Haibun Road : a haibun weekly challenge (wk 19)

This week’s Basho’s Road Haibun Challenge (week 19)


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 Cid Corman and Kamaike Susumu’s translation in Back Roads to Far Towns (illustrator: Hide Oshiro). Their translation style is a bit different — the sentences remind me more of Japanese grammar style rather than English and that was a deliberate translation choice that they made. I think it’s cool. Another thing that they do is facing page of Japanese with a sumi-e ink drawing across from the English translation. What do you think of it? (Note: see Amazon affiliate disclosure at the post’s bottom).

This week I am sharing two paragraphs  with the haiku followed by a one-line paragraph. 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. Cormon and Susumu are one of the few translators who did.

Spent night at Iizuka. Bathed at hot-springs there, found lodgings but only thin mats over bare earth, ramshackle sort of place. No lamp, bedded down by shadowy light of fireplace and tried getting some rest.  All night, thunder, pouring buckets, roof leaking , fleas mosquitoes in droves: no sleep. To cap it off the usual trouble cropped up, almost passed out. The short night sky at last broke, and again picked up and went on. But the night’s traces dragged, mind balked. Hired horses, got to post town of Ko-ori. Future seemed further off than ever, and recurring illness nagged, but what a pilgrimage to far places calls for: willingness to let world go, its momentariness, to die on the road, human destiny, which lifted spirit a little, finding foot again here and there, crossing the Okido Barrier in Date.
After passing Abumizuri and Shiroishi Castle, entered the district of Kasashima, and sought out To-no-chujo Sanekata’s grave: far to right among slopes could be seen villages of Minowa and Kasashima, where Dosojin shrine and susuki grass of memory remain. What with May rains the road impossible and, much too tired, gazed at them from afar, Minowa and Kasashima – apt for the season,
Kasajima wa
izuko satsuki no
where now on the month of May’s
mud-ridden highway
and put up at Iwanuma.

Footnotes from Nobuyuki Yuasa:

“Fujiwara-no-Sanekata (?-998) was a poet of the Heian period. He had a quarrel with Fujiwaran-no-Yukinari (972-1027) at court, and was ordered by the emperor to go to the northern provinces in exile. He passed by the road-side image of a god without dismounting, however, and was punished at once by a fatal fall from his horse.”

My note: Minowa and Kasajima are place names but Basho did a play on sounds. With different kanji, mino can mean “straw raincoat” and kasa can mean “rain hat” or “umbrella”.


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

How far must I walk
to the village of Kasajima
This endlessly muddy road
Of the early wet season?
(Nobuyuki Yuasa)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches
Where is Rain Hat Isle?
Somewhere down the muddy roads
of the Fifth Month!
(Helen Craig McCullough)
Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology
Kasajima —
Which way?
This muddy Road of May
Hòn đảo nón mưa
bạn đã nói nó ở chỗ nào ?
Những nẻo đường ngập bùn tháng Năm
( Phùng Hoài Ngọc )

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)

Back Roads to Far Towns (translator: Cid Corman and Kamaike Susumu; illustrator: Hide Oshiro)

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.”