Haibun Road : a haibun weekly challenge (wk 15)

This week’s Basho’s Road Haibun Challenge (week 15)


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 passes the barrier gate of Shirakawa

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).This week I am sharing  four paragraphs  instead of the usual one because the haiku was further down than usual.

We passed beyond the barrier and crossed the Abukuma River. To the left, the peak of Aizu soared; to the right, the districts of Iwaki, Soma, and Mihara lay extended; to the rear, mountains formed boundaries with Hitachi and Shimotsuke provinces. We passed Kagenuma Pond, but the sky happened to be overcast that day, so there were no reflections.
At the post town of Sukagawa, we visited a man called Tokyu, who persuaded us to stay four or five days. His first act was to inquire, “How did you feel when you crossed Shirakawa Barrier?”
“What with the fatigue of the long, hard trip, the distractions of the scenery, and the stress of so many nostalgic associations, I couldn’t manage to think of a decent poem,” I said. “Still, it seemed a pity to cross with nothing to show for it…”:
風流の 初やおくの田植うた
furyu no
hajime ya oku no
a start for connoisseurs
of poetry — rice-planting song
of Michinoku
We added a second verse and then a third, and continued until we had completed three sequences.
The Abukuma River (阿武隈川), with a length of 234 km, is the second longest river in the Tōhoku region of Japan . Panoramic photo by BehBeh via Wikimedia Commons

Footnote from me: Because Basho said “we added”, I think he and his companions may have created a Renga.  A Renga is a poetry form where they go round robin, each person adding a stanza.

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

The first poetic venture
I came across —
The rice planting-songs
Of the far north
(Nobuyuki Yuasa)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches
The true beginnings
Of poetry—an Oku
Rice-planting song
(Donald Keene)
The Narrow Road to Oku
jetzt wirds langsam poetisch …
das Lied der Reispflanzer
von den Nordprovinzen
(Gabi Greve)
Regionen und Haiku Deutsch
The beginning of all art:
a song when planting a rice field
in the country’s inmost part
( Harold Gould Henderson )
Intro to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki

Note: These four translations were featured at World’s Kigo Database under Ichihara Tayo-Jo, a short bio post on a Japanese businesswoman (1776-1865) who wrote haiku until her 90s. She erected a stone monument to Basho. The translations appear under the photo of the monument.

I found one more translation that I liked a lot. I think it was done by the Japanese blogger Kuni-san. He did the post March 16, 2011 when a tsunami hit the coast. The post shows the places Basho walked and the location of a nuclear power plant on the same coast.

imagination’s birth!
a song for planting rice
in the deep far north

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”.

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.”