Centuries of warfare among the lords and samurai of Japan’s chief clans came to an end when Tokugawa Ieyasu established a military dictatorship, the Shogunate, about 1600. With a Tokugawa shogun established in the thriving merchant city of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and a ceremonial imperial court in ancient Kyoto, Japan officially closed its doors to the outside world in 1638. Such was the setting in which Matsuo Bash was born as Matsuo Munefusa in 1644 at Ueno in Iga province, only thirty miles from the imperial palace in Kyoto and two hundred miles from the powerful shogun in Edo.
Bash was one of several children born to Matsuo Yozaemon, a minor samurai nominally in the service of the Td family that ruled the Ueno area. Bash’s father had limited means and probably provided for his family by farming and giving lessons in calligraphy. At about age twelve, perhaps the year his father died, Bash entered the service of the Td family as a study companion to one of the Td heirs, Yoshitada, a youth two years his senior with a bent toward poetry. A genuine friendship with Yoshitada encouraged young Bash in the study of poetry and gave him access to one of the leading teachers of the day, Kitamura Kigin (1624-1705). When Yoshitada died suddenly in 1666, Bash, only twenty-two years of age, lost both a friend and a patron. He apparently remained in the area of Ueno and Kyoto, devoting himself to poetry in the haikai style of the Teitoku school favored by his teacher Kigin. Pursuing a career as a poet, by 1672, he had published at his own expense Kai-i (seashell game), a collection of humorous verses by local poets that he matched and commented upon as poet-teacher. Some scholars believe that during this period, Bash entered a relationship with a woman later known by her religious...
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