Haibun Road : a haibun weekly challenge (wk 18)

This week’s Basho’s Road Haibun Challenge (week 18)


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 listens to a rocking story

This translation is from Nobuyuki Yuasa’s translation in The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches. (Note: see Amazon affiliate disclosure at the post’s bottom).

This week I am sharing two paragraphs  with the haiku. Worth noting is that while Basho’s poems were written with the 5-7-5 syllable counts in Japanese, most of the translators did not try to translate the poems into the same format.

Crossing the ferry of Moon Halo, I came to the post town of Rapids Head. The ruined house of the brave warrior Sato was about a mile and half from this post town towards the foot of the mountains on the left. I pushed my way towards the village Iizuka, and found a mill called Maruyama in the open fields of Sabano. This was the site of the warrior’s house. I could not refrain from weeping, when I saw the remains of the front gate at the foot of the hill. There was a lonely temple in the vicinity, and tombs of the Sato family were still standing in the graveyard. I wept bitterly in front of the tombstones of the two young wives, remembering how they had dressed up their frail bodies in armour after the death of their husbands. In fact I felt as if I were in the presence of the Weeping Tombstone of China.
I went into the temple to have a drink of tea. Among the treasures of the temple were the sword of Lord Yoshitsune and the satchel which his faithful retainer, Benkei, had carried on his back.
oi mo tachi mo
satsuki ni kazare
Proudly exhibit
With flying banners
The sword and the sachel
This May Festival Day.

Footnotes from Nobuyuki Yuasa:

“Sato Motoharu (?-1189) was the father of Tsugunobu (1158-85) and Tadanobu (1161-86) who fought bravely for Yoshitsune. After the death to Tsugunobu and Tadanobu,their wives wore armour to console their aged mothers left behind.”

“Basho is referring to the tombstone of Yang Hu (221-78), which was named the Weeping Tombstone by Tu Yu (222-84) because there was not a single person who could refrain from weeping in its presence.”

“Benkei (dates unknown) was a priest more interested in military feats than in preaching. He served Yoshitsune with the utmost devotion after he was subdued by him in a fight.”

My note: May Festival is May 5th, Boy’s Day. If you’re in Japan, you will often see carp flags/kites flying to celebrate the festival. I don’t know how far back the carp tradition goes back so not sure if the banners in the haiku are carps.

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

sword and altar
are both on display
at this Boys’ Day festival
(Robert Aitken)
The River of Heaven: The Haiku of Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki
Paper carp flying!
Display pannier and sword, too
in the Fifth Month
(Helen Craig McCullough)
Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology
Jener Tragkorb, jenes Schwert
diene dem Festmonat genauso als Schmuck!
Wie die Papierbanner…
(G. S. Dombrady)
(link to the source is now defunct)
Satchel and sword, too,
displayed for fifth month
carp streamers
( David Landis Barnhill )
Basho’s Journey: The Literary Prose 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)

The River of Heaven: The Haiku of Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki (translator: Robert Aitken)

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.”