Haibun Road : a haibun weekly challenge (wk 13)

This week’s Basho’s Road Haibun Challenge (week 13)


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’s writing prompt: Basho visits Saigyo’s Willow

This translation is from Sam Hamill’s translation in Narrow Road to the Interior: And Other Writings (Shambhala Classics)

At Ashino, the willow Saigyo praised, “beside the clear stream,” still grows along a path in fields of rice. A local official had offered to lead the way, and I had often wondered whether and where it remained. And now, today, that same willow:
ta ichimai
uete tachisaru
yanagi ka na
Rice-planting done, they
depart — before I emerge
from willow shade.

by Sam Hamill: Saigyo (1118-1190) was one of the most influential Buddhist recluse-poets. This poem echoes a famous poem by  in the Shinkokinshu.
by Nobuyuki Yuasa : Basho is referring to the following poem by Saigyo in Shin Kokin Shu:
Under this solitary willow
Spreading its grateful shade
Over the crystal stream,
Let us rest our tired legs
on our way to the North.
by Helen Craig McCullough : Saigyo (SKKS 262): michi no be ni / shimizu nagaruru / yanagikage / shibashi tote koso / tachidomaritsure (“‘Only a moment,’ I thought when I halted, drawn by willow shade where fresh spring water flowed limpid at the roadside”).
by Terebess Asia Online (TAO) Station 9 notes : There is no specific mention of girls planting the field in Basho’s text, but the universal custom was for the fertile young women of the villages to do the planting in the hope that they would convey some of their fertility to the rice and insure a rich harvest.

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

They sowed a whole field,
And only then did I leave
Saigyo’s willow tree
(Donald Keene)
When the girls had planted
A square of paddy-field,
I stepped out of
The shade of a willow tree
(Nobuyuki Yuasa)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches
Ah, the willow tree:
a whole rice paddy planted
before I set out
(Helen Craig McCullough)
Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology
they planted one field
but now I have to leave
the willow (of Saigyo) . . .
(Gabi Grev)

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 as I did with “Matsuo Basho”.

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.” Your price remains the same.