) (June 15, 1763 - January 5, 1828), was a Japanesepoet and lay Buddhist priest of the Jodo Shinshusect known for his
haikupoems and journals. He is better known as simply
), a penname meaning Cup-of-tea
(lit. "one [cup of] tea"). He is regarded as one of the four haiku masters in Japan, along withBashō,BusonandShiki.
Reflecting the popularity and interest in Issa as man and poet, Japanesebooks on Issa outnumber those on Buson, and almost equal those on Bashō
Issa was born and registered as Kobayashi Nobuyuki
), with achildhood name of Kobayashi Yatarô (
), the first son of a farmerfamily of Kashiwabara, now part of Shinano-machi,Shinano Province
(present-dayNagano Prefecture). Issa endured the loss of his mother, whodied when he was three. Her passing was the first of numerous difficultiesyoung Issa suffered. He was cared for by his grandmother, who doted onhim, but his life changed again when his father remarried five years later.Issa's half-brother was born two years later, and when his grandmother diedwhen he was 14, Issa felt estranged in his own house, a lonely, moody childwho preferred to wander the fields. His attitude did not please hisstepmother, who, according to Lewis Mackenzie, was a "tough-fibred'managing' woman of hard-working peasant stock."
He was sent toEdo (present-day Tokyo) to eke out a living by his father one year later. Nothingof the next ten years of his life is known for certain. His name was associatedwith Kobayashi Chikua (
) of the Nirokuan (
) haiku school, buttheir relationship is not clear. During the following years, he wanderedthrough Japan and fought over his inheritance with his stepmother (his fatherdied in 1801). After years of legal wrangles, Issa managed to secure rights tohalf of the property his father left. He returned to his native village at theage of 49
and soon took a wife, Kiku. After a brief period of bliss, tragedyreturned. The couple's first-born child died shortly after his birth. A daughterdied less than two-and-a-half years later, inspiring Issa to write this haiku(translated by Lewis Mackenzie):
Tsuyu no yo wa tsuyu no yo nagara sari nagara
The world of dew --A world of dew it is indeed,And yet, and yet . . .