Issa (1753-1828) Haiku Master

“Inch by inch -/ Little snail/ Creep up and up Mt.Fuji”

Kobayashi Issa, (Kobayashi Nobuyuki 小林 信之)  the great Japanese haiku poet was born on this day, June 15, 1763, near Shinano-machi, Shinano Province, Japan.

We salute him today with some haiku translated by Allen’s friend (and our friend) Nanao Sakakai  from his book Inch By Inch – 45 Haiku By Issa

Previous Issa and haiku on The Allen  Ginsberg Project – here and here,
& here here here here here here here here here here here and here
& here and here 
Previous Nanao Sakakai on The Allen Ginsberg Project – here and here – and here and here

more Issa resources here   

(Dedemushino Sonomi Somomama Neokikana)
Just as he is/ he goes to bed and gets up/ The snail –

(Hatsubotaru Naze Hikikaesu Oredazoyo)
First lightning bug this year/ Why do you turn away?/ It’s me, Issa!

(Utsukushisaya Shojinoanano Amenokawa)
How lovely/ through the torn paper window/ – the Milky Way

(Uguisuya Doroashinuguu Umenohana)
Upon the blooming plum twig/ a warbler/ wipes his muddy feet

(Hitootoru Kinoko Hatashite Utsukushiki)
The Amanita mascaria/ can kill you -/ Sure, what a beauty!

(Kikusakuya Magusoyamamo Hitokeshiki)
What a picture -/ By the pile of horse dung/ Chrysanthemums in full bloom

(Hitoareb Haeari Hotokearinikeri)
Without human beings/ no fly/ no Buddha

(Netahitoo Hirumeshi Kuinikita Kakana)
O mosquitoes!/ You have lunch/on a man taking a nap

(Maenoyono Oregaitokoka Kankodori)
Hi cuckoo!/ wasn’t I your cousin / in another life?

(Futatsuite Hitotsuwa Nakazu  Akinosemi)
One sings/ The other will sing no more/ – cicadas of Autumn

(Suminokumo Anjina Susuwa Tranuzoyo)
Spiders in the corner/Don’t worry!/  I won’t sweep you house

(Wareshinaba Hakamorininareto Kirigirisu)
Grasshopper, good singer!/  Take care of my tomb/  when I die

from “Cup of Tea, Plate of Fish – An Interview with Nanao Sakakai by John Brandi and Jeff Bryan” (included in the current edition of Inch by Inch)

Jeff Bryan:  So…many of Issa’s poems you don’t respond to?
Nanoa Sakaki: No, 20,000 haiku he wrote – maybe 500 I can read. Maybe 200 I love. Maybe 10 great. Great stuff. It’s a hard job selecting his haiku. Many times I still check his haiku, I still carry them around with me. Most of them so dull. But he was crazy about writing haiku!

John Brandi: What about your translation of my very favorite of Issa’s poems, it’s not in Inch by Inch but we’ve talked about it before  – Tsuyu no wa tsuya no yo nagara sari niagara
Nanao Sakaki: OK, yeah. That’s a hard one! So he had many children, all gone, so he felt this life is just dew, so temporary, so short life. Even though, I’m here. So, that’s sad. “Why my daughter or my baby must die? What’s the reason?”
John Brandi: One time you said the translation was – ” the world of dew/ is just the world of dew/ and yet…and yet’
Nanao Sakaki: “…and yet”. That is the point.
John Brandi: So he says I know the world of dew is just the world of dew, yet I feel pain, I am alive.
Nanao Sakaki: So simple, yet so wise.
John Brandi: What do you think happens when we die?
Nanao Sakaki: I don’t care
John Brandi: Where is your friend Allen Ginsberg?
Nanao Sakaki: Allen’s somewhere, somewhere in space. I don’t care. He’s OK. He never talks to me, no complaining, nothing. It’s OK.


  1. thank you very much- i am kyoto now & think of him, I think of him but only read him today, here.

  2. I visited the great wandering poet’s grave & museum in Shinano, Nagano (whoa, he had challenging life) >> here’s a dossier of snaps, riffs & musings for your enjoyment:

    PS Sadly never met Nanao Sakaki but was wandering similar paths.

    Now working to emulate their noble endeavours by spreading poetry & goodness around Japan

  3. I’ve read many of the Japanese haiku masters (in English) and Issa is my favorite. He is the most tender of poets and always sensitive to the natural world, its tiniest creatures and its most commonplace beauties.

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