Matsuo Bashō’s Haiku on Stamps

Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉 actually called Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa – 松尾 忠右衛門 宗房, lived between 1644–1694) is one of the most known names of the Edo period of Japan. His writings, including numerous haiku (俳句) is even today considered a standard form of poetry writing, and his style inspired many of the writers of the next generations. His collection of writings Oku no hosomichi (奥の細道, often translated as “The Narrow Road to the Deep North“, or “The Narrow Road to the Interior“) is one of the gems of the literature of Edo Period. The text describes Matsuo Bashō ‘s travels in 44 fragments, called “stations”. Each of the short texts includes a description of the travel and the people encountered on the way, and concludes with some haiku verse.

Between 1987 and 1989, the Japanese Post devoted as many as 40 stamps and 20 minisheets to the writing of Oku no hosomichi. The 40 stamps come in pairs of 2, the resulting 2-panel stamp being a haiku poem and an illustration of the respective haiku poem. 20 such panels result. Each panel is also accompanied by an imperforated sheet. The stamps and sheets are separated into 10 series, numbered from 1 to 10.

The first series (26.02.1987)

行春や鳥啼魚の目は泪 (Spring departs. Birds cry. The fishes’ eyes are filled with tears.)
あらたうと青葉若葉の日の光 (It is with awe that I beheld fresh leaves, green leaves, bright in the sun.)

The second series (23.06.1987)

野を横に馬牽むけよほとゝぎす (Turn the head of your horse sideways across the field, to let me hear the cry of the cuckoo.)
田一枚植て立去る柳かな (When the girls have planted a square of paddy field, I stepped out of the shade of a willow tree.)

The third series (25.08.1987)

世の人の見付ぬ花や軒の栗 (The chestnut by the eaves, in magnificent bloom, passes unnoticed by the men of the world.)
早苗とる手もとや昔しのぶ摺 (The bust hands of the planting maids, reminescent somehow of the old dying techniques.)

The fourth series (23.01.1988)

あやめ艸足に結ん草鞋の緒 (It looks as if iris flowers have bloomed on my feet, sandals laced in blue.)
夏草や兵どもが夢の跡 (A thicket of summer grass is all that remains of the dreams and ambitions of ancient warriors.)

The fifth series (10.03.1988)

まゆはきを俤にして紅粉の花 (With a powder brush, before my eyes, I strolled among rouge plants.)
閑さや岩にしみ入蝉の声 (In the utter silence of a temple, a cicada’s voice alone penetrates the rocks.)

The sixth series (30.05.1988)

五月雨をあつめて早し最上川 (Gathering all the rains of May, the river Mogami rushes down, in one violent stream.)
雲の峯幾つ崩て月の山 (Blessed indeed is this South Valley, where the gentle wind breathes the faint aroma of snow.)

The seventh series (23.08.1988)

象潟や雨に西施がねぶの花 (A flowering silk tree in the sleepy rain of Kisagata reminds me of Lady Seishi in sorrowful lament.)
荒海や佐渡によこたふ天河 (The Great Milky Way spans in a single arch, the billow-crested sea, falling on Sado beyond.)

The eighth series (11.11.1988)

わせの香や分入右は有磯海 (I walked into the fumes of early ripening rice. On the right, below me, the waters of the Angry Sea.)
あか/\と日は難面もあきの風 (Red, red is the sun, heartlessly indifferent to time, the wind knows, however, the promise of early chill.)

The ninth series (13.02.1989)

石山の石より白し秋の風 (Whiter far than the white rocks of the Rock Temple, the autumn wind blows.)
月清し遊行のもてる砂の上 (The moon was bright, and divinely pure, upon the sand brought by the Bishop Yugyo.)

The tenth series (12.05.1989)

寂しさや須磨にかちたる濱の秋 (Lonelier, I thought, than the Suma beach, the closing of autumn, on the sea before me.)
蛤のふたみにわかれ行秋ぞ (As firmly cemented clam shells fall apart in the autumn, so I must take the road again, farewell, my friends.)

The minisheets

The 20 imperforated minisheets were issued after many of the 10 series of 4 stamps each had already been issued, in two installments. The first included the first 10 minisheets (series 1 – 5) and was issued on 10.03.1989.

The second series of 10 imperforated minisheets, corresponding to series 6-10 was issued on 01.08.1989.

The concordance with stations on Matsuo Bashō’s travels

As mentioned in the beginning of the article, Oku no hosomichi (奥の細道) is made up of stations (stops on the poet’s way). The stamp suite corresponds to these stations to a large extent.

The first series (station 2, “Departure”; station 5, “Nikko); the second series (station 9, “Sesshoseki”); the third series (station 11, “Sukagawa”; station 13, “Shinobu”); the fourth series (station 18, “Sendai”; station 23, “Hiraizumi”); the fifth series (station 25, “Obanazawa”; station 26, “Ryushakuji”); the sixth series (station 28, “Mogamigawa”; station 29, “Harugosan”); the seventh series (station 32, “Kisagata”; station 33, “Echigo); the eighth series (station 34, “Ichiburi”, station 36, “Komatsu”); the ninth series (station 37, “Natadera”; station 41, “Tsuruga”); the tenth series (station 42, “Ironohama”; station 43, “Ogaki”).

Stamps featured in post: 40; Period: contemporary (1987-1989); Pricing: moderate; Availability: most items are readily available, the whole set of sheets is harder to assemble.

Michel catalogue numbers and catalogue prices for MNH: Stamps: the first series (MiNr. 1717-1720, 4EUR); the second series (MiNr. 1740-1743, 6EUR); the third series (MiNr. 1749-1752, 4EUR); the fourth series (MiNr. 1765-1768, 4EUR); the fifth series (MiNr. 1772-1775, 4EUR); the sixth series (MiNr. 1786-1789, 4EUR); the seventh series (MiNr. 1803-1806, 4EUR); the eighth series (MiNr. 1814-1817, 4EUR); the ninth series (MiNr. 1823-1826, 4EUR); the tenth series (MiNr 1844-1847, 4EUR). Minisheets: the first series (series 1-5, MiNr. Block 118-127, 30EUR); the second series (series 6-10, MiNr. Block 130-139, 30EUR). Total catalogue price of the stamps and minisheets: 102EUR.

6 thoughts on “Matsuo Bashō’s Haiku on Stamps

    1. Hi, Anthony! It’s a great collection, it’s true. It becomes even more interesting when you give to this series extra attention. I have had it for years in my album, but apparently it was not until yesterday that I really questioned which haiku poems were featured on the stamps. And they are beautiful. And they match so well with the imagery. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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