Kobayashi Issa

The Year of My Life, Chapter Five

It was rumored abroad that an exceedingly beautiful crop of peonies had come into bloom at my friend Nabuchi’s house, and that many people for miles around had come to have a look at them. Accordingly, I dropped in one day to see them for myself. The flower bed was more than fifteen feet long, and laid out beneath an elaborate canopy. It was crowded with full-blown peonies, packed in side by side—white peonies and red peonies, and peonies of purple and other colors. Among them one black and another yellow especially caught my attention because of their unusual colors. When I looked once more, however, and scrutinized them more carefully, I noticed they seemed rather dry, and compared with the beautiful and healthy young peonies all around them, they looked like mere painted carcasses. They were, of course, the handiwork of my friend. He had made them out of paper and tied them under the leaves of the true peonies as a joke on his guests. His witty deception greatly tickled me. And he certainly was guilty of no wrong. He charged no one a penny for coming to see his flowers. On the contrary, he provided all who came with generous quantities of wine and tea. I could not help laughing when I thought how he had taken us in, so I wrote:

Among the thick leaves,
Even paper scraps bloom,
With the faces of peonies.

Reproduced with permission from University of California Press: Kobayashi Issa, The Year of My Life: A Translation of Issa’s Oraga Haura, translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1990).