A Journey Through Japanese Haiku

Barefoot in the Stream

Culture Environment Lifestyle

A haiku by Buson on the simple pleasure of cool water on a hot day.

夏河を越すうれしさよ手に草履 蕪村

Natsukawa o / kosu ureshisa yo / te ni zōri

The joy of crossing
a summer stream—
sandals in hand

(Poem by Buson, written around 1754–57.)

Around the age of 40, Buson left Kyoto to spend three years to the north in Miyazu (now within Kyoto Prefecture). He came to know the head priest of Buddhist temple Kenshōji, where he stayed and worked on his painting.

This haiku dates from that period. One sense the coolness of the water on bare feet and the texture of the stream’s sandy bed, as he splashes through, like he has returned to childhood days.

Materials written by Buson indicate that he had visited a priest and talked until dusk. On the way home, he composed the following haiku: Semi mo neru / koro ya koromo no / sodedatami (Time for cicadas / to sleep—folding the / robe’s sleeves). This compares the priest’s folding of his thin robe before rest to the cicada’s folding of its wings, in a retrospective leave-taking. He then wrote “A narrow stream was rippling in front of the house,” before composing the haiku about crossing the water.

If it was on the way home, it may have been in the evening that he actually waded through the stream. But when Buson put the haiku in a collection, he only indicated the stream’s location, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination. Personally, I think of a traveler crossing a stream on a midsummer day. In such a setting, the “joy” comes vividly to life.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

literature haiku Japanese language and literature