Tag Archives: epistolary style

Letters 2: Bashô 1690

The image shows a kana variant for まいらせ候

Part of my occasional Letters series. This one is from Bashô to his disciple Ukô 羽紅, who was married to one of his most famous disciples, Bonchô 凡兆. One of the things that’s immediately striking about this letter is that it’s written largely in kana (syllabary) in deference to Ukô being female. There are some other interesting points, but read on.

To: Madame Otome
From: Bashô

PS Please take good care of Miss Sai. I also send my appreciationr to Yoshi for her kindness over the years.

The other day Kaseirô 加生老 and Kyorai stopped by for a visit, and while it was a great effort for them do so, I was sorry they had to leave, feeling unbounded happiness. I am spending the winter hidden away deep in the mountains. When spring comes, I hope I may come to visit you again. It is difficult to express in words the unforgettable kindness you have long shown to me. The clothes were well-made; I am sure I will never be cold. Please do not worry about me. Please look forward to the spring in good health.

surely you keep
the kettle boiling for tea
night after night —
how I miss our three pillows
side by side in the sleeping room!


1) In premodern Japan, women made the clothes their husbands and children wore. From this letter, we learn that that Bashô (who did not marry) had clothes made for him by the women in his male disciple’s families.
2) Bashô is famous for his hokku, but here he expresses his appreciation in a waka. Like the kana, I presume this is a courtesy to his female recipient.
3) The print version of the letter I am using, 注解芭蕉書簡集 (Annotated Bashô Letters Anthology) by Abe Kimio 阿部喜三男  (1952) uses the fabulous ligature for “mairase sourou” (I go), see below. I don’t think there is Unicode for this character.

Ligature mairasesoro.gif

Tricky epistolary forms:

尚〻(尚尚) PS
御みまひ (they) came for a visit
御大儀 an inconvenience (for them)
ぞんじまいらせ候 (I) thought/felt
御めにかかり申すべく候 (I) intend to meet (you)
申しつくしがたき候  it is difficult to exhaust (my) expression (to you)
御こしらへ (you) made
御座あるまじく候 (I think) it will probably not exist…
御きづかい被成まじく候  (if you) please do not worry about (me)

Letters 1: Buson 1751

The first in an occasional series of translations of letters. Let’s start with some practice. This is review, but I read it such a long time ago it’s like looking at it for the first time.

To: OOya Yohachi, OO Sawaragichô, Kyoto.

Kindly use the above address. Paste this letter on your wall. Do not forget.

Please get some works of calligraphy by Hirabayashi [Seisai] 平林静斎: either as single phrases, or as two or three couplets. I would like to hang them in the studio here. Other than that,  I have had an urgent request from a person of taste. I hope that, thanks to you, one way or another I may get two or three of these. It is a once-in-a-lifetime request. Please permit me to send as a token of gratitude a painting of Daikoku. I have gone for sightseeing to various places all around Kyoto, and spent a pretty interesting time. Some time ago I visited Fushimi and stayed there for a while.

When I think of you going out for night dancing I laugh to myself. I write haikai occasionally. I am still pretty busy, and there hasn’t been any time to pause.  For the next a couple of years as I become more familiar with the place, if there is anything interesting I will let you know, so please look forward to it. More than anything, without fail, I ask your help with Hirabayashi’s work. I really, really can’t wait to receive it.

Watching mandarin ducks

all the glamor has been used up
by the mandarin ducks —
winter trees

oshidori ni bi wo tsukushite ya fuyukodachi

     There is a lot more to say, but I omit it here. How is Denkô 田洪 in Yûki? I miss the place.

Second day of the eleventh month (1751? to 桃彦?)

Tricky epistolary forms:

御登可被下候 おのぼせくださるべくそうろう Please send [to the capital]
被差置  さしおかれ [Please] affix it
御もらひ可被下候 Please get/receive
申度候 I want [to do something]
拝裁奉願候 はいたいねがいたてまつりそうろう I humbly ask to benefit from you doing [this]
相下可申候 あいくだしもうすべくそうろう Please allow me to [do something]
仕候 つかまつり I do/make [whatever]
罷有候 まかりありそうろう [just plain old] ある
奉頼候 たのみたてまつり I humbly ask
相待申候 あいまちもうし I am awaiting/looking forward to

The source is Buson no tegami 蕪村の手紙, Tomotsugu Muramatsu 村松友次, Taishūkan Shoten, 1997, ISBN-13 9784469220780

I also used this nice webpage from ブログ俳諧鑑賞, http://yahantei.blogspot.com.