Ueshima Onitsura


Uejima Onitsura (1660-1738)
上島鬼貫 (うえしま おにつら) Ueshima Onitsura

Born May 2, 1660 in Hyogo Prefecture.
(Other date: April 4, 1661)
Died August 2, 1738

He was the third son of a ricewine maker in Itami town, Hyogo prefecture. Already at age 8 he became famous for his ability to compose haiku. At age 25, he left his hometown for Osaka.

© PHOTO Itami Town Hyogo
Onitsura, painted by Buson

Around 1650, two masters arose who elevated haikai and gave it a new popularity. They were Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) and Onitsura (1661–1738). Hokku was only the first verse of haikai, but its position as the opening verse made it the most important, setting the tone for the whole composition.

Even though hokku sometimes appeared individually, they were understood to always be in the context of haikai, if only theoretically. Bashō and Onitsura were thus writers of haikai of which hokku was only a part, though the most important part.

Selected Hokku Poems of Onitsura / his handwriting External LINK

Memorial Stone at Unagidani, Nagahori Dori, Osaka

nochi no tsuki irite kao yoshi hoshi no sora

© PHOTO Unagidani


Onitsura Ki 鬼貫忌 (おにつらき) Memorial Day for Onitsura
kigo for early autumn

. WKD : Memorial Days of Famous People .


Haiku should be simple, but yet resonate with the universe and the reader.

Onitsura put it this way:

"A nightingale, when it stops singing,
is nothing more than a small green bird".

He also stated

"Without MAKOTO, there would be no haikai".

(Haikai in his day was a form of humorous, playful verse and found pride in overstatements, gross exaggerations and obvious falsehoods for the sake of entertainment.
Onitsura brought it to a level of truthfulness and sincerity.)

quoting Onitsura:
"A good poet" is someone who can make a verse interesting.
"A master" is someone whose verse does not sound interesting but has a flavor deep inside.
A still higher stage is when a poet has reached the utmost of the art and his poem presents neither color nor fragrance.
Only at that stage can one be credited as having achieved the quintessence of haikai.

Onitsura's phrase,
" the makoto of snow, the moon and the cherry blossoms,"
therefore, can be translated as. "the sincerity of art."
Onitsura's Makoto and the Daoist Concept of the Natural
Peipei Qiu

source : www.jstor.org

. Makoto and Haiku .

- The Complete Works Of Chuang Tzu - Zhuangzi
Tzu-ch’i said,
"When my son and I go wandering,
we wander through Heaven and earth. He and I seek our delight in Heaven and our food from the earth.
He and I do not engage in any undertakings, do not engage in any plots, do not engage in any peculiarities.
He and I ride on the sincerity of Heaven and earth and do not allow things to set us at odds with it.
He and I stroll and saunter in unity, but never do we try to do what is appropriate to the occasion.
source : Translated by Burton Watson

Onitsura was also fond of the sixth patriarch of Zen,
Hui Neng, Dajian Huineng 大鑒惠能, Daikan Enoo 慧能(えのう)

菩提本無樹,- Bodhi is fundamentally without any tree;
明鏡亦非臺。- The bright mirror is also not a stand.
本來無一物,- Fundamentally there is not a single thing —
何處惹塵埃。- Where could any dust be attracted?

© More in the WIKIPEDIA !


. . . Aso has pointed out that Onitsura, one of the outstanding haiku poets of the seventeenth century, has pertinent observations to make to poets. For aside from the necessity of rejecting the claims coming from without the area of art, the poet must also be sincere in his own artistic practice:

“At the center of Onitsura’s haiku theory is his statement about truth. Everywhere in his writing he uses the word makoto. This term is used in various ways and its meaning is not fixed. However, he uses this term in the sense of sincerity. In his writing a Soliloquy, he said, “When one composes a verse and exerts his attention only to rhetoric or phraseology, the sincerity is diminished.””

“The fact that no artistic effort in the form or no decorative expression in the context [should be present] is Onitsura’s ideal, which is the way of sincerity.”

And as has been previously pointed out the poet can become single-mindedly devoted to his experience only as he abandons the needs of the self and submits humbly to his vision.

The Japanese haiku, its essential nature, history, and possibilities in English, with selected examples
Kenneth Yasuda
source : books.google.co.jp


Japanese Reference


Compiled by Larry Bole

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria's 2007 Calendar features, for the month of May, a woodcut print by Tanigami Koonan (active 1920s-1930s) which is called "Roses", and a haiku by Onitsura:

Konan Tanigami, Roses

me wa yoko ni hana wa tate nari haru no hana

Eyes, back and forth,
nose, up and down--
the flowers of spring!

Onitsura , adapted from a translation by Harold Henderson.

Henderson's original translation:

Eyes, side-to-side;
nose, up and down.
Spring flowers!

Blyth says about Onitsura:

"Onitsura composed the first real haiku.
They show his genius; they show pure nature; the best express his unintellectualized experience; they are 'a sort of thought in sense.' His verses are simple and easy, melodious and poetical. Contemporary with Basho, he was independent of him, and the chief difference between the two men was in their power of making disciples. ... The poetry of Onitsura has something in common with that of Robert Frost."

However, Henderson says:

"It is a pity that many of Onitsura's poems fail to give a clear picture and are rather too philosophical. In other words, they become more like epigrams than normal haiku should. ...

"Onitsura looked at life with a whimsical humor all his own, and his guiding principle seems to have been that what one gets one has to pay for--but it's worth it! ...

"Onitsura published his first book of poems when he was nineteen, and wrote constantly from that time on, though only about seven hundred of his verses have been preserved. ...

"At the age of seventy-three Onitsura retired from the world, shaved his head, and entered the priesthood. From that time until his death five years later he wrote no more poems, his last haiku being composed at the time he took the tonsure. It is an act of renunciation:

kare kiku ya mukashi fuushichi tamuke-gusa

Chrysanthemums, all here,
that long ago were seventeen--
my offering here!

Here 'seventeen' refers not only to the number of syllables in a haiku, but also has a conventional meaning of 'young and lovely,' like our 'sweet sixteen'; flowers are used before most Buddhist altars."

Yet Yoel Hoffman gives the following as Onitsura's death poem (date written unspecified):

yume kaese karasu no samasu kiri no tsuki

Give my dream back,
raven! The moon you woke me to
is misted over.


Tomb of Onitsura at Unagidani, Osaka

Haiga and poems by Onitsura
the greenleaf gallery UK

kono aki wa hiza ni ko no nai tsukimi kana

This autumn
I’ll be looking at the moon
With no child on my knee.

A selection of his haiku poetry
the greenleaf gallery UK


One day a monk asked Onitsura about the essence of haiku. Here is his answer :

teizen ni shiroku saitaru tsubaki kana

in the front garden
the camellia tree blossoms
all in white . . .

Tr. Gabi Greve - camellia tree


tama-arare yotaka wa tsuki ni kaerumeri

hailstones –
in moonlight, the nighthawks
come home

Tr. Michael Haldane


nani yue ni nagamijika aru tsurara zoya

Are some icicles long,
Some short?

Tr. Blyth


gaikotsu no ue o yosoite hanami kana

mit Schminke auf den Knochen -

all prettily made up -
cherry blossom viewing

Tr. Gabi Greve


gyoozui no sute dokoro nashi mushi no koe

There is not a place
to throw the used bath water--
insect noises!

. . . originally

There is no place
to throw the used bath water.
Insect cries!

Tr. Harold Henderson


A human father
Drove away a crow
For the children
Of the sparrows.



source : shoshun.blog.fc2.com

suzukaze ya kokuu ni michite matsu no koe

this cool breeze -
the empty sky fills
with the sound of pines

Tr. Gabi Greve

matsu no koe,
lit. "the voice of the pines"



Though I have no lover,
I too rejoice:
The change of clothes.

even though i have no lover
i rejoice
in my change of clothes


springende forel-
ver beneden zich ziet hij
witte wolken drijven



Global warming in his time ?

soyori tomo seide aki tatsu koto kaino

Da ist kein Anzeichen von Herbstwind!
Ist es tatsächlich risshû?



Print: Tsuchiya Koitsu 1870-1949

nyoppori to aki no sora naru Fuji no yama

towering alone
against the autumn sky -
mount Fuji

Tr. greenleaves

In the blue sky of autumn
Outstands the white solemn peak
of Mr. Fuji

Tr. Sasaki

Hôrinzen-ji Temple of the Sôtô-shu Zen Sect
( Popularly called "Hôrin-ji) Osaka
Tombstone of Ueshima Onitsura

source : general_sasaki

nyoppori にょっぽり, nyokkiri にょっきり


Some Japanese Haiku 《鬼貫の句》








***** Introducing Japanese Haiku Poets



Anonymous said...

Onitsura is generally regarded as one of the two patriarchs of hokku, in spite of the fact that his “school” was not carried on by students, as was that of Bashô. Still, Onitsura has a number of hokku that are very worthwhile as models, as is his ideal of sincerity in writing.

The Bush Warbler –
It has perched on the plum tree
From ancient times.

Read more HERE
© HOKKU : Time and Change

facebook said...

thanks Gabi for a deeper insight than i could get from Blyth..

Gabi Greve, Cormorants said...

u to tomo ni kokoro wa mizu o kuguriyuku

My soul
Dives in and out of the water
With the cormorant.
Tr. Blyth

. Uejima Onitsura 上島鬼貫 .

Gabi Greve said...

Confucius -
- Larry Bole wrote:
Here is an indirect reference to Confucius: In the Analects, Confucius is quoted as having said,
"At sixty my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth."
Here is a haiku by Onitsura (1660 - 1738):

shitagau ya oto naki hana mo mimi no oku

We are obedient,
And silent flowers too
Speak to the inner ear.

-- Onitsura, trans. R. H. Blyth

Gabi Greve said...

sakura saku koro tori ashi ni hon uma shi hon

Cherry blossons, more
and more now! Birds have two legs!
Oh, horses have four!

--Onitsura, trans. Henderson

And here is one for the New Year's Day:

uchi harete shooji mo shiroshi hatsuhi kage

It turned out fine,
The paper-screens a brilliant white ---
The sunlight of New Year's Day!

--Onitsura, trans. Blyth

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

tsuki nakute hiru wa kasumu ya Koya no Ike

there is no moon
and haze during the day -
Koyaike Pond

Legends from Hyogo and the Koyaike pond