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Issa haiku - winter rain, horses, samurai, daimyo

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  • chris drake
    first winter rain -- even the horse wears warrior crests hatsu-shigure uma mo o-mon o kitari-keri first winter the horse(s), too,
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2013
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      first winter rain --
      even the horse wears
      warrior crests
      hatsu-shigure        uma mo o-mon o         kitari-keri
      first winter             the horse(s), too,           wears crests
      This hokku is from 10/25 (Dec. 4) in 1806, when Issa was in Fukawa, a bustling river town handling commercial traffic on the Tone River north of Edo. Several poets belonging to the Katsushika school, to which Issa then belonged, lived in Fukawa. Issa's diary says he stayed the night at a Soto Zen temple there and that a north wind was blowing earlier. It must have brought the first hard, cold rain of the winter. The hokku is in the reserved, objective style preferred by the Katsushika school.
      Both warriors and commoners were allowed to wear crests, as were their horses, but this rider in the rain has identical crests on his clothes, his hat, and on the cloth placed under the saddle in the style a samurai on official business. Issa also uses an honorary prefix (o-) before "crest," strongly -- and ironically -- suggesting the man is a samurai working for a lord, whose crest he wears. Perhaps he's messenger, or perhaps he's some sort of official in the local domain hierarchy who is overseeing business at the riverside waterfront or in the warehouse district. It's unlikely he's the daimyo lord of the local domain, since if he were, Issa would surely have mentioned it, as he so often does. And when daimyo were on official business they normally rode in luxurious palanquins in the middle of a long procession with the doors shut so no one could see them. Traditionally Japanese aristocrats rode in enclosed ox carts, and emperors rode in palanquins, so palanquins were considered more prestigious than horses. In Issa's time the warlord period had ended, and the country had been at peace for two hundred years, so most samurai were no longer primarily warriors. Former daimyo warlords were given semi-feudal domains that had much independence, but the peacetime daimyo had to pledge their fealty to the shogunate. To back up that pledge, the wives and heirs of the various daimyo had to live as de facto hostages in Edo, near the shogun, and the daimyo lord himself had to live in Edo every other year. In the local domain there were a significant number of middle- and low-ranking samurai retainers who served as the bureaucrats and officials who oversaw the everyday affairs of the domain castle and  economic affairs in the domain, and these officials sometimes rode horses on their travels. In the hokku, it seems probable that one of these officials rides past Issa.
      The hokku's detached tone cannot quite hide Issa's feeling that it's natural that the first hard winter rain has arrived just in time to fall on the pompous official and his many crests as he passes by commoners on the road without noticing them. Issa doesn't explicitly say, "Nice timing, rain," but he seems to feel the rain is quite appropriate and just. Issa may also be making a comment by placing the following hokku just before the above hokku in his diary:
      mushrooms huddle
      close on the stump --
      hard winter rain
      kirikabu no kinoko katamaru shigure kana  
      The tops of the plebian mushrooms resemble the wide hats worn by travelers, and the way the mushrooms seem to huddle together to keep warm is the opposite of the way the samurai official asks commoners to step aside while he rides by on his horse, leaving them only with -- I think it is implied -- muddy water flying through the air. 
      Later (in the 3rd month [April] of 1824) Issa wrote about a daimyo who rides on a horse in his private leisure time from his mansion in Edo, where he must stay every other year, to see the famous cherries in nearby Ueno:
      cherry blossoms
      make the daimyo lord
      get off his horse
      daimyou o uma kara orosu sakura kana   
      The powerful lord is virtually ordered by the beauty of the cherry blossoms to get down off his horse and take a closer look as if he were their servant. Issa also has some hokku about daimyo lords in general in cold winter rain. For example, this one from 1823:
      hard winter rain
      light winter rain, big daimyo
      small daimyo
      ooshigure koshigure daimyou shoumyou kana
      For powerful daimyo lords from large domains there are big winter rainstorms, but for daimyo from small domains there are only small winter rainstorms. There is a hierarchy even in heaven, ironically apportioning worse weather in proportion to the size and power of the lord. But they all get lots of cold rain, which is what Issa seems to hope for the samurai class as a whole. The simple juxtaposition of the weather and the lords also allows a reading according to which the large and small daimyo lords are themselves large and small bitterly cold rain rainstorms that afflict ordinary commoners like Issa, making life hard for them.
      The following hokku from the 10th month (Nov.) of 1820 is probably based on Issa's experience, since processions of daimyo going to or returning from a year of forced residence in Edo often stopped to rest or stay the night in his hometown:
      from my foot warmer
      I see a daimyo
      soaked to the skin
      zubu-nure no daimyou o miru kotatsu kana
      By daimyo Issa means the daimyo and his whole procession. They have been overtaken by a cold early winter downpour, and when the procession enters town the sound of the rain is no doubt louder than the cries of the guards at the front of the normally imposing procession. Hardly anyone is outside or even watching, giving the soaked guards little chance to order people around. The daimyo gets out of his palanquin in the street near Issa's house, and through a crack in a window or door Issa sees the great lord immediately get drenched along with the rest of his procession. For a moment Issa enjoys the thought that he and the other people in town are warmer and more comfortable than the helpless-looking daimyo and his company of disheveled guards and porters.
      Issa uses backhanded satire even on the shogun in this hokku from the 9th month (October) in 1812:
      how noisy
      just because the geese
      are the shogun's
      kashimashi ya shougun-sama no kari ja tote
      Only the shogun and special daimyo lords he favors are allowed to hunt with hawks. This restriction is an important symbol of shogunal dominance over the daimyo as a class. Issa cynically suggests that the reason the wild geese in Edo are so loud is because they belong to the shogun and therefore think they are elite birds who can do anything they want. There is no evidence that the geese in wooded areas of Edo were any louder than geese elsewhere, so Issa may actually, and even more cynically, be referring to the loud cries the geese make as they try to escape when the shogun comes to hunt them with trained hawks. The image seems completely ironic, and Issa is surely referring above all to the noisy, arrogant people who "own" and hunt the geese, causing lots of commotion and bothering the people of Edo.
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