Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master

Donegan and Ishibashi, Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master. Tuttle, 1998

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Chiyo-ni is arguably the most prominent haiku poet after Basho. Indeed, she is the woman haiku poet of all time. Chiyo-ni was born nine years after Basho died, in 1703, in the town of Matto. Matto is now a part of Hakusan-shi in Ishikawa-ken, and many of her works are held in the Matto City Museum.

Chiyo-ni studied with Kagami Shiko, Basho’s disciple, and even as a child was composing haiku. She was very active in haiku circles, not joining any particular one. Haiku was, and still is, a social art. Haiku was composed in a circle of poets. Chiyo-ni was no different, and she created haiku with many others.

Chiyo was her birthname, and she was called Kaga no Chiyo-jo, after the Kaga region where she lived. Her name changed to the suffix ni which means nun, when she took her vows as a Buddhist nun. She still retained the freedom to pursue her love and skill of haiku. Chiyo-ni’s activities are too numerous to mention here, and we refer you to this book.

Chiyo-ni poduced a large number of haiku and renga. One of my favorite haiku:

yuugao ya        mono no kakurete        utsukushiki

moonflowers —        the beauty        of hidden things

And another:

iriai o        sora ni osayuru        sakura kana

evening temple bell        stopped in the sky        by cherry blossoms

What is remarkable about Chiyo-ni is the life she lived devoted to haiku. Her road to spiritual awakening was the Way of Haiku.