Kobayashi Issa

Hear about Kobayashi Issa on Episode 57 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Kobayashi Issa
Kobayashi Issa

Kobayashi Issa

Kobayashi Issa (小林 一茶) was a renowned haiku poet living from 1763 to 1827.1234 He went by other names in his life such as Kobayashi Yatarō and Kobayashi Nobuyuki.4 Nobuyuki being the name given to him by his parents and his pen name, Issa, means ‘cup of tea.’3

He was born in the village of Kashiwabara, Shinano Province in 1763 where he was educated by a village teacher; this teacher writing haiku under the name of Shimpo. His mother died early when he was young at the age of 22 or 33 and five years later his father remarried, this new step mother acted rather coldly to Issa making his life difficult.3 In 17773 Issa moves to Edo where he undertakes an apprectiship under the poet Chikua.23 After the death of his mentor Issa became haiku teacher,2 eventually deciding to become a poet-monk; travelling the country.3

His father passed away in 1801 and so Issa returned home3 however after his death his brother would not give him the half of the family estate he was entitled to making his life quite impoverished until 1813 when he recanted.23 During the time when his brother would not hand over the money Issa travelled between his home and Edo, finally settling down in Kashiwahara after recieving his money.3

In 1814 Issa married a 27 year old woman called Kiku and they soon have 4 children who sadly all died young. The death of his second child Sato inspired him to write Oraga haru (The Years of My Life in 1820).3 In total he would have 8 children, and remarried in 1827 after the death of his first wife.2

Over the years he has been considered the “champion of little things,” be it children, bugs or frogs. Now he is seen also as a contemplative and descriptive poet, imbuing the spirit of sabi.2

His poetry is also said to include down to earth language, animal imagery through personification as well as a comic spirit and obsession with poverty. All, however, are imbued with the seriousness of Bashō.3

His haiku collections include the following: Kansei kikō (1795), Chichi no shūen nikki (Journal of my Father’s Death 1801) Kyōwa kuchō (1803) Bunka kuchō (1808) Oraga haru (The Years of My Life, 1819) Shichiban nikki (1818) Hachiban nikki (1821) Kuban nikki (1824).4


1. Hoffman, Y. (1986) ”Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death”. Tuttle Publishing.
2. Carter, S.D. (1991) “Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology.” California, Stanford University Press.
3. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
4. Louis Frederic, translated by Kathe Roth (2002) “Japan Encyclopedia”. London: Harvard University Press.

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