Gambling (bakuchi)


Gambling (bakuchi 博打)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


Gambling was quite popular during the Edo period. Although officially forbidden, it florished in the backyards of the villas of regional lords and also at the street corners.

People uses mostly two dice (sai 賽, saikoro) to wager for CHO or HAN, even or odd numbers.
Flower trump was also used (see below).

I have a set of small gambling tools to be carried around whilst travelling, with flower trump, dice and a set of chips looking like six small Daruma figures!

Gabi Greve


gambling, bakuchi 博打 博ち ばくち
short for a gambler
bakuchi uchi 博打打 ばくちうち

gambling, tobaku 賭博 とばく


Cho-Han Bakuchi (or Cho Ka Han Ka, or simply Cho-Han) is a traditional Japanese gambling game using dice.

The game uses two standard six-sided dice, which are shaken in a bamboo cup or bowl by a dealer (usually a pretty lady). The cup is then overturned onto the floor. Players then place their wagers on whether the sum total of numbers showing on the two dice will be "Cho" (even) or "Han" (odd). The dealer then removes the cup, displaying the dice. The winners collect their money.

Depending on the situation, the dealer will sometimes act as the house, collecting all losing bets. But more often, the players will bet against each other (this requires an equal number of players betting on odd and even) and the house will collect a set percentage off winning bets.

The game was a mainstay of the bakuto, itinerant gamblers in old Japan, and is still played by the modern yakuza. In a traditional Cho-Han setting, players sit on a tatami floor. The dealer sits in the formal seiza position and is often shirtless (to prevent accusations of cheating), exposing his elaborate tattoos.

Many Japanese films, especially chambara and yakuza movies, have Cho-Han scenes. The character Zatoichi is a noted fan of the game.
© http://encycl.opentopia.com/term/Cho-han_bakuchi

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

- about bakuchi in chapter 7 :
7 賭博


tsubakuro ya koya no bakuchi o becha-kucha to

Kobayashi Issa

becha-kucha (pecha-kucha)
This is an interesting haiku in some ways to me, and not so interesting in other ways. Issa did seem to find the subject "gambling shack" (koya no bakuchi) interesting.
Do the Japanese of today, or did the Japanese of his era, find it interesting? I haven't read Ueda's biography of Issa, but I don't recall "the usual translators" (other than Lanoue) translating "gambling shack" haiku of Issa. As with many of Issa's haiku, it seems to be walking a fine line between haiku and senryu.

I agree with Gabi's making the swallows plural. I wonder if they aren't meant to be a metaphor for the gamblers at the gambling shack.
What makes me think of this is the fact that "country bumpkins" such as Issa were called "(gray) starlings" (mukudori) by sophisticated Edo-ites. Might not a bird analogy be in play here too?

Certainly 'twitter' is the best description of a swallow's song. No less an authority than Roger Tory Peterson's "A Field Guide to the Birds" (THE bible for USAnian birders) describes the Barn Swallow's song as "a long musical twitter interspersed with gutterals." And it describes the Tree Swallow's song as "a liquid twitter."

But what exactly does "becha-kucha" mean? Was Lanoue justified in translating it as "prattles" (a more 'manmade' sound than 'twitter')?

In an online essay, "On the Relation between Sound, Word Structure and Meaning in Japanese Mimetic Words," by Gergana Ivanova, Utsunomiya University, Japan, there is the following:

"becha-becha neutrally depicts a noisy way of talking, and in contrast becha-kucha evokes annoyance and anger of those around. Here, again, the partially reduplicated word has a negative connotation."

In an online Romaji-English dictionary, "All Romanized English-Japanese Dictionary," by Hyojun Romaji Kai, Tuttle Books, 2004, I find under the definition for the English word 'rattle': n. 'beta-kucha' (among other Japanese words for 'rattle' both as noun and verb). How would the gamblers be gambling? With dice, or some sort of marked sticks? Something that would make a rattling sound?
All Romanized Dictionary

. Issa and the mukudori of Edo .

Anyway, what about Issa's "gambling shack" haiku? Here are some of the others which Lanoue translates:

hana saku ya sakura ga shita no bakuchi-goya

under the cherry tree
in bloom
a little gambling shack

uguisu no ku ni mo senu nari bakuchi goya

the nightingale
not at all concerned...
little gambling shack

(Lanoue's comment: "Human vice doesn't bother the nightingale, singing above it all.")

According to Lanoue, Issa rewrote the one above (written in 1813) as (date unknown):

uguisu no ku ni mo senu nari tsuji bakuchi

the nightingale
not at all concerned...
gambling at the crossroads

bakuchi goya furitsubushi keri higan ame

the little gambling shack
is pounded...
spring equinox rain

Are these average haiku for Issa, or better-than-average?

I find the following haiku interesting, which to me relates in some way to the "little gambling shack under the cherry tree in bloom" haiku at the beginning of the above list of haiku:

nippon wa bakuchi no zeni mo sakura kana

it's gambling money
here in Japan...
cherry blossoms

What does this mean?
Is it that the cherry blossom petals are falling onto the gamblers' money, so that it appears that they are gambling with cherry blossoms?

Is this a more 'lowbrow' (vulgar, coarser?) version of Matsuo Basho's:

ki no moto ni shiru mo namasu mo sakura kana

beneath a tree,
both soup and fish salad:
cherry blossoms!

Tr. Barnhill

Under the tree
the soup and the fish salad,
or cherry blossoms?

Tr. Peipei-Qiu

under the trees
soup and pickles
cherry blossoms

Tr. Reichhold

under the tree
soup, fish salad, and all--
cherry blossoms

tr. Ueda

. . . a hokku by Basho that is about cherry blossoms but not about true blossoms/flowers and is therefore incapable of serving as a blossom-site verse.
It's from the "Below the Trees" kasen in the Hisago collection:

below the trees
even the soup and salad
cherry blossoms

A note says this is about blossom-viewing, so sakura or cherry tree in the third line refers by implication to botanical cherry blossom petals. The petals are everywhere, scattered on both people and their picnic food, making them look like cherry blossoms as well. But in this hokku Basho feel the physical trees and their great volume of petal-production more than their spiritual power or more general energy, so he uses "cherry" instead of a true-blossom word. Those words will not appear until the two blossom-site verses later in the sequence.

. Full Comment by Chris Drake .

Written on the second day of the third lunar month
Genroku 3 元禄3年3月2日
Basho stayed at the home of his disciple Ogawa Fuubaku 小川風麦 Fubaku in Iga Ueno, where they enjoyed a cherry-blossom viewing party with good food. The cherry petals fell on all their pots and plates.

under the trees
we have soup and pickled fish
and cherry blossoms . . .

Tr. Gabi Greve

This hokku has the cut marker KANA at the end of line 3.

source : itoyo/basho
memorial stone at Otsu town, Kairin-An 大津市戒琳庵

MORE hokku about food by
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .

. WKD : 膾 namasu vinegar dressing .

Compiled by Larry Bole -Translating Haiku Forum


tsubakuro ya koya no bakuchi o becha-kucha to

swallows -
at the gambling shack
twitter twitter twitter

(Tr. Gabi Greve)
Discussing this translation


春雨や ばくち崩と 夜談義と
harusame ya bakuchi kuzure to yo dangi to

spring rain -
backsliding gamblers
and a night sermon


Tr. David Lanoue
Haiga by Nakamura Sakuo


kaigara de bakuchi mosu nari ume no hana

betting seashells
gamblers in a frenzy...
plum blossoms


In my translation I assume that Issa's mosu ("burn" or "kindle") is being used metaphorically to describe the heatedness of the gambling. In this and in a similar, undated haiku, the gamblers are blind to the beauty that surrounds them:

koe-goe ni hana no kokage no bakuchi kana

fussing, fussing
in the blossom shade...
Tr. David Lanoue


okuyama mo bakuchi no yo nari haru no ame

gamblers rule
even deep in the mountains --
New Year's rain

Tr. Chris Draka

This ironic New Year's hokku was probably written on lunar New Year's Day in 1820, since it is placed very near the beginning of the 1st month among other New Year's hokku in Issa's diary. The diary also shows it rained on New Year's Day, a rather unusual occurrence in the mountainous Shinano Snow Country where Issa's hometown was located.

Issa's hometown was a station town on the main road connecting the east side of Honshu island and the northern part of the west side of Honshu, and he several times writes about travelers discreetly gambling when they stopped at one of the inns in town. In this hokku, however, it is New Year's Day, when people are supposed to politely greet each other, pray to ancestors, gods, and Buddhas, and celebrate the coming year. Gambling was illegal, and violations were strictly punished in Basho's time, but gambling became more and more tacitly accepted as the shogunate gradually lost prestige and authority, and now travelers are gambling in broad daylight on the most felicitous day of the year. Since it's raining outside, the gangsters and other travelers are presumably gambling right in the inns, since no officials are around on New Year's Day. In Issa's time "gambler" was the most common name for what are now called yakuza, and these gangsters had considerable power in the underworld of Edo and in other cities, but now the underworld and the "real" world of politics and economics seem to Issa to be gradually becoming indistinguishable.

At New Year's people often wrote hokku praising the emperor's realm (yo) or the peaceful world (yo) under the rule of the shogunate, but to Issa's eyes it is gangsters and the people who work with them who are the rising ruling class who will surely have a subtle but significant influence on what happens in 1820, even deep in the mountains -- and, by implication, all over Japan. Usually rain at New Year's in low-lying areas was an auspicious sign of fertility in the coming year, but in the high, snowy mountains of central Honshu it was rare. Perhaps Issa is suggesting that there is a connection between the strange weather and the strange, ominous audacity of the gangsters in his mountain hometown.

Chris Drake

. Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .

Related words

***** Flower Trump (hanafuda) Japan

***** Lottery, lottery tickets (takarakuji) Japan

donkorogoma どんころ独楽 Donkoro spinning top for gambling
with Daruma san on one side

. Bakuchi 博打 Gambling Daruma Dice Holder


. Legends and Tales from Japan 伝説 - Introduction .

- reference : nichibun yokai database -
19 to explore bakuchi
賭博 tobaku 4 to explore


- #bakuchigambling #gamblingbakuchi #tobaku -

1 comment:

Gabi Greve said...

bakuchi 博打 / 博ち / ばくち と伝説 Legends about gambling