Haibun Road : a haibun weekly challenge (wk 16)

This week’s Basho’s Road Haibun Challenge (week 16)


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  two paragraphs  with the haiku.

A bee flying over the chestnut tree, Olimpiiska, Kyiv, Ukraine, photograph by Alex Basov, via Unsplash
Under a great chestnut tree in the corner of the town, there lived a hermit monk. It seemed to me that his cottage, with its aura of lonely tranquility, must resemble that other place deep in the mountains where someone had gathered horse chestnuts. I set down a few words:
To form the character “chestnut”, we write “tree of the west.” I have heard, I believe, that the bodhisattva Gyugi perceived an affinity between this tree and the Western Paradise, and that he used it’s wood for staffs and pillars throughout his life.
yo no hito no
mitsukenu hana ya
noki no kuri
chestnut at the eaves —
here are blossoms unremarked
by ordinary folk.

Footnote from Helen Craig McCullough: The (kanji) character for “chestnut” consists of the character for “tree” surmounted by an element resembling the character for “west”.

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

The chestnut by the eaves
in magnificent blossom
passes unnoticed
by men of the world
(Nobuyuki Yuasa)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches
At the eaves–
blossoms undiscovered
by people of the world
(Haruo Shirane)
Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho
Few in this world
notice those blossoms–
chestnut by the eaves
(Makoto Ueda)
Basho and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary
People of the world
don’t discern this blossom —
chestnut by the eaves
( David Landis Barnhill )
Basho’s Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho

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)

Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho(translator: Haruo Shirane)

Basho and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary(translator: Makoto Ueda)

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.”