderated due to spam. Your comment/link should show up within 24 hours. I check regularly for pingbacks/ comments but I have a real life too so be patient please.

Each week I do a round up of everyone’s contributions Monday mornings. I post the next challenge on late Mondaynight (Arizona time between 11pm and midnight. I am not a morning person. ). The writing prompt is for the week, so that you’ll have a week to come up with a haibun.

I’ve been haikus/senryus for a couple of years and am branching out into haibun. So I thought why write haibun alone? It’s always more fun to share a journey with companions.I hope you will join me and look forward to your writing.

Basho’s Journey: The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho

What is a haibun?

A haibun is a short prose paragraph followed by a haiku/senryu. The paragraph can be one’s thoughts, a travel journal, a diary entry, an essay or even a short story. Basho, a monk in Japan, wrote the first haibun in 1690. I liken it to impressionism: it’s something you capture in the moment through writing, fleeting as the moment changes, imperfect but authentic.

I’m inviting you to write a short paragraph and a haiku inspired by the prompt. The inspiration may be a word, a phrase, a sentence or the whole paragraph from the prompt. One person might take “time to sweep the cobwebs from my broken house” and write about an abandoned building.
Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900 (Abridged Edition)

Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology
Another person may be inspired by the haiku. Another person may take the word “rambling” to describe their most recent travel. Go with whatever inspires you.

In case you are interested this is a audio reading from Basho’s “Narrow Road to the North” in Japanese by kaseumin (first audio of 5; Chapters 1 thru 9) made available through the Gutenberg Project


Matsuo Bashô: Oku no Hosomichi (Nine Translations of the Opening Paragraph), Bureau of Public Secrets

Narrow Road to the Interior: And Other Writings (Shambhala Classics) (translator Sam Hamill)

Basho’s Journey: The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho (translator David Landis Barnhill )

Basho’s Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho(translator David Landis Barnhill )

Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology (translator: Helen Craig McCullough)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (translator Nobuyuki Yuasa)

Basho’s Narrow Road: Spring and Autumn Passages (translator: Hiroaki Sato)

History of Haiku. Volume One. From the Beginnings Up to Issa (translator: R. H. Blyth)

Basho’s Haiku : Literal Translations for Those who wish to Read the Original Japanese Text, with Grammatical Analysis and Explanatory Notes (translator: Oseko Toshiharu)

Basho: The Complete Haiku (translator: Jane Reichhold)

Links are to the books on Amazon (I’m an affiliate but it’s also easy to find book titles there).

You can use the Amazon search bar to do any search at Amazon. This time I tried “hut” with weird results: an episode from “Hunted”, a crystal coat for wood, a tiki umbrella and a hat. Weird right? On another day, the results will be different.

I am an Amazon affiliate but this has no effect on prices. Your price remains the same.Amazon disclosure: “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”