Buddha with Gourds
a hundred gourds ~ from the heart ~ of one vine
Chiyo Book Cover
Fukuda Chiyo-ni (Kaga no Chiyo) (福田 千代尼)

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This page features a selection of traditional haiku poetry by the Pure Land Buddhist nun Chiyo-ni (Kaga no Chiyo) (1703-1775), with citations from Women in Praise of the Sacred (Introduction by Jane Hirshfield and a meditation by D.T. Suzuki). Also included are feminist poems by Chiyo, with explanatory notes, from Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master, by Patricia Donegan & Yoshie Ishibashi, 1998.

For further examples of Chiyo's haiku, have a look at Idiophonics, also including older waka poems by Japanese women, centering on sounds in nature. For Chiyo's paintings and calligraphy, see Japanese Women Artists 1600-1900 by Patricia Fister (Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas). Brief bio at Wikipedia.  


"Kaga no Chiyo, considered one of the foremost women haiku poets, began writing at the age of seven. She studied under two haiku masters who had themselves apprenticed with the great poet, Basho.... In 1755, Chiyo became a Buddhist nun -- not, she said, in order to renounce the world, but as a way 'to teach her heart to be like the clear water which flows night and day.'" (Jane Hirshfield)

In regard to the first poem here, called "Oh, Morning Glory!", Hirshfield quotes D. T. Suzuki:

    "The idea is this: One summer morning Chiyo the poetess got up early wishing to draw water from the well...She found the bucket entwined by the blooming morning glory vine. She was so struck...that she forgot all about her business and stood before it thoroughly absorbed in contemplation. The only words she could utter were 'Oh, the morning glory!' At the time, the poetess was not conscious of herself or of the morning glory as standing against [outside] her. Her mind was filled with the flower, the whole world turned into the flower, she was the flower itself...

    "The first line, 'Oh morning glory!' does not contain anything intellectual...it is the feeling, pure and simple, and we may interpret it in any way we like. The following two lines, however, determine the nature and depth of what was in the mind of the poetess: when she tells us about going to the neighbor for water we know that she just left the morning glory as she found it...she does not even dare touch the flower, much less pluck it, for in her inmost consciousness there is the feeling that she is perfectly one with reality.

    "When beauty is expressed in terms of Buddhism, it is a form of self- enjoyment of the suchness of things. Flowers are flowers, mountains are mountains, I sit here, you stand there, and the world goes on from eternity to eternity, this is the suchness of things."

    HAIKU by Kaga no Chiyo

    The morning glory!
    It has taken the well bucket,
    I must seek elsewhere for water.

    my fishing line --
    the summer moon.

    From the mind
    of a single, long vine
    one hundred opening lives.

Feminist Poems by Chiyo
ed. and trans, with notes by Patricia Donegan & Yoshie Isibashi
Tuttle Publishing, 1998

"Ironically, although haiku began as a movement toward a more egalitarian poetry, it largely excluded women. While Basho had some women disciples, eventually the 'seventeen rules of Basho' pervaded, which forbade male haiku poets from befriending female haiku poets (in later years the 'seventeen rules' were said to have been wrongly attributed to Basho)... Today, ironically, the majority of practicing haiku poets in Japan are women. Chiyo-ni and her peers led the way: some were prominent in the haiku world, some less so, but all were dedicated to the path of poetry and to each other." (pg. 55)

(1) (p.139)

Airing out kimonos
as well as her heart
is never enough.

"The custom of 'airing out' is done in summer to prevent kimonos, books, scrolls, and so on from being eaten by insects and mold. Here, there is also a subtext of frustration, probably stemming from the suppression of women in Edo society."

(2) (p.148)

Again the women
come to the fields
with unkempt hair.

"This haiku depicts women to busy in the ricefields every day to worry about the beauty of their hair. Chiyo-ni was using wordplay with the word KAMI, which can be read as 'hair' (as in the above translation) or as 'god/goddess.'

(3) (p.148, notes)

Just for today
using men
for rice-planting.

"In the Edo period most of the rice-planting was done by women, yet sometimes men were asked to help, so the word TSUKAU meaning TO USE could just be taken matter-of-factly; on the other hand, the tone of this word could also be seen as bold, unrefined, or even feminist."

(4) (p.142)

Rouged lips
forgotten --
clear spring water.

"This is one of Chiyo's best and most memorable realization haiku: she wrote four versions of this haiku at different stages of her life, showing not only her dedication as an artist, but her progression of realization as well. This last one, written at age sixty-two, shows her forgetting her rouged lips (the makeup which was so important to women of her time) while drinking the fresh water. This haiku expresses the heightened awareness that comes when one forgets the self and the mind is present to the moment."

(5) (p.208)

Putting up my hair
no more
my hands to the kotatsu

"In Chiyo-ni's day, all women had long hair which they would put up into elaborate styles. This haiku was written when, at the age of fifty-two Chiyo-ni became a nun, shaved her head, and changed her name to Soen (Simple Garden). The KOTATSU is a table covered with a quilt, with a charcoal brazier under it. This haiku shows her relaxation in the freedom that she could now fully live the Way of Haikai."

(6) (p.38) tanrenga by Chiyo and Suejo

Having been invited to meet Suejo we wrote together:

In this lively place
the peony
most beautiful

to which Suejo replied:

the waning night
the morning moon awaits.

"The person closest to Chiyo-ni was Suejo. Their letters and haiku suggest something more than a strictly master-disciple relationship, and a familial intimacy unlike the feelings between Chiyo-ni and her other women haiku-poet friends, such Karyo-ni and Kasenjo. Chiyo-ni and Suejo met almost daily and wrote constantly. They were in the same haiku circle and wrote haiku together and for each other."

(7) (p.37)
for Kansenjo

The old days
beautifully in bloom --
the winter peony.

"The second woman poet close to Chiyo-ni was Kasenjo (1703-1715-1716) who was from Mikuni, or Fukai Prefecture. In her younger days she was a prostitute and went by the name Hasegawa, but in her later years she became a nun like Chiyo-ni, naming herself Takitani-ni (Waterfall Valley). Because Chiyo-ni was also a strong woman she could sympathize with Kasenjo's way of lie, so they were close. It wasn't unusual for a nun to be friends with a prostitute because both were outside the normal social structure, having freedom unlike other women to devote to writing. Denjo, a woman haiku poet from the Edo period, wrote a haiku for Chiyo-ni and Kasenjo:"

Please shine
Chiyo-ni and Kasenjo of Echizen
two night moons.

* * *
(8) (p.85)

"It is interesting to note that as Basho grew older, he became more open to the simplicity of everyday life and arrived at his best haiku theory of KARUMI, or simplicity. Traditionally, and especially in Edo Japan, women did not have the male privelege of expanding their horizons, so their truth or spirituality was often found in the mundane. Women tend to validate daily life and recognize that miracles exist within the mundane, which is the core of haiku. Yet contemporary women's haiku about small things are sometimes still dismissed as 'kitchen haiku' -- as if there were something less valid about careful observation of the everyday. Chiyo-ni was a master at making connections, by being open and carefully observing the ordinary things around her, especially in nature. Her observation was simple and clear, yet at the same time unique, with its feminine imagery that was delicate and sensual. The most important thing to her was honoring the sacredness of everyday life."
for more nature poetry by Japanese women poets,
see Idiophonics in Early Japanese Women's Poetry
Photo (top): www.earlywomenmasters.net
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