Basho’s banana tree


In the 17th century, the great haiku poet Matsuo Basho lived in Edo (Tokyo). He had a small house along the Sumida River, and a banana tree (basho) in his yard.

About the tree he wrote, “I sit underneath it, and enjoy wind and rain that blow against it.”

He liked the banana tree so much he named the house, and published his poems under the name Basho.

Basho’s house is long gone, but there’s a delightful Basho memorial park overlooking the Sumida River,and it’s the perfect picnic destination. Along with a bronze statue of the poet are bamboo plants, banana trees, and little benches (a Japanese family was eating their lunch here when we stopped here).

Basho wrote this haiku on a day in March, listening to a quiet rain and sitting in his house along the river:

The old pond —

a frog jumps in,

sound of water.

Basho was also a traveler, and one day he left his house, put on a sturdy hat and rain cape, and started walking. On his hat he wrote, “Soon, cherry blossoms.”

Basho followed routes, going north and south in Japan over many years, writing what he saw, along with exquisite haiku. Reading Basho’s words today, it’s hard to imagine he lived over 300+ years ago, his poems are timeless.

In a way

It was fun

Not to see Mt. Fuji

In foggy rain


Our favorite children’s books:

  • Grass Sandals by Dawnine Spivak, Demi. Illustrated biography of Basho, starting with the banana tree in Edo, and going on his great walking journeys. Each page is beautifully illustrated with Basho’s own haiku and storied illustrations. (Picture book)
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by Basho. One winter I read this book out loud to our boys (it’s not a kid’s book as such). Each night we sat down in California, and followed Basho on his journeys through Japan. Basho’s words tell the story. (Chapter book)
  • Haiku by Patricia Donegan. Delightful guide for kids to write their own haiku, with examples of contemporary haiku written by children, and how to combine haiku with a story or drawing. (Activity book)
  • One Leaf Rides the Wind by Celeste Davidson Mannis, Susan Kathleen Hartung. A counting book with contemporary haiku poems and gorgeous illustrations – two temple dogs guarding the garden, five pagoda roofs stretch to the heavens, six wooden sandals in a row, eight pink lotus flowers, “Ten lanterns waiting/When darkness falls they sparkle,/pleased to light the way.” (Picture book)